Guest Post: Creativity & Mortality by Sweta Srivastava Vikram

Please click on the image for today’s tour stop.

Sweta Srivastava Vikram is a delightful and passionate poet looking to promote social justice, but more than that she’s not what people typically picture when they think of a poet. Most people I talk to think poets are crazy, depressed, or drunk. Sweta is optimistic, cheerful, thoughtful, and passionate; I haven’t seen her crazy, drunk, or depressed, but I’m sure that there are times when she feels those things, just like we all do.

I’ve reviewed several of her poetry collections on the blog, including her most recent No Ocean Here, which I enjoyed because it made me sad and made me think. But even more wondrous for me was meeting her in person and realizing that she is the same person whether online or off and that she’s as honest as I expected. She’s a delight and so fun to hang out with for lunch or even 10 minutes.

When I was talking about the blog tour, she volunteered to talk about creativity, particularly in relation to her latest project. Without further ado, please giver her a warm welcome.

2012 was an extremely dark year for me. I worked extensively on social issues affecting women. Researching, writing, and editing such pieces required me to traverse through and unravel a lot of unpleasant situations. I was exposed to unimaginable hopelessness and pessimism. There were days when I saw nothing encouraging about humanity. And even though I am a die-hard optimist, it was hard to see even a ray of optimism inside my well of poetic darkness. Thus began my quest to understand poets and writers and the impact of darkness and mortality on their work and lives.

Mortality, specifically the finality of death, is an esoteric subject. In a paper dealing with effects of mortality salience on the creative expression, Clay Routledge et.al. stated that amplified concerns for mortality decreased creativity when the act was self-directed but not when it was community directed. This got me thinking of the fact that so many genius artists have died so young. Is it that these artists simply could not face the reality which their creations exposed them to? Or could it be a vicious cycle where artists who are forced to peel back and critically examine the layers of melancholy, misery, pain, and sorrow find themselves pushed into abject loneliness because of the gloomy vision they see the world in; and in turn find their creativity stifled to the point where their very existence becomes a downward spiral into depression and eventually death.

Anaïs Nin said, “People living deeply have no fear of death.” But the truth is that death isn’t a light subject for anyone; especially not for artists who, when they explore the dark sides end up re-living death in a myriad of ways as they bring forth their creations into the world.

Thanks, Sweta. I, too, wonder about the abyss that artists look into when they create and what enables some to re-emerge on the other side, while others fall over the cliff.

Poetry Is Dead, Or So They Tell Me

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As with any opinion piece I read these days, I always ask myself who the writer is and what’s the agenda. In the case of Joseph Epstein, I find that many of his previous essays are meant to stir discussion and anger from certain groups, enough for them to take action (i.e. his homosexual essay, for one).

His recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) about the death of contemporary poetry, he essentially says that it only matters to those who write it and continue to publish it, no matter how bad it is. What I find comical is his statement, “We still have people playing the role of major poets, but only because the world seems to require a few people to play the role.” Why, if poetry is dead and no longer wanted, would society need people to “play” the role of poet?

I also question his argument that poetry is not relevant or wanted by society because it cannot be quoted; “But if I ask a literary gent or lady to quote me a single line or phrase from any of our putative major poets, they cannot do it.” If reiterating lines, simply for the sake of rote performance is the key to love of literature, then I want no part of it. I prefer to be impacted by poetry and literature; I want the words, the images, the situations, and anything else in the piece to speak to me, to change my mind, to make me think and feel something outside of my daily routine … in a way to transcend beyond myself into a more universal space of understanding.  (see other rebuttals, if you subscribe to Wall Street Journal).

He goes on to discuss contemporary poetry failing to do what poetry did long ago — resonate and elevate. Clearly, he has not been reading Yusef Komunyakkaa, Mary Oliver, Ted Kooser, Natasha Trethewey, Jehanne Dubrow, Sweta Vikram, and many others. He admits as much when he says he cannot remember the last time he bought a contemporary poetry collection. I can! Bernadette Geyer’s The Scabbard of Her Throat in March.  I can remember when I received my last collection, Jehanne Dubrow’s Red Army Red, from friends who know my love of poetry and choose well. If you don’t read it, how will you find those poets and poems that sing to you?

