Movements: Beat Poets

So I recently watched the Chilean movie ‘No!’ which details the plebiscite in 1980, in which the country overthrew a particularly nasty dictatorship. One thing that really inspired me about the film was the way that media played a huge part in the campaign; people literally ‘used their words’, and completely changed the direction of the country.

I love the idea that literature can be so powerful, so I’m starting a little series of posts under the title of ‘Movements’, talking about literary movements that worked to positively affect their society. Today we’re starting with the Beat Poets!

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,
starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking
for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly
connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night

-from ‘Howl’ by Allen Ginsberg

Allen Ginsberg was an American poet (among many other things) who graduated from Columbia University in the 1940’s. It was at university that he made friends with Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassidy, and William S Bourroughs. These men would all be leading figures in what would come to be known as the ‘Beat Generation’, or the ‘Beat Movement’.

In part, the movement was a response to the end of World War Two, and a protest against the Vietnam War. Most Beat literature was popularised during the 1950’s, and was concerned with criticising a lot of core cultural aspects of America. Its essence was the questioning of the mainstream, and defying the norms of culture and of literature.

Ginsberg wrote:

Since art is merely and ultimately self-expressive, we conclude that the fullest art, the most individual, uninfluenced, unrepressed, uninhibited expression of art is true expression and the true art.

-Source

Although this was never a huge movement in terms of the number of participators, it was highly influencial, and it has been argued that the hippy movement of the 1960’s found its roots in Beat Poetry.

Many writers involved with this movement were also very interested in meditation, Eastern religion, and hallucinogenic drugs; they were looking to reach a higher consciousness, and were not content to remain within the traditions of their society.

Got up and dressed up
and went out & got laid
Then died and got buried
in a coffin in the grave,
Man—
Yet everything is perfect,
Because it is empty,
Because it is perfect
with emptiness,
Because it’s not even happening.

– from ‘Mexico City Blues’ by Jack Kerouac

Is this movement something you’d heard of before? Do you have any favourite poems from this group? And what other movements would you like to see a post about?

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

Dani

The Art of Togetherness

So, I recently took up nail art as part of my fundraising efforts (if you’re not sure what I’m talking about, you could read this post). Nail art is pretty much my new favourite thing though. I love the intricacy of it, and the way it makes your fingernails look iced – almost good enough to eat.

DSC_0057

An early attempt at something vaguely hipster-y

And the reason this slightly random topic is getting a blog post is this: every single nail I’ve ever painted – ever – is kind of messed up. I make mistakes all the time – I swear, it is impossible to make straight lines on that kind of scale! But most people have ten finger nails. The smudge on the little finger, or the chip at the base of the thumb aren’t the main focus; it’s the total, the summation of the ten tiny paintings, together. The art is not in one single nail, because I don’t think any of them could stand up to that kind of scrutiny. The art is in the togetherness.

[You can always trust an English Lit student to run with the weirdest metaphors – I’m not even sorry.]

This whole thing got me thinking about community – whether that’s family, housemates, colleagues, church or ‘squad’. I think every time, there’s something really beautiful about togetherness. We really really weren’t made to be alone.

There are an absolute tonne of books that deal with community, but today I wanted to point out some of my favourites.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis 

This applies to all of the books, but my particular favourite scene is in The Horse and His Boy, where we get a glimpse of a peace-time Narnian community. I love the way that everyone knows everybody, and there’s a real sense of inclusion and all round ‘getting along’.

The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare

Is this not everyone’s favourite, though? I am so in love with the Clave community: the way that although there are differences and personality clashes, there’s this fierce loyalty among the shadowhunters.

The Bible

Maybe slightly different to the other books on this list, but for real! The Bible is full of community – even in the Trinity (the doctrine of one God, three persons), there’s a real model of harmony and putting other people first. In the early church, we see the new Christians selling their belongings to provide for less well-off members of their community. (Acts 4:34)

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein

I think this is maybe an obvious pick – there’s such a heavy  emphasis in this series on friendship, and not going it alone. My favourite example of this is Frodo taking the ring to Mount Doom: his friend Sam his there with him until the end. There is such intense loyalty and selflessness in this story – gah. It’s great.

