Monday, January 19, 2015

I know why the caged bird sings

I left the room because, and only because, we had said all we could say. The unsaid words pushed roughly against the thoughts that we had no craft to verbalize, and crowded the room to uneasiness.”~ Maya Angelou

 Maya Angelou has been one of the most banned authors in the United States of America. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a memoir about a Black girl and her brother growing up in the 1930's and 1940's. Initially they were both sent by her parents to Arkansas. They had to travel alone by train from California to join their grandmother in Arkansas.
   Maya Angelou fell in love with Shakespeare at an early age. When she graduated from elementary school her loving brother gave her a book by Edgar Allan Poe. This was not a trivial gift. He’d had to save money for many months to get it for her. 
  Maya’s writing is intense and bold without being sentimental. “Fearlessness” and “bravery” are the two words I would use if I had to define Maya’s personality. There is humor and sadness in her stories, but the most captivating feature is her honesty along with the fact that she never dwells on self-pity. She is not afraid of revealing both the dark and the charming aspects of her childhood and teenage years.
   This was the time of the Great Depression and even though their grandmother owned land and houses, she taught her grandchildren to lead a frugal lifestyle. She also worked hard to save her store.
 “Momma spent many nights figuring on our tablets, slowly. She was trying to find a way to keep her business going, although her customers had no money.”
  They were among the few Negro families not on relief, and Maya and Bailey were the only children in the town who ate powdered eggs every day and drank powdered milk.
    “Although there was generosity in the Negro neighborhood, it was indulged on pain of sacrifice. Whatever was given by Black people to other Blacks was most probably needed as desperately by the donor as by the receiver. A fact which made the giving or receiving a rich exchange.
“I couldn’t understand whites and where they got the right to spend money so lavishly. Of course, I knew God was white too, but no one could have made me believe He was prejudiced.”
 Her life anecdotes show that the cage was made of prejudices and ignorance, and this cage dictated the apartheid behaviors that the reader will find revolting. One of the shocking scenes I will never forget is that of little Maya suffering from an excruciating toothache.
 “The pain was beyond the bailiwick of crushed aspirins or oil of cloves. Only one thing could help me, so I prayed earnestly that I’d be allowed to sit under the house and have a building collapse on my left jaw.”
   Her grandmother took her to the nearest dentist: a white man. His name was Dr Lincoln. Maya’s grandmother had lent money to Blacks and Whites alike during the Depression and Dr. Lincoln had benefited from her kindness. Yet when her grandmother asked him to address Maya’s toothache, he turned them down.
 “My policy is I’d rather stick my hand in a dog’s mouth than in a nigger’s.”
 Needless to say, Maya and her grandmother wound up travelling to another town to get the urgent care she needed from a colored dentist.
   When Maya was eight years old she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend, and she unfolds the story in this memoir through the eyes of the child that she once was, revealing her confusion, guilt and fear.  This outrageous situation stirred in me the same disturbing emotions I had when I read “Down by the River” by Edna O’Brien, a novel I read two years ago. I never had the courage to write about it on my blog. (I think I will do it in one of my future posts.).

The time she later spent in California and her education there are vividly portrayed. She carries us to San Francisco, to the 1940's, and she describes the city and her aspirations as a human being in this phrase:
The city became for me the ideal of what I wanted to be as a grownup. Friendly but never gushing, cool but not frigid or distant, distinguished without the awful stiffness.”
 I appreciate this imaginary visit even more when she weaves social cues into the physical landscape, for she provides deep insights into her personal situation:
 “To me, a thirteen-year-old Black girl, stalled by the South and Southern Black life style, the city was a state of beauty and a state of freedom. The fog wasn’t simply the steamy vapors off the bay caught and penned in by hills, but a soft breath of anonymity that shrouded and cushioned the bashful traveler. I became dauntless and free of fears, intoxicated by the physical fact of San Francisco. Safe in my protecting arrogance, I was certain that no one loved her as impartially as I.
   Interestingly, her words had the power to foresee the resistance that her book would encounter:
 “The Black female is assaulted in her tender years by all those common forces of nature at the same time that she is caught in the tripartite crossfire of masculine prejudice, white illogical hate and Black lack of power.

