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Poetry Giveaway

poetry-anthology-coversalt-flats-and-moon

It’s a short volume — less than seventy pages — but it spans two or three decades’ worth of poems inspired by the author’s life, relationships, troubles, daydreams, and family.

And she’s giving away signed paperback copies to five winners of a Goodreads giveaway:

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Laughing at the Moon by Elizabeth Easter

Laughing at the Moon

by Elizabeth Easter

Giveaway ends March 31, 2016.

 

 

UPDATE (April 5, 2016):
The giveaway is ended, and the winners are chosen! They are from Italy, Ireland, England, and the United States. Congratulations to all!

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In Progress

In Progress

In the past, I’ve shared incomplete poems or scenes, or pieces that have been worked and re-worked, to show fellow writers that perfection is 1) often relative, and 2) not a one-step process. Writing is the practice of perseverance.

In the wee hours of morning, when my head hurt and I couldn’t sleep, I pondered the beginning of Dragon’s Bane, the second half of an epic fantasy yarn. Scenes need re-arranging. (Anyone who knows me knows I play “52-card pick-up” with chapters and scenes, mixing up parts of the story until I settle on a progression that feels right.) Emotion needs to be established. (Always tricky.) Mystery and atmosphere must be heightened. (Always fun.)

And I need to write more poetry and fragments of the story world’s history. I used almost all of them for the first half of the story (Dragon’s Rook), so the well is almost dry. Time to dig deeper.

As I lay awake, this gap-filled poem arrived, employing phrases and concepts from the first book, obliquely summarizing the entire story:

in the high mountains
beyond Craydaegs’ gate
behind Brona’s Veil
the people await

past the curtain of night
on the path of the moon
in the land of the horse-kings
_______________-oon

hear the horn of the Woodsman
heed his ____ tread
his fell axe is trimming
the leaves of the dead

the warrior, the flame,
a sword in the west
away, all ye Dragons
let enmity rest

c2016, KB

Once finished, it’ll be the opening poem before the story begins.

lake at Myriad Botanical Gardens, Oklahoma City (c2014, KB)

lake at Myriad Botanical Gardens, Oklahoma City (c2014, KB)

 

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Miss Sally Sue From Kalamazoo: An Unexpected Transformation

Miss Sally Sue From Kalamazoo: An Unexpected Transformation

The photo below is of an ordinary autumn flower, but the image to the left is that same photo transformed by featuring not its original image but its heat map. Although the original is vibrant, the heat map colors are an eye-grabbing rainbow.

So, too, may bland words gain fire and vigor once the writer takes hold of them.

And sometimes they surprise.

bright flora along the Soldier Creek Nature Trail (c2015, KB)

along the Soldier Creek Nature Trail (c2015, KB)

Monday night’s writers meeting / NaNoWriMo write-in included what has come to be one of this group’s favorite activities: passing around story-starter sheets on which each member adds one element that will then be incorporated into an impromptu short story.

When we have more people than we have story elements, that means each writer will be given a story sheet he or she has never seen. Surprise!

Some of those surprises are unpleasant — second-person POV, for instance, or paranormal romance involving aliens — but the results are usually humorous or delightfully twisty.

Monday night’s session brought me this puzzler and only fifteen minutes to compose a masterpiece:

Character: Miss Sally Sue from Kalamazoo
Genre: Realistic / Magical Realism
Setting: Kansas
POV: 1st
Problem / Conflict: Her mother is ill and Sally must earn money to pay for her medicine
Line of Dialogue: “Oh Sally, why are you my least favorite child?”
Prop: kazoo

My first reaction: “Borrriiiiing!”

My second reaction: “What in the world am I supposed to do with this?”

My third reaction: “Write a children’s poem.”

The result, however, is –not for children. There are few rhymes (noted by the orange font), and little rhythm, but the ending is darkly humorous.

Miss Sally Sue from Kalamazoo
travelled from Michigan to Kansas
a job to find and money to earn,
for her mother lay ill,
and Sally was the only child still speaking to her.