You’ll likely not be surprised that this is Epstein’s second essay on the death of poetry (“Who Killed Poetry?” was the first). Why does he write so many essays on this topic if the genre has been long deceased? Probably because he wishes it were, and yet, it thrives.

196th Virtual Poetry Circle

Welcome to the 196th Virtual Poetry Circle!

Remember, this is just for fun and is not meant to be stressful.

Keep in mind what Molly Peacock’s books suggested. Look at a line, a stanza, sentences, and images; describe what you like or don’t like; and offer an opinion. If you missed my review of her book, check it out here.

Also, sign up for the 2013 Dive Into Poetry Challenge because its simple; you only need to read 1 book of poetry. Please sign up to be a stop on the 2013 National Poetry Month Blog Tour and visit the stops on the 2012 National Poetry Month Blog Tour.

Today’s poem is from Linda Gregg:

The Secrets of Poetry

Very long ago when the exquisite celadon bowl
that was the mikado's favorite cup got broken,
no one in Japan had the skill and courage
to mend it. So the pieces were taken back
to China with a plea to the emperor
that it be repaired. When the bowl returned,
it was held together with heavy iron staples.
The letter with it said they could not make it
more perfect. Which turned out to be true.

What do you think?

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Taboo Poetry…A Game

Be sure to click the image above for today’s tour stop on the National Poetry Month Blog Tour!

Have you ever played that early 1990’s game Taboo from Hasbro?  Today, I would invite you all to play along with me as we create a poem in the comments in celebration of National Poetry Month.

The object of the game here is to create a poem about the word below, without referring to that word or any of the other 5 words that are most used to describe it.

The word is ROMANCE

And the forbidden words (and their variations) are:  LOVE, BURNING, PASSION, SWEET, HEART

So each commenter can write one line for the poem that describes ROMANCE, but does not use that word or the five forbidden words.

At the end of the day, I’ll collect all the lines and post the full poem next week; It’ll be fun to see what all the creative minds out there can come up with.

OK, Get started!

When All My Disappointments Came at Once by Todd Swift

When All My Disappointments Came at Once by Todd Swift, published by Tightrope Books, are poems about a series of mid-life crisis in literature and throughout history, with some less grandiose crises in the mix.  There are new takes on the midlife crisis, with the narrator in “The Shelf” trying to take on the life of another through their writing, only to find the words fit falsely and do not ring true.  But in others, like “Michael Kohlhaas,” reference the vengeful exploits that go off of the deep end to the point that the narrator cannot be brought back from the brink.  With a wide breadth of topics, Swift covers a lot of historic and emotional ground in his poems, though clearly some of these poems will require additional research into some of the historic and literary elements referenced, especially if they are not familiar.

From "In Memory of F.T. Prince" (page 15)

Desire ages, ages hardly at all,
Edges, like those of a book,
Curled at the beach, where waves,
Sent by the summer, brush

The salt away, finely-combed,
And it is homosexual love
That holds us in its palm,
That cuts and dries the hair

Beautifully rendered, Swift harkens to the original poem written by Prince about soldiers bathing in a river during World War II, but he also takes a new twist on the scene, pinpointing the desire that can rise up when all that surrounds you is death. Where is the beauty, where is the love — you find it where you can, at least to a certain extent. While some of these poems are dark and harrowing, others are sad, suspenseful, and heart-pounding as Swift takes readers on a journey through several devastating events in history and literature.