The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul by Deborah Rodriguez

This pick is maybe a little more obscure than the others, but I’d highly recommend it! I wrote a review here, if you’re interested. My favourite thing about the community in this book is the glaring differences in upbringing, culture and circumstance of each of the women. They each have their own stories, but they have a web of support as a group of friends.

Is this really cheesy? I find a lot of books (especially post-Romantic period?) have this really focus on individuality, and being strong enough to defeat the odds in your own strength. To my mind, that’s neither practical nor practicable – I think a need for community is not a weakness; but a strength!

“Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”

-Howard Zinn

I want to hear your thoughts! What are your favourite books about community?

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

~Dani

Joy to the World!

It’s two days until Christmas! Needless to say, this is going to be my last post until the 26th, so I thought I’d better get festive. Today I wanted to look at the lyrics of a really famous carol and just unpick a bit about what we’re actually singing. ‘Joy to the World’ was originally written by Isaac Watts, in 1719. I’m guessing we’ve all at least heard it, so I went and found a really original version for you to listen to while you read on. Enjoy!

Joy to the world

I love this line! Think about it: the writer is wishing joy – exceeding gladness and rejoicing – on everyone in the world. He’s not explained why we should all be rejoicing of yet, but what a way to start a song! I also really love this quote by C.S. Lewis: “Joy is the serious business of heaven.” This makes a lot of sense! In the Bible, when the angels told the shepherds of Jesus’ birth, they said: “I bring good news that will bring great joy to all people.” (Luke 2:10)

The Lord is come!

And here’s where the good news comes in! Hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth, prophecies concerning him were already being recorded; check out Isaiah 7:14 – “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God with us’).”

Let earth receive her King;

You know that little baby that was born in a grotty stable? Yeah, he was kind of the King of the WORLD. Revelations 1:5 says that “Jesus Christ is […] the ruler of all the kings of the world.”

Let every heart prepare Him room,

This isn’t a literal heart, guys. I’m sure you picked up on that. Romans 10:10 says that “it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God.” Watts is telling his listeners to make space in their lives for God! This isn’t a weird possessive take-over though; Asaph (a really good Old Testament song writer) wrote “God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

And heav’n and nature sing,

David (an Old Testament king and really famous poet and singer) wrote that “the heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftmanship.” (Psalm 19:1)

I wanted to finish up with one more Bible verse – this one’s another prophecy, this time by a guy called Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation.” (Zechariah 9:9)

“Shout to the Lord, all the earth!

Worship the Lord with gladness. Come before him, singing with joy.

Acknowledge that the Lord is God!

He made us, and we are his.

[…]

Give thanks to him and praise his name, for the Lord is good.

His unfailing love continues forever,

and his faithfulness continues to each generation.”

-Psalm 100

I wish you all a very merry Christmas!

~Dani

Remembrance Day

Here in the UK, we take a minute’s silence on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. The idea is that we step out of our daily routine to think, pray for and remember the many people who have fought for our country’s freedom, and who still fight today. We wear a poppy; a symbol originating from the First World War. The poppy was the first sign of life to break through the barren, war-torn fields, and is therefore seen as a sign of hope.

Remembrance Day is not a celebration of war and violence, but an acknowledgement of the people who give up their lives to ensure our safety, and a way of showing our respect for their sacrifice. It’s not a day to debate pacifism or politics, but to remember the horrors of war that people go through for our sake. Vast numbers of men and women have chosen to put their lives on the line for the sake of their countries, and that’s not something we can or should erase from our history.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
-from Laurence Binyon’s ‘For the Fallen
There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
-John 15:13
~Dani

The Ethics of Frankenstein

Real life isn’t a series of interconnected events occurring one after another like beads strung on a necklace. Life is actually a series of encounters in which one event may change those that follow in a wholly unpredictable, even devastating way.

Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park

I’m assuming we’re all at least aware of the story: ambitious scientist Victor Frankenstein takes it upon himself to inject a collage of human parts with the spark of life. He creates what he immediately labels as a monster, and rejects his creature. Left alone, the ‘monster’ must discover for himself humanity, and their immediate rejection.

What I’m interested in looking at is where the characters went wrong, and what they should have done.

The Creation of Life

Frankenstein took it upon himself to ‘play God’, and try to benefit the human race through his creation of a larger more powerful version of a man. Is it okay to attempt to create life? Is that our responsibility? And more importantly, should Frankenstein not have found a team of fellow enthusiasts to keep him in check, and to help with assessing the risks of his endeavours? To my mind, one of Mr Frankenstein’s greatest flaws was his tendency towards solitude, despite the negative effects on his health. I think he needed a confidant to help him work through the massive ethical issues he was dealing with.

Because the history of evolution is that life escapes all barriers. Life breaks free. Life expands to new territories. Painfully, perhaps even dangerously. But life finds a way.

– Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park

The Label

As soon as Frankenstein set eyes on his creation, he stopped calling it a man and switched to using terms like monster, creature and – interestingly – demon. The connotations of demon are that the creature – that we know came to life by the hands of a man – belongs in hell. Was it really the ugliness that made him so repulsive to every human he encountered? Was Frankenstein in the right to immdeiately damn what he had made? Is death so untouchable that attempting to reverse its effects is essentially horrific and unnatural?

The Definition of Human

What is the definition of human? Frankenstein’s monster was made from human  body parts; he felt and thought and bled. Was it solely the fact that he had not always been alive that made him ‘demonic’ rather than a man? There are lots of religious allusions in this book: was the unnatural creation of the creature what damned it, and if so, how is that just?

The Promise

This particular paragraph may contain spoilers. There comes a point where the monster approaches his maker and asks for a mate, promising to take the new creature and hide in the South American wilderness, never again to be seen by man. Frankenstein agrees, and then goes back on his promise. I’m definitely of the opinion that to go back on his promise was cruel, but that to have made such a promise with such uncertainty was also very wrong. Should a second monster have been made? Was it fair of the monster to ask for another conscious creature to be made for a purpose contracted on her behalf?

Science has attained so much power that its practical limits begin to be apparent. Largely through science, billions of us live in one small world, densely packed and intercommunicating. But science cannot help us decide what to do with that world, or how to live. Science can make a nuclear reactor, but it cannot tell us not to build it. Science can make pesticide, but cannot tell us not to use it. And our world starts to seem polluted in fundamental ways—air, and water, and land—because of ungovernable science.

Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park

I think questions like these are really interesting – and important – to think about, especially in the ‘safe’ context of a fictional situation. I’d love to hear where you stand on some of these issues, and what you would have done should you have been in the same dilemma. Was Frankenstein really blameless?

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

~Dani

What is Literature?

So as some of you may know, I’ve recently started university! I’m studying literature (although I’ve only had one lecture so far!) and it’s really been making me think about what literature means to me. How can we define something so abstract? I wanted to share what I came up with, but I also wanted to pose the question to you: What does literature mean to you?

 

Literature is not so much the end product as the process. It’s not the publication or the type-set, it’s not the pretty cover art, and it’s not the fame or critical acclaim. Literature is words.

Literature is an art; it’s the art of expression, of education. It is entertainment and comfort, and it is discomfort and challenging. It is the gift of escape and the bestowing of empathy. It is a broadening and deepening of perception, and the addition of dimension.

Literature is sharing. It is a relationship between the word and reader that inevitably ends in change.

It is a question and an answer; a journey and a destination.

It is a cry to be heard and the promise that we will be.

Literature is revolutionary; a time bomb and a warning and a blessing. It is the wisdom and folly of times past and the prophecy of more. Literature is human and raw and honest.

It is marks on page, but they are marks that come from the soul.

What is literature? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one!

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day.

