Do You Have or Want to Be a Muse?

by Art Editor, Carl Scharwath

Muse is defined (in Greek and Roman mythology) as the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, who presided over the arts (and sciences.) In literary history, Ezra Pound reins supreme. As a poet he started the new poetry movements of Imagism and Vorticism. As a muse he helped to launch the careers of William Carlos Williams, T.S. Elliot, Hemingway and James Joyce. He was the editor for the T.S. Elliot masterpiece “The Wasteland” as well.

As an artist, I feel we all need someone to support us. Art can be a lonely task and having some support and recognition of all our hard work inspires us even more. Of course, your God is your number one place for help and love, however I don’t know when God could ever edit or give you feedback on your work, although I wish he could. Therefore, an engaged Muse is so very important.

If you have a Muse, then you are very lucky indeed, but if you do not there are many places to seek. Your family or friends are hopefully supportive, but if they are not artists themselves, your work and their interest in it might get lost to the busy life they lead. The best place to find your Muse is in another artist.

How do you go about finding or being a Muse? One word: !!FACEBOOK!!. I know some of you do not use Facebook and yes, the selfies, cat videos and food pictures can be fun, but this social media platform reins king for networking. I could not believe how many artists, writers and photographers there are in the world and discovering them on social media is a true blessing.

All you need to do is reach out, read their work, compliment them and share your writing. Begin to build your friend base with writers and artists. I would also look for publications and editors as well. The support you will discover is real and when you find a few loyal friends, the ideas, successes and failures can be shared.

Join just one large writer group on Facebook. Some have over 5000 members and they are a treasure trove for new connections. (You can join more if you like, however every time there is a posting you could be notified.) A great group I found is “Calls for Submissions,” which posts daily Literary Journals seeking out your work.

The best way for you to meet people locally is to leave your comfort zone and read your work at an open mic event. You can also join a local writer’s group or start your own. Contact your local high school and if you are comfortable you can offer to teach a writing class. I have done all of the above examples and have had great results.

One idea which worked the best for me was to reach out to other poets and offer to do a collaboration. The new friend wrote a poem complimenting my photography and then I would do the work to submit for publication. I have worked with over 10 poets, mostly female and from other countries (as I prefer the dynamics of a feminine view with an international perspective.)

Everyone I submitted was published and 5 of the poets had their first publication working with me. Collaborations are a great way to be a muse to each other and help a new poet to be published.

As the Art Editor for Minute Magazine, I am always happy to see your work. If you need any help, please reach out to me on Facebook and I will be most happy to be of assistance. You are never alone in your art; there is always someone who would like to help you on your journey and of course I hope you find your Muse or become one. Thank you.

Interview: In Conversation with Stephanie Tom

by Art Editor, Carl Scharwath

Stephanie Tom is a contributor for Issue 7 and the winner of Minute Magazine’s Jenny Link Poetry Prize. Read her winning poem, “The Floor is Lava,” here

Q: Tell us a little about yourself first?
A: Hi there! I’m a Chinese-American poet and undergraduate student at Cornell University. I’ve been reading since I was four, writing since I was six, and in love with poetry since I was eight. Since then, my work has appeared or is forthcoming in Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Luna Luna Magazine, Sine Theta Magazine, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and Porkbelly Press, among other places, and my debut chapbook, Travel Log at the End of the World, is forthcoming from Ghost City Press this September. When I’m not writing, I like to explore the great outdoors, dabble in the performing arts, and drink a copious amount of caffeine.

Q: When did you first begin to write poetry?
A: I got introduced to poetry in the second grade, when my parents bought me a children’s treasury of classic poetry as my seventh birthday gift. I loved to re-read them every day after school, and that same year, we had a poetry unit in class where we learned about different forms and genres of poetry which culminated in a grade-wide collaborative poetry anthology. At the time I was more interested in reading poetry than I was in writing it because I was set on making my mark as a fiction writer (which hasn’t happened yet). I started writing poetry again in fifth grade on a whim when I started to abandon my fiction endeavors. I haven’t stopped since.

