Would you like to be a published writer or poet? #HOWL is compiling an anthology of words centred on the events and stories of this year. If you would like to submit an original poem or a prose piece (English, 400 words max.), we would love to consider it for our book. Email [email protected] for details and submissions. Note: As for ALL Howl projects, this is a not-for-profit initiative.
- Give yourself time to mature as a writer.
“Well, I’m 34 now. If I don’t make it by the time I’m 60, I’m just going to give myself 10 more years.”
2. Let your creativity find whatever outlet it needs.
“Now print my occasionals out by hand and point them up with drawings (like any other madman). Sometimes I just throw the stories away and hang the drawings up in the bathroom (sometimes on the roller).”
3. Treat the submission of your work like it’s a job.
“I remember when I used to write and send [Story Magazine] fifteen or twenty or more stories a month, and later, three or four or five—and mostly, at least, one a week. From New Orleans and Frisco and Miami and L.A. and Philly and St. Louis and Atlanta and Greenwich Village and Houston and everyplace else.”
4. Sometimes you have to write a lot of bad stuff to get to the good stuff.
“I’m not one to look back on wanton waste as complete loss—there’s music in everything, even defeat.”
5. It’s ok to rely on magic.
“Went back to night school there about a year ago and took some art courses, commercial and otherwise but then too, they moved too slow for me and wanted too much obeisance. I have no definite talent or trade, and how I stay alive is largely a matter of magic.”
6. Don’t worry about grammar.
“Thank you for lessening the blow on my weakness of grammar by mentioning that some of your college friends have trouble with sentence structure. I think some writers do suffer this fate mainly because at heart they are rebellious and the rules of grammar like many of the other rules of our world call for a herding in and a confirmation that the natural writer instinctively abhors.”
7. Don’t overwork your writing. Often, the first is best.
“I have not worked out my poems with a careful will, falling rather on haphazard and blind formulation of wordage, a more flowing concept, in a hope for a more new and lively path.”
8. Work all the jobs.
“Worked in slaughterhouse, dog biscuit factory, Di Pinna’s of Miami beach, copy boy on the New Orleans’ Item, blood bank in Frisco, hung posters in New York subways 40 feet below the sky drunk hopping beautiful golden third rails, cotton in Berdo, tomatoes; shipping clerk, truck driver, horseplayer ordinary, holder down of barstools throughout a dull alarmclock nation, supported by shackjob whores; foreman for American newsco., New York, Sears-Roebuck stock boy, gas station attendant, mailman…”
9. Don’t get an MFA.
“Your criticism correct: poem submitted was loose, sloppy, repetitive, but here’s the kernel: I cannot WORK at a poem. Too many poets work too consciously at their stuff and when you see their work in print, they seem to be saying… see here, old man, just look at this POEM. I might even say that a poem should not be a poem, but more a chunk of something that happens to come out right. I do not believe in technique or schools.”
10. Really, don’t get an MFA.
“Also got your new card today, must agree with you that one can talk poetry away and your life away, and I get more out of being around people—if I have to—who never heard of Dylan or Shakey or Proust or Bach or Picasso or Remb. or color wheels, or what. I know a couple of fighters (one with 8 win streak going), a horseplayer or two, a few whores, x-whores, and the alcoholics; but poets are bad on the digestion and sensibility, and I could make it stronger, but then they are probably better than I make them, and there is a lot of wrong in me.”
11. Writing is maybe like fucking.
“Writing is like most writers think fucking is: just when they start thinking they are doing it pretty good they stop doing it altogether.”
12. There are no bad ideas.
“Idea for literary journal: The Toilet Paper Review… which would be typewritten by me on toilet paper (our motto being, “We Give a Shit!”) would use some carbons in typing and then would glue toilet paper to regular paper and make original cover drawing for each mag sent out.”
13. Avoid excessive dialogue.
“ Two guys talking don’t do much for me.”
14. You can’t write poetry with a beard.
“His beard stands out and tends to save him but you can’t write poetry with a beard.”
