Profanity Punctures

We’re all used to hearing and uttering the odd eff-bomb. With the recent ruling in Australia that yelling the ‘f word’ on public property is no longer offensive – because it is inserted in everyday language – we may wonder whether there’s any power left in potty-mouthed petulance.

There are some of us who may remember that Australian comedian Rodney Rude in the 1980s was considered ‘fringe’ because of his profane stand-up routines. Today, most comedians pepper their prose in the same vein and no one blinks – and we are bored. So bored.

The problem is when swearing is the norm, it becomes irrelevant. However, all great prose remains relevant – from generation to generation.

If profanity no longer has punch, why bother using it at all? I have often felt, in listening to comedians, that swearing is the last reserve of the unimaginative.  It’s very lazy writing – and demonstrates a total lack of mental dexterity and imagination.  The best comedians have an instinct for figurative language, and strong imagery. It’s the re-imagining of situational comedy that makes us laugh the hardest – and those who rely on craft, rather than crass, will last the longest.

WordSmith Jo

Onomatoe…whah?

Clearly I’m in the mood for poetry, so I’m not going to fight it. I’m just gonna let the sweet sweet meters wash over my hunger for verse. Onomatopoeia is just so much fun. If you’re a writer who loves linguist-nastics like I do, I bet you’ve got a few choice words you’ve mashed up on a napkin and now carry around in your wallet. If this sounds like you – you’re safe here. I give you full permission to own your dorkiness and fist pump, chest bump aight!

Onomatopoeia is a narrative device, whereby the word used also closely resembles/denotes the sound one is trying to describe. The sounds don’t always have to be pleasant to the ear, it can be discomforting as well as natural.

Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is often cited as a classic example of onomatopoeia, particularly with the dialogue from that stoned ginger cat. His poem Jabberwocky (1871) is also another great example.

I’ve given a sample here from a poem I wrote a few years ago – ahh the memories, boy did I have fun writing this one!

TV Dinners

Squish splat pinch of salt
Celebrity Chef grins at Camera Two
Hot fingers melt butter and malt
Nude egg glistens ready to stew

Meat at room temperature!
An absent audience chastised
Keep the off-cuts for left-over
Serve drizzled with French fries

Floured fingers stamp white smock
Chicken blood drops on sterile tiles
As devotees to the bookstore flock
To own a slice of his culinary files

Celebrity Chef smiles, Producer yells cut!
The stage over stove dimmed lights
Macaroon white hat falls flat, but
Tune in for tomorrow’s lime and fig pies.

Onomatopoeia can not only be applied to singular words, but can also be used in phrasing or whole passages to denote or give greater emphasis to anything – whether it be size, length, force or feeling. It’s all about echoing an impression that you want the reader to feel. It’s a terrific device and you can get carried away by it all… but I guess that’s the whole point.

Till next time,

WordSmith Jo

Women Wait in English Literature

Whether we are waiting for our man to return home from war, or waiting to be proposed to in marriage, waiting to receive equal remuneration for equal efforts, or waiting for just plain old-fashioned respect, throughout the Western Canon, women wait, and wait well.

In literature, waiting is a thoroughly feminine pre-occupation.  We don’t read about men standing by the window, hand on pane as the rain falls down the sill, watching the street for his love to come home. Men don’t wait. Men charge ahead. Men ride off into sunsets. Men rise to challenges.

So, to mix things up a bit, I wrote a poem. About a man that lives in the Southern Highlands of NSW. He waits. Waits his whole life for the woman he loves, who never noticed him in the end.

When I finished this piece, I didn’t find his waiting effeminate. I found it wholly masculine. But maybe that’s just me. Either way, it’s a lesson as a writer, to tackle a common theme from a different angle, which often yields unexpected results.

Till next time,

WordSmith Jo

 

The Highlands Way Cafe

Clickety clatter, splash ‘n batter
At the Highlands Way Cafe, my love
I’ll wait for you, by old belly rose.
Rickety rattler, brews ‘n splatter
At the Highlands Way Cafe, my love
I waited for you, till evening’s close.

Raised in the south, near Mittagong’s fray
Your sun-speckled shine and short refrain
Dreamt of black-heeled style and tinted frames.
‘One day, one day, I’ll skip out this small town,
I’ll marry a suit with cashmere lines
And trade buckskin boots for silver cuffs’.

Shy of nineteen, I kept my voice steady
Your breath is soft, yet your words fall hard
My love since sixth grade in Miss Faye’s class,
Trading cards under Gib Gate’s Wattle.
I always thought we’d see our lives through
Behind vineyard’s gate at Crescent’s pass.

You traded walks along Box Vale’s Track
For concrete treads and dark tinted glass
The Blueberry Ash no more a treat.
Just sapphires blue and cloaked valets
Fantasy drunk on tower skylines
Your future’s past the Old Hume Highway.

Our Sunday last, we sipped Earl Grey
At the Highlands Way Cafe, my love
Near the feet of old rose’s fire.
No heat stopped my heart turn to winter
At the Highland’s Way Cafe, my love
You said we would meet again, someday.

Clickety clatter, splash ‘n batter
At the Highlands Way Cafe, my love
I’ll wait for you, by old belly rose.
Rickety rattler, brews ‘n splatter
At the Highlands Way Cafe, my love
I waited for you, till evening’s close.

Remember Mrs Main Street Chatter?
She said you married a city bloke
Clever with stocks, Nellie Melba kind.
You had traded black teas for lattes
And wore Manolos with gold thread ties
And muted freckles with Chanel shine.

The Secretary on Station Street
Said you are now living penthouse dreams
Walking on silk spun from Isfahan.
Your lashes charcoaled, and accent combed
Feline hats at races, Champagne light
Next stop to Tokyo, fashion’s height.

