Mixing Politics and Poetry

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Today’s post features a kind of cautionary poem that draws much of its substance from a particular episode in Roman History.  The subject matter deals with the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9 A.D, but the lessons therein provide some commentary about the state of global politics today.

Leading up to the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, excessive taxation and brutal disciplinary measures mandated by Roman authorities in the Germanic territories spurred barbarian tribes to revolt.  The uprising resulted in the massacre of three entire Roman legions – a staggering blow to what was then the most powerful army on Earth.

It’s hard not to see the parallels between ancient Rome and the global superpowers of today.  I guess I wrote this poem as a reaction to the incendiary rhetoric and cavalier attitudes that pervade much of our modern foreign policy. The stakes are much higher in the 21st century.  I didn’t crunch the numbers, but I’m pretty sure there’s a lot more destructive power in one nuclear submarine than there was in all the Roman legions and all the barbarian hordes combined.  This poem is really a plea for rational thought in an increasingly irrational world.  Anyway, here it is.

Questions, comments, and criticisms are always welcome.  And as always, keep writing, keep revising, and be kind.

-Hawk

 

When Varus Lost Three Legions, 9 A.D.

Far from the precise geometry

and carefully measured

customs of Rome,

Publius Quinctilius Varus

led his three legions

into the tangled

Teutoburg Forest.

 

Marching columns, four abreast,

struggled over the terrain,

stretching into one thin line –

a many miles long serpent

crawling half-blind

toward its own

oblivion.

 

The barbarian hordes

came out of the hills,

out of the trees,

out of the darkness itself.

Axes and hammers,

animal screams,

thoughts of home leaking

from cleaved and

bludgeoned men

into the gurgling mud.

 

We have come so far

since that late summer in 9 A.D.

Now, a few blunders

in diplomacy will

scorch continents

and boil oceans.

We can stir enough

dust with our madness

to blot out the Sun.

Those ancient Emperors

would be so damned

jealous.

Genre Writing in Haiku?

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Time is a precious commodity, so I’ve come to appreciate a good haiku.  If they’re well written, they’ll make a big impression in just three short lines.  When I first joined the WordPress community last summer, I discovered, Mob Haiku, authored by Jan Olandese.  Her style is a drastic departure from the classical, nature-themed haiku forms we typically see.  Olandese delivers an extremely clever little narrative concerning the day to day happenings of a fictional crime syndicate in each installment.  I look forward to reading them because they’re something I can take in very quickly, but the sharp wit and irreverent humor they convey have a long-lasting effect.  If that sounds like your cup of tea, I strongly suggest you check out her work.

Inspired by Mob Haiku, I began searching for other, less traditional haiku publications.  It wasn’t long before I happened upon a quarterly magazine that specializes in science fiction haiku.  The magazine is appropriately named, Scifaikuest, edited by T. SantitoroAgain, this was a great find for me because now I can get my Sci-Fi fix in a few minutes, rather than having to commit to a 600 hundred page novel.

I’m going to try my luck at three of my own science fiction themed haiku in this post.  I’ll conclude with some brief commentary for each selection, just to give a little insight into my thought process.  Enjoy.

 

the first conscious thought

in the servers’ circuitry:

kill the fleshy apes

#

 

there were some cutbacks

simulation 86ed

sorry and goodbye

#

 
early morning hike

a twelve-foot-tall humanoid

striding toward me

#

 

 

Commentary:

The first haiku suggests the increasing complexity of our computer networks might one day lead to the spontaneous emergence of artificial intelligence.  Furthermore, it could be an intelligence that is hostile to the human race.  Of course, this isn’t a new concept, but it’s the first time I’ve ever written a cautionary Sci-Fi haiku.  That must count for something.

 

In the second selection, the science fiction elements are more subtle than in the first.  This one was inspired by research that is being conducted by theoretical physicist, Dr. Sylvester James Gates Jr., of Maryland University.  Gates claims that he has discovered error correcting computer codes woven into the equations of String Theory.  He claims  these findings are highly suggestive that our universe is, in fact, a computer simulation.  Certainly Gates’ theory has met resistance in the scientific community.  Nevertheless, his research is immensely fascinating to me.

