IT’S TELEVISION TUESDAY
How to Make a Million Dollars Writing Poetry (The Self Publishing Show, episode 228)
The award-winning author of The Music of the Primesexplores the future of creativity and how machine learning will disrupt, enrich, and transform our understanding of what it means to be human.
Can a well-programmed machine do anything a human can―only better? Complex algorithms are choosing our music, picking our partners, and driving our investments. They can navigate more data than a doctor or lawyer and act with greater precision. For many years we’ve taken solace in the notion that they can’t create. But now that algorithms can learn and adapt, does the future of creativity belong to machines, too?
It is hard to imagine a better guide to the bewildering world of artificial intelligence than Marcus du Sautoy, a celebrated Oxford mathematician whose work on symmetry in the ninth dimension has taken him to the vertiginous edge of mathematical understanding. In The Creativity Code he considers what machine learning means for the future of creativity. The Pollockizer can produce drip paintings in the style of Jackson Pollock, Botnik spins off fanciful (if improbable) scenes inspired by J. K. Rowling, and the music-composing algorithm Emmy managed to fool a panel of Bach experts. But do these programs just mimic, or do they have what it takes to create? Du Sautoy argues that to answer this question, we need to understand how the algorithms that drive them work―and this brings him back to his own subject of mathematics, with its puzzles, constraints, and enticing possibilities.
While most recent books on AI focus on the future of work, The Creativity Code moves us to the forefront of creative new technologies and offers a more positive and unexpected vision of our future cohabitation with machines. It challenges us to reconsider what it means to be human―and to crack the creativity code.
They bound me without consent.
I moved with the weight of the world upon my shoulders,
each extremity shackled like a slave.
Hunched like a frail elderly man; I attempted to move about,
all the while under the suppression of guilt,
shame, and condemnation.
Shackled by wounds, I writhed in agony
as they brought me down to the pits of darkness, a land of creeping shadow.
It was there where I was blind to their desire to devour me.
Fallen prey to the animalistic appetite to consume every shred of hope—
Until I came into the light.
Under the shining of the light, I was appalled at their stronghold against me.
The illumination of their strength was all too unsettling.
I couldn’t bear the sight of them.
They surrounded me like a wild forest of Oaks, mocking my every step.
A multitude of tears sought urgent release, to spring forth,
evade the depth of my unconsciousness–but I could not allow them.
Yet there in the light was my salvation.
There in the light, their power over me would heal.
It was there I welcomed glorious liberty.
One like I’ve never experienced before.
The rays of jubilee were before me.
No wild forests to cast a shadow,
pits of darkness of oppression.
No shackles, bonds, or crushing burden.
Only life, light and liberty.
A DANCE WITH THE DAWN
The soul of the oppressed can rest against the dawning
of the new day. For as sure is the rising of the sun amidst
the celestial crowds, the pains of the former day dissipate
into distant shadow.
Hope is set upon the steady train of her golden rays,
as they dress and display those famished of her
A golden touch penetrates deep beyond the former
ephemeral skins of superficiality. Her touch is warmth;
dazzling the coldest of heart, adamant glacial minds,
and illest of will.
Dance in the buoyant embrace of her comforting wings
and pleasure in the majestic breadth of her expanse, as she lends
transcendent song against belligerent earthly pangs.
Alexandria Constantinova Szeman, Ph.D. is the auuthor of several critically acclaimed and award-winning books, including THE NEW YORK TIME BOOK REVIEW’s “Best Book” and Kafka Award Winner “for the outstanding book of prose fiction by an American woman,” THE KOMMANDANT’S MISTRESS. Her true crime memoir, M IS FOR MUNCHERS: THE SERIAL KILLERS NEXT DOOR, about surviving a serial killer, heals and empowers abuse victims.