15. Be honest with your fellow writers.
“Ah, shit, Carol, these are not very good. I am sitting here drunk + it is raining, has been for days, and these are not very good. […] “Edges” still the best of these. But your last line terrible. 19th-century French-literary Romanticism. What the fuck. You know this. I am going to put out a good magazine. And doing so sometimes means being cruel and being cruel sometimes means being right.”
16. Rejection is good for the soul.
“Of course, shit, hope you can find a poem or two in these; if not return those you cannot use, or the works. rejection is good for the soul. my soul is now a mule.”
A superb reflection on Orwell’s satirical masterpiece, 75-years on.
Time. Au: Tea Obreht
It’s been 75 years since the comrades of the once (and future) Manor Farm first took up the anthem “Beasts of England” and surprised themselves by routing out the tyrant farmer, Mr. Jones, from his holdings. Seventy-five years since the seemingly inalterable tenets of Animalism were scrawled in white paint on the side of the barn, and the enthusiastic dreamer Snowball strove for his short-lived utopia before running afoul of the Berkshire boar Napoleon’s autocratic ambitions.
In the decades since the publication of George Orwell’s seminal work of anti-Stalinist satire, we have seen the collapse of the regime that disturbed and inspired its author; the beginning and end of the Cold War, with all its attendant horrors; and the rise and fall of any number of would-be Napoleons, both at home and abroad. Animal Farm, once a work so controversial that it seemed unlikely to find a publisher, has served for so long, and in so many school curriculums, as the predominant introduction to the concept of totalitarianism that it is in danger of being perceived as trite.
With Animal Farm, Orwell—then a 42-year-old democratic socialist known primarily for essays and journalism exploring social injustice and class iniquities across Europe—hoped only to dissuade his countrymen from what he recognized as a dangerous infatuation with Joseph Stalin. It is indisputable that an author’s intentions for his or her work usually don’t survive publication, let alone the author’s death. Nothing of Animal Farm’s success during Orwell’s lifetime could really augur the varied purposes it would come to serve, or the global behemoth it would quickly become. Pushing back on a critique that Orwell was too light-handed in his reproach of totalitarianism, Julian Symons wrote, “In a hundred years’ time perhaps, Animal Farm may be simply a fairy story, today it is a political satire with a good deal of point.”
That was then, and this is now. Luckily, having spent the last seven and a half decades heeding its warnings and taking its lessons to heart, we have pulled ahead of the dangers Animal Farm hinted we might one day face. As a species, we have defied Orwell’s wildest expectations. Wouldn’t he be thrilled to know that we no longer have need of a text that so explicitly decries authoritarianism, fearmongering, tribalism, historical erasure, factual manipulation and war as an engine of national pride?
Reader, I jest. All evidence points to the fact that we’re in a great deal of very familiar trouble the whole world over. That we so dependably manage to be, despite the existence of prophetic works like Animal Farm, should worry us to the point of despair. But this is the way of our species: memory fades. We grow bored with the lessons of the past. We tell ourselves: things could never get as bad as they once were because, unlike those who came before us, we are good people who know better than to let it happen again.
How, then, are we to read Animal Farm circa 2020?
I was raised in the former Yugoslavia in the mid-1980s, in a household and culture gripped by the distinction between “indoor” and “outdoor” talk. Understanding this was as essential to my early upbringing as table manners or the correct protocol for crossing the street. The gist was: certain conversations were appropriate for public consumption, while others belonged only within the confines of the house. You were expected to use your common sense to distinguish between the two as you grew older, but your starting point was to assume that anything overheard at the dinner table qualified as indoor talk and was not to be discussed with people outside the home; that is, outdoors. You think I’m talking about politics here, reader, but I’m not. Politics was so out of bounds that I can’t remember any adult ever declaring support for any candidate in my presence until we moved to America. I’m talking about simple details of daily existence: a new pencil case that might be misconstrued as a sign of increased wealth, or a sandwich that might give a nosy stranger on a train some false idea about the demographic composition of our family because one of its ingredients may or may not be a certain kind of ham.
