Review: “Speech of the Masquerade” by Kendall Driscoll

One of my friends and fellow poet recently published her debut poetry collection. I have enjoyed reading the book and listening to Kendall’s readings. You can purchase the book here.

download (13)Kendall Driscoll’s debut poetry collection Speech of the Masquerade explores both the poet’s coming-of-age and her musings on her generation. Sometimes, she’s optimistic about the out-flowing love of her friends and peers and at other times disparaging at their attempts to craft success from empty honors. Her words glint with an honesty that embraces the beauty, rot, and oddities of the world. Many of the poems read playfully, ditties of joy and curiosity, each word a celebration of life’s strange poignancy, while others speak with a satiric bent on humorous pitfalls of our generation.

Certainly, she achieves to both criticize and praise the twenty-something audience for whom she writes. Call it a “guide to being in college and having no idea what to do with your life” and gift this book to every recent high school graduate you know. While several pieces dedicate contemplation to growing up, the power of writing, the meaning of love, and seasons changing, other poems ring with unique experiences and subtly peculiar musings. The poem focusing on how colleges value your academic achievements but not the content of one’s character pleased me very much—I imagine a resume stockpiled with small life victories to matter to us, not to corporate hegemonies. She also offers a valiant defense of live classical music, the triumph of the piccolo over the auto-tune. She explores the lives of brilliant young musicians and the pressure to conform to perfection.

Whether she’s ribbing on resume-builders, writing mock-eulogies to defunct coffee machines, or challenging others to gather the courage to live honestly, Kendall’s voice reverberates with beauty and truth, which according to some poets, are the same thing.

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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.

Guest Blog: Tolerance (Or Lack of) On Social Media (Part 2)

{Yesterday, I post a blog from Will Victor (juggler, scholar, Taylor-Lautner-look-alike) on the Chik-fil-A controversy and its effects on Facebook feeds. Read Part 1 first, then commence with reading the rest. Share your thoughts below.}

Read Part 1

After having shared the said analysis of the online ideological war, you may ask me, “Will, why do you maintain your position in no mans land?”

You may tell me to listen to Danté, who once said that “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crises maintain their neutrality.” So, why remain neutral? Why choose to stay in “no man’s land?”

The answer to this inquiry lies not in that I have no opinions.  I certainly have opinions on these issues. In fact, I could tell you all that I personally think about every controversial topic from abortion to the social safety net. My neutrality lies not in that I don’t have an opinion—rather it lies in accepting the reality that every one of these controversial issues has two sides, and more often than not, the reasoning used to justify supporting either side is entirely valid under the assumptions upon which the opinion was based. To give an example, I will share with you two opinions on homosexual relations. The first will support the morality of homosexual relations, and the second will debase it.

In favor of:

“Due to advances in modern psychology and research, we as humans understand that homosexuality is not abnormal. Around 5 percent of the population of humans is homosexual, and homosexuality is not a choice. It is an orientation that is determined by biological, genetic, and environmental factors. Further, to hide from one’s identity and suppress homosexual urges is psychologically harmful according to the APA. Thus, homosexuals should be supported in their decision to have relations with one another.”

In opposition to:

“On planet earth, nature has defined laws that govern itself. We call the system of morality that arises from this fact “Natural Law.” In the context of homosexual relations, natural law can conclude that homosexuality is immoral because of the following: a penis is a human body part that is meant to fertilize an egg inside of a woman. An anus is meant to expel waste from the body. These two body parts are not meant to be put together. This is quite obviously the reason why homosexual relations are immoral.”

It is easy to see how these two pieces of evidence are based off of different assumptions. The former implies that what is moral should be defined by what is deemed “normal, and healthy” by scientific research in human psychology, while the latter defines moral as determined by “natural law.” This leads us to conclude that the argument that is occurring is not just about gay marriage, it is rather about some difference in each person’s concept of the source of morality.

It is quite easy to see in the example above that two arguments can be simultaneously valid because each one is based off of a different assumption. This is why I maintain my neutrality in these issues. I’m tired of people acting like the other side is completely crazy. Many fail to recognize that the opposition is using a different set of assumptions to create their argument.

