Westwind

RSS

The Blog

Post by Jessica Humphrey

Originally from Wisconsin, Mona Simpson is a novelist and short story writer, as well as an English and creative writing professor at UCLA. As an undergraduate, she studied poetry at UC Berkeley then pursued an MFA in writing at Columbia University and served as an editor for the literary magazine The Paris Review. Her acclaimed 1987 debut novel, Anywhere But Here, follows a dissatisfied mother and reluctant daughter on their ambitious trip to California. Her most recent novel, Casebook, depicts a young boy’s tumultuous journey into the depths of the adult world as he seeks to understand his parents.

How would you describe your writing to someone who has never read it?

Hmmm. That’s a good question. It would be a useful skill for any writer on a book tour who goes onto a radio show. The first question the DJ asks is, “So you’ve written a book. What’s it about?” In a way, that’s kind of a nonfiction question. It works really well if you’ve happened to write about your year covering ISIS recruits, or the current state of forensic mental health facilities, if the excavation of the story is really the most interesting and important thing, but with novels, the story isn’t always what matters. I could be describing either a great novel, a mediocre novel or a bad novel. Job’s story in the old testament is pretty much the same as The Perils of Pauline. Many 19th century novels could be described as “an orphan grows up” or “a young woman without a dowry is wooed by a cad and then gets married.”

I ask because I see that writers often feel pressure to develop a unique writing style, so that they can stand out when pitching themselves. For example, a professor once told me that I should have a mini bio of myself and a logline of my most recent story memorized just in case I run into some publisher in the elevator.

I’ve heard people say this, but if you could compress the story into one line, you wouldn’t have needed to write the novel. Also, that’s sort of other people’s job. I’d make a poor publicist, clearly. In terms of a writing style, I think we each do have a personal style, but I don’t know if we develop it so much as get out of its way.

Since you’re a novelist and a short story writer, in your opinion, what is special about the short story form?

It’s transporting and very unforgiving. A short story really has to take your breath away. As a reader, you live with a novel because you’re together much longer. The novel is more congenial if you tend to believe in incremental change, whereas a short story really requires revelation.

In terms of writing a short story?

Well, I’ve never certainly sat down and written out a first draft of a novel in one sitting, but you can do that with a short story, and that’s thrilling.

That reminds me of a quote from T.C. Boyle where he says, “The joy of the novel is that you know what you’re going to do tomorrow.”

Exactly. [Short story writing] is a much more high-wire act. A virtuosic performance.

What do you find to be the most difficult part of the overall writing process?

Really the most difficult part of writing is the most difficult part of life—that is to remain hopeful despite innumerable obstacles, including the seeming cruelty of fate, the randomness of luck, the disappointments of beloved people. To write a book, a great amount of faith is required to sustain one through days of completely hidden work, invisible to the world and even perhaps to one’s own friends. All that keeps it together is a fragile vision only occasionally glimpsed.

Because a lot of Westwind’s readers are college-aged, do you have any advice for aspiring writers that you think they haven’t heard before?

You know, you’re coming to me, as it happens, the day after Philip Roth died, so I’ve been thinking a lot about Philip Roth and his life as a beautiful example of work. If this is what you want to do, then put it at the center of your life and just do it every day, for years and years. However, you choose to get better, if you choose to go to graduate school or if you choose not to, none of those choices really matter nearly as much as just doing it every day. There’s no such thing as a writer who’s not an autodidact. You teach yourself what you need to know ultimately, you read the books you need to read to write the books you want to write. I hope you’ll also find a way to be happy. There are different kinds of writers; some people will find success in the world and some people have fewer readers, less success, but if what you mean to do is die with a shelf of books that you’ve given your life to, then you’ll want to find a way to live among people who will understand that impulse and mission.

That’s a beautiful answer.

Aww, thank you.

If I’m correct, you have been teaching short fiction at UCLA since 2001. Because I know you’ve taught elsewhere, how has that experience been for you? Is there anything specific about UCLA students that you’ve learned?

One thing I like about teaching writing is that fiction is not a competitive sport. The best story Jessica can write is not the same story as the best story Abraham or Jodi can write. I mean I went to UC Berkeley, so I was a UC student, I’m familiar with UC students, I love teaching UC students, and that’s not to say that there aren’t talented students at other places too, but I think what distinguishes UCLA students, to me, is that we’re a very diverse group. You’re going to meet people who have very different backgrounds. There’s always been—in my classes when I was a student and in my classes as I teach—there’s always somebody who’s living at home, helping out their parents with their produce store and then commuting into UCLA, and there’s always a rich girl who drives her own convertible, and everything in between. You have a great variety of life.

You mention often in class that you hope we form bonds with the other writers. What else do you hope students get from your workshops?

I would recommend staying in touch with the teachers you love. But if there’s one thing they could take away from my class, well, I’ll say three things. You have to find the books you love to read and read them every day, you need to write every day, and you will want to keep yourself in a state to write every day—you can’t let yourself become depressed, overly critical or self-destructive. You need to have some fun with it. Make some friends, start a magazine, organize a student reading series, fall in love with a poet, make this your world.

Post by Eunice Shin

Music, literature, and film are often heavily connected, one medium referencing the other and vice versa. As an avid pop music listener and as an English major, I enjoy these connections, especially when they come in the form of allusions in the lyrics or in music videos. While I have to dig a little deeper for the lyrical allusions, with the visual form of the music video, these connections are made all the more obvious, especially when the concept for these music videos seems to come directly from the books. Whether it is because the song references the book itself or because the song mirrors the themes contained within the book, the added narrative element that accompanies each song really adds to the whole experience of the music, video and all. In honor of the retelling prompt for Westwind’s Flash Fiction contest, here are eight pop music videos with striking literary and film connections and contain a version of retelling.