At Howard’s Lane the gardener there
Said you’ve had a darling baby girl
Behind my back, my unsteady hand
Held quick and tight the cellar door frame
But your joy is mine, and will remain
My love for you will forever stand.

Think! Secret space by Nattai River
Eyes shut you would lift your naked face
And beautify the sun. I recall
The way you stared at Forty Foot Falls
In wonder, as we drank from her spine
And dried atop the sunny stone arch.

Clickety clatter, splash ‘n batter
At the Highlands Way Cafe, my love
I’ll wait for you, by old belly rose.
Rickety rattler, brews ‘n splatter
At the Highlands Way Cafe, my love
I waited for you, till evening’s close.

And the years went by, colliding time
News of you no longer passes way
I tilled my soil, pressed grapes into wine
Leaves renew, summer willows fading
As the world around us keeps swirling
Life moves on, unchanged in southern winds.

My hands, now rivets of raised blue lines
Crocheted skin hold tired eyes true
And my hope an endless arroyo.
As the old Fitz Roy Iron Works hold
A space in the present through its past
Your distance keeps me closer to you.

Another Tulip oasis late
Springs, and November Waratah brings
Florid visions, visions of you, you.
The grapes ripen longer on the vines
In the South, so too, flavour of you
So too, this love wanting, wanting, waits.

Then one Sunday, Christmas carnival
At the Highland Way Cafe, my love
The doorway you pass, as if you knew
I was at our old table for two.
Your eyes met mine, with no memory
Or want, at the Highland Way Cafe.

Clickety clatter, splash ‘n batter
At the Highlands Way Cafe, my love
I’ll wait for you, by old belly rose.
Rickety rattler, brews ‘n splatter
At the Highlands Way Cafe, my love
I waited for you, till evening’s close.

Public Education as a Last Bastion of Class Equality

I will never forget the furore in the English faculty when the Executive Team at UNSW decided that the only way to make room for renovations in the campus Library was to throw away books that had not been borrowed in the past two years.  The alleged directive was to discard books that were mostly arts and humanities-based texts…

Seeing these books discarded in the dumpster, was a tragic metaphor of how our culture tends to equate higher values on knowledge that drives monetary outcomes, rather than humanities-based outcomes. It is a vulgar view of knowledge, and it is a narrow interpretation of what it means to be an educated person.

This narrowness is on display again, with the release of the 2016 Federal Budget – whereby teachers’ salaries are tied to student outcomes. Glenn Savage, Senior lecturer in education policy at the University of Melbourne says, “The Coalition has said it will ensure spending is ‘tied to evidence-based initiatives’ that improve student performance, suggesting conditions will be placed on the funding, such as introducing standardised literacy and numeracy testing for students in year 1, and linking the salaries of teachers to the national teaching standards”.

What this really means is that teachers will focus primarily on content to help students pass literacy and numeracy tests and any other knowledge that falls outside of this scope will fall by the wayside.

There is no Governmental incentive for educational institutions to uphold egalitarian ideals on education – and the dominant discourse around public education (which is often derisive) is a witness to this. When citizens acquiesce and adopt this kind of ‘corporatised’ world view of education (and this acquiescence is no more obvious when the middle-classes aspire to send their children to private schooling) – what they are really doing is supporting a system that is designed to keep their offspring in the same social strata.

If we look to our Western European heritage, history teaches us that 150 years ago, public education was non-existent. Government did not fund or support public education – it was at the auspices of a few generous-hearted philanthropists and well-intended religious institutions that opened schools for poor children.

When we fight for public education today, what we are really fighting for is to stop regression to a period in time where only the rich and privileged classes receive quality education.  If we believe in equal opportunities for our children, then adequate funding of public education should be a moral imperative – not an election impetus.

Till next time,

WordSmith Jo

Irony the Master of all Tropes

Whether we experience irony as suggestive, or blatantly, there is something delicious about observing, or exposing irony. We tend to feel particularly clever when we identify it, or understand it, and of course, if we are fully-functional rational beings, we are generally horrified when irony is used to expose personal hypocrisy.

Irony is a powerful tool in narratives because so much of it can be used implicitly – which is a far more effective way to position an audience without having to tell them what to think explicitly – after all, grown-ups avoid didactic narratives – we don’t like be told what to think directly. Irony, executed well, is really about persuading the audience to believe that they have arrived at a conclusion on their terms.

There are different types of irony, and for the writer, knowing these differences will be a great addition to your story-telling toolbox –

Irony – In the modern sense, it is used to dissemble a position, to expose what is actually, the case. It can be used to achieve rhetorical or narrative effects.

Verbal Irony – The ironic statement is the explicit expression of a position, but it relies upon a shared knowledge of the audience, to understand that the speaker intends a very different, or opposite position to what was stated.

Structural irony – Rather than employing verbal irony, the writer introduces a structural feature, which sustains a duplex meaning throughout the work.

Stable Irony – The writer makes available to the reader an assertion or position, either implied or explicit, as a way to qualify or subvert the surface meaning. Unstable Irony, has no fixed position – think of absurdist narratives such as the Monty Python sketches – which constantly juxtapose and use intertextual references to subvert and or expose ironies – but the narrative has no political or otherwise fixed meaning, rather its absurd for the sake being absurd.

Sarcasm – often described as the poor cousin of irony, its usually restricted to verbal parlance – with the intention to undermine or taunt – here, verbal expression, emphasis on how the words are delivered, is the hallmark of sarcasm.

Socratic irony – a clever tool, most famously used in modern times by the lovable, and ash-ridden detective, Colombo (I miss that guy) whereby the character assumes a position of ignorance, and eagerness to be instructed, seeking opinions and asking many questions to arrive at a truth – or to disprove a position. In cultural criticism its sometimes referred to as imminent critique – exposing a position by exploring inherent contradictions within the statement itself – such ironies, once exposed, tend to weaken the authority of a said position.

