Wednesday, December 30, 2015

AvantAppal(achia) Launch Date

AvantAppal(achia) launches on January 1, 2016! See the "Sub(missions)" tab on the site that day to see how you can become a part of the AvantAppal(achia) kinfolk. We'll be glad to have you!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Contemporary Appalachian Poetry: Something Taken, Something Given - Three Book Reviews

Jessica D. Thompson, Bullets and Blank Bibles, (Liquid Paper Press, 2013),  32 pages, poetry, $6.00 U.S.
Roberta Schultz, Outposts on the Border of Longing, (Finishing Line Press, 2014),  32 pages, poetry, $12.00 U.S.

Marianne Worthington, Larger Bodies than Mine, (Finishing Line Press, 2006), 30 pages, poetry, $12.00 U.S. 

Appalachian poetry, like its culture, is changing fast. If you think you know what to expect from it, think again. The three books I am reviewing here are on the more traditional end of contemporary Appalachian poetry, but this is not the poetry that came from the region 100 years ago. And it is not the poetry to come in the very near future. Still, one over-riding principle remains for Appalachian poets - no matter how they choose to practice their art: "For something taken, something/must be given." ("Something Taken", Bullets and Blank Bibles, Jessica D. Thompson). 
When one's culture is in a rapid state of change, the urgent need is to reflect that instability while paying proper respect to what is passing. For some poets this means taking something - experimenting with radical new modes of expression in an effort to capture the mood of change and possibly form a language for what must inevitably follow. For other poets it means giving something - attempting to preserve some of what is passing. The three poets in this review are largely seeking to preserve the heritage and culture that is almost faded entirely into memory, that cozy, warm past that outsiders once derided and now seek out as tourists. 
Marianne Worthington is probably the most notable of the three for this patient homage. Her tipping of the hat in Larger Bodies than Mine consists of family portraits painted deftly from memory in careful metered lines. There is very little alliterative play here, but the preciousness of it renders it surprising and rich where it does occur. Most of her collection focuses on various grandmothers. Heaneyesque in many ways, her verse teeters on the thin line of over-sentimentality without slipping over. This is nostalgia on the tongue and in the mind. While the forms rely heavily on meter, she does not make the mistake of rhyming into sing-song.
Jessica D. Thompson writes of the rural setting and a little of family, but Bullets and Blank Bibles is not as polished. It retains a bluntness Worthington does not allow for, an anger biting subtly below the surface. One might call it simply Discontent. Take this line from the best poem in the volume ("Turquoise") as an example: "We measure our life by what we love/but settle for what we are given". That's Appalachian culture summed up in one neat little aphorism (Thompson is good at that). Compromise is everything in a region that both nurtures and murders, and that is something she knows well. As with Worthington, her verse depends much on meter, but she stretches it a bit. It's a little more fluid, slightly unhinged. Alliteration gets more time on the page. But the overall pace is kept appropriately slow, measured, and deliberate, like the passing of the seasons.
Enter Roberta Schultz' Outposts on the Border of Longing. Though I don't think she means to, she serves as a kind of mediator between the more traditional poets of Appalachia and the radical, avant garde. She too pulls mostly from memory for her subject matter (and not all of it is PC), but her style makes the end result feel less lyrical and more confessional. She deviates from variations on blank verse  more than the previous two and tries out forms less often used by the majority of poets on her side of the spectrum (striking example: "War: A Sestina"). Schultz does, unfortunately, indulge in a nauseating cuteness when she writes of her pet cat ("Be Careful What You Wish For"). For one horrifying moment, I thought I was judging an elementary school poetry contest! But then she recovers nicely with this anecdote as an explanation of her poetic philosophy:
"Night vision begins
at twenty minutes - 
ten minutes after most
of us reach for a switch,
flushing our faith with fear, 
leaving us night blind."
("Night Blind")
The encouragement here is explicit. Poetry is about intuition and insight, not the gathering of data or facts. This is even more true when the old modes of expression are rendered largely irrelevant by seismic cultural shifts. So we must allow ourselves to develop "night vision" and write from that.
While it is true that narrative, form, and meter remain strong components for these three poets, their work nevertheless contains powerful realisations that the old Appalachian ways are gone. Wistful and mournful, these poets clearly feel a keen sense of loss and separation from that which made them who they are. In doing so, they give something back to the culture that it is now missing from it. This serves as a needed balance to those contemporary Appalachian poets who take something by forging ahead to see what they can make of what comes next in the blinding light of the new unknown.  
(For full disclosure: this is an unpaid review. No good or services were received.)

Book Review: "Things in Ditches"

Jimmy Olsen, Things in Ditches, (North Star Press, 2000), 312 pages, mystery fiction, $14.95 U.S.

Jimmy Olsen is a thought-provoking writer. His love of the sea and of scuba diving shine through in his work like flashlights on a dark, quiet night. But Things in Ditches comes from an opposite place. It draws from his background in the mid-west by being set in frigid Minnesota in the midst of a blizzard. That's right, folks, read this one with something warm to drink; you'll be cold the entire time.

Things in Ditches turns the mystery novel on its head. How? How about knowing who the murderer is from the opening sentence. (Or do you?) This book is less about solving a twisted puzzle and more about delving into the darker aspects of human nature. It explores such questions as: why are men more likely to commit murder than women? What drives women who seem to have no moral compass? How exactly do the dynamics of small towns play out in such scenarios? Why do some women tend to forgive and forgive past all common sense? What causes certain crimes to become sensationalised in the media and popular culture? Can justice be served when it does? How are innocents hurt - or (perversely) benefited - by that? How do people live with those things?

