Sunday, October 18, 2009

Biblical Poetry

I am so excited! I think that, after all these years, I've figured out a portion of what God wants me to do with my life. For those of you who know me well, this has been an issue that has plagued me on and off for the past twenty years. I've felt the tug of God upon my heart, but I've never really known what the tug meant. Now, it's somewhat coming together for me in the clear and concise way that I've wanted.

I could write a book about this journey of mine, but I don't think that's appropriate right now. After all, we've all got things that we need to do tomorrow, and I wouldn't want anyone riveted down in their seats for too long! But to say the least, I've always wondered why I was led to go to bible college for three years, only to leave there and then go to a public university. I've questioned why God led me away from protestantism and into the Catholic Church. I've been curious as to why I've loved ancient poetry and writing enough to get a Master's in Rhetoric along with an almost MFA in Creative Writing.

To the outsider, all this looks like a bad case of Attention Deficit Disorder. To me, I knew that it was part of some greater plan. Well, I'm back at it again. Back into my Bible, back into trying to find out my purpose in life. This time, though, my journeys and readings have opened a few doors that were never revealed to me in the past. I've hit on some wonderful truths in the Old Testament that have forever changed how I view the Bible, the authors of the books of the Bible, God's place in writing the Bible, and the message being delivered.

Today, I'm not going to go in depth on anything. I'll break this all apart and will focus on each little section as I go forward with my posts. Needless to say, though, it's all going to be very interesting for those who are interested in the Bible and God's message to us.

If you look at it all like I do, it all fits together reasonably well, and I am in a unique position to interpret the Bible in a way that many theologians cannot because of my background in rhetoric and creative writing.

Where am I going with all of this? Read the book of Lamentations. It's a short book of four or five pages, and it won't take you long. Twenty years ago, I read it and came away with a totally different interpretation. In fact, we really didn't spend much time on it in Church and bible college because it didn't really make sense as to its purpose in the Bible.

Now, however, read it as if it were written by a poet. Read each chapter as an individual poem. It's a shame that all English translations can't do it much justice, but I'll explain the book in my next posts. I'll explain what makes this book so special in the ancient Hebrew that it was written in. I'll talk about why this is both a work of art and a theological treatise. I'll talk about what message God is sending us about how we should deal with tragedy in our own lives.

What I want to leave you with today, though, are a couple of things. Hebrew poets were some of the greatest poets of their day. They were better than the Greeks and all other poets of other kingdoms. Secondly, the ancient Hebrews believed that God's language was a language of poetry, so they prayed in poetry, and that's what made them develop this art form to its highest potential.

Finally, however, I also want you to understand that God inspired poets to write part of the Bible. He gave them the gift of writing poetry, He laid a message on their hearts, and He let them write. These books of the Bible are the poets' words as inspired by God, so they must be interpreted as poetry first and the rhetorical message secondly. If you don't do this, you'll miss much of the meaning of the Old Testament.

Monday, October 12, 2009


There are a number of points that I'm going to bring up in this post that can and will be elaborated upon as separate posts in the near future. They all revolve around the difference between the "Catholic" Bible and the "Protestant" Bible.

The first thing that I would like to discuss is the concept of "The Word of God." Is the Bible the Inerrant Word of God or is it the Inspired Word of God? Believe it or not, there is a huge difference between these two phrases, and the implications are endless when it comes down to how you view and read the Bible.

The Inerrant Word of God philosophy basically assesses that the Bible is, word for word, written by God through man. This Bible is to be understood as flawless, it is to be quite literal in its translation to our everyday lives, and it is unwavering in application and definition.

People who assert the Inspired Word of God believe that God wrote the Bible through man. Man was inspired to write the Bible but interpretation of what was written should take into account the times in which it was written, the audience it was written for, the type of literature (whether it was a history or a literary book) the book was meant to be, and the skill of the author in crafting stories with allusions, allegories, etc.

The two views of the Bible aren't new. They've been around for a long time -- since the beginning of the church. They were especially brought to light when the Church was trying to establish the Holy Canon, or the collection of books that would comprise the Bible. Seven books were the seat of controversy. They are called the Deuterocanonicals. You won't find these books in a Protestant Bible anymore, but you will find them in a Catholic Bible. In fact, they were in all Bibles for about 1800 years until many Protestant Bible makers in the 1800s took them out altogether because they wanted to make a bigger split away from the Catholic Church.

But, before then, though, understand that these books were part of every Bible in the world. Even Protestant Bibles since Luther. However, Luther and Protestants did not believe these books were inspired by God. They just believed that they told a good moral and did not want to remove them.

The question about these books was, are they the Word of God? Certainly, Church tradition made it so, but these books weren't part of the final Hebrew Bible, they contained errors that many people knew about, and the New Testament never quoted from them.

However, if you look at the Bible as the Inspired Word of God, much of the issue can be explained away in favor for these books.

To begin with, they were part of the Hebrew Bible but were later rejected after Christ's death. The fact that the Hebrews originally had them is found in the fact that they were included in the Hebrew Septuagint, which was the Greek translation of their Bible.

Yes, there are a few errors in a couple of books in regards to people and places. However, those were not history books. The message wasn't one in which the facts were dependent upon. In fact, when Jesus stated that the mustard seed was the smallest of seeds, he wasn't giving a lecture about Botany, he was using it as an example for a greater truth. The fact that the mustard seed isn't the smallest seed doesn't take away from His purpose. The same is true in these books.

Finally, the New Testament didn't quote from them, but the Apostles did allude to them several times. In addition, there were several Old Testament books that the New Testament didn't quote from. Should they be taken out too? Since Matthew alluded to the Book of Tobit, it goes to show that it was considered in the early days of the Church an important book in the Old Testament.

So, as I move through these issues into detailed points later on, just remember some of the generic principles I've brought out today.

Monday, June 22, 2009

What is Literature?

When I was in graduate school, I remember my professors always lamenting the fact that the majority of books sold in the United States could not be classified as literature. I admit. I was once among those who made those accusations; however, the more removed I am from sheltered academic life, and the more entrenched I am in the trappings of every day life, I find that their opinions about literature are stuffy and aristocratic.

A couple of years ago, when I was selling windows, I met a fellow and his wife who desperately needed new windows. As I talked to them, I learned that she was an art professor at a local university, and he was a writer. At that time, I'd already published a book, so I was interested in finding out what he wrote. She told me quite nobly that he wrote "literature," and "it was not to be mistaken with the crap that is sold in the bookstores." I translated that to, "he hasn't been published yet, but he writes well." What took me back, though, was the snotty attitude she had. She was very academic, as you can tell, and she probably couldn't believe that her window salesman had published a book too. I didn't tell her that my book was an academic book. They eventually bought my windows too.

So, as I'm reading a best-seller from the 1980's called "Marine Sniper," I ask myself: what is literature? Well, I'm happy to say that we should not listen to the high-brows. There's more to literature than Faulkner and Hemingway. Writers didn't just fall off the face of the earth after Frost died. They're still here, and they're writing for an ever-expanding audience. It's good that people still read, and I'm happy to say that books still sell by the millions, even if it is not considered literature by university-types. Trust me, in the future, that trashy novel you're reading right now might be this century's Marquis de Sade. You never know.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Ruby Bute

Today, I would like to recognize St. Maarten's most notorious poet, Ruby Bute. I had the pleasure of meeting Ruby on my trip to St. Maarten a few weeks ago. Not only is she a poet, but she is an accomplished artist as well, and she is the artistic ambassador for the island.

I love Ruby's art. This, I guess, is what she is most famous for. Self-taught as artist and poet, she shows what a person can do when she puts her mind to it, no matter under what circumstances she is under or where she is born.

Ruby's poetry, like her paintings, is fresh and without the corruption of academia's influence. She doesn't worry about style or voice. She just writes what comes to her heart. The same is true with her art. She really can't be pigeonholed into one artistic school or another. She lets the subject guide her emotions, and she lets the brush do what it wants on the canvas.

I selected a poem which I think really reflects her style. It's called "Starry, Starry Night:"

Sitting on beach sand under the stars,
We listened
To the whispering of our hearts
And the serenade of the sea.

That night
We promised
To never part,
Come what may.

Under a jeweled sky of a thousand galaxies,
We pledged to conceal and cherish our love
Like a precious pearl sealed in
A golden shell.

This is a lovely poem. It draws the reader in to that night while sitting on the beach. The imagery really makes it come to life, and the emotions are whispered yet very powerful. In all her poetry, she tends to say little yet evoke much more in readers' minds about her subject. She allows the reader to come away with his own conclusion, and I like that aspect. I like how she's painted the scene and alluded to the situation without giving away all the details. I think that's the best way to write poetry. The poet should let the reader enjoy and live the poem. I also like the simplicity of language and the ease of reading the poem. How many poets write poetry that no one can understand? Even the critics can't get it right. That's not the case for Ruby. She writes to the people, especially for her people of St. Maarten.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


I'm back after spending the past two weeks on vacation! I didn't want to lose anyone by letting everyone know that I'd be gone for two weeks, so I kept it on the low and thought I would surprise everyone by just logging back on and posting after I got back. Sherry and I went to the Caribbean for ten days and then to North Carolina for another three days. I expected to come home to a warm Maryland, but, man, am I sorely disappointed. It's cold here and, I shouldn't be surprised, rainy!