  Yet the bird did not stop singing. Maya published more memoirs and five poetry collections. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

On Freedom and banned books

"Think wrongly if you please but in all cases think for yourself."~ Doris Lessing

In this era of television screens everywhere, drones and cookies I think of George Orwell and conclude that he was indeed a visionary. Television screens are highly efficient at manipulating the masses, and then there is another issue that curbs freedom: censorship.
 Those who ban books may believe that they have a higher “sense of morality” but I doubt the morality of those who abuse their power by banning books.
 I believe censoring a book is a violation of people’s freedom: the decision to read or not to read a book belongs to each individual person.
  What does the act of banning a book entail? Let’s analyze it.
 When somebody bans a book or makes an attempt to ban it, they are taking for granted that their opinion is more relevant than anybody else’s opinions. They do not give others the chance to read the book themselves and to reach their own conclusions regarding the quality or the significance of it.
   Do the people who censor books believe they are superior to the rest of the population? They are certainly not an example of humility but the epitome of manipulation and control which George Orwell portrayed so well in “1984” and “Animal Farm”. Not surprisingly these books have been censored and are still censored in some places.
 Another term that I want to challenge is that of the “challenged books”. When they say that a book has been challenged, they mean that a group of persons made an attempt to censor it or to restrict the access to it in some way.
 Challenging a book should carry a different meaning, though. It should be about reading a book and having an open discussion about it. In order to grow and learn we should all be allowed to read the book first. Then we can have a healthy discussion on it.
 I appreciate the opportunity to read other people’s opinions on books I read.  I may agree or disagree with them, but in both cases I find it enriching to learn what other people think about the same stories I have read. It is also thrilling to discover the different paths that a book can take in the minds of different readers.
 When I was writing this post I came across the news that a blogger in Saudi Arabia will be flogged 50 times every Friday during 20 weeks in a public square because he criticized Islam on his blog. His name is Raif Badawi.
 Raif Badawi is also jailed for ten years  due to the fact that he was brave enough to express his opinion.  (George Orwell shows in his novel 1984 how  prisoners of conscience  are subjected to ill-treatment and boundless cruelty.)
   Raif should be in Canada with his family now, but he is currently in prison, suffering the consequences of this torture.
I have signed a petition to ask the authorities to release him and to drop the charges. Here is the link.
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." — Martin Luther King Jr., who was born on this day in 1929.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

This month's poem and a free short story contest

This month I selected a nature poem called "Falconar's Flautist" by Cathy Bryant.
 You can read it here.

 I also want to let you know that the annual free short story contest sponsored by Southern Pacific Review is now accepting submissions. The prize is one hundred dollars and publication in Southern Pacific Review. The deadline is on March 30 so you have time to work on it.
 To learn more details about this contest visit this link.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Van Gogh's letters

 “And men are often faced with the impossibility of doing anything, imprisoned in some kind of horrible cage. There is also, I know, deliverance, eventual deliverance. A reputation ruined rightly or wrongly, embarrassment, circumstance, misfortune, all these make people prisoners. You can’t say what it is that shuts you up, what walls you in, what seems to bury you alive, but you still feel some kind of bars, some kind of cage, some kind of walls.
Do you know what makes the prison disappear? It is every deep, genuine affection. To be friends, brothers, to love, that opens the prison by its sovereign power, its powerful charm. Someone who does not have that remains bereft of life.
But where sympathy is reborn, life is reborn.
Sometimes the prison is called prejudice, misunderstanding, fatal ignorance of this or that, distrust, false shame.”
Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh’s words are rooted in a timeless universal truth. 
Reading his letters seems to make time come to a halt. It throws me into a deep meditative state of serenity. And it is also akin to the effects of connecting with a sincere friend.
 (I am not going to focus on his death here, but I want to clarify that van Gogh did NOT commit suicide. He was shot to death by another person. )
 I believe every person who endeavors to take an artistic discipline seriously will benefit from reading Vincent van Gogh’s letters to his brother Theo. There are various reasons why his deep insights and wisdom are of much relevance today.
  His letters reveal his self-taught journey in drawing and painting. The drawings and paintings that he enclosed in the letters are shown; they correlate with his musings, reflections and life anecdotes (some of them are funny!).
 Van Gogh shares his learning process with painstaking details. He also describes nature and people with great care, and from his unique interactions with them we learn about his exquisite sensitivity and intelligence. Being a keen observer of his surroundings was vital to his artworks.
 “The doctor is just as I would like him to be, he looks rather like some of the heads by Rembrandt: a magnificent forehead and a very sympathetic expression, I hope I have learned something from him, in the sense that I hope I will be able to deal with my models more or less in the same way he deals with his patients, that is, to be firm with them and to put them in the required position without further ado. It is marvelous with how much patience this man treats his patients himself by massaging, applying ointments, and handling them in all kinds of ways, infinitely more firmly than an attendant, and how he has the knack of removing the scruples and getting people in the position he needs them to be. There is an old man who would be superb as a St. Jerome: a thin, tall, wiry, brown and wrinkled body, with joints so fabulously clear and expressive that it makes me melancholy not to have him as a model.”
Through his delightful prose and images we witness how his work progressed over time; we can appreciate the skills that accrued as a result of his persistent dedication and passion. (Yes, he was talented, but talent alone wouldn't have been enough to accomplish what he accomplished). 
 Every time I contemplate his masterpieces I immerse myself in those places as if I were a real visitor. Not only do I see the settings he portrays but I also absorb their moods; I become a part of them.
  Last but not least, I admire his humility. The thoughts and feelings he expresses are humble and genuine. His letters unravel his soul and regale us with his deep introspection and friendly voice.