Dramatic irony – this is where the writer has shared information with the audience – yet the central character is ignorant of the information. Shakespeare was a master at using this technique.

Tragic irony – is where the intended assailant, or schemer, is encompassed by the very same ill-fate they had planned for another. Sometimes, this may also be referred to as poetic justice – or in Aussie vernacular, ‘serves yer right’.

Cosmic irony – is a narrative device where the writer engages an omnipotent-type figure, is used to manipulate a character to lead them on with hope, only to mock them and frustrate their cause.

Romantic irony – is where the author creates the illusion of representing reality, only to dismantle that illusion by revealing that the author is the creator or manipulator of the characters. This was achieved brilliantly in the 2014 Lego Movie with Jack Black.

There we go folks, irony in a nutshell. Use it with the gravitas it deserves. It’s powerful stuff.

Till next time,

WordSmith Jo

 

The Leading Hook: Engaging Reader Interest

Most writers will agree that summarising the theme of your story, whether you’re writing a feature article, or an executive summary in a proposal, is central to orientating the reader, and creating great expectations on what’s to follow…

You’ve jotted down your main points. Check.

You’ve ordered your points into a coherent, and logical structure. Check.

You’ve reviewed your main points to see if any are ‘off message’ or irrelevant to your story. Check.

I have always said, that getting the structure of your story in place first, is the most time consuming and often frustrating part. Once this is well-ordered, the writing should flow.

Now, how to get started? Once your structure is in place, it’s always important to introduce your theme to the reader to set the expectation. Most people are time poor, or easily lose interest, so getting the summary right, will determine whether your audience will stay the course.

The easiest way to write a great summary is to write it as you would speak it first. Listen to the words in your head, write it down and then say it out loud, as if you were speaking to your audience.  Writing your summary in a conversational-style will help illustrate your story – which allows the audience to think in pictures.

Prose that sounds human, especially in the English language, gives sentences a natural rhythm. The sense that there is a distinctive human voice behind the words, creates intimacy – which is the key to engaging your reader’s interest. Avoid abstract nouns and passive voice. Always write in an active voice, to keep the story moving past the summary to the juicy bits of your story. A way to do this is to use active verbs with objects.

Once you’ve written your summary, go back over it to check for any words that may jar the reader’s ear. Remove any awkward words. The best way to make your summary sound like honey, is to use narrative devices such as consonance and assonance – subtle rhyming sounds, keep the reader in the dream – which is what the writer wants – particularly if the intention of your story is to persuade your audience.

Till next time,

WordSmith Jo

The Corporate Circus: Walking the Tightrope between Private and Public Consequence

Given the recent ethical and moral quagmire the VW Scandal and 7-Eleven companies have been embroiled in, an old colleague wrote an excellent article on encouraging collaborative leadership internally, as well as partnering with external NGO or Public Sector organisations’ dealing with congruent issues – to seek new perspectives on ethically problematic situations.

My colleague’s article reminded me of a situation, a couple of years ago, when I developed and delivered Probity and Ethics training over a few months for a major utility company – as part of good governance for its community relations program. What struck me during this process, was how little – across a very diagonal chain of command – colleagues knew how to methodically work through a process of moral reasoning – to arrive at a morally, and ethically, acceptable outcome both personally, and on an organisational level.

Regardless of who we are, or what our position, everyone, at some point in their career, will be confronted with a Moral Quandary.

In essence, a Moral Quandary is when we are faced with two or more competing right things to choose from.

What arises from a quandary, are Moral Dilemmas.

At this point, it can be very easy to knee-jerk into a foetal position and understandably, react the way most people do – which is to protect and defend oneself, and one’s position – especially when a situation threatens a person’s livelihood or standing – regardless of the public consequence.

Taking time to methodically work through different Moral Dilemmas – as a process of elimination to arrive at a decision to take action or take no action (deciding to do nothing is also an action!) means that when an organisation or an individual is called to account – they should be able to adequately demonstrate, and most importantly, be accountable, for the decision which they arrived at.

Broadly, Moral Dilemmas may include –

  • Truth vs loyalty
  • Individual vs community
  • Short-term vs long-term
  • Justice vs mercy

By considering all the facts at hand, and holding our moral quandary under every potential, competing dilemma, we can work through a dialectic process to arrive at a decision that we can personally live with.  In doing so, we are forced to ask ourselves hard questions such as:

  • Am I compromising too easily or too soon to avoid trouble?
  • Is my integrity threatened? Where do I draw the line?
  • Am I being hypocritical?
  • Have I reached a balance between my personal convictions and the facts at hand?

Unfortunately, most corporates think posting a Code of Conduct on the Noticeboard, and handing it out at inductions should absolve them of future gross misconduct by employees.

The reality however, is that a Code of Conduct is really just a set of agreed rules for a group of individuals to defer to when all else fails. It is a necessarily minimal requirement, which is prescriptive and without compromise. It we are truthful, we must acknowledge that this is not really a true reflection of how we live and interact with the world.

Indeed, in the case of 7-Eleven and VW, their leaders, who are meant to endorse and disseminate their company’s Code of Conduct, miserably failed in its application.

Corporations that genuinely desire innovation and personal accountability must invest in proper ethical training, whereby individuals are encouraged to exercise professional judgement and to never just defer to minimal requirements.  Paradoxically, by taking applied ethics seriously, an organisation is protected from a culture of compliance, whereby colleagues (across all levels) just follow instructions, regardless of common sense or personal discretion – which inevitably always leads to disastrous outcomes, and the VW and 7-Eleven scandals are sober examples of this.