The Caribbean was great! We went on a cruise to Bermuda, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Puerto Rico, and we enjoyed every bit of our time out. It was a nice time. Bermuda was colder than I wanted, but apparently, the cold front that we were experiencing on the east coast as we left pushed through with us to the upper Caribbean. However, as we made our way south, it warmed up quite nicely. St. Thomas was our favorite stop, and if I could arrange a week there, I'd be very happy.

I was able to ingratiate my artistic senses on the trip. While in St. Maarten, we took an art tour, and I met an artist/poet while there. Here name was Ruby, and she's an island local who is self-taught. We bought a book of her poetry (along with a nice short story) and a couple of her prints. We enjoyed our visit with her. I'll probably focus one of my next posts on her poetry and her ability to tell a good story which is something I think we've lost as a culture for the most part. Every painting she painted, she had a good story to tell, and she captured that story in her art. Her poetry is good too, and I think it captures her life well.

While on St. Thomas, we took an excursion on a Pirate ship and went snorkeling in Honeymoon and Christmas coves. We swam with a green sea turtle and a Ray along with many other colorful fish around the coral reefs. It was a blast! I could do that all day long. By the way, Sherry snorkeled in Bermuda while we took a trip on a catamaran, but I chickened out because the water was just too cold for me there. She saw a few fish, but I think she was disappointed at the location they took us too. It was too choppy for them to take us to their normal place, so they took us somewhere "new." It wasn't as good of a place based upon their responses and Sherry's description of the waters. Plus, everyone who went in froze to death! Not me!

The Caribbean trip was a sans-kids trip where Sherry and I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary. The kids stayed with our parents (Ian in North Carolina with my parents and Aidan in Maryland with Sherry's parents). They had a blast getting one-on-one attention from their grandparents too, and it was a little vacation for them. When we got back, we picked up Aidan and headed down to North Carolina to get Ian where we stayed for another three days. We had fun down there on Memorial Day by going to the beach and spending the day swimming in the ocean. Ian and Sherry swam for about three hours. Again, I got in up to my waist, but the water was a little cool for me. It'll be bath water there in about four weeks, but for now, it's a little cold. According to Sherry, though, it wasn't as cold as Bermuda. That's funny since Bermuda was due-east of where we were that day and is in the Gulf Stream. I suppose Bermuda's waters must be much warmer now.

I came away from the trip with a little gem. While in St. Thomas, I noticed all the men who were running our snorkeling trip on the Pirate ship were wearing these old coins around their neck. I was immediately interested in what they were. I found out that they were coins that were found in local shipwrecks from the 1600s. Most of the coins went back to Spain, but some were sold to local jewelers who took them and make pendants out of them. I got one and will always wear it around my neck. On the certificate of authenticity, it states that the coin came from a treasure that was found on May 15, 2008, (our 9th anniversary!), from a Spanish ship that sunk in 1648 (Santa Maria). It's a two-bit .999 silver coin that looks every bit of the 300 plus years it has aged under water. It's real cool, and I love it. When you see me next, ask to take a look at it! There's a lot of history in it! Plus I like wearing it!

Well, I could go on and on, but I've got to start getting organized. I have a lot of projects that I have to finish, and I need to start now by getting myself back on a schedule. In addition, I have some new projects that I need to begin, so I'll be busy for a while. I have some very unique writing jobs, and I'm looking forward to working on them. I know that my clients are glad I'm back too, but I have to admit that the time away has refreshed me, and I know my writing will be better as a result. As well, I have a publisher who wants me to write something in my own name, and I want to make time for that too.

I'll be sure to post more frequently from here on out, and I think I have some interesting things to discuss!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night -- Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Read this poem aloud, listen to the musical qualities of the poem, and you will hear what makes Dylan Thomas one of the greatest lyrical poets of the 20th Century. Lyrical poetry is meant to be read aloud, and it is beautiful to listen to when read with emotion. Try it, and I'll bet you'll love the poem.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


What rainy, cool weather we have been having here in Maryland over the past ten days! Every time I turn around, the weatherman is adding another rain-filled day to the ten-day forecast. I'm beginning to think that I live in London! We endured our April showers, and now, when I'm expecting May flowers, I'm getting May showers. I shouldn't complain, and I'm really not. There are places all over the country that are dealing with drought. At least I know that my well won't run dry anytime soon! I would just like a few sunny days every now and then. Perhaps I could cut my grass if that were to happen. As for now, it grows and grows under wet conditions. The miracle in it all, though, is that, where there was brown nothingness two weeks ago, there is now green growth.

I'm still dealing with a bit of an internal drought regarding my play. It seems that I have trouble with my own writing. I think it's funny that I can write without a problem when I'm writing for someone else on subjects that I am really not interested in, yet when I write for myself on subjects that I'm passionate about, I hit major roadblocks. This play is but another of many projects where I've suffered throughout the process.

When I think of this "writing process" and the pain that it sometimes brings, I can't help but think of Dylan Thomas. Dylan Thomas was one of the world's great poets, and he was perhaps the greatest lyric poet of the 20th Century. Welsh by birth, he died in 1953 while touring the United States at the age of 39. Thomas was quite transparent when talking about the writing process. He once stated that he wrote poetry at the rate of about two lines per hour. But slowness at writing did not stop him from going through draft after draft until he found the right words. He was known to have revised some poems up to ninety times before he published them. Talk about pain!

It is painful to write well. There is no doubt. I think that is what separates the great writers from the good ones. Revision and rewriting are the most intense, confusing periods of a writer's life. This is what I'm going through right now with the play. What felt good coming out just didn't work in all spots. Sure, there are good things that I want to keep, but there are many things that need to be re-done. So, back to the drawing board I go to see if I can make the entire play work for me. I know what I want it to be like when I'm finished, and I know where I want it to go, but there are countless directions I could take to achieve the same end. My job is to find out which direction is the best for the play. And to have direction, I need to know where to begin, and that is one of my base problems. The middle never seems to be the issue. It's the beginning and the end that I take issue with. But to get it right, I must re-examine the middle to fit new beginnings and ends each time I try something different. When it's all said and done, it feels like I'll have ninety plays to choose from.

As a former writing instructor, I know that the writing process isn't taught very well to students. We always talk of writing and revision, but revision often said quietly as if it's an evil word. Most students can get through college nowadays without ever having to go through multiple revisions on papers. Most English majors too! No one is so gifted that revisions aren't a fact of life for writers, so why is it that we don't accept this component of the process as we do others? Fifty years ago, it wasn't the case. People understood that they had to work for something in order to benefit from it. They understood that first draft quality wasn't acceptable. Today, that is not the case.

I believe that it is just another reminder that we have become lazy. We don't want to put in the extra work. We don't want to rack our brains with direction and perfection. We want to write and put it out there in rough form, hoping that we have a hit. That doesn't work, and that's why there are few great writers among us who are not over fifty years old. Believe me, I'd love to think that the first draft of my play is acceptable and will be picked up by a Broadway production company. However, as I read through it, I know that it's not. I know that I need to write a line a hundred times in order to get the best line I can get. I know that it's going to take months not weeks.

This is not the same Mark talking now as it was a few years ago. A few years ago, and all the way back to my days in the MFA program, I was arrogant and lazy. I believed that I could write quality stuff without all the work. Well, age and life have taught me differently, and I'm still coming to grips with all of the effort needed to produce something worthy. My poetry still suffers from a lazy mentality. If I were to just accept the work ethic of Thomas, I could perhaps write some fantastic poetry. As it stands, it's just good poetry right now. But should I accept good? I don't think so. Everything I touch should be great, not good. The same with this play, no matter how much it hurts.

The moral that I'm getting to is that art isn't about inspiration and a few minutes of work. Post-modernism tries to teach us that it is. It tries to instill in us that all art is Jackson Pollack and a dripping paintbrush. Well, it isn't, at least in regards to writing. The great poets didn't frolic in the sunlight all day and write for a few minutes at a time. They slaved over their work. The inspiration is the same with all artists, but for poets, and all writers for that matter, inspiration is just the beginning. The work itself is long and intense. What that teaches me is that I need to stick to my inspiration, not give up, and fight through the process. If I do that, then I will have what I've always dreamed of having -- a quality piece that everyone can appreciate on an artistic level.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Yes, Writing can Suck

What do you get when you cross a poet with a play? 157 pages of junk! That's not a joke, folks. That's reality. What's the use in hearing all the good stuff about writers and writing when you don't hear the realities of the writing process? The truth be told, writing sucks at times. And right now, I'm in the throw of one of the sucky times of the writing process.

Nothing seems to be going well with this play. At first, it flowed rich and creamy, and all of a sudden, bam, whammo, shaboom, it grinds to a dead stop, shredding proverbial shards of metal all over the office on its way to the scrap yard. This is when it sucks. When you have an idea that works, and you can't finish it. When you can't even write a complete sentence because everything you write makes no sense at all anymore.

You want to hear all the good things about writing? You want to hear all the great stories of the writers? Well, before you can understand any of that, you need to understand why all the great writers were alcoholics and suicidal maniacs. The writing process is that reason. Writing sucks, and the ones who make it through the black hole of despair deserve the credit they get for sticking to it and making it work.

