Forlorn Light: Virginia Woolf Found Poems, by Nazifa Islam

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Forlorn Light: Virginia Woolf Found Poems by Nazifa Islam

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nazifa Islam is your once in a generation poet. It’s no easy task to re-map the words of the great Virginia Woolf. Forlorn Light: Virginia Woolf Found Poems must have been both a challenge and reward to write. I think it’s quite clear Woolf and Islam share kindred souls. Their works deserve to rest side-by-side, forever conversing with one another, sharing the same shelf for generations. Islam’s book is their wedding—poetically speaking (pun intended). Forlorn Light is worth your time to read.

I warn you: read Nazifa Islam and you will be changed. Islam writes with phenomenal prowess about undressing and accessing the naked truth of the bipolar experience. Several poems left me exposed and shivering, as if I were in front of a mirror which reflected what’s inside the reader. The images I discovered moved me to tears. And, the more I studied, the more I understood myself. I know I will never be the same.

Read this book or miss out on something great. You can purchase it here:

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Book Review: Ordinary Genius, A Guide for the Poet Within

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Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within by Kim Addonizio

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I found Kim Addonizio’s book fascinating. I had very little knowledge of what made good or bad poetry before reading this. For example, I never knew the rhythm underneath the iambic pentameter and many more meters. I love poetry; I love writing poetry; I love reading poetry. I wanted to appreciate this divine-language-of-the-gods more, because the more you know, the bigger your writer’s toolkit. So, therefore, much of what Kim covers can be adapted to your creative writing pursuits.

This book is a must-read for anyone curious about writing poetry, or like me, who desired a more intimate understanding and relationship with the craft. After reading this book, you will have quite the sophisticated understanding of how poetry works. It is worth buying!

The book is, also, replete with great examples. I do think even the most accomplished poets will enjoy this book.

I definitely recommend it to my fellow creatives, and anyone else who wants to get poetry. In fact, the first poem I wrote after finishing the book was published—link below. Thank you, Kim, for your inspiration, encouragement, and introduction to all things poetry. You changed my life!

Happy Reading,
www.w-alexander.com



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W. Alexander’s Published Poetry:

N.L. Blandford: On Writing

Writing a story, of any length, can be scary. It can be particularly scary when the subject matter may be considered “dark” or “sensitive.” Questions arise: “Will people appreciate what I am trying to say?” and “Will I accurately portray the real world through my fictional characters?” and, of course, the one all authors ask themselves: “Will people like it?”

I had all of these questions, and more running through my mind as I wrote The Perilous Road to Her. The story is set within the world of human trafficking and follows Olivia in her search for her missing sister, as she becomes a victim herself. 

I cannot recall exactly how human trafficking came into play, however, I knew that was the world in which the story would take place. Honestly, I was scared to write it. However, I was passionate about the story and hoped my fictional story would bring awareness to a prevalent issue. Human trafficking doesn’t just occur “somewhere else.” It occurs in all of our backyards, and I hope the more we read and hear about it, the more likely we are to recognize and help prevent it. 

N.L. Blandford‘s debut novel: The Perilous Road To Her

From the outset, I knew that I did not want to glamourize or hide what happens to people—in this case women—who are trafficked. 

Real World Portrayal and Sensitivity

As much as I wanted my fictional account to stay true to the real world of human trafficking, I did stray from how people usually become victims. During my research phase, I learned that the number one human trafficking myth is that people are kidnapped and forced into prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation. I acknowledge that myth in my book, however to keep the story moving at a rapid pace, and to get characters from Point A to Point B, I used that myth as a transportation vehicle. To balance that, I tried hard to give all of the women Olivia meets in Los Angeles a backstory which represents actual victim experiences I had read or heard.  

I also worked hard to make some of the “bad guys” be represented as humans with their own problems. Characters you love to hate and hate to love. I have not met or read the stories of traffickers, thus, these characters are my own creation. However, criminals are humans and I can only imagine what could be going through their heads. 

