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A poet’s imagination becomes too large. Book Review: Sleight

Kirsten Kaschock is known for her poetry, but she created a world that was simply too large to cram into a poem. Hence, her first novel was born, Sleight.

Photo taken from coffehousepress.org

Photo taken from coffehousepress.org

Summary

One of the most creative books I’ve ever read, Sleight captures a vivid, imaginative world surrounding an artistic sport that blends dance, architecture, acrobatics, and spoken word. Yeah, think about that for a while.

The complexities of the sleight performance developed throughout the novel match the depth of the characters that are venturing into uncharted territory in the sport. Kaschock spins a character web of past lovers and strained siblings. Every character has a full, complicated past, but the real questions is what their future holds. They have all come together to create a sleight performance that could be revolutionary or catastrophic.

Poetic Writing

Kaschock is a poet and it shows in the writing of her debut novel. Her writing is sharp, creative, and mysterious. She has beautiful metaphors including this ‘People are Mirrors’ metaphor I posted earlier.

sleight

An example of the spoken word portion of Kaschock’s fictional sport, sleight.

Rule-breaking Structure

The novel has footnotes, yes, footnotes that inform the reader of the history and details this world without interrupting the scene with heavy details. Kaschock uses them to great effective but I found myself skipping them completely after the first 80 pages or so, mainly because the pacing of the story was too slow for my taste.

Some chapters were written in theater-style dialogue, as seen in the photo below. I love dialogue, and therefore loved this structure. This allowed Kaschock to skip heavy description and setting details during dialogue but also forced her to implement hints at such descriptions in the dialogue itself.

sleight3

Kaschock uses a variety of writing techniques including theater-style dialogue (right).

 

Pacing

Although the story begins a bit disorienting, it is in a I-need-to-know-more sort way. The strange terminology and structure made me very eager to read on in the beginning. As the story went on, however, the slow pace really pushed me away. I felt the story really began halfway through the novel and by then, I felt indifferent.

Overall

The uniqueness of this novel could populate a blog twice this long, but I’m surprised if you even read this far. 😛 If you enjoy creative novels that break the rules, keeping you more interested in the writing than the story itself, this is the book for you. I enjoyed the book, but didn’t love it, and honestly had trouble charging through to the end. 2.5 stars. 

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Writing Quotes from AWP

So many quotes flooded through the rooms and hallways of AWP last weekend in Minneapolis and I wanted to share a few here. Enjoy!

Also, see my previous post, What to Read from AWP Writers.

The Writing Process 

“Inspiration comes in the middle of hard work.”

“What I write will always fall short of the ideal in my head. To write anyway, knowing that, is my greatest struggle.” 

“We are always translating ourselves–from thoughts to words.” -Pablo Medina

“Sometimes you are writing to learn how to write.”

“Finding a good ending is writing your way out of the story.” -Tom Hazuka

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Incorporating research/science into writing

“You’re going to make mistakes but there is a point where you get to say this is fiction, this world only exists between these two covers.” 

“Your reader will be convinced more quickly than you think. They want to believe you know what you’re talking about. A few specific details generally do more than a chapter of scientific detail.”

“What is true is not always factual.”

“Its more important to write the truth than to write the facts.” 

“By writing fiction, I hope to reach a wider audience than if I wrote nonfiction.”

“If I do too much research, it will kill the story.”

“Fake it as much as you can because you’re going to cut most of it anyway.”

“You’re trying to get to a deeper truth, a metaphorical truth.” 

From Poets

“Poems can encircle mystery in a way prose can not.” -Ted Kooser

This is something everyone in this audience has seen.” -Ted Kooser talking about his poet “Splitting an Order”

“What is true now, may not be true in the future. I’d be happy to tell you the truth if I knew what the truth was.” -Connie Wanek

Ted Kooser at AWP 2015

Ted Kooser at AWP 2015

Flash Fiction

“We always hear readers wanting more. They want to know more, more, more, so telling a story with less is courageous.” -Larry Smith, founder of Smith Magazine, known for its 6-word stories

“The 100-word story gives you a great feeling of completion.” -Grant Faulkner

“Flash fiction is about the spaces around the story.” -Grant Faulkner

“Trust the reader to fill in the backstory and the ending.”

Publishing quotes from editors of literary journals

“I really don’t know what I’m looking for until I see it.”

“I like to publish a mix of established and emerging writers.”

“Finding the right fiction is like hitting a moving target.”

“I can like nearly anything.”

Other

“Silence perpetuates mystery in fiction.” (Think Hills like white elephants)

“An MFA is a prerequisite to teach, but it is not a guarantee.”

