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Posts Tagged ‘poetic book tours’

I’m delighted to welcome Laura Foley to Diary of an Eccentric today to share the inspiration behind “Prayer, 1943,” a poem in her new collection, WTF.

Prayer, 1943

Dad and his fellow prisoners
crouched under a shed,
its roof a sieve
of shrapnel holes
allowing rain
they didn’t notice
any more than hunger,
in their concentration
on pawns, queens, bishops,
rooks they carved
from discarded
toothbrush handles-
from their mouths,
to God’s ears.

Please give a warm welcome to Laura Foley:

My dad described in his recollections the event that I have put into this poem. The date comes from his time as Prisoner of War under the Japanese, in occupied China and Japan. I have tried to imagine what it was like for him.

I was touched by the detail he gives of the chess pieces carved from toothbrush handles, the sense of deprivation and boredom this conveys, as well as the camaraderie with the other men. Also the constant danger from American bombings as the Americans came closer to winning the war, how the American and other European prisoners were afraid of being mistakenly bombed as well as being cheered by the sight.

I have read many books about the war and the Japanese prisons, most notably Unbroken, which depicts a sadistic Japanese guard eerily similar to the one who tortured my father. Throughout my childhood, his imprisonment was a source of conversation, even though I was born more than a decade after his release. I wrote a poem about him being in prison camp when I was in Kindergarten.

Prayer 1943 comes from my collection WTF which is a tribute to my father, whose initials were WTF, as well as a working-through of my relationship to him, decades past his death.

Thank you so much, Laura, for sharing a little of your father’s story and the inspiration for the poem with me and my readers!

About WTF

Laura Foley’s “WTF” refers to her father’s initials and, slyly, to the abbreviated colloquial exclamation, in a pun that laughs and cuts, in this reckoning with a fraught father-daughter relationship. These spare poems communicate more like snapshots than narrative lyrics, beginning with sympathy and gratitude, moving through disappointment, anger and resentment, without ever losing compassion, as Foley examines her father’s formative WWII experiences and, consequently, how he shaped her experience and character, ending with a positive recognition of her father in herself.

Read sample poems here: https://www.readcwbooks.com/foley_poems.html

Check out WTF on Goodreads | Amazon

About the Author

Laura Foley

Laura Foley is an internationally published, award-winning poet, author of six collections. She won the Common Goods Poetry Contest, judged by Garrison Keillor; and the National Outermost Poetry Prize, judged by Marge Piercy. Her poetry collections include: WTFNight Ringing, The Glass Tree, and Joy StreetThe Glass Tree won a Foreword Book of the Year Award; Joy Street won the Bisexual-Writer’s Award. Her poems have appeared on The Writer’s Almanac, in Valparaiso Poetry Review, Atlanta Review, Lavender Review, The Mom Egg Review, in the British Aesthetica Creative Writing Anthology, and many other journals.

A certified Yoga Instructor and creative arts facilitator in hospitals, she is the mother of three grown children, grandmother to two granddaughters. She and her partner Clara Gimenez live among the hills of Vermont with their three big dogs.

Follow her on Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter

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I’m pleased to welcome Ellen Meeropol to Diary of an Eccentric today to celebrate the release of her latest novel, Kinship of Clover. As a writer myself, I’m always curious about the writing process and where authors pen their books, so I was thrilled when Ellen agreed to share her writing space with me and my readers. Please give a warm welcome to Ellen Meeropol:

img_1321My writing desk is in a book-stuffed room where a small electric heater hums at my feet. Looking to my left is a stand of sumac trees out the window; to my right is a large bulletin board. It holds bits of literary inspiration for when I flounder, a few favorite family photos, chocolate bar covers matching my three novels (a wonderful marketing gimmick my publisher creates to delight readers), and folded origami cranes that figure in my work in progress.

fullsizeoutput_826fThe most important item on the board is a long piece of newsprint with a six-generation family tree. Members of the oldest generation escaped the pogroms of Eastern Europe in the early years of the twentieth century and came to New England to make new lives. They built a cluster of homes on a rocky island in the middle of Penobscot Bay and their descendants multiplied over the next century. Some offspring left to find work and adventure elsewhere, but the islands are still populated by these folks and their made-up history.

fullsizeoutput_826dYes, made-up. These people live only in my imagination. My own immigrant grandparents settled far from Maine in Manhattan’s Lower East Side and the wilds of Brooklyn. I have never lived in Maine but I feel very connected to the rocky island and its inhabitants who, over two decades, have populated a dozen short stories, three published novels and one still in progress.