It took me quite a while to get into it. There are a lot of characters, connected by a large and complicated web, introduced in the first half. Often, I found myself flipping back a few chapters to remind myself who a person was. There are some grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes. Also, like a bad soap opera with an inexperienced editing crew, there are tiny continuity glitches in a handful of scenes. But if you can stick it out, the action gets rolling in the second half and it becomes difficult to put down.

I can't say whether you'll be satisfied with the answers that Olsen ultimately offers to all the social studies questions this book asks, but I can say you just might be disturbed by his conclusions. And maybe that's the point. Maybe we're not meant to be comfortable with the honest glare of human nature we're left with. You decide.

(For full disclosure: I received a review copy from the author for this review.)

Monday, November 16, 2015

Up and Coming: More Reviews and a New E-zine

It's been quiet on this blog, but busy in the background.

Up and coming:

 -- Reviews of three poetry collections procured at the Appalachian Writers Workshop at Hindman Settlement School.

-- Launch of new e-Zine for the most groundbreaking avant garde in Appalachia and the world.

I've been working on this one since the middle of September 2015 when the idea fully crystalised. My involvement with Wurm im Apfel Press in Ireland since 2010 has demonstrated to me how valuable, even vital, experimentation and the avant garde are to any healthy, living literary scene. The Wurm poets infuse Ireland with a dose of much needed excitement and energy, challenging the established modes of expression and pushing poetry into entirely new territories (Christodoulos Makris' Twitter poem "Chances Are...", anyone?). Then in July 2015 I had the opportunity to attend the prestigious Appalachian Writers Workshop at Hindman Settlement School. There I found a good reception to my work, but generally a resistance to avant garde and indy publishing. Although the literary landscape of Central Appalachia is maturing once again into a more united, supportive community than it was 20 years ago, with a much more contemporary pulse, there do still tend to be certain conventions and traditions too "sacred" to be challenged. As far as I know, there is no publication that directly supports and encourages full experimentation, where rules exist to be broken and made new. Many editors of literary journals and presses told me at the Workshop that "there is a lot of work (they) must reject because it is too avant garde." I determined to create a home for that avant garde.

Introducing: "AvantAppal(achia)"

As you will see, the website has not launched yet. Web design is nearly complete. I may soon have a co-editor to help me with sorting submissions. We meet next week, hopefully, to hammer out the last few details before launch can take place. But it is coming soon! The Kin-folk - Ed(itor)s - at AvantAppal(achia) are proud to fill this gap in the literary scene of Central Appalachia, bring you earth-shattering new work by Appalachia's finest and around the world, and welcome you as Kin. Watch this space for more information!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Annual "Best Oriental Dans Videos on Youtube" Article is Retiring Permanently

I have decided to retire the annual "Best Oriental Dans Videos on YouTube" article for good. If anyone wants to pick up where I've left off, you're welcome to! My fascination with oriental dans is not at an end, but hopefully I will soon be moving on to better things for which some sacrifice is required. All past articles - originally published on Yahoo Voices- are now on this blog. You can access them via the relevant labels in the cloud to the right. As consolation, here is the reigning queen of Tribal Fusion at her best. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

"Water" Wins Special Merit Award

"Water" (digital painting; dated May 5 & 6, 2015) won a Special Merit Award and was included in the 2015 Open/No Theme Art Exhibition at the Light Space and Time Online Gallery here: It will feature on the website for all of September 2015.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Joie De Vivre: Maiden Voyage Down the Russell Fork River

Joie de vivre. The joy of living. That's what we're after. That's what we're always after. And having it takes boldness. We are the Sissies.

It may not have looked like boldness to others. We were a group of 6 women. Most of them are older. I'm in my mid-thirties, but have Cerebral Palsy. I am not a strong swimmer, even with a life jacket to do the work of keeping my head above water. But we live in Elkhorn City, KY. - gateway to the Breaks Interstate Park known as the Grand Canyon of the South - and if you live there you are a river rat. Going down the river is what everyone does, so why not us?

The Russell Fork river has world class rapids when the dam is released in October with names like El Horrendo and the Meat Grinder. Most in our group are experienced river rats who know the river's currents and surprises. For two of us, including myself, it was a maiden voyage. Despite an unusually wet summer, the river has been low all season and we figured that would make it ideal for newbies. We decided on rafting a portion of what is known locally as "the fun run", which starts at Ratliff Hole and brings you into the city. This stretch is less dangerous than others and can be done in about an hour by experienced rafters.

In preparation, we shopped for gear. We ended with a four-man raft and a three-man triangular raft that is meant to be towed behind another boat. I got a new life-jacket and modified it according to my specific needs. Someone brought a floating cooler.

I admit I was apprehensive about going down the river. After a lifetime of falling, I have developed numerous related phobias, including an aversion to that flip-flop feeling in the stomach that happens when you go down a hill too fast or get on a roller coaster. I was not confident about my abilities to navigate a raft or even stay in it. So I found myself propped against a man-sized rock at Jesse Mack's just above Ratliff Hole - jacketed and braced, with sunglasses and a hat - waiting for the other girls to get the rafts to the water. "Don't worry about water snakes," one of the Sissies said. "It's a case of leave them alone and they'll leave you alone." I wasn't thinking about snakes. "It's too late now, so in you go," I told myself.