Till next time,

WordSmith Jo

 

 

 

Why Great Editors are your Best Mates

Approaching an unedited manuscript is a bit like looking under the bonnet of a beaut vintage car. We know all the parts needed to keep the car moving, so we pull apart the engine, work out what’s worth keeping, what can be repaired or fine-tuned, and what kind of parts we need to order in to get the motor roaring…

It’s a familiar adage, when a writer gingerly hands a manuscript to an Editor that ‘the baby’ the Writer has lavished so much love and attention to, is invariably returned by the Editor, unrecognisable.  Resist the urge to call the police and insist that you’re a victim of a baby swap.  If you gave your manuscript to a great Editor, chances are, they just souped up your Jalopy into a Jaguar.

If you’re thinking about engaging an Editor to give your proposal to borrow half a billion pesos a professional polish, or you have a manuscript that’s due for a 100,000 word service, here’s a few things to look out for when hiring your new best mate –

Lazy Editors will only edit grammar / punctuation / syntax / spelling and format the document to convention.  Period.

Great Editors take the time to understand who you are. They will ask lots of questions about what you want to achieve, what you want your audience to do, or feel, or say or think when they finish reading your masterpiece before they even look at the manuscript. Context is so important to orientate the reader – and this is no different for an Editor. Understanding what the Writer is hoping to achieve will help guide the editing process to ensure the integrity of the writer’s voice, and purpose, is not left on the cutting room floor.

After an Editor has assessed a manuscript, Great Editors will sit down with the Writer, and go through a formal Manuscript Review and Recommendations. This will involve qualifying all recommended changes, inclusions and exclusions.  Keeping the Writer involved in the process, by giving them the courtesy of ‘permitting’ major structural changes first, will help Writers feel more ownership of the editing process, which leads to greater acceptance of change.

Great Editors will also critically engage with your work to ensure continuity, unnecessary repetition, logical sequencing / grouping of content, and will know when content requires further development or substantiation.

Editing is a collaboration, because ultimately, the Writer is usually the subject matter expert.  This means giving the Writer opportunity to review and comment on changes. Great Editors never sit in isolation but work with the Writer to produce the best outcome.

Ultimately, a Great Editor knows that their job is to make the Writer look awesome. Period.

Till next time!
WordSmithJo

A Lively Solution to a Tired Debate: Literary vs Cultural Criticism

Most humanities’ graduates who paid attention during lectures, will roll their eyes over the constant public debate between literary and cultural criticism when discussing and accessing the merits of literature. To define great literature, while seeking fair and equal representation across cultural expressions in literature in an increasingly pluralistic world is not a simple open and shut book case…

I was recently reminded by this debate when listening to a very articulate and thought-provoking presentation by academic and Director of SWEATSHOP, Michael Mohammed Ahmad, on the politics of race and class in Western Sydney – particularly around exploring perceptions of identity and inclusion in literature produced by Australians from ‘non-white’ backgrounds.

For those who don’t know, SWEATSHOP describes itself as ‘a literacy movement devoted to empowering marginalised communities in Western Sydney and broader Australia through creative and critical writing initiatives’.

At the moment, there is a lot of public discussion around increasing Australian content on our bookshelves, and, of course, this gives rise to the problematics of who then gets to define what ‘Australian content’ looks like.

It would take a thesis to explore this question, and for the purpose of today’s ditty – I’m just not going there. What I am interested in though, is how often times, in our pursuit for inclusion – which is important – the merits of the actual work being debated, is overlooked.

Tension between public perception, authorial intention and cultural criticism often casts too long a shadow over genuine literary criticism. Surely, when assessing a work for publication, the most important consideration must be in the actual assessment of the writer’s technical and artistic achievement within the work itself.

When Key Decision Makers in publishing circles, appropriate a kind of ‘affirmative action’ to meet arbitrary cultural, racial or gender quotas when deciding on what content to publish, it seems to me that the whole pursuit of literary excellence is in a way, ironically, pushed aside.

Dividing and choosing works based on periphery criteria, rather than making the selection criteria first and foremost about actual literary merit, may potentially mean that very good works are put aside because of current political and/or dominant cultural agendas.

One way to strike a balance between this tension is to ensure that there is equal cultural, racial and gender representation on actual selection panel committees – so all great literary works, from every group, have a chance to be heard – and mostly importantly – weighted by merit alone.

Books that become a part of our cultural Canon do so because they transcend cultural and political climates.  The reader doesn’t need to understand the period or historical context, authorial intention or ethnicity to appreciate the work. Certainly, we may be fascinated by all these things, but ultimately the hallmark of great literature will always affect and move us in ways that translates across time and space – no matter who we are.

Till next time, crack a queer whid!

WordSmithJo

Roman `a clef – Veiling the Muse

Given the highly litigious nature of the modern world, and the endless sources of sordid, sensational and soul-searching real-life characters and situations the writer is confronted with on a daily basis, writing about actual people and events can be both a wonder and a sticky pool to wander in.

Enter literary craft left, the Roman `a clef!

French for ‘novel with a key’ the Roman `a clef is a work of prose fiction, whereby the author disguises real people of the time, with a false name.

While not disclosed, the author grants the reader some kudos on their part – there is an unspoken expectation that the audience, by way of characterisation, context and situation – will understand the inference.

There is a great joy, from the perspective of the reader, to arrive at this kind of intimate understanding between the writer and reader – the feeling of being a part of a shared, private joke, or observation. Their reward is in feeling O’ so clever in understanding it – and to this end, is satisfaction derived.

The pleasure on the part of the writer is in feeling O’ so clever in veiling a brilliant muse – without having to pay royalties, and, to protect the privacy of the person, for the privilege. After all, most great writers are rich in wanting and poor in wallet.

Till next time, crack a queer whid!

WordSmith Jo

Narrative Voices – To Third or Not to First Person?

Right. You’ve done your research, plotted your story, given your characters a back story, meaning and a sweet smile. Now all you have to do is make a decision on how you’re going to write your characters to life on a page.

The most common way to approach a story – in any medium (e.g. feature article, film, novel etc) is a combination of third and first person.

