On the Power of Language

Words have power.

There is a reason why in fantasy narratives (and in many actual cultures), words are believed to have the ability to shape and change the world – words can become spells. Yet, we, as authors, already know this. They shape the worlds we create in our heads, those realms of the imagination that can have the power to shape the minds of others. 

Words are in the perpetual act of becoming.

We add meaning to words as we speak them, as we use them. Words shift and change and take on new contexts and associations. They grow. Words are not flat, stable things, but rather they are chimerical, transformative creatures, changing over time and in new contexts. Words are perpetually on the cusp of becoming something, and that process of becoming is shaped by they history and experience (just like a character).

Words are acts as well, evocations to that history, that chimerical process that shaped them. When we use words, we call up the ghosts of their past and apply them to new settings, to new ideas, and they absorb and consume these new ideas. Yet words are also things that are felt, that have bodily resonance – when we speak them, our mouths shape them, resonate with them; when we sign them (for sign language users), our bodies move with them, shaping them through our dance; even when we read them, we shape the words with our eyes. 

One of the activities that I do with my writing students is to introduce them to words that they aren’t familiar with, words that are new to them, and then invite them to explore the resonance of words in their bodies, examine how the words make them feel, what they are associated with in their minds. I use English words that are no longer used, words from other languages that don’t have adequate English translations, and ASL signed words to get them to feel words in different ways and to see the narratives that can come from word play. I then ask them to look at English words in a way that defamiliarizes them, looking at their sounds, their interplay, and the feel of them. 

Words become stories.

My writing students quickly discover that there are whole stories within words and that stories can spring from a particular word. Certain words can be touchstones for a character, aptly describing them in a single utterance. Certain words can be environmental, shaping a setting by their resonance with place. Certain words can contain an entire narrative because words have entire worlds inside of them. 

I frequently ask students to explore how words can create a character, looking at the meaning in a word and how it shapes a personality, a thought pattern, or way of being. 

Words have the power to shape the way we think – language patterns shape our process of thinking and the way we codify information. Words can be played with to inspire new ways of thinking, new ways of viewing and understanding the world around us. I often suggest that people play with words, play with their sounds and the ideas that they evoke in order to create narrative, to build new ideas. 

Consider the words that you use every day. Think about what ideas they embed in your consciousness, how they reflect you. Think about the way that the language you use shapes certain codes of thinking and understanding. Think about how words create you. 

When we write and when we read, words bounce around inside, bringing up images, patterns. Words change us. Consider the extra dimension a consideration of words brings to your reading process and think about how words can inspire a new way of writing. Consider the poetry of words and the magic that they evoke in us.

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Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 67: A Discussion of Sandra Kasturi’s The Animal Bridegroom

In this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, I explore the folkloric poetry of Sandra Kasturi’s collection The Animal Bridegroom. I explore Kasturi’s poetic re-imagining of several fairy tales and the power of the spoken word.

You can listen to this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio at the link below.

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This audio file was originally broadcast on Trent Radio, and I would like to thank Trent Radio for their continued support. I would also like to thank Dwayne Collins for his consistent tech support and help with the intricacies of creating audio files.

Make sure to allow a few minutes for the file to buffer since it may take a moment before it begins to play.

Fairy Tales Estranged

Fairy Tales Estranged A review of Sandra Kasturi’s “The Animal Bridegroom” (Tightrope Books).

By Derek Newman-Stille

  
“The Animal Bridegroom” leaves a breadcrumb trail of poems to bring the reader through cultural myths and legends to a place of self-reflection. Sandra Kasturi uses fairy tale themes to open a pathway into the deep woods of myth, where she explores the changeable power of stories, their ability to shift and change like the seasons. 

In her poem “The Gretel Papers”, Kasturi invites the reader to look at the impact of fairy tales on the characters. Fairy tales normally don’t explore beyond the happily ever after, but Kasturi invites us to ponder what would happen to the young protagonist of Hansel and Gretel after Gretel has killed the witch and has to live with the long term effect of her actions. Here we encounter a Gretel who has experienced a lifetime of depression and post-traumatic stress.

