Quote: Kurt Vonnegut

“Here is a lesson in creative writing.

First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.

And I realize some of you may be having trouble deciding whether I am kidding or not. So from now on I will tell you when I’m kidding.

For instance, join the National Guard or the Marines and teach democracy. I’m kidding.

We are about to be attacked by Al Qaeda. Wave flags if you have them. That always seems to scare them away. I’m kidding.

If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”

~ from A Man Without a Country

“To Myself at Eight” and “The Disappearance” by Samantha Lê published in Hypertrophic Literary, Summer 2017 Issue

I’m happy to announce that my poems “To Myself at Eight” and “The Disappearance” are featured in the beautiful Summer 2017 issue of Hypertrophic Literary. [Available online and in print].

About “To Myself at Eight”

In the passing along of female traditions, the cost of such inheritance is often freedom.  Mothers packaged their seasoned fears and self-imposed limitations into neat boxes, which they gift to their daughters in the form of expectations and wisdom.  Be pretty, they say.  Be quiet and demure.  Don’t be smarter than men.  An unmarried woman is incomplete, etc.  How do girls, born free but aren’t raised free, emancipate themselves from this inherited mental slavery when the well-meaning people in the lives, mothers, aunts, grandmothers—the ones responsible for their development into womanhood—insist upon oppression disguised as traditions?  [page 8]

About “The Disappearance”

Written in three parts, this poem occupies the space created by the aftermath of an event.  The reader enters the poem after a family unit has been broken apart, and as the dust settles the damage reveals itself.  In part 1, the reader is introduced to the husband and father.  Left and indignant, he expresses his anger outwardly, losing control on everyday objects.  In part 3, the left child expresses her anger inwardly, learning secretive ways to cope.  And sandwiched between them in part 2 are their shared memories of the woman who’s disappeared from their lives—wife, mother, buffer—leaving behind people who are just as broken as she was.  [page 30]

About Hypertrophic Literary

Hypertrophic Press is an independent press that publishes both books and a quarterly literary magazine.  Digital issues are $3 each.  Printed issues are $10 each.  [visit website]


Related Links

“Second Name” by Samantha Lê published in the anthology Spring Mother Tongue, May 2017

Thank you Arlene Biala and the office of the Poet Laureate of Santa Clara County for putting together this inspiring project.

About “Second Name”

My journey started with the fall of Saigon when my family became refugees in a country that was once our home.  During the decade of waiting and failed attempts to leave, we wore many labels.  From the refugee camp in Bangkok to the immigration office in San Francisco, everywhere I landed, I was stamped with a new word for my identity.  And when I became an American citizen, like most immigrant children, I was given a second name—a new American name for my new American life.

I employed the poetic sequence for this narrative because it allows me to imply connections without making transitions.  The abrupt shifts in time and space show how memory invades the present without conforming to the order that we try to impose onto life.  And the form also speaks to the splintering aspect of an identity spread across continents and cultures.

About Spring Mother Tongue

In the spirit of the “My Name, My Identity” campaign, poets were invited to submit original works that honor their names.  Twenty-three poets were selected for this anthology by Arlene Biala, Poet Laureate of Santa Clara County.  Cover art by Trinidad Escobar and graphic design by Jerrick McCullough.  Books are $10 each.  [Available for purchase.]

In the Fog

Read “In the Fog” by Giovanni Pascoli

Quote: Jack Kerouac

“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”

George Saunders on Revising

If you’re a writer, then revising is a religion you must actively practice.  I joined a writing group recently, and for the critique session, most of the members brought in their first draft.  No one should see your first draft but you, and even then, you should be cringing and giving that first draft the stink eye while you’re reworking it.

Revising is much more than running spellchecks and fixing grammatical mistakes.  Each draft is an opportunity to be more succinct and exact.  I ask myself the same question every time: does this detail move the narrative/poem forward and/or add to the evolution of my character(s)?  For me, there’s an exchange of respect between writer and reader.  I show my reader respect by taking pride in my craft; and the reader, in return, treats my work with the respect that it has inherited from my labor.

In his conversation with Seth Myers last week, George Saunders addressed the notion of revising as a form of respect, but he included a third party, whom I hadn’t considered.  He spoke of a triangle of respect among the writer, character and reader.  To Saunders, the writer shows respect for her reader’s intelligence by elevating her character into a genuine representative of humanity; and in return, the reader gives respect to the character and writer by taking the time to savor and understand the complexities of her richly developed fictional being.

How does one elevate a character through a series of revisions?  Below, I’ll walk you through a revising exercise similar to what Saunders had discussed on Seth Meyers’ show.

Draft #1:  I’ve written two perfectly acceptable sentences.

John is tall.  He can reach the top of the black bookcase.

Draft #2:  Let’s tighten this up.  If John can reach the top of the bookcase, is it necessary to also say that he’s tall?  No.  Does the bookcase being black contribute to the development of John’s character?  No.  This is what I’m left with:

John is tall.  He John can reach the top of the black bookcase.

Draft #3:  Let’s think about why the reader would care that John can reach the top of the bookcase.  Just being tall is not an interesting characteristic; but if I delete the bookcase, then I’d just be left with: John.  I need to give John some sort of existential motivation, a purpose for his ability to reach high places.

John can reach the top of the bookcase where Jane hides the rent money.

Now, I’ve implied that John might not be a trustworthy fella by introducing a character who feels she needs to hide money from him.  Jane adds a layer of complexity to John’s character with one simple action towards him.  But I haven’t given Jane’s suspicions towards John credibility, so let’s add a second sentence.

John can reach the top of the bookcase where Jane hides the rent money.  She suspects he goes to the tracks on nights when he should be attending AA meetings.

Draft #4:  John is now a tall, thieving gambler with an addiction problem that he may or may not be trying to get a handle on.  He’s more interesting than the original tall John, but he’s not yet a rounded human being.  No one is all bad all the time.  How can I make John more human and relatable?  He needs redeeming traits.

John can reach the top of the bookcase where Jane hides the rent money.  She suspects he’s back to boozing when he sneaks off to the dance hall, but he’s actually learning the tango to surprise her on their silver anniversary.

Now, John is not just a tall man, he’s a tall man who still loves his wife enough after twenty-five years of marriage to try and surprise her.  He’s also a man with a wife who’s still working on forgiveness.  John is starting to look human.

I thought Saunders’s exercise broke down the revision process in an interesting and digestible way, and I wanted to share my own take of it with you.  I don’t plan to return to the writing group that I’d joined, but I’m hopeful that I’ll soon find others who share my faith in revising.

Related Link

The Guardian: “George Saunders: what writers really do when they write

Quote: Charles Bukowski

“When I begin to doubt my ability to work the word, I simply read another writer and know I have nothing to worry about. My contest is only with myself, to do it right, with power, and force, and delight, and gamble.”