While in the heat of the creative process, you may not be thinking “here I will write first person, there third…” there is process – a negotiation, or continual compensation, artists make, to best express what one’s trying to say, or to what effect or response, you’re trying to elicit from your audience.

Being aware of this process bubbling away in the background, does help the writer to make better narrative choices, which ultimately improves the quality of your writing.

Third Person, helps to set the scene, give context to a situation, and positions the audience.

First Person, creates intimacy, likeability or detestability (depending on your character), and it helps the audience to engage with, and ultimately – care about your character and what happens to them.

The challenge for the writer is in striking a balance between the two narrative voices. Overuse of Third Person, can sometimes lead to too much exposition – which is just lazy writing. Underuse of it can result in disorientation for the audience and, lack of context results in shallow characters…

Overuse of First Person is equally slippery; too much dialogue turns into fractured monologues and we’re likely to fall asleep…too little First Person point of view makes it hard to empathise and care about the character’s personality.

When writing, think about the images / scene in your head as if you’re watching a film. A good Director will know when a close up shot is needed here, or a panoramic shot is required over there. Changing point of views, all helps to create a textually rich experience for the viewer – and these creative decisions are no different when putting pen to paper.

Till next time crack a queer whid!

WordSmith Jo

Psst! Writing in Second Person is unusual in narration – unless you’re writing on behalf of a Corporate Institution – where both the individual and organisation try to impress a denial of culpability (some vague ‘we’ is tossed about the page)… The only other scenario where Second Person is acceptable is in a collaborative piece.

Love in Narratives and the Pervasiveness of Longing

If ever there was a superstar of linguistics and literary and cultural criticism in the 1960s, surely Roland Barthes would share a stand on that podium. I was introduced to Barthes work during my undergraduate studies, and, like all people who make an impression on us, I was quick to devour his books and loved his contribution to semiotics and sociology, particularly Image Music Text, being a favourite of mine.

This weekend past, during pre-wedding celebrations with my soon-to-be sister in law, there were lots of discussions about ‘what love is’ and I was reminded of one of my favourite books by Barthes – A Lover’s Discourse.

A Lover’s Discourse is Barthes exquisite observation and speculation on all the heady and wretched states of falling, and being, in love. Last night, I came home and ferreted it out from my bookshelf and had a lovely time reacquainting myself with Barthes genius.

What struck me, after diving into Barthes passionate and melancholic prose, was a beautiful, underlying thread in all our states of love and loving- that love is, in essence, an intractable, irrepressible and pervasive longing.

It seems to me, that all our narratives of love are underpinned by this enormous reservoir of longing – and for a writer, surely the joy in creating narratives about love, is in drip feeding the audience with pleasure as being forever deferred – in other words, a sense of longing that perpetually lurks in the periphery of our imagination.

Till next time, crack a whid!

Wordsmith Jo

The small romantic and the big Romantic

When we talk about the romantic in popular culture, we tend to envisage power ballads belted out by contemporary adult crooners, or we recall variations of romance films with predictable boy meets girl, falls out due to self or circumstances outside of self, only to be reunited in a setting sun kind of romantic. Well I am here to tell you that the romantic is far more surreal and sinister than you may have previously thought!

Did you know that there are two ways of looking at romanticism?

The first type of romance is spelt with a lower case ‘r’ and it is generally a fantastical narrative (sensational and supernatural) in verse or prose taking place in exotic settings, marked by extraordinary subject matter, improbable events and larger-than-life characters.

The second type of Romance is spelt with a capital ‘R’ and it is generally an unrealistic narrative in verse or prose taking place in bizarre settings and marked by extravagant subject matter, silly events, and two-dimensional, stereotypical characters.

I have tabled below the different themes explored by the romantic and the Romantic:

Small ‘r’ romantic

Plot, setting, style

  • Enchantment
  • The Uncanny (Freud’s version)
  • Dislocation
  • Defamilarisation
  • Estrangement/Alienation
  • Mysticism/Mystery
  • Improbable
  • The Fantastic
  • The Supernatural

 Modes, styles, genres

  • The Gothic
  • Medievalism
  • Orientalism
  • The Graveyard
  • The Romance (i.e. medieval poetic)

A good example of the small romantic is the classic film King Kong as a representation of the romantic.

As for the capital ‘R’ Romantic, the below table is an example of typical Romantic pre-occupations:

Capital ‘R’ Romantic

The Romantic Mind

  • Feeling
  • Imagination
  • Genius
  • Introspection/
  • Internalisation
  • (Un)consciousness
  • Subjectivity
  • Desire

The Romantic Self

  • Self-consciousness
  • Individuality
  • Narcissism
  • Egotism
  • The cult of personality

A good example of Romantic pre-occupation is Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, “…The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.” Or the more modern Donny Darko as a cinematic example.

So folks, next time your missus wants to watch a romantic movie, don’t feel obliged to pick up Casablanca or sit through another session of The Notebook – you are well justified to stretch your scope of the romantic with the Terminator or Return of the Planet Apes. You may not get lucky, but at least you’ll be right in your use of the romantic!

Till next time, crack a queer whid!

WordSmith Jo

Psst! If you do want to make it up to your missus after making her sit through Terminator, why not pull out the big guns and recite a poem from the classic Romantic poets – William BLAKE, William Wordsworth, Lord BYRON or Percy Bysshe SHELLEY!

Unleash the Tipsy Balladeer

We’ve all been there before, it’s the end of a long week, your boss is a bore and you’re feeling kinda footloose restless. It sounds to me like you might be hungry for some good old verse… How about penning a bawdy sea shanty to cure what ails ya?