It was rocky there, so I was helped to the triangular raft. It has three holes to sit in, which gave me a place to lock my legs into the raft to hold me in it. Once I was in place the tri was launched and my companions boarded. The other raft, with the floating cooler, took a bit longer to get in the water and we soon lost sight of it.

The tri steers by spinning rather than going in a straight line. I was thankful for my dancer training (via DVDs) on how to spot when making turns. This kept me from getting dizzy and help me stay oriented. At first, I left it to my more experienced companions to man the oars and concentrated on holding on. I didn't know what to expect up ahead.

Since the water was low and the current slow, we spent most of our time avoiding rocks and getting unstuck. Many rocks were clearly visible under the water. The tri was slow-going. "We got the minivan," we cried out to the others, "you got a Ferrari!" Ferrari would pass us and those Sissies would pull to the shore in order for one of them to smoke. Then we would pass it, back and forth. A curious heron flirted with us along the way.

The first rapids we came to were nerve-racking to me, but we rode them without incident and I thought: "This is no worse than a water rapids ride at an amusement park."

By the time Pool Point came into view, I was starting to relax. I've heard many stories about Pool Point. People jumping from the bridge often lose their shoes. Old timers say that years ago a train derailed there and the car that sunk was never found. A hiking trail leads from the road to the river there and locals have tied a rope for swimming. I have walked the bridge, but could never hike down, so seeing Pool Point from the vantage of the river was awe-inspiring for me: the bridge spanning above like a steel high wire over the emerald ribbon of deep calm water against a dirty white sky. Some boys swimming there laughed at us while we hooted and hollered to hear it echo back off the cliffs around us.

At Sand Hole, we caught up with the Ferrari again and took a moment to get a drink from the cooler. Then we went on.

Eventually, we came to Cold Springs. We got stuck on some rocks again, so a Sissy got out to pull us free. "If I get out, I can help too," the other said. "No, no!" we insisted. She did. The raft lifted off, got grabbed by the current, and zipped away.

I was alone in the raft with no experience whatsoever to guide me! I turned in time to see a Sissy dive after me. Clinging to the side, she was going down the falls unprotected! What to do? I twisted around and locked hands with her to keep her from  ripping away. "You have to steer!" she commanded. My left arm is stronger, so I held on to her with my right and paddled with my left. Her head was near the oar. I had a vision for a split-second of her sinking to the bottom with a gashed temple. But I swallowed that fear and paddled on. "Where do I go? Where do I go?" "Head to shore, if you can," she answered.

Soon the raft grounded on rocky bank. The Sissy waded in and pulled it up securely on shore. "I have to go back for E. The river will eventually rock you back out. If it does before I get back to you, just hang tight. This is Long Hole. I'll catch up with you before you get anywhere. In the meantime, don't move."

Don't move. Okey Dokey. I did, though. I was contorted into a painful position and had to raise up to see back up the river. E. was still standing in the middle of the river where we left her, bewildered. But I was surprisingly calm. It was a scary minute or two, but I hadn't panicked. I had taken control of the situation. "I've got this," I thought. No fear.

Enter the Ferrari. As E crawled across rocks to the bank, it rocketed through Cold Springs without a hitch. We then regrouped where I waited, grounded.

The Sissies in the Ferrari had their adventure at Sand Hole. After we went on, they reboarded their raft. But in doing so, the cooler flipped over. The weight of the drinks inside opened the lid, releasing the hydration to the depths below. One of them dove after it, but it was too late. The drinks drowned. It took a while in the telling between the laughter.

We traded out Sissies and continued on. It was mostly calm waters to paddle through after that. I was now confident enough to take turns with the oar. One Sissy even jumped off and took a swim.

We got out at Blue Hole (a.k.a. Carson Island). The Sissies in the Ferrari had gotten there before us. A fire was already crackling. We had a fine picnic. We sang. We laughed.

Some criticized me for going down the river. They claimed that doing so with my health was a reckless disregard for life. The fact is that the Sissies would not have allowed me to if they thought I couldn't handle it. I couldn't care less what other people think about what I do. I'm sick; I'm not dead. Joie de vivre. The only way to live.

Sunday, August 2, 2015


Had a great time at the Appalachian Writers Workshop at Hindman Settlement School, Hindman, KY. Sending a bouquet of thank yous to Brent Hutchinson and Jean Marie Hibbard who worked so hard to figure out accessibility issues and include me in everything. Also, equal thanks to all the faculty and participants for welcoming me and teaching me so much. What a truly beautiful event!

Photo of Sabne Raznik by Roberta Shultz

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Press Release Regarding the 2015 Appalachian Writers' Workshop




Local Poet to Attend Appalachian Writer's Workshop

June 11, 2015, Pikeville, KY. - Local poet Sabne Raznik has been invited to attend the Appalachian Writer's Workshop at Hindman Settlement School this summer as a beneficiary of the UK Pike County Cooperative Extension Service for Fine Arts.

The Appalachian Writer's Workshop is the premiere writer's workshop in Kentucky. It is hosted by Hindman Settlement School in Hindman, KY. This year, it will be held July 26 - 31, 2015.

Raznik applied to the Workshop by sending 10 work-in-progress poems. Due to limited space, only the highest quality applications are accepted as participants. Each participant is assigned ahead of time to specific sessions. Raznik is assigned to the poetry sessions that will be lead by Crystal Wilkinson. (As of July 14, 2015, Raznik's workshop leader will be Marianne Worthington.)

