Contradiction in Terms
You say to-may-toe; I say toh-mah-tah. Deal with it.
Sunday, January 30, 2005

Poetry 101: lesson 2

Sorry for the extreme delay, but back to my explanation of the following statement:
Poetry is the unique expression, commonly in verse form, of universal experience.

If you don’t know what I mean by ‘verse form’, then go now and read some other blog, as it is beyond the power of this one to help you. For those of you who remain (and let us pause to celebrate your intellectual prowess!), let’s talk about verse.

Obviously, the original reason that poetry began in verse form was to facilitate rhyme and meter. But given the virus-like prevalence of free verse (I will vent more about this later), why, then, do we continue to arrange poetry in verse form?

It’s for the same reason that we use rhyme and meter, which, incidentally, is the same reason that comics are arranged in panels, rather than just splayed out all over the page: to structure the reader’s absorption of the text. Take a look at Shakespeare, for instance: he arranges most of his poetry in sonnet form, because his purpose is to convey a wholeness of emotion. Therefore he gives you a predictable rhythmic cadence, in which not only the words, but the beat of the words lead you to a particular emotional place, usually one of romance and wonder.

In contrast, my man E.E. Cummings tends toward very jagged arrangements of phrases. Because his general oeuvre deals with dissonant topics like pretension and alienation, his cadence is likewise dissonant, forcing you to consider each assertion, rather than gulp the concept down whole. Shakespeare caresses, Cummings challenges; Shakespeare wants you to feel, Cummings wants you to think.

Now, although I’m biased towards E.E. myself, my point here is not that one form is superior to the other. My point, rather, is that we do not arrange poetry in verse form in order to fit on the page or to achieve maximum cuteness; ideally, we do it in such a way as to further the agenda of our writing, whatever that may be.

In other words, just because you put a notion into stanza form, it doesn’t automatically qualify as free verse. Any sort of verse only counts as verse if the form of the thing (be it structured or unstructured) is as critical in conveying the message as the words themselves are. Otherwise, what you have is not a poem—it’s just a bunch of phrases or sentences arranged rather oddly on a page.

As with all my little online ruminations, take this with a sack of salt: I’m not really an authority, and I could be wrong. If, however, you ask me—as people seem to do—to critique your work, then expect me to apply the above criteria as I’ve explained it. And whatever you do, do not ask me to read the kind of poem where the first word of every line spells out a phrase or, worse, somebody’s name. Because then I will have to make you eat it. Even if you send it to me in soft copy… I will print it out and hunt you down. You have been warned.
Nikki bit in at 1:48 PM :: ::

Thank Yew, Thank Yew!

Huge thanks to everyone who dropped by the Mango Jam launch yesterday! And a big apology to those who came later and didn't find me there, but I'm afraid both my babies (pere et fille) became tired and sleepy after the first couple of hours, and needed to be taken home.

You guys are the best!
Nikki bit in at 1:44 PM :: ::
Monday, January 24, 2005

Poetry 101: lesson 1

Because too many people claim to be poets; and because people, rightly or wrongly, seem to think I’m some kind of poetry authority, here’s the way I define it:
Poetry is the unique expression, commonly in verse form, of universal experience.

What do I mean by that?

Okay, first off, let’s talk universal experience. The goal of poetry is to achieve a level of resonance—preferably emotional, but possibly intellectual—with a segment of readership. This means that the love story of two sentient blobs existing in the substrata of Mars, for instance, is probably best explored through speculative fiction or extrapolative essay, since you’d be hard-pressed to find a readership that is likely to emotionally identify with the scenario. Such a subject can conceivably be used as metaphor, but it should be illustrative rather than topical—in effect, your point should be something like “The experience of love is the same throughout the cosmos”, rather than “Sentient blob love is tragic, yet beautiful”. No one really cares what sentient blob love is like, except in terms of how it relates to their own experience.

In other words, what you should be trying to do, with poetry, is to evoke a sense of recognition. If people say, “Wow, that’s so true!” after reading your work, then congratulations, you’ve succeeded. If, on the other hand, they say, “Wow, what a cool idea!”, then do not pass Go, do not collect two hundred dollars. Ideas for ideas’ sake and weirdness for weirdness’s sake are less poetry than they are masturbation in verse form.