 I will share some of his quotes and I hope that the energy of his words spreads and becomes contagious.
Thank you, Vincent.

“How enormously pedantic it is really, how absurd, a man who thinks that he knows it all and that it will be as he thinks, as if there were not always in all things in life a je ne sais quoi of great good, and also an element of bad, from which we feel that there is something infinite above us, infinitely greater, mightier than we are.”
“A man who does not feel himself small, who does not realize that he is just a speck, how wrong he is basically.”
“Art demands a tenacious effort, an effort in spite of everything, and continuous observation. By tenacious effort I mean in the first place constant labor, but also not abandoning your views at someone else’s say-so.”

"In my view I am often immensely rich, not in money, but (although just now perhaps not all the time) rich because I have found my metier, something I can devote myself to heart and soul and that gives inspiration and meaning to my life."
"My moods vary, of course, but nevertheless I have on average acquired a certain serenity. I have a strong belief in art, a certain faith that it is a powerful current that carries a man to haven, although he himself has to put in an effort too. I think it is such a blessing when a man has found his metier, that I don't count myself among the unfortunates."

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Song of the Simple Truth

“If my love is thus, like a torrent,
like a river swollen in a full tempest,
like a lily starting roots in the wind,
like an intimate rain,
without clouds and without sea…
if my love is of water,
why do they try to tie it to immovable courses?”
Julia de Burgos

 Julia de Burgos’s poetry is like a torrential rain falling on a desert. Her free spirit is a volcano that erupts in her verses, flooding us with the lava of her imagination. 
 Nature is present in most of her poems. It is the language of her soul. Her poetry is a wellspring of passion and intense emotions.
Reading her verses makes me cry, laugh, think, feel, fly. The themes deal with love, freedom, identity, solitude, and political concerns.
 Neglected by the literary world during her lifetime, Julia de Burgos (1914-1953) was an accomplished poet and journalist who was censored and persecuted due to her political ideas.  I came across this poet for the first time when I read Edward Hirsch's anthology entitled "Poet's Choice". His essay on Julia de Burgos’s poetry piqued my curiosity, so I got the compilation of her poems that Mr. Hirsch recommended.
     I’m glad I did.
    Jack Agueros did an excellent job of gathering all her poems in a bilingual edition entitled Song of the Simple Truth.  Mr. Agueros also indulges us with a fascinating chapter about her life.
  Julia de Burgos was a free thinker, and she expresses this in her poem “My Soul”.

“The madness of my soul
cannot repose,
it lives in the restlessness
in the disorder
in the imbalance
of things dynamic,
in the silence
of the free thinker, who lives alone,
in quiet exile.”