People incapable of recognizing the distinction between indoor and outdoor talk—people who might volunteer, a little too eagerly, the outcome of some private development, or some holiday plan, or, the worst of all sins, the affairs of some mutual acquaintance—were to be regarded with disdain and suspicion. For if they didn’t value the sanctity of their own indoor talk, imagine the damage they could inflict if they somehow got ahold of yours!
I have been living in America for 23 years and still have a hair trigger where indoor talk is concerned. This will be with me forever, I suspect, probably hardwired in some remote twist of trauma-blitzed DNA inherent in people worn down by centuries of imperialism and political volatility. Perhaps that’s why, when I did eventually read Animal Farm—sometime in 1997, no doubt, in a suburb of Atlanta where my mother and I eventually wound up after spending most of the Yugoslav Wars in Cyprus and Egypt—the character with whom I felt the most kinship was Benjamin the Donkey. I was heartbroken by the heavily foreshadowed death of Boxer the horse, who seemed to stand for so much of what was good and true; but all I really cared about was whether his little donkey friend would successfully dodge a similar fate.
Benjamin is Boxer’s closest companion. A cynic of uncertain age, he is known for having outlived all his peers by keeping steadfastly silent. Animal Farmscholars have often cast him as the allegorical stand-in for Russia’s disillusioned older generation, as wary of the Revolution as they were of the tsarist society it dismantled. And indeed, in his keep-it-close-to-the-vest reticence, I recognized many of my grandparents’ tendencies: an obsession with common sense; a potent distrust of propaganda; a tendency to eye roll at naïveté; and above all, a really keen sense of the difference between indoor and outdoor talk.
Benjamin is a survivor. But his carefully maintained silence comes crashing down when his dear friend, Boxer, is carted off to Willingdon after succumbing to labor and age. Though Squealer persuades the other animals that Boxer is, of course, bound only for the animal hospital to receive care, Benjamin finally breaks with precedent to tell them the terrible truth he has always been literate enough to know: the van taking Boxer away bears the insignia of the dreaded knacker, and Boxer is going to his doom. With the death of what is arguably the book’s most beloved character, Orwell shows us the futility of Benjamin’s revelation. It is too late for fraternal duty to override self-preservation.
The notion that Western countries are clever and strong enough to both recognize and resist the grip of totalitarianism is a dangerous myth. A fairy story, if you will—one to which we are ironically susceptible, because being shaped by Animal Farm deludes us into thinking we are sufficiently armed. “We already know what we need to know,” we might say. “We all know that individuality is a form of resistance, and that anyone who hungrily pursues power is probably unworthy of attaining it.”
Here’s some formerly indoor talk: too many of us take our freedoms for granted. Even now, those of us who never grew up fearing the dangers of indoor talk are far too cozy in the belief that we are safe from the forces that could plunge us back into a world that demands it. Animal Farm asks us to work against that delusion. We are making great strides in this direction already. In opening up about the persistent, daily injustices that shape life—micro- and macroaggressions, racial profiling, police brutality, exploitation of body and mind, intolerance, erasure, assault, exclusion—even the most disenfranchised among us have found themselves wielding, if even for a moment, sudden and unprecedented power to enact change that once took a lifetime. At our best, we are able to stand with and for one another like never before. We celebrate one another’s rights to individuality, expression, faith and love.
We have a quarter century to test Julian Symons’ hopeful prediction, and usher Animal Farm into the niche of fairy stories. I am not sure even that is time enough. It’s entirely possible that we will never live in a world free of Napoleons and the Squealers who prop them up; that we will always find ourselves peering through windows, unable to tell the difference between the people who claim to be serving our interests and the enemies to whom they have betrayed us. But it’s also possible that we will never be isolated enough to keep signs of danger to ourselves as we once did; that we will openly decry every change to our commandments and insist on reiterating the history we know to be true, however terrible its contents. It is possible that we will recognize, without the blinders of Squealer’s “proper perspective,” that danger to one is danger to all; that we will read the knacker’s signage aloud, for all to hear, before it’s too late.
