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An Open Letter to the Huffington Post Writer Who Visited My City

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For the writer of this wonderful article: “Perfect Day In Charleston, SC”:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/shoptiques-/perfect-day-in-charleston_b_5883370.html?utm_hp_ref=travel&ir=Travel

This ain’t the first time y’all came here,

your head brimming with expectations of fried opossum

and hillbilly carnival, the specter of the south leaving

such a distinctly sweet taste in your mouth.

But here we ain’t choking on molasses, ain’t passing time

running through fields of corn, listening to country music,

and doing whatever else the fuck you think we do here.

You come to Charleston and smile, congratulate us

on how progressive we’ve become. How our buckteeth

don’t offend you as they snack on sweet taters.

You said something to that effect, didn’t you,

when you praised the southern boutiques built for tourists,

said the south ain’t so bad after all.

You came looking for genteel, so I guessed you miss

the dirt in our teeth, the flames in our eyes, the fight

in our chests, and the holy brains in our skulls.

Cute that you thought a day could do us justice,

that when looking for the beautiful in our city,

you only looked up toward steeples, conjuring

plantation homes in downtown that never existed.

Tell me again how quaint we are, us quiet people,

how we put you to sleep. How you think that condescension

ain’t fighting words.

“Cobblepot Speaks”

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My name never meant anything,

couldn’t stride or glide on leathery wings,

only waddled—the awkward bird at the dance.

Never knew anything gilded before this, not like him,

because I know this man under the mask.

How he pretends that a cowl and cape make him

one of us, then spits in my face like my family name

is waning into history, the last heir a bachelor.

My family never cared that I could inherit anything.

But I didn’t grow up pretty boy.

Never knew the gold of the sky before taking the treasure myself.

Penguins live their entire wings and never learn to fly.

Forgive me for watching other dark and flying things

and becoming envious.

Forgive me for reaching in this cruel city

for something more, for something I wasn’t born to claim.

Maybe I wasn’t fit for umbrellas and top hat. Maybe I wasn’t meant for the throne.

But do not all Gotham boys dream of growing up

to become Emperor?

To Wear Candy On Your Head

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Today, I drank coffee with Medusa’s little sister,

whose hair does not slither, but rather rises buoyed,

a cotton-candy flower blooming into sugar-rush and sick.

She drinks espresso in a single gulp.

She tells me that just because her face does not stop men in their tracks,

the way her sister’s beautiful face causes men to become immobile,

struck still as stone statues in their bumbling awe,

this does not mean she remains permissive to their stares.

The absence of serpent heads does not make her victim. She too

courts lightning inside of her.

She too some days feels like a monster,

shattering mirrors with shrieks of desperation.

She too knows rage’s name, kisses him like a grandfather.

She too has been scorned, but her hair

does not scare away the boys who whistle, only melts in the heat,

a sticky pink mess of fake sweet.

Why Does the Entire Cast of “High School Musical” Go to my University?

1.186188As I passed through campus on the way to class,

I encountered a mob of frenzied students

in the throes of a musical number.

Each face stretched into song, arms angled toward sky

like a tuning fork attempting to channel thunder’s vibrations.

They danced a choreographed can-can,

legs pumping and kicking scissor-snaps.

They grab my hand, implore me to join in,

and I shrug, tired this early in the morning.

I cannot sing the song they each know every word to,

and if I tried to mimic their dances, I would end up

always half a beat behind, trying to blend in,

my face stretching into smile.

Who’s musical fantasy was this anyways,

that requires so many unwilling participants?

Two leather-jacketed lovers sway in the center of our spectacle,

spinning by themselves.

Oblivious to the circus elephants marching behind us, a plane flying in loops above us,

and the rain of confetti floating fast like a penny dropped from atop the Empire.

The lovers do not look to see if we’ve got the moves right.

They’re not even dancing at all.

On the Origins of Party “Rage”: A Non-Academic Argument for Why One Day Partying Will Replace Warfare

As university classes start up again, college students begrudgingly march to class in pursuit of various degrees. Each Friday, however, one finds the libraries deserted, the streets packed with blue blazers and florid summer dresses. These young scholars regularly shed their academic robes to gather in bars and houses, drinking from glasses and Red Solo cups. Perhaps one might imagine a gentle Symposium, the alcohol lubricating the minds of young students so that intellectually-stimulating conversation may more freely flow from their tongues. But venture to the bars, to the hand-me-down sofas and crammed kitchens and you will find not gentle discourse on Herman Melville and biological symbiosis, but instead conversations more suitable for the liquor-minded.

 images (12)               “I fucking LOVE Billy Murray. What’s your favorite Bill Murray movie?”

