Event Review: Poets Chris Green and Richard Jones Reading

Poets in Season: a reading with Chris Green and Richard Jones

By Michael Garza
Contributor to The Underground

On Monday evening, staff and students gathered for a poetry reading. Readings can run the gamut of atmosphere, from the bombast of a juke joint to the still of temple ceremony. Yet, on the fourth floor of the Arts & Letters Hall, tucked in a kind of penthouse suite overlooking complete darkness, the buzz shifted between a lounge reading and lecture. Professor Richard Jones and Chris Green came to share poems, and that was enough to pack the place.

Professor Richard Jones, who planned to share poems from Stranger on Earth, his 2018 full-length collection, instead took on the challenge he gives his students, and shared poems fresh off the press. “I discovered only last year that potatoes come in different colors.” said Professor Jones, and in one poem an angel visits to ask how the purple potatoes taste. Jones joked about being near-blind without glasses, but showed no lack of lucidity in words. In another piece entitled “The Proposal”, he tells a companion “as long as you don’t mind eating rabbit for the rest of your life, you’ll be happy”, a suggestion he miraculously charges with appeal. 

Jones was a warm and insightful lead-off hitter for Professor Chris Green, Director of Writing & Publishing Internships at DePaul, who’s newest poetry collection Everywhere West just dropped in July of 2019. Professor Green read selections from Everywhere, and alluded to a “video poem” based off the titular piece that would be shown later in the evening. Green opened with a poem about his visit to Robert Frost’s grave where he ran into Michael O’Keefe, the actor from Caddyshack and Roseanne fame. The absurdity of life is given microphone and family in Green’s poetry. “One is never more dead than in Vermont in January” says Green, and his knowledge of Chicago winters reinforces this point. In a favorite of mine called “The Prodigal Daughter”, the young lady “writes my name on a piece of paper, crosses it out, and hands it back to me.” This fiery spirit keeps billowing, as Green writes “you are so serious about the predicament of nature you keep a field journal at five.”

Before the video plays, Jones and Green perform a shared reading of “Conversations with a Dog”, a dialogue anyone would kill to have. Lines like “If there is anger in me it is squirrels” and “you starved yourself for a week and, like a saint, your eyes went cloudy” curled the room tighter around some metaphysical fireplace they were building.

The lights dimmed and Chris Green played the video poem “Everywhere West“, a time-lapse recording of his friend Mark Neumann’s cross-country drive with that title poem as soundtrack. Traveling along this common artery of the American landscape was a moving experience, and a welcome innovation for the presentation of poetry in broader culture.

At DePaul, the gifts are spread generously, among the student body and teachers alike.

Bridging the Gap: A Note of the Literary in Irish Folk Music (New Editorial Column!)

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A Note of the Literary in Irish Folk Music

Traditional Irish music is known for its strong narrative voice and rhyme scheme. Unfortunately, for most, Irish heritage is little more than St. Patrick’s Day and the often alcohol-fueled bacchanal associated with it. Centuries of tradition available to anyone via the Internet, however, offer a plethora of Irish folk music to explore and enjoy.

Well-known in Irish folk music are talented musicians like The Clancy Brothers, The Dubliners, The Chieftains, and The Irish Rovers. These artists paved the way for contemporary acts Flogging Molly, Dropkick Murphys, and The Pogues (assuming anyone can understand Shane McGowan at this point). Irish music is enjoyable and a marker of a vast and cherished tradition, but it’s also brimming with literary conventions and stylistics that make Irish folk music words and lyrics not unlike the poetry of Shakespeare. These are the stories of Ireland and the Irish.

Sure, lots of music resembles poetry and most songs tell a story of some kind. There’s more than meets the ear here, though. I’m sure at one time or another, sober or inebriated, you’ve heard the classic, “Whiskey in the Jar.” Since lyrics can vary over time, I am using the version the High Kings released in 2011. I could write pages upon pages about the entire song, but for a closer look, we can examine the first two verses and see plenty of what I mean. Hopefully you are sober now (if you weren’t the last time you heard this song), so let’s investigate!