~Dani

Things I Learned From The Hobbit

I’ve been reading The Hobbit by JRR Tolkein (finally!), and HUGELY enjoying it. I think it’s so much more than a brilliant fantasy novel (although it is that too), so I decided to put together a little list of things I learnt from The Hobbit.

  • If you don’t like the idea of adventure, it’s probably time you went on one.
  • Don’t be afraid to make new friends – and invite them for tea!
  • A spontaneous decision can change your life.
  • Some things are more important than your own comfort.
  • Life starts outside of your comfort zone! (that’s a Neale Donald Walsch quote)
  • A well-read adventurer is a creative adventurer.
  • Take the time to make good friends; you’ll be glad of them when times are tough!
  • Face your dragons with your wits about you and the support of your friends.
  • Sometimes paths are there for your own good!
  • Every individual counts and can make a huge difference.

If you’ve read The Hobbit too, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the book, and what you learned from it. Is there anything you’d add to my list?

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

~Dani

Invictus

For those of you who don’t know, I spent the last two weeks in South Africa! It was an amazing experience, and a big part of this was learning about some of the history of the country. We visited the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, and one thing that really stood out to me was a quote from the William Ernest Henley poem that Nelson Mandela read during his jail time.

It’s a testament to the power of language; words strengthen the spirit. Here’s an excerpt of the famous poem:

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Cover Reveal: Reunion of the Heart by Elaine Jeremiah

Reunion of the Heart

I’m so excited to be a part of this cover reveal! I’m loving this design – the colours are gorgeous, and it sounds like the book is going to be just as sweet.

Here’s the blurb:

After a messy breakup with her boyfriend, Anna is feeling fragile. So when her best friend Melissa suggests the two of them go to their school reunion, she’s reluctant as Anna’s school days weren’t her happiest. The evening is going well until she meets the boy who made her school life hell.

But the grown up Will is different and Anna is surprised by the direction her life takes. The reunion sets in motion a series of events that lead Anna to realise things will never be the same again.

And here’s a little about the author:

Elaine Jeremiah has always enjoyed writing, but it’s only in recent years that she’s begun to devote serious time to it. She’s written lots of short stories, one previous novel that will never see the light of day and a novel which has seen the light of day: ‘The Inheritance’ which she published last year. ‘The Inheritance’ is available on Amazon.

You can make contact with Elaine via her blog: elainejeremiah.co.uk and Twitter: @ElaineJeremiah

The book should be published by the end of August, so make sure to look out for that – I know I will be!

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day.

~Dani

When Princes are TOO Charming

If you’ve read my Month in Books for March, you may have noticed that I didn’t enjoy ‘Cinder’ (Marissa Meyer) as much as I could have. Today I wanted to talk about one of the issues that kind of spoiled the story for me. (That’s not to say Cinder is the only culprit; only that it’s the example most fresh in my mind.)

We all love a good ‘Prince + Common Girl’ romance: it shows that class does not make you a good person, that two hearts can unite over social boundaries, and that you really can go from rags to riches.

The problem, however, arises when the Prince flirts, is refused, and then continues to flirt, creating an imbalance of power and effectively demonstrating a lack of respect for the girl’s wishes. Does he not realise that he literally has power over the entire country? His ‘Let’s go out’ is a royal command! How is the girl expected to say no?

We see in the story of Cinder a Prince so used to being adored by girls that he really can’t take no for an answer. There are times when he explicitly orders his love interest around. Where’s the balance in this? That’s not okay!

It worries me that we can read about, and even envy, relationships that are so one-sided, and – to quote my good friend Belle – ‘positively primeval’. Nobody – no, not even a prince – deserves to be liked back. A guy doesn’t have a right to a girl just because he likes her. (Let’s look again at Beauty and the Beast – no means no, Gaston!)

In the end, the young lady does fall for her prince (obviously), but does that really justify his actions before? Is there any point in phrasing your words as an interrogative when the reality is the other person only has one option?

I think relationships should be an equilibrium; a mutual exchange.

What do you think? Do you agree, or am I over-reacting? Share your thoughts!

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

~Dani