Category Archives: Poetry

Writers: Play Some D&D

It’s been pretty well established by this point in my life that I am a nerd of many sorts. Theatre, sci-fi, fantasy, board games, video games, math, logic, philosophy, mythology, religion… there’s a lot of nerdy in me. So it shouldn’t come even remotely as a surprise that I have played a LOT of Dungeons & Dragons in my day.

My first introduction to the game, though it was ultimately not an accurate representation at all, was back in the summer after my 7th grade year when I was 12 years old. It was, I believe, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition… I don’t remember much of it at all, but again. Not very accurate. Still, somewhere in my room right now is the first character sheet I ever had.

Since then, I’ve played 3e, 3.5e, 4e and am currently in a group playing the D&D Next edition. I’ve been the Dungeon Master for two different (ultimately falling apart) 3.5 campaigns. I’ve played Pathfinder, Iron Kingdoms and even a d20 system a friend of mine created. I’ve done some role-playing online and have oodles and oodles of ridiculous stories to tell about the various campaigns.

Most people find the game to be instantly associated with the nerdiest of the nerdy. I suppose that’s a little fair… while high fantasy and the like have been becoming more and more acceptable over the years (just look at the successes of Peter Jackson’s interpretation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” books, as well as HBO’s “Game of Thrones”), it’s more acceptable to observe fantasy, not attempt to live it out. D&D and other role-playing tabletop games are predicated on the notion that one designs a character with a story and interjects themselves, via that character, into a fantasy world. Granted, not every tabletop RPG is set in fantasy, but that’s where D&D began.

Even so, despite it being “super nerdy,” it has seeped into our culture just a bit. You have the people that seem to think D&D is something where people learn witchcraft and are members of the occult… As well as the people that know how laughable that is and like to point out how sessions of D&D usually go. Season 2 of the absolutely wonderful TV show “Community” has a fantastic, hilarious and kinda accurate episode titled “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons” that is well worth the watch (you need Hulu Plus for that link, sadly).

The point is, though, whether you think it’s crazy nerdy and has some ridiculous stigma on it or not, if you’re a writer… I think you would do well to play this game.

I realized the other day, when writing the background for my character in the current campaign I’m playing, I’ve written more detailed character story and background for some of my D&D characters than I have for some of my characters in my stories and scripts. That’s not to say that I don’t have good backgrounds for the non-D&D characters… I just don’t tend to write them out and consider all the aspects of their previous lives. However, in D&D, I tend to tell very detailed stories about their pasts and how they came to where they are now.

It’s a really good writing exercise, especially when you limit yourself. As someone that tends to prefer the classics of poetry and art, where the product must conform to a certain style or limitation, I feel that talent, skill, creativity and thought are more thoroughly applied and utilized than in styles where slapping anything together counts. Anyone can buy three blank canvases and call it art or take random paragraphs from random books, tape them together on a page and call it poetry. But how many people can write something truly heartbreaking and moving with only 140 syllables in 14 lines of iambic pentameter and a rhyming scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG? I refer of course to the sonnet, of which some guy named Shakespeare wrote several.

It’s not easy to make something conform to limitations. But it is certainly an exercise worth trying, especially if you find your characters lack depth. Here’s my suggestion, as these are the ways I’ve found the most character work: Find some people to play D&D with. Find other writers or friends that know what they’re doing. You can do a preset campaign or let yourself/another writer write a story/world for you all to play in. But when you’re making your character, give yourself restrictions. In most versions of D&D, you can give your character flaws, which detriment your character but allow for extra benefits to balance it out. A lot of people will do this to make ridiculously powerful characters, but don’t focus on the game play so much as the character. People are flawed. How does that affect your character? Alternatively, ask your DM if you can bend certain rules, so long as you get a good story out of it.