Right now, though, what I have is 107 of 157 pages of garbage that goes nowhere. But why, you may ask, did I bring the poet into all of this? The poet is the artist in all of us who wants to write, but the poet is only prepared to write a few lines, not a book, not a play... the poet wants to be memorable in as few words as possible, scratching out a few lines that make him the next poet laureate of the US of A. But nothing has prepared him for the ramshackle of confusion that awaits him when he thumbs through the hundreds of lines he has written, all supposedly coming together to a dramatic climax. The good lines read alone are poetic, yet put them together, and one plus one no longer equals two in this world.

So, if you want to know what the writing process entails for works of art, here they are: confusion, doubt, emptiness, mental exhaustion, anger, depression, and fear. That is the writing process, and don't let some writing teacher tell you any different. If it were easy to create something different, something unique, and something meaningful, then everyone would be doing it. But it's not easy, and the poet turned writer evolves by making it through the process and coming out victor -- piecing the shards together and creating something worthwhile. That is the writer.

Now, if you don't mind, I have to get back to my scrap yard.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

CPR for Poetry

One of my favorite newspapers is the San Francisco Chronicle. Of all of the newspapers I've read, this one is hands-down the very best at covering art, music, lifestyle, and food. If you want to read the online addition, it's You can find some very interesting articles there, especially if you're into the arts.

The last article that I read interestingly had to do with improvisational poetry. Now, we're all a little more familiar with the term "improvisational" than we are "extemporaneous." I've been referring to oral poetry composed on the spot as extemporaneous. Just to let you know, it is the same as improvisational poetry.

In that article, they highlighted a poet who has made a living at doing improvisational poetry, selling his poems from $0-$350 per poem. What struck me, though, was the poor quality of this guy's poetry. I read one of his pieces, and I was a little dismayed at what he called poetry; however, that being said, I'm not really the person to judge his work. That's a personal preference, and I did not personally like the poetry. But what he does bring to the table is an interesting idea, and he is trying to bring back the old extemporaneous poetry movement.

Right now, he's renting a one-room office space and is selling poems to anyone who comes in and gives him a topic to write about. For whatever amount of money he quotes, he'll write the person a poem using an old typewriter which adds an artistic element from his perspective. I'm not sure that I really like this concept. It is just one step removed from fast-food poetry. However, the guys artistic ideas are interesting, and I thought I'd share them with you.

On one hand, he's thinking about renting a small theater space and doing a one-man show around poetry. Perhaps doing his own poetry competitions. He's thinking about doing a one-man competition, but what if he decided to make it a true competition? I think that would be a phenomenal idea. I like the idea about a one-man play around poetry. I'd have to think about that a little and see what kind of play would work, but I think people in the right region of the country would find that interesting. I also like the idea of an extemporaneous competition. Eventually, he could grow that to draw poets from all over the United States and get them interested in this grand old art form.

His second idea is my favorite. He's considering doing his poetry recitations in an art gallery. Now, why I like this idea is because he's trying to show that poetry is an art just like painting on a canvas and sculpture. I think that everyone knows that. Poets are artists too. But, I think we lose sight of that in the real world where we reserve fancy shows for canvas painters and sculpturers only. Now, his idea is to just do poetry in the gallery. I think it would be interesting if he were to team up with an artist. The artist would have her show, and the poet could make poetry about the works of art. That way, people attending a show would get two artistic moments at one time. Wouldn't that be interesting?

And what I'm getting at here is that poets need to get more creative in their endeavors to ensure that the art thrives. We've all seen some pretty outrageously creative art exhibits, fashion shows, and music concerts. But all we're getting from poets are stodgy old books that no one wants to read anymore. There is a way to put life back in poetry, and I think the San Francisco Chronicle is trying to get poets to think with this mentality. A little creativity is all it takes, and you would think there would be a few poets out there with some creativity left to make something happen.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Miscellaneous Poetry Matters

A new friend and I have been having quite an interesting conversation over email about poetry. She works for a poetry journal and is a very good poet herself. She has been sharing her poetry with me, and I have sent her a few of mine. It's been a stimulating experience, and it has brought me back to a time in my life where I used to write poetry every day -- graduate school. A couple of interesting things have been brought to my attention during this ongoing conversation, and I would like to share them here.

To begin with, I sent her four of my poems. Three of them were written in stream-of-consciousness and one was written traditionally (I wrote, edited, re-wrote, edited, etc). The one poem that she didn't like was the one that I spent so much time on! I never would have thought that, but it became clear to me why I love oral, extemporaneous poetry so much. Stream-of-consciousness is as close as you can get to the extemporaneous poetry of yesteryear. When I write in that fashion, I tend to let all of the thinking go by the wayside and let my heart take over. In essence, I skim off the top surface of my emotions and throw it out there. When I do that, I seem to get to the heart of the poem much quicker, and my use of poetic devices becomes natural and a flowing part of the poem. When I analyze and think a poem through, my brain becomes entangled in the poem which, to me, completely sterilizes the emotional connection that the poem is trying to make in the first place. I have just never had anyone point that out to me, and I think it is a fascinating observation.

During this conversation, there came a natural question: what is poetry? This would seem simple to answer, yet it is a difficult question. Sure, there are the academic answers regarding meter, rhyme, etc., but, still, there are poems that do not adhere to any of those standards. I think of the poems of Sandburg, for example. His poetry does not fit any of the traditional definitions, yet would anyone dare call him anything other than a poet? Poetry comes in all shapes and sizes, and there is no way to truly define it. In addition, who is able to say this poem is good and this poem is bad. All poetry, if written from the heart, will speak to some and not to others. Every poet has had her fans and her critics, and every poem is looked at both highly and critically. So, where do you draw the line? What is the definition of poetry? I say that poetry is the music of language, and it's goal should be to create an emotional response in the reader. But that is a simple definition. We never answered the question, but I think it's an interesting one to think about.

I've enjoyed this conversation, and it has provided a nice balance to the work I am doing for my play. Yes, I am still writing my play, and I am enjoying every minute of the experience. Everything is coming together well, and I expect it to be something worthwhile for production. I am putting everything I have into it, so I'm praying that it will go far. I will do everything in my power to make sure that it does. I plan to continue this course until I am through with the play and am happy with it, then I will seek someone who is interested in producing it. This process is the life I have always wanted, and now I am living it. Everything in my life will change when it goes into production. And it will be a positive change at that!

Monday, April 20, 2009

What was Extempore Poetry Like?

It's quite the dreary day here in cow country, and I have to keep reminding myself that "April Showers Bring May Flowers!" We've had relatively few sunny and warm days lately, and when we do have one, our family definitely takes advantage of it by staying outside all day. Ian, who has Sherry's skin, isn't quite susceptible to sunburn, but Aidan, who has my skin, will turn tomato red in a heart beat, so it's hats and sunblock for him.

But, this kind of weather is the perfect motivator to work long and hard on my play, so that is what I've been doing. The research has been interesting, and, although I've been doing it for the past three years, I'm still enjoying the nuances of information I've been getting. My last post sparked a question that I'm having difficulty answering, so I've been digging about as deeply as I can. The question is: what was extempore poetry like in its heyday?

I know that extempore poetry was the most popular form of poetry for some 1,800 years. I also know that there were competitions throughout all of Europe to see who the best poet was. The typical competition would begin at the local level with winners progressing through regional and national levels. At the end of the year, a champion would be crowned, and then the process would start all over again the following year. It was very similar to our sporting events in the way it was organized and the number of spectators who followed it. Indeed, the Poet Laurette (the person crowned with the golden laurel at the end of the year) was viewed as a national hero. It was most popular from 10 B.C. - 100 A.D., and then it made a resurgence from the 1600s-1800s.

But that still doesn't answer the question. We have plenty of information about the poetry contests and how they were arranged, but we have little poetry to fall back on to see what the quality was. That's because it was all oral poetry and made up either on the spot or within days of the competition. This is not exactly the perfect conditions for preserving the poetry. We don't even have the poems from the 18th and 19th centuries much less what was written in the 1st Century.

Was it good poetry? That is what I'd like to know. I mean, based upon spectator reports, it was good poetry. But how good? Is "good" measured against all forms of poetry, including written, or just against other oral poets of the time? No one seems to know. My research on Metastasio and Da Ponte leads me to believe that their extempore poetry was good but was not necessarily in the same style that they wrote in. Much of what I've read states that both men were successful opera poets because they brought much of the rawness of emotion and descriptiveness to operatic poetry.

Taking that description and coupling it with similar descriptions of other poets, it is fairly easy to infer that extempore poetry had some general characteristics. To begin with, I believe that the poets did not use a formalized meter and rhyming system to deliver their poetry in extempore. The reason I believe this is due to the difficulty of writing in those forms much less speaking in them in a highly-visible contest. Having to come up with rhymes in an A,B,C,D,E format and having the rhymes available just doesn't make sense, and it doesn't agree with what history tells me. Secondly, I believe that extemporous poetry was valued for its rich descriptiveness and emotional rawness. In other words, it had the same characteristics of stream-of-consciousness writing. The poets had to rely upon descriptiveness and emotional honesty. Their success was based upon emptying their hearts in the most colorful and descriptive way possible, probably in free-verse or with some rhyming. Third, I believe that they incorporated as many poetic devices as they could in their poetry, so if alliteration, for example, came to mind, they used it. They had to be masters of incorporating as much of this as possible.