“Take your manuscripts as far as you possibly can and have reasons to back up your craft choices before you send it to publishers/agents.”

 

**I tried to give credit to the mouths of these quotes as often as I could but please forgive me for the many I had to leave blank. I also tried to get the exact wording, but I certainly fell short.

Celebrate World Poetry Day, March 21!

Happy World Poetry Day!!! 

Here are few articles to browse while celebrating!!

17 of the Most Powerful Excerpts From Poetry from Writers Write (a great Facebook follow)

Pay with a poem: cafes around the world to exchange coffee for poetry from The Guardian

Short history of World Poetry Day from Poets.org

My Favorite Poet: Ted Kooser

photo taken from poetryfoundation.org

photo taken from poetryfoundation.org

The chapter that doesn’t quite fit…

I am a writer, said Picasso. I make my own letters.

don't speak but feelI love when a writer, in the midst of a novel, slips in a short chapter or section that although it is relevant to the story, it does not progress the plot in any way but is interesting and often poetic. These stand-alone chapters will have a unique structure, tone, point of view, or something else that sets it apart. They can be used to recapture a reader’s attention during a slow section of the plot or they can reinforce a theme.

Below I have transcribed one such chapter from Ben Marcus’s The Flame Alphabet. Another example of this type of mid-novel poetics is this paragraph from The Storm at the Door by Stephen Merrill Block. Although the topics are consistent with the larger piece, aspects such as the mood or the method of delivery stagger.

The Flame Alphabet is written in first person but as you can see below, this chapter doesn’t elude to a narrator (in first person or otherwise). We have no indication of our character finding or thinking about these quotes and none of the famous names mentioned in the chapter are relevant to the rest of the story. I believe this chapter is present to grow the theme of the book, to inform the reader that our narrator is not the first person to believe language is evil.

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Chapter 35

In his early writing, Thoreau called the alphabet the saddest song. Later in life he would renounce this position and say it produced only dissonant music.

Letters, Montaigne said, are a necessary evil.

But are they? asked Blake, years later. I shall write of the world without them.

I would grow mold on the language, said Pasteur. Except nothing can grow on that cold, dead surface.

Of words Teresa of Avila said, I did not live to erase them all.

They make me sick, said Luther. Yours and yours and yours. Even sometimes my own.

If it can be said, then I am not interested, wrote Schopenhauer.

When told to explain himself, a criminal in Arthur’s court simply pointed at the large embroidered alphabet that hung above the king.

Poets need a new instrument, said Shelley.

If I could take something from the world, said Nietzsche, and take with it event he memory of that thing, so that the world might carry on ever forward with not even the possibility that thing could exist again, it would be the language that sits rotting inside my mouth.

I am a writer, said Picasso. I make my own letters.

Shall I destroy this now, or shall I wait for you to leave the room, said his patron to Kadmos, the reputed inventor of the alphabet.

Kadmos is a fraud, said Wheaton. Said Nestor. Said William James.

Do not read this, warned Plutarch.

Do not read this, warned Cicero.

Do not read this, begged Ovid.

If you value your life.

Bleed a man, and with that vile release spell out his name in the sand, prescribed Hippocrates.

No alphabet but in things, said Williams.

Correction. No alphabet at all.

 

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Mimicking Walt Whitman

Mimicking writers we admire is often a starting point for young writers but it should never stop there. Developing our style and improving our craft never ends and neither should the practices we use to develop them.

I wrote this poem mimicking Walt Whitman’s Crossing Brooklyn Ferry. An excellent poem by an excellent poet. Everyone should have a little Whitman in their life.

 

Crossing the Beach

I rip the coverings from my skin and the fresh cool breeze makes my hairs stand salute,

Smoke encircles me but dares not enter my lungs

For my body is pure, my body is real, my body is alive and the smoke is just a mist,

A mist that vanishes as soon as you begin to believe it is real,

But its presence still surrounds you as it surrounds me without touching our pale flesh

That glows in the reflection of the fire

As the fire consumes me the way the smoke cannot dream.

I strike a hand through the dense air and push myself through and through,

Toes digging and slipping with the shredded earth beneath them as if this was a tango,

And there is nothing but this moment with the earth beneath my feet and the smoke daring to come near

And the waters just steps away and I move forward on, nothing to stop me.

Ah! Icy waters! Do I feel as warm to you as you feel cold to me?

Not sure where the water begins and my body ends,

This vast liquid is the smoke of my body’s fire.

This moment is nothing but the moment and needs to be nothing more.

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