The ballad. The ballad! Fellas, mollies and the old street wretch can’t help but tap tootsies to a folksy ballad. It is pleasant and puerile pub poetry, carefree and coarse, cute and crude, corrupt and callous, crass and creepy. It’s a nose up stink to high flutin’ talk and corporate kites, it don’t care about what’s proper or polite, it’ll calm down tempers or start brewin’ a fight…yikes, I’m getting carried away…

Anyway, my point is, instead of getting drunk at the end of a work week, why not write a ballad, and then get drunk.

How to write a ballad with yer mates

Everyone put your business card on the table.

Agree on a topic.

On the back of a card, write one quatrain per card – which is four lines with an A B A B rhyme scheme (alternating cross-rhymed iambic pentameter for those whom are interested in the proper parlance). Clap each line in your mind or aloud as there should be four or three beats per line. For example:

There’s nothin’ like a ballad song (A) (4 beats)

For makin’ tools stand out (B) (3 beats)

They’ll sing aloud and carry on (A) (4 beats)

Till the bouncer gives ‘em clout (B) (3 beats)

Once everyone has written a quatrain on the back of their card, order the cards together in a natural sequence to create an original swashbuckling ballad!

Till next time, crack a queer whid!

WordSmith Jo

Psst! Did you know that the English word Ballad comes from the Italian word ballare, which means ‘to dance’.

The Novel – a Middle Class Spectacle

When you’re rich, you’re busy living the life people dream about, and when you’re poor, you’re busting your guts to put a meal on the table. It could be argued then, that the success of the novel as one of the most prolific of English literary forms is that it is a site of middle class experiences and sensibilities, aspirations and of course, consumption.

The novel, if nothing else, is a mirror of class consciousness with imagined (and real) narratives that often reflect its audience’ perception of self. And why not – who doesn’t like to read and write stories about themselves to a sympathetic crowd?

While the term bourgeois is pejorative in origin, no one can argue the cultural significance and contribution of the middle classes to what the literati would consider ‘high art’.

Most novels in the western canon reflect characters’ struggles in their rise and fall of moral, social and financial status – of which the middle class experience is mostly about. So in this sense, while the middle class is often derided in popular discourse as being a rich wannabe that lacks social grace or compunction, take a minute to consider that entire industries, socio / political economies and indeed our own cultural identities are being supported, informed and shaped not by ephemeral heroes – but by the very real aspirations of people who live in three bedroom houses with a backyard and a gas burner barbie. Awesome!

Till next time, crack a queer whid!

WordSmith Jo

Psst! What we would consider a complex and well-structured novel today, is a result from the combination of Defoe’s sensitive understanding of social and material reality with Samuel Richardson’s (1689-1761) awareness of human complexities in personalities that struggle against private and public social forces. Love your work gentlemen!

Secrets to Writing a High Distinction Essay

For many professionals, grappling with full-time work and post-graduate education is now the norm. Between work and family commitments, it can be fair to assume that when it comes to finding time to write an essay, there is little joy in the process – the reality is that the best thing about writing an essay is finishing it.

For those who are time poor, I have outlined a methodology which I have refined (after years of study) to get your essay finished as soon as possible and, to help promote your essay from a Pass to a High Distinction! No thanks is necessary – just make yo’ momma proud!

Method before you start writing

  1. Before you commit to a thesis/position, do your research first. This will help with new ideas, which in turn, will help you formulate a clearer position/response to the essay question
  2. Make sure your position directly answers the essay question before you start writing
  3. Locate your sources. Only use academic sources (credible sources are considered those that are published by University Press or known academic publishing houses (e.g. Allen & Unwin etc)
  4. Copy all the extracts you want to use to support your thesis onto one document
  5. Arrange/chunk the extracts according to theme
  6. Write a bullet point outline of your essay to help you orientate your thinking and order your argument logically and sequentially. The structure of your essay should start with (a) Your thesis/claim (b) two or three paragraph summary on how you will support your claim (i.e. sources, argument and counter-arguments) (c) logically ordered body of evidence (d) any counter arguments (e) Leave the broader implications/outcomes/unanswered questions your essay evokes to your conclusion – this helps you tie your ending back to your thesis (i.e. thesis + antithesis = synthesis).

You’re now ready to start writing!

Method when writing

  1. To demonstrate a good understanding of your thesis/position and provide substantial evidence to support your position, try to find as many examples through different modes of expression to give further weight to your claim i.e. setting, language, narrative device, imagery, symbolism etc.
  2. Never use general, blanket statements in an essay e.g. “Everyone knows that…” or “It is true that…” or “some people say…”
  3. Never write in absolutes – instead, use transitional or connective words/phrases such as: suggests, argues, posits, claims, presents us with, we may assume, accordingly, consequently, considering, as a result etc…
  4. Always write in the third person, past tense in essays, unless otherwise stated.
  5. For citations, always reference the source according to Harvard convention unless otherwise stated
  6. Always make sure you directly answer the essay question. Do not talk about related ideas or periphery associations – it dilutes your claim and is not the central focus
  7. Use other perspectives to find a ‘counter-argument’ and discuss this to show you have considered the subject matter in-depth.
  8. After you have finished your essay, walk away. Re-read your assignment question and then go through your essay again to make sure you have addressed all of the essay question criteria in your essay.
  9. Always read your essay aloud so you can self-correct any syntax/spelling/punctuation errors. These are ‘easy marks’ so it is a shame to lose points on these grounds!

Till next time, crack a queer whid!

WordSmith Jo

Psst! The essay form has been around since the seventeenth century (e.g. Thomas Browne and Cowley’s essays). However, it wasn’t until Charles Lamb (1775-1834), whom is considered an early master of the genre, that the essay form crystalized as a genre in its own right. His famous ‘Dissertation Upon Roast Pig’ is a fine example for those whom are interested in solid argumentation laced with mock seriousness!

Dinglichkeit: The Marvellous Reality of Triviality

Our attention is often captured by stories of extraordinary feat and courage and rightly so. However, it may be argued that our most heart soaring experiences can be reduced to a slight moment; a simple nod of encouragement from a person we hold in esteem, or observing the way light filters through trees in a passing car.