As I was goin’ over the Cork and Kerry mountains.
I met with Captain Farrell and his money he was counting.
I first produced my pistol and then produced my rapier.
I said: “Stand and deliver for you are the bold deceiver.”
Musha ring dum-a do dum-a da, Whack for the daddy-o,
Whack for the daddy-o, There’s whiskey in the jar.

Before we get into mechanics of the song itself, let’s establish the narrative voice. The speaker is recounting a past experience, in essence, literally telling us a story. He is a highwayman going over the mountains, who meets a military captain, and stages a “stick up” with his pistol and his sword. It is a simple beginning, introducing us to the setting, plot, and supporting character. The structure helps us to not only remember the story, but to sing it as well.

Well, look at that! It seems we have a couplet structure on our hands! Could we call these verses stanzas, perhaps? “Mountains” and “counting” are rhymed very loosely, whereas “rapier” and “deceiver” have a much closer sounding rhyme. Each “stanza” ends with the same two lines throughout the song. This reduces the need for a refrain, allows us to transition to the next situation and pulls all of the story together. These lines are considered by some to be nonsense (there is no clear definition of what “Musha ring dum-a do dum-a da” or “Whack for the daddy-o” means). They are most likely used as a rhythmic and musical device. As for the rhyme scheme, some may argue that the strategy of using a simple rhyme dates back to the ancient tradition of oral storytelling, which is most likely the case.

Among a number of quintessential artists, the High Kings are known for their rich catalogue of traditional songs and are a great way to start exploring Irish music more deeply. Another great and more contemporary song to examine and enjoy is Flogging Molly’s heartfelt tale of the hardship of an Irish railroad worker, “Far Away Boys”. The lyrics are in the video’s description, and I won’t judge you for a quick cry. If you are desperately craving more songs to study, Irish music is not just for St. Patrick’s Day. It is a storytelling tradition that recounts hilarious exploits, adventure, and important historical events passionately, poetically, and unforgettably.
Gabbie Zeller

Literary Thought of the Week: Think the Thoughts You Should Think by Thinking Them for Yourself

 

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Every week, if the Fates allow it, I will be bringing you thoughts straight from the mind of a friend, an avid reader, and a fellow (or not so fellow) English major. Namely, me. This column is not about what you should be thinking. This column is to get you thinking. Often, we don’t see past the page when it comes to the books we read, the characters we encounter, or the various literary sins committed in a single piece of work. Okay, maybe that last part is more subjective and quite negative, but it is important to form a mindset around literature that forces you to come up with your own opinions. By opinions I don’t mean being on only one side of an argument. What I am saying is we need to be able to say more about a piece than just, “I liked it.” What was it that you liked? Why did you like it? What did it remind you of? (The same formula goes for disliking something).

I feel that many of us perceive the questions stated above as too analytical or academic for leisurely reading. The questions we ask ourselves about a book do not have to be difficult, but we must ask something. If we do not ask questions we will never have answers. Without answers, we will forever be confused. (At least if we know we cannot find the answer we seek, we are conscious that we are confused, therefore, becoming enlightened).

All genres of literature hold some special answer to these questions that arise within us. Horror shows us what we are afraid of. Romance shows us what we are guilty of. Mystery shows us what our minds are capable of. These are but a few of the numerous genres that exist in the universe, allowing us to discover truths about ourselves and the world around us.

With all of this in mind I bring my first thought to a close, like the closing of a door, left unlocked to be accessed when the time is needed. We should never discard our thoughts, but put them on hold. So until next week, keep on asking questions and continue on the quest for answers. If you have anything specific and appropriate, mind you, that you would like me to give an opinion on please leave it in the comment section below.

Written by: Gabriella Zeller

Comic Relief: Doing it Justice – The Comic Book as Literature

 

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As the entertainment industry has shown us, comic books are a hot commodity. They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, just as you shouldn’t judge a comic book by its lack of text. It is commonly thought that comic books offer no literary value and take away from the act of reading. While comic books do exhibit some literary attributes, it is important to take into account both sides of the argument.