Staring at that family tree recently, I realized that this imaginary world-making was similar to a favorite childhood game my sister and I called Neighborhood. In our grade school years, we arranged blank sheets of 8 ½ by 11 paper along imaginary streets on our bedroom floor, then filled the houses with families cut out of the old Montgomery Ward and Sears mail-order catalogs our mother gave us each year when the new one arrived.

fullsizeoutput_8265We played with these cutout people for hours. We didn’t care that the scale of family members was often mismatched, so the baby might be bigger than the grandma. It didn’t matter that the father’s legs might end at the knees if he had been modeling a flannel shirt, or that his right arm had been amputated by the edge of the page. We had those store-bought paper dolls with their irritating tabbed outfits, but preferred to sit cross-legged on the floor among households of homemade families, making up stories of school and sleepovers, of friendship and disappointments and dramatic calamities, for our imperfect and mismatched characters.

fullsizeoutput_8264These days I use words instead of scissors, and my made-up families migrate from pencil on the bulletin board into my manuscripts. I still value the imperfect characters; one is missing a sense of humor, another’s compassion is atrophied, and a third has never forgiven her cousin for something he said at Aunt Sophie’s Seder in 1956. I work at writing characters who don’t look or live like me or the folks on Saperstein Neck. There’s something compelling about creating neighborhoods of characters who are luminous in their variety, their imperfection and their essential connections to each other.

Writing is often lonely work, but it opens the world. My job is to sit in this chilly book-stuffed room, spin stories made from generations of characters who are as abundant as the oceans, as real as kin. I believe that in terrifying times, in our separate rooms of writing and reading, characters can connect us to each other by propinquity and geography, by empathy and kindness, by imagination and utter necessity.

Ellen Meeropol
February 20, 2017

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Thank you, Ellen, for such a fascinating and thoughtful post. And congratulations on your new release!

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About Kinship of Clover

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He was nine when the vines first wrapped themselves around him and burrowed into his skin. Now a college botany major, Jeremy is desperately looking for a way to listen to the plants and stave off their extinction. But when the grip of the vines becomes too intense and Health Services starts asking questions, he flees to Brooklyn, where fate puts him face to face with a group of climate-justice activists who assure him they have a plan to save the planet, and his plants.

As the group readies itself to make a big Earth Day splash, Jeremy soon realizes these eco-terrorists devotion to activism might have him and those closest to him tangled up in more trouble than he was prepared to face. With the help of a determined, differently abled flame from his childhood, Zoe; her deteriorating, once rabble-rousing grandmother; and some shocking and illuminating revelations from the past, Jeremy must weigh completing his mission to save the plants against protecting the ones he loves, and confront the most critical question of all: how do you stay true to the people you care about while trying to change the world?

Check out Kinship of Clover on Goodreads | Amazon

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About the Author

Ellen Meeropol is fascinated by characters on the fault lines of political upheaval. Previous work includes a dramatic script telling the story of the Rosenberg Fund for Children which has been produced in four U.S cities, most recently in Boston. Elli is the wife of Robert Meeropol, youngest son of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. Elli is a former nurse and independent bookstore event coordinator and the author of two previous novels, House Arrest and On Hurricane Island. She is a founding member of Straw Dog Writers Guild. Short fiction and essays have appeared in Bridges, DoveTales, Pedestal, Rumpus, Portland Magazine, and the Writer’s Chronicle.

Connect with Ellen on Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

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among-the-lostToday’s guest is Seth Steinzor, author of Among the Lost (In Dante’s Wake: Book 2), who is here to discuss his inspiration for the poem about giving birth and how it serves as an opening for his take on Dante’s Purgatorio. Please welcome Seth Steinzor:

Fresh in my mind when I began writing Among the Lost was something that W.S. Merwin had pointed out in the Foreword to his translation of Purgatorio. I’m sure he’s far from the first to have noticed this, but it made a forceful impression on me: of Dante’s three canticles, Purgatorio is the only one to take place on earth. Inferno trudges through an idealized subterranean environment; Paradiso flies through the heavens; Purgatorio climbs a mountain.