Miss Sally Sue from Kalamazoo
returned to Michigan from Kansas
with medicine and money to spare
for her mother infirm,
but Sally was met by a spurning sigh and a stare.

“Oh, Sally, why are you my least favorite child?”

Miss Sally Sue from Kalamazoo
was not daunted by Mother’s despair.
She measured the powder and water,
offered it with a smile,
then Sally played the kazoo all the while Mother choked as Death caught her.

c2015, Keanan Brand

Before the psychiatrist is called or anti-depressants are prescribed, no, I’m not feeling murderous, and the relationship with my mother is healthy, thank you. 😉

The transformation of words is what I intended, but how they transformed and what they became was certainly not my intention.

Surprise!

Neon Blue permutation of the image above (c2015, KB)

Neon Blue of the image above (c2015, KB)

 

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Scathing: Receiving Criticism, Avoiding Labels, and Redacting a Review

Scathing: Receiving Criticism, Avoiding Labels, and Redacting a Review

Ever been labeled something that puzzled you?

Recently, a fellow writer wrote that I was unethical. At first, I thought she meant someone else, and thought, “What does she mean? That’s not true of that person,” but then realized she referenced a blog post I wrote last year regarding how pride can get in the way of receiving feedback or criticism. No names were mentioned. In fact, the only person readers knew was involved was me, and I admitted that even now, after decades as a writer, my pride is still sometimes stung by harsh criticism.

Hey, even the most thick-skinned of veteran writers still wants his work to be liked and read, no matter how many bestsellers he has behind him. (I’d like to have at least one bestseller, but that’s a goal yet to be reached.)

Another label put on me in the past — this time by a publisher — is “the editor who makes authors cry”. That is not an appellation of which to be proud. By no means. My goal has been and always will be to help authors produce their best work. Sometimes, they can be so in love with their creations that they cannot see flaws or weaknesses, missed storytelling opportunities, or clunky sentences. When an editor tells them what needs revising, they don’t receive the news well.

There is an implied compliment in the fact that someone else is taking the time to not only read one’s work, but to help one improve it. However, we writers often react with affront, with offended pride and scathing words toward the “clueless”, “high-handed”, “overbearing” editor. We don’t see his/her true intent. All we know is that we didn’t receive the praise and the rubber-stamped approval we desired.

Before we slap labels on folks and burn bridges we might need to rebuild, might I suggest a bit of reflection? Some distance? Perhaps a walk, a rant to a friend, a scribbled diatribe in a journal? A good night’s sleep? Prayer? Something that allows us to grow calm, to be objective, and not to say or do something we’ll regret. (Related reading: “What’s Your Filter?“)

We may find — as I did while editing Dragon’s Rook — that snarky, scolding feedback that shoots wide of the mark can still contain something valuable. When I stepped back and looked at the advice with cold objectivity, I saw a couple pieces I could use. As a result, I tore apart one scene that had been troubling me. The reconstructed version is many times better than the original.

So, then, what should I do when I’m now the one giving the ugly, scathing criticism?

Write it all out, and then don’t say most of it.

Recently, a PR firm requested I review a new novel by a young author. After reading the back cover blurb and the dark, well-written prologue, I had high expectations for the book. Below is the review. For the author’s sake, it will not be posted elsewhere, and has been edited here to obscure the author’s identity.

~~  *  ~~  *  ~~  *  ~~  *  ~~  *  ~~

Although marketed as contemporary literary fiction, this novel could also be described as speculative fiction, a mix of modern and futuristic, of post-apocalyptic dystopian and the quest for utopia-via-enlightenment, of a perverse coming-of-age/search-for-meaning story with a science fiction existentialist-absurdist tale.

Try saying that ten times, fast. 😉

[Story synopsis, character list, and website links have been omitted to preserve author anonymity. However, quotes from the novel text remain unaltered, but for the characters’ names.]

It is not often I write a review like this. I want to write only the positives, but the cons are weighty. To be blunt, this book needs an editor, for content as well as mechanics.