                “Ground Hog Day. No, no, Ghost Busters.”

                “Did you know he said his favorite film he’s ever done is Broken Flowers?”

                “I’ve never seen it, but I think there’s a nude scene.”

                What has happened to this college student, to transform him from articulate commenter on high culture to pop-culture-sycophant? The easy answer, of course, is alcohol. Though the truth is more complicated, for the customs of the college party are far more intricate and explicit than one might think. Particularly interesting to me is the verb “to rage,” which is slang for “to party very, very, very hard.” Of course, the practice of “Raging” may differ depending on the youthful person asked. Some may contend that drugs must be involved in “Raging” while others insist on the epileptic motion of dance being integral to a proper “Rage.” I’m curious about the origin of this slang phrase and its implications.

                According to Dictionary.com, “Rage” means:

                “angry fury; violent anger” (noun) or “to act or speak with fury”

                http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/rage?s=t

                Rage is typically associated with violence, which makes it antithetical to the idea of partying. Generally, one “parties” to escape the negative aspects of life whether they be stress, boredom, or “bad vibes.” Violence, I believe many people can agree, certainly promotes the proliferation of “bad vibes.” Perhaps the impulse to violence intersects with the impulse to party, to be entertained. They may also be separate but powerful instincts. We must question, of course, the assumption that either enjoyment or violence are natural at all, though historically we have assumed exactly that.

images (14)                Let us go back to the Greeks, whom invented a lot of shit including but not limited to anal sex and blow jobs. We could argue (and I am going to despite the lack of academic evidence to back any of this up) that Greeks also invented partying. During festivals, Greeks would drink diluted wine and become uproariously drunk. Not all celebrations played out, however, like Plato’s Symposium. Many of these festivals were ridiculously awesome and the Greeks engaged in what the youth today would term as “raging.” Although culturally ignorant, we still honor the Greeks’ Bacchanalian contribution to society by wearing togas. Well-intentioned, misinformed honorarium of their commingling of intellect with spirit-inspired stupidity.

                We associate Rage with violence done by soldiers, particularly the mythical hero Achilles. images (13)Before heading into battle, Greek fighters the night before would drink boodles of wine, then wake the next day hung-over to fight. Some stories even mention Greek soldiers consuming psychedelic mushrooms before going into battle as a method of distilling fear. Regardless, the act of partying here can be directly correlated with acts of violence—hence, Rage.

                We see modern intersections as well. You remember that time your roommate brought back his fraternity brother to your dorm room, and he—sloshed on buckets of Jungle Juice—punched a hole in the wall? Here we see rage and enjoyment married in a single action, how the intention to have good-natured fun can become violent if unfulfilled or altered. Could we assume then, that “raging” is merely a non-violent release of youthful energy?

                Is the “party” as a social event the ultimate alternative to war?

                Rage is often associated too with madness and enthusiasm. Could it be that the madness exhibited in violent warfare could be otherwise siphoned into a new form of energy-dispersal. Could we solve our differences if only world leaders and war generals who  talk constantly about the size of their guns just got together in a room, drank copious amounts of rum and coke, then danced the night away? Imagine if only Mussolini had donned a glow-stick necklace, taken off his shirt, and head-banged to Skrillex? Would the world be a better place? Or if Stalin had embraced the infamous “bass-drop?”

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                However far-fetched the theory, I stand by it with hope and fervor. That one day we might replace this impulse to violence with the impulse to violence, to transform violent rage to enthusiastic rage and be better as a species for it.

The Ultimate Secret of Poetry Slams

So, you want to win a poetry slam? Listen closely, and I’ll tell you exactly what you need to do.

IMG_1356For those uninitiated into the ancient art form of spoken word, ‘Slam’ is a competition invented by Marc Smith (So What?) in 1985 at this joint called the Get Me High Lounge. Poetry at the time was pretty crazy—people were bellowing elongated vowels atop bar stools and generally doing whatever they pleased. The conceit of the poetry slam was to get more people into seats to experience poetry, which is the main problem that poetry confronts—its serious public image problem.