Another thing sets Purgatorio apart from the first and third books of Dante’s trilogy. Each of the characters in Inferno and Paradiso has reached an ultimate end point in his or her personal development, and exists in a state of stasis. Unlike them, the denizens of Mount Purgatory continue to work through the moral muddles that were produced by their manners of living. The ones who were angry in life are still plagued by anger. The ones who were apathetic still have to overcome that. And so on. Admittedly, in Dante’s view, the Mount Purgatorians possess the certainty of salvation, not only the hope, and so might be said to have reached a sort of fruition; but they haven’t actually found it yet. Their experience of their own sure perfectability is frustrated temporarily by themselves. That’s pretty much my experience of life, in a nutshell, although I tend towards a somewhat less optimistic view of the overall human condition. (There’s a buddha within, but nobody’s sure of realizing it.) So add to the idea that the book takes place on earth, the idea that it depicts a state of being unfinished, unclear.

Also in my mind was the means whereby Dante escaped to Purgatory from the underground Inferno. He clung to the back of his guide, Virgil, as Virgil climbed up Satan’s enormous body and then through a tunnel to a sunlit beach at the foot of the mountain. So…our hero enters this earth through a narrow dark tunnel, from which he emerges unfinished and unclear. What else could one think of but a birth canal?

When I put it this way, it sounds rather more consecutively thought out than it was. I was fortunate enough to have attended the births of both my children. There is no more meaningful event than that, except perhaps one’s own coming and going. I knew as soon as I began to contemplate writing Among the Lost that the book would begin in a birthing room. And yet, at the same time, the rationale for doing so, which I have outlined above, accompanied this undeliberated intention fully formed.

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About Among the Lost

Among the Lost, set in the modern American rust belt, is a meditation drawn from Dante’s Purgatorio. To Dante, Purgatory was the mountain where souls not damned went after death to cleanse themselves of sin in preparation for entering Paradise. What, Steinzor asks, are we preparing ourselves for, having lost the fear of hell and the hope of heaven, in the course of our daily urban existence? And whatever that is, how do we go about preparing for it?

Check out Among the Lost on Amazon | Goodreads

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About the Poet

Seth Steinzor protested the Vietnam War during his high school years near Buffalo, New York, and his years at Middlebury College, advocated Native American causes after law school, and has made a career as a civil rights attorney, criminal prosecutor, and welfare attorney for the State of Vermont. Throughout he has written poetry. In early 1980s Boston he edited a small literary journal. His first, highly praised book, To Join the Lost, was published in 2010.

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essentialreadingsToday, I’m delighted to welcome poet K.V. Dominic to Diary of an Eccentric for a Q&A on his poem, “Musings from an Infant’s Face,” from Essential Readings & Study Guide, which compiles four collections of his poems into a single volume. I enjoyed perusing the book to select a poem for the Q&A, and I’ll admit it was hard to choose just one. I was a bit hesitant when I first picked up the book because it looks a bit like a college textbook, but I urge you not to be put off by that! Inside you will find plenty of poignant poems about Social Justice, Women’s Rights, and the Environment. I know very little about life in India, so I was fascinated by the poems. I hope you enjoy our discussion!

Musings from an Infant’s Face

(Composed on 8 March 2010–International Women’s Day)

An infant over
her mother’s shoulder
looked at me
from the front seat
of the bus I travelled.
Infants always
tempted me
like bloomed roses.
Babies–human
and non-human–
are embodiments
of grace and innocence.
The Creator is
manifest in their faces.
Blake’s poems
of Innocence
and Experience
flashed through my mind.
I tried to smile
at the infant;
she didn’t smile back.
Might be my
smile is guile and vile.
Her eyes seemed
to tell me something.
Her mother’s appearance
foretold the infant’s lot.
Born to poor parents,
how thorny would be
the path of her life!
She is yet to toddle;
I could vision
the blood oozing from
her soft feet.
Being a female,
black and dark,
poor and low caste,
discriminations,
humiliations,
abuses and tortures,
will come in battalions
to give her
Guard of Honour
and lead her along
the brambly path.
Lame and tottering
she will struggle along
till she reaches
her terminus, death.