Maybe, if we better understood this, we would stop throwing ideological grenades at one another. And when everyone noticed that the mortars stopped exploding they would poke their heads out of the trenches, and approach one another peaceably. Maybe then people would start to explain their respective worldviews and either agree to disagree, or search for real compromise.

It is my hope that the armistice will come soon because I genuinely dislike watching the sentimental Facebook Christmas stories be eaten up by the bombs of ideological warfare on my mini-feed.

“Aiken Remembers”: Celebrate Our History and Community This Sunday

Press release: http://www.aikenstandard.com/story/0715-Joe-Lista

This Sunday, I will be presiding over and hosting a show at the Aiken Community Playhouse called “Aiken Remembers: Our Community Through the Lens of Joe Lista.” I wrote a column about it months ago for Verge, but now we’ve finally arrived. This Sunday, we will gather on-stage at 3 with four guest speakers who will lend personal stories to the already fascinating pictures of our town from the years 1954-1964.

https://derekberry.wordpress.com/2012/04/05/verge-article-about-aiken/

This project has been more than one year in the making, ever since my boss sent me into the archives to find interesting photographs. With the help of URS, this evolved into a show to honor Todd’s father Joe Lista as well as take a closer, personal look at the era. Afterwards, we will show further pictures from our archives while enjoying refreshments.

I am completely stoked for this show, and I hope it brings back nostalgia for those who lived through this era while piquing intrigue from younger generations. Though some of the pictures cover controversial topics, such as segregation and socio-economic boundaries, this era emphasized community. Though we were a small town, we thrived together. Hopefully, we can regain this sense of community, and remembering how we did so once is the first step to doing so.

If you are a history-buff or a connoisseur of photography, you should come out to the Aiken Community Playhouse main stage in the URS Center of Performing Arts to enjoy this spectacle. I have spoken and interviewed all of our guest speakers and can ensure you that their stories are worth listening to.

The show will be broadcast live by Aiken Standard TV.

Once we reclaim our past, we can make today a yesterday we can be proud of.

Dog Days of South Carolina

For those who not live here in South Carolina or in the South, we experience a lot of heat in the summer. So hot a cannibal needs not to cook you when he approaches you on the street, since all of your organs have been fried, your meat browned to perfection. So hot you cannot use body spray lest you become combustive outside. So hot– well, you get the idea.

When the heat index spikes well over a hundred degrees for several days in a row, we finally feel summer arrive. Before, we enjoyed the cool upper nineties, a brief respite of solid heat for those of us like me who do not have air conditioning in our cars. On such days when I don’t go to work, we try to avoid driving. With the windows down, the wind blasting me. Every stop light is a fresh Hell to suffer through, the heat a pressing claw on your neck, drawing sweat like blood from your body.

It is not so much that there is high humidity but instead a wall of heat that passes through the atmosphere. An army of heatwave-fisted boxers punching you in the jaw again and again.

What we do on these days, we try to stay at home. Turn on fans to sit in front of with a book. We drink water, or at least in the South, sweet tea which is considered more nutritionally valuable by merit of having magical Southern powers. Yesterday, a Saturday, the movie theatres were so packed out, lines formed well onto the street, around the block. Inside waited cool salvation for the masses who are willing to shell out twelve dollars for the air conditioning– and some Pixar movie or a film about a potty-mouthed stuffed bear.

I made the mistake of going swimming at noon on Friday and suffered for it, dipping my body into a body of water that the sun had already rose to boiling temperatures. It’s so hot, Facebook friends from Maine or California complain, the temperatures there rising into the eighties. And here, the sun is a cruel fixation of summer, the indelible monument of the South, forever hovering above our heads. Wielding life and death, light and darkness, heat and exhaustion and cloudless sky.

Heat is a Southern tradition we cannot escape any more than slavery or the tendency to stretch our vowels. During deer hunting season, first time hunters smear their faces with blood; in the summer, the sun replaces blood with sweat and drenches not just our faces but our bodies. The discomfort of sweat is something you get used to, though. Even the rivulets of liquid sloshing in your armpits, perpetually streaming down our back, glistening on your chest. Sweat becomes a new skin that leaves us sticky, wet, and rancid.