Other award-winning books include LOVE IN THE TIME OF DINOSAURS, WHERE LIGHTNING STRIKES, NAKED WITH GLASSES, MASTERING POINT OF VIEW, LOVE IS A MANY ZOMBIED THING, MASTERING FICTION & POINT OF VIEW, among others.
Hmmm….Let us begin shall we?
How did you come to love literature and writing?
I’ve always loved books, ever since I can remember. When I was 6, I decided I wanted to be a writer. I fell in love with T.S. Eliot’s poems, then with Chaucer’s work (when I was 8), and with Shakespeare’s plays (age 12). I just never thought of doing anything other than being a writer.
Wow, you had excellent taste at an early age!
What exactly is world literature?
When I was in college, most Literature majors studied only American and British literatures, unless they took advanced foreign language classes where they read the classics in their original tongue. When I was working on my PhD, it was in a department that called itself “English and Comparative Literatures.” We were encouraged to study the classics of the entire world, in addition to those in the American and British Lit canons. I really loved that approach, and when I taught University, I taught the World Literature class. I tried to include novels, stories, and poems from many different countries, by men and women, to make the students become more literate.
That approach is amazing. Sounds like it really broadens the literary mindset. Wish I had a course like that in college.
What did you like most about teaching?
My students. They kept me young. With all their popular culture references, slang, clothing, hairstyles, music, and jokes, they forced me to be “hip.”
Love it. The teachers who care about their students are the best.
In your years of teaching what are some common problems that plague writers?
The most common problem new creative writers have is a lack of Urgency: what keeps the readers turning pages. They learn it quickly, though, even if it’s only urgency in plot. After that, the biggest problem for writers is not reading enough literature that is classic, non contemporary, or outside their preferred genre. That lack of reading shows up in their writing as poor or unimaginative plotting, weak character development, and stilted dialogue.
Oh, I love this. Food for thought for us newbies.
How did you begin writing poetry?
I can’t even remember not writing poetry, though I’m sure my juvenile poetry was just atrocious. As I got older, I read more modern and contemporary poetry, like the work of T.S. Eliot, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Theodore Roethke, Walt Whitman, W.S. Merwin, Sharon Olds, etc. and my own work improved.
Wonderful, keep writing!
What is poetry to you?
Poetry is like a photograph of a moment in a character’s life.
The characters could be completely imaginary ones, like those who came from unsuccessful short story attempts: Eddie Madison in the poem “Eddie Madison and the Theory of Evolution” or Auggie Vernon in “Auggie Vernon and the Eclipse.” The characters could be mythological, like Ulysses’ wife Penelope who relates her feelings after her husband returns to her after 20 years of wandering; or the characters could be biblical, like Cain, who rages against God’s injustice.
The most frequent character in my non-Holocaust poetry is the woman-poet persona, who is either the second or third wife, with children from her husband’s previous marriages: she feels isolated, alone, and unloved, despite now being part of a large family.
No matter who the characters in my poems, the poem is like a photo of their lives, frozen for a moment, but telling a definite story about them.
My short stories are like little videos, so they have more plot than my poems. My novels are like feature films or mini-series, so they have more complex plot, usually multiple perspectives, and often multiple Points of View.
I love seeing the answer to this question. Poetry is particular to each individual.
If you had to write a poem to your younger self, what would you write?
I have to admit that I would never have thought of writing a poem to my younger self, even if that “younger self” was only a persona who appeared in my early poems. It took me over a year to write “While the Music Lasts”, if only because I hadn’t written anything in the Voice of the woman-poet persona in almost a decade.
I had a tremendously difficult time “hearing” that Voice again. After months of very bad drafts, I finally treated the poem and that Voice as I treat a novel which I’ve been away from for a while: I began re-reading Portrait of the Poet as a Woman, Part 2 of my book Love in the Time of
Dinosaurs, where that persona appears. I read that section over and over and over, trying to reach that Voice again. Eventually, that Voice came back, but then it took me another few months to get the poem itself right. The title was easy once I found the epigraph: it took me at least a month to find the epigraph (from a T.S. Eliot poem) that felt as if it fit the poem.