Therefore, I can imagine a rawness with lots of descriptive flavors mixed in with multiple poetic devices. I cannot imagine a set style guiding them throughout. And by set style, I mean that they stuck to the English or Italian Sonnet form. If they did that, then they would have needed days to prepare, and most contests did not allow days of preparation. These traits show in the writing of the two greatest extempore poets around: Metastasio and Statius. So, I believe that I'm pretty much on target with my assessment.

Like I said in my last post, there are a few small groups trying to bring this art form back into our culture. Unfortunately, I've seen video of the poetry being delivered, and poets they are not. I applaud these groups for their efforts, but I would love to see some very talented poets get up there are dig deep from the inside to pull out some good emotional and descriptive material. What I've seen so far are kids who are doing nothing more than talking about something or doing what kids do best and being nastily graphic with some subjects. The sensitivity of the poet isn't there. That, I understand, comes with age. I don't blame the kids or the organizations. Who I blame are the poets who look down upon this art and who don't participate. And that is why it's not resurfacing. Too many poets are too afraid to put it on the line. If any of these organizations were on the East Coast, then I'd definitely participate. So far, though, they are all in California.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Extempore Poetry

Among my literary obsessions, I consider extempore poetry to be one of the highest. There is no reason for it. It is rarely practiced today, but I want the day to come when the grandeur of the poetry competitions in extempore return.

For some 2,000 years, poetry was considered the noblest of arts, and it was a competitive sport in the early Olympics through the Roman Circus era. It continued to be in vogue until the late 1700s when, for some reason, the competitions died out, and the art was rarely practiced anymore. It has grown so out-of-vogue that one can Google the topic now and find relatively little information about it.

Extempore poetry competitions were held in two forms. The first form was a sort-of stream of consciousness competition where a topic was given to the contestants, and they had to compose a poem out loud in front of an audience without any meditation, writing, or editing. The second form was a little easier. It provided each contestant with a pre-determined amount of time to compose the poem on the topic and then read or memorize it and deliver it to the audience. Sometimes, the time period was five minutes, and other times it was a day or so in advance.

Either way, the idea was too see how well a poet could produce a poem without constant revision. In ancient Greece and Rome, before writing became a mainstream art, this was the only way that poetry was delivered. The oral tradition was very strong in those cultures. Later, after quill, ink, and paper were invented, the competition was considered the best way to determine who was the most talented poet.

We all know that the Poet Laurette is a position within the United States government. Each President has the right and responsibility to nominate a poet to read their own poetry at large, important events. The most famous Poet Laurette was Robert Frost, and his reading at John F. Kennedy's inauguration was the most famous poetry reading ever. The Poet Laurette stems from a longer tradition in Europe where the person crowned with the laurel of grape vines (the traditional symbol of the poet) was the one who won the Emperor's own poetry contest. Each participant in this "World Series" of poetry had to get there by winning on the poetry contest circuit. This circuit was still in existence in the early 1700s, and some great poets such as Metastasio and Lorenzo Da Ponte grew up and thrived in that culture.

Both Metastasio and Da Ponte went on, as you know from reading my blogs, to become great opera librettists. Part of the reason that their poetry resonated with the masses was because they were great extempore poets. Their words tended to be more powerful and raw than their companions who only wrote poetry on paper to be published. This translated into more realistic opera and was credited for both of their successes on stage.

Today, as I have said, there are few extempore poetry "readings" being held in the world. There are a few organizations that are trying to bring it back, but they have had little success as of yet. Even stream-of-consciousness writing is out of style now. It's just a shame because I think these forms of art are the most direct ways to getting to the heart of the poet and writer. The words and feelings expressed are just so much more powerful than anything composed over a long time period. Sometimes, it's just better to reach in and pull out the first thing that comes to your mind, but we have forgotten to think like that. We have television, computers, video games, and movies. Our society is built upon structure, and structure dictates that everything should be planned and revised before sending out. Well, sometimes that sterilizes the subject, and all of the color, depth, and feeling are washed away. I have always eschewed planning and lots of editing because I feel that I lose power in my writing when I do those things. Most writers today disagree with me in that regard. The extempore poets who were the greatest of their time would not.

Maybe I am obsessed with this art because I think like an extempore poet. Like I said, I rarely write drafts, and editing is just to make sure that what I've written is readable. I write in my head, and when it is clear to me, it goes down on paper. That's extempore.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Needed Time

I'm sorry that I haven't been posting as regularly lately as I have been in the past. These last two months have been overwhelming, and now that I have some breathing room...well, I'm taking advantage of it!

I had a book deadline for late March/early April, and that book was one of the most difficult projects I have ever worked on. I cannot go into any detail about the book, but I believe that it is going to do extremely well. I am very proud of the way it turned out, and even though there were times when I thought that I just could not make it out of the abyss, I was able to get through it.

Interestingly enough, the person who hired me to do the book was more of a collaborator than anyone I've worked for in the past. He was very hands-on, and I have to admit that he had to be due to the complexity of the subject. I am not used to having someone so involved in a project, but because it was necessary, I was able to adapt. And not only did I adapt, but I ended up enjoying the collaboration.

Collaboration is great when you're working on a creative project that you're creating together. In ghostwriting, though, it tends to be a hassle because the people who hire me are not writers, or they would be writing the book themselves! But, for this particular project, it turned out well, and I enjoyed the friendship that I developed with my client.

Oddly, this project really took me to depths that I haven't been to in a long time. I believe that I turned out to be a better writer as a result. His voice was very difficult to mimic, and it took me a long time and a lot of practice to really nail it down. After I pinned the voice down, the subject material was the next mountain to conquer. Although I still can't say that I'm an expert in his field of expertise, I feel that I am one of a few people who actually understand his message in detail. The book, of course, is going to grow that number exponentially, and I suppose that was part of the difficulty in writing it -- taking something very complex and whittling it down to something that everyone can understand. Needless to say, it was taxing on me, and it slowed down my blogging.

I finished the book last week, so you would think that I would have all the time in the world to blog, wouldn't you? Well, I have other projects that I'm scheduled to work on, but I'm also taking a couple of weeks to work on my own project, and I'm very excited about that. I spend all of my time writing for other people, and, while I love the fact that I'm a full-time writer, I really despise not writing for myself because the only way to truly break through in the writing world is to publish in your own name.

So, I'm doing just that. Did I mention that I'm excited?! A couple of weeks ago, I was accepted as a guild member of the Dramatist Guild of America. It's a "juried" process, and I am honored to have been selected. The Dramatist Guild is for playwrights, librettists, composers, and lyricists. Because of my acceptance into the Guild, and because I've had a play brewing in my heart for a long time now, I've decided to write a play. I love writing plays. Not only does it give me a break from writing books, but it also allows me to play with dialogue in ways that you can't in a book. I love crafting stories, and I have a good story to write, so this is the perfect genre to write it in.

My goal is to have something very artistic -- something extremely poetic throughout. I've thought and thought about ways to bring poetry back to the stage, and this is the only way that I could think of to do just that. I want this play to be remembered for its beauty of language and the poetic devices throughout. In addition, I want it to be very colorful with an artistic set design, costumes, etc.

I'm not going through the story now. I really have a fear of telling a story before it is written. Not only do stories take on a life of their own and can change at the drop of a hat, but they are very vulnerable to being taken at this early stage of the process, and I cannot copyright the idea. So, I've decided not to go into much detail about it in such a public forum where anyone can read the blog. Forgive me for being such a prude, but I feel strongly about this story. I'll share it once I'm done and after I have it registered and copyrighted.

So, for the next couple of weeks, I will continue to blog, but my main focus will be on this play. The writing process and research is sure to make me want to share things with you, and I will make sure that I do so as I'm inspired.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

In Good Hands

Written in Stream of Consciousness in 7 min. 34 sec.

Joshua Bennett sat down in a hard plastic chair after talking to the receptionist. An hour already wasted, he was looking at thirty more minutes in this waiting room. It was as sterile and void of color as all the other rooms in the building, and all of the magazines were at least four months old.

"What did she say?" asked his wife Alecia.

"It'll be another few minutes or so," he said, not wanting to reveal the extra half an hour to the already impatient patient. He patted her knee, "Don't worry. It won't be much longer."

Alecia slumped back in the uncomfortable chair, her belly bulging with child. She could not find a comfortable position, and the chairs were narrow -- so narrow that they pinched her thighs. Definitely not designed with the pregnant woman in mind, she thought as she slid into another angle to ease her back pain.

Joshua was beside himself with the wait. He didn't want to make a scene in front of his wife because she was already an emotional time-bomb with eight months of hormones built to explode like an atomic bomb at any given moment, but his patience was wearing thin too.

"I'm going out for a stroll in the hall. Want to go with me?" he asked.

"What if they call us in? We've been waiting this long, and I'm not going to wait any longer than I have to."

"Ah, don't worry about that. I'll let the receptionist know. They won't forget about us." He looked up at the clock. It was 4 p.m., and he knew they were the last appointment of the day. He walked up to the receptionists window and tapped.

The receptionist was a twenty-something named Irene. Although she'd only been working for Dr. Holmes for three months, she was used to the drill. Patients wait, and she takes the grief. As soon as she heard the tap, she got ready for another tongue-lashing. She slid the window open slowly. Here it comes, she thought. She hated getting yelled at, and she wondered if she'd ever get used to it.

Joshua gave her a cold stare as if to say, "I"m pissed," but instead of letting his emotions get to him, he calmly told her that they were going to walk down the hall. His wife, he explained, was having difficulty getting comfortable, and they wanted to move around.

