Stream of Consciousness

Stream of consciousness is a representation of the internal monologue of a fictional character or other kinds of writing which attempt to reproduce the thought process of the mind. Often in this form, syntax, punctuation, and other conventions are not strictly observed, and stream of consciousness writing can seem disconnected or fragmented, leaving the reader to make imaginative leaps of interpretation to make sense of the work. Some writers I like who have employed this technique especially well are James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Samuel Beckett.

For an example of this, hit this link to check out a post by a blogger friend of mine, human being, who uses a punctuation device (the ellipse ... ) to give the effect of one thought streaming into the next. And if you'd like to see another example, have a look at a post I did a while back, Toy Trains. Finally, you'll see below a short example of stream of consciousness poetry I've attempted. If you would like to give this kind of writing a try, leave me a comment so I can see what you come up with. I bet that you'll even surprise yourself with what creeps from the depths of the mind.


Fish have five second memories

I'm a fish
that's a castle
eat the algae
eat the floating crud
yummy
parade of faces
magnified eyes
it's a castle
creepy skull
plastic plants
what's that net
where am I going
out of the water
into a tea cup
nothing but circles
hint of coffee
wanna go home
where is home
is that a bubble
feels like flying
where am I now
are those fish flakes
eat them anyways
they taste like sawdust
it's still some good
what's that castle
I'm a fish
I'm a fish

Short Prose

"Not that the story needs to be long,
but it will take a long while to make it short."

-- Henry David Thoreau

Ranging anywhere from a single paragraph to a few thousand words, short prose is primarily distinguished by its brevity. Sometimes called the short-short story, the prose poem, the vignette, or the sketch, short prose has become increasingly popular in recent years. A brief prose work can create certain effects and concentrations of suggestiveness that a longer piece of writing cannot, and often in short prose the impact on the reader is more immediate and more intense than in a longer work. However, with this comes the challenge of being spare with words and details. As Thoreau tells us in the quote above, by making the story shorter it may become more difficult to write. Some examples of famous short prose in English are Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour", Jamaica Kincaid's "Girl", and Samuel Beckett's "Lessness".

Because of the brevity of blog posts (or the brevity of attention span of blog readers) many bloggers have taken up short prose as a way to work expressively and connect with their audience. Two bloggers I especially recommend checking out are Jimmy (a Scottish blogger whose wit and humor springs from the bottomless well of everyday life) and Pisces Iscariot (who is sometimes surreal, sometimes morbid, but always entertaining).

All of the links above will lead you to writings of between 300 and 3000 words, however short prose certainly does not need to be this length. I would contend that even a few sentences are a work of short prose, and in closing this post I offer, humbly, a very short prose piece. If you decide to try one for yourself, leave me a comment so I can have a look... I'd love to see what you come up with.


Lake Portage

Jed and I had carried the canoe for a couple miles when we finally came to Lake Portage. It was disappointing to see it was all dried up -- only beach rocks left over like once was an ocean rolling where we stood. The gulls flew overhead and there were crushed shells beneath our feet.

"I know," said Jed. "I never really figured we'd catch any fish either. But the hike was worth it all the same."

I thought it was a fairly fine line that Jed had cast, as I didn't think he had a click to begin with, and there's ten thousand clicks in a clue.

Reviews

I decided for this post to bundle together a number of different kinds of reviews, though admittedly there is much more to say on these than could be encapsulated in a short post. There are entire degree programs teaching these deceptively simple skills, and writing a good review is certainly an art all its own. There is no single, steadfast formula to follow when reviewing, and it's always a good idea to be responsive to the particular subject, be it a book, movie, restaurant, art work, band, etc..

There are, however, some fairly obvious conventions of any kind of review. It makes sense to tell the name, title, or designation of whatever you are reviewing. Also it's a good idea to name the writer, chef, artist, director, or otherwise important people involved. Most reviews will offer an evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of the particular subject, and compare it to similar things in its particular field. But in my opinion, the most important element of a good review is to say what you think, what you like or dislike, and if you would recommend this to others. After all, it's your opinion that the reader is interested in here. What follows are some links to sites that may be of interest as examples of reviews. I have linked some commercial sites and some independent reviewers for each category.


Restaurant Review Links


Restaurant Thing -- Offers thousands of reviews, but only in English speaking countries. Unfortunately this means that restaurants in France (and everywhere else in the world) are off the list!

Andy Hayler's Michelin Restaurants Guide -- It may seem odd, but Michelin (yes the tire company) sponsors a rating of the "finest" restaurants in the world. On Andy's site you can read reviews of some of these restaurants, but if you're interested in going to one yourself, make sure you have lots of $$$. Some of these reviews are, frankly, rife with snobbery, but fun to read all the same.

Burrito Blog -- Yeah, you guessed it... this blog reviews only burritos and places that sell burritos. It is not a coincidence that I put this next to the reviews of the Michelin restaurants.

