Monday, January 28, 2008

Poetry And The Innocence of Children.

They say children say the damnest things but children can also come up with beautiful poetry - simple and from the heart. Their innocence, together with an imbued ability to be in awe of the natural beauty surrounding us and the wonders of life as they grow up, makes them natural poets. Unlike most adults.

We lose something, don't we, as we aged and travel on this journey called life. Tempered by pragmatism and numbed by the harsh realities of life, we no longer feel inspired and rarely are there times of exhilaration or that "eureka" moment, and neither does life allows us the luxury to be melancholic or even time for self-reflection - all necessary ingredients for writing poetry and along with poetry, an appreciation for life.

I certainly can no longer come up with the poems that I had written in my childhood, poems that were kept in a dusty box and tucked away, and re-discovered recently in The Magic of Poetry. Sad actually, for poetry is the language of life.

So, it was with great delight that my 9 year-old daughter told me about her maiden effort at writing poems. Her "What Is Red?" was a simple but delightful piece of poetry that gave me more insights about her than many sessions of father-daughter chats.

Written with a natural rhythm, it shows me her ability to feel, to appreciate and enjoy the natural beauty surrounding us and the simple things that life has to offer, a fast disappearing trait in an age where children are sometimes rushed to grow up, taught to be like adults before their time, without enjoying the best times of theirs and everybody else lives - childhood. It also reminded me what I had lost.

That it came in 2nd after her teacher had submitted it to her school's poetry competition, makes me even prouder of her.

What is Red?
is a rose
as beautiful as can be.

is an apple
as juicy as can be.

is a chilli
as spicy as can be.
is a strawberry
as sweet as can be.

my favorite colour
how beautiful
it is!
- By Teri
Aged 9.

"A poem begins with a lump in the throat, a home-sickness or a love-sickness. It is a reaching-out toward expression; an effort to find fulfillment. A complete poem is one where the emotion has found its thought and the thought has found the words." - American poet Robert Frost

* Related posts :
- The Magic of Poetry
- The Joy of Writing

*For more poems of startling originality :
- View with a Grain of Sand by Wislawa Szymborska
- The Best Poems of The English Language by Harold Bloom

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Of Old Bookstores and Literary Gems.

There is just something magical about old or second-hand bookstores that makes me feel at home. Sure, modern bookstores like Borders and Kinokuniya, all gleamingly bright, lushly carpeted, neatly merchandised and having the "hip" element makes them a nice place to shop but to me, nothing compares to the 60s' and 70s' feel that a run-down old bookstore have.

Perhaps it's only me, at an age where I start to miss the many old familiar landmarks, cultural icons and old neighbourhoods that are fast disappearing in the face of relentless modernisation, and old bookstores, with their musty smells of old books, dusty shelves and counters that have seen better days and haphazard merchandising methods that have no apparent system to them, represent a trip down memory lane - back to a time when I was a boy, spending many splendid afternoons browsing old books, rummaging through dusty tomes and the joy of unearthing literary gems. Almost like a time-machine.

So it was with great delight that I chanced upon an old bookstore, tucked away in a row of old shops, on a recent trip to town. And what a find it was, turning up 2 sizzling reads :

1. People Of The Book by Geraldine Brooks.
A Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction in 2006 for her novel, March, Geraldine Brooks' People of The Book is an epic and fascinating tale based on an actual 15th century Hebrew manuscript, the Sarajevo Haggadah.

Stunningly written, it begins in 1996 in Bosnia, where the rare book, feared destroyed, turned up in a bank vault and the task of analysing and conserving the book falls on rare book conserver, Hanna Heath. As she pores over the ancient manuscript, she finds tiny clues as to its history littering its pages - an insect wing, saltwater marks, wine stains and a fine white hair and begins on a journey to unravel the stories behind the book.

From anti-Semitic 19th-century Vienna to the Spanish Inquisition in 17th-century Venice to 15th-century Barcelona, People of the Book takes us on a journey of historical grandeur and spans centuries and continents, and follows the trials and tribulations of individuals who, driven by circumstances and conscience, created and preserved the Haggadah amid war and persecution. Breathing life into the history of a rare illustrated Hebrew manuscript, People of The Book is an electrifying tale that takes us on a journey from the Haggadah's salvation back to its creation.

2. The Solitude Of Emperors by David Davidar.
A former CEO of Penguin India and the author of acclaimed novel, The House of Blue Mangoes, David Davidar's new work is an unflinching look at fundamentalist beliefs in modern India.

Inspired by the Mumbai riots of the early 1990s' between Hindus and Muslims, Davidar's ambitious and disturbing new novel has Vijay at the heart of the story, a young man who left his suffocating small town home in south India to cosmopolitan Mumbai to work as a journalist for a small but respected magazine - The Indian Secularist. He finds himself in the middle of violent riots and sees the chilling effects of a country caught in a surge of fundamentalism.