Q: Where do you get your ideas?
A: Everywhere. When I was younger, I would write directly observational poems about the weather, about school, about the books I was reading, or sometimes about the fantasy stories I abandoned mid-plot. As I got older, I started writing more confessional poetry, and more about experiences rather than tangible objects. I went through thematic phases — one year I wrote mostly space-themed poetry, and another it was mostly about philosophical and physical paradoxes. One year it was all about the pop culture I was consuming. I don’t usually try to stick to a theme when it comes to writing but sometimes it happens anyways.

Q: What was an early experience where you learned that language has power?
A: One of my earliest memories concerning language was probably from when I was around four, and was on a road trip with my older cousins. We got into an argument about something undoubtedly childish, and one of them called me ‘dumb.’ Naturally, I retaliated by using the strongest word I knew — ‘stupid’ — and said exactly that, which lead to my aunt having to pull over because my cousin started crying uncontrollably. It wasn’t a proud moment, but looking back, that was the moment I realized that words were powerful and that I had to learn to wield them carefully in order to express my thoughts the way I wanted people to receive them.

Q: What is your writing process like?
A: I try to write a little every day, and by ‘write’ I don’t strictly mean poetry. Writing anything — essays, to-do-lists, journaling, whatever it may be — helps my brain get into the zone for potential poetry. I also don’t try to force ideas out — opening a blank document and staring at it doesn’t help me brainstorm better, so I just let it come naturally. Whenever I do sit down to write properly, though, I don’t stop once I start and just keep typing or scribbling until I feel like the bulk of the poem has been properly transferred onto the page.

Q: Who is your favorite poet?
A: Oh gosh, this is going to be a long and non-exclusive list. I’ve read and loved so many poets over the year, many of which have become role models and are sources of inspiration who still influence my writing today. Right off the top of my head: Chen Chen, Franny Choi, Talin Tahajian, Emily Dickinson, Emily Jungmin Yoon. Kristin Chang, Hannah Cohen, Paige Lewis, Kaveh Akbar, Leila Chatti, Olivia Gatwood, and so many more I know I’m forgetting.

Q: What would the perfect poem look like to you?
I don’t really think the perfect poem exists yet, because what I’m looking for in a poem always changes. Every time I read or write a poem, I’m looking for something specific to my mood that day. But I suppose no matter what, to me, perfect poem would be a happy one — it’d be the poem equivalent of drinking your favorite soup, slip-sliding down your throat as you read it and slowly filling you with warmth and a sense of love and wonder for the world. And no matter how many times you return to it, you’ll always feel comforted by its words.

Q: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Don’t stress about writing every day and churning out so much content. There’s no need to rush to write a poem a day or get published in a new magazine every other month, and you don’t need to win awards to be a valid writer. There are definitely some people out there that are able to do all of this and they are incredible, but that doesn’t mean that you’re not equally as much of a poet. Your growth will happen and you’ll get better at this craft with time.

Q: What advice do you have for writers?
Be open-minded. Read as much as you can, in as many different mediums and styles as you can. Don’t force out words when you’re truly and 100% stuck with writer’s block. Leave the page or screen and return after a cup of tea or coffee. Breathe. Don’t stress about getting a perfect draft; do just aim to finish one draft at a time. Remember that writing is an art, and like every other form, takes time and practice to get to the level you want to be at. Write with a purpose, write for others, but always remember to write for yourself too.

Q: How will you celebrate with your 100 dollar winnings?
A: May is a season of many birthdays and celebrations in my family. Now that I’ve got my own money, I can finally use my winnings to get them the gifts they deserve while still keeping them a surprise!

Stephanie Tom is a Chinese-American poet and a student at Cornell University. Her poetry has appeared in Rising Phoenix Review, Hypertrophic Literary, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and Luna Luna Magazine, among other places. In addition, she has previously been recognized by the national Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, the International Torrance Legacy Creativity Awards, and the international Save the Earth Poetry Contest.