Good writers understand that capturing simple moments in time and representing them well, are what makes a seemingly banal moment, a textually rich and meaningful experience.

A very famous screen example of this is in the film American Beauty by Sam Mendes. The character Ricky, narrates some footage of a plastic bag and dead leaves swirling around in the wind – and invites us to see the beauty in the banal.

Poets in the Victorian Period (1830s to 1900) were masters at capturing and rejoicing in the Dinglichkeit of things. There is something seriously sensational about being able to tread a fine line between expressing an observation that is Romantic in its sense, but delivered with poise and control.

One Victorian Poet who did this well was John Clare (1793-1864). He was deemed mad by his contemporaries and spent the final twenty years of his life in an asylum.   While we can only speculate about Clare’s troubles, we can appreciate his legacy of works, which demonstrate a talent for showing quiet intensity in observation – particularly in rural settings.

Clare’s poem Signs of Winter, is a fantastic example of finding eloquence in the daily routine:

The cat runs races with her tail. The dog
Leaps o’er the orchard hedge and knarls the grass.
The swine run round and grunt and play with straw,
Snatching out hasty mouthfuls from the stack.
Sudden upon the elmtree tops the crow
Unceremonious visit pays and croaks,
Then swoops away. From mossy barn the owl
Bobs hasty out – wheels round and, scared as soon,
As hastily retires. The ducks grow wild
And from the muddy pond fly up and wheel
A circle round the village and soon, tired,
Plunge in the pond again. The maids in haste
Snatch from the orchard hedge the muzzled clothes
And laughing hurry in to keep them dry.

Keep Clare’s spirit in mind next time you’re elbowing for a seat on the train, or about to lose your cool over a parking space. Stop and observe your surroundings for a moment; you may just stumble upon something wonderful, and wholly unexpected…

Till next time, crack a queer whid!

WordSmith Jo

Romancing the Text: Musings on Restraint & Anticipation

If I am unfortunate enough to walk by a venue playing rap/house music, I often buy an ice-cream to congratulate myself on getting through the two minute ordeal. Now, there’s no arguing the appeal of a good tune, and frankly, I am the first to admit, when my teen ears heard Technotronic’s ‘Pump up the Jam’ I was amazed by the beats bouncing out of that boombox.

Today’s Ditty however, is not a critique on the sound of rap, nor a challenge to apologists to expound on the cultural significance of rap – but rather, it’s a general lamentation on the lack of lyricism in popular music text.

Firstly, let’s discuss ‘tough guy lyrics’ which consists of continual repetition of violent threats i.e. how they’re going to lay into someone, carve them up, pull a trigger, break a finger, sit on a head…It just loses its punch and becomes innocuous when threats are sung plenty times over.

My advice to budding Tupacs is to think about how you can creatively allude to the threat of violence without being explicit. By demonstrating creative restraint, you can go a long way to build more dramatic tension in your lyrics.

To help work on creative restraint, here’s a little writing exercise tough guys can pop in their holster for later. Try to write a rap song without the following words: gun, blood, pigs, hammer, slammer, cops, knife, cut, trigger, pistol, dope, gold, slap, stitch, bitch, punch.

Secondly, let’s discuss ‘bedroom talk’ in lyrics. When the song has its pants around its ankles by the third crotchet, the show is over.

The defence of lyricism in music as an artform is valid if the intention is to raise the heart-rate by elevating the senses.  If the intention is purely to titillate our basest instincts, then I would argue that ‘art’ is absent.

When writers or lyricists leave no space for its audience to creatively imagine or negotiate with a phrase on its own terms, it shows a lack of respect for the audience. Great writers give the audience time to read or listen or watch texts not to be real – but to allow the texts to be revealed within the self.

I shall leave you alone to reflect on a good example of restraint and anticipation – whereby the audience is invited to exist in a space of tension, imagination and romantic possibilities – a line from Jeff Buckley’s lyrics ‘So Real’ –

‘Girl, let me sleep tonight on your couch / And remember the smell of the fabric / Of your simple city dress…’

Till next time, crack a whid!

WordSmithJo

The Turgid and The Turbid

Sharp writing is the aim and achievement of all good writers. Experts often cite Mark Twain’s famous quote, ‘I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one’ to punctuate the importance of brevity. However, we are often not told how to write sharply because writers aren’t partial to sharing lollies. Well folks, today it is lollipops all round as I share a few secrets of the trade…

When I was in my early twenties, I sat down with the Director of a Wiggles Movie, whom was kind enough to read a feature film script I wrote. His feedback was, “This is a steaming turd”.

Now, he could have just said, ‘turd’ but he went one step further – clearly the adverb was necessary to convey just how much my work stank.

After crying my guts out for three weeks, I resolved to refine my craft.

If you’re keen on honing your skills as a writer, here’s a few exercises that I found really helpful:

Reformulate

Choose a short essay or a newspaper article about 800 – 1500 words.

Read the story first.

Pick up a highlighter and go back over the story and highlight the most important information i.e. what is critical to understanding the crux of the story.

Try to reformulate the essence of the article, without losing crucial information, in 200 words.

Another reformulation exercise is to reduce a long paragraph to one sentence. Just to be an ironic smarty pants, I have cited Mark Twain as an example:

“To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement. To condense the diffused light of a page of thought into the luminous flash of a single sentence, is worthy to rank as a prize composition just by itself…Anybody can have ideas–the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph,” Mark Twain.

This quote can be reformulated without losing the sense and meaning of the quote –

“Anybody can have ideas, the difficulty is to reduce it to one glittering paragraph,” WordSmith Jo.

Say it aloud

When you have finished a sentence, read it out loud. A great sentence has a natural rhythm (meter) and should flow smoothly. Anything that jars the reader indicates a word or syntax of the sentence is not working.

