Gambrinus

Perched on the barstool
on crossed feet to look taller
he downed another pint
smacked down the mug

When he wanted to
if push came to shove
if the shit hit the fan
he could really mix it up

A low centre of gravity
fists as fat as hams
and an acumen buoyed
on barley and hops

He’d left the crown
on the bookshelf…
tonight was about drinking
and whatever else came his way

From Sonofabitch Poems, 2011

A lightening

droplets of condensation 
down the cheap tin
of the cheap can
residual handprint bleeding water

the vacant chair
threadbare from years of lounging
a scratchy radio in the background
ancient songs
antique sounds

She still nags, chicken-pecking in the kitchen, about this, that, the other thing, almost drowning out the broken music. What she doesn’t realize is that

he’s gone
after all these years
up and left
beer still cold
chair still warm
no longer there to listen
no longer there to care
or
not
care

he walks down the driveway
smoking a Camel
his other hand twitching
the straw that broke the camel’s back
Farm Horror © R L Raymond

From Weakdays, Corrupt Press

Traceable Genesis

Wherever your ideas comes from, be it image, fact, lie, it is interesting to have some type of documentation surrounding those ideas. Maybe there is a biographical link, a creative link, an environmental link, a detail that someone, somewhere, sometime will pick up about your piece. Because the original ideas are oftentimes NOT the core of a story or poem, they can add a certain depth for the serious reader. Having the ability to “uncover” these gems can be very rewarding to the parsers. To others, this type of backstory doesn’t matter. That’s great. Writing should be for different audiences. But giving the hardcore fans, the historical sleuths, the biographers of the future something to discover can be satisfying.

Writing can be a jigsaw puzzle. Although the endgame is a complete image/narrative, the process, the construction, the genesis is mostly lost to readers. Just imaging the exhilaration of finding a little piece of the puzzler inside the puzzle — a tidbit, a factoid, a revelation. This can elevate the serious reader to another level.

Biographical content is not necessarily the key. “Write what you know” can be the worst advice a writer could attempt to follow. This said, if there is a cool detail that lead to your piece, a detail that you can jot down somewhere in a journal, kept safe for future discovery, that is a priceless nugget. Even if it is totally unnecessary for the final fiction, that nugget can add so much to someone who had taken the time to discover it.

With practice, and by following your personal voice, style, aesthetic, these nuggets will start to manifest in the overarch of your oeuvre: links, parallels, juxtapositions that alone mean nothing; bits that taken together, maybe with the addition of extra-textual notes, become beacons of meaning.

That’s why it is important to save your notebooks, to have someone who knows about them, someone who will, eventually, help the world decipher the hidden stories within your stories.

The author is dead, maybe, but long live the author!

A cardinal / Keep the old words alive

Keeping old books, stories, poems alive is important. Once something isn’t new or on the shelf anymore doesn’t mean it should fade into obscurity. Digital publications that go offline, presses that die, journals that shutter their doors, all contribute to this growing issue of slow word death. Make it a point to seek out and preserve these. Take a screen shot. Find an old, abandoned review and share it. Long live the old-ish stuff!

Here is a poem published 10 years ago in a now defunct magazine. Glad I have my contributor copies.

Originally Published in Envoi, UK, 2011.
Original Cover Nov 2011

Breakup Cards

I found a few mint copies of my original breakup cards. I think the press is long out of these. If you’d like the set of two, for fun, for posterity, to put to intended use, let me know. Just send me a note through “Contact” form and I’ll ship them to you. Canada and USA only please.

These are full colour, on postcard stock, with lines on the back for you to fill out.

Only a handful:

Write like cinnamon

Why does fresh ground cinnamon taste better? Does it actually taste better? Either way, there is a difference.

2 sticks © R L Raymond

To me, the act of rasping the cinnamon into coffee grounds, onto an apple, into a barbecue rub adds to the experience. There is an ownership of the spice, an effort in making the most of the ingredient that elevates it. Instead of just tapping a few shakes from a plastic jar, you actually make the flavour come alive through action.

How does this apply to writing? Simply. Don’t use canned ideas, expressions, clichés, styles, conventions. Make something new. Create something never done. Act on your writing. Go beyond the idea of stringing words together; go deeper, into sound, structure, meaning, history, foundations. Writing should be active and not a passive exercise in retelling. This is best exemplified in Hollywood these days. Reboots. Reruns. Retellings. All boring, adding nothing new… When a well written, original movie comes along, it truly stands out. In each case, there is a conscientious effort to make a masterpiece, outside and beyond what already exists.