Carl Scharwath resides in Mount Dora, Florida. He has appeared globally with 100+ magazines selecting his poetry, short stories, essays or art photography. He won the National Poetry Contest award for Writers One Flight Up. His first poetry book is “Journey To Become Forgotten” (Kind of a Hurricane Press). Carl is a dedicated runner and 2nd-degree black belt.

Book Review: “Do Not Say We Have Nothing” By Madeleine Thien

by Nazanin Soghrati, Blog Contributor

To be perfectly frank, I picked up Do Not Say We Have Nothing with quite high expectations. After the novel had won several prestigious prizes in Canada and was later shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize, I was excited to read the work that had caused so much excitement in the Canadian literary sphere. Madeleine Thien, with her wonderful and crackling prose that has a powerful poetic backbeat thumping along, did not disappoint. This work of historical fiction brilliantly weaves together the stories of 4 Chinese people: those who experienced the atrocities of the Sino-Japanese War, the Cultural Revolution, the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre, and finally the second-generation Chinese immigrants.

The story itself moves almost in a circular motion: It begins with Vancouverite Marie’s laments over the suicide of her father in Hong Kong and ends with her finally forgiving him almost 20 years later, after discovering the true reason behind his tragic death. It is in between these 20 years, however, that Maries reunited with the stories of the people of her past and reaches a spiritual reconciliation with her family’s history.

All this transformation is kindled when Marie’s mother invites Ai-Ming, a university student fleeing the post-Tiananmen Massacre crackdown, to her house after the suicide of her husband. Ai-Ming and Marie, despite having grown up in vastly different environments, develop a special relationship with one other. Over time, Marie understands that their bond runs almost two generations back with their fathers having been colleagues in music school: Sparrow, Ai-Ming’s father, being the composer and Kai, Marie’s father, being the pianist.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing is further fractured into subplots with the presence of Big Mother Knife, her sister Swirl, and Swirl’s husband Wen the Dreamer who experienced first-hand the brutalities of the Sino-Japanese War and later the land reform campaigns and executions of communist China.

Thien brings together these 4 generations —that of Big Mother Knife and the Sino-Japanese War, Kai and the Cultural Revolution, Sparrow and Ai-Ming and the Tiananmen Massacre, and Marie and her immigration to Canada —with a brilliance rarely found in historical novels. One can feel the innocence of Marie as she learns about her past, the ambition of Kai, and the broken hollowness of Sparrow through the pages, and witness the powerful relationships that are formed through their common interest in music. Throughout tumultuous times of war, revolution, and political uprisings — with the communist and oppressive state breathing down on the necks of citizens like an ominous shadow — music becomes the only remaining form of individualistic expression, which connects and unites these three characters.

Thien urges her readers to explore important questions throughout the story. She fearlessly scrutinizes how war and state-sponsored policies —specifically those set out by the Communist Party of China during the Cultural Revolution— molded people’s lives, tested their resilience and sent waves of aftershocks for many Chinese generations to come. The fractured subplots that blur the line between past and present deliver a powerful resemblance to Marie’s immigration experience: much of her family, too, resides in fragmented parts of the world, having been torn apart by inhumane state policies and laws.

I thoroughly enjoyed Madeleine Thien’s masterpiece. The story painfully hit home for me — I saw in Sparrow the same hollowness that I often see in my Iranian parents when they speak about their experiences of war. Even though the two groups are from two drastically different parts of the world, they were both enthusiasts of a revolution they believed would lead to prosperity, and both were fiercely disappointed by the actual outcome. Thien also aims to convey the transformative journey of a second-generation immigrant finally coming to a peaceful understanding with her past. Marie, once in deep rage at her father’s decision to commit suicide, finally understands his part of the narrative and forgives him. This understanding, this reconciliation with one’s past, lies at the centre of this virtuosic novel.

Personally, I can only admire the powerful way that Madeleine Thien spurs her readers to not only learn more about Chinese history but to further explore their own past and how their family history has been shaped over time.

Nazanin Soghrati is a junior from Ontario, Canada. Her writing has been previously recognized by Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and has appeared or forthcoming in the Rising Phoenix Review and Polar Express Publishings amongst others.