Beauty in Craft

By Shannon DeNatale

How would you define a beautiful poetic moment? Does it have identifiable qualities? When I read poetry, I trust the writer as I engage in the language, on the language’s terms. This trust in the language, devotedly, is the space where beauty has a chance to emerge. As the writer leads me through the piece, it is my role as a reader to determine if this leading was done convincingly. This leading can be done through line breaks. Choosing where the reader must stop, and start again, is essential in guiding the breath and then consequently, the momentum of the poem. Another way of leading is through stylized syntax. The structure of a sentence defines its meaning and its emphasis, thus guiding the reader’s attention.

The poetry of Walt Whitman is often noted by its long and enjambed lines. I sometimes see this as something syrupy, spilling from one line to this next, propelling itself forward by its own content. For example, in the middle of section VI of “Song of Myself” Whitman writes, “The smallest sprout shows there is really no death, / And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end / to arrest it, / And ceased the moment life appeared.” These four lines make up one sentence. However, this one sentence feels long, it feels vastly informative, thorough and engaging. The enjambment of the lines creates tension and release, which ultimately propels us, the reader, forward. This is what I find beautiful, the careful guiding of the reader through the poem.

Tommy Pico’s book of poetry titled Junk guides the reader persuasively with its stylized syntax. This 72-page book is made up of one large poem, punctuated sparsely with commas and question marks, ultimately ending with an unpunctuated line on the bottom of page 72. Similar to Whitman, Pico’s run-on sentences do not sound like one long idea, but instead, they feel clear and distinct. Pico’s layering of ideas without ample end punctuation means each idea needs to build meaning as well as move the language forward into something new, never redundant. The choice to omit smooth and thorough transitions between ideas creates this aforementioned creative space in which beauty emerges, and we as readers, are persuasively guided. This is where carefully crafted syntax must be used. For example, on page 1 of Junk,  Pico writes:

 Everything that can cross I am crossing: eyes arms shoulders
 Back to bed, come back here The air is heavy feathers in mid -
 
summer, literally and metaphorically in my foul apt above the
 chicken slaughterhouse where we wheeze awake Yr bangs look
 
real perf n coiled strangely I smell like horror burgers n you
 smell like lavender doves and all the best stuff Yr comforting 

The powers of language and syntax are apparent. Each of the speaker’s ideas are stacked upon the previous one without much in between. Instead, each idea begins with confidence. Each idea is phrased in a way that serves the singular idea best and does not speak in reference to the last one. In terms of syntax, each idea lives independently from the ones preceding and following it. However, each idea’s content builds poetically, creating a larger meaning and context.

What’s Your Twitch?

By Jasmine Ferrufino

Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have been among the most long-standing social media platforms for artists to communicate with their audience. These platforms have set the bar for newer platforms. During Covid-19, I think humanity realized the importance of online communities when face-to-face interactions became impossible. Artists have moved towards live streaming to establish an online presence, many through Facebook Live, Instagram Live, and YouTube Live. But recently, I encountered some artists who are playing with Twitch.

Twitch was initially a live streaming service for video games that was launched in 2011.  But in 2016, they launched a feature called IRL (In Real Life) which allows any person to make videos beyond gaming. Artists are using this platform to make weekly videos to interact with people who enjoy their work and want to engage further. For example, artists like Drangonsandbeasties use the platform to make dragon sculptures online. Or Brielleartwork, who streams herself drawing. I guess the real question is, why promote yourself on a new (and still largely unknown) platform like Twitch when platforms like Facebook Live are more well-known? What does Twitch have that more popular platforms don’t?

In a TED Talk, Emmet Shear, the CEO, and co-founder of the company, gives an example that Twitch stream is like campfires, interactive and connecting. He says, “I want you to picture millions of campfires. Some of them are bonfires, huge, roaring bonfires with hundreds of thousands of people around them. Some of them, more intimate community gatherings where everyone knows your name.”  He explains that humanity is so used to doing activities they enjoy by themselves that they forgot how much they enjoy talking with others about it.  Twitch gives viewers this opportunity to log into this weekly or bi-weekly stream to talk to a community of people about activities they enjoy.