Sabne Raznik has published two full-length poetry collections - her debut work, Following Hope, in 2007 and Linger to Look in 2015. Raznik hand made an art book to benefit St. Jude's Research Hospital, Marrow, in 2013. She has published throughout the U.S., in Ireland, and on the internet. Among those who have offered praise for her poetry is acclaimed Irish poet Brendan Kennelly. She is a songwriter and folk artist, working in both traditional and digital mediums. She has also worked with the ACT Theatre in Elkhorn City, KY.
Raznik says: "It is a real honor to be invited to the Appalachian Writer's Workshop. It's still sinking in, really."

Raznik's participation in the Workshop is made possible by a grant from the UK Pike County Cooperative Extension Service for Fine Arts that will cover tuition and rooming, as well as other expenses.

"It was Stephanie Richards' (the Pike County Extension Agent for Fine Arts) idea that I apply. I never would have without her encouragement." Raznik explains.









Friday, July 17, 2015

Etsy and Appalachian Writers' Workshop

I have closed my Etsy store. Please, let it be known that you can now find my art work and order various items and prints at Fine Art America.

I have been invited to the Hindman Settlement School's Appalachian Writers' Workshop this year (2015). Originally, I was scheduled in Crystal Wilkinson's workshops, but she has had to cancel. Marianne Worthington is filling her shoes. We will have daily workshops and readings as well as a half hour of individual teaching with our workshop leader. I am very excited and honoured to be accepted to attend! If you will be in Hindman, KY USA during July 26 -31, 2015, I'll see you there!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Being Ophelia (Video)

Ophelia is, like most Shakespeare characters and particularly the women, a complicated part to play. She is sweet, innocent but not unknowledgeable about what men get up to in their spare time, in love, heart-broken, fragile, uninhibited, and in the end a kind of mad prophet of impending doom.

For the final assignment of Coursera's "Shakespeare In Community" class, we students were asked to make a video of a piece of any Shakespeare play. This afforded an opportunity to showcase our acting skills and creativity. However, I am only beginning to learn the ins-and-outs of Windows Movie Maker, so I decided to keep it simple.

"Hamlet" is one of my favorite plays and Ophelia is a character I can relate to. She is an innocent victim of events, but strong and wise in her own way, even after she descends into madness. So I chose her soliloquy from Act 3 Scene 1. But to portray Ophelia requires more than emoting Shakespeare's poetry.

First, there was the consideration of what my Ophelia should look like. I rarely tease my hair or use hairspray because it damages my hair extensively, but Ophelia is the daughter of the King's counselor. As such, she would dress well. I chose to clothe her in black and red because I wanted to convey that there is more to Ophelia than meets the eye, but chose simple makeup due to her youth and sweetness. (Also, my corset is red and black; one must work with what costuming one has. *shrugs*) The heart-lock and key earrings symbolise her relationship with Prince Hamlet. The lace-like cover-over convey her modesty and proved to add a dramatic touch at the end. It was rainy out and that resulted in wonderful lighting that I could not have arranged.

Then I moved on to more abstract considerations. For instance, in our modern world, how might an equally fragile and complicated woman react to the tragedies that eventually drove Ophelia to madness? That question brought the song "Chandelier" by Sia to mind. One could even argue that the lines "I'm gonna fly like a bird through the night, feel my tears as they dry, I'm gonna swing from the chandelier" could be something Ophelia was feeling as she drowned at last. The scene where she hands out the flowers spouting her prophetic riddles could equate to this verse: "Help me, I'm holding on for dear life, won't look down, won't open my eyes, keep my glass full until morning light, cos I'm just holding on for the night." Therefore, I chose to sing them in my "Ophelia Descends into Madness" scene to add a touch of the modern to my Ophelia.

The red nose was added to the costume in that scene to emphasise that Ophelia has at this point and in some measure lost touch with reality. I didn't realize that it is the first ever Red Nose Day in the U.S. today, until after I had made that decision (but in the famous words of Gwendolyn Brooks: "I have no objection if it helps anybody").

Getting in the emotional place for Ophelia's soliloquy took some preparation. I drew from my own experience with doomed relationships and listened to Sia's "Chandelier" on repeat while I dressed. Ophelia would have felt her pain deeply and without restraint of any kind.

Here is the text of Ophelia's soliloquy:

"Oh, what a noble mind is here o'erthrown!—
The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s, eye, tongue, sword,
Th' expectancy and rose of the fair state,
The glass of fashion and the mould of form,
Th' observed of all observers, quite, quite down!
And I, of ladies most deject and wretched,
That sucked the honey of his music vows,
Now see that noble and most sovereign reason
Like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh;
That unmatched form and feature of blown youth
Blasted with ecstasy. Oh, woe is me,
T' have seen what I have seen, see what I see!"

Now I present to you the finished video to enjoy or criticise as you will:

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Are the Arts and Humanities Relevant?

The Humanities are defined on as: "studies about human culture, such as literature, philosophy, and history". Debates on whether the Humanities are important are as old as time, but always heat up in times of economic instability since they are often among the first to be cut from a curriculum.

However, it is worth noting that the phenomena of cultures and all manifestations of art and philosophy are what separate humans from any other inhabitants of this planet. There is no other known earthly species that is in any way concerned with such matters. This unique set of interests is intrinsic to what it means to be human. We, as a species, seem to have an instinctual need for the arts and humanities. So why bother to debate their relevance at all? Are they, indeed, important?

