Eleanor Rigby, Revisited

I love poetry! I really, really do. So you might wonder why I don’t follow any poetry blogs.

Short answer: because the poems are not edited, or not edited enough.

Long answer: because (usually) there are still basic grammar mistakes, formatting errors, and the language needs to be condensed. Many of them also lack substance and read too much like a diary. (A good example of this is Courtney Peppernell’s Pillow Thoughts, which I did not care for – it seems to be popular because it has the Tumblr aesthetic.) Poems should, generally, have strong images that convey ideas for you. Your poems should show, not tell.

Today, I want to share an assignment from the creative writing course I took several years ago. It helped me refine my writing process and should help you identify what the strongest points of your writing are.

For this exercise, we need to start off with a song, preferably one with strong imagery. In my class, we used “Eleanor Rigby” by The Beatles. I have pasted the lyrics below, removing all the repeats.

Ah, look at all the lonely people

Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice
In the church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream
Waits at the window, wearing the face
That she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

Father McKenzie, writing the words
Of a sermon that no one will hear
No one comes near
Look at him working, darning his socks
In the night when there’s nobody there
What does he care

Eleanor Rigby died in the church
And was buried along with her name
Nobody came
Father McKenzie, wiping the dirt
From his hands as he walks from the grave
No one was saved

Now, let’s cut out everything unnecessary or that we don’t want to work with.

Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice
In the church where a wedding has been
Waits at the window, wearing the face
That she keeps in a jar by the door

Father McKenzie, writing the words
Of a sermon that no one will hear

Eleanor Rigby died in the church
And was buried along with her name
Nobody came
Father McKenzie, wiping the dirt
From his hands as he walks from the grave
No one was saved

From this, we can finally put pen to paper for our rough draft. We need to capture this in our own words. If I remember correctly, this took about half an hour to churn out:

The happy faces have all gone away
and Eleanor’s is stuck to the window.
She stoops to pick up the rice while
Father McKenzie pens a sermon for
no one.

The lonely are on display.

The dirt falls from the Father’s hands
when he leaves Eleanor’s grave.
Even God stayed away.

This is the step where, IMHO, most poetry bloggers would stop and hit the publish button. It’s grammatically correct and the formatting is fine. But it’s still pretty rough, right?

At this stage, here’s what we need to read for: hackneyed or dead language, unnecessary words, rhythm, flow (do your line breaks make sense?), and originality. Also, is the situation of your poem clear?

It might take a few days before you can see the flaws in your own writing. It’s been several years since I wrote this, so it seems pretty awful to me now, haha. Let’s go through it together.

The happy faces have all gone away
Happy faces is too generic and doesn’t bring a wedding to mind.
and Eleanor’s is stuck to the window.
I use the word “stuck” too much, though I do like it here.
She stoops to pick up the rice while
Father McKenzie pens a sermon for
no one.
This is condensed but still borrowed language.

The lonely are on display.

The dirt falls from the Father’s hands
when he leaves Eleanor’s grave.
This is okay, but we could do something a bit more with this image.
Even God stayed away.

This is the difficult part. We’ve had our initial word vomit come out on the page, and now we have to fix it. This is one possible revision:

With fists full of rice, Eleanor sticks her face
to the window. Her masks rest in the jar.
Father McKenzie stares at his sermon for
no one.

The lonely are on display.

The Father brushes the last trace of her
from his hands.
Even God stayed away.

It’s still not perfect, but it’s getting there.

If you struggle with editing your poems, I hope this helped you. I loved this assignment because it really takes the pressure off when you start with something that’s already great. Plus, I think a lot of writers talk about their writing process but it’s rare that you actually get to see why they make the choices that they did, so I wanted to share what little wisdom I have with you.

I’d love to read your rewrites of “Eleanor Rigby” or another song!

-Odette

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Is Poetry Dead?

When you’re 5, people ask you what you want to be when you grow up, and no matter what your answer is, they will encourage you.

I learned the hard way that that is not the case when you’re 17.

I was on my first college visit, facing death by firing squad white knuckling a folder full of paperwork and answering questions during my panel interview. I knew the question was coming and I didn’t know how to answer it:

“What career do you plan to pursue?”

I hesitated but my voice was clear. “I want to be a poet.” The entire room erupted in laughter. My face flushed, but I wasn’t surprised by their response. It was a naive goal and I knew it.

But that was the honest answer.