It runs the risk of being “a tale…full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” (Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5). The writing is often preening and pretentious, but that could be the result of a conscious stylistic choice on the part of the author, matching the attitudes and egos of the characters.

Yet it sometimes feels like the writer is trying to make use of every high-sounding turn of phrase he can conjure or every word he can find in the dictionary. One is left wondering if, by the sheer volume and length of words, the author believes he has communicated—but, perhaps, I am not the audience for this work. I can wax lyrical with the most poetic of the poets, but prefer straightforwardness to roundaboutation.

Macbeth^Orson Welles

Orson Welles as Macbeth

As Macbeth might say, “Thou comest to use thy tongue; thy story quickly,” (Act 5, Scene 5).

Despite proofing errors (the repeated use of “causal” in place of “casual”, for instance) and some awkwardly-constructed sentences or phrases (what are “cathartic muscles”?), there remain many quotable lines:

“I take it you’re the self-proclaimed chosen one?” (Leroy) asked. “Prophets are rarely successful. Even when they are, society kills them.”

(Walter’s) thick lips gave way to a line of crooked teeth. “Hence, it comes that all armed prophets have been victorious, and all unarmed prophets have been destroyed.” (p77)

Later in the same conversation:

“The day is not calm when you discover humanity to be ripe for the taking.” (p78)

And some lines read like refugees from a modern-day “Jabberwocky”—they have a sound and a rhythm, and therefore the reader might almost think he understands their meaning or the author’s intent. But repeated readings reveal, no, the words really do make no sense.

This paragraph on page 121 transforms from poetic imagery to lyrical nonsense:

The notes of a distant piano played a melodic Bach and a blue Chopin to the beat of Kerouac. The sounds were unremitting as they’d always been in her mind. Real, but at the same time not real. Resonating. Vibrating. For she was a lollipop made of cherry and petrol, more given to the depths of trench coats and dark alleys; lethal-red lipstick, rocking a tear that was not a tear, but moisture secreting the nostalgia of an instinct held away from mankind by the missing link. From the real show and state.

Thank you, Google Translate. Sense to make, you do not.

The novel’s subtitle—[redacted]—is a clue to how readers are expected to view this work. The publisher’s mission statement, as well as the author’s explanation for the story’s existence, seem overly earnest, betraying a certain immaturity and youthful desire to ‘make a difference’:

[mission statement redacted]

Below is a quote from the introduction:

In the novel you’re about to read, I do not seek to victimize technology, nor to condemn our evolution, but to instill the realization that we are the product of our own thoughts, our own ideas, our own dreamed of reveries. We are the discomfort and leisure of humanity, the bright flame and its grey ashes. By nature we are born free.

Can’t argue with that last line. No doubt the author and I would find agreement on several other points. But how does one “victimize technology”?

Confession: I skimmed the second half of the book. Perhaps the story improved as it progressed. However, despite seeing interesting passages, I was not compelled to continue. The green-visored, cigar-chomping curmudgeonly editor who lives in the back of my brain could tolerate no more, and he suspects that publisher, editor, author, and the originator of the “editorial review” on the back cover are one and the same.

Nonetheless, [name redacted] is talented and intelligent, and is definitely an author to look for in the future. Give him time.

And his website waaaaay outclasses mine.

 

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Those Times Between

Those Times Between

Those Times Between

Thank You, God, for mild spring
and autumn,
those times between
when we can catch our breath
and stand unhindered by extremes
and recall there is a rest
waiting for us
if we will but let go
those things we clutch so tightly
their spring colors transform to autumn hue.
Life is only truly lived
free.

c. March 25, 2007

 
 

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What Is It To Be Human?

What Is It To Be Human?

What is it to be human?

What is staying alive? To possess
A great hall inside of a cell.
What is it to know? The same root
Underneath the branches.

What is it to believe? Being a carer
Until relief takes over.
And to forgive? On fours through thorns
To keep company to an old enemy.

What is it to sing? To receive breath
From the genius of creation.
What’s work but humming a song
From wood and wheat.