Which leads neatly to my next major point (verse form, not masturbation), except that I’ll be talking about it in a succeeding entry, as this one has gotten too long already.

As with all my little online ruminations, take all this with a sack of salt: I’m not really an authority, and I could be wrong. If, however, you ask me—as people seem to do—to critique your work, then expect me to apply the above criteria as I’ve explained it. And go on writing poetry… but don’t call yourself a poet unless someone you respect does it first.
Nikki bit in at 3:16 PM :: ::
Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Today is A Very Good Day...

Especially for Woofy, who has unabashedly informed me that it's his birthday; and especially especially for my good friend K8, who officially passed her C.I.A. accreditation exams. In fact, she's been ranked one of the top 25 examinees in the world!

Now K8, of course, will try to tell you that the 'C.I.A.', in this case, stands for 'Certified Internal Auditor'--but I remain convinced that she's just saying that so that she doesn't have to kill us all for Knowing Too Much. In the first place, she's soft-hearted; and in the second place, she's an accountant, so probably she's already calculated that it would be a wasteful expense of effort and energy to go around terminating every single person who reads this blog.

But look--these are the minimum qualifications for Clandestine Service in the Central Intelligence Agency:
1. a bachelor's degree
2. strong interpersonal skills
3. the ability to write clearly and accurately
Graduate degrees, military experience, knowledge of a foreign language, and foreign residency or travel experience are pluses. Applicants must be 35 years old or below, and U.S. citizenship is a must for applicants and their spouses.

See? Possibly K8 has been hiding her secret U.S. citizenship from the rest of us, but I know for a fact that she fulfils items 1, 2, and 3; is well within the age specification; and boasts both fluent Filipino and long-time residency in this here foreign country. She even traveled to Vietnam last month; how suspicious is that? She is marrying a non-American soon, but given that the groom has certain political connections, she's probably just getting close to him in order to extract vital state secrets while he's befuddled in a helpless haze of love.

Oh dang, now I really have said too much! Well, congratulations again, K8... and if you must silence me, try to make it relatively swift and painless, wouldja?
Nikki bit in at 1:16 PM :: ::
Tuesday, January 18, 2005

vignette: The Latest Thing

This is what we do when the moon goes down.

Those of us who know gather at the highest promontory in the area. Usually, this is some spot the teenagers call by something alarmingly alliterative: Lover’s Lane, Heartbreak Hill, like that. The name doesn’t matter—only the height, the silence, the solitude; the view, unobstructed as possible by buildings, gantries, satellite dishes.

By that time, most of the younger people will have gone from there, chasing curfews, placating parents, whisking through second-story windows. Or perhaps an early, early breakfast somewhere—feeling mature and cosmopolitan; eking out the night, heralding the light. Some few stragglers will remain, but be driven off eventually by the sheer metastasy of our presence.

We bring our own noise, of course. Someone will turn their car radio on to maximum. Or someone else will have brought an iPod or a laptop with speakers, blasting out the latest sound from some soon-discovered star. Rooted in the old, we are smitten with the new.

Marilla, predictably, will lead the dancing—on a car trunk or hood, or roof if one is available, which isn’t all too often. We prefer convertibles, sun roofs, motorcycles; part of the thrill, the unwritten rules. Others will join once she starts, further trampling the tire-marked grass, or just bobbing heads rhythmically from their places of repose.

Many of us will smoke. The new smokers, as I once was, will have all they can do to keep hands from shaking as they set sticks alight, the flame flaring far too close to fingers, lips, eyebrows. Most will be wreathed in smoke in moments, neglecting to inhale. The more experienced ones, showing off, prefer to use matches—igniting with the flick of a thumb, tossing the remains oh-so-carelessly into the brittle brush. They will lean back against windshields, windows, tires; exhaling the occasional smoke circle, building bridges of smoke from mouth to nose, establishing ephemeral cool.

Some few will actually entwine—lazily, luxuriously, desultorily. It’s become difficult to tell which is which, not that it truly matters.

What matters is the purple: the change, minute at first, as the day begins its inexorable climb from the shadows of evening. We all pretend not to be looking for it; yet we all rise—leisurely or abruptly, with anticipation or growing panic—as the sun begins its rising.

And slowly, yet startlingly sudden—the purple turns to pink; the pink turns to peach; the peach turns to gold. And when the first faint hints of turquoise begin to streak the sky, as one, we all turn and run for the vehicles.