Matt Davie offers some post-lockdown reflections from a favoured bar, in Lyttelton, New Zealand
Before New Zealand went into nationwide lockdown. Without trivialising the terrible and widespread effects of Covid19 – the occasion was, for myself and few others, a pre-pandemic drink. Prime Minister Jacinda (known affectionately by her first name by all) had just announced that there was evidence of community based transmission of Covid19 in NZ. We were about to move to elimination level 4 and for the following 6 weeks all but essential workers would remain at home in their own ‘bubble’.
As myself and 5 others sat on the balcony of the Wunderbar, on that Thursday afternoon in March, we contemplated, among other things that we may not see each other for a while. Worst case scenario, a number of us may catch the the Covid 19 virus – at that stage a distinct possibility given how our curve in New Zealand was following a similar trajectory to countries like Spain and Italy. Then there was the issue of job security – I myself being fortunate (depending on your point of view) to be classed as an essential transport worker. Another companion was lucky to have just received a commission for a couple of paintings. And another supplied most of her sunglasses online anyhow. Even though we knew that hugging, as part of the new social distancing rules, was no longer allowed we embraced following a few anxious drinks and went our separate ways.
The Wunderbar is situated in the Canterbury port of Lyttelton and is well known for its retro chic’ness, bohemian style, lounge décor, ambience and clientele. I’ve been to it many times over the last 30 years – to music gigs, birthday parties, the millennium new years eve and post earthquake shows in the 2010s. These days I travel to the Wunderbar by ferry – it’s a 5 minute trip across the water, from my base in Diamond Harbour a small village opposite. From the balcony of my home I can see the twinkling lights of Lyttelton and on a clear night might spy the Wunderbar’s neon. For a couple of months the lights went out. And during the day there are no sail boats, kayaks, wakas or jetskis on the harbour – just the eerily, wind-less conditions of a dry April and May.
Now a mere 8 weeks later, I am back at the Wunderbar on a Saturday night – a first tentative outing since the lockdown restrictions have been eased. There’s just a small scattering of early evening drinkers, all quite subdued – I sense still shell shocked from what has occurred in the last few months. Myself and companion start chatting to a couple opposite, joking at been able to share a missing condiment. The Irish bar next door, usually full with a rowdy after work revellers is relatively sedate. We move on to a local Thai restaurant for our first dining out experience out for ages.
The talking to strangers, and/or neighbours is, I suppose, one of the positives to come out of the lockdown. Many people have commented about how much they have, enjoyed (some would say loved) the 6 weeks off from work. Other workers, such as those in government departments have been allowed to do there jobs from home. People have exercised a lot, walked and biked a lot. We talk to people, friends new and old, from opposite sides of the road.
At 10.30 on a Saturday night out as myself and companion board the ferry. As the ferry turns out of Lyttelton’s inner harbour I can see the smoky haze wafting above from 100s of log burners. As we continue to move further away we can also see the smog haze of Christchurch rise from behind the Port Hills. For 8 weeks, as traffic disappeared from our roads during lockdown, this haze vanished. But now the cars, traffic and people have returned.
Every year we went
Or some other place
Mum, dad, sister and brother
Together for once, a family in one space.
But in these Covid times the tradition was broken
And there were no blossoms in March
No dappled pink in the chilled twilight
Or sakura picnics, warm saki and bbq
Beneath a pink pedal rain
Instead, in the year of the virus,
Delight and wonder gave way to fear and Nippon staidness
Everyone seeking to go with the flow
By not going anywhere
(Except to work – we are, after all, still Japanese)
Stuck in our rooms
Prisoners inside our own beige walls.
But it’s over now or so the fireworks say
But so are the blossoms
Resigned to memory after the hard days of spring
So I must pray that my parents will be here next year
To enjoy the opened buds minus masks and Covid cares
And once more we will mark our spot
And celebrate life, family and re-birth
A clan united under the branches
And then I will know
That this time has truly past.
One of the things #HOWL enjoys about its Word Jam events is hearing and seeing young Khmer writers and poets read from their own work. The #HOWL_WORD_JAM event on Thursday—at #MissWong—will provide another opportunity for these voices to come to the fore. Just remember to register as we have only a few seats and reader spots remaining.