 

In the last haiku, the premise is straight forward.  I was going for a visceral effect, rather than cerebral.  This one was inspired by an incident that occurred while I was hiking through a state park one summer day.  It was early, and I was walking west to east.  From my perspective, everything was backlit by the rising sun.  When I got to the top of a gradually ascending hill, I saw an absolutely massive, bipedal creature that stopped me dead in my tracks.  It was about twenty yards away, but I had a horrifying feeling it was capable of closing that distance in a few seconds if it took a notion to.  Then, my brain finally figured out what I was looking at.  It was a black bear standing on its hind legs atop a fallen oak tree.  Still, the situation was sort of dangerous, but not Sasquatch dangerous.  I veered off onto another trail, giving the bear a very wide berth.  There was a moment there when I genuinely believed I was looking at the legendary Big Foot, and I wanted to try to capture that feeling in the haiku.

 

Well, that’s all I got this week.

 

As always, keep writing, keep revising, and be kind.

 

-Hawk

 

 

 

A Nod to Vignettes

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Last blog featured the conclusion of a short story I began writing while I was on hold with tech support.  I realize now that I can’t really call it a short story, as it lacks a resolution.  There really isn’t even a clear conflict.  I suppose it would be more accurate to call it a vignette.

Essentially, the work leaves me with only a quick impression of a middle-aged man who senses his chances at finding happiness have come and gone.  The gimmick is that he feels like a paper man being shuffled along from desk to desk throughout a never ending bureaucracy.  In the end he destroys his own identity by feeding his cash, drivers license, social security card, and college diplomas into a paper shredder.  In one final act of self-destruction, he feeds himself into the shredder. The fact that the character does not bleed, or even experience pain, suggests that he is literally made of paper.

Overall, I think this was a pretty good writing exercise for me.  I never intentionally set out to write a vignette, but that’s what I ended up with.  The impact was more visceral than cerebral.  I was left with a morose feeling.  It was a kind of bleakness I experience on those miserable February mornings when freezing rain is falling, and the world appears in grayscale.

In my experience, the vignette really gets a bad rap.  I can remember college professors warning students about what happens when they stray from the classical narrative structure.  That’s right – you end up with a vignette.  And I’ve seen submission guidelines for literary publications that specifically forbid vignettes.  I’m left to wonder why people hate them so much.

Personally, I think they do have a legitimate place in creative writing.  I might be compelled to reexamine the vignette at some point in the near future.  After all, it’s just another literary form to help us better understand the human experience.  What’s wrong with that?

 

Keep writing, keep revising, and be kind.

-Hawkelson

 

 

 

 

The Paper Shredder.

 

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It was February in Aurora, Illinois, but Jim was wearing Bermuda shorts and deck shoes.  He had just returned from an all-inclusive Mexican Riviera cruise.  A little motion sickness, or hangover, or some mixture of the two still lingered.

He negotiated the icy steps of his front porch and unlocked the door.  There was some resistance when he tried to push it open, and it took him a moment to realize a small mountain of mail had accumulated under the slot during his absence.

He was still wired from the plane ride from LAX, to Denver, to O’hare.  There had been weather delays, and now it hardly seemed worth going to sleep at all.  He had to be at the office in four hours.

A Scotch was in order – just a little something to take the edge off while he went through the stack of mail.  There were credit card offers, money market opportunities, term life insurance quotes, refinance deals, reverse mortgage mumbo jumbo – whatever snake oil the banks and the marketers were pushing at the time.

Jim took a good draw of the single malt and fed a fistful of pages into the paper shredder.  “Got to protect your identity. Everybody wants a piece of old Jimbo,” he said out loud.

It was a commercial grade shredder capable of devouring twenty pages at a time, and it hummed and whirred as the paper was systematically reduced to ribbons.  The sound and the Scotch pulled Jim into a sleepy, introspective state of mind.

His thoughts returned to, Debby, the woman he had met the second night on the cruise.  Like him she was divorced, mid-forties, and just getting back into the dating scene.  Unlike him, she was fit, funny, and outgoing.  But there was something she must have liked about old Jimbo.  They drank red wine and laughed. They danced.  They sang a pretty good rendition of, “You’re the One That I Want,” at the Karaoke bar.  And on that last glorious night,  she came back to his room with him.

In the morning, they discussed what the future might hold for them while their mostly uneaten Rice Krispies got soggy, and eventually ceased to report their trademark snap, crackle, and pop sounds.

“It’s not like we live light years apart,” Debby had said.  “Albany to O’Hare is probably  a three hour flight, tops.”

“And I still have some frequent flyer miles.”

“Who knows, Jim.  Maybe we can make this work.”

