The New Toast is Coming…But What is It?

 This coming week is New Toast Week here at Eat Your Serial. The New Toast is launching this Saturday—May 5th, CINCO DE MAYO, 2012. Make sure to check in all week as we’ll be having some great teasers for you everyday…starting today!

 As I told you a few weeks back, we’ve truly assembled a great re-launch bullpen for the Toast that, actually has me shaking in my seat a little bit. We really went all out in trying to find the most intelligent, entertaining, and talented contributors anywhere and I feel that we succeeded in our task…SUCCEEDED HARD. In the realm of intelligence we have a highly educated bullpen here. From college grads, to masters of their field, to PhDs-in-waiting we’ve assembled here a team that is focused, fun, and fantastic.

 Some of you may be wondering…”Brandon, what is this New Toast, how is it different than the old Toast, or even the middle Toast of the last few weeks? Brandon, aren’t you guys going too far with this food pun?” You may be wondering all that. And I’ll answer all those questions.

 RIGHT NOW.

 The New Toast, and what makes it so new, is a re-launch of the Eat Your Serial company blog. Whereas the Old (see stale) Toast was occasionally a little feature here and there (mostly by or involving yours truly) and some company announcements to you, our beloved Flakes, the New Toast is going to be a highly regimented daily bread blogging machine that is designed to serve you, not run on sentences like this one, but refined, edited, crafted, daily content and thoughtful, intelligent, witty, thought provoking feature content. The Toast will cover technology, pop culture, books, and global domination—well if we can get a global domination blogger it’ll cover that. Essentially we are looking to be your go to reading source, not just for fiction but also for your education, entertainment, and edification. The past few weeks where a few of our New Toast bullpen have been helping out while I strove to provide you with daily content was just a taste, a smattering, a delectable tip of a delicious reading iceberg of gluten-filled words (now I’ve gone too far with the food stuff) that we have in store for you with the New Toast.

 Well, I don’t want to give too much away today. Its only Monday, and I’ve got more to dole out all week. A lot more; the New Toast is bigger than a bread basket, baby (OK, I’m gonna try to stop I promise). Check in every day, I’ll be slicing up the news for you (D’oh) and hopefully you’ll get as excited about this as I am. AND I AM.

 

 Brandon Melendez

 Media Director

 Eat Your Serial, Inc.

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From Pages to Projectors: The Batman Movies

In creating crossover entertainment there’s a line that has to be crossed. Poetic license has to be taken at times, certain elements removed or drastically changed and others invented to make a particular work cross over from one media to the next. While this is often difficult, and even more often met with criticism when texts are translated into motion picture it is especially difficult when dealing with comic books to film.

Of course, the imagination has no limitation and works on a page and illustrations require far less of a budget than movie special effects which is one of the major obstacles to navigate when translating text to film. This is an understandable limitation that up until very recently was in many instances forgivable. Now with the advancement of computers and special effects anything is possible in feature film that the mind can imagine so there is little room for forgiveness in that arena—especially not from comic book fans.

What is especially harder is when stylistic choices are made that, when an artist makes them are justifiable on a page, but are absolutely awful on screen. Some people will find ways to redeem the choices and others will stay hardheaded and not budge on the issue. This cannot be evidenced more than with Fanboys and their preferred properties. Arguments of this sort have recently sprung up around the movie adaptations of Watchmen, V for Vendetta, X-Men (any of them), Spider-Man, the list goes on forever.

However, none is more apparent than the choices made with the Batman movies. Discounting the 1940s serials there have been seven live action Batman feature films with the 8th to be released this summer movie season. Even in the halls of Eat Your Serial, the resident nerds are not in agreement about the choices, the success of the choices, and what the meter of success is. Is it fan appreciation? Is it box office sales? Should the two be linked? Batman is a hot button topic.

On the morning of April the 26th 2012 Editorial Director Nick Newert, Media Director Brandon Melendez, and occasionally (one interjection in the transcript) Toast Feature Columnist Mike Minch had a discussion about Batman movies via Twitter the cuts to the heart of this very issue. Submitted for your approval is the transcription of that Twitter exchange.