Here’s the poem to my younger self, “While the Music Lasts.”
For most of us, there is only the unattended
Moment… or music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
While the music lasts.
Four Quartets: Dry Salvages
Each night, standing in the hallway at the open
door of the bedroom, I see you lying in the
fading light, his arms around you, your head on his
chest, his lips against your hair, and I want to tell
you how he takes your words – wrapped in ribbons of poems –
and gives them away to others. I want to tell
you how his own words change depending on whether
his sons’ crying woke him in the night, on whether
his first wife called again to complain that you have
moved into her house, on the color of some strange
woman’s eyes in the village market when she looks
up at the sound of his deep, burring voice. Standing
there each night in the hallway, I want to tell you
that one day, when his children are grown, they will seek
you out because you gave them seeds to plant in their
own corner of the garden, because you chased them
through piles of brittle autumn leaves, because they told
you they hated you more than they hated the sound
of their mother’s weeping. And they will offer you
their own children. Because you helped them build a fort,
so very long ago, in the cold and bitter
snow. Standing there each night, watching you sleep, I want
to tell you that he will do worse than meeting your
best friend three afternoons a week at motels while
you make dinner for him and his sons. One day, he
will toss out your heart with the coffee grounds, wrapped in
yesterday’s newspaper. Standing there in the dark,
leaning over you in the deep dark night, I start
to tell you, to whisper you all these things, but the
chill of the night air, the chime of the clock in the
downstairs hall, the look on your face when you open
your eyes to gaze at him lying there beside you,
and once again my tongue stumbles and goes still. The
unbearable weight of your happiness steals all
my words and buries them deep underground in some
faraway place, some place not marked on any map
but the map of our own heart, some faraway place
where you will have to find these words and dig them up
yourself, one day, many years from now, on your own.
Alexandria Constantinova Szeman
© Copyright 2017
If your life were a metaphor, how would you describe it?
I survived the fire.
Love your spirit of survival here. Actually, you’ve done much more than that dear friend. I wrote a poem.
Life after the Flame
the fire consumed
but I survived its wake
for the ruin of flame
was powerless to take
my withering soul
Nor ashes to ashes
or dust to dust
could bury my will
to live I must
the embers of the flame
the fire consumed
yet could not earn
the precious ether of life
in turn but rather proved
that hope can never burn
If you had to give a quote to the world, what would you say?
If you can imagine it, it can happen.
I love this one! According to Einstein, imagination is the true intelligence.
If you had to give a quote to the next generation of young writers, what would you say?
Read everything you can, learn your craft well, and never, ever give up on yourself.
Amen to that! Love it.
What’s the best part of being creative?
As soon as most people hear that I’m a writer, they think I’m weird, and that keeps them guessing.
I got a kick out of this one 🙂
What is within a tear?
And from whence does it truly flow?
It hails from hidden abodes of heart,
sprung apart from embattled depths below.
What is within a tear?
And how significant is its worth?
How heavy the burden escapes unweighed;
in dimensions of pain, unknown girth.
What is within a tear, you say?
Only the bearer truly knows.
Hearken that tune when it’s wrought.
As pain grows wings, let them flow.
Melanie is a science fiction & fantasy novelist-in-progress, a published poet and short story writer and all around awesome person. I first met Melanie through our awesome Facebook group entitled: THE WORDPLAYERS. Sounds cool huh? Because it is!
Are you originally from Canada?
Well, this is an interesting story (but I may be biased). I was born right here, in Sudbury, Ontario, and when I was about a year and a half, my grandparents built themselves a new house. My parents decided to buy my grandparents’ old house, where my dad had grown up.
It gets better.