Irene was relieved that he didn't yell, and she was more than happy to accommodate his wishes. "Just stay on the floor, and I'll find you with Dr. Holmes is ready," she said.

"Any idea when that will be?" Joshua asked.

"No sir. He had two deliveries this afternoon, and he's still not in the office. He will be here though, or he would have called and had me reschedule you."

After waiting this long, rescheduling was not an option for Joshua. He knew that Alecia would exterminate them both if that were suggested at this point. "We'll stay on this floor," he said. "Just come get us when he gets here."

Joshua started to walk away. He could see the relief in Irene's eyes when he talked to her. He stuck his hand in the opening of the window as she was closing it, and he leaned in so she could hear his whisper. "This happens all the time, doesn't it?"

Irene smiled. "All the time."

"Why is he like that?"

"Deliveries are always first. He doesn't want some intern delivering his patients, so he always does it himself."

Somehow that made Joshua feel better about the wait. He hated wasted time, but there was something about that statement that made him feel better. Who would he rather have bringing his baby into this world? The doctor or some rookie?

He went over and helped Alecia out of the chair. "Come on honey, Dr. Holmes will be here shortly."

"Good," she said. "I'm getting ready to walk out of here if he doesn't hurry."

"Nah," Joshua said. "I kind of like the old man."

They walked through the door and slowly exited the waiting room. Joshua took small steps while Alecia wobbled down the hall. He put his arm around her waist. "I still think it's going to be a boy," he said.

"Nope, I know it's a girl," Alecia said, and they giggled, glad that they hadn't found out. She stopped and looked at Joshua. "I just want it to be healthy."

"Somehow," he said, "I believe we're in good hands." And he kissed her softly on the lips only to be startled by the elevator door opening. It was Dr. Holmes.

"Joshua, Alecia," he said. "Come on into the office. I'm so sorry for the delay."

Sunday, March 29, 2009


Many of you have probably heard or used the term Schikanederei at some point in your lives. This is the German spelling. In English, the term is spelled Chicanery. It means "deception, fraud, evasion, and use of tricks to accomplish something." Now, maybe it rings a bell.

I listed the German spelling because of the word's etymology, or origin, because it has its ties to one of my literary heroes. I hate to say it, but I found the whole thing rather interesting as I was reading Emanuel Schikaneder's biography this week. Even though I'm disappointed to hear his name associated with such a negative word, I've still not dropped him from my hero's position because his name is associated with the greatest Singspiel/Opera ever written: The Magic Flute which was composed, of course, by Mozart.

Schikaneder's role in Mozart's life is beautifully portrayed in the movie Amadeus. He's the fellow who locked Mozart in his country home to get him to finish the music for The Magic Flute, and he was one of Mozart's truest friends. In fact, he was one of the few to realize, at the time, Mozart's genius.

Schikaneder was a theater man his entire life. He owned one of the most popular theaters in the suburbs of Vienna, and he focused on popular works for the average Viennese citizen. He directed and starred in hundreds of plays, ballets, Singspiels, and a few grand operas. The Magic Flute was the most famous production he ever produced, and he wrote the libretto while Mozart wrote the music.

The Magic Flute was Mozart's last major work before he died, and it is regarded by music critics all over the world as his greatest accomplishment. It is a masterpiece, and the music is so moving that it brings you to tears just listening to it. I have been in the habit of listening to it every day over this past week, and it soothes me when I write. In addition, it still holds the record for the number of performances given within the first year of release, the first decade of release, and forever, as a matter of fact. No other opera has been performed as much.

Unlike most of Mozart's work, The Magic Flute was recognized as an immediate success by his peers. It was not only popular with the masses, but people like Salieri and Beethoven recognized it as genius. It is a shame that Mozart died soon after. Only in his mid-thirties, he had so much left to give the world, and he was getting better with each and every composition.

The one criticism of The Magic Flute is the libretto which was written by Schikaneder. Although, after reading it through many times, I do not understand why it's criticised. The major criticism is that he "flip-flopped" the plot of a famous fairy tale of the time, and his use of words were weak. In defense of these decisions, "flip-flopping" a popular fairy tale is actually pretty genius. It gives the audience something different than they expected, and it actually works in the Singspiel's favor, especially at that time. It was different, and there is nothing wrong with that. To me, that is creative thought, not a flaw. And insofar as his use of common language, what was wrong with writing for the average person instead of the elite? In fact, they were his audience.

So, in my opinion, Schikaneder deserves as much credit for being Mozart's great librettist as does Da Ponte, and that is why his picture hangs on my wall of heroes. But what happened after that is a little unfortunate, and that is what led to the word we now know as "chicanery." After Mozart's death, Schikaneder had a theater to run, and it was common, in those days, to produce new work after new work. In other words, there was no revival of old pieces. People wanted to see new operas and Singspiels just like we want to see new movies today. Someone had to write them, and because he was a librettist and owner, Schikaneder usually wrote all of the productions along with whatever composer he had hired at the time.

The problem, however, was that he had to write between four and eight operas/Singspiels per year, and that's a lot of writing. In addition, he owned the theater, he hired the actors, he directed all of the performances, and he managed his production crews. He did all of this as well as serving as financial manager. So, he was a very busy man. As a result, his librettos began to grow weak, his rhymes were horrible, and his plots were bad. There just wasn't much behind the story.

To make up for this, Schikaneder used elaborate stage sets with mechanical devices that were cutting-edge theater technology. He knew that, by making the scenes look great and by doing fantastic things on the stage, he could overcome the weakness in his writing. You see, it's not that he couldn't write well. He proved that he could with his collaboration on The Magic Flute. He just did not have the time to devote to it, and he was too cash-strapped to hire a full-time librettist whom he would have had to share his profits with. Even though he was selling out every night, it seemed that he could not control his personal spending, and his lavish lifestyle always kept him from having financial security.

While the masses loved the theatrical effects, the critics could see what he was doing, and they claimed that he was using special effects to cover up a poorly written libretto. This, they called Schikanederei or chicanery. And that is where the word comes from.

Although I hate to admit that one of my favorite writers bears such a bad reputation, I cannot ignore it. I only wish that, instead of having a hand in everything, he would have stuck to writing librettos only in collaboration with the great composers of his life, just as he did with Mozart. Had he done so, we probably wouldn't have a word like chicanery in our vocabulary. Had he done so, we probably would have had many more wonderfully-written magical tales set to music.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


I'm sitting here on this late Sunday evening relaxing to Mozart's "The Magic Flute," and I thought, what the heck, I've already talked about Da Ponte, Metastasio, Opera Seria, and Opera Buffa, so I might as well write a little about Singspiel. And for those of you wondering why I'm spending time writing about opera on a writing blog, it's because it's all about the writing! Opera is poetry sung, so it's fitting. Plus, I get a kick writing about those things I'm interested in, and, since I love musicals and opera, I love writing about musicals and opera.

Like I said, it's all about the writing. I'm no musical genius, although I did take many years of piano lessons in my day and am helping my son learn how to play himself. I never became a great pianist, and when asked to play today, I reluctantly say, "No," because I'm just not comfortable playing. I'm not like my son or wife, for that matter, who have ears for music and can play without the music or practice. But, in regards to opera and musicals, I'm a huge fan of the poetry and stories being told, and I think they have as much merit for study as does the poetry, short stories, and novels of the great writers.

Many of you have probably never heard of Singspiel before, although you've probably heard one if you are a music lover. Mozart composed several, but "The Magic Flute" is probably his most famous one. In fact, it's considered his best opera ever. But there were others who were influenced by it tremendously, including Wagner and Beethoven. Going back to Mozart, his first opera, "Bastien und Bastienne," was a Singspiel which he wrote at the old age of twelve! His "The Abduction of Seraglio," another quite famous opera, was also a Singspiel.

So, then, what is it? Well, if you listen to either "The Magic Flute" or "The Abduction of Seraglio" you'll find yourself, after the overture, listening to spoken dialogue instead of an aria or the more formal recitative you'd hear in Opera Seria. Singspiels are also typically written on a comedic theme (but not all, mind you), and the music tends to be simpler and more "folksy." Typically, this was opera for the people -- words they could understand coupled with music they could sing to when they were at home. Call it "pop" opera.

I may have made a slight mistake in my last post when I called Opera Seria the predecessor to the modern musical that we see on Broadway. The Singspiel is certainly closer. It relied more heavily on acting, awesome mechanical sets, spoken dialogue, and singing. And how many of you don't break out into your favorite song from a musical every now and then? It happens quite frequently in my house, so it probably does in yours as well! Don't be ashamed of it. Just admit it! We all love musicals!

Anyway, as you know, many musicals are set to fairy-tale type stories, and that was the hallmark of most Singspiels. So, simply put, the Singspiel probably was the predecessor and/or example that most writers used to base their work upon early on in Broadway's history. So, although opera is defined as a high-brow art, it's not, nor has it ever been, always the case. The average Joe loved going to the opera just as much as anyone, and the Singspiel was the one that he went to after a long-week's work. By far, Singspiels drew more people as a result and were some of the longest-lasting operas of all because the people decided when they grew weary of the opera rather than the wealthy suitors, financiers, or emperors.