 In the 1930's, when Julia was still living in Puerto Rico, the economic situation was a disaster. Unemployment was at an all time high of sixty percent according to some sources, and Julia  was affected by the upheavals of this period.
   Julia de Burgos went through a variety of jobs which included working in a milk station offering free breakfasts to children, and writing for a radio program called the School of the Air, where it is reported that she was fired for her political beliefs. She also worked as a school teacher in a rural area.
  How can we not be seduced by Jack Agueros' s poetical description of Julia de Burgos?
“Julia de Burgos was one of those persons who burst into life like a comet sizzling through our solar system. We watch such persons with a mixture of great awe and trepidation—we enjoy seeing the fiery aura and tail, but worry about them crashing into us, or burying us in their smoking wake.
“There is no doubt they are beautiful and brilliant—but perhaps they would make us happier if they buzzed some farther planet. After they are gone—burned out—or looped out in their elliptic trajectory heading back to whence they came, our enthusiasm for them grows.”

 Julia de Burgos evokes the beauty of her homeland and her intimate connection to it in her famous poem “Rio Grande de Loiza”

Rio Grande de Loiza!... Elongate yourself in my spirit
and let my soul lose itself in your rivulets,
finding the fountain that robbed you as a child
and in a crazed impulse returned you to the path.

Coil yourself upon my lips and let me drink you,
to feel you mine for a brief moment,
to hide you from the world and hide you in yourself,
to hear astonished voices in the mouth of the wind.

Dismount for a moment from the loin of the earth,
and search for the intimate secret in my desires;
confuse yourself in the flight of my bird fantasy,
and leave a rose of water in my dreams.

Rio Grande de Loiza!... My wellspring, my river
since the maternal petal lifted me to the world;
my pale desires came down in you from the craggy hills
to find new furrows;
and my childhood was all a poem in the river,
and a river in the poem of my first dreams.

Juan Ramon Gimenez, the 1956 Nobel Literature Prize winner, said: “Since I met her in Washington, I admired profoundly the writing of this extraordinary woman for her endowment of creativity and expression.”
 I will take the liberty to share the first poem of Song of the Simple Truth. It is provocative and breathtaking. 

To Julia de Burgos

 Already the people murmur that I am your enemy
because they say that in verse I give the world your me.

They lie, Julia de Burgos. They lie, Julia de Burgos.
Who rises in my verses is not your voice. It is my voice
because you are the dressing and the essence is me;
and the most profound abyss is spread between us.

You are the cold doll of social lies,
and me, the virile starburst of the human truth.

You, honey of courtesan hypocrisies; not me;
in all my poems I undress my heart.

You are like your world, selfish; not me;
who gambles everything betting on what I am.

You are only the ponderous lady very lady;
not me; I am life, strength, woman.

You belong to your husband, your master; not me;
I belong to nobody, or all, because to all, to all
I give myself in my clean feeling and in my thought.

You curl your hair and paint yourself; not me;
the wind curls my hair, the sun paints me.

You are a housewife, resigned, submissive,
tied to the prejudices of men; not me;
unbridled, I am a runaway Rocinante
snorting horizons of God’s justice.

You in yourself have no say; everybody governs you;
your husband, your parents, your family,
the priest, the dressmaker, the theatre, the dance hall,
the auto, the fine furnishings, the feast, champagne,
heaven and hell, and the social, “what will they say”.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Art, literature and writing

"Literature and butterflies are the two sweetest passions known to man."
Vladimir Nabokov

  It's time to celebrate my blog's birthday. My blog is your blog; my words reach the people who search for them. I'm celebrating four  creative years of inspiration, learning and growth. Within the last 24 hours this blog has been visited hundreds of times. The views are from the United States, UK, France, Germany, Canada, Netherlands, Australia, Norway, Finland, Belgium, Italy, Spain, China, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Argentina, Algeria, Tunisia, Poland, Ukraine, Japan...
  Like butterflies, these words travel to distant places. I feel proud to be able to spread the wonders of literature, poetry and art across the globe.
  Far from being elitist, art and literature are like creatures that stoop down to reach out to us, and we can reach out to them. They make the uniqueness of the human soul shine with meaning. They  bring us together, superseding the labels of mediocrity.
 Since I started blogging I've had my works published in different venues.
 First and foremost, I thank my family and  friends for their motivation to read this blog and, above all, for their love and support.  Next,  I want to thank ALL my readers, wherever you are.
Thank you.
 I 'm also grateful to all the writers and poets who awaken the music within my soul.
 Last but not least, I thank all the naysayers out there who through their negativity inspire me to bolster my will power to read and write better each and every day.