Before I get to that, let’s make one thing clear: comic books and graphic novels are not the same thing. Sure, they both have quite a few pictures and varying amounts of words, but they are fundamentally different. I believe the confusion arises from the blurred line between what is a collection of issues and what is a standalone graphic novel. A graphic novel is basically a book that happens to incorporate words and pictures. Here are some examples: in Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened, she recounts stories from her childhood with a significant amount of text, but includes illustrations with each story. The book itself is a complete thought, unlike comic books, which require multiple issues to construct a narrative. Generally what people see as “comic books” (and should be defined as such) are collections of the issues that form a particular storyline. Many collections will encompass consecutive issues, but some are more sporadic, only including issues pertinent to the narrative or theme of the collection. This column will most likely feature both genres, and I will make sure to hint at which one is being covered to avoid confusion.

Now that we understand the differences between the two genres, we can begin to think about them as a type of literature. As an avid comic book reader (I don’t read as many graphic novels), I can recognize the similarities between this emerging genre and the literary canon. I say “emerging genre” because of the overall popularity and publicity of the graphic novel and comic books. The wave of film and television adaptations of comic books contributes to this new movement. For example, a few of my friends were not very “into” comic books before the large wave of Marvel films and are now beginning to slowly make their way into comic book stores. Another component of what I feel pushes this movement forward is the continuation of television series and movies in comic form. The most notable examples include: Buffy the Vampire SlayerSerenity, and Star Wars (which are all coincidently published by Dark Horse Comics, two of which are Joss Whedon related).

The “new genre” has its pros and cons in regard to its literary value. In my travels among the stacks, I have discovered that quite a few titles contain allusions to Greek mythology, but most notably, Wonder Woman, who is, herself, an Amazon. It is a very entertaining exercise comparing the original myths to the comics that were inspired by them. If Greek mythology is not quite your “thing,” the comparisons to Norse mythology in Thor are also interesting, and dare I say, aggravating, but it’s all in good fun. Comics and graphic novels are also nice tools for identifying literary devices such as pacing, characterization, points of view, metaphor, and foreshadowing (of course these are only a few).

This all sounds great, but we need to be careful. Although comic books and graphic novels contain literary qualities, we have to remember what they are: comic books and graphic novels. A problem arises when we substitute traditional literature, namely books, with the “new genre.” The skills learned that help us dissect the “new genre” come from conventional literature. The two can live in harmony together, but first, the foundation must be built. This is why I am appalled when I hear that educators involved with students below the university level are using graphic novels to teach literature. I have no problem with students reading comic books and graphic novels, but the classroom environment is not the best place for them. The university level is different because most of us have already developed the reading comprehension necessary to unpack the conventions of comic books and graphic novels in an academic space.

On to the moment you have all been waiting for: what the heck is this column going to be about? If you have sat here this long, congratulations! You win the prize of knowledge! Drum roll please… In this column I will, in fact, be discussing comic books (mostly) and graphic novels! Assuming you paid attention at the beginning, this should not come as a shock to you. I will, however, be taking what I have learned from specific characters and heroes and sharing it with you in my own special way. I call this column Comic Relief, not only because it’s a cool pun, but also because as a college student, it is nice to read books with pictures in them every once and a while. With that said, I will leave you to your own devices. If you have any suggestions for the next posting, let me know in the comments section, for there are too many options to choose from. I want to talk about something you guys are interested in hearing about, otherwise, I’ll just pick whatever I want, and we’ll be stuck with that, got it? See you next time!

Written by: Gabriella Zeller

Freelance Writing: For Me or Not For Me?

 

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After all the information I learned from attending the English Career Night on non-profit work, I was eager to visit another seminar geared toward English and Writing, Rhetoric and Discourse students. I had the chance to satisfy this personal yearning during a program on freelance writing put on by Career Center Assistant Director and Alumni Sharing Knowledge mentor Ed Childs, and Financial Fitness Associate Director Brenda Williams.

If you were unable to attend this seminar here is what you missed.

Ed Childs began his presentation with a basic definition of what being a freelance writer means, and that is simply a writer who is self-employed and choses when and what projects they wish to work on.