I recently watched a Twitch stream, where I experienced one of these fires that Emmet Shear talked about. Julie Kagawa, the author of The Iron Fey series, did a giveaway for an advance reader copy for her upcoming release of the Iron Raven on Twitch.  Julie Kagawa decided to play Don’t Starve Together, a customizable game designed to look like her fictional world called the Nevernever. She spent most of the stream answering questions and giving a tour of the world she built in the game. But the fun didn’t stop there; she used the chat features for people to feel more interactive. Twitch allows people more bits, a sort of point system when being in the stream for a long time. The more bits you get, the more features you can unlock. In Julie Kagawa’s stream, you can unlock ravens to distract her from playing or ask Puck, her fictional main character, to blow you a kiss on screen. Although Twitch is free, it has other features that can be unlocked by subscribing to the streamers. There are 3 Tiers that can unlock different emotes to be used on the chat designed specifically for this streamer. Julia Kawaga had stickers of her fictional characters like Grim and Meghan. If a viewer wants, they can also gift these features to another viewer on the stream. This kind of feature fosters community and also supports the streamer. While on this stream, I got to experience this community that Emmet Shear mentioned. People said hello on the chat, numerous emotes appeared, and everyone greeted each other as if they knew each other from past live streams. Even when I said I had to leave early, people and even Julie Kagawa said goodbye.  The environment and community made me want to stay and come back to another stream with them. I believe this is an outlet to look out for, especially during the era of Covid-19.

Beyond and Between “Cute”: Review of the Film, Mignonnes

By Grace Mahony

Maïmouna Doucouré’s movie, Mignonnes (translated into English as Cuties) addresses how vulnerable young girls are on social media. The protagonist is Amy, an 11-year-old Senegalese-Muslim immigrant girl in Paris, trying to find her path between her Muslim family’s traditional values of femininity and the hypersexualized culture of contemporary society. Amy acts like a typical middle-schooler. She wants to fit in with the cool girls at school and joins their twerking dance team, using their bodies to gain popularity and prove that they’re “not little girls.” Meanwhile, at home, Amy grapples with a tense family situation when her father decides to take a second wife.

The inspiration for the film came when Maïmouna Doucouré saw a dance troupe of 11-year-old girls twerking on stage, while their parents watched them, dressed in traditional outfits. Doucouré then spent the next year and a half doing research, talking to preteen girls about their stories of growing up and their ideas of femininity in today’s social media-heavy society. In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Maïmouna Doucouré writes, “We, as adults, have not given children the tools to grow up healthy in our society. I wanted to open people’s eyes to what’s truly happening… forcing them to confront images of young girls made up, dressed up, and dancing suggestively… These scenes can be hard to watch but are no less true as a result…”

The film was praised at Sundance and in France. However, when Netflix picked up the movie and released its first poster, people were outraged both at Netflix and the film. They believed they were promoting pedophilia with the scenes of twerking girls, which cover about nine minutes of the film’s total runtime.

In fact, Mignonnes is full of nuance. The film asks: do these girls really know what they’re doing? Why are their only idols these hypersexualized women like Kim Kardashian and not other powerful women who don’t rely on their bodies for power? The film reinforces this social ill: that these girls believe that the only way to get power is to use their bodies as an asset.

Kim, the host of the YouTube channel, For Harriet, defends the film by asserting that it’s a narrative of the Black girl experience. The conversation about Mignonnes should be about the dangers of social media and exposing inappropriate media to minors. Parents should talk to their children, especially their daughters, about healthy ways of expression. There should be bigger conversations about real-life child beauty pageants and reality shows who profit from the provocative imagery of young girls. Let this be a lesson for Netflix and other streaming platforms as well when adding new movies, especially international ones: there is more beneath the surface than the flashiest thing on the screen. (Maybe they can talk to the director before changing the poster.)

Finding Literature Community During Isolation

By Olivia Adams

Having a community of readers is incredibly important, despite the solitary nature of the act. Spending my fifth-grade year at the library is how I got my first job! I experienced my first open mic event at the last independent bookstore in Niagara Falls. But what do you do when the world suddenly becomes inaccessible? Here are five ways I’ve found to be helpful in creating community during such isolating times.

1: Pen Pal Book Exchange

One of my favorite things in the world is receiving mail. Imagine getting a package with a random book in your favorite genre, well-worn and loved by its previous owner? Or exchanging books by the same author with someone across the globe? A snail-mail book exchange might be the perfect way for readers to connect in a physical way with others. One community that is currently very active is the subreddit r/bookexchange, where you can request anything from specific titles to the most niche of categories. Worried about someone having your address? If you have the means, getting a P.O. box is an inexpensive way to protect your privacy.

2: Virtual Book Club

Book clubs are one of the most popular forums for conversation between booklovers. However, with libraries and other locations having limited capacity, one can turn to the internet and find a plethora of book clubs that can connect them with a variety of readers they may have never known. Quarantine Book Club is a site that hosts virtual meetings with popular authors. Anyone can join in and have discussions on topics from goat farms to children’s bibles and everything in between! Silent Book Club hosts a network of book clubs that meet throughout the United States. Many of these groups have switched to online, making them more accessible to anyone with internet. In the spirit of staying local, head to the Purchase College Library Instagram to learn how to participate in the book club run by their staff.