Written as a novel within a novel, Davidar's deep understanding of India, its people and cultures is demonstrated by the colourful characters that peppered his story - from the idealistic Rustom Sorabjee, Vijay’s mentor and boss at The Indian Secularist, to his roommate Rao, the wastrel son of a wealthy landowner to the ganja-smoking, poetry-spouting and messiah-like Noah Yesudas. Brutal and honest, The Solitude Of Emperors is a stunningly perceptive novel about India and looks at intolerance and sectarian violence unflinchingly.

*Related posts :
- The Top 5 Books For 2007
- Great Books For The Holidays

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Cassie Edwards Accused of Plagiarism.

An article in the local newspaper recently caught my eye. Headlined :"Romance Novelist Accused of Plagiarism," the article - where popular romance novelist Cassie Edwards was criticised for allegedly using other writers' material in her books without attribution - actually stunned me.

Apparently, Cassie Edwards, the author of more than 100 novels with about 10 million copies in print, had been caught with her hand in the cookie jar after a romance novel website, SmartBitchesTrashyBooks, compared numerous excerpts from her novels with passages from magazines and non-fiction books found through Google's search engine.

Getting it right
One of the examples juxtaposed text from Edwards 1997 novel, Savage Longings, with a passage from George Bird Grinell's The Cheyenne Indians, an ethnography published in 1928. The plagiarism was startling with the stolen passages and words standing out like an ocean beacon shining in the dark of the night.

Worse, she has now angered the biggest name in the romance genre : Nora Roberts, the bestselling romance novelist whose works has sold hundreds of millions of copies. "Given the side-by-side comparisons I've read, it seems clear Ms Edwards copied considerably portions of previously published work and used them in her books without attribution to the original source. By my definition, copying another's work and passing it as your own equals plagiarism. As a writer, a reader and a victim of plagiarism, I feel very strongly on this issue," she told The Associated Press.

Plagiarism guide
And the accusations of plagiarism seems to be growing. In an interview with Newsweek, nature writer Paul Tolme, accused Cassie Edwards of copying his work on the endangered black-footed ferrets in her romance novel Shadow Bear.

What took the cake was Edwards defence. In an interview with Associated Press, she acknowledged that she sometimes "takes" material from reference books but did not know she was supposed to credit her sources. Come on! A writer with at least 25 years experience not knowing basic protocol and etiquette? Even much lesser mortals like me know the need to first ask permission and attribute accordingly any borrowed content, notwithstanding the doctrine of fair-use.

Having been a victim of content theft myself, I can certainly understand the anger felt by those whose works have been stolen by Cassie Edwards, but while plagiarism - something that is very common and happening with increasingly regularity in the Web - is a nasty habit that lesser mortals like me have to live with, it has never occurred to me that it can happen in the hallowed halls of established and published authors.

If the accusations are true, it just goes to prove that nothing is sacred anymore, not ethics or hard work - just instant gratification, money and fame. The joy and pride in the efforts that are needed for any success seem to be traits that are fast disappearing in modern society where the incessant need for instant success without wanting to put in the efforts required has led to an erosion of values like ethics, hard work and integrity. That it is happening in the hallowed halls of the literary world just makes it so much harder to accept.

*Further reading :
- Romance Novelist Accused of Copying - The New York Times.
- Paul Tolme Amused by Cassie Edwards - Newsweek.
- Plagiarism by BeboAuthor

* Other interesting literary news :
- The World's Most Published Author.
- Robert Ludlum & The Business of Ghost Writing.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Life Unlive - An Untold Story.

A Short Story By My Den
"How is Patient No. 2 today?" Doctor Ang asked. "Same as usual, staring into space," replied nurse Devi. Entering the ward, Doctor Ang saw the back of Patient No.2, with her long white hair, sitting in front of the window. In her 70's, she is the longest-staying patient in the Institute of Mental Health. Nobody knew her name and all efforts to trace her family and relatives were fruitless. She was found dumped at the Institute's gate one morning 53 years ago.....

"Stop!, Ah Mui, no!," shouted her mother. Ah Mui was banging her head repeatedly into the wall, the living room was a mess of broken glass and porcelain. Blood was streaming down her face and dripping onto the floor. Since she was 8 years old, Ah Mui has been suffering from fits accompanied with violence and destructive behaviour. Now a teenager, she had on occasions, attacked her mother, siblings and even strangers during her frequent bouts of fits.

Writing guide
With her husband having abandoned the family and three other children to care for, Ah Mui's mother found it extremely hard to cope and care for her. There were also the gossips and friction in the family to deal with : "I think she is possessed, better don't go near her," neighbours would warned their children. "We cannot live here anymore as we are frightened of her. Ma, you have to do something!" implored the eldest son.

While her fits has always been a part of Ah Mui's life since she was young, it deteriorated rapidly 3 years ago when one day.......

"Ah Seng, I am home!" shouted Ah Mui's mother. With no sign of her alcoholic husband, she started to call out to Ah Mui but instead heard crying coming from her room. The scene that greeted her in the room chilled her heart.