However, there are moments in the collection where Swift shows his humor, like using two rhyming lines in “Hunting Party” to make the celebratory scene after the hunt more comical, poking fun at the midlife crisis aspect depicted in the poem. In others, there is a ray of hope even as the narrator loses faith in God. These poems have a wide range of perspectives to offer, and Swift is masterful in some poems and cryptic in others. When All My Disappointments Came at Once by Todd Swift is an interesting examination of midlife crises, the emotions tied to that, and the rays of hope and comedy that can emerge from those incidents.

About the Poet:

Dr. Todd Swift is Lecturer in English Literature and Creative Writing, at Kingston University, London. He is Director and Editor of new small press Eyewear Publishing. Published by the age of 18 in The Fiddlehead, Swift is the prolific author of eight collections of poetry and many more pamphlets. He is editor or co-editor of a dozen anthologies, most recently Lung Jazz: Young British Poets for Oxfam, with a preamble from David Lehman. His poems have appeared in numerous international publications, such as Poetry (Chicago), Poetry Review (London), and The Globe and Mail (Toronto). He has been Oxfam’s poet-in-residence, based in Marylebone, since 2004. His widely-read blog, Eyewear, has been archived by The British Library.

Please click on the National Poetry Month Blog Tour image for today’s tour stop:

This is my 7th book for the Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013.



This is my 18th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

No Ocean Here by Sweta Srivastava Vikram

No Ocean Here by Sweta Srivastava Vikram, published by Modern History Press, is a collection of poems about the subjugation of women and all of its forms, across not only the Middle East and Africa, but also throughout the various parts of Asia and South Asia.  These poetic portraits are often prefaced by some facts about a particular woman’s story encapsulated in the poem or about statistics of crimes against women in various countries.  Not all of the poems are prefaced, but even those that are could stand on their own and speak for the women they represent.  Beyond the violence and inequality women deal with on a daily basis, these poems also shed light on the women-on-women violence and the silent acceptance among older women of continuing these traditions with the younger generations.

From War (page 12; which is related to Sri Lankan battles)

The sun was shining on shells
of burnt-out houses in their neighborhood.
Her mother, sister, and she were drinking

coffee, thanking bees for leaving them alone
when three men in uniforms entered

their house under the pretense of search.

All cavities of the women's trust were emptied out
when each man selected a victim:

Vikram’s poetry not only provides a story that is easily accessible on the surface, but she also provides themes and hardships that call for closer inspection.  In this way, her collection would make an excellent book club pick, which could be even further enhanced by additional materials on the subjugation of women across the globe even today. Her poetry speaks of social injustice in a way that shocks the reader, but also pays homage to those who have suffered with the deft strokes of her imagery.  Some poems are stronger than others in terms of theme and imagery, while others are more in-your-face and full of surface meaning.

No Ocean Here by Sweta Srivastava Vikram is a vast ocean of pain, discomfort, and horror that should make women in the modern world, including those inside and outside the United States, stand up for themselves and others. Beyond that, it should make men stand up and take notice that their actions and those of other males in societies across the world should not be tolerated — and ended.

About the Author:

Sweta Srivastava Vikram is an award-winning poet, writer, novelist, author, essayist, columnist, and educator. She is the author of four chapbooks of poetry, two collaborative collections of poetry, a novel, a nonfiction book, and a book-length collection of poems (upcoming). Her work has also appeared in several anthologies, literary journals, and online publications across six countries in three continents. Sweta has won two Pushcart Prize nominations, an International Poetry Award, Best of the Net Nomination, Nomination for Asian American Members’ Choice Awards 2011, and writing fellowships. A graduate of Columbia University, she lives in New York City.

This is my 6th book for the Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013.


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Lisa Loeb’s Songs for Movin’ and Shakin’: The Air Band Song and Other Toe-Tapping Tunes by Lisa Loeb and Ryan O’Rourke

Lisa Loeb’s Songs for Movin’ and Shakin’: The Air Band Song and Other Toe-Tapping Tunes by Lisa Loeb and Ryan O’Rourke comes out this month and is billed as a book and CD of songs to get kids off the couch and moving and grooving.  The book is for ages 4-7 and is an illustrated 24 pages long.