Try to write first as you speak, and then go back and refine it. This helps to keep your tone natural, and it will help you to find your ‘voice’ as a writer.

Be Brutal

My old English Professor once told me that writing is re-writing. Don’t get too attached to your copy. By all means, write it, admire it, and then walk away from it for a day. When you come back to your copy, you’ll start to see the flaws. Wield your red pen like a bloody axe and chop long complex sentences into more simple, shorter sentences.

Read the Classics

Read as many books from the Western Canon as you can. Just as a painter studies under a master, so too does an aspiring writer study the greats. Never be too proud to learn from someone else better than you.

Till next time, crack a whid!

WordSmith Jo

Poetics in Public Speaking

From De Ronsard, to Hugo and Trotsky, Many Poets through the ages viewed themselves either as political protectors or agitators of the state. These guys weren’t just trying to impress the ladies with a sonnet or two, they viewed their work as catalysts for the betterment of the human condition for all ages; either politically, socially or spiritually.

Use of language, or, the ‘art of rhetoric’ as coined by Aristotle, can convince mothers to send sons to die in foreign wars, or soften the hearts of battle-hardened men to lay down their loads. Such is the power of verse well-ordered, and well-orated.

In an age where our politicians aim for five-second soundbites – think Abbott’s ‘Stop the boats’ stanza or recall our 2pm Question Time in Parliament – Regardless of your political persuasion, one can’t help but feel dismayed at the total lack of linguistic vigour from our bearers of Public Office.

Democratic Politicans are meant to be the voice of the people i.e. Greek – Demos (people) Kratos (rule). Why is it then that when I hear a Pollie use its pipes, I don’t hear my voice, I hear the voice of a cardboard cut-out? Monotone, lifeless, patronising repetition of simple sentences…

It seems to me, that the the modern-day Pollie has swapped poetics for public relations. The irony being that by choosing the latter, the public turn away in apathy and disillusionment.

If you have a public-speaking engagement, pop your PR Manager on a one-way ticket to Poconos and face an audience that wants to be inspired by YOU. This means all of you – your witticisms, your vulnerability and valour, your grit your failures, your triumphs.

You don’t have to rhyme or Def Jam to be a Poet Prince of the Podium – just give the audience what they want – more of the real and less of the spiel.

Till next time, crack a whid!

WordSmith Jo

An Important Distinction: O or Oh?

No doubt, fellow compositors, one of life’s little crackers that may or may not have baked your noodle will be answered for you today – When do you write O or Oh? Sit back, and watch me try to make this little ditty as interesting as finding a pineapple in your sock drawer.

Use an ‘O’ when you are forming a vocative i.e. addressing or invoking a person or thing, and, when it is closely associated with the noun or thing. It should not separated by punctuation. For example:

“O Mighty Putin!”

“O for the wing of a fried chicken!”

“O Palmer loyal friend of China!”

Use ‘Oh’ as an independent exclamation, which is followed by a comma or exclamation mark. For example:

“Oh! It wasn’t me!”

“Oh…that’s not mine.”

“Oh, when is the boss coming back?”

Till next time, crack some queer whids!

WordSmith Jo

Lack Inspiration? Try the Graveyard Poet

Next time you have a whinge about there being a lack of good venues to wow your Missus with, spare a thought for our old eighteenth-century British poets, whom often dilly-dallied after dark in the local graveyards for a sense of the romantic.

Enduring indentured labour since they were probably ten years old, bad dental hygiene, and no fresh fruit, I can personally understand the appeal of a refreshing nightwalk around the graves to get one’s creative juices flowing after putting in a 15 hour day at the local textile factory.

Many a nightwalk produced some Western Canon Classics, such as Thomas Parnell’s ‘Night Piece on Death’ (1721), and the very uplifting, Thomas Gray’s ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’.

If you’re feeling adventurous, pack the pen and paper, with your missus on arm, and jump on a train to Newtown. For every two parking meters there’s one Goth. Tap him on the shoulder and ask him to recommend his ‘top ten tombstones’ and then, go!

Till next time, crack some queer whids!

WordSmith Jo

Pleasures and Pangs of Pathetic Fallacy

A Pathetic Fallacy is not some lame excuse to hide some shady activity you may have been up to recently, but rather, it is a bit like a jealous cousin of the narrative device Personification.

Personification is a figurative device in which human traits (i.e. emotions, characters, sensations) are given to inanimate natural objects – e.g. ‘the banana looked tired, and bored by my company’.

Anyway, along comes John Ruskin in 1856, whom invented the phrase Pathetic Fallacy, as a derogatory term – or a speaking back – against the use of any personification in ‘high art’. Ruskin argued that only truth “should be the criterion of art” no matter how damn good or evocate the poet’s use of personification may have been.

Well, my speaking back to Ruskin (as he is not here to defend himself) is that he must have been a rather rigid, angry fellow to be so distaining about what is essentially a very endearing, human tendency – to see oneself in the beauty, and horror, of all of creation.

Till next time, crack some queer whids!

WordSmith Jo

To Hyphen or not to Hyphen?

According to Harts Rules, the Hyphen is used in compounds used attributively, to clarify the unification of the sense, (Oxford University Press).

Put simply, what my good mate Harts is trying to say, is that when an adverb is used to qualify an adjective and the meaning or sense of the compound is obvious, it is not necessary to hyphen e.g. ‘a beautifully furnished house’.

However, where the sense of the adverb may not immediately be understood, and, it forms a single concept with the adjective, a hyphen should be used e.g. ‘She is a well-known clown’ or ‘It’s a new-found mole’.

Where a noun and an adjective or vice versa are used attributively in combination, the hyphen should also be used e.g. ‘come meet my poverty-stricken family’. Hmm, he sounds like a catch ladies!

Till next time, crack a whid!

WordSmith Jo