 

Full Disclosure: This will get nerdy.

 

Nick: I don’t have a particular affinity for either of the Keaton movies other than his performance. Bruce Wayne is, without a doubt, a deeply troubled man who mostly keeps it under wraps, and Keaton plays it perfectly.

Brandon: I like the Nolan movies but of the 80’s and 90’s [movies] Keaton is my favorite and that first Batman movie is near and dear to me.

Nick: I loved Keaton as Batman. He was my favorite for the overall Batman/Bruce Wayne combo. I don’t have a particular affinity for either of the Keaton movies other than his performance.

Brandon: Jack Nicholson.

Nick: Y’know what, I’ve never been a huge fan of his performance. I don’t hate it, but I don’t think it’s great.

Brandon: His every performance is great because he commits to it. He plays a great maniac. Is it possible that it’s the interpretation and not the performance you’re ambivalent about?

Nick: How do you mean, exactly? In my mind, interpretation is a big part of performance.

Brandon: I’m talking about commitment. Particularly in a Tim Burton flick interpretation is more about director choice performance more about execution. Even with a phenomenal character actor I imagine he was heavily directed by Burton.

Nick: Usually I’d agree, but in the late 80’s, I’d say that Nicholson could do what he wanted, no matter what Burton said.

Brandon: Maybe…might explain why they never worked together again. Also makes for a great conversation about the two interpretations of Joker: kills you in a funny way and kills you because he thinks it’s funny. I personally prefer the latter but understand how the former is more marketable

Nick: Yeah, the only two feature length movies Burton had under his belt then were Beetlejuice and Pee Wee.

Mike: Since I’m still along for this ride, I’d like to mention Joel Schumacher. That is all. #CodPiece

Brandon: Mike, you mean Joel Shitmaker.

Nick: I will say this about Schumacher, he set out to make a modern version of the Adam West series, and he totally did.

Brandon: Yeah but that show doesn’t work in a modern context.

Nick: I wouldn’t necessarily say that. The problem is that comic fans went in expecting Frank Miller’s Batman.

Brandon: I don’t think Broadway neon nipple pouty-lipped Batman works.

Nick: It’s a matter of taste than a matter of ‘working’. Shumacher set out to make a hyper-stylized version is all. It’s certainly not up *my* alley, but I wouldn’t say that it doesn’t work. He made what he set out to make.

Brandon: Yes. The evidence of it’s success was his third Batman movie. Batman Forever wasn’t as overboard as Batman and Robin.

Nick: Making money and succeeding at making what you set out are two different things. And it WAS successful, it made $237M. To be clear, I don’t like the movie, but he made what he wanted to, and he made a fuck-ton of money for WB too.

Brandon: Yeah mostly in the first weekend.

Nick: Most tent-pole movies make the lion’s share of their money in the opening week, though. It made $42M it’s opening weekend.

Brandon: Closer to 43. For the rest of its run in North America it made the rest of the $107 million. That’s a sharp decline. It then made $130 million internationally because they didn’t know better. It turned a profit but not a big enough one for them to make more in that series. They needed a reboot.

Nick: I’m not buying that argument for a second. It still profited over $100 million.

Brandon: Wikipedia cites a 63% decline. I’m not doing more research but that seems uncommonly sharp.

Nick: All I’m saying is, Shumacher wanted a stylized Batman.

Brandon: I’m not arguing that. I’m just saying that it’s not great and wasn’t a popular or successful vision. It should have made billions! I grew up with bat nipples on bats but not on Batmen.

Nick: He made a stylized Batman, and a $100M profit for Warner Brothers.

Brandon: yes. #Agreed your terms are correct. My terms of bat nipples are also agreeable.

Nick: It’s been admitted! Brandon finds Bat-nipples agreeable! #waitwhat?

The whole conversation kind of fell apart at this point but I think the gist of the rift is apparent in this transcription. There may be no ultimately right or wrong argument (though I tend to think I am right as I am wont to do). What is the measure of success? What do you think? Let us know.