(from Essential Readings & Study Guide, pages 115-116)

Here are the questions I posed to K.V. Dominic about the poem and his answers:

Was there a single, defining moment or experience that prompted you to use your poetry to speak about social justice, particularly the plight of women in India?

The inspiration or impetus for the poem is a single defining moment as portrayed in the poem, a bus journey. But that is only a dramatic occasion for the poet to speak about the plight of women in India, particularly poor and low caste born ones as well as those who don’t meet conventional definitions of beauty.

What is the significance of describing the narrator’s smile as “guile and vile?”

The narrator is a grown-up man, who unlike the innocent, graceful child is full of evils and sins of the world. Hence his smile is hypocritical, not like the divine, pleasing smile of the child. The child has more element of divinity and hence could detect the guile and vile of the narrator’s smile.

What is the significance of the image of “the blood oozing from her soft feet?”

The child being very poor, when she starts walking barefooted along the world around her, thorns and sharp grains and little stones will bleed her soft feet. That is the literal meaning. But it has a deeper meaning that the world around her is a cruel world to her, not sympathetic to people of her social class and every step she makes in her life will give her only pains and never happiness.

What is meant by Guard of Honour?

A Guard of Honour in India is a ceremonial practice to honour great dignitaries. Usually a battalion of police or soldiers headed by their commander march to the dignitary and salute him/her. Here in the poem the poor child, after all her voyage in life, serving the people around her, is honoured by not good words but discriminations, humiliations, abuses and tortures.

How/why have Blake’s poems inspired you?

I had to study and teach William Blake’s poems, Songs of Innocence and Experience, published in 1794. The book juxtaposes the innocent, pastoral world of childhood against an adult world of corruption and repression.

What is one thing you’d want U.S. readers, particularly women, to take from the poem about the experiences of women in India who are similar to the infant and mother in the poem?

The prime motive of my poetic compositions is social criticism and the reformation of the Indian society in future. The plight of Indian women is very pathetic, and patriarchy is responsible for it. I wish my American sisters to feel this hellish life of their Indian sisters, and thank the Almighty first for being fortunate to be born in a better country than India. Secondly, they should try their maximum to minimise the hardships of their sisters in India and other undeveloped and underdeveloped countries.

Thank you for answering my questions!

 

About the book

K. V. Dominic’s Essential Readings gathers for the first time the three most important works of poetry from this shining new light of contemporary Indian verse in English: Winged ReasonWrite Son, Write, and Multicultural Symphony. A fourth collection of 22 previously unpublished poems round out a complete look at the first 12 years of Dominic’s prolific and profound verse. Each poem includes unique Study Guide questions suitable for South Asian studies curricula.

Written in free verse, each of his poems makes the reader contemplate on intellectual, philosophical, spiritual, political, and social issues of the present world. Themes range from multiculturalism, environmental issues, social mafia, caste-ism, exploitation of women and children, poverty, and corruption to purely introspective matters. From the observation of neighborhood life to international events, and everyday forgotten tragedies of India, nothing escapes the grasp of Dominic’s keen sense of the fragility of life and morality in the modern world.

Check out Essential Readings & Study Guide on Amazon

About the poet

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Internationally acclaimed poet Prof. K. V. Dominic (Kerala, India) is the author of three major volumes of poetry about the natural world as well as social and political commentary: Winged Reason, Multicultural Symphony, and Write, Son, Write.

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ERGON_cover

Source: Review copy from author
Rating: ★★★★☆

George HS Singer’s poetry collection, Ergon, is impressive in its use of language. Singer does a great job painting portraits of various people and bringing to life glimpses of the ordinary through his poems. I’d already been impressed by the poem “To Charlotte Who Fled Hitler” (you can read the poem and Singer’s guest post on his inspiration for it here), and I enjoyed getting a chance to read the entire collection.