It has not rained for more than three weeks, despite a tropical storm blowing near our coasts. The storms shuffled around our city, flooding Florida, sprinkling Georgia. But here, the land is dryer than Gizmo the Gremlin before he belonged to an irresponsible teenager. And each day, he hope for a downpour. Something so torrential, the pine limbs snap. Something so powerful, the buildings shake in the wind. Even if we fail to venture into the storm, we pray for the end of the heat.

Already it is hot, and it must only get hotter.

Curiosity Shop: Open Mic Wrap-Up

Everyone gathering, ordering tea and such.

 

 

 

Tuesday was Aiken’s Curiosity Shop’s second ever open mic, and it was an astounding success! Not only did spectators pack out the tables at the Dicken’s Cafe, but I had to stand in the back with a horde of others. People stood, sat, and hung from rafters. They watched from below the stage and up above on the stairwell. About a dozen performers delivered stunning, explosive, fun, magnificent songs, poems, stories, and jokes to this very responsive crowd.

We had the great pleasure of welcoming an Italian exchange group from Orvieto. They too performed songs both in Italian and English.

I performed “Knockout”, “American”, and a new poem called “Ode to Awkwardness.” Click any of these links to see performances of them. The last one is only half the poem, but soon, I’ll make something really special for this blog. I’ve been playing with the idea of doing a music-video-type thing for a poem; this comic, short poem would be a great first endeavor. Hopefully, I will work on that soon.

Here are some further pics of the open mic performers (including myself) that I purloined (legally) from the Curiosity Shop’s Facebook page.

Poetry Swagg from Paul Muniz
Sweet Baby Dave and The Cheapskates performing a Radiohead song.
Jazzy Awesomeness
50’s bluesy guitar
The Savage Pen (Me) performing “Knockout”
Misha the “Comedian”
Some more poetry swag from Kendall Driscoll

 

Such a full audience!
Beautiful Rendition of One Direction

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Crowd goes wild!

Thoughts On Endings at Dawn

As I drove home this morning at six, I watched the sun rise, the peach-skin skies revealing the sillouhette of a continent of overcast clouds. Leaving out in the dark, I drove and soon looked out the window to see the sky pinker, brighter. You’re left wondering how this happened, so slowly, yet so fast, as if you haven’t even been paying attention. Life’s changes act much like the sky during dawn or evening; we cannot perceive the light changing but it always is. And suddenly as we’re driving, we look up to see that everything around us is different.

As I approach my 24th hour of being awake, I am remarkably conscious and alert. Perhaps much calmer after physically exhausting myself. As far as definite turning points in our lives, graduation could count as one of them. Last night at 8, my school filed across a stage to receive diplomas, and we turned our tassels on our caps to finally become these new people. As if we were supposed to feel different, more grown up, gaining like Spider Man strange super powers like a complete understanding of microeconomics.

But changes don’t come like that, a simple radioactive spider bite and you’re changed. Growing up is as slow and difficult as the DMV.

After graduating, the community held Project Graduation which provided us with endless entertainment for the night including inflatable obstacle courses, jousting stations, a very impressive buffet, a dance rave, raffles, gambling, and free spa massages.

What should have made me pass out has instead invigorated me and instilled me with a sense of calm. I drove away, dropped off a friend at his house, and drove to my own. I opened my laptop to write simply because calmness puts me in the writing mood. There is a certain time of night when I lose my mind and begin to babble, losing sanity. Then that passes and I become simply calm and again awake. Right now, I here family members waking from their beds.

Today, when I wake from the heavy sleep that will come, I may post something else about what happens next: the future. For now, however, I’m thinking only of the past and how this past and future converge at an uncertain dawn. We live so ardently in that past, look up and realize that the sky is turning pinker, brighter. Things have changed, and we haven’t even noticed.

I only wanted to give my first impressions after the night’s festivities. I cannot quite even understand how wakefulness will work, whether my energy will suddenly drop out from under me like a trap door. Like a narcoleptic, I’ll fall violently into dreams. It’s nearing seven. Morning is here finally, full and bright, and writing this, I could not even observe its exact changes, only its general.