 

Ghostbusters- What Makes it Great

Believe it or not, movies get written.  When you watch a movie: good, great, terrible, plague on humanity; it was written by someone who thought it was a good idea at the time. Unlike books and short stories, the ideas put into a script are not always the entirety of the end product. There is a lot of dilution that occurs from script purchase to movie marquee. Directors make changes, producers call for re-writes, actors ad lib, and in the end the screen play ends up changing dramatically. Who knows…maybe Battlefield Earth was the magnum opus of our age before it got in the hands of a production team (I doubt it, but it’s possible).

Usually though, it would be fair to say that the way a script is written does in fact guide the overwhelming majority of where the film goes. In a science fiction movie, the same group of people involved in diluting the script are also the same people that are responsible for making you believe  the events that are transpiring. It is their job to make the fantastic scenario of science fiction or fantasy seem plausible by offering it to you in as realistic a manner as is appropriate. Some movies do a fantastic job of this, and others fail miserably. Instead of sitting here and being snarky about the whole thing I’d like to offer one of my favorite movies as an example of this (if not the example of this). Wait for it.

Ghostbusters!

I’m sure many of you are going to think I’m just a fan boy, a nerd, an 80’s and 90’s kid brainwashed by a movie he’s seen a thousand times—and for the most part you are right—but you have to hear me out. Ghostbusters is a fantastically written, paced, and layered movie. The movie is presented seriously unlike many other comedies. The shots, cuts, and edits–all the cinematography–is presented as if the movie were an utmost serious drama. The world is the real world, the one we live in, or is at least presented as such. Everyone is skeptical of the Ghostbusters and the existence of ghosts. Only through advanced technology is anything made even remotely feasible and as mystical texts are referred to in the same breath with science terminology the viewer is lulled into a sense of plausibility. Venkman’s status as a double PhD in “Parapsychology and Psychology” would be off-putting and would create a divide between the leading man and the audience, but instead he provides as a relatable character because he is undeniably a hack.  The movie weighs heavily on the viewer being able to relate to Venkman. Despite his dickish persona and the fact that he is probably a benign sociopath, he is also the most readily accessible character in the cast (dropping one liners that no scientist would actually say like “Back off man, I’m a scientist”).

The movie relies heavily on the acting abilities of its comedic leads (and the development of the characters), not just Bill Murray’s Peter Venkman, the abrasive yet normal guy in the group of scientists, but also Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis (who co-wrote the movie) play second banana’s to Murray’s character as true believer scientists. Ramis plays Egon Spengler while Aykroyd plays Ray Stantz. These three characters really are the core of the movie—their dynamic  mimics that of the Star Trek Kirk/Spock/McCoy or Freudian Id/Super-Ego/Ego set up. Each has their role to play in forming a functional unit, none of them being a true “main character” (with the exception of Venkman having a love interest in Sigourney Weaver’s Dana Barrett character, and being the voice of the direct jokes). The delivery of the jokes is not slapstick—the Ghostbusters aren’t slipping on banana peels.

The ghosts in the movie are not presented in haunted houses or graveyards but rather in libraries, in hotels, in cabs: in mundane settings. This adds to the plausibility of their existence and provides setups for the jokes.

In the hotel scene in particular you are lulled into the sense that this is a real world as the Ghostbusters are asked not to mention anything about ghosts. They explain to Columbo by the elevators that they are exterminators. In the real world they occupy people would consider them nuts to declare they are ghost catchers. In the hallway as Egon and Ray are walking around like federal agents, Venkman is relaxed—despite the ghosts he’s seen he still doesn’t really fear them. The scientific Ghostbusters, jittery, blast at a housecleaning cart and set it ablaze. This is a prime example of some of the straight forward comedy of this movie. The house keeper exclaims, ducking under the flaming cart:

“What the hell are you doin’??”

The only response that can follow such a truly necessary question is Venkman’s:

“Sorry, we thought you were someone else.”