  I compiled some of the most important links to my blog posts on art, literature, and writing. Enjoy my blog-library... and don't miss the last part of the party. Keep scrolling down. There are quotes, art and music!

Art posts:

Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo (second part)
Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso's Guernica
Thomas Sully
Uncommon folk
Writers who paint
An uplifting post
Inocente, a story of resilience

Leo Tolstoy's novellas
My Antonia
The Fall of The House of Usher
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
The Age of Innocence
Helen Keller's autobiography
A Portrait of the Artist as Young Man
Sylvia Plath's "The Bell Jar"
"Wind, Sand and Stars" by Saint-Exupery
The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares
George Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984
Down and Out in Paris and London
Homage to Catalonia
Of Human Bondage by William Somerset Maugham
The Artist at Work by Albert Camus
Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges
Doris Lessing's "Love, again"
"Runaway" by Alice Munro
"Dear Life"
The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Posts on writing
Writers take risks
The art of writing fiction
Humor in creative writing
Online resources for writers
Likable characters?
The wonder of beginnings
Points of view in creative writing
The benefits of hand-writing
Creating characters for a story
The art of being subtle
The characters living in my head
What's in a rejection? Take it easy
Writing dialogue
Description of places in creative writing


For poetry lovers... and those who don't care about poetry
The mystery of poetry
Switch off the television
The poets of the twentieth century

To finish this birthday post I'm sharing some quotes by famous writers and poets from all over the world...

"Those who control their passions do so because their passions are weak enough to be controlled."~William Blake

"With me poetry has been not a purpose, but a passion; and the passions should be held in reverence: they must not -- they cannot at will be excited, with an eye to the paltry compensations, or the more paltry commendations of mankind." ~Edgar Allan Poe

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes."~Marcel Proust

"The role of the artist is to ask questions- not to answer them." Anton Chekhov

"My New Year's Eve Toast: to all the devils, lusts, passions, greeds, envies, loves, hates, strange desires, enemies ghostly and real, the army of memories with which I do battle-- may they never give me peace."~ Patricia Highsmith

"I write for the same reason I breathe -- because if I didn't I would die." Isaac Asimov

"I think... if it is true that there are many minds as there are heads, then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts."~ Leo Tolstoy

"The Spanish Inquisition understood the danger. Leading lives through fiction that does not live in reality is a source of anxiety, a maladjustment to existence that can turn into rebelliousness. One can understand why regimes that seek to exercise total control over life mistrust works of fiction and subject them to censorship. Emerging from one's own self, being another, even in illusion, is a way of being less a slave and of experiencing the risks of freedom."~ Mario Vargas Llosa

"The important task of literature is to free man, not to censor him, and that is why Puritanism was the most destructive and evil force which ever oppressed people and their literature: it created hypocrisy, perversion and fears."~ Anais Nin

"It is from reading, even before writing, that I became part of a community -- the community of literature -- which includes more dead than living writers."~Susan Sontag

Merry Christmas. May 2015 be a remarkable year.
May the light of love, peace and hope shine in our hearts.
Till next year.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Lives of the Heart

"The World loved by Moonlight"
You must try,
the voice said, to become colder.
I understood at once.
It is like the body of gods: cast in bronze,
braced in stone. Only something heartless
could bear the full weight.

This is a good time of the year to read “The Lives of the Heart”. Grounded in nature and the everyday, Jane Hirshfield’s poetry collection evokes the interconnection—or disconnection -- between inner and outer worlds, nostalgia, life, grief.
 Some of the metaphors are like drawings that unfold stories. Others tap into the energy of experiences and emotions.
  I found a delicious recipe in one of the poems. Even if you don’t like this poem (it's a fragment of it), you may be willing to try the recipe. I did!

Returning home, slice carrots, onions, celery.
Glaze them in oil before adding
the lentils, water and herbs.

Then the roasted chestnuts, a little pepper, the salt.
Finish with goat cheese and parsley. Eat.
You may do this, I tell you, it is permitted.
Begin again the story of your life.

Matter and Spirit
A shadow empties itself into a river.
No one sees.
But the cloth for washing the bodies of the dead
Softens, gentles a little.
Neither the cloth nor the body feels this.
Yet it matters. Someone else, you see, is there
in the blunt and the blind of grace—
Someone stands silent,
listening, the looped cotton held in her hand.