For example, the current campaign I’m playing is in D&D Next, which is still basically in beta, so there’s a lot missing. My favorite class, the cleric, only has three domains to choose from at the moment… and none of the gods of Faerun in the domain I want to use have the right alignment for my character. I could have just changed my character’s alignment, but I decided to write a story behind it. Why would someone that disagrees with a certain deity’s way of life be a priest for that deity? And so, my story was written.

You don’t necessarily have to play D&D or any tabletop RPG to pull off this exercise. But I think D&D is a good template with a lot of creative options you may not consider… and playing the game will let you see how honest you can be to your character and keeping him or her consistent in certain situations. Plus… D&D with the right people can be LOADS of fun. 🙂 Give it a try some day.

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I Can’t Stand Modern “Art”

This is a bit of a rant I had recently, and one I’ve had over the years in various capacities… It’s probably the single issue I’m most close-minded about. I hate that I’m so close-minded about anything, but if there’s something to be close-minded about, I guess this is decently innocuous.

It starts with a rant about poetry. I cannot stand e. e. cummings. His total disregard for the standards of the English language itself denigrate the communicative purposes of the written word. But he isn’t even close to the worst offender in poetry, not in my mind.

Back when I was a freshman in college, I took a class called “Arts in Tuscaloosa.” It was an honors class that was supposed to cover my fine arts credit. We met twice a week, once in small groups of 10 or so, and once with the entire class of 50 to 100 kids. My roommate was in the large class with me. That class was very fond of modern art. We had to, as assignments, go and experience art, food, culture in different ways and turn in responses. Those responses could be written, but they had some really ridiculous requirement banning the use of adjectives, I believe, in those responses. They could also be creative. I went for creative and sketched. I’m not the best sketch artist, but I tried. I put effort into it, was clearly creative… still couldn’t get above a B- for my work. Meanwhile, my roommate decided to see how little effort he could put into a response. We saw a dance show together, “Dance! Alabama” in fall of 2006. He went to PowerPoint and created a slide with a light to dark blue gradient, the words “Dance! Alabama 2006” aligned right at the top, and three crappy ClipArt dancers at the bottom. He got an A+, and I refused to return to the class ever again.

Not so great for my grades, perhaps, but whatever. That class annoyed the crap out of me.

As you might guess, they were quite fond of modern art and modern poetry in there. In our large class lectures, we would listen to a guest speaker each week. The only one I remember was Hank Lazer. I remember because I hated his poetry. He told us in the class that, basically, poetry could be just random words you find on the street amalgamated together. As an example, he had a “poem” that had a random paragraph from the Alabama Code of Law every other stanza.

I hated that poetry and I hated the assertion that random words thrown haphazardly onto paper, words not even necessarily your own, could create poetry. That’s not poetry, that’s a word collage, and not even a well done one, not with his descriptions. He didn’t talk about why you used the random words, he talked like you just throw your hand into the hat and pull out something random.

Beyond poetry, modern art annoys me further still. Look at this thing about a piece called “Three Blank Canvases.” Just three canvases, painted white. Or three canvases with what looks like sections of a science textbook printed on them. If these things are defined as art, how does art have meaning and worth? Is this blog I’m writing art? Is a photograph I take of my cluttered work desk art? And what about performance art? If someone burns all their possessions on a street corner, is that art or someone that needs new stuff/therapy? Is it only art if we just call it art? Where’s the line drawn? If a guy rapes a woman in public, but calls it performance art, is it? What if it’s consensual sex, is it art then? Is self-immolation art if that’s what someone calls it?

Part of the problem is that art loses the artist’s meaning in the eyes of the viewer. The audience determines something’s artistic value and meaning. So, some people can find things beautiful and perhaps even “artistic” where I might rant and rail against it. But I think there needs to be a line, parameters drawn. You can find it beautiful or thought-provoking, but that doesn’t mean it’s art. Sitting at the piano doing nothing for four minutes and 33 seconds isn’t music, John Cage, it’s just silence and laziness. I swear, if anyone “performs” that piece near me, I’m jumping on stage to do my own song and dance, and they can’t stop me because I’m part of the “ambient noise” then.