I knew the poetry within these pages would be profound as soon as I saw that the collection opened with the definition of “ergon” according to Aristotle: “The core function or purpose of something or someone. Virtue arises when the ergon is realized fully.” Right away I new these would be poems best suited for multiple readings, but thankfully I was able to glean some meaning just reading through them one time.

Singer’s use of imagery really stood out to me in “Tiny Fish,” particularly in these lines:

My wife stroked his feet, (no bigger than a doll’s).
Small hands opened as if to wave and soon
curled and closed like the tendrils of a sea anemone.

(page 28)

His ability to tell stories in just a handful of lines comes through best in the title poem, “Ergon”:

Neither did
my sorrowing angry father, not ever, not even once,
speak the names of his little sister nor of his
big brother, carrying this secret to his grave

(page 35)

My favorite poem in the collection, “Our Quotidian,” shows the evolution of a marriage and brings to life the everyday tasks, monotony, and annoyances in living with someone so long:

You vacuum, I mop.
I know your smell and you, my snore.
In line at the market, you lean into me,

Grazing my shoulder with the warm loaf
of your breast, I tap your thigh–still here,
together in the quotidian.

(page 54)

Furthermore, there were many observations that stood out to me in their wisdom, like these lines in “In Which He Explains Why He Bowed to the Dead Moth Stuck on His Door”:

Death can never be more than a thought. Until.
Best then to make it a kindly thought.

(page 63)

Ergon touches upon many topics, from nature, spirituality, and life/aging/death to memory and the complex workings of the mind. But where the collection shines is in Singer’s detailed observations of life, from the animals that inhabit the world to everyday tasks, with hints of sexuality, humor, and a sense of peace.

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About the Poet

GeorgeSinger_AuthorGeorge HS Singer, a former Zen Buddhist monk and student of Rev. Master Jiyu Kennett, lives with his wife of forty-two years in Santa Barbara, Calif., where he works as a professor at University of California, Santa Barbara. He was educated at Yale, Southern Oregon University, and the University of Oregon. He wrote poetry in college but took a twenty-year break before taking it up as a regular discipline. He has been a long term student of Molly Peacock and has had the opportunity to work with other marvelous poets through the Frost Place in Franconia, N.H.  He writes about life in and out of a Zen monastery, trying to live mindfully in a busy and troubled world, his love of nature and of his wife. The arts have become more central to his life.  Singer’s poems were published in the Massachusetts Review, Prairie Schooner, and Tar River Poetry.

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About Ergon

George Singer’s Ergon is precise, delicate and fierce in its engagement with the world.

George HS Singer, a former Buddhist monk, has written a debut collection of poems about his life as a monk and in the monastery and about his life when he left to marry and have a family. As he tries to balance his spiritual principles with every day life as a husband and father, these poems utilize nature as a backdrop for his quest.

Check out Ergon on Amazon | Goodreads

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Disclosure: I received Ergon from the author for review.

© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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ytmbtth_cover_finalToday I’m happy to welcome Emma Eden Ramos to Diary of an Eccentric to review Arisa White’s new poetry collection, You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened. If you’re interested in White’s inspiration for the collection, I invite you to check out the guest post that appeared here last month. Now, here’s Emma’s thoughts on the book:

You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened by Arisa White is a poetry collection I wish existed when I was a teenager. If asked to describe the collection in a nutshell, I’d describe it as a combination of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Ani DiFranco’s “Not a Pretty Girl,” and Adrienne Rich’s A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far.

White begins her collection with a meditation on language.

There are little words
that can fit in little places
if you say them small enough. (p.11)

This poem, titled “Tail,” is a gateway to a collection that reminds us that words and language, in general, can be reworked and reclaimed.