From the publisher:

This spectacularly fun songbook will get kids off the sofa—guaranteed! Singer Lisa Loeb will have kids movin’ and groovin’ with her sparkling second collection of songs and activities—plus a CD with five all-time children’s favorites and another five original tunes. It’s sure to stir up some fun, as budding musicians discover the joys of playing in an air band (“Turn it Down”); see how to face down scary creatures (“Monster Stomp”); and practice relaxing yoga poses (“Hello, Today”). Ryan O’Rourke’s whimsical illustrations light up Lisa’s lyrics—and will delight young readers, movers, and shakers.
Songs include: Turn it Down (The Air Band Song)* • Father Abraham • Miss Mary Mack • Monster Stomp* • Going Away* • Do Your Ears Hang Low? • Everybody Wake Up* • Hello, Today* • Peanut Butter and Jelly • Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes. (*original song)

You might remember Lisa Loeb from her famous songStay:

The CD-single of “Monster Stomp” was a toe-tapping delight for both my young daughter and us as we road in the car to and from the store, and it includes kids that join in and roar for the monster calls. My daughter had fun roaring right along with the song, while my husband and I were making stomping noises and, in my case, waving my hands in the air as part of the monster dance. As we’ve only heard the one song, I really can’t say what the book is like or the other songs, but if this single is any indication of how fun and interactive they are, I think this would be a sure winner for this age group.

Monster Stomp2

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Poetry as Gold. . .

Welcome to the Savvy Verse & Wit blog tour for National Poetry Month in the United States, but here on the blog, I consider it more of an international celebration.

If you have signed up to celebrate poetry this month, there are still some dates open, just check the schedule and let me know what date you’d prefer.

This past week I was reading Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier, translated by Barbara Harshav, and I came across a commentary about recreating the Portuguese language to make it clearer and truer to its origins: “The waiter, the barber, the conductor — they would be puzzled if they heard the newly set words and their amazement would refer to the beauty of the sentence, a beauty that would be nothing by the gleam of their clarity. … At the same time, they would be without exaggeration and without pomposity, precise and so laconic that you couldn’t take away one single word, one single comma. Thus they would be like a poem, plaited by a goldsmith of words.” (page 26) This passage reminded me of how poets — and fiction writers — often seek out ways through language to make images, characters, situations, emotions, and more clear to the reader — drawing connections between images that may, at first, seem to have nothing to do with one another, but through a juxtaposition or other means provide the reader with some insight or generate within him or her a deeper understanding or emotional response.

As I’m sure many of my faithful readers know, I read and write poetry, but they probably also know that I love Yusef Komunyakaa‘s work in particular.  “Facing It” is one of my all time favorites, and I think part of it is because I can picture exactly what he’s seeing as the Vietnam veteran in the poem describes his first experience with the Vietnam War Memorial.

Facing It

My black face fades,   
hiding inside the black granite.   
I said I wouldn't  
dammit: No tears.   
I'm stone. I'm flesh.   
My clouded reflection eyes me   
like a bird of prey, the profile of night   
slanted against morning. I turn   
this way—the stone lets me go.   
I turn that way—I'm inside   
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light   
to make a difference.   
I go down the 58,022 names,   
half-expecting to find   
my own in letters like smoke.   
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;   
I see the booby trap's white flash.   
Names shimmer on a woman's blouse   
but when she walks away   
the names stay on the wall.   
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird's   
wings cutting across my stare.   
The sky. A plane in the sky.   
A white vet's image floats   
closer to me, then his pale eyes   
look through mine. I'm a window.   
He's lost his right arm   
inside the stone. In the black mirror   
a woman’s trying to erase names:   
No, she's brushing a boy's hair.

In particular, I love the parts of the poem where he describes reflections in unique ways, especially when the reflection eyes him like a bird of prey and the names that “shimmer on a woman’s blouse” but remain on the wall as she walks away. In addition, the poem reflects on the practice of rubbing the names onto paper from the wall as a form of care and caress — “she’s brushing a boy’s hair.”