Setting my story in a devastating world meant that dreadful experiences would occur. I wanted to ensure I was sensitive when I articulated the violence that the characters experienced. For me, removing that aspect of the seedy underbelly of human trafficking would not do the subject matter justice. On the flip side, I also had the question in my mind about how the story would be received by actual victims or those who worked closely with them. A story like this had the potential to be a trigger and affect people’s mental health. As such, I advised readers about the nature of the story in a Letter From The Author at the start of the book. Additionally, I included Human Trafficking Resources at the back to support readers if they found that they wanted to learn more or needed help.

The good news is that I have received amazing feedback on my ability to portray a gruesome world with sensitivity. In particular, someone who works with victims of sexual exploitation said, “I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to read it, as a significant part of my job has been…to develop programs for children who are being sexually exploited. Your book was real for me for sure. It was a great read. I will be recommending it to my colleagues.”

Dark Subject Matter 

Human trafficking is only starting to become a talked about social issue, and, often, when I describe my book, a common reaction has been: “Wow, that’s dark!” It could be considered that; It is not a light-hearted read, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

When I was talking to W. Alexander about guest blogging, I loved that he defined ‘dark’ as ‘truth’. It is very relatable. People can shy away from topics because they are hard, and it can be easier to call them dark, rather than truth, or an aspect thereof. I believe that it is in the dark that we can really start to understand the true nature of our world and its people. 

The story is not for everyone and I respect that. There are books out there that aren’t for me. In the end, I wanted to create a great story that people couldn’t put down, while bringing awareness to a social issue, and maybe giving a voice to those who may not be ready to speak their truth yet. 

Based on the feedback I have received, I believe I have done just that. Which means: bucket list item number one for writing is complete! 

What’s Next for N.L. Blandford?

The Perilous Road To Her was released on May 4, 2021, and with that I am in full swing to get the word out. If you, or anyone you know, is interested in a riveting story that can’t be put down please check it out on Amazon! Part of a book club? Contact me via my website if you are interested in a virtual Q&A, after the group has finished reading the book.

Future writing projects for me will continue to be fictional accounts of real issues. I have many ideas that include Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), prejudice/judgement and the equity of persons. 

As I continue to write, whether it be in Olivia’s world or not, I want to create compelling stories that pull readers in. I hope by doing so those same readers, whether they realize it or not, learn about a topic they may not necessarily explore outside a fictional world. 

—N.L. Blandford

If you would like to learn more about me and my writing you can find me at www.nlblandford.com; on Twitter/Instagram @nlblandford; on Facebook at N.L. Blandford and LinkedIn at nlblandford

Bio

N.L. Blandford’s poetry was first published when she was thirteen, and, recently, her drabble titled “Love of a Lifetime” won the Arlene Duane Hemingway Unconditional Love Drabble Challenge. She loves to travel and has enjoyed exploring Canada, however her favourite spot is a tie between Hawaii and Jersey, Channel Islands. N.L. Blandford resides in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, where she has built a life of dream exploration with her husband, mild mannered dog, Watson, and stubborn but lovable cat, Sebastian. 

Book Review: The Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James

The Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James

Henry James authored one of American literature’s prized realist masterpieces: The Portrait of a Lady. Considered a psychological novel, because of James’s microscopic emphasis into the innermost characterizations—internal action, circumstances, and how these forces develop external, plot moving actions—regarding his characters; he creates tantalizing themes of freedom versus oppression, and the progression, or degression, of self-knowledge through psychological and moral decisions—The Portrait of a Lady is a painting, lavishly brushed by words, which tells the truth of the human psyche.

            James’s psychological novel attaches significant emphasis on his characters innermost motives, and how they contemplate their external and internal circumstances, therefore, ultimately, weaving these inner tensions into external action—physical plot progression. James will time-and-time-again provide his readers with intimate, microscopic views into a character’s inner conflict. For example, consider Isabel Archer, the novel’s protagonist, “…I’m absorbed in myself—I look at life too much as a doctor’s prescription…Why should I be so afraid of not doing right? As if it mattered to the world whether I do right or wrong” (James 196). The psychological novel is, although prose fiction, a close study of humanity.