1. Taylor Swift – “Love Story”

Of course, any list of music videos and literature has to contain Swift’s “Love Story” because of how blatantly literary it is. She references Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet directly in both the lyrics and the video, rewriting the tragic love story of young teenagers where Romeo and Juliet meet, marry each other, and die in the span of less than a week. Instead, Romeo somehow convinces Juliet’s father to forget about the longstanding feud between the Montagues and the Capulets and they get a happy ending. The video interestingly has a more Pride and Prejudice feel what with the dancing and the running in fields but the video does get the looking out of windows and love at first meetings part of the play down through the reinterpretation.

Taylor is no stranger to literary allusions. In her new album, she references The Great Gatsby, Kurt Vonnegut, and Dickens’ The Tale of Two Cities. Some other literary-related music Taylor Swift has done are “Blank Space” (with allusions to The Picture of Dorian Gray, Calypso from The Oddysey, and Twilight), “Ready For It” (with its sci-fi-esque imagery), and “You Belong with Me” (with the plot of what is probably a great many YA books).

2. Ariana Grande – “Right There”

Following the Romeo and Juliet train is Ariana Grande’s “Right There” which also seems to focus on the happy first meeting of the fated pair and little else. Reminiscent of Baz Luhrmann’s film Romeo+Juliet (and also his Gatsby coincidentally), Ariana (or Juliet, as the video prefaces with) frolics around a masquerade ball, meets Romeo, sings to him from a balcony, and ends up fully clothed in the pool with him, all while fluttering a fan. The song itself is about faithful and fated love, only one of which have been proven in the actual text, but really captures the feelings of young and impulsive love that the play portrays. Meanwhile, Big Sean (who is labeled as the Priest and not Friar Laurence) raps about the merits of his girl while chilling inside a church. Definitely a more faithful retelling of the iconic love tragedy than “Love Story.”

3. Pink – “Please Don’t Leave Me”

Moving away from the hopeful love and faithful promises that both Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande have portrayed as Juliet, Pink’s “Please Don’t Leave Me” is decidedly darker. For one, Pink moves away from the delicate and traditionally beautiful image of Juliet and Shakespeare altogether, choosing to go the Annie Wilkes from Stephen King’s Misery route instead. She locks her man in a room, inflicts various acts of violence on him, and prevents him from leaving through various tactics – just as Annie Wilkes does with Paul Sheldon. There’s also a nice nod to King’s The Shining, when Pink cuts a hole in the door with an ax and looks inside in true Jack fashion. All these horrifying actions take place while Pink apologetically croons to her lover and begs him not to leave her, adding a sinister edge to both the song and the video.

4. Twice – “What Is Love”

Twice’s infectious, bright jam about optimism and the naïve wish to experience love is crammed with all sorts of literary and film references about the different ways of finding love in books and movies. The music video shows the members enacting different parts of movies, taking inspiration from iconic scenes from The Princess Diaries, Ghost, La Boum, Pulp Fiction, Romeo and Juliet, Love Letter, La La Land, and Leon: The Professional. Through all of these references, they ask the question of “What Is Love” and all the feelings that come with it, mostly focusing on the pleasant aspects of it. Through these film references, Twice captures the wide range of what it means to be in love quite well, thus enhancing the video and the song through their reenactments of the films.

5. Iggy Azalea – “Fancy” (feat. Charli XCX)

Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” is an obvious tribute to the film Clueless, from the outfits, the setting, the actions and the people in the video reenact. Just as Clueless is a film about the wealth and status of Cher, Iggy Azalea’s song is similarly about wealth and status, more specifically Iggy’s own credibility. The music video hammers these themes home as it shows reenactments of iconic scenes such as the debate, the car ride on the freeway, the tennis courts, and the party. All that is absent is Josh and Cher’s lawyer father which only adds to the narrative of self-made success and emphasizes the 90’s icon that is Alicia Silverstone’s character. On a side note, Clueless is loosely based off of Jane Austen’s novel Emma which also contains the similar themes of wealth and societal standing.

6. BTS – “Blood Sweat & Tears”

BTS’s “Blood Sweat & Tears” is filled with art, aesthetically pleasing visuals, and bright contrasts of color. Given that Herman Hesse’s novel Demian heavily inspired the video, all of these choices come as no surprise. All of the cracks in the sculptures, the surplus of art, the organ playing, the images of wings and birds, the dialogue of “He too was a tempter,” and countless other images and scenes refer back to Demian and the characters within the novel. The song itself is about wanting and sacrificing everything for the pursuit of want regardless of whether it is wholesome or detrimental. This pursuit of want and the resulting discoveries connect back to Hesse’s novel which makes the song all the more complex and insightful on issues of love, success, and meaning.

7. Lana del Rey – “Tropico”

Lana Del Rey’s work is always brimming with literary allusions, ranging from Lolita to Carmen. In her short film “Tropico,” she performs her songs “Body Electric,” “Gods and Monsters,” and “Bel Air” to convey a Whitmanic ode. Within the short film, she uses figures like John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, and Jesus. Lana herself dresses as both Eve and Mary, using the religious figures to contrast and highlight the division between religion and the pursuit of the self while also combining the concepts of soul and body.  Referencing the Bible, Whitman, and others, she creates a complex relationship with the self and spirituality while seeming to celebrate herself and her body as Whitman encourages. The contrast between bright rosy colors and the dark shadows and dimly lit rooms within the video emphasizes the various divides the videos and the songs explore.

