Lavazza Beans

His jacket always smells of ash. I don’t mind; I find it comforting. It reminds me of a fireplace, or a bonfire pit. Today he’s smoking American Spirits. When he smokes an American Spirit, he only smokes half. He says they’re so harsh, half is enough. He says they taste minty.

Sometimes, he talks about quitting. He’s been saying he’ll quit since last August. He says he needs to quit, he wants to quit. Once a month he says that this time he’s really going to quit, for real. Once, we made a bet – I said to him, if you don’t smoke a cigarette in three weeks, I’ll buy you a bag of espresso beans. And not just any kind of espresso beans – the organic, fair-trade, local kind; the kind you get at those independent coffee shops with cherry oak tables and hand drip coffee.

For the next three weeks I thought about what type of beans to buy – they needed to be good, smooth, strong, so that every time he took a sip of coffee in the morning, he would remember that he does not need to smoke to survive because once he went three weeks without a cigarette and he survived.

I chose Lavazza because a bag is 80% sweet arabicas and 20% robustas, which I guess are the two best kinds, but I didn’t buy it in the end because he smoked a Newport a week after we made the bet.

 

“Just write. Write everyday of your life.”

Writing is hard. Even the best of the best, the masters of the craft, can attest to that. Jim Tully said, “Long patience and application saturated with your heart’s blood—you will either write or you will not—and the only way to find out whether you will or not is to try.”

Thinking about writing is easy. We all have ideas for our creative pieces – fuzzy visions of our own fantasy world, deconstructed plot lines, conversations between characters – running rampant in the depths of our imagination… Developing the blueprint of our story in our heads takes time, yes, but it’s straightforward and it can even be fun. It can be easy to get carried away and imagine the story sent to a publisher and printed onto paper. But sitting down, translating those thoughts into coherent sentences and getting content onto the page? That’s hard – really hard.

With the advent of the internet, distractions are rife – why gruel over a blank Microsoft Word document when you can read the daily news or scan weather reports or watch Buzzfeed’s latest feature on an artisan doughnut shop selling maple-dipped doughnuts flaked with gold? It’s so easy to to find some excuse as to why we don’t write – why we don’t have time or the resources, why our attention is desperately required elsewhere.

I too experience this tireless, hair-tearing, teeth-grinding process of not being able to translate my creative ideas into words. I understand how exhausting and disheartening it is. I’ve tried multiple ways to try to overcome writer’s hump. Waking up at 6am, reading classics and emulating the author’s style, responding to writing prompt after writing prompt – I’ve tried it all, hoping to find a cure-all elixir-like technique that whips me into shape, channels every ounce of my creative energy, spurs my artistic writerly senses to the point where thoughts start overflowing onto paper in the form of beautifully crafted prose. But I’m sorry to say that nothing worked; there’s no easy way around the grueling-ness of the writing process. But although I can’t tell you the magic formula for writing (because there isn’t one), I can give you one piece of advice: write something every single day.

Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, said “Write. Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.”

At the start of the new year, I made a promise to myself that I would write something everyday. I created a Google Doc on January 1st and wrote about a page on what I did that day. On January 2nd I did the same thing – and then on the 3rd and 4th. I left the document open on my desktop as a constant reminder. During midterms and finals week, I didn’t have time to write a page-long entry, but I made sure to at least write a sentence or two. I wrote about anything that stuck out to me that day – who I was with, what I ate, how I felt, why I felt that way etc. It’s not glamorous and it’s not the kind of content I’d submit to a literary magazine, but it’s still writing.

So if you’re serious about writing and developing as a writer, but find yourself unable to write, this might be a helpful exercise for you. Buy a cheap notebook or start a new document, title each entry with the date, and write whatever your heart desires. Don’t agonize over what you choose to write down or the quality of what you write. The most important thing about writing something everyday isn’t necessarily the content – though the content does has value – but developing the habit. All you need to do is spit something into a notebook or an open Google doc for a few minutes a day and that alone will suffice. Because at the end of the day, you practiced writing. In the process, you’re developing your voice, your style, and the habit.
And hey, maybe one day you’ll reread what you wrote and use it as the frame for your next novel! So stop making excuses and start writing.

Unsplendid Magazine: a tribute to the traditional

There’s a lot more freedom in poetry now. More and more contemporary poets are using poetry as a means of voicing their opinions without restraint. Free verse allows poets to express their individuality, independence, and well, freedom – there are hardly any limits, boundaries, or strict rules to obey. As free verse poetry has taken the contemporary poetry scene by storm, structured poems have begun to dwindle in number and in popularity as their traditionalistic forms are often seen as limiting and old-fashioned.

Though I myself am a fan of poems written in form, I assumed that most of my fellow poets do not hold structured poetry with similar regard, which is why discovering Unsplendid Magazine was a welcome surprise.

I stumbled upon Unsplendid Magazine on accident, actually. I was looking through a list of the best online literature journals and saw Unsplendid on the list. Intrigued by the title, I googled the name, found their website, and was greeted with the front cover of their latest issue. I perused the issue and realized that the poems were all written in a form. After scanning the “About” section on their website, I learned that Unsplendid only receives poetry written in forms (like sonnets, villanelles, sestinas, etc.).

Although structured poetry is becoming increasingly categorized as stuffy, restrictive, and archaic in the wake of free verse, Unsplendid challenges these categorizations. By highlighting poetry that incorporates contemporary language into classic forms, Unsplendid pays tribute to the traditional.

Take this poem written by Amanda Gunn for their February 2017 issue, titled All Things: 

Across a distance you’re
the one I’ve wanted, ever.

There is no plate of fish
to fry. There’s never snow

tracked on the floor. I hear
a bottle clink the sink

across the phone and know
I’ve dreamt this. Is that sound

you, eating onion? Is
your foot beneath the dog?

I like to say I’ve brought
you here with me, but I

just have a picture: you,
as drowsy, ruddy, loose

as I can ever quite
recall, the obstacle

to what I longed for when
I left you in the fall.

All Things is clearly a structured piece, but the poem is accessible, easy to follow, and successfully conveys its message in as few words as possible. It’s simple and contained, but the content is not confined or limited by the form. In fact, it embraces the form – within each stanza, the language thrives, moves, speaks.

The poems in each issue are quite varied in terms of style, voice, and form of course, but they are all alike in that they are accessible, beautifully written, and enriched with meaning. I highly recommend visiting Unsplendid magazine’s website if you’re in the mood for contemporary poetry with a traditional twist.