When they finally stopped giggling, they said that of course I could pursue poetry, but I would definitely need to be more adaptable and learn to write more than just poetry. I didn’t need to be told that, but I forced a smile and nodded, praying the blush would fade from my cheeks quickly.

Three years later, at a different school, I enrolled in a poetry workshop. Every week, the 6 of us shared our poems and gave each other honest feedback. In that class, I wasn’t the painfully shy and timid girl I was everywhere else. I could talk for hours about what was working and not working in my classmates’ poems.

The following year, I graduated, having double-majored in economics and English, with a creative writing concentration to boot. I had my practical degree and my degree that would help me follow my dreams.

And a month later, I got my $100 check for winning a poetry competition.

Since then, I’ve bounced from one dead-end job to the next. I scribbled a few poems here and there, but the bills come first. You have to fulfill your obligations before your dreams. And the longer I waited, the more impossible it seemed. Even my “practical degree” wasn’t delivering.

My reserves were depleted.

Then, a couple weeks ago, I went to a poetry workshop at the library that was led by a local poet. It was more nerve-wracking than the panel interview. I had to read my poem twice because they couldn’t hear me the first time. My hands were shaking and I was almost crying, but they all said they loved it.

Last week, I went back to the library for a one-on-one with a different poet. It was supposed to be a critique of one poem. She ended up reading about 5 and instead of circling things to change, she just underlined the things she loved and told me to get to work on getting published.

I went through every resource she gave me. I bookmarked every writing contest, checked out every writing group, and researched the publishing history of my favorite poets. Then, like a good student, I went back to the library.

There were the latest issues of Writer’s Market and The Writer – all of those things that tell you where you could get your poetry published. But where was Poetry magazine, where was any journal or magazine at all that would publish poetry? I went to the main branch. Same story.

In desperation, I went to the closest bookstore, and I have never felt so grateful to a Barnes & Noble in my life. They had an entire wall of poetry and I left the store with a list of ten magazines to research.

So, no, poetry isn’t dead.

I probably won’t be the next Billy Collins, but I have to believe I will be somebody. I can still be a poet.

via Daily Prompt: Deplete

Our Kind of Cruelty – Book Review

I received my ARC of “Our Kind of Cruelty” in the mail yesterday and could not put it down until I finished it this afternoon.

From the blurb on the back cover, I expected it to be creepy or a Dean Koontz type horror book, but I didn’t find it frightening at all. It was just fascinating.

If you have ever wondered what goes on in the mind of a stalker, this book is for you.

Our unreliable narrator, Mike, writes the story of his relationship with Verity from his jail cell. V left him after he confessed to having a one night stand in America, and Mike is convinced that her engagement is a sham. V obviously wants to make him pay for what he did to her. This is their ultimate “Crave” – a twisted foreplay where V is approached by other men and leads them on. Then, when she decides she’s had enough, she signals to Mike to chase the guy off. He just has to watch and wait for her signal.

Spoiler-Free Review:

You need to read this book. While there were a few minor problems with pacing and, to a lesser degree, the development of the plot in the second half, spending time in Mike’s head and guessing V’s true feelings made this a compelling read.

*Spoiler Warning*

Continue reading “Our Kind of Cruelty – Book Review”

When to Stop Asking “What If”

Hubby and I have been married for about a year and a half, and the question seems to crop up more and more as time goes on: when are we going to have kids? At least, that’s the question other people ask. What I wonder about is if we are going to have kids.

I don’t hate children. I’m not particularly fond of them either, though, and I just have no desire to procreate. Motherhood is simply not something I have any wish to experience.

People might believe I am selfish or that I want to be a kid forever – that I am too cowardly to take on the responsibilities that come with being a mother. That’s really not the case. I love working hard. I love doing things for other people. If I were to have a child, I’m sure I would find that relationship to be fulfilling in ways that no other relationship I’ve ever had would be. However, that does not change the fact that I’m not interested in taking that path in life. Plus, there are other ways to mature emotionally. Having children is not the only way to escape childhood.

Further, I’m not even sure I could have children if I wanted to. I have extremely irregular periods (PCOS) and that, of course, would make having children more complicated. I have considered the possibility that I have convinced myself I don’t want to have children because I’m scared that I can’t, but that doesn’t seem likely. There are a lot of things in life that I’m afraid I can’t or won’t do, but I haven’t talked myself out of wanting them.