The writers of Singspiels were librettist just the same. I think, in many cases, they were more creative. Instead of re-hashing an old mythological story or romantic/epic play, Singspiel librettist came up with original ideas based upon never-before heard-of stories. Fortunately, for them, too, they were the wealthier of the librettists because they got a percentage of each show's revenue, so they did not have to rely upon someone giving them money to work their craft or a position from the King or Emperor. They were free to write what they wanted, and this freedom usually came with a bonus of excellent material!

So, there it is. Opera and Broadway are one and the same in reality. It just goes to show you that there's something about a good old musical or Singspiel that makes us happy. The theatrics, the music, and the story are fun, and you can't get around it. The next time you take in a Broadway show, just remember that you're participating in an event that has been making people laugh, cry, and sing for hundreds of years. It's an awesome feeling!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Metastasio and Opera Seria

I have, hanging on the walls of my office, pictures of my literary heroes. They serve as inspiration during times when I need a boost. They also hang there as reminders of great stories, superbly lived lives, and art as art has never been created. Chief among these heroes are two librettists from the 18th Century: Metastasio and Da Ponte.

I've written about Da Ponte before. He was a the librettist for Mozart, writing three of Mozart's most famous operas. I was introduced to Metastasio through Da Ponte because Metastasio was Da Ponte's hero. Da Ponte grew up knowing that he wanted to be a poet and librettist because, as a child, one of three books he owned was a collection of the famous Italian's poetry. When Da Ponte arrived in Vienna, his first concern was to meet with the elderly Metastasio. After making the right connections, he finally dined with the old man and shared a wonderful evening of poetry and opera with him. A few days later, Metastasio died.

Metastasio is still revered in Vienna. In fact, when Sherry and I were in Vienna a couple of years ago, we toured a few cathedrals. On display in one of the cathedrals was the tomb of Metastasio. They were refurbishing his coffin for the anniversary of his death, and it was on display. Unfortunately, at that time, I had no idea who he was. It wasn't until a year later that I put the two together. Had I known I was looking right at the place of his burial, I would have taken pictures.

Metastasio was born in 1698, and he was apprenticed to be a goldsmith when he became a teenager, but fate was good to him. When his father could no longer afford to raise him, he was sent to live with an uncle who took time to introduce him to the arts. In no time at all, it was apparent that he was a poet at heart.

At the early age of fourteen he wrote a tragedy which he called "Justin." Although it wasn't worthy for production, there was no doubt to his uncle that he had a gift for the flow of verse that could be turned into music. Metastasio also knew this, and he worked tirelessly to refine his craft. And refine it, he did.

Italy never had a poet like him. He had vivacity of imagination and refinement of feeling, combined with every charm of versification and expression. His style was as graceful as a painter and as delightful as a musician. His verse was perfect for the opera, and, soon, he was sought out by Italian composers to craft operas for them.

What I love about him most, though, was the fact that he did not want to be a lofty poet by writing sublime poetry. He wanted to be a poet of the opera. He dedicated his life to this art, and he became, in a very short period of time, the most famous librettist in all of Europe. His operas were to make Italy proud, and his poetry formed the basis for what was to become the national art of his home country.

It is strange that, today, he is not mentioned among the great poets and artists of his time. Most people have never heard of him , but during his lifetime, he was considered the greatest of the greats. He wrote over 1,800 works, 28 of which were grand operas. In fact, most of the operas during the 18th century were Metastasio's! You see, back then, there were no copyright laws, so any musician could write music to his work, and, boy, did they!

He wrote a style of opera called Opera Seria which was in vogue up until the late 18th Century. Opera Seria was a distinctive style of opera which had a very nationalistic tone to it. It has been called the "rhetorical opera" because it took, as its subject, stories from Greek and Roman tragedies. The operas consisted of arias (songs that were sung as songs), recitatives (songs that mimicked human speech when sung), and chorus (songs sung by a group of people). These operas usually told a story and had a moral to teach to the audience. Although the characters were not as vivid and lively as the opera we know today (Opera Buffa), the poetry and story was more important to the opera than the music was, and that is why the librettists of that time were put on a pedestal. You see, Opera Buffa focuses upon lively characters with powerful voices, and the music is the emotional driver.

Metastasio was a poet first. He wrote from the heart, and his work was compelling, emotional, and spine-tingling. He could engage the audience from the start, and he could make the manliest of men cry. His words were magical to say the least. He was so popular that he was brought to Vienna and given a lifetime position as Poet of the Opera which he held until he died. And just to put it into perspective, Da Ponte took over as Poet of the Opera when Metastasio died. By that time, Opera Seria was giving way to Opera Buffa, and the influence and recognition of the librettist would slowly give way to the composers. Again, the reason this was the case was that, in Opera Buffa, the music drives the emotions of the opera, not the poetry.

Today, fortunately, Opera Seria is coming back into vogue. People are looking for a different kind of art in their opera, and some 220 years later, the tide is turning once more back to Opera Seria. As it gains popularity, I am sure that Metastasio's name will appear in more biographies and books dedicated to this great poet.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Writing Process

Mozart is considered the most genius of all musicians. He was playing the piano proficiently by the age of four, and he was composing works of art by the time he was seven years old. I look back at all of the music he composed, and his operas stand out the most to me. Part of the reason why is that I spent time in Vienna studying him and his music. Fortunately, Sherry and I were able to spend an entire week in that grand city absorbing great music night after night.

The movie, Amadeus, is one of my favorite movies of all time. I find myself watching it over and over again. While a beautiful film, it is historically incorrect, but I think that most people are aware of that by now. The one thing that it does portray accurately, though, is how the man wrote his music. I actually toured his home where he would play billiards while writing music. What I found most fascinating was his ability to compose an entire opera in his head before writing it down. In the film, he was seen telling the manager of the Italian Opera that the opera was in his head, but the director of the film made Mozart look a little crazy when they portrayed that scene.

The truth was, though, that he would "write" the music in his head first, and then he would pen it on paper, and it just flowed easily when he got to that point. There is a legend that he wrote Don Giovanni in three days. That legend is only partially true. He and Lorenzo Da Ponte collaborated on that opera for months before it went to production. Da Ponte, it was said, wrote the libretto in three to four days, and Mozart wrote the music in three or four days. What is not understood, however, is the fact that they actually had the libretto and music written long before that (in their heads), and those who witnessed them writing the libretto and music only saw the end product being produced. Mozart, in fact, cut it so close that the ink was still drying when he got the music to the conductor on the first night of rehearsals.

For me, the writing process is very similar, and a lot of people just don't understand it. Sometimes, my wife doesn't understand it either. I will think about something for months, ponder it, make a few notes, write a paragraph or two to get the voice down, and then I will do nothing as it seems to everyone else. While I am writing in my head, I do things that are mind-numbing. I play on the computer, I search the Internet, I watch TV shows on the Internet. Anything that doesn't make me think because I'm thinking about the piece that I am writing. Others think I'm just putting it off and being lazy. The funny thing is, I'm working very hard in my head. Oddly enough, Mozart and Da Ponte were accused of the same thing by those at the Italian Opera. Instead of spending hours holed up in ther workrooms, they were meeting by the fountains, having coffee at the cafes, and spending time at other operas.

A client of mine right now almost forgot that I told him up front that this is how the process works for me. I had two-and-a-half months to write a book, yet I did not start writing until three weeks before deadline. The reality is, I was already writing in my head after sinking my brain into the material. Now, he is amazed at how quickly I'm writing each chapter. What would have taken someone else a day to write, I wrote it in two hours, and he was amazed. In fact, we spoke on the phone yesterday because he was so happy with the first chapter, and when I told him how long it took to write it, he was flabbergasted. He just couldn't believe it. I reminded him, however, that I'd been spending these weeks researching the subject and going over the information in my head over and over to a point where I had it written in my head. So, nothing held me up on the project, it was just my process of writing, and I will still beat the deadline because the book is in my head.

I don't know if this is a gift or not. It certainly has not hindered my writing at all. In fact, I think it gives me much more depth. Since I don't have to worry about the content while writing, because it's already there, it allows me to be so much more conscious about word usage, richness, poetics, etc., while I actually write. If this is a gift, I am very grateful for having it. I'm not saying that I'm in the same league as Da Ponte or Mozart in regards to their genius, but I do know what it's like to write in my head only to produce it in a very short period of time as others see it.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Calling Me

Sherry gave me this leather-bound notebook several years ago. Inside, she wrote a sweet note letting me know that this was mine, and I should write in it whatever I felt in my heart to write. I used it once, at the birth of my second son, when I wrote some poetry to commemorate the occasion, but beyond that, the book has sat on top of a dresser untouched. I even took the poetry out and stowed it away in a folder. So, now, the book is empty again.

Recently, the book has been calling me. Every time I look at it, it seems to be telling me to write in it, and I'm being told what to write. It's driving me mad. I mean, I have my slate full with books, screenplays, and poetry to write for other people, and here I have this book calling me out to write for ME.

I know this sounds crazy, as if I'm saying the book is possessed, but it does want me to write in it. How many books out there talk to people? I wish it were an old leather-bound book. Maybe I could convince myself that the spirit of some old writer lives in it and was calling me to my Calling. But it's new, so there's no history to it. There's no old writer. There's nothing but me.