The response is not anxious, or even terribly apologetic. It’s mostly flat, sarcastic, apathetic. It’s genuine, and seems real. If this line was attempted as a punch line in the traditional sense it wouldn’t work. There are more lines of course that are over the top and straight forward. Even those are delivered wonderfully. Even direct jokes like setting up Walter Peck to be called “Mr. Pecker”, which opens up the casual insult of “dickless” inevitably leading to the scientific declaration that he has no dick are crafted into the dialogue and are not the main pursuit of the conversation, only a good moment to drop a laugh…almost in passing. Your more over the top moments come from Rick Moranis’ Lewis Tully, who is just a neurotic mess. He climbs on ledges to turn off TVs and runs 20 minute workouts on fast forward to get a great 10 minute work out. The entire movie is comedy, and this nebbishy accountant is the comic relief–but even when he’s possessed and talking to horses you buy it while you laugh.

Also, lines from Annie Potts’ Janine Malnitz or Ernie Hudson’s Winston Zeddemore are amazing because these are people that are entirely not scientists.  “I’ve quit better jobs than this” is such a frustrated employee sentiment it could fit in any movie, and any of us might say it. “If there’s a steady pay check in it, I’ll believe anything you say” on Zeddemore’s part, for example is one of the most grounding lines in the movie as is his hilarious disclaimer to the mayor “I have seen shit that’ll turn you white”. The movie is fantastic because even though its topic matter is ghosts and shooting them with lasers, the writing and production combine to make you believe it’s actually the world we all live in.

This is most heavily evidenced by the end of the movie when a fifty-foot marshmallow man attacks New York City and takes a dump on Columbus Circle. This is probably the most insane thing ever done in a movie. To this day nothing more over the top has ever been considered, let alone attempted in a multi-million dollar feature film—the only thing more insane would have been Nick Cage Superman (nothing could have made that work). The movie has done so well in its writing—the combination of dead pan, intelligent, witty, jokes in situations grounded in reality despite their fantastic scenarios—that you do not question the Mr. Stay Puft for a second. Instead you’re saying “How are they gonna get out of this one?” Any less of a production would have seen people storming out of the theatre, but by this point you’ve seen the green ghost of John Bellushi, you’ve seen possessions and levitations, you’ve seen zombie taxi drivers, you’ve seen Rick Moranis and Sigourney Weaver turned into shit textured demon dogs, and you’ve seen an ethereal blow job; the marshmallow man is a logical thing to happen in this world that you still believe is the one you live in.

There’s really not much I can do to make you love and respect this movie that it doesn’t do for itself. As Toast columnist Mike Minch said to me writing a blog post about how well written and made Ghostbusters is, is like “writing a paragraph book report on the bible”. If you haven’t seen it—shame on you. I’m watching it right now and, no lie, it’s probably to 230th occasion I’ve done so in my life. That may sound like a low number for hyperbolic example, but that’s because it’s a good faith estimate of how many times I’ve actually seen this movie. My mother and my wife would probably tell you it’s a low ball. The only challenge I can offer you to understand how well written this movie is, is to listen to it. Don’t watch it. Listen to it. Listen to the dialogue. It’s amazing. Think about the plotting, the pacing, and the fact that it’s a movie about guys shooting lasers at ghosts. Try it.

Who ya gonna call? Netflix. Don’t cross the Instant stream.

 

ADDENDUM: Editorial Director Nick Newert is a great lover of Ghostbusters, and though he was not available for comment in the discussions that formed this post his spirit was certainly ecto-contained in the formulation of this post. For more on this development follow this link.

Hip-Hop is Poetry (And If Ya Don’t Know, Then Now Ya Know)

Well, it’s crossed over that’s for sure. For a while there most of us weren’t certain where this thing was gonna end up…back on the stoops of brownstones and on the corners or in as a serious musical institution. Coming from a freestyle, whim of the moment, into a full-fledged genre of music hip-hop—or at least its divergent marketable corner, rap—ain’t going nowhere. Of course, beyond being music (which many people of my parent’s and grandparent’s generation would argue against) it’s also a form of poetry. Hip-Hop relies heavily on meter and rhyme (more of the former than the latter) to comprise what is known as “flow”.