It’s frustrating to me to think of the great artists like Pablo Picasso, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Vincent van Gogh, Rembrandt… I think of writers like William Shakespeare and Robert Browning and Edgar Allen Poe and Sylvia Plath and William Wordsworth… Musicians like Beethoven and Mozart and Bach… Many of these people, these artists, had struggles. Van Gogh suffered from depression that led to his suicide. Plath had the same problem. Michelangelo nearly went blind painting the Sistine Chapel. Mozart had various problems, some of which likely stemmed from his being bandied about at such a young age. Beethoven was deaf.

I’m not saying personal struggle is necessary for artists, but these artists struggled in their own lives and in their works. It took effort, caused pain, took time. Their art had purpose and true devotion poured in, whether you enjoy the final product or not. And that’s something I just don’t see too often with modern art. I know I’m a bit of a heretic among my artistic and culture-loving friends for saying this, but there is so much in modern art that just doesn’t seem like art to me. Maybe Plato was right and there is an objective form for beauty or art. Or maybe I’m just narrow-minded. After all, many of the artists I named were branded heretical for pushing the bounds in their days, going largely unnoticed or deemed unworthy to be considered artists.

But that’s my thoughts.

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From The Inkwell – A Parlous Fear (A Random Poem)

Sitting in rehearsal for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” during the scenes involving The Rude Mechanicals, those god-awful actors attempting to perform what should be a dramatic piece, “Pyramus and Thisbe,” there is a rather intriguing line that has stuck with me every night it’s said. Tom Snout, the tinker, when Bottom mentions his (and the ladies’ of the audience, of course) disdain for Pyramus’ death scene, reacts with the line “By’r lakin, a parlous fear.” Basically, “By our lady-kin (possibly referring to the scared ladies), this is a great, terrible fear.”

Lately, in my life, I’ve been struggling with a serious of what will hopefully be as ridiculous as the actors in the show but are currently rather parlous fears. How do I confront my parlous fears, doubts, negative emotions? Distractions. Every distraction I can come up with. And of course, one of my best, most consistent distractions in life is writing. Any writing, really. And while I’ve been writing my play as much as possible, I usually tend to turn to music and poetry to assuage my negative emotions. Here’s what I’ve got. I apologize ahead of time for the God-awfulness of it all.

Crinkled, shattered, crystalline
Home is where the heart is.
Broken mem’ries, you were mine
Now that home is all his.

Rain and storms do bring me back
Crashing into my past.
Thinking rushes to the black
Why must this love now last?

Sitting with this heavy crown
It pains me ev’ry day.
Pulling corners south to frown
I can’t yet put it ‘way.

Shortened thoughts and halted speech
Time makes the day too hard.
Tranquil nature out of reach
The Fool, this is my card.

Music sweet brings no escape
Pieces strewn far and wide.
Notes my heartstrings now do shape
Lord Byron, be my guide.

‘Roboros wants for an end
That thought, a parlous fear.
Where’s my wit, my poem’s mend
The cycle need end here.

Crinkled, shattered, crystalline
Each day, each week I cry.
Broken mem’ries, you were mine
For longing of your sigh.

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From The Inkwell – Poetry On Popes And Papas, Communists And Cars

A new segment (invented due to the special circumstance of I needed to post something but didn’t feel like staying up all night before the trip to Georgia to give you people anything that I’ve actually written in the past several years)!

…how exciting!

See, I already have my “Breaking The Leg” segment that specifically deals with all things theatre, and particularly (or often) has a posting of one of my many theatrical writings that I’ve compiled over the years, be it monologue, scene or play. But there have been times I’ve written prose and poetry unrelated to stage. I’m actually going to count my writings for film (not that they’ve been made yet) in that category too. Ergo, for all my non-theatrical writings, which are chaotic at best, I have this new segment “From The Inkwell.”

See how I mentioned they’re chaotic? And they’re from the inkwell? On “Chaotic Pen”? AREN’T I JUST SO WITTY?