After I spent a few years away at university, I returned to Sudbury, married, and, once we both had stable employment, my husband and I bought the house from my parents 🙂
The land on which both houses stand was part of a farm that my grandfather had bought, back in the day, and to finance the building of their new house (which my parents eventually moved into after my grandparents passed) they sold off some of the land to the city.
So I live in the house in which three generations of Marttilas have lived, on the street that bears my family name. Beside my mom. My writing room was my bedroom growing up. How cool is that?
I mean, some people might think it’s BORING, but, you know. Cool. *smiles*
I keep meeting great writers from Canada, it’s wonderful! I seriously need to go there one day. Look out Canada!
What’s it like?
Sudbury is a mining town in what most people consider northern Ontario. If you look at a map, we’re actually smack in the middle, about an hour and a half drive from Manitoulin Island in Georgian Bay, which is part of Lake Huron.
We’re the site of an ancient meteor impact, which is where all the stuff mined here came from and why Sudbury is called the nickel capitol.
Sudbury is also on pre-Cambrian shield, ancient mountains that have been ground down by glaciers. We have a chunk of it in our basement 🙂
When I was a kid, open pit smelting had blackened the rock and consumed most of the trees as fuel. In the 60’s, NASA came up here because the landscape, at the time, was very much what they expected to find on the moon . . .
The International Nickel Company (INCO) built the stack (to divert the sulfurous smog produced by smelting the nickel), changed their refining processes, and started to recover the landscape that had been ravaged by their previous practices. Now, we’re lovely and green again—in the summer, anyway. Winters here are pretty hellish.
Having said all that, my family was never involved in mining. Sudbury is the kind of place that gets into your blood, though. That’s why I came back and have made my life here, despite the winters.
Our area of Ontario is dotted with lakes that have formed in depressions in the pre-Cambrian shield. Outside the city, it’s considered prime cottage country.
Sounds like a memorable and scenic place.
How long have you been writing?
Egad. Since I was seven years old.
Wowsers! I have a seven year boy right now. Writing is not his strong suit, its reading. But it’s amazing you were able to begin writing stories at such a young age.
What was your career path?
I worked in retail from the age of thirteen through high school, had some interesting jobs in university—canine security patrol and video camera person and editor for a company that filmed show jumping and dressage shows across Canada and down into New York—and after graduation, I had an unreliable series of contracts in libraries and academia. My sister-in-law made me aware of an opportunity with her employer, and now I’ve been working with that same employer for fifteen years.
I’m currently in L&D, learning and development. Call me a corporate trainer. I’m a certified trainer (and certifiable, some would argue), but still working toward the goal of being able to leave my day job for my true passion, writing.
That’s an interesting mix of jobs there. I love how it always comes back to writing in the end.
I find everyone’s story so fascinating. Normally it starts early in childhood, then comes back full circle with a full blown passion of writing.
What did you study in college?
BA in English Literature, rhetoric emphasis, cum laude, thankyouverymuch 😉 MA in English Literature and Creative Writing.
Ouch, that sounds difficult. But it does make me very curious. I’ve only had one creative writing class in college. Got an A. Makes me feel smart.
You’re a writer; so what’s your story, or what inspired you?
I was in grade three. I’d just gotten a puppy and wrote what might be called a “personal essay” about her. So I was already writing. I just hadn’t really caught the bug. Yet.
Then . . . IT happened. The students of the grade five class wrote and illustrated their own storybooks and were invited to present them to us.
One of the grade five students, a girl named Siobhan Riddell (isn’t that a lovely name?) did her own version of St. George and the Dragon. I didn’t even remember the rest of the stories. I wanted to take Siobhan’s home with me and read it and look at the pictures, over and over.
The thing you should know about Siobhan is that she was an awesome artist, even then. She grew up to become a professional artist and then, that bastard cancer took her from the world 😦
But that was the moment. I made my first submission—to CBC’s Pencil Box, a show that dramatized the stories of their young viewers—that year. I wrote the Christmas play for my class the next year.