Writing guide
Ah Mui was crouching in a corner, her clothes in tatters and hair dishevelled with blood and bruises on her face. "What happened, Ah Mui?" she cried. All Ah Mui could uttered was : "Papa...he...very pain here..." she pointed to her groin. Ah Mui was only 11 years old.

Out of shame and not wanting to subject her family to further humiliation, Ah Mui's mother did not report the rape to the authorities. Since that fateful day, her husband has not been seen and Ah Mui's condition degenerated rapidly.

"Who is making all that noise so early in the morning?" Duty Nurse Chin grumbled, irritated that the loud wailing had woke her from her much needed rest. Looking out the window, she was shocked to see a young girl been tied to the gates of the Institute, wailing and struggling to be free of the ropes.
The magic of words
So began Ah Mui's stay at the Institute of Mental Health. For 53 years, Ah Mui had never talked, just the occasional mutterings that nobody understood. Staring blankly at the walls all day long, her nights were always accompanied by her wailings.

Each day passes placidly and for 53 years, Ah Mui never had any visitors, not her mother, siblings or relatives.

Going through the paperwork, Nurse Devi just couldn't help being distracted by Patient No. 2 : "Just who was she ?," she wondered.

Patient no. 2 passed away in her sleep last night, leaving no trace of her identity. No siblings, relatives or friends were by her side when she slipped away.

*Author footnote :
As a reflection of the times and the stresses of living in a modern society, the incidences of people suffering from mental illness have being rising worldwide. A taboo subject in most societies, many are shunned, treated like pariahs and dumped at mental institutions by their families, just like Ah Mui, many.... with lives unlive.

*More stories by MyDen
- The Boy Who Saw Angels

Saturday, January 5, 2008

A Pleasant Surprise From Blog Catalog.

Five days into 2008 and what a way to start the new year!

A recent participation in Bloggers Unite In Acts Of Kindness, an event organised by Blog Catalog, had turned into an unexpected but pleasant surprise as my post was among the top 20 as announced in the campaign results.

While there was never an intention to participate for the purpose of winning any prizes or garnering attention, and especially in a kindness campaign where everyone participating is a winner, the unexpected result nevertheless provided a positive boost as the campaign included hundreds of bloggers around the world coming together in acts of kindness.

Taking part in Bloggers Unite In Acts Of Kindness has also changed the way i perceived certain things. To be honest, there was a certain discomfort with coming out with a post about my contribution to the campaign and the initial feeling i had when i realised that my...simple act was within the top 20 was actually one of embarrassment as within certain cultures, especially Asian, and definitely the older generation, drawing attention to good deeds is actually not the norm.

But having seen the viral nature of blogging, from the Myammar crisis - where local bloggers were the first to alert the world about the abuses by the regime - to Blog Action Day to the Bloggers Unite in Acts Of Kindness campaign, i realised a lot of good can actually come out if the message is spread. A reply by Rich of CopyWriteInk to my comment on his article about this campaign, aptly summed it up :

"It took me almost ten years to learn that sometimes the result of saying nothing is the same result as doing nothing. Times have changed. It used to be that everyone did good deeds and didn't talk about them. But something changed. People stopped doing good deeds because they believed they were the only ones. Nowadays, it requires a few brave people to stand up and say that they did something good to inspire others."

Bloggers Unite In Acts Of Kindness, with the multitude of bloggers who took part, clearly demonstrated that blogging can be an effective platform for change and reinforced the views in one of my earlier article - Blogging, Society and What It Means To Me - about the impact of blogging on society and its effectiveness as a platform for dissemination of information.

Like all the great innovations and ideologies in man's history that started with a simple idea or a conviction, it is to the credit of the administrators at Blog Catalog, most notably Tony, Nine, The GoodKnife and Rich, for having the gumption to come out with the campaign and harnessing the power of blogging to do something good for society, especially in a cynical modern world where acts of kindness are sometimes viewed with disbelief or as being hypocritical.

Bloggers Unite In Acts of Kindness have also reinforced a view that i had about Blog Catalog : It is an exceptionally unique blog directory and networking site. Unlike many other networking sites, their responsive behaviour towards members suggestions, most of whom are using the services for free, and genuine efforts in constantly improving the Blog Catalog experience for users is something that is very rare in the wild frontiers of the Web where almost everything is about building eyeballs and traffic in the shortest possible time, and the resultant monetary value they can fetch when these sites are sold.

Together with keeping a tight lid on spam, the Blog Catalog team have succeeded in creating a strong sense of belonging in its community members and in attracting large numbers of respectable and notable bloggers throughout the world, and as a result, the standards of the members' discussions is a notch or two higher than other networking sites, making them a delight to participate.

Blog Catalog is a networking site with a difference and with the social conscience it had recently displayed, truly deserves the "Premier" tag to its name.

If there is one New Year wish that i have to make, it will be to see Blog Catalog grow from strength to strength, to the size and popularity of MySpace or Facebook, while retaining its core set of guiding principles that made it such a wonderful experience.

*Related posts :
- Bloggers Unite In Acts Of Kindness
- Blogging, Society and What It Means To Me