            In addition to the riches found within a character’s innermost motivations, another example of James’s prowess in developing his psychological novel is his unique use of theme. The masterpiece The Portrait of a Lady, although replete with sub-themes, is most recognized by Isabel Archer’s arcing struggles between oppression and freedom and independence versus destiny. Ezra Pound wrote, “What he [James] fights is ‘influence,’ the impinging of family pressure, the impinging of one personality upon another” (Quoted by Lane par. xvi). James detested tyranny and the petty personal oppressions he witnessed everyday persons inflict upon each other. His, literary, voice reflects this contempt throughout The Portrait of a Lady. It is the unique frequent indecisions of his protagonist Isabel Archer’s, her inner conflicts with external consequences, need to stand on one’s own self-sufficiency, and her culture’s desire to rein her into the larger world’s conformity of marriage and obedience, that makes this psychological novel worthy of its home in the pantheon of literary masterpieces.

            However, despite James’s impressive weave of great emphasis regarding inner character, and his larger theme of oppression versus freedom, there is yet another, stronger, undebatable footprint of the perfect psychological novel: James writes the truth. This truth is the selfish self-interest of other person’s desire for psychological domination (control) or, more common, the extent of scheming and ambitious lies some persons will steep to subdue and extinguish another’s light—a person’s innocence. For example, Osmond, Isabel Archer’s eventual husband and the novel’s chief antagonist, never fell in love with Isabel; he fooled her in order to subdue her; he wanted her as a trophy, “That is what monsters do, especially the polite and patient ones: they harvest souls. Hand them a human in full bloom, and what they give back to you, after a few seasons, is a pressed flower” (Lane par. xvi). Humanity is often a horror story, and happy endings are not realistic stories.

This point of realism, life is often a horror story, is very much the eternal truth of James’s psychological novel; a genre devoted to the analytic study of the human condition; and, in his, the plight of self-degeneration through psychological manipulation. In laymen terms, the hell one finds themselves in once they realize they have altered their entire life for someone based upon a lie. And like, Isabel, it is often that everyone else can see the truth, but the one under their oppressor’s influence. In Isabel’s case, she becomes a victim of her own designs, “Isabel proceeds to marry Osmond, who she believes loves her and with whom she thinks she can relinquish the pressure to perform. She unfortunately rather quickly discovers the ruse and realizes he is the suitor most desirous of wiping her clean of any interiority” (Krzeminski 279). Perhaps, it could be argued her remark a third of the way through the novel was spoken from complete naivety (innocence) and foreshadowed the suffering that later came, “…to judge wrong, I think, is more honorable than not to judge at all” (James 143). By the end of the novel, and by a stroke of writing genius on James’s part, these words were no longer her truth.

            Henry James painted his theme of oppression versus freedom with microscopic emphasis on his characters innermost conflicts. The Portrait of a Lady is a masterpiece, not because of good versus evil, or anecdotes of adventures and trials; the novel is a masterpiece because it captures, like none before and few after, the human psyche down to the finest detail. James’s work reflects the progression and digression of his protagonist’s self-knowledge. By the end, the reader is left hanging. Isabel Osmond, as she is now, refuses to satisfy us with any epiphanic change; she does not, after confessing her plight to Ralph and kissing Casper, break for freedom, but in James’s fashion, she is handcuffed by her situation, which she blames herself for allowing, and, thus, she goes on, like so many women did and still do, without freedom, and with every reader questioning why, back to her prison of a marriage.

            Together, the theme and Isabel’s, surprising, negative character arc creates arguably the best psychological novel ever to be written, per its genre. As the reader travels its pages, they are confronted with a mirror, a work replete with accusing self-examinations, and, therefore, the reader is left, not watching, but considering the raw complexity of the human psyche, their own psyche.

  The footprint of realism has always been to write the truth; the common man or woman’s plight, and the mental gymnastics all persons, from all classes, perform are what makes this novel a psychological masterpiece. Throughout these pages, the reader finds the brushwork of the master, and like all great artists, James can not only paint a story by the prowess of his craft, but, simultaneously, he hangs a mirror of enigmas and human complexity. Every reader can relate to the figurative handcuff’s persons’ finds themselves confined to.

