Fort Mac (a poem)

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underneath the darkened sky
black smoke rolls out in clouds
and fiery tongues lash out in rage
consuming tinder trees and matchbox houses
while ant trails of humans pour out
in droves abandoning
home
life
dreams
as the world watches for days

this is hell but not
in hell no relief remains in sight
in hell no return to the light of a clearing sky
no supplications for rain
only pity from the living
no shelter from the blaze
nor lunch money
nor compassionate letters
from schoolchildren on a remote island
where father
uncle
grandfather
sibling
son spouse
journeyed west
to find a fortune
gone up in fiery haze
dragging Alberta to her knees
long before the oilsands run dry.

©2016, cindy lapeña

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Celebrating Shakespeare

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As far as I’m concerned, April is the Bard’s month. He was born in April and died 400 years ago on the 23rd, and still, his life and writing have been the subject of historians and researchers worldwide since then. He is probably the most studied writer and, as an avid reader, writer, and literature major, I have appreciated his canon and proudly call him my favorite writer of all time when I am made to choose. Shakespeare’s plays have explored the whole range of human emotions and behavior in an wide variety of settings, from the fantastic to the historical. He has left no topic sacred and has delved into the passions and motivations of no less than emperors and kings, but has not ignored the wealthy and educated as well. His works are enquiries into human nature, especially of those who wield power and are leaders of society. In that, he is quite the opposite of Dickens, who explores the lives of the impoverished and downtrodden. While his plays and sonnets have been read and analyzed to no end and students are able to count on set notes and study guides to dissect them according to literary paradigms, you will always be able to find something new with each reading–indeed, this is true for works with incredible depth. Best of all, is how, because of the universal truths we find in his works, we are able to relate to them, no matter what the age or era. There have been several interpretations of many of his works, updating them so that we can relate better to the stories. The fact that his plays lend themselves so easily to adaptations in different eras is proof of their timelessness, one of the characteristics of classical art. While Shakespeare’s works are just over 400 years and certainly, nowhere near the age of Greek and Roman classics, his works have withstood that test of time and, finding relevance even in the present day, will, undoubtedly continue to entertain readers and playgoers, scholars and critics alike, for more centuries to come.

The Guinness Book of World Records lists 410 feature-length films made for both big screen and television all over the world. While a great number are British, with several produced by BBC, there are a good number of American productions. More surprising might be Indian productions–but if you look at it in the light of the British colonization of India and, hence, exposure to Shakespeare, that is not really surprising at all; in fact, you would think there should be more. Among the most critically-acclaimed adaptations were  Japanese filmmaker Akiro Kurosawa’s Ran, an adaptation of King Lear; Throne of Blood (Macbeth), and The Bad Sleep Well (Hamlet). Among the more recent Shakespearean films I particularly enjoy are Kenneth Branagh’s productions, although he hasn’t done any in the last 10 years.

 

3 Basic Plot Types

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Many critics subscribe to the idea that there is no original idea or thought anymore, hence, nothing completely original that anyone can write about. Themes or plots? There are books and lists discussing every possible plot there ever was for a story. Depending on who you want to follow or believe in, you can classify every story or plot as one of three, nine, thirteen, twenty, or thirty-six plots. In the years I have studied and taught literature, I find that all plots can be reduced to three very basic plots, which my senior high school literature teacher introduced to me, and which I later encountered again while taking my Masters in literature. I find that all other plots are simply variations or elaborations of these three plots, based on the actions of the protagonist. For my teaching, I have decided to modify them slightly to suit my personality and preferences:

  • Running Man
  • Standing Man
  • Trapped Man

Consider every possible motivation, action, reaction, and consequence you can think of putting into a story and you will find that your plot will always be one of these three. The RUNNING MAN plot is all about a person running towards something or away from something. It’s the classic action-adventure plot and, understandably, the most exciting. You should write with this plot if you want to keep your readers at the edge of their seats. The STANDING MAN plot is all about a person who hasn’t decided what to do and needs to make a decision. It’s the type of plot for anything cerebral or introspective. If you want to focus on a character’s thoughts, personal development, and reactions to external influences and use up your whole story waiting for that character to make a decision, this is your plot type. Remember that from a standing position, your character can sit, lie down, fall down, or remain standing, all of which symbolize defeat, regression, or retreat. On the other hand, your character can decide to move from his spot, either walking or running. If this happens early in your story, then your plot is really the running man. If this happens only at the end of the story, then your plot is the standing man. Many post-modern stories fall under this classification because of their focus on metacognitive thought. I would classify coming-of-age stories as having this type of plot, particulary when the main character is at a loss which way to go; the main character is “standing” figuratively because he is being affected by an uncontrollable (external) factor—growing up—and he doesn’t know if he really wants to grow up or change. Classically, Holden Caulfield of Catcher in the Rye comes to mind. Finally, when your character has a problem or is in a situation that he actively or desperately wants to get out of and the whole story involves trying to get out of that situation or problem, then your plot is the TRAPPED MAN. Unlike the standing man, who sometimes doesn’t know he’s actually “trapped”, the trapped man is fully aware of his situation. Being trapped can be literal, e.g., your person is in a physical prison, captured, shackled, or what have you; or it can be figurative entrapment, e.g., a loveless or bad relationship, an oppressive home. All other types can easily be fit into these three types, which is why I prefer to teach just these three. However, for more mature students or more advanced classes, I will mention other plot classifications because they are more specific and more descriptive. As for the use of “MAN” in the names, I’m neutral in this use. I don’t subscribe to being overly politically correct or excessively feminist. I like the use of the word because it’s short and universal. If I ever were to change this word, especially in the light of inhuman characters as main characters or protagonists, I might resort to just using the adjectives or replacing “man” with “protagonist” or “character”—both of which are such unwieldy long words. I do like brevity in titles.