Over the past few weeks, I have had one of the worst periods of my life. I had some issues with spotting and every time I was about to start bleeding again, I would have suicidal thoughts. Then, when I finally started my period for real, I had the worst mood swings I have ever had in my life. Plus, I felt like I legitimately needed to hibernate.

I went to the doctor and explained all of this and was told that it was normal. The doctor recommended an IUD, which would help with hormone regulation.

Why would I do that, though, if I never plan on having children? Shouldn’t I just get a hysterectomy and be done with it? I don’t know if I’m second guessing myself because I legitimately don’t know what I want or if everyone telling me I’m going to change my mind is psyching me out.

At what point should you stop listening to that little voice in your head that says one day you might change your mind?

Spring 2018 Anime

I am so excited for this season. Since hubby is the one that got me into anime, most of the series I’ve watched are his favorites or older shows he thought I would enjoy. I did watch Violet Evergarden and Mahoutsukai no Yome as they were airing, but this season I have six shows I want to watch. SIX. THE HYPE IS REAL.

So, what will I be watching?

Tokyo Ghoul:re

I was not expecting another season of Tokyo Ghoul, but I am so pumped for it. It starts two years after the end of √A. As I have not read the manga, I have no idea what to expect. Maybe more Touka? I kind of hope not. I love her, but I’m hoping for all new characters.

Piano no Mori

The only music anime I’ve seen is Your Lie in April, which I loved, so of course I need more in my life. It even sounds a bit similar to Your Lie in April, with one character who had a musically inclined parent who was very strict and another character who is more of a free spirit. I’m hoping for something new with it, but I’m sure the music will be awesome regardless.

Mahou Shoujo Site

This is the perfect show for a grown-up Sailor Moon fan, right? Girls getting magical powers from the internet. Sounds legit.

Dorei-ku The Animation

This could be amazing or terrible. The premise sounds interesting (and kind of like a twist on Code Geass), but we’ll have to wait and see.

Kuroneko Monroe

Each episode of this is only supposed to be about a minute long and is based on essays a first-time pet owner wrote after getting a cat. I’m sure it will be adorable.

Tomie

It’s an anime about a succubus. What could go wrong?

Image Source

What I Look For In A Church

I haven’t written anything (that I can remember) about religion on this blog before, but the time has come to rip off that band-aid.

Hubby and I moved (again) not too long ago, and this is the first time I have gone to church regularly since I first moved out of my parents’ place to be with him. I dragged him to church with me once while we were still living in the south, and it was not a good experience. Partly because of that, and partly because I just like having something to do on my own, I have been church hunting alone.

I don’t think it’s any secret that young people/millennials aren’t much of a churchgoing bunch. (I’m in my mid-twenties.) There are a lot of things that many churches have done to try to reclaim young people, but in my experience, many of these efforts have come across as phony, pandering, or desperate. It doesn’t work on dates and it definitely doesn’t work in church.

So, what am I looking for in a church? A lot, actually.

Sermons need to be straightforward and have a heavy reliance on scripture.

I would think this would be self-evident and the goal of any preacher. However, I’ve been to enough churches to know that this is a surprisingly tall order. I like learning. I like taking notes. I want Biblical analysis. If there is debate over what a verse means or how a phrase is translated, I want to know what the differing opinions are. The more your sermon is like taking a literature course, the better.

What I don’t want is a pastor reading one or two verses (generally from different books of the Bible) and then expounding on his opinion of what the verses mean or how to apply that in life for an hour. For example, I have heard several sermons on the Lord’s Prayer, and somehow it takes an hour to make the point that God forgives you in the same way that you forgive those who have wronged you, i.e. I hope you’re not holding any grudges.

It’s fine to talk about politics if what you’re saying is in direct response to scripture.

An excellent topic for churches to discuss is the proposed circumcision ban in Iceland. I would love to hear about the religious significance of this practice, examples of it in the Bible, and opinions on whether the practice should continue or how to respond if it is banned (assuming the argument is that it should continue).

I recently had the misfortune of attending a church that had a guest speaker (who I don’t believe was religious at all) that talked about why everyone should be part of the Black Lives Matter movement. Not a word of scripture was quoted to support this position. What galled me the most about this was the speaker talking about how black people have not received any reparations for the wrongs of the past. The preacher then got up and talked about forgiveness. Hm… Don’t think they were on the same page.

In short, God’s word needs to come before your political agenda.

I get that the church wants new members and wants people to be saved, but asking every week if anyone has invited Jesus into their heart for the first time is not necessary.