A flow is something unique to a particular MC—and someone who can really truly spit should have two great qualities to their flow: the ability to sound like nobody else in cipher and the ability to sound like anybody else in cipher. An MC must be connected to the rhythm of the beat in order to work in it, and as such they should have their unique connection and taken but also be able replicate those of others. An MC, like a poet, has to use their words sparingly because the beat and the meter limit when you’ve gotta have your point made. As a writer that works primarily in prose, I can tell you that this is a rare restriction—perhaps I am truly only limited in my verbiage on Twitter and other than that I can drone on and on (as my students will readily tell you). The poet and the MC have the arduous task of working entirely in metaphor and simile, which leaves the door open to misunderstanding and misinterpretation.

People are often quick to judge the MC with the pop rap star. They are leagues apart, distant cousins linked at some muddied juncture in gangsta rap. The pop rap star, the radio rap star is a fabrication, as much a part of the music industry machine as boy bands. The MC is an artist with a voice, a message, and a mission. Their goal like any writer, musician, or artist is to hone their craft and enlighten through entertainment. It’s the same spirit shared but broken through a prism of idiosyncratic talents and preferences.

Hip-Hop of course is commenly traced to the Sugar Hill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight, and the freestyle mic dealings from party MCs in the 70s but careful inspection sees the roots go back even further to spoken word poetry, and political bongo beating. I first became keenly aware of this when I first read The Color of Water by James McBride and he brought my attention to the Last Poets. The Last Poets (and those like them) were a group of politically active and vocal African American Men from New York in the 1960s. They would shout powerful statements as bongos blared. Their stylings can be credited as precursors to both the entirety of Hip-Hop as well as the work of artists such as Gil Scott Heron. If you don’t know them, you should check it out. Your Hip-Hop education will never be complete without them.

 

Case in point are the two MCs I use in my Creative Writing class when we cover poetry: Chino XL and Canibus. I use Chino’s Ghetto Vampire, a song about being a vampire in the ghetto, old as sin and twice as evil. Through a series of examples and comparisons it becomes very clear (and clearly stated) by the songs end that Chino is talking about the institutional vampires that keep people in the ghetto down. He does so through a series of amazing rhymes and lines that really is exciting to listen to and thrilling to understand as it comes together.

The Canibus song I use is Poet Laureate II, which is actually three or four songs wrapped into one. Canibus’s song is actually about the difference between Hip-Hop and rap and, if it wasn’t a song it would certainly be a poem or three. Canibus is an undeniably intelligent and passionate about his craft and he brings it to every track, but for me Poet Laureate II is the apex of expression in the genre.

Of course, there are many talented MCs that are popular and get radio play, and have in the past. Eminem and Nas for example are talented, intelligent, and passionate. Eminem has an unusal and distinctive flow and Nas has a consciousness that defines his style as much as his sound. But its not all about pizzazz and flair—you can always take someone like the George Foreman of Hip Hop: The Notorious B.I.G. Like Forman, you may see the punch coming from a mile away but it still hits you like a freight train. That’s a power, and ultimately it’s the goal of any form of expression, but without a doubt poetic.

Parallels: Sexton and Bukowski

When I was a young teenager, I fell in love with two poets: Anne Sexton and Charles Bukowski.  I say that I fell in love with them because, although I loved their poems, it was really their personas that fascinated me – how their art imitated their lives.  Looking back, I can’t imagine two poets any more different than Sexton and Bukowski and yet, because of the way their work shaped my adolescence, they will forever remain connected to one another in my mind.

Anne Sexton was the mother of so-called confessional poetry and draws many parallels to Sylvia Plath.  She was a severely beautiful woman who battled depression for years and tragically took her own life at age 45.  And, though she was well recognized in her lifetime and won, among other awards, the Pulitzer Prize, she has been largely ignored outside of the literary establishment in the years after her death.  Why has she been forgotten when a similarly talented poet such as Sylvia Plath entered the literary canon?  Plath was brilliant, but I think she fits more into society’s view, at least at that time, of poetess as doting wife and prim and proper lady.  Anne Sexton, however, was anything but; she wrote about many things the literary establishment deemed improper and, thus, for years after her death, she was scorned.