In You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, Arisa White takes us on a poetic journey through the world as it is experienced by many of us in the LGBTQ community. Many of the poems are titled with words and phrases that are considered offensive by many. One poem, for example, is titled “Mashing Cookies.” The expression, according to Urban Dictionary, refers to, “When two females rub their hotboxes together with their legs in a scrissor-like formation.” The action of “Mashing Cookies” isn’t so different from heteronormative intercourse. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the act is made to sound perverse when, in fact, there is nothing perverse about it. In her poem titled “Mashing Cookies,” White writes,

Not all of us are lesbians on this island circled by orcas.
We’ve come because we’ve been nesting stories,
hollow voices that need time to season. We all need
to loot our minds for the woman who surrendered to wolves. (p. 68)

As with many of the other poems in You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, White challenges the language that has sullied the physical experience. Hopefully, readers will think twice before perpetuating stigma when referring to non-heteronormative sexuality.

You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened is a powerful collection that succeeds in empowering those of us who have been silenced by stigma. It is a collection that could bring comfort and a sense of empowerment to anyone who has encountered prejudice because of their sexuality.

Thank you, Emma, for sharing your thoughts on what seems to be a powerful, thought-provoking collection of poems!

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About the Guest Reviewer

Emma Eden Ramos is the author of two novels and one poetry chapbook. Ramos’ novels have been reviewed in The San Francisco Book ReviewThe Roanoke Times and other well-known papers. Ramos’ poetry chapbook was shortlisted for the Independent Literary Award in 2011. Ramos has written for Agnes Films JournalWomen Writers, Women[‘s] BooksLuna Luna Magazine and other publicationsShe has had her writing mentioned at RogerEbert.comExaminer.com, and on WBAI 99.5 Pacifica Radio. Ramos occasionally writes book reviews. Her most recent, a review of a collection of poems, was republished in The British Mensa Society’s Arts and Literature journal. Ramos studied psychology at Marymount Manhattan College. She is currently teaching at a high school in New York City.

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About the Poet

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Photo Credit: Nye’ Lyn Tho

Arisa White is a Cave Canem fellow, Sarah Lawrence College alumna, an MFA graduate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and author of the poetry chapbooks Disposition for Shininess, Post Pardon, and Black Pearl. She was selected by the San Francisco Bay Guardian for the 2010 Hot Pink List and is a member of the PlayGround writers’ pool; her play Frigidare was staged for the 15th Annual Best of Play Ground Festival. Recipient of the inaugural Rose O’Neill Literary House summer residency at Washington College in Maryland, Arisa has also received residencies, fellowships, or scholarships from Juniper Summer Writing Institute, Headlands Center for the Arts, Port Townsend Writers’ Conference, Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Hedgebrook, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Prague Summer Program, Fine Arts Work Center, and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Nominated for Pushcart Prizes in 2005 and 2014, her poetry has been published widely and is featured on the recording WORD with the Jessica Jones Quartet.

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About You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened

Angular, smart, and fearless, Arisa White’s newest collection takes its titles from words used internationally as hate speech against gays and lesbians, reworking, re-envisioning, and re-embodying language as a conduit for art, love, and understanding. “To live freely, observantly as a politically astute, sensually perceptive Queer Black woman is to be risk taker, at risk, a perceived danger to others and even dangerous to/as oneself,” writes poet Tracie Morris. “White’s attentive word substitutions and range of organized forms, lithe anecdotes, and disturbed resonances put us in the middle of living a realized, intelligent life of the senses.” You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened works through intersectional encounters with gender, identity, and human barbarism, landing deftly and defiantly in beauty.

Check out You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened on Goodreads | Amazon

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© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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My guest today is Hassan El-Tayyab, author of Composing Temple Sunrise: Overcoming Writer’s Block at Burning Man. I know nothing about Burning Man, so I’ve asked him to explain what it is. Before I turn the blog over to Hassan, here’s a bit about the book:

ComposingComposing Temple Sunrise is a coming-of-age memoir about a 26-year-old songwriter’s journey across America to find his lost muse.

Triggered by the Great Recession of 2008, Hassan El-Tayyab loses his special education teaching job in Boston and sets out on a cross-country adventure with a woman named Hope Rideout, determined to find his lost muse. His journey brings him to Berkeley, CA, where he befriends a female metal art collective constructing a 37-foot Burning Man art sculpture named “Fishbug.” What follows is a life-changing odyssey through Burning Man that helps Hassan harness his creative spirit, overcome his self-critic, confront his childhood trauma, and realize the healing power of musical expression.