In “Chaos Theory”, she explores the way that we live surrounded by myth, enwrapped in a w world of words and stories that shape us and that we can’t escape from. We are made up of the cultural stories we are told.

In “Verses for the Lost”, Kasturi uses the Red Riding Hood myth to remind all of us that we are lost in the forest and reminds us that there are no final destinations in life and that everything is always changeable (including grandmothers who wear their wolf suit on the inside).

In “Five Cantos from the Prayer Book of Aphrodite”, the reader is drawn into questions about love and its complexity, invited to imagine the diversity of love and the notion that some people’s horror is the adoration of others.

“Carnival Perpetuel” highlights that the Cinderella tale is a tale about time and the passage of time. It explores the way that we imagine ourselves into the future and, especially, highlights the way that women’s time is structured in a patriarchal world, exploring the demands on women’s time, the devaluing of women’s work, and the notion that women are always structured as existing in a temporal framework, always at risk of running out of time since women are told in our society that their value only exists so long as they are young. Kasturi teaches us about the dangers of wishing for a better life and that these wishes often serve to continue current oppressions of women.

“The Animal Bridegroom” reminds us of the significance of fairy tales and the power that narratives have to shape our lives. She brings attention to the changeability of the world and its tendency to shift the narratives we tell ourselves. Sandra Kasturi weaves a spell of words around the reader, performing a difficult type of magic – the magic of transforming the way we think about the world around us.

To discover more about “The Animal Bridegroom”, visit Tightrope Books at http://tightropebooks.com/the-animal-bridegroom-sandra-kasturi-w-introduction-by-neil-gaiman/

Chilly Renewal

A review of Dominik Parisien’s “My Child Has Winter in His Bones” in Tesseracts Seventeen: Speculating Canada From Coast to Coast (Edge, 2013)

Cover photo for Tesseracts Seventeen courtesy of Edge

Cover photo for Tesseracts Seventeen courtesy of Edge

By Derek Newman-Stille

In My Child Has Winter in His Bones, Dominik Parisien evokes his characteristic blend of the human and the landscape, amalgamating a child with the icy lake where his parent fishes. Like much of his poetry, this piece evokes the horror and beauty of a body modified and the child in this poem is described as being almost fish-tank-like, clear and full of aquatic matter. There is a beauty in the image of the body as a living landscape, an ice-scape imbued with life and yet always temporary, doomed to thaw in the spring. Parisien evokes the beauty of the permeable body, a body that is revealed as being integrated with its environment even though we spend so much time as a society creating barriers around our bodies, trying to suggest that they are separate from their environments.
Although a temporary body, the child’s body evokes the image of renewal, a body that is forged from the ice and then melts in the spring to be re-formed.
Unlike most poetry that is obsessed with images of youth symbolised in spring and growth, Parisien reverses this paradigm by equating youth with winter, with the freeze, and with a season that we tend to think of as inherently liminal, frozen, between times: the Winter. Parisien invites his readers to question why we associate youth with the Spring and asks us to look at the shallow way we observe youth and the passage of the seasons.
To discover more about Dominik Parisien, visit his website at https://dominikparisien.wordpress.com/
To discover more about Tesseracts Seventeen, visit Edge’s website at http://www.edgewebsite.com/books/tess17/t17-catalog.html

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 19: An Interview with Dominik Parisien

When I mention Speculative Poetry to most people, they respond with a bit of confusion. I often think this may be because they are seeing poetry as the quintessential example of  high culture and anything “genre” as the pits of low, popular culture… then again, maybe they just picture poems like this:

Roses are Red
Aliens are Green
Space is vast and largely unseen.

But, that isn’t what speculative poetry is like (unless I am attempting to write it).

Dominik Parisien is a master wordsmith, able to play with language in such a way that all communicative forms become weirded. He shows both the potential of language to push boundaries, and also the inadequacy of non-poetic forms of communication for capturing the complexity of an emotional situation.