If you can only read one poem by Sexton, read The Civil War.  The last verse still sends shivers down my spine: “But I will conquer them all / and build a whole nation of God / in me – but united, / build a new soul, / dress it with skin / and then put on my shirt / and sing an anthem, / a song of myself.”  Few poems, in my opinion, carry the power behind each word that Sexton has infused in her best work.

And now, Bukowski: the crazy, womanizing, alcoholic who somehow found the time to be incredibly prolific.  He famously wrote The Trash Can, which begins: This is great, I just wrote two / poems I didn’t like. There is a trash can on this computer. / I just moved the poems / over/ and dropped them into / the trash can” and ends with “I know what you’re / thinking: / maybe he should have / trashed this / misbegotten one / also. Ha, ha, ha, / ha.”  There’s not much more unsentimental than that.  And that, strangely enough, is what I have always admired and loved about Bukowski: his hatred of sentimentality, his desire to write the anti-poem, to write simply and directly without asking for any form of pity or sympathy.  Even though his suffering came through each line.

It is Bukowski’s refusal of sentimentality that makes his poem “For Jane: With All the Love I Had, Which Was Not Enough” my favorite poem…ever.  I hate saying that, I really do; I hate classifying works in such a definite way.  But this poem, written by Bukowksi right after the untimely passing of his wife, affects me as no other poem has.  I cannot finish it without a tear in my eye.  Perhaps because you see his gruff exterior melting away in the midst of his grief.  But, whatever the reason, I dare you to read it without getting misty eyed.

 

For Jane: With All the Love I Had, Which Was Not Enough

by Charles Bukowski

I pick up the skirt,

I pick up the sparkling beads

in black,

this thing that moved once

around flesh,

and I call God a liar,

I say anything that moved

like that

or knew

my name

could never die

in the common verity of dying,

and I pick

up her lovely

dress,

all her loveliness gone,

and I speak to all the gods,

Jewish gods, Christ-gods,

chips of blinking things,

idols, pills, bread,

fathoms, risks,

knowledgeable surrender,

rats in the gravy of 2 gone quite mad

without a chance,

hummingbird knowledge, hummingbird chance,

I lean upon this,

I lean on all of this

and I know:

her dress upon my arm:

but

they will not

give her back to me.

 

Questioning the Methods (But Not the Genius) of Dr. Seuss

There’s a joke from the short lived Andy Richter show in which they were staging a revolt against their boss and a woman angrily declares “I’m sick of sporks, spinifes, and knifoons! Its like a Dr. Seuss kitchen in there!” that always struck a chord with me (RIP The Andy Richter Show). Dr. Seuss, beloved by millions of people, is a cornerstone of literacy and children’s literature. His style was such a style and his stories are such stories its really hard not to fall in love with the whole library of (authentic) Dr. Seuss books. There are probably few people in the world that you could walk up to and say “I will not eat green eggs and ham” who will not return “I will not eat them Sam I Am”. So as I continue my crusade to talk about prose in National Poetry Month, lets talk about Dr. Seuss.

Seuss books are a rare blend of poetry and prose; imagery and imagination meet the written word to create the fantastic worlds that generations of children have called the starting point of their reading careers. As a teacher I know all too well the benefits of Seuss style books and words. Predictable texts with compound words—even nonsense words the likes of which Seuss’s style is typified by—help beginner learners gain both confidence and good practice skills and strategies to learning. Nonsense words like wuzzles and snafoozle or kurpuggle (I’m not sure if I made those up or if they are just Seussish) are fun for kids and a great element to the zany and wild worlds held within but I wonder if it wasn’t cheating to rely so heavily on them.

The rhythm of a Dr. Seuss book moves so predictably that I wonder if it wasn’t just a mechanism in play to keep the beat rolling. People may call heresy as I question the genius of the good Doctor, but I only call it into question in relative terms. Yes, what’s good for the goose is not necessarily good for Walt Whitman but lets take it back a moment. Is it acceptable for, say me, to start making up words in the middle of a rhyme scheme and credit it to the fantasy of my world?