The answer is as easy as asking yourself "How do I define myself? Who am I?" Believe it or not, your answer, whatever it is, is an example of the Humanities and the Arts in practical application. Are you a soccer mom, a steel worker, a punk rock/goth/emo type? Do you identify with where you were born, where you live, who raised you? Are you a fan of your local sports team? Do you pride yourself based on the music you listen to? Are you brand-oriented or bargain-oriented? Do you like to hike or to write? Do you believe in God (if so, which one?) or are you more of an Agnostic or Atheist? What do you want most out of life? What constitutes "power" to you and who are you willing or not willing to give it to? Are you an early-riser or a night owl? Are you heart-broken or the heart-breaker, or both?

When we study art and the humanities, we are studying ourselves. And the truly wise among us also study each other. finishes its definition of the humanities with a statement that undervalues them as "not practical". But what is knowing a skill without being able to answer, or at least ask and explore, these most fundamental questions about the human experience? That is what the Humanities and the Arts facilitate.

These are the very things that make us human. What could be more relevant than that?

Modern "Much Ado About Nothing"?

There is an internet-inspired trend in text analysis that involves computer tools, such as the above word cloud. The theory is that these various tools will help someone approach a text in a different way than one has before. This word cloud was produced by entering the text to Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing", which I love, into a word cloud-making website. I must admit that for me such tools would be more helpful when composing collage poetry (because it helps to disorient the text and break it up) than in formulating text analysis.

For instance, one would naturally eliminate the character names, since of course they would be the most frequently used words in the text, and then concentrate on what is left. From there, the poetry combinations are endless and exciting and almost write themselves. But those poems would only be text analysis to the point that any collage poem is, and most poets who employ that form are thinking of anything except what is traditionally considered analysis.

So I tried a different tool: Storify. In the end, I didn't so much write a story as use it to search hashtags and internet search engines for new perspectives on "Much Ado". And I found one.

 "These Paper Bullets!" is a modern take on "Much Ado" with the music written by Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong. Green Day started out in the '90s as a modern punk rock/alternative band. Since then it has become a little more pop in its aesthetics, but with a decided punk edge. Recently, Armstrong redefined what the Broadway musical could mean with his wildly successful "American Idiot" musical. "These Paper Bullets!" was his next theatrical project. The storyline revolves around a band called The Quartos, modeled after the early Beatles, and its members' search for true love in the midst of fame. Unfortunately, a recording of the full production doesn't seem to exist, which left plenty to my imagination.

Other than the curious aspects of "what would a punkish/Beatleseque version of 'Much Ado' be like?", there are also larger questions that could be explored. Much of Shakespeare's original play hinges on witty, sarcastic humor with a decided gender bias. Benedick is against marriage and very much a spouter of male virtues, almost to the point of chauvinism, and Beatrice is very much a hard-bitten feminist. Funny, then, that they should eventually fall in love with each other based on hearsay. How uncharacteristically suggestible of both of them! How would that work in a modern setting?

For instance, in this post-feminist world, why would a woman feel a need to despairingly rant out the "O to be a man" speech? The whole dynamic of the plot may have to be reworked, but what is "Much Ado" without the friction and the obvious social critique of his time that Shakespeare meant it to be? Also, it is no longer a life and death matter whether Hero really "tarnished" her honour or not. That too would have to be rewritten. What, therefore, would be left of the original play?

These are things which I was forced to consider and which caused me to view "Much Ado" as a masterpiece of wit that can continue to survive due to that wit only. No longer can it also be a painful mirror held up to society which is barely made palatable by that wit. How I wish I could have seen "These Paper Bullets!" in order to have at least one set of answers to these questions.

Do you think "Much Ado" still works as a social critique? If so, in what ways?

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Breaking Things (Or How to Write Collage Poetry)

What is collage poetry? The idea is to take an existing text or texts and make it into something new.  The process is also called Unoriginality in studies of poetic movements and began in the 1990s almost as a direct consequence of the advent of the Internet and the growing uneasiness with Modern and Post-modern poetry tactics among the avant garde set. Most practicers of Unoriginality stumbled upon the concept independently, although some developed it within groups of writers. It seems like a simple enough concept to execute, leading many to disregard it as valid poetic practice - until such ones attempt it themselves. It is actually a complicated process that requires intense focus and a lot of trial and error to develop the skills of discernment needed to honour the original texts while reshaping the texts into something completely unfamiliar. It's also a wonderful way to explore the contested concept of authorship, because the words one is using belong to some one else and the final text of the collage poem cannot be guessed at by the poet assembling it until the reorganisation is complete. A collage poem is fun in the sense of wordplay and delving into the unknowable that the poet has only the most minimal control over, but it is hard work and slow-going.

To illustrate, I am going to use a simplified example of collage poetry work that I did as an assignment that the instructors called "Breaking Things" for a class I'm taking on Shakespeare. I started out with the text of the Bard's play "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and two blog posts I had previously written related to the course which can be found farther down this page ("On First Lines" and "Comparison: 'Romeo and Juliet' and 'Layla and Majnun'"). First I selected a specific passage from the play to use, which is the conversation with Hermia about her father's selection of a husband for her. Instead of copying out the entire dialog, I left out her responses and chose specific lines that appealed to me due to their expression of a father's absolute authority over a daughter, possibly one of the most overtly serious moments in the comedy. Thus I copied this out on a sheet of paper:

"Be advised, fair maid.
To you, your father should be as a god,
One that composed your beauties, yea, and one
For whom you are but as a form in wax
By him imprinted, and within his power
To leave the figure or disfigure it.
In this kind, wanting your father's voice,
The other must be held worthier.
Your eyes must with his judgement look.
Look you arm yourself
To fit your fancies to your father's will."