3: Book Twitter

Twitter is good for a lot of things, and bad for nearly as much. However, the commentary community there is absolutely unparalleled. Looking for a more lighthearted take on your favorite horror novel? Or a hot take that doesn’t take three pages to get to the point? Or recommendations and essays linked in your everyday newsfeed? Book twitter has it all! Follow @BookRiot for essays from their website and book deals you might not find on your own. Following authors such as @thatlauraruby can help connect you to the book world in a very intimate way by allowing you to see a point of view that comes directly from the source of the writing. Additionally, @APublicSpace is a literary journal that is hosting a book club on Twitter that readers can follow and participate in using the hashtag #APStogether.

4: Reading Challenges

While there are a lot of reading challenges that circulate on platforms like Instagram and Twitter, signing up for an official one can help give either specific or vague book options that you’ll read simultaneously with people across the globe. For instance, Book Riot’s annual Read Harder challenge asks readers to check out books from various genres with specific stipulations, widening the world-views of the people reading them. They also link participants to a group chat that connects readers, furthering their sense of community.

5: Newsletters

While this option may not seem the most exciting, the variety of newsletters that are available to the reading public is vast and fascinating. If you want to find ones that send a blog post related to writing to your email, the Dear Reader newsletter might be a perfect option for you! Want to simply get a short story sent to you every two weeks, no decisions needed on your part? A Small Good Thing does just that! There are newsletters for almost every genre you can think of — Go crazy!

I know the world is an intense place right now. But I hope this list helps you find something that can brighten your reading world in some way!

Culture Calling – Diversity Readers and Where to Find Them

By Synovia Roberts

As the world gets more outwardly diverse, storytellers—whether it be fiction writers, screenwriters, or visual artists—are rushing to embody that diversity in their work. The influx of representation both solves and creates a problem via the accuracy of said representation. You see, diversifying one’s work requires one to explore cultures/identities that are not their own. However, culture and representation are sensitive, if not sacred, for many people. It is extremely important for creators to get representation right, but how?

This is where diversity readers come in. A diversity reader, otherwise known as a sensitivity or authenticity reader, is someone who reads or looks over a creator’s work to fact-check characters and their actions. It is best to hire a reader that matches the specifics of the character(s) being evaluated. For example, it’s best to have a lesbian diversity reader check over a lesbian character(s). This is because the reader’s main purpose is to help the creator avoid unintentional/insensitive stereotypes or a bout of misrepresentation; it only makes sense that the hired reader has the experiences needed to help create fuller, realer characters.

Diversity readers are also helpful when creators need specific facts about a group or culture that can’t be easily researched, like specific holiday recipes or appropriate cultural dress. A good conversation with a diversity reader can provide a wealth of information that can be used to create a positive and accurate representation of a group.

But how and where to find diversity readers? Writing Diversely lists readers who are available for hire, along with their rates, which range from flat rates starting at $10 and going all the way up to $300. But if you don’t have the finances to pay a professional diversity reader, there are other options. The easiest free option is to try social media. Making posts on sites like Reddit and Tumblr that ask people to volunteer their time are sure to get you some responses. Be clear and upfront about the character and situations you wish to depict, then allow people to come to you.

In my own experience, I’ve had quite a turn-out on Tumblr. In an effort to find readers, I made a post in which I “Culture Called.” In the post, I detailed my desire to have a diverse, but accurate, set of characters along with the nationalities/ethnicities of said characters. As I acquired more people willing to read my work, I made sure to keep everyone up to date on my progress.

Altogether, I received well over 100 responses, and I was lucky enough to get someone willing to help me on the development of an Icelandic character, Magnús, and his family. Together we were able to go into detail about the mythology surrounding my character and his place in my piece. My diversity reader clarified how he’d speak and how he’d interact with the magical elements in the story. My reader was also able to give me a bit of Icelandic history to give my writing more authentic context. It was a great experience for me, and I’m sure it can help you as well.

Still, there’s a bit of controversy around the use of diversity readers. Many people see it as a form of censorship. But remember, no one is forcing you to hire or reach out to a diversity reader, and the reader you’re working with cannot force you to add or remove something in your piece. As the writer, you are free to make any and all decisions you see fit; the diversity reader is simply there to make beneficial suggestions.

In my experience, a diversity reader has made a marked difference in my work. Without my reader, Magnús’ storyline would have been completely different. His interaction with the story’s magical elements would have been vastly incorrect in comparison to Icelandic mythology. Diversity readers are an important step for proper representation, and many times, they can be the difference between a lovable character and a rampant stereotype, but it’s up to you to reach out.