What kind of projects do freelance writers often find themselves dedicating their time to? Well, the list is essentially endless, but these are some of the more popular projects that freelance writers get involved with:

  1. Writing for Business: Writing business/corporate materials – Often more steady
  2. Ad Agencies: More freelance work here compared to public relations
  3. Magazine Writing: “Nonfiction magazines represent the largest, most accessible market for freelancers.”
  4. Online Periodicals/E-Zines: Fast pace, online market doesn’t pay as much as print market
  5. Newspapers: Work on shorter schedule than magazines, often incorporate a “news” angle in writing
  6. Nonfiction Books: Considered hardest way to start freelance writing, doesn’t always require a publisher
  7. Search Engine Optimization: Getting websites on first page of search engine, embedding specific words/phrases to draw attention

Following this introduction, Ed Childs elaborated on exactly what it takes to succeed in freelance writing. To begin the adventure of freelance writing, the most important tool is a workspace of your own that is completely dedicated to your writing. In addition, a computer, an internet account and a phone of your own will most likely be necessities. As your freelance writing expands, additional office tools may be required.

Aside from these physical tools, you will also need some personal skills and characteristics that will help lead to success in freelance writing. The first skill, and probably the most obvious, is a strong writing ability. If you start receiving continuous rejection letters with no feedback attached, unfortunately, it might be time to rethink your career path. A business sense and professionalism are also important. As a freelance writer you are essentially developing written materials to sell to publications, not just formulating your own creative expressions. However, creativity and independence are nonetheless very important. Lastly, the desire to be in this field is very necessary, for it takes motivation and discipline to set your own schedule and physically sit down to work on your various writing projects.

Adding on to these physical tools, skills, and characteristics, here’s a quick list Ed pointed out of mistakes that freelance writers often make:

  1. Not using an editor
  2. Giving clients sloppy seconds
  3. Building a platform to trumpet their own success
  4. Not keeping up to date in their field
  5. Lacking customer service
  6. Taking on too many projects
  7. Missing deadlines

The next part of the seminar included a presentation about financial advice surrounding freelance writing, by Brenda Williams from Financial Fitness. Brenda’s first recommendation was to start growing your savings account now before you graduate. It is best to have six to nine months’ worth of living expenses already saved up. The next suggestion was to set up different bank accounts for different purposes. Brenda’s example included accounts for taxes (25%), retirement (10%), savings (5%), and a final account for bills and spending with whatever money is leftover. Setting up a regular paycheck schedule was another provided tip, so your payment is dispersed, based on your lifestyle. Lastly, knowing your credit score and practicing good credit habits are two things to prioritize, not only with freelance writing, but also with any career.

After reading all this, are you still not sure if freelance writing is for you? Don’t fret. Here’s a final, quick list of ways to get your feet wet with freelance writing before diving completely in.

  1. Moonlighting – Easy way to gain experience without quitting your current job
  2. Alumni Sharing Knowledge – Directly communicate with alumni in this job field
  3. Career Center – Help you locate projects and internships, gain experience
  4. Linkedin- “Connect, share ideas, and discover opportunities.”

Written By: Mackenzie Canfield

Graphic Novel Review: Saga Volume One

Graphic Novel Review: Saga Volume One

Saga: Volume One, written by Brian K. Vaughan and drawn by Fiona Staples, is unique even among the imaginative world of graphic novels. The sci-fi / fantasy epic was published in 2012 and promptly won the 2013 Will Eisner Comic Industry Award for Best Writer, Best New Series, and Best New Continuing Series.

Saga: Volume One follows new parents Alana and Marco as they face the struggles of fledgling parents.  Unlike other first time parents, they have a little more to worry about.  Alana and Marco are an interspecies couple from warring planets, and their child is considered an abomination. In fact, Alana and Marco were once soldiers, but after deserting their armies and running away together, they are branded as traitors. As their home planets continue to wage war, the one thing both sides seem to agree on is that the young family must be killed before word of their disloyalty can spread.

Thus begins the mesmerizing story created by Vaughan and brilliantly depicted by Staples. Each character is compellingly human as you follow their struggles for life and family. Vaughan has cited the birth of his own son as inspiration for the story.