The rules are: convertibles, if possible, tops down. Other cars with sun roofs opened. Windows rolled down, and none of those sun-shades. Motorcycles, of course, are exposed enough by their very construction. And we ride to beat the devil.

The devil’s devil, Santi used to say, before he went up that morning, two years ago, two minutes too slow; burst into flame like a candle, Harley wheeling crazily across the road, spitting out still more sparks as it smashed into something—a tree, a fence, who knows? We rode on, the wind in our hair, the blood in our veins, the burning at our backs.

And when we reached the still, cool, most importantly dark sanctuary, I, the newest of new blood at the time, was the only one not laughing, not exhilarated by the rush, the thrill, the daring of living on the knife-edge of dying.

“Don’t you care?” I lashed out at them, anguished, astonished, alarmed. “Don’t any of you bastards give a damn!? He just died! Santi’s dead!”

“Darling,” Marilla said that night, eyeing me coolly as she lit up a new coffin nail, “aren’t we all?”
Nikki bit in at 1:26 PM :: ::
Sunday, January 16, 2005

Today is Six Days Till Vin's Birthday.

Nearly every year in the now-15 years Vin and I have known each other, I've written him a birthday poem. Usually it's about time (his favorite topic), or love (everyone's favorite topic), or something suitably birthday-ish, like age or wisdom.

I used to have to write it out longhand, write it for myself in decent penmanship in my poetry notebook, then write it again to present to him on a sheet of nice paper, then write it once more in his birthday notebook. This time I can post it on my blog, and only have to write it out once in Vin's notebook. Thank God for technology!

what you’re asking, of course, is whether
what we have now is forever
and I never have quite the answer
you’re really hoping to hear:

Which is,

I suppose, the swift reply;
the sugar-candied, poison lie
that yes, of course, ‘you and I’
means the same thing as ‘always’.


I have trouble with things I cannot touch;
with placing faith over-much
in fervent promises and such
I cannot be certain to keep.


the only offer I have to stand
is tomorrow, and the day after, and
the tangible future I can fit in my hand
to give, whole and unsweetened.

When you
long to taste forever, and I
would rather touch tomorrow, can we
possibly make sense of our senses?

Happy Birthday in advance, Vinnie-Boy!
Nikki bit in at 2:35 PM :: ::
Friday, January 14, 2005

It's happenin'!

The creative project I've been working on with Mango Comics is coming to fruition this month! (You know, that pun just popped up out of nowhere; I swear I didn't mean it...) Here's what Mango bigwig Zach Yonzon has to say about it:
Prepare for girl power with Mango Jam, a 64-page bimonthly comic digest from Mango Comics! Jam at the Shang, the Mango Jam launch, will happen on January 29, 2005, from 2-6pm at the 5th level, Shangri-La Edsa Plaza. There will be booth activities, games, and fashion shows throughout the event. The first 100 girls to arrive and purchase a copy of Mango Jam will receive a goodie bag from Mango Comics and its partners.

Each Mango Jam comic magazine contains four stories written by notable female writers such as Palanca Award-winner Cyan Abad-Jugo, National Book Award-winner Nikki Go-Alfar, MTV Ink Editor-in-Chief Kristine Fonacier, and pop culture writer Karen Kunawicz. The stories are drawn by spectacular new female talent Glenda Abad, Maisa Deluria, Ellaine Guerrero, and Mia Reyes in the popular manga or anime style of comic illustration created and popularized by the Japanese.

Mango Jam, published by Mango Comics, breaks new ground as the country's first all-female comic magazine (including the editorial staff). Each issue will also contain interviews, reviews, anime features, and other articles of interest to young, intelligent, fun-loving Filipinas.

Mango Comics is the publisher of Mwahaha, MooMoo Hunters, Mars Ravelo's Lastikman, and the National Book Award-winning Mars Ravelo's Darna. Jam at the Shang is co-presented by Shangri-La Edsa Plaza, Jam 88.3, and Smart Kid.

Doesn't Zach make me sound all accomplished and hoity-toity? This first issue is edited by me, which is kind of ironic, considering my husband's rabid anti-manga stance. But like it or not, Dean is just going to have to haul his anti-manga ass over to the Shang on the 29th... and y'all better be there too, if you know what's good for you! (I'll be extra-nice to you if you spread the word!)
Nikki bit in at 1:26 PM :: ::
Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Today is nothing special, apparently.