Because I am going on vacation, I probably will not blog for about six days. Or perhaps I will be inspired by the sea to write, and the sea tends to be quite inspiring, I believe. Class of 2012, make sure to take a look around. Savor the moments because while you look away, they pass and things have changed.

The Bawdy Bard: Why Inappropriate Humor Matters

Photo credit: http://www.aikencommunityplayhouse.com/

Last night, while watching the Aiken County Playhouse’s rendition of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, I realized something important about fiction, more specifically comedy: dirty humor is a must.

Many people shake their heads at sexual humor, seemingly meant only to stimulate the minds of sick teenage boys (me). I mean, American Reunion has been released, a beg-play at making more money off the original franchise. Of course, there have been umpteen direct-to-DVD sequels, but apparently the series is successful enough to continue producing movies. Why?

I will say it out right- dirty humor is hilarious. Sure, it is immature and pointless and plebeian and sometimes sickening, but always funny.  Butter, a cow Halloween costume, and a game of truth-or-dare add up to nothing less than hilarious in my mind. Oh, why cannot directors and even writers use adult humor. The Woody Allen kind, the cold, ironic humor. Sure, I think that is quite funny too, but not always laugh-out-loud funny. Refer to a sex organ through a balloon animal and yes, I will howl like a hyena.

Shakespeare is likely one of my favorite bawdy comics. When he begins making jokes about sex, he gets down and dirty, and he’s not

Photo Credit: http://nationallampoon.com/movies

afraid to refer to some of the most taboo subjects of his time. What Shakespeare does really well which some contemporary dirty movies is use subtlety to tell these dirty jokes. He’ll will refer to sex via hilarious puns and innuendos. Have we lost the art of subtlety? It’s not funny to simple call oral sex oral sex. But if you refer to a “the winds that Mother Nature even could blow,” that is dead funny in a Victorian England sort of way.

What fails at these references: see any American Pie spin0ff, horror movie featuring killer fish and topless girls, or National Lampoon straight-to-DVD film.

Compare the following.

Shakespeare Sonnet 125:

The sea, all water, yet receives rain still,
And in abundance addeth to his store;
So thou, being rich in ‘Will,’ add to thy ‘Will’
One will of mine, to make thy large will more.

 

In this passage, the word “Will” takes on the double meaning of ambition as well as “phallus.”

Now, consider the movie American Pie where the entire joke IS sex. You cannot allow sex itself to be funny. Look viewers, there is sex happening on the screen between two teenagers! And look, a naked midget!

It just does not work. I appreciate those movies for their raunchiness, but dirty does not ultimately equate funny. Dirty and smartly stylized equates to funny.

The question we must consider… is WHY we appreciate dirty humor. Shakespeare included it in his plays for the lower class. In one play (say, Hamlet), the bard explores the woes of love, life, and revenge and also makes jokes about virginity, whore-dom, and Ophelia’s breasts. This is why I love Shakespeare. He can be both hilarious and serious within the span of a single monologue. So, when I see a very serious movie that applies very dirty humor, I think “Yes. This great.”

Humor must be had in any great work of literature or film, I believe. It is what allows us to connect at a more visceral level to what’s going on. Laughing makes our bellies shake, our voices boom out. Which offers a nice balance to contemplating the movie’s more intellectual themes.

So, remember, next time you pop open a cold one and get ready to watch a dirty movie dealing primarily with sex, that this experience was made possible and popular by the dirty mind of William Shakespeare. He’s a dude’s dude.

Photo Credit: http://www.myspace.com/coloradoshakesfest/photos/1418774#%7B%22ImageId%22%3A1418774%7D

Open Mic at Curiosity Shop: Recap

The Curiosity Shop, a store in downtown Aiken now located on Park Avenue, which sells foods from the British Isles and beyond. They also really support local writers with a section of their bookstore devoted to authors’ books from around South Carolina. Recently, they have had Dickens Cafe which has quite a the variety of teas. Last night, they hosted their first open mic. It was very good, full of talented people. Here is a video of one of the poems I performed. You have likely seen this poem before, but I am particularly pleased with this performance of “Skinny Dipping with Strangers.