Lots of assonance in these lines to play with and it would be fun to dismantle this outdated notion of male dictatorship.

Then I proceeded to comb through the two blog posts for phrases which could be repurposed. Hence, on the same sheet of paper I copied this:

"virgin love
consummation (or lack thereof)
love cannot exist without sex, but sex can exist without love
attain to the status of a lesser god
roams the wilderness
spouting poetry for
first lines are the spine on which all hangs
security cameras and spying eyes
choking like flame without air
somewhat mantic
poetry cannot survive
meandering masterpiece
the most primal of human needs
worn out subject - elementary thing -
much glorification of the giving and the taking of the maidenhead
amourous rites
hood my unmanned blood
love grow bold
no love at all"

Now that I had broken things, I was ready to reassemble them. This is where trial and error comes in. You must expect that the first attempt will not result in a finished poem. Usually these things take many drafts and can sometimes take years to work out. A person who writes collage poetry must be one who thrives on challenge. The work involved is the point as much as the finished product. In this example, however, it took me about three hours. You will notice that in reorganising, sometimes I broke the phrases down further and rearranged them into new phrases as well as rearranging the actual lines. I began, crossing off phrases as I reused them. This is first draft:

"much glorification of
elementary thing - most
primal thing cannot survive
as a god somewhat mantic
arm yourself your fancies
the spine on which all hangs
choking flame without air
virgin love grow bold
wilderness spouting repetition
by him imprinted
meandering masterpiece
be advised to leave the figure
or disfigure it in this kind
consummation (or lack thereof)
first lines are security cameras
spying eyes, love without
sex without love amourous rites
that composed whom you are
a form in wax within his
power: the other must beheld poetry
look you to fit unmanned blood roams
no love at all
with his judgement look
the giving and the taking
status of a lesser god
poetry for maidenhood"

I largely avoided punctuation or consideration for line breaks, etc. because at this point it didn't matter. At this stage, the goal is just to see what surprising new combinations can be made of the phrases. Look for juxtaposition and delightfully new, unlooked for ideas. Phrases I liked here are: "First lines are security cameras" and "your fancies/ the spine on which all hangs". There is no clear formation of meaning in this new text yet, but the suggestion is that the meaning will be highly sexual. That is not a route I wanted to go. Although Shakespeare is very candid and even rude in such matters, I wanted to focus on poetry itself as a way to better honour the common perception of Shakespeare's work. On to the second draft:

"As a god somewhat mantic
Much glorification of elementary thing
Arm yourself your fancies cannot survive
Wilderness spouting repetition by
Him imprinted meandering
Masterpiece, be advised to
Leave the figure or disfigure it
In this kind consummation (or lack thereof)
Virgin love grow bold with his
Judgement look the giving and the taking
No love at all the spine on which all hangs
That composed whom you are - a form
In wax within his power, look you to fit
Unmanned blood roams: the other
Must be held poetry, security cameras
First lines are spying eyes
Love without sex without love
Poetry a lesser god for maidenhood
Amourous rites choking without air
No consummation at all"

As you can see, on the second draft, I paid a little more attention to poetic devises, such as line breaks and further fractured and rearranged some phrases. I also inserted some personal stylistic preferences, such as extending line length and capitalising the first letters of lines. Here, I began to sense clearer meaning and that it was closer to my intention of a metapoetic reading. Encouraged, I forged ahead to what would be the final draft:


As a god somewhat mantic,
Much glorification of elementary thing.
Arm yourself! Your fancies cannot survive
Wilderness spouting repetition, by him
Imprinted meandering masterpiece.
Be advised leave the figure or disfigure it
In this kind consummation
(Or lack thereof).
Virgin love grow bold with his judgement.
Look! The giving and the taking -
No love at all, the spine on which all hangs
That composed whom you are - a form
In wax within his power. Look you to fit.
Unmanned blood roams: the other must be held poetry.
Security cameras: first lines are spying eyes -
Love without sex without love.
Poetry a lesser god for maidenhood,
Amourous rites choking flame:
No consummation at all.

The title used here is a working title. It was good enough for the assignment for which it was written. This final result is both metapoetic and I believe a fitting tribute to Shakespeare while creating something entirely fresh from his (and my) words with a 21st century feel.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Comparison: "Romeo and Juliet" and "Layla and Majnun"

Romeo and Juliet, it is believed, is likely a variation of the Persian tale Layla and Majnun rewritten by Shakespeare for a Western audience. To bridge the culture gap that then existed, Shakespeare had to make some significant changes.

The most pronounced and discussed of these is consummation (or lack thereof). In the Persian tale, the love that Layla and Majnun have is "virgin love", that is, never consummated by sexual intercourse. Romeo and Juliet do famously marry and enter into those relations. The reason for that particular variation is that the two cultures viewed (view?) sex and marriage in entirely different lights.

There is much glorification in Romeo and Juliet of the giving and the taking of the maidenhead. Much of the play seems preoccupied with it. The play opens with two bawdy young men bragging that they will kill the men and rape the women belonging to their enemy's household. Juliet's nurse, her mother, herself, even Friar Laurence speak of it with a candor that would certainly not have amused Queen Victoria. For a modern audience, this can be uncomfortable when they realise that Romeo and Juliet themselves are but 14 and 13 years old, respectively. In Shakespeare's time, that was the common marriage age, but to a modern audience they are only children.