 

In the snowiest field

I ate a glorious meal

I opened the bean can—of course it was sealed

The heat from the fire I could feel

As I finished my bowl

I dug a hole

And pulled out a gershmergan

Wearing a turban

Perhaps because I have not included a highly stylized picture of a gershmergan you might be confused as to what it is, why it lives in a hole, and why it wears a turban but that’s just my point. I have no problem with invented words—I use them myself in science fiction and also in general conversation with my children and friends—and Shakespeare invented thousands of them, but when Shakespeare did it they were serving the function towards a notion unnamed not a rhyme unmet.

 Of course, I can’t knock Seuss’s fantastic structure; the sophisticated tetrameters and iambs are telling of the man Dr. Theodore Seuss Geisel, PhD of English Literature. Nor do I mean to diminish the notion of using invented words. I only question its heavy-handed usage. There are parts of Dr. Seuss books that are incredibly subtle with a morality that is simple, elegant, and a disguised undertone. What I do mean to say is, wouldn’t we all be poets if we could just shadinkle the troozlebek?

The Poetry That Enriches Prose

Writers have a difficult mission put before them. It is their job to build and populate worlds with words. Many times, I marvel at the sheer volume of information that authors have to inject into their worlds as the build them—whether those worlds are mirrors of our own or are fantastic creations of their own design, it is nonetheless the task of the author, the creator, to fill that world with the depth and dimension of the real one we live in. In this way, the writer needs to be a sponge; everywhere he or she goes must be a learning experience. I often say that I feel outside of many events because I am writing them as I experience them, likewise I am also absorbing every nugget of trivia I can as it passes by me. Its simply part of being a writer.

While my wife often claims I’m not detail oriented, I remind her that I am merely preoccupied. What do I proclaim to be preoccupied with? The details, as it happens. Certain things in world building, character building, and plotting can’t be simply described or laid out. Some things require a talent, an innate qulaity, rather than a knowledge or trivial accumulation. As I reflected upon the fact that it is National Poetry Month, I naturally digressed in my thought process to prose and prose writing. It occured to me that characters of prose writers who are in fact poets, or plots and details that require poetry mandate that the prose writer be a poet. This is required if the poem or poet is a needed element of the story.

I feel like if this need cannot be met the author will often find be at an impasse. How can you write a story about a poet if you cannot write a poem to attribute to them? I think about how often this occurs in reading comic books, science fiction, and fantasy especially as those authors and creators almost by definition have to build worlds with fictitious histories, humanities, and trappings of all sorts.

I’m usually most impressed by the kinds of poetry that show up in those genres I’ve already mentioned (not to minimize the role of poetry in realistic fiction and other genres…but these are the genres near and dear to my heart) and specifically in Fantasy or Sword and Sorcery. Of particular note in those two areas are J.R.R. Tolkien and Robert E. Howard—the pens behind the worlds of The Lord of the Rings and Conan the Barbarian respectively.

Both worlds created by both authors rely heavily on the existence of mystical powers to make their fantastic plots work and in both worlds those powers are heavily linked to the power of words—verse and rhyme specifically. While not all spells, incantations, prophesy and the like rhyme they are by and large written in verse. This requires a skill not only with descriptive, engaging, and captivating prose but also with the mastery of poetry that must be on par with that prose.

Many authors, Howard and Tolkien included and especially, are so good at this it is actually off putting. As I read Lord of the Rings, for example I remember having to stop (many times for many reasons) just to take in the awesome depth of the language and its wide usage. Though, I suppose I should expect such linguistic mastery from a man who created languages in order to support his world…what’s a poem to a man who crafts whole languages?

In any event, sometimes for a effective prose the writer has to be the poet and though I am no poet I imagine the reverse is also true. A well rounded writer should be able to work in any element but those who do so with superior ease and craft are astounding to me. There needn’t be a distinction I suppose in writers of one specialization from writers of another but to see one so versatile in many voices always wows me. So in this National Poetry Month I’d like to take a moment to nod my head to the poetry that enriches prose in world building.