Saga is rated ‘M’ for Mature. At times its content is a combination of graphic violence and nudity, with artistically bold drawings in bright colors. Can you picture what a half-naked, blond, six-eyed, armless, insectoid assassin looks like? A misguided Price Robot IV? The last remaining rocket tree in a rocket tree forest? How about the pink, eternally mangled ghosts that still haunt that forest? Neither could I, but after you’ve seen and read Saga, you can’t help but feel like Vaughan and Staples tapped in your childhood dreams and nightmares, and transferred them to paper.

At 160 pages, Saga: Volume One is fast-paced. It is made up of 6 chapters that were originally released as individual comics. Saga: Volumes Two and Three has since been released. Other work by Vaughan includes Y: Last Man Standing, Ex Machina, and the scripts for multiple episodes of seasons 3-5 of the TV show Lost. Staples has won 9 awards so far her contributions to Saga and is also well known for her work on the graphic novels Mystery Society and North 40.

Saga: Volume One is a balance of words and visuals that is difficult to explain with just one and without the other. If you love graphic novels or you have never read one before, Saga: Volume One is an equally exceptional experience.

Written by: Taylor Alcantar

 

Book Review: John Dies at the End

Book Review: John Dies at the End by David Wong 
By Gabbie Zeller
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What do you get when you cross “Soy Sauce,” two slackers, a ghost dog, and shadow people? You get the horror/comedy masterpiece, John Dies at the End by David Wong.

David Wong is the pseudonym used by Jason Pargin, an Illinois native. He is the chief editor of the humor website Cracked.com; a site that introduced me to more of his work.

I first came across John Dies at the End when I was a student page at my local library.  I was shelving books in the fiction section, when I came across a very peculiar book cover. The edition that my library owned had a dismembered arm with bright green nail polish on the fingernails. The back cover showed the where the arm had been severed and had the synopsis scrawled on a piece of notebook paper.  I remember reading the summary and thinking, what the heck is this? I thought it looked like some crazy train wreck of a novel that someone wrote trying to be “original.” Even though I wasn’t very convinced, for some reason, every time I passed that section, I looked to see if it was still there, hoping that I might eventually check it out.

Months later, after I had quit my job and gone to school, I had some free time and could not decide what book I wanted to read. I wanted something original that had to do with magical creatures or the paranormal. I remembered that odd book I had seen while I had been shelving.  I checked it out from the library over winter break, and was sucked into a world unlike any other I had ever seen.

Enter David Wong, a slacker who works with his best friend John at the local video store in his small, unnamed Midwestern town…or at least that’s how it used to be…when things were normal. David is sitting down with a journalist in a small restaurant discussing the peculiar events that had happened recently involving missing people, demons, and a mysterious drug called, “Soy Sauce” that allows one to see the paranormal.

Unfortunately, I cannot divulge many details on the incidents that occur involving David and John, a dog named Maggie, and some really bizarre creatures. What I can tell you is this: if you want a morbidly hilarious jaw dropping horror farce, this is a book for you. Pargin does a great job creating a secret world within a world that we think we know. At times, this book is confusing, but if you keep plugging along, it’ll be worth it. There were so many times when my jaw dropped and I thought: did that really just happen? Are you kidding me? Jason Pargin creates a universe unlike any other that I have ever encountered. His descriptions make you feel like you are with David and John experiencing the disgusting world that the “Sauce” allows them to see. I could not put this book down. I had to know what happened next and was even yelled at by family members to put it away…Oops.

There were so many things I wanted to know. Does John really die at the end? Will the shadow people take over our dimension? Does the journalist believe David’s story? These questions and more are all answered in the novel. Don’t forget the most important question that still remains: how come you haven’t read it yet?

About the Writer:
My name is Gabriella Zeller, and I am a freshman English major at DePaul. I am from Peoria, IL, three hours south of Chicago. I love to write short stories and hope to go into editing/publishing one day. I believe that to be a good writer, one must be an avid reader. Reading is an important hobby instilled in me at a young age by my family. I enjoy reading all types of books and here are a few of my favorites: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, Starter for Ten by Andrew Nicholls, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy by Steig Larsson.