Consider this passage spoken by Juliet on her wedding night while waiting for consummation:

"Lovers can see to do their amorous rites
By their own beauties, or, if love be blind,
It best agrees with night. Come, civil night,
Thou sober-suited matron all in black,
And learn me how to lose a winning match
Played for a pair of stainless maidenhoods.
Hood my unmanned blood, bating in my cheeks,
With thy black mantle till strange love grow bold,
Think true love acted simple modesty. ...
O, I have bought the mansion of a love

But not possessed it, and, though I am sold,
Not yet enjoyed. So tedious is this day
As is the night before some festival
To an impatient child that hath new robes
And may not wear them."

To the culture of Shakespeare's Europe and time (and indeed today), love could not exist without sex, though sex could exist without love. An unconsummated love was no love at all. But to the Eastern culture that birthed the story which inspired Shakespeare, the opposite was true. Love in its purest, most divine form was always a virgin love, never consummated, for consummation made it earthly and of men.

Both stories end in the deaths of the lovers, but here too is a major variation. To Shakespeare's England it was nobler to die for love than to live without it. Maybe this romanticism was born of the fact that, at that time, almost no one actually married for love. And that is the choice both Romeo and Juliet make (or are fated to, depending on how you choose to interpret the chorus' prologue to the play). But to Persian culture, to die for it was an easy out and no proof of faithful, eternal love. (Remember, too, that almost no one married for love there either.) It was recognised that it much more difficult to live the lie of being one person's lover while in actuality being in love with someone else whom one was bound by honour and duty to be always sundered from. Hence, this is what was glorified there. To experience such a state and be faithful in one's heart was to be closer to the love of the divine than any other human on earth. Thus, Layla is married to another and eventually dies of a broken heart while Majnun roams the wilderness spouting poetry for his Layla and dying years later near her grave. In this way, Majnun attains to the status of a lesser god, for only a god could possess so pure a love.

Regardless of the variations enforced by cultural receipt, the stories are both enduring examples of the power of love.

On First Lines

The "Shakespeare In Community" class on opens by discussing briefly the first lines of Hamlet. But what of first lines?
It feels like a worn-out subject - an elementary thing - to consider first lines. Are they powerful? Yes. It is the ending any writer is aiming to have remembered, but usually it is the first line that everyone can quote verbatim.
Some of my favorites are:
"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." —Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)
"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." —Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1877; trans. Constance Garnett) Never read this book, but that is profoundly true.
"riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs." —James Joyce, Finnegans Wake (1939) Finnegans Wake is a pure delight, beginning to end, is it not?
"Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested." —Franz Kafka, The Trial (1925; trans. Breon Mitchell) This book haunts me every day.
"It was like so, but wasn't." —Richard Powers, Galatea 2.2 (1995) Never read this book either, but that has to be the most intriguing opening line ever conceived. That could also be the most concise definition of poetry available.
But the one first line that is always mentioned first:
"Call me Ishmael." —Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851)
That shouldn't be a first line success story. It tells you nothing. Sets you up for nothing. Is only mildly intriguing and not at all interesting. It's like opening a book with small talk. Even cashiers at check out registers have name tags but most people don't care to read them unless they intend to file a complaint. "Call me Ishmael."
So why does it succeed? Because names are at the most primal of human instincts and needs. In the Bible, the first assignment God gave to Adam (before creating Eve and therefore predating the commandment to "fill the earth") was that of naming the various creatures that co-inhabited Earth with him. Names are so deeply integral to our psyche that often we name our phones and other devices, even our cars. I know an extreme case where a man named each of his fingers. Herman Melville revealed his genius when he appealed to that by beginning his meandering masterpiece with "Call me Ishmael."
First lines are the spine on which all other hangs in literature. Shakespeare was keenly aware of that. So he opened Hamlet with "Who's there?" A call to attention that requires an instant answer. An action phrase to begin a play of action and deeply pregnant with all the paranoia and uncertainty that drives Hamlet all the way to its bloody conclusion. By the time he has a character utter "Something's rotten in the state of Denmark", the repetition of that paranoia is already stifling and choking like flame without air.
First lines are even more important in today's post post-modern poetry. It has been said that a poem must be composed entirely of first lines to keep a reader engaged all the way to the end. Hamlet's constant refrain of paranoia (beautifully illustrated in The Royal Shakespeare Company's production starring Patrick Stewart and David Tennant with the ever-present motif of security cameras and hidden spying eyes - "A rat! A rat!") seems to foreshadow this development. Some are put off by Shakespeare's dogged repetition; to me is seems somewhat mantic. He seems to be pointing to this time when the power of first lines has become so strong as to be everything, as to be poetry itself, when poetry cannot survive unless it be composed entirely of first lines.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

National Poetry Month 2015 with Sabne Raznik: Three Giveaways

So we're well into National Poetry Month 2015 and it's an exciting one! I hope you'll spend some part of it with me. I have arranged for three contests this month as follows (pay attention to contest end dates and details, since they are not the same):

The Goodreads Giveaway can be entered at the link above. There are two (2) copies of "Linger To Look" up for grabs, both signed and dated. The contest is run by Goodreads and the winners chosen randomly. Runs until April 30, 2015.

Same story here. Two (2) copies available, this time unsigned, since they will be shipped direct from Amazon. Runs until April 16, 2015.