8. Michael Jackson – “Thriller”

Easily one of the most iconic videos in music history, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” is a culmination of various horror movies and tropes packed into a video that is almost fourteen minutes long. Incorporating sinister monologues, acting bits, and dance sequences, “Thriller” embodies the lyrics that emphasize fright and terror. Borrowing from films like The Wolfman, Dawn of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead for the storyline and the scenes and from Citizen Kane for elements of camera movements, staging, montages, and lighting, Michael Jackson creates a compelling video that emphasizes the frightening aspects of his song, one that adds greatly to it.

With all of these retellings, reenactments, and allusions to bolster each song, the intersection of music, film, and literature is made all too obvious. Not only do these allusions add levels of meaning and complexity to each song they are used for, they also embody the creative spirit that comes with retelling and art, thus making them more than trite songs on the radio.

Post by Amara Trabosh

Tropes can be really fun. However, tropes can often be raised to the level of cliché in our eyes. There are many tropes, especially in college student writing, that are inherently awful or sexist. Here are six you should definitely avoid.

Courtesy of Flickr

The Friend Zone

If I never read a story about a boy stuck in the friend zone again, my skin will clear and my grades will be perfect. This kind of story is just so tired. A boy likes his friend and whines about it. Sometimes we get to see her date someone else instead of the nice boy who’s been there all along #tragic. Sometimes she eventually realizes the error of her ways and they ride off into the sunset affirming said boy’s creepy obsession and his patriarchal expectations. While the friend zone can suck, it’s not a story anyone needs to hear if one or both of them are not zombies.

Too Good for the Club/Frat Party

Oh my god, the music is soooo loud, and the people are just waving their hands and hips around not even properly dancing. This must be the end of culture. If a zombie or alien attacks at this party, sign me up, but if the super cool and super smart person just stands in the corner and judges everyone else, please just take a minute and add some zombies.

The Isolated Intellectual

The plight of the man who is just too smart for everyone else around him and unfortunately cannot make any friends is not a real problem. We all know a boy who’s read one book and turned into a TED Talk. Just don’t write from that boy’s point of view. I don’t need him to explain how women work to me. Unless he’s a zombie in disguise, let’s just agree to not.

Courtesy of Pixabay

The Deep Revelation (to a privileged boy)

Not all representation is good. Having a fairly privileged boy realize that a construction worker can be smart too or that prostitutes are also people inside of their commodified bodies can come off as offensive to those groups. If you want to have more representation, try telling their story through their point of view not the perspective of an outsider. We don’t need any more stories in the world about white boys learning their privilege and thinking they’re going to change, but if you can show some real change in a non-condescending way, like being eaten by zombies in punishment for his privilege, then go for it.

The Not-Like-Other-Girls Girl

It might sound like a compliment, but it’s not. This kind of phrase or description of a girl (i.e. “unlike other girls she eats anything!”) is extremely misogynistic putting all girls into a lump group and placing this single female character on a pedestal as the only superior girl who can ultimately rise above the unfortunate fact of her gender. Maybe just try to not describe her at all if you know you end up going in that direction often or she’s not like other girls because she’s secretly a zombie.

Courtesy of Pexels

The Ugly Duckling

She takes off her glasses, and she’s beautiful! OMG. While we all love a good Freddie Prinze Jr. film, She’s All That is the worst plot hinging on beauty as women’s only value, so please don’t emulate it. Just try to write women that are real, you know like actual people and not sex objects. But if she takes off her glasses and becomes a zombie who all the boys and girls are into…

Tropes are trends for a reason. Not all of them are good reasons, but if you truly think you can bring something new to the table without reverting to sexism or racism, you should write away. Just be careful with tropes like the ones above which by nature lean towards sexism and have been used by white men for centuries. To be safe, ask yourself will your trope use really stand out of the trash heap?

Post by Dylan Karlsson

This spring, Westwind is launching an instapoetry series on our Instagram account @westwinducla, lending our platform as a communal space for sharing instapoems by students, readers, and writers alike. Instapoetry appears on our feeds, on bestseller lists, and in our poetic discourse, often derisively, with undermining sentiment or parody. Despite the abundance of conversation and speculation about the merits of instapoetry, there is a lack of critical, serious engagement with the form. Westwind’s very own Tatianna Giron contended with critiques of Rupi Kaur’s work in her article. The go-to critique of instapoetry made by critics, that it is over-commercial, obsessed with branding and image, could just as easily be waged against the academic standard-holders of “Poetry with a capital P.”

Courtesy of @nayyirah.waheed

As poet Momtaza Mehri writes in her piece Letters From a Young (Female) Poet, “For some, Instagram and Pinterest will serve as a gateway drug into more complex and messy renderings of the human experience. This is especially true for younger, budding poets who are already hyper-aware of the feminized and racialized biases they will have to contend with. Young poets who want to experiment and grow don’t need to be patronized or lectured to about Real Poetry™.”

Poetry is always in flux, changing hands and mutating its structure, and along with it, audience and market. To begin to limit the definition of poetry would be to limit its potential, and to deny the many young poets, many of whom are women of color, just beginning their practice and career as writers. In envisioning the medium’s future, we should be working towards open access to tools of community and criticism, not expending our energy on a discourse that merely builds fortifications for a professional class of poets.