…ahem.

At any rate, I’m offering up to you two… well, amateur attempts at poetry, written in my long behind me high school days. The first one, written for my creative writing class my junior year, is about my father’s old, now departed, 1989 Plymouth Voyager. I will make the statement here that I really, in general, do not like free verse or blank verse. I prefer my poetry to have a specific style. A noticeable rhyming pattern, a discernible beat, et cetera. It can, perhaps, change during the poem, but not severely drastically. Sonnets, heroic couplets, iambic pentameter… these are all things I enjoy using. “Poets” like e. e. cummings were never ones I gave much credence. My favorite poets were always Robert Frost, Edgar Allen Poe and Emily Dickinson. …so, perhaps a strange set to draw inspiration from, but there it is. With Emily Dickinson, you may guess that I’m okay with some variation in the poetry, as I mentioned before… but you’ll see what I mean in this poem.

At any rate, “My Father’s Car.”

A dusky gray now turned to rust.
The car sits there, gathering dust.
The ratty-tatty thing I see
Sends past thoughts flooding back to me.

I remember the trip to Maine
With no AC, sunshine or rain.
We did stop every little while
Tho’ never at a place with style.

I must admit I can’t recall
Ever being in Maine at all.
But that’s all right, I do not care.
I have other stories to share.

I once turned on the inside light.
Forgetting, it burned overnight.
The next day, dad went for a drive.
He went for minutes, ten plus five.

He drove fifteen minutes when
The battery died there and then.
Stuck at the gas station he tried
To start the car, but it had died.

Now sitting in the driveway
The problems can be seen.
Oil leak, dead transmission,
No rear mirror, hole in glass,
Flat front tire, busted light,
Rusting hood, out of gas.

The ceiling cloth has been ripped off.
The backup lights don’t work.
The side door’s lock just will not turn.
Clovers grow in the murk.

His car had sixteen years of life.
‘Twas fifteen years too dead.

—————————————-

The second poem I offer you was actually part of a school group project we had to do during our “Canterbury Tales” segment of English class. We had to essentially create our own “Canterbury Tales.” Using the same style of the Chaucer work, we had to create an overarching story and write a poetic prologue and epilogue. Then, as we were in groups of four, we each had to write a poem at least 14 lines long, as I recall, for people involved in the overarching story with iambic pentameter and rhyming couplets.

My group decided, since we were all (minus one) in the same AP Government class, to do a story in which four people representative of radically different beliefs on government are forced to attempt to create a government from a John Locke-esque state of nature. Our tale had a nuclear holocaust wipe out all life with exception of four people on an island: A warmongering democracy nut, a Scientologist theocrat, a militant anarchist, and the Pope of Communism.

That last one was mine.

We won the 5 bonus points for being the best in the class.

This is the poem about the Pope of Communism, our dearest Rasputin. The picture I made of him can be seen here.

“The Pope of Communism’s Story”

There was a Communist in robes so fine,
Soft as silk, trailing back, as red as wine.
Further up his body, on his head sat
A gold and red, pointed, stiff, clothe pope hat.
In his hand, on his right, he held real tight
A tall staff of gold, exquisite and bright.
Atop the staff sat a symbol of hope:
The cross, sickle, and hammer of the pope.
He carried with him the Manifesto,
The book of Marx, where all get the same dough.
In his efforts to spread the grand old Word,
The voice of Father Lenin he had heard.
You will find no fault in what he preaches.
Perhaps you will find fault in what he is.
In order for the Good Word to be spread,
He believes he must first paint the world red.
Red is the color of no oppression,
And is the Commie Pope’s new obsession.
Though he tries to free all the working class,
They die as quickly as the fresh cut grass.
So now he preaches the Social Rebirth
Because he is Lenin’s new voice on earth.

———————————————————-

Maybe next time I’ll have poetry that’s slightly less humorous/bad and is more professional. But I doubt it.

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