Post selfies of yourself with any or all of my books on my Facebook Page and use hashtag #LTLSelfie. I will collect these photos and upload them to their own photo album on my Facebook Page. The most creative shots will win hand-proofed and signed galley prints of "Linger To Look". The contest ends on April 30, 2015, but the selfies don't have to!

Happy National Poetry Month and have fun, everyone!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Sabne Raznik Art Now Available at!

Today, I have opened a new shop on Etsy. There you will find inkjet prints of the "Salome Series" and the "Wildfire Series" as well as copies of "Marrow". Eventually, I plan on designing and releasing broadsides there as well. Other artwork will become available as it is made. Sabne Raznik Art shop on Etsy.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Second Collection "Linger To Look" Available Now

I am proud to announce: It's here! "Linger To Look"!

This new collection was 8 years in the making and it is now out in the world to grow into whatever it may become.

"Linger To Look" is a full-length collection of avant garde poetry.  It explores the idea that a poetry collection can follow a loose narrative, in this case the story of a doomed love. The narrative is not always chronological and follows a timeline as poetic as its individual pieces. It includes cover artwork by Diana Potts, photographs by Jan McCullough, and select sketches from the "Salome Series".

Available now here: Available at and Amazon Europe by the end of the week.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Sound Over Sense Isn't New

John Ashbury judged the 2013 Walt Whitman Award and it shows. If you like John Ashbury or most post modern poetry you will like Chris Hosea's Put Your Hands In. If you are looking for a fresh approach to poetry, however, this is not your book.

Put Your Hands In is clever and fun. But original it is not. This is a collection where meaning can be found if searched for, but meaning is less important than sound. These poems are meant to be read aloud and in one sitting, which puts it in a tradition stretching back to Gertrude Stein. Some poems are collage poems in that they borrow phrases from elsewhere - newspaper clippings, other poetry, random conversations - and then mix them up pell mell to come up with something other. Some are composed entirely of half-finished sentences, an approach that is fun for the writer and interesting for the reader. The prose poems are effective, yet the most clever and thought-provoking piece, for me, is "Black Steel" which harkens to concrete or visual poetry.

Hosea here presents to us a crash course in 20th century poetics. Perhaps in an effort to convince himself or the reader that these approaches are still relevant in America today, he has heavily laced them with 21st century references to the digital. The result seems forced - not quite pretentious, but at least a little desperate.

Still, it is a delight of sound. Rhythm and alliteration ask you to consider the sound of everyday, even sometimes vulgar, language over the sense. Revel in cacophony and noise. Just don't expect to hear anything new.

Buy Get Your Hands In at Amazon.

Legal Disclosure: I did not receive anything in exchange for this review nor have any affiliation with those involved in the book's making.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Goodbye With A Fist

The Book of Goodbyes by Jillian Weise has quite the list of accolades, including the 2013 Isabella Gardner Poetry Award and the 2013 James Laughlin Award. And it bites. Yes, you read that right: it bites.

Weise writes angry, brash, and sometimes brutally. This is a book with several chips on its shoulders. Very punk rock, very get off, very Bukowski. There is nothing pretty here. You have to bring the pretty with you as a reader and press insert. This book is like a wounded dog backed into a corner with the fur on its neck standing up. It's not growling, it's not barking; it is snorting and snotting in rage and almost malice.

But despite this don't-get-too-close stance: it is also intimate. Bitterly intimate, but still intimate. For instance, in "The Ugly Law":

... The maimed shall not

therein or thereon expose himself or herself
to public view under penalty of staring,

pointing, whispers, aphorisms such as "We are all disabled"
or "What a pretty face you have" or "God gives

And this, from "Poem for his Ex":

Does it make you feel better
to know he cheated with a handicapped
girl? I wonder if you have

any handicapped friends.
I don't know why I'm using that word.
It demoralizes me. Or if you don't.

This intimacy (which doubles as bitter advocacy, the way many African American poets write about slavery) serves to soften the hardness of this collection. So does the fact that it is arranged like a theatrical play. The table of contents is sectioned off into One, Intermission, Two, and Curtain Call.

For me, the most captivating things in this collection happen when Weise steps away from the confessional flavor of sex and amputeeism and assumes characters to reveal the deeper workings of her mind. The intermission section reads like a lonely but insightful meditation on modern human relationships. The Book of Goodbyes shows us what Bukowski would have written if he were female.

Get The Book of Goodbyes at Amazon.

Legal Disclosure: I have no affiliation with this author and did not receive anything for this review.

Monday, February 2, 2015

"Linger To Look" is Coming at Last!

Coming in March: "Linger To Look" is a semi-avant garde work which experiments with form and content, and plays with the idea that a poetry collection can loosely follow a narrative. It is a full color paperback, approximately 115 pages, and will be retailing on for $15 USD, £9.94, €13.29. Reserve your copy now by contacting me. Reserved copies will be mailed as soon as possible after release.
Edit: Release date is March 2, 2015!!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The "Fingers" Broadside to be Included in Traveling Art Exhibit

 The Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs (KASAP)'s The Rising Center's "No More" traveling art exhibit to raise awareness to end sexual and domestic violence has selected the "Fingers" Broadside to be included. The art exhibit will travel throughout the state of Kentucky in 2015, after which the broadside will be auctioned off at the Rising Center's discretion. The broadside features the much-praised poem "Fingers" from the collection "Following Hope" (Xlibris, 2007). It was designed and printed especially for this purpose on January 4, 2015. There is only one (1)  in existence. For more info, visit