References

James, Henry. The Portrait of a Lady. Seedbox Press, LLC. Apple Books, 2015, pp. 143-196. e—book.

Krzeminski, Jessica. “The discovery was tremendous: Sex, Secrets, and Selfhood in The Portrait of a Lady.” The Henry James Review, article, Vol. 40., Iss. 3, 2019,pp. 279. Accessed 2021. https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/docview/2315565534/fulltextPDF/5B39C5728E734785PQ/1?accountid=12085

Lane, Anthony. “Out of The Frame, A New Portrait of Henry James’s ‘The Portrait of a Lady.’” The New Yorker, article, Books, Iss. September 2012., par. XVI. Accessed 2021. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/09/03/out-of-the-frame

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Book Review: Creating Character Arcs, by K.M. Weiland

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Fantastic!

The arc is the story, and it is worth any writer’s time to learn or refresh their understanding of character arcs. I am an English major with a concentration in creative writing. However, I am close to graduating (this winter), and only one course of mine went over, in detail, character arcs—it was a screenwriting course. As assignments and exercises in my major are understandably smaller stories, —single scenes or single chapters (imagine grading fifty students novellas in a week, lol)—it is refreshing for me to have a road map to writing a larger story.

I think Weiland did a great job with this book, and she uses a plethora of examples to drive her point home. This book is a great tool for the writer’s toolbox. As such, I recommend it!

Happy Reading,
www.w-alexander.com

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Book Review: On Writing, by Stephen King

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On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I will start by saying I am not, and I have never been a fan of Stephen King. Not for any other reason than I do not enjoy horror. However, the craft is the craft, and his take on writing was just too appealing to place back on the shelf.

The first one-hundred pages are about how he developed as a writer. This memoir is not a waste of time, and any reviews that suggest otherwise are your C- dreamers. I gained a deeper respect for Mr. King, and his work ethic—which is why he is a success; he simply sacrificed all he could to write.

Like, King, I too read seventy-five plus books a year, and because of this book, I have now spent several weeks waking up at 5:30am to write a specific word count before I do anything else. Not only is this an empowering—I waltz around the house all day feeling accomplished—strategy, but, I am writing. Yes, that’s right, nothing gets in my way. I have this book to thank for the kick-in-the-butt.

I, also, believe his craft-advice for the words on page are well thought out. I am an English major, and his advice pretty much falls on the same lines—cut adverbs, write actively, etcetera. What makes his approach different, is his strategy of writing with the door closed (first draft). Get the story on the page without critics, without advice, without help, without anyone knowing anything—don’t even tell your partner what is on the page. He even shares excerpts of his own crappy first draft writing, and then his revising strategy—second drafts are shown to his most trusted readers, and they can give their thoughts. It is refreshing to see his first draft is just like the rest of ours: blatantly not ready for anyone’s eyes but the writer’s. It turns out, he is just a regular Joe after all; this is wonderful!

King thrashes the ‘literary elite,’ and their postulations of theory and theme, and shares how efficient and clear prose gets the job done. However, King, like me, was too an English major, and, like me, has a deep love for the language; he loves several different genres, and at one-point shares how much he enjoys Harry Potter—bonus points. I don’t share his anti-elite sentiments, but to each-their-own.

What I took from this book? Stephen King is not superman, and neither does the aspiring writer need to be. King makes it clear, writers are made in the trenches, and those who put their nose to the grindstone, and never let anything stop their writing, succeed.

Of course, I disagree with him on his anti-plotting mentality, but, hey, what works for him (writing situationally), and what works for other artists will be different. He understands, and says as much.

It’s a great kick-in-the-ass book for writers. Buy it, read it, love, read it again, and follow his advice.

*P.S. get up at 5:30am and write till you hit your word count. Who cares if it is garbage? Just write. If you want it enough, you will do it!

—W. Alexander

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