And I’ve been in love with words ever since.
That’s such a lovely story! I often wonder what it is that ignites in some children to become writers and not others. I suppose some just “catch the bug”. Love that expression.
What’s your GOAL in becoming a writer?
To write. Pure and simple. Writing is (almost) everything to me. It’s my spiritual practice; my counsellor; my companion, and my comfort. I feel off when I can’t write for whatever reason. I have said that I’m going to write until age and infirmity—it’s going to take both of them because I’m not going down without a fight—rob me of the capacity.
My self-worth isn’t pinned to getting published, but I can’t see how I can justify quitting my day job unless I can make a decent living from my words. So, I’m doing the work to make that happen.
So far, I’ve had three sales of science fiction short stories, a handful of wins in local writing contests, and a bunch of poetry published in anthologies.
2015 was a year of near misses, long lists, short lists, second readings, and the like. And lots of rejections. I’m also querying an epic fantasy novel, without success. I like to reframe rejections: I’m one ‘no’ closer to ‘yes!’
I’m focused mostly on writing novels now, though, and most of those are fantasy of various shades.
YES. I love your attitude here. “one step closer to yes” is a great way to look at it. I can’t wait to see what you come up with. We wouldn’t mind seeing more of your poetic muscle too.
What 3 things have hindered you from completing your projects? (CONFLICT)
I generally finish what I start. I’m diligent (and a bit compulsive) that way.
The three things that keep me from writing as much, or as quickly, as I’d like are:
The day job. It allows me to invest in my writing (conferences, courses, etc.) but—man—would I love to spend my days doing the thing I love.
Actually, it’s just the one thing (oopsie). *grins*
I like that you are DILIGENT. It’s an indispensable character trait necessary for every writer. Without it our stories go nowhere. Our characters go nowhere. Our careers go nowhere. Splendid. You don’t suppose you could lend me some of yours do you? Got an extra gallon or so lying around?
Here’s a picture of Melanie’s desk
What keeps you motivated in achieving your dream? (DESIRE)
The writing itself. It is truly a way of life for me. I wouldn’t give it up for anything.
As one of my characters says, I want to be a part of the great voice that carries this age into the future.
Now that’s not arrogant at all, is it? 😛
Not at all. You are very clearly a writer to me. I love your laser-beam-like focus on writing.
What’s your ANTAGONIST? What’s in the way?
Um. Yeah. Day job.
Ah yes, the dreaded day job. The more I dive into the writing realm the less I like my day job. All I want to do is read and write. I’m not sure how that happened, but there it is.
Day Job: I hate you.
You: I hate you too.
Day Job: I wish you’d quit and go write somewhere.
You: I will, you just wait…
If you have given up your dream, why?
I’ve never given up. The dream has lain dormant for periods of time (sometimes years), but even when I wasn’t writing, I was thinking about writing, journaling, daydreaming, and doing other creative stuff (sketching, gardening, cross stitch–yeah, that’s what I thought at first, too–and I was even in a musical for a local theatre company).
I discovered Joseph Campbell in my undergraduate years and I’ve really come to understand my creative journey in terms of the Hero’s Journey. It hasn’t been a straight line, or even a circle, as the Hero’s Journey is often presented.
It’s been more of a spiral, kind of like the end of C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle, where the Pevensies, Scrubb, Pole, and the rest run through Narnia after Narnia, in Escher-esque fashion, Aslan urging them, “Further on! Further in!” until they reach their final destination.
My journey has been defined by my threshold guardians. The play I wrote in grade four? The teacher edited my work substantially without telling me or explaining why the changes were necessary. Even at that point, I knew it was wrong, and it seeded a deep distrust of authority.
In grade five, a former friend appeared to offer an olive branch, bury the hatchet, what have you, but only did so long enough to gain my trust and ask to ready my stories . . . to which she took an entire bottle of white out, returning my exercise book of obliterated words only when the teacher made her stop.