On Writing and Culture

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If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it.  ~Anaïs Nin

What makes writing good enough for it to be significant to any culture? That all writing is a cultural activity, there is no doubt; however, not all writing is worth reading, and therefore, of no real use to any culture except to highlight the need to improve the state of writing. What makes writing truly valuable to culture–any culture and culture in general–is what the reader can get out of it. I’m going to dissociate academic writing or professional writing from literary writing, because academic and professional writing are certainly and always written with a clear and valuable purpose in mind–in most cases, to share valuable information, record events, or instruct readers. Literary writing, on the other hand, aims mainly to entertain; occasionally to enlighten or inform as a great deal of creative non-fiction does, but in its purest form, to entertain. There is no other reason for stories–short and long fiction, poetry, or drama to exist. That we should have such a rich culture of literary works is clearly evidence that writing is valuable, otherwise, we would not preserve and pass on our stories with such care and fervor. What does make writing–or literature–valuable to culture is its significance to humans and to civilizations. That significance comes from the ability of a literary piece to speak directly to each reader who comes across it, its ability to make that all-important and significant connection with readers that makes them feel every emotion and connect with every idea the author has tried to convey through the written word. In many ways, a writer’s words are a window to the writer’s soul. Only when writers pour everything–their thoughts, joys, frustrations, successes, failures–into their writing, does the writing come alive and become a reflection not only of individual writers, but of their lives, their  milieus, their environs–their culture, if you will, in little bits and pieces, because that is exactly what each piece of writing is: a piece of a puzzle which, when put together, reveals a whole cultural panorama that decorates history as it is being made and brings it to life for future generations.

How much of yourself or your life do you reveal in your writing? Share your thoughts on The Writing Pool.

how can i say goodbye… (poem)

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how can i say goodbye

when we haven’t said hello

haven’t shared a moment

haven’t heard each other’s voice

where in the world should i look

that i might find you

that our paths might cross

that our lives might intertwine

that i might hear your voice

and meet you eye to eye

so i can say goodbye

after i say hello

 

Charlottetown, 2014

after the morning has dawned (poem)

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late at night with sparkling wine

watching a movie alone

wishing for company that isn’t here

that might never call this home

distracted by myriad thoughts

things that all need to be done

all these things i put off tonight

till after the morning has dawned

 

© 2014, Charlottetown

 

 

 

Another birthday…another year (poem)

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another birthday…another year…

will there be more heartaches? maybe more tears?

will there be joy? a new love perhaps?

i never will know…it’s all under wraps

it’s all a big secret…it’s all a surprise…

i won’t know about it till it’s before my own eyes…

i’m feeling all warm from the greetings i’m getting

it seems they’ll go on past the time the sun’s setting

there’s goodness enough to last me all year

and more than enough to keep me in cheer

i’m not going to worry what tomorrow might bring

with the right outlook it’ll be a good thing

another thing i’ll be thankful for…

another birthday…a new open door.

 

© 2014, Charlottetown

 

On a snow day… (poems for fun)

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Sung to the tune of “On a clear day”

On a snow day
Rise and look around you
And you’ll see snow up your window
On a snow day
How it will astound you
That the snowfall through the evening
Lasted all night till the morning
You’ll feel part of every snowflake and snowdrift
You can hear
From far and near
All the wind gusts you’ve never heard before…
‘Cause on a snow day…On a snow day…
It’s all white forever…
And ever…
And ever…
And ever more. . .

Dancing on the Ice

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gliding on  ice with the grace of ballet dancers

twirling and floating in perfect timing

with  unbridled passion like first-time lovers

shaving trails in ice with powerful strokes

around the rink the best of figure skaters

tracing history with magnificent ice dancing.

 

© Cindy Lapeña, 2014, Charlottetown