Of course, I'm not hearing voices, so don't think I'm going crazy. The voice is there, but it's coming from me. It's that soft whisper inside calling out from my soul to tell me what to do. Perhaps I'm finally getting in touch with my true self, and this is my mind's way of telling me that it's OK to come out of the literary closet and finally take a chance at writing something fantastic in my own name.

I've missed out on these opportunities for a long time. I used to write solely for myself (when I was still developing my voice) until money and responsibility got in the way. Then there was the fear of rejection. Not literary rejection, by the way, but the rejection of being me; being the person who I really am. I have spent a lifetime being someone else, and that someone else is nowhere close to resembling the real me.

The truth is, I don't fear literary rejection. When I write from the heart, there is no rejection because it's powerful writing. I see it day in and day out with my clients. I hear the kind of feedback in a week that most writers want to hear in a year. Still, it's not my BEST writing. That, I'm sure, is reserved for something I produce on my own terms. Writing for other people is gratifying, but I'm writing on their terms, in their voice, and on their subject. It's just not the same.

But here I am staring at this book, and it continues to call me. Is this the time when I should listen and write the libretto/musical I've always wanted to write? Is this the time when it should happen?

I've been learning a lot about myself over these past few months, and the one thing I have discovered is that, not only have I hidden myself for the longest time, but I've done so because I've spent a lifetime worrying about what other people think of me. And for good reason. It's one thing to fear rejection because of the quality of a manuscript, but it's another to fear rejection for coming out and being the person who I really am. This book is calling me to do just that.

I think it's time to listen to my heart. At 38 years old, I think it's time to stop worrying about what other people think of me because of my art. I think it's time to listen to the book.

I do very well as a ghostwriter, and I have no complaints. But I really don't want to be 45 still writing under someone else's name. It's my turn to step onto the stage of life and play that part called "me." It's my turn to write my own material without fear of what people think of me. It's my turn to be me.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

What is the Difference Between a Musical and an Opera?

What's the difference between a musical and an opera? I've been asked this question a couple of times since I posted my essay on librettists, and since it seems to be such a confusing issue, I thought that I would answer the question, although I don't think we're going to come away with a black and white answer like I'd like to have. There's just too much grey in between the two genres, but I'll give it a try.

Broadway is fun, I'll give you that. When I go to a Broadway show, I can't help but think of the golden age of opera. Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, opera and stage productions were the only form of entertainment for the people, and music became vogue in the late 1600s, so people wanted to hear music more than see a stage play. Today's flocking to musicals by the masses is very similar to the flocking of the masses to operas.

But, we should not limit musicals to just Broadway. Broadway is the Major League of musicals. Just about anywhere you go in the country, you're bound to be within a hundred miles of a theatre where a musical is being performed. Branson, Missouri, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Orlando, Florida, Los Angeles, California, Atlantic City, New Jersey, Las Vegas Nevada, etc., etc., all have major theatres designed and specified for the performance of musicals. Many of these cities are "tryouts" for a Broadway production, and even in New York, there are the Minor League theatres where musicals are performed. So to limit this genre to one street in New York is not really grasping the whole picture. They are very popular.

Opera was the same way. Almost every European city with a substantial population had an opera house. Vienna, Austria, was the Broadway of opera back then, but there were some very respectable Minor League opera houses in Venice, Florence, Rome, Salzburg, etc., where one could see a very high-level opera. It wasn't a "high-brow" activity as it has become today, unfortunately. For whatever reason, opera has been taken over by the wealthy, and the musical has replaced opera for the masses.

But is there really a difference between the two? Yes and no. You see, I told you there was a grey area. For example, here's the complication. Puccini wanted to take Ferenc Molnar's play "Liliom" and make it into an opera. Molnar objected. Many years later, Rodgers and Hammerstein were given permission to do just that, but instead of being called an opera, it was called a musical. The same text was used and the same strategy was integrated, but one would have been an opera while the other was called a musical. Confusing, eh?

Well, just to let you know, there are some minor areas where the two do differentiate. For instance, in an opera, music drives the drama, whereas in a musical, the text typically drives drama. In opera, music is the key element for emotions, narrative, etc. In a musical, the text plays such an important role in these functions. But, again, remember, I told you that this was not always the case. There are many operas where the libretto (text) was much more important than the music. In "Opera Seria," the text (arias, recitatives, and chorus) was what drove the opera, and the music followed the text. During the early 19th century, "Opera Buffa" became more popular, and that is where we saw music overshadowing the libretto. However, in the late 19th century, there was a movement by young librettist who wanted to return to a text-driven opera. They were partially successful in doing so, and I truly believe that they laid the ground for the modern musical.

Probably the major difference between the two is the acting and dancing component. You will rarely find the leads in an opera dancing and acting. They are there to sing, and to sing well. In a musical, mostly because of advances in technology (microphones, headsets, speakers), the singers are dancing and acting at the same time. Again, though, this isn't always true. And even some of Mozart's operas were very engaging for the leads.

Beyond that, about the only other difference that I can think of is that some musicals have spoken dialogue in them whereas operas rarely do. Again, there are examples of operas that do have spoken dialogue, and there are many musicals that do not, so this is not a clear-cut answer either.

So, where does this leave us? Nowhere, actually. We should take it as it is. Musicals, for the most part, are operas. Operas, for the most part, are musicals. I believe that this is more of a sociological question than anything. Looking at it from our time-frame, opera is highbrow and musicals are for the masses. That's a societal division that has been artificially set up. Because, if you look at it from the eyes of 18th and 19th century audiences, opera was for everyone. It was not a high-brow art. So, after all this discussion, perhaps that is what it all boils down to.

Either way, support the arts. Go see the local high school productions, donate to the arts for community organizations, and go see a musical. You'll enjoy every minute of your experience.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Don't Hire a "Word Mechanic" -- YOU Lose in the End

Sherry and I just changed my website around a little bit. I have been concerned that the home page was too focused upon Rhetoric, and that it was scaring away some potential clients. And, because I am a writer, I feel like my site needs to have lots of writing on it. I know, I know... traditional thought among website designers tends to focus more upon graphics and less upon writing, but for the writer, well, it makes sense to fill pages with words -- more importantly, my words.

Now, if you look on my home page, you'll see that I make an important point to potential clients: you can hire someone who writes from the heart with poetic rhythm, or you can hire a "word mechanic." I also ask people who see this home page to think about their project, and I encourage them to do their due-diligence when seeking the best writer they can get. And for good reason.

Writing is just like any business. You can get a quality product at a premium price, or you can get a poor product for cheap. The question is, what is the best value? Well, that's the point I'm trying to make on my home page. For writing, value comes from the effect that the work has upon the audience. If you can get someone to read the work, and that person is motivated to act upon the purpose of that work (buy a product, read the next book coming out, hire a company for services, or just finish the book), then there is all kinds of value. This is what good writing brings to the table, and there is really no way to quantify it differently.

"Word mechanics," though, are the people out there who can write. Meaning, they have the ability to come up with an outline, write a thesis statement, and put sentences together to make an essay or book. This type of writing is dry, and it has no soul. It doesn't motivate the reader to read the work, and rarely will the reader be encouraged to act upon the goal set out from the start. It's just a boring read.

Poetics (i.e., use of poetic devices) can be incorporated into every genre out there. For example, a well-written business proposal should be full of poetic devices. Writers who write from the heart generally use these elements to draw the reader into the narrative. It is usually accompanied with a strong, unique voice, a style that focuses more upon the message and audience than third grade grammar rules, color, and life. I tell people that, when I write, I want the audience to feel, see, taste, smell, and hear the words. I want them to imagine that they are living in the story. When readers get that, they get it, if you know what I mean. They will bite hook, line, and sinker every time.

One of the most powerful components of poetics is cadence or rhythm. To keep someone interested in finishing a work, the writer has to be musical. The words have to flow like notes on a sheet of music. Why do you think that I love opera so much? It's the perfect combination of music and poetry. And, it's the hallmark of great writing. If you read something from a "word mechanic," there is no cadence. It reads like a textbook... boring, long, and difficult to get through.

So, remember, if you're looking to have something written for you, find a writer who masters writing from the heart and pulling words from the soul instead of seeking a cheap "word mechanic." While it may cost more upfront, if you truly believe in your project, then it will pay many dividends in the end.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Librettist

You know, I'm inclined to believe that this may be the most rambling, disorganized post I've written yet. However, it matters not. There is no way to attack this topic without a little informality, and I intend to do it some justice. What I'd like to write about today concerns the "librettist."

Sherry and I went to Vienna, Austria, two years ago and had the time of our lives. Per our normal vacation routine, we made few plans except the fact that we had a hotel booked in a good part of the city, and we had tickets to a Mozart concert. Little did I know at the time that the tickets were for the day we arrived (I thought they were for the next day), so we were both suffering from jet-lag during the concert. We had an outstanding week in the city, though, and we saw many exciting things. We even took a day trip across Austria to Salzburg where Mozart was born.

I've always loved music, and one of my biggest regrets in life is quitting piano lessons when I got old enough to make that decision (I was teased into submission by classmates). I can still read music like a champ, but it will take lots of work to get my hands and ear back. Teaching my son, Ian, piano is helping me, but I no longer have ambitions to be a great pianist. I could have been, I believe. At least, I could have been a good technical player from a sheet music point of view. I always had an ability to understand the notes and hear them in my head, but I could never play by ear which is what the really great pianists can do. Ian can play by ear. In fact, that's pretty much how he prefers it. It's amazing to me to watch him play. If I can just give him the technical knowledge over time, I think he'll do well if he keeps playing.