This is particularly true for youth groups. To me, it comes across as borderline cult behavior. I have no problem with asking if anyone has particular concerns that they want a church elder to pray with them about, but always asking if there are new believers is one of those things that, in my humble opinion, reeks of desperation.

This was always my least favorite thing about youth group. We would sing a few songs, someone would come out and talk about how they were saved, we would see if anyone had converted, then we sang again and it was time to go. Your service should nourish the faith of believers, deepen their understanding of God, and inspire them to live more purposefully for God. It shouldn’t simply be a means to an end.

The icing on the cake for this one is if you have a small church or there obviously aren’t a lot of visitors. Don’t put the newcomers on the spot like that. Remind people they can put prayer requests in the offering plate and ask if they want anyone to pray with them. Make yourself available after service is over. But this constant emphasis on finding out if there are new believers drives me up the wall.

The music.

Of course, I am quite opinionated when it comes to church music; I played piano for a church for several years before being part of a church choir. I know what I like and what I don’t. It’s not a complete deal-breaker, but if I don’t like the music and I’m not sure how I feel about your church, it might tip the scales and keep me from coming back.

I don’t mind some contemporary songs, but they have to have substance to them. Nothing with “na na na na na na” or repeating the same phrase over and over again works for me. I also much prefer using the hymnal to only seeing the words on a projector.

Finally, I have to say it: I hate it when churches have bands. Drums and electric guitar are too much for me. I feel like many churches introduced drums and the more “rock” style to appeal to young people, and it really doesn’t work for me. There are some Christian bands that I like, but for the most part, please stop trying to make church music cool. That is my assessment of the situation.

If you don’t have a Bible study group, what are you doing?

This is such a basic thing. Just do it. While I loved learning to crochet at one of the churches I used to go to (one of our projects was to make little hats for newborns), before you do some more random things, just get that one right.

Be open about what your church’s denomination believes.

I’m not saying you need to get into the nitty gritty of it every Sunday, but putting this information on your church’s website is very helpful for newcomers. If you’re Protestant, why aren’t you Catholic? If you’re Protestant, what makes your denomination different from all the others?

Those are my main demands. Communion is optional for me, I don’t care if you talk about your church’s budget openly, and it doesn’t matter in the least what your building looks like. Just make sure what you’re preaching is solid and I will probably be happy.

Rethinking Anonymity

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After scribbling away in private journals and anonymous blog posts for most of my adolescence and early adulthood, I think it’s time to finally go public with my writing. Over the past couple of weeks, I have been writing and editing like crazy, and I am so excited for how my poetry collection has developed.

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This weekend, I have plans to go to a poetry workshop. Then, in the following weeks, I am meeting with an established poet at my library who is supposed to give advice on publishing. Unless something earth-shattering is revealed during that meeting, I plan to enter my poetry manuscript into a contest. If I am fortunate enough to win, the contest holder will publish my manuscript. If I don’t win, I plan to self-publish my collection this fall.

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Either way, I now have a set deadline to finish my manuscript. And when it comes out, I want the name on the cover to match the name on this blog. This means my blog will be getting another facelift, and some posts may be deleted to protect my friends and family.

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I suppose I could pick another pen name, but I have yet to think of one I like at least as much as my real name. We shall see.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

Emotion in The Ancient Magus’ Bride and Violet Evergarden

This season, I have been watching Mahoutsukai no Yome and Violet Evergarden and was pleasantly surprised to discover that they explore many of the same ideas.

In Mahoutsukai no Yome, we are introduced to Elias as a character who is devoid of emotion. At the beginning of the series, Elias believes that about himself, but as his relationship with Chise develops, it becomes self-evident that he does have emotions but has not been socialized enough to understand himself or those around him.

Violet, the titular character of Violet Evergarden, is definitely human, but at this point in the series we’re not exactly sure of her backstory. We know that she has been used as a weapon on the battlefield, but it’s unclear what that entailed. Unlike Elias, we know she has definitely been around people for a long time, but she thrived in the military environment of complete order. She works as an Auto Memoir Doll in part to understand what love is, but also largely because it’s the only thing she can do now that the war is over.

While I was initially hoping that Mahoutsukai no Yome would develop differently – I wanted the series to further operate as though Elias was actually devoid of emotion and show the limits of relationships when one side is unable to reciprocate emotionally – now Elias and Violet are both in the thick of it, learning what it means to love and be loved.

I’m sure I will have more profound things to say once both series conclude, but for now, I will simply say that I am hooked.