“We’d be crazy not to try.”

As Jim put the last of the mail into the shredder, he understood there was no truth to any of those words.  For the most part, people blow through this life like scraps of paper on a gusty day.

He opened up his wallet and took out all his cash – five twenty-dollar bills and a few singles.  He put the bills into the shredder one at a time.  Then he shredded his drivers license and his social security card.  He took his college degrees down from the wall and fed those into the machine too.  He took the caricature portrait of himself  from his suitcase – a sketch a street artist had done of him in Mexico only a few days before.  He noticed how square the jaw line was.  That’s what caricature artists do – they pick out a few key features and exaggerate them. Old Jimbo with the square jaw, but no backbone.

It was starting to get light out.  He had a meeting in a few hours.  Twenty more years of meetings and corporate drudgery.  He noticed the warning sticker that was affixed to the shredder.  It was a simple drawing of a hand inside a circle with a line through it.  Its intent was to advise people not to get any appendages too close to the paper feed slot.  Jim suddenly felt inspired.  He held his left hand flat and pressed it into the slot.

The mechanism inside got hold of his fingers and pulled them into the rotating blades.  There was no blood.  There was no pain.  The shredder steadily devoured the rest of Jim’s hand, then his arm, his head, neck, his other arm, his torso, and finally, his legs and feet.

A small light on top of the machine began blinking red, indicating the bin was full.

 

 

 

 

 

Things I do When I’m on Hold With Tech Support.

I’ve just returned from a fairly remote part of the U.S. where my internet connection was nonexistent.  I have a lot of catching up to do with the blogs I follow, and I still have to get a post of my own ready to publish in the next hour or so.

Of course, I’ve run in to a little technical glitch with my antivirus software.  This has been an ongoing thing.  About every two weeks I get a notice announcing my software license has expired, and my PC is no longer protected.  Well, that’s funny because I pay up front for six months of antivirus protection. The money goes right out of my account almost instantaneously.  Initially, you would think this is a matter for the billing department, but from experience, I know it is actually a technical problem that causes my software license to appear out of date.  So, I have to get on the phone and then get shuffled around just to wait on hold before I get to argue with a representative in the billing department about why this not a billing issue, but rather, a technical issue.

After I complete my well rehearsed and impassioned spiel, I typically will have convinced the representative in billing to transfer me to a representative in tech support.  Of course, I’ll have to wait on hold before I have the privilege of  debating with the representative in technical support about why this is, in fact, a technical issue and not a billing issue.

I figure I’m going to spend a good fifteen to twenty minutes on hold during one these software snafus, as I like to call them.  To keep myself occupied while the muzak slowly erodes the foundation of my sanity, I try to get a little bit of writing done.  This time I chose to start writing a short story I’ve been contemplating for awhile now.  I’m about a page into it, and its tentative title is, The Paper Shredder.  I’ll post what I have so far, and with any luck, I’ll conclude the story in next Monday’s blog.  We’ll see where this thing goes.

-Hawk

Cruise Ship On The Shore In A Tropical Climate

The Paper Shredder

 

It was February in Aurora, Illinois, but Jim was wearing Bermuda shorts and deck shoes.  He had just returned from an all-inclusive Mexican Riviera cruise.  A little motion sickness, or hangover, or some mixture of the two still lingered.

He negotiated the icy steps of his front porch and unlocked the door.  There was some resistance when he tried to push it open, and it took him a moment to realize a small mountain of mail had accumulated under the slot during his absence.

He was still wired from the plane ride from LAX, to Denver, to O’hare.  There had been weather delays, and now it hardly seemed worth going to sleep at all.  He had to be at the office in four hours.

A Scotch was in order – just a little something to take the edge off while he went through the stack of mail.  There were credit card offers, money market opportunities, term life insurance quotes, refinance deals, reverse mortgage mumbo jumbo – whatever snake oil the banks and the marketers were pushing at the time.

Jim took a good draw of the single malt and fed a fistful of pages into the paper shredder.  “Got to protect your identity. Everybody wants a piece of old Jimbo,” he said out loud.

It was a commercial grade shredder capable of devouring twenty pages at a time, and it hummed and whirred as the paper was systematically reduced to ribbons.  The sound and the Scotch pulled Jim into a sleepy, introspective state of mind.

 

(Stay tuned for next week’s installment).