Sorrow 2 -- Vietnam Wall

In many ways, poetry not only tells stories, but creates them with their readers and generates an emotional response that can be carried over to friends, families, or even book clubs. These are the types of poems that I consider “gold.”

What makes a great poem for you?

Book News: 2013 Gaithersburg Book Festival and More

The Gaithersburg Book Festival — this year on Saturday, May 18, 2013 — started out as a small gathering with local vendors and authors that has grown over the years to include some nationally recognized names.

The 12 finalists for the teen short story contest the festival holds have been selected, and their pieces will be judged this year by best-selling novelist, Caroline Leavitt.  If you want to check out the entries, go here.  But fear not, there are things for adults as well, including writing workshops sponsored by The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Md., and those workshops will take up to 20 students beginning with sign-ups on the day of the festival.

I’m really looking forward to meeting Tara Conklin, author of The House Girl (my review), in person.  And everyone has been raving about The Crooked Branch by Jeanine Cummins, and she will be there … not to mention Tatjana Soli has a new book out, The Forgetting Tree, and I just loved her book The Lotus Eaters.  The list of authors is growing daily, and I really hope that Beth Kephart is one of them, but I haven’t heard one way or another and I know she’s incredibly busy.  In terms of poetry, Sarah Arvio will be there as well.  This year’s festival is shaping up to be another wonderful event, thanks to the hard-working volunteers and the city of Gaithersburg.

The 2013 National Poetry Month Blog Tour is upon us. I hope that everyone will take the chance to check out the schedule and offer up a favorite poem, poetry of their own, or poetry vlogs/vidoes and collection reviews during April.

I’m really looking forward to the tour stops that are already scheduled, but I would love to see some more blogs sign up. April 5, 7, 11, 13, 15 are free at the beginning of the tour and I would love to see some volunteers for those dates. Just drop me a comment or an email about what date you’d like.

Thanks to everyone who has signed up thus far. It is much appreciated.

I hope everyone has a great weekend, and please do share any book-related news you are excited about.

National Poetry Month Blog Tour Calendar for April 2013

Welcome to the National Poetry Month Blog Tour Event Calendar as it currently stands.  I’d like to fill in all the dates, so please leave a comment or fill out the form to join the fun.

April 1:  Savvy Verse & Wit Kick-Off

April 2: Things Mean a Lot

April 3:  MaggieMaeIJustSayThis

April 4:  Necromancy Never Pays

April 5:  Regular Rumination

April 6:  Booking Mama

April 7: Rhapsody in Books

April 8:  Maximum Exposure

April 9:  The Picky Girl

April 10: Tabatha Yeatts

April 11:  Book Snob

April 12:  Peeking Between the Pages

April 13:  The Betty and Boo Chronicles

April 14:  Rhapsody in Books

April 15: My Juicy Little Universe and Life’s A Stage

April 16:  Lost In Books

April 17: Diary of an Eccentric

April 18:  Still Unfinished

April 19:  Wordy Evidence of the Fact

April 20:  Bermudaonion Weblog

April 21:  Insatiable Booksluts

April 22: Ad Astra (To the Stars)

April 23:  So Many Books

April 24:  Lit and Life

April 25:  A Bookish Way of Life

April 26: Life’s a Stage

April 27:  Insatiable Booksluts

April 28:  The Indextrious Reader

April 29:  Pen Paper Pad at Savvy Verse & Wit

April 30:  Worducopia


2013 National Poetry Month Blog Tour Sign-Ups

2013 National Poetry Month Blog Tour

Welcome to the sign ups for the 2013 National Poetry Month blog tour. Everyone is invited to share poetry in April either through the tour, on your own, or just hop on the tour and discussions at any time throughout the month with spotlights on poets, reviews of poetry books, event information about poetry readings, your own poems, and more.

If you cannot see the form, please use this link.