Courtesy of @nayyirah.waheed

As so many have articulated, poetry is not a zero-sum game, and so, acceptance of a new poetic community should not be predicated on assimilation into a singular poetic mold. Rather, new poetic forms can cohere new communities, which soon flourish into outgrowths of creation and further potential. In taking poetry to the realm of social media, even with all the entanglements that terrain presents, we are reminded of poetry’s tangible utility: how it can foster community, offer a sense of awareness and belonging, and promote resilience and mental health care. The practice of poets Nayyirah Waheed and Yrsa Daley-Ward is one attuned to healing and self-discovery, their work reading like meditations for a healthy practice of living through trauma and doubt. Still, the nascent instapoetry community is growing and exploring the possibilities for the medium.

In support of instapoets, with or without a “following,” Westwind invites submissions of your work to our Instagram page. We encourage a departure from the typical marketing-termed “engagement,” to a critical engagement with the words and work of active and practicing poets.

Post by Abigail D. Hernandez

The world of comic books is an expansive universe that holds many characters and imaginative places that is somehow relatable to the reader even though most of its content is fiction. Throughout comic book history, there has been a constant fight to keep this practice alive. For the most part, this has worked thanks to hit movie franchises like The Avengers and The Batman Trilogy. Although most of this success is due to movie and television live adaptations, fans can still have superhero content in their hands by visiting the many comic book stores LA has to offer. Some are unique, others are vintage, and some are just plain fun. These are the top four spots comic book lovers should visit for some good superhero reading time!

Courtesy of Yelp

1. Golden Apple Comics

Golden Apple Comics in Los Angeles is the “Comic Shop to the Stars”. Founded in 1979 by Bill and Sharon Liebowitz, it has a rich history as the premier comic book store in Los Angeles. If you are looking for comics and pop culture in L.A., this is the place to visit. They have a wide selection of modern comics, back issues, and exclusive variants in-store and online. Golden Apple also offers a large selection of toys, action figures, statues, trading cards and more.

New books are offered every Wednesday from Marvel, DC, Image, IDW, Dynamite, Boom, Aftershock, Black Mask and independent publishers. There is also a free pull box service, so you never miss an issue. Customers can pick up comic book issues in-store or have books shipped directly to their door!

Golden Apple is also famous for its creator signing events, with customers lining up around the block to meet famous comic book creators like Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Jim Lee.

Courtesy of Yelp

2. Collector’s Paradise

Collector’s Paradise was created in September 1994 when Edward Greenberg and Joseph Zelich bought an existing comic book store called Little Angel’s Comics. For the next few years, the two tried to refocus the business model of the old store and focus more on comic books and customer service.

What sets them apart from other comic book shops is the unbeatable service they provide. All their store staff is enthusiastic and knowledgeable about comic books and are prepared to go out of their way to help you find a specific comic – even if it is out of print! Their graphic novel selection is massive with multiple shelves of the best graphic novels and even collector’s editions. Plus, the store is host to a comic book club where each month a special issue it selected to be read by the club’s comic fanatics.

The best part of going to Collector’s Paradise is the art gallery where they have dedicated a space to display prints and original artwork by famous and popular comic book creators. The store also offers huge discounts to its most loyal members that can get them into exclusive events. From signings to midnight releases to a month-long Free Comic Book event held every year in May, this comic shop’s number one priority is always trying to keep its costumers excited about taking a trip down to a comic book store!

Courtesy of Yelp

3. Secret Headquarters

Secret Headquarters is exactly what you would expect from a Sunset Junction comic book shop: it looks like a posh home library with a section dedicated to Alejandro Jodorowsky. Although it has a vintage hipster look that attracts more indie comic book readers than its other mainstream store competitors, it’s definitely not an old-school store.

Titles are nicely arranged along the wall and on tables, so you’ll do very little flipping through boxes. The selection features a mix of indie and mainstream titles, as well as a healthy zine section. If you’re not sure what to buy, check out the $2 zines near the cash register. This is where your low-end purchase may result in a new favorite artist.

Have comic books at home that you don’t need anymore? Well then take them down to Secret Headquarters where they will happily buy your old comics. For the most part, they buy Golden Age Comics (1955 or earlier), Pulp magazines, Art books and Vintage comic oddities.

Courtesy of Yelp

4. The Comic Bug

The Comic Bug opened its doors in 2004 in Culver City, Los Angeles and since then it has given comic book lovers a place to get together and talk about the things they love. Events are held monthly, and it becomes a great networking opportunity for creators to meet and exchange ideas as well as the usual fan-centric signings. The store might be small, but it carries a big selection of titles that tend to appeal to any mainstream comic book fan.

One of the store’s main focal point is its exclusive selection of titles dedicated to locally made independent comics. The Comic Bug has always supported small publishing companies that highlight native Los Angeles talent.

With the store’s new interior renovation, they have transformed the store into a cool and local comic book shop that’s great for hanging out either with friends or even alone. They have recently remodeled, adding new space, merchandise, couches and chairs, and music. They’re now selling delicious candy and snacks as well so you can really relax and enjoy your comic. Along with carrying diverse merchandise, the Comic Bug Staff is quite knowledgeable about all things comics. Most importantly of all, they’re super friendly to new comic book beginners!

Comic book lovers have been around for generations and aren’t going away any time soon. In fact, comic book stores have increased in the last few years and new people are becoming fans of comics day by day. The expansive world of superheroes and villains is vast with unique characters and fast-paced narratives that indulge the reader even more than the amazing artwork. Whether a beginner or professional comic reader, all comic nerds can take pride that they are buying from the very best and finest comic book shops in LA!