Conjure the poet, the black-turtle-necked, finger-snappin’ intellectual speaking as if in a trance words describing their daily bowel movements and the fresco-palette of the setting sun. Slam poetry has in recent decades sucker-punched poetry back into the public spotlight, made it spectacle to see, not just a hobby for snooty would-be-rebels. Poetry slam is energetic. Scoop up the love of words and the search for truth, slap that together with theatrical Umph! and you get Slam Poetry. Almost like reciting monologues, almost like delivering a Pentecostal sermon, almost like political protest, but not exactly like any of that, the art of Spoken Word has grown into an international phenomenon.

Almost every major city holds a regular poetry slam. I happen to co-host the Holy City Slam right in the heart of Charleston, South Carolina. Beyond that, there are also regional slams—these often offer more money to get the best in the surrounding states to come out to compete. From there one sees larger and larger slams, including the National Poetry Slam and International Poetry Slam. Got no idea what I’m talking about? Here are some videos from recent slams that have taken place in the United States including the Rustbelt Poetry Slam, the Southern Fried Poetry Slam (which the Holy City Slammers took part in), and CUPSI.

But you didn’t come here to hear me sing the praises of poetry slams, did you? You don’t care about the history or the atmosphere. You just want to win. So the ULTIMATE secret to winning a poetry slam is…

Go to a poetry slam. There really ain’t much of a secret. Because judges are randomly chosen from the audience and because those judges’ tastes vary so much, there is no one style of poetry that will appeal to everyone. I know, it’s disappointing for me to lead you on like this, to hype up this great secret and then drop your expectations off a sheer cliff. But I will share an even better secret with you.

The Poetry Slam is a trick. It’s a game. We just people to come out and read and experience poetry. I mean, poetry is awesome, but it national-poetry-slam_s345x230has a serious image problem. People think poetry is boring. Until individuals take the plunge and experience the magic and healing of spoken word for themselves, they can’t know what they’re missing until they take that first plunge. So we dress poetry up like a sport, give it a competitive edge so that poets will bring their best and most polished work to the stage. This forces the poet to memorize and practice and hone their skills until they can stand on stage and deliver the best damn poem the world’s ever been. And the audience is inspired, and they will give the poets incredible scores, HURRAH!

But we don’t hold the poetry slam so we can hoist the winner on our shoulders and praise them for their literary efforts. Of course, the winner is usually an awesome poet who kicks verbal ass, but that’s not the point of the poetry slam, nope. The secret is, poetry slams are about YOU. We want YOU to have a great experience, to leave the venue feeling inspired. Maybe you might even pick up your pen, find that old notebook you’ve so long neglected, and start writing. Then comes the healing, the gush, the plunge, the heart-explosions, the gut-spillage, the brain splatter, and the love of poetry.

We want poetry to grow in our communities, to touch lives. We want to give poets the opportunity to grow in their careers and be paid handsomely for their work (one problem poets confront is that the public generally believes that art should be a public service and the artist a financial martyr). But it remains difficult to convince venues and parties to pay poets unless the audience and public believes poetry is a viable form of entertainment.

Hence, poetry slams.

Oh, what could it be? A baseball game? A boxing match? A NASCAR race? Not exactly.

But it can just as entertaining, imbued also with a consciousness you won’t find in any other type of competitive sport. Our strongest muscles are our lightning-fast tongues and at the end of the day, we want to make you cry or smile or laugh or feel SOMETHING. So that’s the real Ultimate secret of the Poetry Slam, that, as Allan Wolf said…

“The points are not the point. The point is the poetry.”

Literary Adventures Come More Frequently Lately

This week has been so far incredible, and now I’m gearing up for a slightly quieter week of writing and editing and putting my head down so that the copy-edit of the final draft of The Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County can be finished.

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I got a poem published in RiverSedge, a lit journal based out of the Texas-Pan American Press. I will update on which poem got published once the journal is released.

Recently, I also received publication in The Southern Tablet. You can read my poem here: When You’re Sixteen In a Small Southern Town. It’s a fun poem about childhood and growing up, which is probably one of my favorite non-slam poems I’ve written recently.