I think this is one of the coolest things anyone has ever said:
"To conquer death, you only have to die.
You only have to die."

--Tim Rice, Jesus Christ, Superstar

Which seems fairly morbid at first glance, but to me, the point the esteemed Mr. Rice (so respected because he can actually use the word 'coruscate' in a song) is trying to make is that everybody has a choice: you can spend your life trying not to die; or you can face your inevitable death, having tried your best to live.

At least, that's what it means to me. But it's fuckin' poetry, man; and good poetry means different things to different people.

And you can quote me on that one.
Nikki bit in at 3:33 PM :: ::
Friday, January 07, 2005

Today is I'm Not Going to Take It Anymore Day.

cynicism and Cinderella
Sometimes I wonder why Sage even wants her jaded parents to watch her beloved videos with her. Witness, for example, the conversation that took place as Disney's Cinderella was being pitifully pushed around by her Wicked Stepmother...

Nikki: You know, the reason this girl is treated so badly by her step-family is that she enables the abuse. It's partly her fault she's a victim. If she had any self-respect, she would just leave.

Dean: Come on, you have to remember this is set in the somethingth century. She's a single, attractive young girl with no money. Where would she go?

Nikki: Please--look at her. She can clean a huge manor house by herself. She does all the cooking, the laundry, and some minor farm chores. If nothing else, she could go do the same work for some other family and at least get paid for it! You can't tell me this girl is unemployable.

Dean: True, true.

Nikki: Let's not forget that she commands a legion of birds and talking mice. That alone should be worth a healthy signing bonus.

And later, as the kingdom's eligible maidens are presented to the prince at the ball...

Dean: This guy is gay.

Nikki: What!?

Dean: Oh, come on! First, he's probably the most sought-after bachelor in the land, yet his father has to set up this ball just to get him some action. Now he's got every hot young thing in the kingdom lined up to bow to him and show him their cleavage, and he can barely restrain a yawn? He's gay.

Nikki: Hmm.

Dean: And note the subtle application of flesh-toned lipstick.

Nikki: Gak! Okay, you may have a point; but if so, then how come he ends up with Cinderella?

Dean: You said it yourself--she's a victim by nature. He sensed the inherent weakness in her character, and knew that her tendency to let herself be pushed around would make her the perfect beard to cover his gay little peccadilloes.

Nikki: Damn, you're right.

(Nikki ponders in silence while Sage continues to watch with oblivious delight.)

Nikki: With a first name like 'Charming', it really should have been obvious...
Nikki bit in at 11:51 AM :: ::
Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Today is Trivia Day.

So let us all be trivial!

I should have known that my Happy Holiday Hiatus did not mean that my clients were easing off on their usual rush-rush schedule; rather, they were just saving it all up to unload in one big shitstorm once the season was over. There's so much of it that it's challenging just trying to figure out the order in which I should accomplish the various tasks. And to make matters worse, most of them are just revisions of prior stuff, which means that profit from all this work will be minimal.

So it looks like I will be maintaining blog silence for this week at least, in between frantic bouts of copywriting, and almost equally frantic sessions of playing my new PC game, Vampire the Masquerade--Bloodlines. (Which Dean bought for me, by the way; it's funny how he thinks I totally spoiled him on his birthday when he goes around spoiling me alll the time!)

If I had any sense, I would do something less stressful for a breather between tasks, but nooo, I just have to spend my time trying not to be unreasonably terrified as my fictional character battles ghosts, werewolves, and other vamps, while playing undead detective as I puzzle my way through various mysteries that plague our monstrous little community. But come on, where else do you get say, "Dammit, now I have to eat someone"?

Does anyone else remember this? "Sleep all day, party all night. It's fun being a vampire." Careful, darlings--you'll be showing your age!

Aprendamos el Espanol!
These are two of the most important sentences to learn when traveling in another country...

Where is the bathroom? = Donde estan los servicios? (don-deh-ess-tan-los-sair-veeth-yos)

Do you mind if I smoke? = Le importa que fume? (leh-eem-por-tah-keh-foo-meh)
Nikki bit in at 1:21 PM :: ::
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