Post by Jessica Humphrey

Has the Great Mental Flood™ blocked you from writing for 40 days and 40 nights? In other words, have you been Noah’s Dark’ed? As you can tell from that last line, you’re not the only one. It’s a fact that every writer deals with writer’s block, especially if you’re a full-time student who doesn’t have the mental capacity to think of anything besides schoolwork. Regardless, here are 15 prompts that will most definitely rocket launch you onto The New York Times Best Seller List. Disclaimer: Westwind expects a writing credit and a mention on the dedications page.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

1. #RainbowGate

Randomly, UCLA’s inverted fountain starts spouting iridescent, rainbow water instead of its usual yellowish-brown water. Students rejoice and start skipping class to splash in the magical oasis. Campus police soon arrive at the scene and manage to find a freshman who witnessed something odd happening on school grounds the previous night, “I can’t even begin to explain what I saw.” What did the student see? Uncover the Roy G. Biv mystery.

2. Just Shut Up

Tell a story involving no characters or dialogue. The plot must be developed through changing imagery.

3. Multiple Personality Poem

Write a poem with two narrators. Each line is written by a different narrator and they are fiercely bickering.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

4. Stumped Trump

Write something that Trump would have submitted to Westwind in the 60s. Also, write his reply to the rejection email.

5. For sale: vegan food, never eaten

Hemingway famously wrote this six-word novel: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Write your own, but “vegan” must be one of the words.

6. A Fanfic Fanfic

Fanfic writers are some of the most creative writers in the world, but they relish in making things awkward. For revenge, write a fanfic involving two fanfic writers.

Courtesy of Flickr

7. Professor Relish with the Ketchup Bottle

Clue’s murder mystery game will always be a classic, but what really happened in the ballroom between Colonel Mustard and his lead pipe?

8. Single people on Valentine’s

Write a version of The Christmas Carol with a Scrooge but make it another holiday.

9. Be unoriginal and dramatic

We all hate when a TV episode starts by showing us a snippet of a catastrophic event, only to rewind 24 hours. Do the same! Write a two-part story where the first part happens 24 hours after the second part.

Courtesy of Pixabay

10. #CocaCola2020, #BlueTsunami

All polar bears suddenly decide to storm the U.S. because they are absolutely sick of climate change. Where do they set up camp, and will they join politics? 

11. Please Subscribe, Comment, and Die

YouTube shuts down and its stars flock the streets, Purge style. Write a screenplay for this event in vlog form.

12. Gene Writer’s Block

Write a story about the time you walked into Gene Block’s office hours to discuss a very important school matter and walked out with a job offer and an expulsion.

Courtesy of PxHere

13. Photoflash Fiction

A photographer visits the same place three times in her life: once as a child, then as a teenager, and lastly as an adult. While she aged, how did the setting age?

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

14. Incredible Mystery

Incredibles 2 is coming out soon, but there are still some questions about the first movie that need to be answered. For example, what’s the background story behind the neck-braced man that sued Mr. Incredible for saving his life, what made him attempt suicide, and how was he in therapy?

15. Lost in Assumption

Write clashing points of view from characters who experienced a profound miscommunication (Doctor/Patient, Student/Teacher, Father/Daughter, Country/President, etc.).

Now that your head is swarming with ideas, scribble away, Hemingway! Of course, don’t forget to submit your masterpieces to Westwind…or else!

Post by Tatianna Giron

Rupi Kaur is a name that most people are familiar with, even if they don’t read poetry. The 25-year old Canadian-Indian woman has amassed a 2.2 million following on Instagram. Her work, milk and honey, has sold over a million copies online and been translated into several languages. Her newest work, the sun and her flowers, ranked #2 on Amazon’s bestselling list. You may not have seen her work personally, but parodies of it which are all over the internet and do an admittedly accurate job at emulating her style (see image below).

But Rupi Kaur has done something that most poets haven’t been able to. She’s made poetry—or at least her brand of it—an art form that few people read, popular. But does popularity translate to authenticity? Can Kaur’s work—and the works of other social media poets—be considered actual poetry?

Social-Media Style Poetry—“Instapoetry”

A Rupi Kaur poem (unaltered)

A meme (mostly unaltered)
Courtesy of UCLA Meme Page

Kaur’s style can be described as bite-sized aphorisms and reflections intended to resonate with the reader on the topics of trauma, abuse, and love. The language is simple and minimalistic, with random line breaks, a lack of punctuation, and liberal use of blank space. Among the numerous criticisms she faces for her work are:

  1. over-simplified language and content, you don’t have to exert a lot of mental energy to understand her poems (e.g. “if you are not enough for yourself/ you will never be enough/ for someone else”)
  2. anti-intellectualism, or, “the open denigration of intellectual engagement and [the] rejection of craft” (The Cult of the Noble Amateur)
  3. confusing personal trauma for collective trauma in trying to generalize the South Asian female experience, therefore possibly commodifying abuse (The Problem with Rupi Kaur’s poetry)

The issue that most critics seem to have, however, is that she’s profiting off these 3-7 line ramblings and receives multiple media coverage, when there are much more talented poets out there that dedicate much more mental energy to their craft, and they’ve been largely ignored by the mainstream.

Kaur isn’t the only poet who’s gained popularity through social media, but she is the one who receives the most backlash for her popularity (which is again, probably because of her Internet exposure). Social-media poets like Nayyirah Waheed, Lang Leav, R.M. Drake, R.M. Broderick, Christopher Poindexter, Nikita Gill, and Amanda Lovelace, are among others whose followers form their readership, and who all have the same aphoristic, cliched, and straightforward writing. But is it a bad thing to write poetry that is accessible to the masses?

What is poetry?