Practice by reading different styles, from different sources, from different cultures. Soon, you’ll transcend the words, you’ll find the elemental spice that make the work unique, vibrant, original. Then find your own ingredients, break them down to the constituent parts, build your own, fresh literary recipe.

Not any closer

at a dinner party 
in Pittsburg
holding the knife
in her left hand
fork in her right
so european
she glares at him
french vinaigrette dripping
from the mesclun
on the tines pointing down
the wrong way

- Can’t you take anything seriously?

his lamb is rare
the plate red-rimmed

“Feel my cheek -
the smoothness
look at the tissue -
blood specked bulls-eye
on my neck…
then tell me I’m not taking this seriously.”

From Weakdays, Corrupt Press

Wading in sameness

Lately I’ve noticed a surge of statistics and articles on increasing popularity, discoverability, readability. This idea also seems to be trickling down into the creative writing world, especially poetry. It seems that content is being replaced by style, message by findability. Ok, so this isn’t new, but the sheer volume of noise behind the movement is disconcerting.

Every title of every article is the same, and some of these pieces even offer exact formulae for proper title wording. To me, an old school writer just wading into this new world, it seems self-defeating. It is the definition of vicious cycle: read articles about how to get articles read. While some of the pieces offer great information and insight, many rehash, refurbish, recycle. Does creativity take a backseat to search optimization?

The same holds true for poetry these days. Themes, styles, looks all drain into one homogeneous slush of ‘poeming.’ It is becoming more and more difficult to tell poets/writers apart — it all sounds the same, about the same thing, written pretty much the same way. Where articles use canned headlines, poems use the same short, choppy prose, losing any differentiating, interesting, identifiable characteristics. The essence of voice (see my short piece on voice) is gone.

● Commodification kills style
● Commodification kills voice
● Commodification kills art

Randomly select an article in a publication, on the web, anywhere, and truly try to find the author in it. Do the same with some contemporary poetry. Can you really, REALLY, identify the poet? It is getting tough. This is not to say there aren’t many great writers, poets, novelists, etc… I just find it disheartening that it takes much more effort to wade through the swamp of sameness to reach a little island of beauty. And, people are often instructed to become more homogenous:

● How to get reads
● How to get clicks
● How to get published

In each case, the message is simple: be more like everyone else, and everyone will read your stuff. Journals often tell writers to read what they like, what they’ve published, what they don’t like. If conformity was the goal, we would not have Samuel Beckett, H.D., or any other writer experimenting, excelling, inspiring. Instead of compelling, complex, cerebral writing, we would only have short, simple sentences and paragraphs of a certain length, apps to make us write like Hemingway (no hate, I LOVE Hemingway, mostly because he was Hemingway), apps to cut words we don’t need, to suggest better, shorter, more common words… oh, wait, nevermind…

“They don’t make movies like they used to.”
“Whatever happened to the classics?”
“Now THAT song will never get old!”

When we do find something different, exciting, fresh, a piece, poem, story, novel, song that is identifiable to a particular creator, we instantly know we’ve found something special. It will survive ‘pop’ culture, trends, the ‘must-dos’ of the day. Without differentiation, experimentation, deviation from the blob of sameness, there is nothing special. That’s why, for me, I want quirky titles, non-conforming articles, poems that are still poetry. I think it’s something we should all want, need, demand. My suggestion: make it yours and let the world find you. It doesn’t help to try and make it fit. That just fills the swamp. If it’s good, if it’s yours, if it’s fresh, it will be discovered, remembered, cherished.

Off to a tiny island, to read weird, wild, wacky stuff, I remain — RLR

Old lily pad © R L Raymond

Within

pitch dark
where stars whiten
at the death —albeit short-lived— 
of the streetlamp
cycle-timed for conservation 
frogs creak and croak

he hears them 
   echoed
      reflected 
         deflected
from neighbouring
houses with windows
open to the calm evening air 
that carries the din

there are no thieves conspiring 
or ne’er-do-wells whispering plans 
for mischief

only frogs
those night-sounds that bounce
against constructions and preconceptions


From “Half Myths & Quarter Legends”
R L Raymond