7-West Cafe -- This is an unconventional review of a restaurant I worked at in Toronto.


Book Review Links


allreaders.com -- allreaders.com has a searchable index of thousands of book reviews.

GoodReads -- GoodReads is a site where individuals offer their thoughts on most any book you can name.

Kristin's Book Blog -- Kristin has been reviewing books on her blog since 2005. She has a fascinating project underway to review the Modern Library top 100 books of the 20th century. She is over half way there. New reviews appear on her site weekly.

Novel Readings -- Rohan is an English professor and literary critic. Her reviews are extremely nuanced, and she balances dense detail with a lively wit and quick sense of humor.


Movie and TV Review Links


Internet Movie Database -- No explanation needed. This is likely the biggest movie review and information site on the internet.

Rotten Tomatoes -- Offers new movie reviews and previews

Tassoula's Movie Review Blog -- A blog maintained by an independent film critic from Seattle.

Tv-series and videos -- A site kept up by Julius from Sweden. He has been blogging for only a month now, but has reviewed many of his favorite shows.


Music Review Links


Metacritic -- Metacritic reviews new releases of music, as well as films, games, and television.

Rolling Stone -- Sometimes there seems to be more advertisements than reviews, but Rolling Stone is one of the industry pillars for music reviews.

MW Music Review Blog -- And independent music reviewer from Ottawa, mostly interested in Indie.



Of course, there are many other kinds of reviews that you might want to do. The links above are only meant to provide some ideas of the diversity of reviews you might like to try. It's also interesting to see the similarities between all these different types of reviews, how they share many of the same general conventions. If you decide to try a review, leave me a comment so I can check it out, and if you find a great place for burritos, be sure and let the reviewers at Burrito Blog know... we wouldn't want them to miss it!

Letters

The idea for this writing prompt is very straightforward. Write a letter to someone or something. You don't necessarily have to send the letter, and it doesn't have to be written to anyone that you know. In fact, you might have some fun writing a letter to an inanimate object, or to your favorite artist, or your least favorite politician.

Here's a link to a blog site that is dedicated entirely to what are called 'Open Letters'. Some of the letters on this site are addressed to Martha Stewart, toilet paper, someone's dog, the 'home' key on the keyboard, youtube, and many others. Of course, these kinds of letters don't have to be funny, and sometimes a letter is the best way to express the thoughts and feelings you may have about something sad or personal. Below you'll find a letter that I wrote when I was thinking about this post that may come under the more sad version:

==========================================

Dear Dorothy,

I don't actually believe in an afterlife, or that you can read the words that I'm writing, but I still wanted to say that you didn't deserve to be treated this way. I would condemn your family or the barbarous times you must have lived through, except people today are much the same. Sometimes I don't know what else to do than write down a few words, and put them in the mail. I guess I'm trying to say, I'm sorry. I'm sorry that you had to be treated this way, and I hope that during your life you were able to enjoy something of the beauty of the world, and that it was not all as it would seem. I try to imagine what you looked like, and I try to imagine your hair in sunlight. I try to think of the ways that you made others laugh, how you laughed, and I try not to think of what inspired the hatred inscribed on your gravestone. If nothing else, let these words be a pledge on my behalf to never treat anyone this way, to always seek out the best in my fellows, and to live as fully as I can each and every day. I don't believe in an afterlife, but I will say all the same, rest in peace.

Jon

p.s.
All that is known about Dorothy Ann Whitaker

==========================================

Journal Entries

One of the most common kinds of blog posts are journal entries. Many people keep journals of their thoughts, their daily life, their travels, restaurants they've visited, music they like, book read, etc.. The only real difference with blogging is that other people can read what you've written, if you choose to share your blog with the public. Journaling is said to be therapeutic, and is reported to be a good way to reduce stress -- something about getting things out and on paper (or on the web as the case may be). Some people keep journals all their lives, and have a wealth of memories they can reflect on, or a place to start when they want to write their memoirs.

I am not going to belabor this post, or try to tell anyone how to write a journal entry... I'm sure you already know your experience. However, sometimes by writing things down and then looking at what you wrote later on, you may discover things about yourself that you didn't know. If you're stuck for ideas about what to write for a journal entry, try to draw on the simple things in life. Maybe conversations you had at school, or waiting in the line at the grocery store, or even what you had for lunch. I am always amazed by how much there is in the ordinary and seemingly insignificant things in life -- the mundane world is brimming with possibility.

If you are interested in what other people write for journal entries, I'd recommend checking out a blog called Razor blade of life. The author, who calls herself "Z" (though somehow I'm sure that's not her real name ;) has been keeping her blog since 2006 and has roughly 1600 posts.

Happy journaling!

Free Verse Poetry

To open this post, I quote the definition of free verse given by Lewis Turco in the Book of Forms:

"If 'verse' is defined as 'metered language' and 'prose' as 'unmetered language,' then the term 'free verse' is a contradiction in terms because 'verse' cannot be 'free,' for it is 'metered.' The only other possibility, then, is that 'free verse' is 'prose' broken into lines by some means or other" (189).