Courtesy of Free Library of Philadelphia

A quick Google search will tell you that poetry is defined as “literary work in which special intensity is given to the expression of feelings and ideas by the use of distinctive style and rhythm.” So poetry can be defined by two things: 1) the expression of feelings/ideas and 2) using style and rhythm to express them.

As someone that both writes and reads poetry, I would argue for two different definitions. Writing a poem is like trying to take a mental dump while you’re constipated. It’s quite painful, to be honest. You have to be precise with your imagery, word choice, and meter. But when you finish, you realize it’s just a draft, and you have to go back and reconsider all those things. And repeat over and over again. The whole editing process is mentally strenuous. But when you finally get it all out on paper, there’s an overwhelming sense of relief.

From a reader’s perspective, a poem should be like a puzzle. Some poems are 10-piece puzzles, and those are the ones that are easier to construct, but they give you less satisfaction because there’s no struggle. There’s little mental exertion. But other poems are 100-, 500-, and 1000-piece puzzles, and it may require a lot of mental energy to comprehend them—heck, some poems aren’t ever meant to be understood, and those are the 1000-piece puzzles. But when you can glean meaning from a poem, the mental satisfaction is worth it. Poetry is basically a masochistic art.

Rupi Kaur’s poems, and the other Instapoems, are like those 10-piece puzzles. It’s great to understand their words at face value, but there’s no intrigue. Because there’s little substance behind them, there’s no appreciating their beauty, or experiencing the satisfaction of finally uncovering their meaning.

Taste is subjective, but attention to craft and intention aren’t

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Kaur doesn’t respond to criticisms of her work, but she has stated that she views poetry as the art of free expression. In her interview with The Cut, she reveals she used to teach creative writing to high-school and college students. As she states:

“For me it was like less about teaching writing and more about providing an environment where people were comfortable enough to express themselves freely, which is what I feel like is needed to write poetry…. the best part was they’d walk away, like, oh, I can do this, I’m a poet. I’m like, yeah, you are” (Fischer interviews Rupi Kaur).

She also states that she intends her language to be simple so that it’s accessible to even those whose first language isn’t English, such as the case with her and her family when they first moved to Canada when she was 4 (NPR Radio Interview). I can definitely appreciate her intentions to write in such a way that promotes free expression and accessibility to all.

Ultimately, I think whether or not you like Kaur and other social media poets is a matter of taste. They definitely have polarizing effects. One of my friends loved milk and honey, and said it was the most relatable thing she had ever read, while another said that Kaur’s poems read like something the 12-year-old her would have written in her private diary. Personally, I think it’s beautiful that Kaur was able to encapsulate feelings that millions of people related to. While I don’t find her poetry to be artistic necessarily, I do think of it as riding on that Instagram/Tumblr “spilled ink” trend. And if her Instapoetry helps make poetry as an art form accessible to more people, I hope it also serves as a gateway to better-crafted poetry. Sort of like how children who hate reading literature read Percy Jackson and the Olympians, then decide to read, say, The Illiad. As long as it promotes greater readership, I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

 

Post by Rhiannon Wilson

It’s February, and that means everything will be a bit rose-tinged for the next few weeks. Regardless of your relationship status, Valentine’s Day can be stressful, with tension perforating your good mood until it resembles white lace—without the fun decorating aspect. Why not cozy up with candles, some form of chocolate, and dog-eared pages this holiday? Legends are not totally clear as to why Saint Valentine was martyred, but the cause of your enjoyment will be much easier to see with these lovely books to keep you company.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke

This 20th-century Austrian poet had a life filled with travels and discourses with very smart women. The result: a plethora of mystical poems, musing on love and nature that resonate even if you can’t read in the original German or French. Rilke uses classical Greek motifs and characters in some works, such as the Sonnets of Orpheus, allowing an easy connection point for anyone familiar with tragic romances. His lines are especially beautiful when spoken aloud….or taken completely out of context for a Valentine card that you could pretend to have written. Construction paper, anyone?

Courtesy of Goodreads

All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks

This is a fantastic, comprehensive book that everyone should read if they want to improve their relationships and emotional health. bell hooks is widely regarded as a feminist authority on recovery and dissecting the patriarchy. In this novel she describes how people have internalized prejudices, only to let them out in intimate relationships. Her range covers more than romance, however, extending to familial and platonic connections, making it a valuable read for everybody.

Courtesy of Goodreads

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

In the humble opinion of this English major, this Pulitzer-winner has everything a person could want in a novel: adventure, kisses, and super-detailed descriptions of punching Nazis. Chabon’s plot charts the origins of the American comic book industry through the tale of two cousins in 1940s New York. Some of it was even researched at the UCLA libraries! There is a heartbreaking romance, but love seeps through every line, from the commitment to art to friendship and loyalty. The best part? It’s nearly 700 pages!  If you’re stressed about Valentine’s Day plans, you’ll be occupied for at least a week.

Courtesy of Goodreads

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

This novel is pure romance, in the standard genre sense. Waters is known for lesbian literature in different time periods, and this Victorian take makes for a suspenseful read. A pickpocket is hired to swindle an heiress of her fortune, and the multiple character perspectives that the narrative uses creates a stunning picture of how strangely a conspiracy could unravel. If you want something fun to watch, you’re in luck! The BBC adapted the book for a mini-series in 2005, and Park Chan-wook directed another version in 2016; he sets the film in Japan-occupied Korea, and the plot twists are different enough from the original novel that both leave the reader happy.

Hopefully, these books will entertain you and your partner, or at least give you something fun to talk about with your crush.