In our interview Dominik and I discuss aging, disability, poetry, high versus low culture, the human body, sexuality, and so many things. For some of the answers, Dominik realised that poetry was the only way to answer the question adequately and that conventional speech was too limiting to express the full body of emotion, thought, feeling, philosophy, and ideal that poetry can bring together with clever word play and evocative image intermixing.

A brilliant editor, author, and scholar, Dominik will fascinate you and inspire you to open the world up to questions. I hope that you enjoy our interview as much as I did!!

Explore Trent Radio at www.trentradio.ca

Explore Trent Radio at http://www.trentradio.ca

 

This audio file was originally broadcast on Trent Radio, and I would like to thank Trent Radio for their continued support. I would also like to thank Dwayne Collins for his consistent tech support and help with the intricacies of creating audio files.

Make sure to allow a few minutes for the file to buffer since it may take a moment before it begins to play.

You can explore some of my reviews of Dominik Parisien’s poems at:

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2013/09/12/hidingrevealing/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2012/10/01/the-green-in-the-human/

You can explore Dominik’s website at https://dominikparisien.wordpress.com/

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 16: A Discussion About the Author Readings of Ian Rogers and Sandra Kasturi with Leif Einarson

In this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, Dr. Leif Einarson and I discuss the works of Ian Rogers and Sandra Kasturi. We play audio files of author readings by Ian Rogers and Sandra Kasturi and then follow up with a discussion of these works.

Dr. Einarson researches medieval literature, Norse literature, and Canadian literature.

Ian Rogers is the award-winning Peterborough author of Every House is Haunted and SuperNOIRtural Tales. His work “The House on Ashley Avenue” has recently been optioned for television.

Sandra Kasturi is the award-winning poet, writer, editor, and co-publisher of ChiZine Publications. Her poetry collections The Animal Bridegroom and Come Late to the Love of Birds combine the poetic with the speculative.

Listen to these wonderful author readings and hear the nuances of the authors’ voices and then enjoy discussions of their work and insights into some of the ideas evoked by their work.

 

Explore Trent Radio at www.trentradio.ca

Explore Trent Radio at http://www.trentradio.ca

This audio file was originally broadcast on Trent Radio, and I would like to thank Trent Radio for their continued support. I would also like to thank Dwayne Collins for his consistent tech support and help with the intricacies of creating audio files.

Make sure to allow a few minutes for the file to buffer since it may take a moment before it begins to play.

Speculative Poetics

By Derek Newman-Stille

Speculative poetry tends to be largely ignored, cast between pages of short stories deemed superior by those who crave narrative hegemony, treated as filler. But there is a power in speculative poetry, a question forged not just of content but of resistance to the hegemony of grammar.
Poetry speaks to me as an artist. Used to pulling together myths in images into a frame, poetry is, in many ways, the closest parallel in words to what I try to do with paint. It is a blending flow of word into word, creating a snapshot moment of beauty.
There is a play with words that a poet can evoke, a teasing of meaning and potential from phonemes, speaking to more than the assemblage of letters and sounds. Because of their economy of words, poets need to pack a multiplicity of meanings into each syllable, encompassing often contradictory potentials in each word. They play with the cultural history of semiotics, questioning the ontology of language.
Some poetry has to be spoken aloud, tasted on the tongue as it rolls forth made of breath and myths and worlds formed of licks.
Poetry reminds us that words are worlds, myths built in themselves, and they shouldn’t be cast to the fringes of speculative works, but find their own position of interest, inviting the reader to speculate in a different way, explore those spaces and Spaces between letters (galaxies of meaning in themselves).
I would like to see speculative poetry find a place more central in the genre, not treated as a dirty secret cast into the dark spaces between short stories, closeted in dirty laundry. I would like to see more anthologies, speculative magazines, and other collections search for powerful poetry, rather than often defaulting to that which resembles a short story cut off too soon, and instead bring attention to poetry that plays with words, speculates about meaning, and constructs worlds inside of words.

Original Art By Derek Newman-Stille  http://www.dereknewmanstille.ca/

Original Art By Derek Newman-Stille
http://www.dereknewmanstille.ca/