I've never been a huge fan of popular music, per se, and I've always loved classical music. Now, classical music to me is just a generality for all music played by orchestra and all of the periods included, not just the "Classical" period. So, when we were in Vienna, "The City of Music," we saw a performance almost every evening. The most memorable evening was when we were able to get tickets to the famous Vienna State Opera House to see Mozart's Don Giovanni. It was an incredible performance, and I ate it all up. I just loved it, and it seemed so familiar, even though it was the first opera that I've ever been to.

Granted, I've been to several Broadway shows before with Sherry, but traditional opera was something new to me. Broadway shows are different, but I really don't know how to explain it. Perhaps they are the same, but opera has, in my opinion, an artistic, poetic side to it that Broadway does not. Broadway feels like opera-diluted to me. The poetry just isn't there, although the story lines seem more developed and focused.

There was something about the component that has driven me to research opera in more depth. I've learned so much about it over the past two years that I've almost driven myself to insanity studying the components of what it takes to produce an opera as well as the history of the golden age of opera (from Mozart to Puccini). What I found was poetry and music combined in such a way as to make the perfect art.

We all know the story of Mozart. We know how he lived and how he died, and we know that he produced three of the greatest operas ever. There are myths behind some of the operas that may or may not be true. One suggests that he wrote one of his operas in a week, turning in the final score with wet ink still drying on the night of the first rehearsal. However, what most people don't know is that the opera music itself was only half of the opera. Someone had to write the libretto for the opera. The libretto is the poetry behind the music. It is the story, and the librettist was considered the poet of the opera. For Mozart's three great operas, the man he collaborated with was Lorenzo Da Ponte.

While in Vienna, I became obsessed with Da Ponte and librettists in general because of my love of poetry and my infatuation with this new pure art that I had discovered. I bought everything I could find in English about Da Ponte there, and when I returned home, I bought every book about him, and I've read them all at least twice. As a result, I'm probably one of the experts of Da Ponte out there by choice. I even went so far as to begin a historical fiction about him because he led such an extraordinary life. It's an unfinished work right now, but if I can get my heart into it and breath more life into his character, I may find a way to finish it.

My study of Da Ponte led me to other great composers such as Wagner and Puccini. Wagner was one of the few composers who wrote his own libretti. He was gifted in that way. Puccini, however, relied upon many librettists to write his operas, and he had a very tumultuous relationship with many of them. The stories about these collaborations are fascinating, and the animosity between poet and composer, the quarrels, and the successes are ripe for a book in itself.

Through it all, though, I've had the most unusual fascination with these librettists for whatever reason. It's certainly not because I grew up studying opera. I read their words, however, and I read about their lives, and I seem to have a bond with them. It's like I can feel their emotions, their joys in success, and their frustrations in failure. I've never collaborated with anyone for a musical project, yet I feel the desire to do just that. It's very strange. Those emotions were extremely strong when I was in Vienna.

Since I love history, it's not unusual for me to have emotional reactions in historic places, but those feelings usually leave me alone after I leave the place. Time usually takes its toll, and I lose the interest. But in this case, it's never left me. These librettists have found a place in my heart. This is the reason why I want my next big trip to be in Italy. I want to go to the birthplace of opera and visit the museums of the great composers and librettists. I just feel compelled to do that, and I can't explain it.

It's not that we don't have songwriters and musicians today. Like I've said, we have Broadway, and then we have a plethora of songwriters who collaborate with bands. But it's not the same as the collaborations between composer and librettist during the opera's golden years. While we have some beautiful songs, they are just songs. They are not poetic narratives like the opera. And Broadway, while very close to opera in that it is a narrative, just does not share the poetic nature of opera. It's not the same art, and it doesn't evoke the same emotion.

Again, I don't know why I have this fascination. It's probably because I see a pure art staring at me, and I connect to it. But I am drawn to it very strongly, and I have a deep respect for the art, especially the art of the librettist -- the poet of the opera. Today, the composers get all of the accolades and attention, but back then, much of that attention was shared with the poet. For great music, they knew, could only be great if accompanied by poetic narratives. The words, to a degree, were just as important as the music and performers. At least that's how it was perceived during Puccini's time.

What's next for me, then, in this saga? I don't know. Perhaps I'm meant to finish that historical fiction on Da Ponte, or perhaps I'm meant to do something else. As a poet, I'd love to collaborate with someone and write a libretto for an opera in English. But that opportunity will have to come together on its own as if fate brought me and the composer together. I've really never had an interest to write a play, but an opera would be something I'd never pass up. I know that sounds odd since opera isn't that popular anymore, but I can't refuse my own interests. As a realist, however, I doubt it will ever happen as I do not know of any composer who needs a libretto, so it will probably go down as a dream that never happens. Such is life.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Why is Writing Important?

Once again, I'm sorry for the delay in the postings. I know that everyone got used to reading my posts once a day, five days a week. Over the past month, however, I've been followed by a dark cloud of viruses that have rained down their sickness upon me. At first, it was pink eye, then I had the flu, and then, this past week, I had strep throat. I've never had pink eye or strep throat in my life! Strep throat is the worst of them all. I had a fever that was unbelievable: 103.4. Thank goodness Sherry got me to the doctor when she did. A few more decimal points up the thermometer, and I would have been in serious trouble. So, it's been a difficult week. And, to think, I went most of the past two years without a bug. Hopefully, it all happens in "threes," and I'm done with all this stuff.

So, today, I'd like to talk about writing. When I taught college composition, I had many wonderful students. Several of them told me they went on to get their degrees in English because of me. That was an awesome feeling. To think that I had an impact on motivating young minds to make those decisions is incredible. But, beyond those select few who really loved writing and listened, most students came into class grumbling about why they needed to learn to write. After all, many were majoring in the sciences, math, or engineering, and they just couldn't connect to the concept that writing would still be an important component of their professional lives.

I wasn't trying to make poets out of these kids. I had to introduce them to the basics, and I had to ensure that they had a grasp of the basic argumentative essay. They had to write coherently, do their research, and to write correctly -- all, as I told them, so the reader could understand what they were writing about. It was all part of the new "Writing Across the Curriculum" program unveiled throughout universities across the United States. There was a growing concern that college graduates were leaving the educational system without the ability to communicate.

Just like I told my students, if you cannot write well, people will judge your intelligence by your words. I also told them that they would have to write reports, briefs, documents, etc., to give to their managers, and it didn't matter what field they were in. Think about your daily job: do you have to write to other people? Do you have to send emails to colleagues, bosses, or customers? Do you have to write promotional material or white sheets for projects that you are working on? Do you have to provide status reports? On a personal level, we all write emails and letters to friends. We write letters to businesses that we are dissatisfied with, and we all have the occasional letter that we're asked to write for someone. In fact, these days, you can't get a loan unless you write a letter of need to the bank. And if you're starting a business, you have to write a solid business plan. So, tell me, is writing important?

Yes it is! Take the above examples. If you write so poorly that you come across as an ignorant person, do you think that your managers or customers are going to respect you? Are they going to promote you or do business with you? Probably not. Instead, they're going to mock you, call friends over and have them read it while having a good laugh. If you own your own business, and you're writing promotional materials for your products, and it's so bad that the reader can't even understand the point of it, do you think the reader is going to be motivated to buy that product? No way. In fact, those customers will either be annoyed or irritated at the material and vow to never do business with you. They'll judge your products and your authority in your field based upon the information you give them. That's just the way it is.

The best thing a person can do to enhance their career, build their business, or survive in the real world is to learn to write effectively. Believe me, it is a necessity. I'm not saying that you have to be a Faulkner or Hemingway, but, by all means, learn how to develop a coherent thought and write it in a coherent way so your readers understand what you're saying. Learn how to use the dictionary or the spell/grammar checker on the computer. Learn how to write sentences that are clear, focused, and relevant. Otherwise, you're not going to get that promotion, nor will you get new business.

This is why composition classes are required for all freshman today, and many other curriculums are requiring advanced writing classes that specialize in the type of writing students will do in their selected fields. This all came about after the Modern Language Association sent surveys to business owners and executives at large corporations. These leaders agreed that the number one issue in the workplace was a failure through communication, and poor writing was a general concern, especially for companies in engineering, medical, and technology fields. Not only does it cost time in project development, but it costs in errors that should never have been made, and it costs lives in medical settings.

It may have taken many years to discover this, but what is a great idea or innovation if the person who designed it can't explain it to other people? Many companies, in the past, relied upon technical writers to take information from engineers and make it understandable to executives and customers. However, this is an expensive bridge from machine to human-understanding, and many companies are discovering the value of hiring technical people who can also write a decent paper. It is no wonder that many of these companies now require an essay along with a resume for the application.

So, as you can see, writing is important for everyone. If you know how to write, you can take all of those thoughts in your head and put them into action, whether it's for a reduction in your interest rate or to explain a project that you've been working on. The more proficient you are at writing, the better your chances are for a better life. If you cannot write, you're in trouble and are dodging bullets every day. The best thing to do is buy a writing guide and start working on your skills. You don't have to be perfect. Again, in business, the idea is to learn how to put information, an idea, or an argument, and frame it so that the reader can comprehend everything you're saying. It's really not that difficult at all, and it will be the biggest asset in your arsenal.