 

Post by Tatianna Giron

When one thinks of February approaching, the most common association is the looming date of Valentine’s Day. As we approach the month, it is either met with groans (from the cynics who believe V-Day is a consumerist black-hole) or with cheers (from the romantics who believe V-Day is a consumerist black-hole but rejoice in it). But there are a lot more things to look forward to in February—for example, an amazing plethora of poetry readings. The list below only contains seven of them, but here’s to hoping it will also help you associate the month with more than just roses and chocolates.

Courtesy of Flypoet

1. Flypoet All-Star Spoken Word & Music Showcase

Flypoet runs a monthly showcase that features both performance poets, spoken word artists, performance art, and live music from L.A. Artists. It runs the first Friday of every month. This February’s showcase features renowned spoken word artists such as Ebony Stewart, Louis Conphliction, and Christopher Michael.

Location: 218 S La Brea Ave, Inglewood, CA 90301

Date & Time: Feb. 2 at 8 p.m. (doors open at 7 p.m.)

Tickets: $20 at door

For More Info: http://www.flypoet.com/next-show.php

Courtesy of Poetry Foundation

2. Poetry Reading by Joy Harjo

Joy Harjo is a poet of the Muscogee (Creek) nation, whose poetry is influenced by First Nation storytelling and histories, as well as feminist and social justice critiques. As a result, her poetry often includes references to indigenous myths and symbols, and centers around the Southwest and Southeast, but also the need for remembrance and transcendence. The 2018 Jean Burden Reading at Cal State LA is honoring Joy Harjo for a poetry reading, Q&A, and book sales/signing.

Location: Golden Eagle Ballroom, California State University, Los Angeles, 5151 State University Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90032

Date & Time: Feb. 5 at 6 p.m. (arrive at 5:30 p.m. for buffet supper)

Tickets: no tickets/reservations needed

For More Info: https://www.pw.org/literary_events/poetry_reading_by_joy_harjo

Courtesy of Poets House

3. Poetry Reading by Ching-In Chen

Ching-In Chen is a genderqueer and multi-genre author of the novel-in-poems The Heart’s Traffic, and most recently, Recombinant. They have been awarded fellowships from Can Serrat, Millay Colony for the Arts, the Norman Mailer Center, and Imagining America. Chen’s poetry has been featured at poetry readings across the country, including Poets Against Rape, Word from the Streets, and APAture Arts Festival: A Window on the Art of Young Asian Pacific Americans. Chen is a senior editor of The Conversant and poetry editor of Texas Review. They currently teach creative writing and world literature at Sam Houston State University.

Location: The Forum, Goldsmith Campus, 9045 Lincoln Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90045

Date & Time: Feb. 7 at 7:30 p.m.

For More Info: https://www.pw.org/literary_events/chingin_chen

Courtesy of Beyond Baroque

 4. An Evening of Spoken Word

Beyond Baroque often hosts readings by talented and inspirational poets, and this reading is no exception. As the flyer states, “Sentenced to 36 years as a juvenile offender, Gonzalo found his poetic voice inside the prison walls. Gonzalo’s poetry is raw and organic from the ground up, revealing the beauty found in the depth of the Dark Time of the Soul. Join us in honoring one man’s journey inside the beast where he ultimately found redemption.”

Location: 681 Venice Blvd, Venice, CA, 90291

Date & Time: Feb. 9 at 8 p.m.

Tickets: RSVP required. Reserve tickets here: https://interland3.donorperfect.net/weblink/weblink.aspx?name=E253261&id=47

For More Info: https://www.facebook.com/events/221864311690944/

Courtesy of Rattle

5. Rattle Poetry Series feat. Brendan Constantine and Rayon Lennon

Rattle is an American poetry magazine based in LA. Every second Sunday Rattle presents a reading featuring poets from the current issue at the Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse. This month’s issue features Brendan Constantine and Rayon Lennon.

Brendan Constantine was born in Los Angeles. His collections of poetry include Letters To Guns, Birthday Girl With Possum, and Calamity Joe. Brendan tours regularly, bringing his poetry and workshops to theaters, schools, libraries, correctional facilities, and community centers across the nation. His fourth collection, Dementia, My Darling, was published in the spring of 2016.

Rayon Lennon was born in Jamaica and immigrated to Connecticut, at age 13. He works as a clinical therapist with adolescents struggling with substance use and mental health. His work has been published in Main Street Rag, StepAway Magazine, Folio, African American Review, Connecticut Review, Callaloo, and others. His first book of poems, Barrel Children, is a finalist for the 2017 Connecticut Book Award for best book of poetry.

Location: Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse, 1010 Foothill Blvd, La Cañada Flintridge, CA, 91011

Date & Time: Feb. 11, 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Tickets: not required, free admission

For More Info: https://www.flintridgebooks.com/instore-events/2017/12/13/rattle-poetry-series-1

Courtesy of Antioch University

6. Literary Uprising

Antioch University hosts annual poetry readings. This year features faculty member Victoria Chang, author of the recently released Barbie Chang and The Boss, and MFA Alum Reader Kirsten Imani Kasai, author of the novel, The House of Erzulie, and the series, Ice Song and Tattoo. Also reading are students Danton Stone and Lisa Croce.

They promise wine and soft drinks, appetizers, and books for sale. Free parking passes are available.

Location: Antioch University, 400 Corporate Pointe, Culver City, CA, 90230, Room A1000

Date & Time: Feb. 13 at 6 p.m.