Now just what is Turco talking about here? Well, let me try to rephrase this another way. One common idea about free verse is that there is no system, no form or guidelines or rules on which the particular poem is based. But what Turco is saying is that all poetry has some kind of system, some way that it works (or should work), otherwise it is simply breaking up prose. When a poet breaks a line there is (usually) some reason why they chose to break the line. Whatever that reason is, the poet has imposed a system of some sort, some conventions that are intended to convey meaning to a reader. For example, a poet may break a line when something in the poem changes, say a door shuts, or a leaf drops from a tree.

This relates to a debate about whether there is or is not form in poetics. Turco is a formalist (one who sees a form in every kind of poem). Even in a radically new poetic system, Turco would turn around and say that there is always a form which carries the content. Another point on the formalist side that is often mentioned is that the albhabet, or any system of language, is based on a form. Otherwise, how would the letter "A" be recognized as the letter "A"?

As for me, I am not convinced that there is a definite form for all poetry, and I am not so keen to divide poetry from prose, or writing from other arts, or arts from any other field of knowledge. I have a difficult time fitting everything in a nice little box -- especially in light of some radical poetics (visual poetry, code poetry) and revolutionary prose (Finnegans Wake, The Double Hook and many others). Postmodern writers and artists are especially interested in the blending and overlapping of forms, and on the non-formalist side of the debate, many would say that there is only one form, and that this form is always changing and re-shaping with new artistic creation.

However, having said this, I am still wary of the term "free verse." Even though a poem I write doesn't have a rhyme scheme, and even though I don't have a set number of syllables in each line, I still have some reason or other that I break the lines where I do or shape the poem as I see fit. So while this is "free" in the sense that it is up to me, there is still a system, some reason that underlies the poem. I choose certain words as opposed to any other words... I do not just write down random letters. And even though sometimes, I must admit, I do write random letters and words, that is then the system, and this system is still intended to convey some meaning.

I don't pretend to have a clear answer for all this, but what I do have is an idea for an example. Below you will find a block or writing:

in the land of inside out I felt awash in gentle rhythms like a rinse cycle danced a thousand tangos with toucans I so wanted to understand their laws of gravity and traffic I kidnapped a cop made him drive in circles while I tossed apples at taxi cabs the drivers cursed me in English and gave me money I was rich as a cat ate spider plants for water I'll never own a fur coat so fine as my cat coat in the land of inside out

If you read this and wanted to divide it into poetic lines, where would you break the lines? What things would you think about in deciding where to make breaks? How about any time you saw the word "I", or any time there was a word that indicated movement. There are innumerable ways that this text could be reworked into poetic lines, and perhaps it's poetic just as it is. I'm not trying to convince you that there is a right way to go about it, but ask yourself, when you write free verse poetry, is there not some reason to create the poem as you do? I do apologize for overcomplicating and taking the fun out of what is supposed to be intuitive and free. Below find my re-working of the text above:

in the land of inside out
I felt awash in gentle rhythms like a rinse cycle
danced a thousand tangos with toucans
I so wanted to understand
their laws of gravity and traffic
I kidnapped a cop
made him drive in circles
while I tossed apples at taxi cabs
the drivers cursed me in English and gave me money
I was rich as a cat
ate spider plants for water
I'll never own a fur coat
so fine as my cat coat
in the land of inside out

Plunderverse

Some say that all poets are thieves. Plunderverse is a form of poetry that encourages the poet to unleash all that pent up kleptomaniac energy in the service of creativity.

Here's the gist of it:

-Find a poem that you like (or even a poem that you loath).

-Take out bits and pieces to make the poem into something different. Work the letters of different words together. Use your lock pick to open up the poem and take the treasure you find inside. What you'll be doing is making a variation on the original, and in the process come up with a distinct poem.

That's it! You're a certified word thug, a poetics pirate, the Jessie James of language, the scourge of the sestina, the brigand of the bards, the... well, you get the point.

If you hit the link above you can read in more detail about the theory behind this form as explained by Gregory Betts, and there's an example he's done on this linked page as well. I've decided to give one a shot based on William Blake's "A Poison Tree". The original first, and then beneath it my plunder:


A Poison Tree


I was angry with my friend;
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I waterd it in fears,
Night & morning with my tears:
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine.

And into my garden stole.
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning glad I see,
My foe outstretchd beneath the tree.

==============================

I was ooooooooo my friend
ooooomy wrath
oooooooooooooooomy foe
ooooooooooomy wrath did grow

ood I oooeod oo in fear
Night & morning with my tears
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles

And it grew both day and night
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine.

And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretchd beneath the tree.

=============================

If you decide to give one of these a try, leave me a comment so I can check it out. Shiver me timbers, and remember, real pirates walk the plank in style.