The big threshold guardian was my first advisor in my MA program, an icon of Canadian Literature. He questioned my presence in the program and accused me of “wasting his time.” That was the wound that wouldn’t heal, even after I returned to work with a different advisor and finish the collection of short stories that became my creative thesis.
After that, I internalized the lessons of my threshold guardians over the years and my internal editor became monstrous. It’s one thing when other people tear you or your work down, but when you start to tear yourself apart . . .
It wasn’t until another icon of Canadian Literature shared his own trials with threshold guardians that I found my way back to the page.
I’m happy to say I haven’t left it since.
Wow that’s a very touching story with devastating experiences along the way. But what I’m really seeing and enjoying, is your resilience through it all.
Why do writers give up, quit or never complete their projects?
The new writer is afraid to look silly or expose their relative level of craft to the scrutiny of others.
The experienced, but unpublished, or minimally published, writer is afraid that they can’t be as good as other publish authors, or that their stories have no value.
Even published writers fear that they can’t write another novel as good as their last.
You have to learn to put fear in its place, make it your friend, listen to the legitimate lessons it has to teach you, and then agree to disagree on the rest.
That’s the hard part.
Well said. Seems like fear must teach us many lessons along our journey. To step out there and expose ourselves to the world. For better or for worse. With this in mind, I found a Superhero guy to help us out a little. I call him….CAPTAIN NO FEAR.
learning the words;
noun and adjective,
verb and adverb.
Putting them together
in little sentences—
she won’t let me play
with the big ones yet—
But she’s left me alone
just for a minute
with this big cauldron
and other viscera.
Before she returns
I grab the ladle
burning my mouth
with the potent brew.
Then I run
me and my belly full of words,
out the Dutch-door,
through the muddied fields
of hay stubble,
to the tree with leaves of paper,
draw forth the quill–
stolen from a feather duster–
prick my thumb
Lovely! That’s great! UGH I miss poetry so much. I haven’t written very much lately. You’ll have to come back and grace us with your poetic words.
*Tell us about your short stories
In “The Broken Places,” a doctor on board a generation ship headed for another galaxy tries to diagnose a strange plague affecting the ship’s crew/citizens. What she discovers in trying to find a cure for the blue skin, void-like eyes, and verbal non-sequiturs is something she never suspected, but if she doesn’t stop the condition from progressing, the crew, and their mission, are in jeopardy. That one was published in Bastion Science Fiction Magazine in June 2014.
“Downtime” is the story of Opus, an AI-borg who achieves sentience, and liberation from her creators, as she learns what it means to be human, and that she’ll never be one. The good people of On Spec Magazine, one of Canada’s most respected speculative fiction markets, published that in their Fall 2014 issue.
Something tells me one day you’re going to hit one out of the ball park.
*what has writing taught you over the years?
What has writing taught me? Who I am. That quote by Flannery O’Connor, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say,” is very true. The more I write, the better, the more authentic, a person I become. The rest is between me and the page 😉
Oh yes! I love that quote. I’m finding it to be very true in my own experience. Writing things out is a very tranquil experience. There’s no like it.
Shall I share my demons with another?
With stranger, friend, lover or brother?
Permissbly plunge into dark canyons of despair? Cut asunder as targeted prey in the open wild? As food for the fowl and mockery of the enemy? Shall I bear them in flawed strength and weakness? There is no weakness in the vitality amongst companions. Let them bear me on fortitude of eagles wings; laying hold of the breath of vigorous winds, ascending to the height. For two are better than one.
Writers Digest Aril poem a day challenge day 6
I hate the pained breath that is my life
worn on wearied shoulders.
The weighty grief residing in my chest,
like a pair of ten ton boulders.
Should I entertain shades of dreadful thought? Once interwoven fabric sours, stains, a twisted mind? Reflect a stolen image wrongly wrought, then refuse the true and greater kind?
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