Tickets: Free admission

For More Info: https://www.antioch.edu/los-angeles/event/literary-uprising-4/

Courtesy of Stories BooksandCafe

7. Voices from Leimert Park Redux Anthology

Stories BooksandCafe is a bookstore located in Echo Park that caters to the larger literary community of Los Angeles. They host an array of events, from book release parties, comedy shows, live music, and community meetings. Voices from Leimert Park Redux is a poetry anthology that encapsulates the diverse writings of the Leimert Park area. It features African-American writers and other writers of color embracing new radical voices; one of the vehicles for their voices is this spoken word performance. The poets have been confirmed for this reading, but more details are TBA.  

Location: 1716 W Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90026

Date & Time: Feb. 23 at 8 p.m.

Tickets: Free admission

For More Info: https://www.facebook.com/events/322309301617627/

 

Post by Abigail D. Hernandez

There is no doubt that the world of publishing is drastically changing, foregoing its traditional publication routes and instead, replacing its techniques with more modern and up-to-date approaches to publishing and marketing books. The introduction of digital media such as Amazon and E-books has made it possible for the business of publishing to flourish at such a rapid pace, that in many instances, traditional publishing houses seem disarrayed in trying to keep up. Present-day modifications are altering the ways in which readers interact and purchase their daily doses of novels and textbooks. They also bring major changes to the ways in which writers and publishers try to present their works in the best possible light.

For hopeful writers and artistic creators, this modernized change may seem overwhelming with an endless array of options presenting themselves for the sole purpose of publishing and marketing books and creations. Yet, from an optimistic standpoint, many hopeful creators can learn and adapt to these changes in order to take advantage of the plethora of opportunities that digital media has paved in the art of modern publication.

Recently, I had the great pleasure of interviewing my Alumni mentor, Jules Hermes, who has worked in publishing and marketing for well over 25 years. With ample experience in publishing, she has generously provided me with helpful advice for any future writers who are hopeful about seeing their work published. I have categorized her advice into three main points that all writers should be aware of, especially if they want to navigate and conquer the world of publishing.

Courtesy of Pexels

1. Self-publishing is the Future

Long ago, self-publishing was considered a risky move that would inevitably lead to debt with mediocre success. Now, the whole realm of self-publishing has been restructured with rising media platforms, such as Wattpad, taking center stage and dynamically changing the ways in which people seek to publish their own works. Hermes reveals that most big publishing houses now look on such media platforms to identify the most popular digital works, many of which are published and sold in popular bookstores, including Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

Self-publishing also allows the writer to have more control over their work by cutting out the middleman or literary agent. Many writers are now seeing a rise in their income due to a much bigger turnover for each copy sold. Hermes wants young authors to understand that publishing on free sites such as Wattpad can actually result in many benefits. As a free marketing tool, it can propel authors to outstanding heights without them having to shovel out money from their own pockets to buy ad space and advertisements online. Self-publishing may seem like a daunting task, but nowadays, creators can instantly access digital platforms that allow them to jumpstart their writing careers—with a lot more control in the hands of the writer.

Courtesy of Pexels

2. Always Write for a Specific Audience

It’s no secret that writers should be aware of who they are writing for and what specific audiences are attracted to their style of work. First-time authors probably won’t have the necessary cash to shell out mounds of advertisements for their works. In which case, the best form of advertisement comes from word of mouth, where readers recommend works to other readers. Word-of-mouth recommendation is made easier by such sites as Goodreads, where it is easy for an avid reader to match a genre of writing they enjoy with specific authors or various book recommendations that fall under a specific category.

Since book recommendations play a big role in what type of books are generally successful, future authors should be aware of what specific genres are the most popular within a certain category. However, Jules relayed to me a hard truth: if you can’t convince people to buy what you write, you’ll have to write what they want to buy.

In general, certain genres seem better suited for self-publishing. Genres of self-help and nonfiction books are usually an easier sell since they can tap into a market need that is almost unquenchable. If future writers want to work in the genre of fiction, works that appeal to a built-in fan-base are usually more pampered for success. Trilogies and duologies in science fiction or fantasy tend to sell better than strictly literary titles since the arc of a story can slowly progress between two to three publications, giving it a greater chance of attracting a fandom.

Writers should ultimately focus their attention on one specific genre instead of switching back and forth between different styles of writing. Strictly sticking to one specific genre will actually help an author in advancing and crafting their writing style to suit that genre. Writers should also have a clear sense of what an audience expects to read within a certain genre and what trends or clichés need to be refreshed in order to really grip the audience’s attention for the full length of a novel.

Courtesy of Pexels

3. Be More than Just a Writer

The last piece of advice I received from my mentor was to become more than just a writer.

Inspiration for writing can bestow itself in many forms including inspiration from digital outlets like television, movies, and music. Hermes emphasizes the need for people to step out of their comfort zone and confront everything life has to offer. Hopeful authors need to network, go to events, listen to speakers, travel to distant places and interact with different kinds of people in order to broaden their viewpoint on life. Getting out of your comfort zone will not only gain you valuable contacts and networking, but it could also lead to new ideas or a new path that could lead to some additional success. Author events and conferences are great ways to connect with like-minded people in the industry and to also receive publishing or writing advice from experienced industry professionals. Becoming more than just a writer will definitely take some time since there is much more to experience than there is to write about. Yet, being a writer is one of the most important professions that utilize all kinds of experiences to retell a story through the eyes and control of an author—a job unlike any other!

The world of publishing can seem scary and confusing at times, especially for new and aspiring authors. Nevertheless, it is possible to conquer such a business and succeed while still having complete ownership and control of ones written work and creative compositions. Writers need to remember to be confident in their own work and after that, almost anything is possible.

 

 

Top

Hand coded by CRUXimaging