On Saturday, I got the honor of being in my hometown newspaper The Aiken Standard. Entertainment writer Stephanie Turner penned an awesome feature about my first novel, my burgeoning poetry career, and my creative process. I was very happy at work that morning as several people approached me, having recognized my picture from the article. It’s been an interesting summer in Aiken, SC, because I always felt like in Charleston, people know me as a writer and in Aiken, people don’t know me as anything. But that is starting to change, and I hope only I can remain humbled and grateful about the opportunities afforded to me.

Read the Article here: Aiken Poet Completes First Novel.

Poetry, too, has blessed me this week with an incredible energy. On Wednesday night, Nova (a fellow poet and my significant other) and myself drove up to Greenville, SC to compete in a small slam hosted by Moody Black. I was happy to catch up with my poet family, especially one brother who is about to join the Navy. The event stoked my love for the spoken word art form and taught me just a little bit more about the competitive side of poetry. Check out the slam winner Annie Lee, picture below.

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The very next evening, I attended an open mic at MAD Studios in Augusta. I have featured here before and love the venue. This week, Bilaal Muhammed blessed us with some poetry. Augusta Poet Laureate SleepyEyez Carter was instrumental in bringing out many of the city’s poets and performers for an evening of high-energy love. During that evening, I learned that both Sleepy and Brotha Trav (the previous poet laureate) were heading to Atlanta on Saturday.

I called to ask if I could tag along. I performed as the spotlight poet at Urban Grind’s “Do You Lyric Lounge?” I also got invited back next year on August 2015 to perform as the feature. I am slowly building up a calendar for 2015, based around the same time my book will be released!

On top of all this great news, Germany won the WORLD CUP. I celebrated by buying some new books. In the coming week, I’m going to start blogging more frequently so I can give more full thoughts on the events and happenings I’m experiencing. On July 22nd there will be the Holy City Slam in Charleston (hosted by myself and Matthew Foley) which I will blog about before it happens. Also, we are having a small poet’s party tomorrow evening at a local pool– The Poetry Potluck! The other big news is the Word Perfect show in Charleston on August 14th, which will take place at the Charleston Music Hall.

 

“May Not Be Suitable For Children”: What Is Appropriate for Young Adult Fiction

goldshaft-advisory“May Not Be Suitable for Children” should be my pen name, plastered across every short story, poem, and novel I write. There arises a dilemma in writing young adult fiction for teens, even for older teens, in that you must purposefully censor the content, language, and context of the story. At the same time, you want to commit to a certain degree of realism in your portrayal of teenagers—they cuss, take drugs, and make poor decisions. But at one point can the pursuit of depicting something “real” cross the line into commercializing the controversial? While editing my novel The Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County, these questions have plagued me.

Young Adult Lit in general has begun catering to younger teens, from ages 12 to 15, and with that comes a certain sacrifice of material. Violence becomes cleaner, romance becomes chaste, and the 14-year-old who might be a bundle of angry hormones speaks proper as a British butler. On the other hand, there exist plenty of YA novels that explore the dark and gritty. Thirteen Reasons Why explores the suicide of the protagonist’s sister. The Perks of Being a Wallflower highlight sexual abuse within the family and contain scenes about drug exploration. Probably one of the books that takes on the most criticism for dark material is Crank, which details a girl’s descent into meth addiction.

The controversy has already been much discussed in blogs and articles, asking whether YA is TOO DARK? Here are some opinions on that, but here too is my opinion.

The Article That Started the Debate

YA Fiction Is Too Dark

YA Fiction Saves Lives

Think of the Children!

YA Fiction Shows Teenagers As They Actually Are

As edits began on my novel The Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County, I began to have these exact conversations with my editor and publisher. After we reviewed some of the scenes in question, I agreed—some of these existed purely for shock value, the I can’t believe they might do that moments. Some were clearly inappropriate, though others existed for very particular reasons.

I’ll give an example: one character in the novel struggles with abuse in her relationship. In the first draft, I merely hinted at this dynamic and in subsequent drafts I wanted to bring the conversation of partner abuse to the forefront. So I employed the Toni Morrison school of realism and left nothing to the imagination, which created a powerful though perhaps horrendous scene. Was the scene necessary to show the horrors of abuse or could have I implied my opinion in some other way? In the end, I removed that particular scene because I believed that the character could convey her unsettling experience more easily herself. I could explain why domestic abuse was a terrible thing without actually showing domestic abuse, therefore in some way glamorizing that sort of violence.