In this candid, inspiring memoir, singer-songwriter Hassan El-Tayyab of the Bay Area’s American Nomad takes us deep into the heart of what it means to chase a creative dream.

After experiencing multiple losses (family, home, love, job, self-confidence) , El-Tayyab sets out on a transcontinental quest that eventually lands him in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. His vivid descriptions capture both the vast, surreal landscapes of the Burning Man festival and the hard practice of making art.

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Please give a warm welcome to Hassan El-Tayyab:

Burning Man is a difficult thing to describe, as it is so many things to so many different people. People who have never been all seem to have an opinion as well. I’d start off by saying, you can’t really know what this event is about until you go. I encourage everyone to do their own cost-benefit analysis after they experience it first-hand. With that preamble, I’ll begin to explain what I think it is.

Burning Man is one of the world’s biggest annual do-it-yourself events taking place in the Black Rock desert of Nevada at the end of August each year. Many have called it a cultural phenomenon. It started with only a few hundred people in the early 90s, but has grown to hold about 70,000 people each year. People of all ages come from all over the planet to construct a temporary city from the ground up, filled with art cars, behemoth fire art installations, interactive exhibits, sound camps, costumes, and live performances of all genres, skill levels, and styles. Many of these communities that occupy the event spend much of the year preparing for this. What’s created is one of the most unique human/nature made experiences I’ve ever been to. In essence, Burning Man is a giant canvass for experimenting with human potential.

This special event is guided by 10 principles that set the tone for the overall vibe and experience on the ground. They include radical inclusion, gifting, de-commodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation, and immediacy. It might help a first timer to examine these points closely.

Burning Man is a completely cashless society. Being in an environment where you can’t buy things after spending all your life inside a capitalist society is a refreshing thing for any world view and potentially life changing. There is also much excess on the Playa too that can feel uncomfortable for many. Some of what has evolved seems very similar to the default world as folks jockey for position and status with material possessions they have brought to the desert with them. You have a choice to let this bother you or not. When I’m there, I focus on my personal experience and my good friends. I always seem to have a great time! Like anywhere, the more you give, the more you get. I find that when I’m actively contributing and don’t play the role of spectator, I have the most worthwhile experiences.

Radical Self Expression and Radical Inclusion are two other hallmarks of Burning Man. Be prepared for an anything goes environment. Burners accept people of all faiths, race, and backgrounds as the status quo. This is definitely the sentiment you feel out there. You feel loved by strangers as if they were your close friends in a very touching way. You could wear a tutu on a unicycle and no one would give you a second look. You can walk down the road completely naked and, chances are, you’ll see 10 others doing the same thing giving you a thumbs up. That said, I find the principle of radical inclusion held with a bit of tension as well. The event is still quite cost prohibitive and the vast majority of the community is white.

The “Burning Man” references the giant wooden effigy that is burned on the Saturday before the end of the event. People gather around and watch a 60+ foot sculpture burn to the ground. What ensues is probably the largest and wildest LED lit party I’ve ever been to. On Sunday night, the Temple burn happens. This is a more somber affair. The Temple is another large wooden building that spends the entire week getting filled with writings, shrines, memories, pain, suffering, and tears. I see this as the spiritual epicenter of the playa during the week event. It’s a place you can go to be quiet and reflect on life and loss.

On Sunday evening, the building along with the tens of thousands of notes, shrines, and memories are burned to the ground as people look on in silence. It’s hard not to see tears streaming down cheeks all around you as this occurs. I find this to be the most profound moment at Burning Man as you get to share a truly spiritual and transcendent moment with thousands of other people that’s not wrapped in dogma. It’s just about healing. Never in my life have I witnessed something like this on such a big scale.

I’ll leave you with this. My life long burner friend told me my first year when I asked him about Burning Man. He said, “Burn your expectations and things can be wondrous.”

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About the author

ElTayyabHassan El-Tayyab is an award-winning singer/songwriter, author, teacher, and cultural activist currently residing in the San Francisco Bay Area. His critically acclaimed Americana act American Nomad performs regularly at festivals and venues up and down the West Coast and beyond and he teaches music in the Bay Area.

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