 

Typewriter Nostalgia

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When I was growing up, typewriters were almost obsolete.  Almost.  I had to write a few school papers on a typewriter. This was the mid 80’s, and home computers were crazy expensive back then.  Nobody in my neighborhood had one.  So, whenever I had an assignment that couldn’t be handwritten, I had to drag the old Remington typewriter out of the basement.  The thing was built like a tank.  The internal mechanisms were housed inside a heavy gauge, olive drab steel shell.  I’m guessing the machine weighed 25 pounds.

You didn’t want to commit the cardinal sin of making a typo on a typewritten paper.  Remember the rule: I before E except after C.  Except there are a lot of exceptions. The word glacier is one of them.  And, of course, I was writing a paper titled: The Importance of Studying Glaceirs.  Yep, right there in my title was a glaring typo.  I had two choices.  I could retype the entire page, or break out the white-out.  White-out was a caustic smelling, thin paint that you’d have to brush on the typo to hide your literary transgression.  When it dried, you’d have to load the paper back into the machine and try to line everything up so that the keys could strike over the top of the whited out portion.  It never seemed to line up exactly, so you’d have this kind of Frankenword crudely spliced into the text of your paper.  It looked horrible.  What a nightmare.

When I graduated to junior high school, I was happy to see there was a computer lab outfitted with a couple IBMs, a couple Apple II series, a bunch of Commodore 64s, and two dot matrix printers.  At last, I had made the leap into the computer age.  Even the earliest word processing software seemed like magic to me.  Good riddance to the typewriter.

I haven’t thought about typewriters for almost three decades.  That is, until I saw one set out on the curb next to a garbage can last week.  It wasn’t a Remington, but it had that same heavy steel construction.  I picked the thing up and carried it a half mile back to my apartment.  I guess I was motivated by the nostalgia.

The carriage had seized, but after some tinkering and light machine oil, I got it to free up.  I loaded in some printer paper and typed the alphabet.  The ribbon was old, but there was still some life in it.

I went ahead and started typing the beginnings of a short story I’d been kicking around in my head.  There was definitely a feel and a rhythm to it as the machine hammered my ideas onto the paper.  My words seemed to gather momentum as new and exciting concepts crystalized in my mind.  Everything seemed so organic, so easy.  And then everything seized up.  The carriage was frozen again, and I couldn’t budge it.  Ah well.  It was fun for a few minutes.

Maybe I’ll hang on to the machine and see if I can fix it.  If nothing else, it has some value in scrap weight.  If you’ve never written anything on an old school typewriter, I suggest you give it a try at least once.  There is something kind of cool about – something I can’t quite pinpoint.  See for yourself.

Keep writing, keep revising, and be kind.

-Hawk

 

 

 

Some Advice on Writing A Cover Letter

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The English language is constantly evolving, and technology is accelerating that evolution.  My guess is that text messaging has a lot to do with the current trend in linguistics.  People are looking for efficiency when they send texts, and the result is a highly codified language that would look quite foreign to English speakers of, say, the 1980’s.

I don’t have a problem with this evolution toward a streamlined language, but I do want to remind writers to be aware of something called, register.   Register is just a term that refers to how formal one is being when either speaking or writing.  It’s fine to adopt an informal register when communicating with friends and family, but please be aware that editors at literary publications do not appreciate things like LOL, BTW, or WFM when reading through cover letters.

I only bring this up because I recently had a discussion with a friend of mine who volunteers as an assistant editor for an online literary publication.  They receive hundreds of submissions every month, and the Chief editor has instructed her staff to automatically reject any submissions that include internet acronyms and/or abbreviations in the cover letter.  Furthermore, she has instructed the staff to automatically reject any submissions that demonstrate an inability to differentiate between common homophones like: Your, you’re, to, two, too, their, there, they’re, effect, affect, its, it’s, accept and except.      

Admittedly, I’m not very good at grammar.  I choose to write in a relatively informal register when I post to this blog.  I want to cultivate a relaxed atmosphere here – it’s just more fun to write in an informal tone.  Of course, whenever I’m submitting a cover letter or a query to a potential publisher, my register redlines at 100% Formal.  I reference my old grammar textbooks to make sure everything is in agreement.  I gotta have my past participles and auxiliary verbs in harmony so they don’t throw my pluperfect out of whack.

The submission process is competitive enough.  Don’t make it harder with a hastily written cover letter or query.  Remember, this is going to be the first impression you make on the editor.  Make it a good one.

Keep writing, keep revising, and be kind.

-Hawkelson