Other controversies arose, as well, such as certain sex scenes and the presence of drugs and especially the level of cursing that some characters undertook. This caused the book to lower the f-word count nearly 100 f-words, which you probably might not notice reading the book. I based this novel and some of the action and the idiosyncrasies of the book on my friends, and my friends in high school swore like sailors. Of course we were always talking about sex and crimes and what we going to do once we broke out of our hometown. That’s part of growing up.

The most important question to ask is, why are you writing? Is the scene, though controversial, serving a specific purpose? I want to write something entertaining but also something educational. You learn not just about science or the South or even about the inner workings of teenagers, but a little something about what it means to be human.

Lastly, another big question: who are you writing for? It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that I’m writing young adult literature, but the stigma of writing for teenagers has begun to dissolve. I always wanted to write “literary fiction,” something serious, though you can write serious fiction for teenagers. After all, I was reading Melville and Fitzgerald and Dostovskey and Eggers as a teenager, and even now I’m barely removed from “teenager status.” Over the past few years, YA Lit has trended toward younger readers (12-15), but I wanted to write something for the almost New Adult. And I don’t mean the genre “New Adult,” which has been swamped solely by romantic fiction. I want to for those in-between, people like me. Maybe we’re not ready to read academic treatises yet and still crave the adventure of a teen lit book, though we also want something substantial in our fiction. We wanted to learn something about being human, want to better ourselves through the process of reading.

So, maybe The Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County isn’t “suitable for children,” but I hope it’s suitable for you.

Destroying Our Perceptions of What Women “Should” Look Like

google-template-women-must-beThere’s nothing wrong with a preference. For example, I like smart girls.

But sometimes, our expectations for women contradict, creating a tension between conflicting desires. Women are expected often to be demure, to be quiet, though at the same time then exuding passion through sex. There also exist contradictory ideas about beauty, whether it be skinniness or big breasts or big hips, whatever. People will also expect you to be something, bigger, smaller, smarter, taller, with better teeth. In the end, it’s pointless to actually cater to these expectations.

Therefore, I encourage all women to “fuck what I want.” Just stop caring about what I think women should look like or act like or be like, because I’m not the one living your life, you are. Or what anyone thinks, honestly, because it will just make you miserable, considering the fact that it will be impossible to live up to men’s expectations.

This is the simple message in this poem, which I performed

 

First Novel The Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County, To Be Published Fall 2015

I am extremely happy to announce the forthcoming publication of The Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County.

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On May 21st, I signed a contract with PRA Publishing for my first novel. This summer I am working with my superb editor to put the finishing touches on the manuscript, and then we’ll begin a massive marketing campaign. You’ll see reviews, blurbs, interviews, and other creative forms of marketing on this site! The tentative release date is August 2015, though I’ll keep you updated about specifics as the time draws nearer. Find out a little more about the book here:

When Declin Ostrander arrives in Lickskillet, South Carolina, he encounters a town on edge: after a grisly hate crime in their most affluent gated community, the citizens have adopted extreme caution and comical political correctness. The lynching coincides with a series of strange occurrences: the haunted house burns down, the local swimming hole is filled in to make space for condominiums, and a corporate lawyer arrives in town to defend the accused– a lawyer who happens to be Declin’s father. He moves to a new city every six months, sometimes once a year. Such might be the duration of the average hate crime trial. When Declin arrives at Lickskillet High, he struggles to relate with others and must seek out his own identity in the wake of tragedy.

Every town the same: a new racism, a new house, a new you. Declin’s father works for the infamous Knights of Southern Heritage, a cultural group often accused of hate crimes, and though he does not care fondly for the Knights or the victims, he relishes the chance to constantly move from town to town, to essentially recreate himself. The town reels over a central mystery: who killed Francis Jameson?

The book re-landscapes the South as an absurdist menagerie of Southern heritage groups, social segregation, and corrupt local politics. At the center stand the disaffected and aloof teens of Lickskillet, crusading against the humid hum of boredom with reckless mischievousness, post-modern apathy, and redeeming humanity.

Of course, I’ve written a book that is Young Adult (though that term here applies to 16-30 years old) and Southern. I wanted to write a different southern novel, one that didn’t glaze over the potholes of our history and society. Whether I’ve succeeded in recreating the SC atmosphere will be up to you readers come next year.

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