What are state affairs? A craft
That’s still only crawling?
And armaments? Thrust a knife
In a baby’s fist.

Being a nation? What can it be? A gift
In the swell of the heart.
And to love a country? Keeping house
In a cloud of witnesses.

What’s the world to the all powerful?
A circle spinning.
And to the children of the earth?
A cradle rocking.

Waldo Williams (translated from the Welsh by Menna Elfyn)

According to the article about him on Wikipedia,

Waldo (GoronwyWilliams (30 September 1904 – 20 May 1971) was one of the leading Welsh languagepoets of the twentieth century. He was also a notable pacifist, anti-war campaigner, and Welsh nationalist.

The fourth and fifth stanzas of the poem above reveal his political views. The translator states,

One must remember that “nationhood” in Wales was very often synonymous with anti-militaristic campaigns. Very many prominent poets in Wales have been known as pacifists, seeing their patriotism as embedded in total regard for human life and rejecting notions of “imperialism” and “colonization.” Many would argue that Wales was the very first acquisition of the English state when Wales was conquered in the thirteenth century, its princes killed, and the Welsh language disallowed. (Poetry, April 2008)

This poem reminds me of the spoken intro to the song “Higher Education and the Book of Love” by Rich Mullins:

What does it mean to be human?
What does it mean to be human?

I cannot help but suspect that, at one time in the history of thinking,
people believed that it meant that we were spiritual,
and that we could make choices,
and were capable of aspiring to higher ideals…
like maybe loyalty or maybe faith…
Or maybe even love.

But now we are told by people who think they know
that we vary from amoeba only in the complexity of our makeup
and not in what we essentially are.

They would have us think,
as Dysart said,
that we are forever bound up in certain genetic reins —
that we are merely products of the way things are
and not free —
not free to be the people who make them that way.

They would have us see ourselves as products so that
we could believe that we were something to be made,
something to be used,
and then something to be disposed of.
Used in their wars —
Used for their gains —
and then set aside when we get in their way.

Well, who are they?
They are the few who sit at the top of the heap —
dung heap though it is —
and who say it is better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven.

Well, I do not know that we can have a Heaven here on earth,
but I am sure we need not have a Hell here either.

What does it mean to be human?
I cannot help but believe that it means we are spiritual,
that we are responsible, and that we are free —
that we are responsible to be free.

Influenced greatly by St. Francis of Assisi, Rich Mullins endeavored to live what he believed. He died at age 41 in an auto accident in autumn 1997.

Of possible further interest:
1) Fan site for the late Rich Mullins: Calling Out Your Name
2) Lyrics with the intro to “Higher Education”: Lyrics Mode
3) Poetry Foundation
4) Rich Mullins on YouTube
4) Waldo Williams official website
5) Menna Elfyn’s website — in Welsh!

 

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The Flood

The Flood

Elizabeth Easter‘s award-winning poem below is  melodramatic and angst-y, as befits meeting with a long-ago ex-fiance and finally saying all the things unsaid.

She first met him when she was sixteen and he a musician in his early twenties — the stuff of romantic fantasies — and after musical collaborations where she wrote the lyrics and he wrote the tunes, after an engagement ring and dreamy plans, he sang his songs and played his guitar for another Elizabeth, and for many other women whose names she did not record.

But, as she expresses in “The Flood”, rejection is not the end, nor is one person the future.

The Flood

You left
a high-water mark
on the walls of my heart–
a crusted undulating line
that marks the end
of the rising filthy tide
of pollution I once called
love.

Puddles
of receding emotion
lap against my reality boots
and cover the toes,
but I feel nothing,
wading through the muck and
debris like Peter walked on
water:

If I
look down, I might sink
into that miserable morass
of self-pity and doubt,
mourning the lost years
and cursing you for taking them,
for making the dreams
die.

Buckets
of memory bleach
saturate the walls and wash away
disease, letting the clean things shine through,
leaving behind the bones of a house
in which laughter will ring
again.

c2000, EE

 

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