The Mythogenetic Grove

The Escritoire

Serial: The Loathly Lady and the Cabbage Farmer, Episode One

by on Nov.17, 2017, under Folklore & Fairytales, Mythos, Runaway Words

Hello!

Here’s a new web-serial for you to enjoy on this site. I will upload continuations every month until it ends, and then it’s onwards to the next installment of Tales from Sweetonshire. This is a grown-up reboot of the fairytales I wrote for my classmates back in the 1990s that were quite enjoyed by them. Instead of transcribing the book in which the tales were scribbled, I’m writing them from scratch out of my memory and improving them with my grown up skills.

The Loathly Lady and the Cabbage Farmer is my revision of an old English Ballad, Kemp Owyne, which may be seen to almost be a Tam Lin variant, except that the Beast is a Lady and not a man. A beastly girl myself, I was so taken with this entry in the Oxford Book of Ballads — because finally a fairytale that I found relatable. My retelling is mashed up with the story of the Loathly Lady. As I’ve written in my academic article for Cabinet des Fees’ Loathly Lady issue, much of what was Loathly about the Lady is because she had attributes seen as less than feminine. In this gentle and episodic eco-domestic revision, I intend to have fun with this fairytale and I hope you’ll have fun reading it too!

(the serial will be issued in pdf form as part of my monthly treats on this blog)

Nin Harris The Loathly Lady and the Cabbage Farmer Episode One

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Tell It To Me, Baby: A Reprinted Process Post

by on Oct.22, 2017, under The Escritoire, Thoughts on Writing

Note: This is a post from the old Growing Fins blog, back in June 18 2009. It’s still relevant to my process so I thought I would share!

 

The problem with the generic, technical “Show, don’t tell” based advice dished out by writing workshops and writing books is this: it assumes all writing and storytelling must conform to one fictive model and one alone. Some of my best-loved storytellers are those who Tell, Tell, and Tell me some more. And I say yes, please Tell me more. And I say yes, dish me that info-feed, baby, if you’re dishing it the right way. Lay it on me.

It is within the resonance of their strong, individual voices that the “Show” element slowly resolves, without actually “Show”ing too much, just the faintest outline of a scene, letting the listener or individual flesh it out with their own minds. To me, this is the difference between technical aptitude as a writer and being a writer who allows a reader to dream. It’s the spaces in the mind. The Brontes understood this well, so did Tolkien. And so did other writers from non-canonical traditions. I think of the sparseness and the simplicity of Japanese verse, of the Malay pantun. I think of the storytellers of the old epics who gave us dizzying detail, but also a strong, resonant voice.

If I have to err on the technical nitty-gritty of my stories, I would. If my grammar falls by the wayside, if my pacing is not the best in the world. If, in starting my narrative in media res I have somehow disoriented my reader; if, I use run-on sentences in ways that dislocate them. If, I annoy you with a hanging participle. IF. I unforgivably dump an info feed halfway in my story. IF. I annoyingly, do not reveal what the story is about in my opening paragraphs because I am listening to the voice in my head that says Setting IS Character.

If, I do not write character-driven fiction that is obviously character driven because I am just that postmodern or capricious enough to want to hide my narrators in strange places. If I lay on too much philosophy that hurts your head. If. I commit unspeakable textual, grammatical errors but in doing so, still retain my voice. Would that make me a bad storyteller? Perhaps. But if I find my voice, who is to say? Even if it is buried, unheard. It is still a voice. Is a voice lost in a forest of slush still a voice or just unread text? Who is to say?

This is the battle I am fighting right now. And, I suspect, this is the battle I have been fighting all along.

Being the narratology geek that I am, I have my favorite storytellers. I also have, within that list, my favorite implied narrators, first or third person. I must admit to have inherited a narratological quirk or two from my days of writing my M.A. thesis on Angela Carter, but that is meant for another writerly wank. One of these days.

Angela Carter, Michael Ende, Italo Calvino, Umberto Eco, Boccaccio, Dante, various unnamed and anonymous writers of ancient epics and fairytales, Wole Soyinka, Guy Gavriel Kay, Anais Nin, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Sir Walter Scott, George Eliot, Isabel Allende, Gabriel García Márquez and I’m sure I’m forgetting half a dozen more. These are my mentors. These are my muses. And it’s been established that most of this would be casualties of the slush pile today. Which is not to say I have reached their level of narrative yet.

I’m just saying.

I’m tired of rules, period. I just want to write recklessly like I mean it. I want to write like it’s that fling with the guy you really shouldn’t be out with but here you are, at 5am, talking at breakneck speed and doing unwise things instead of keeping within the prescribed margins. Which, I never could stop myself from writing or drawing outside of the margins in school, either. Could you?

And now I go back to fighting with MY narrative.

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[poetry]: The Mermaid

by on Apr.05, 2017, under Poetry

(c) Nin Harris, 2006 —

Do not let me build dreams
if you will not walk into them.
Do not let me fall into the dark
if you will not be my hurricane lamp.
Do not cast nets if you
would not pull a mermaid out
Let her swim back into the deep.

But if you catch and befriend,
If you watch as she dances; know this.

When she flexes needle-pricked soles that bleed,
When her hips mimic her sister’s undulation
and her hands clap like a sea-mammal in captivity,
It is not because a sea-witch has pulled out her tongue.

It is because she cannot bring herself
to say the words or to move her body
in ways her aquatic self knows best.

So if you catch her, be kind.

Do not still the music, do not stop the dance.
Let her worry the words that squirm,
Like eels at the base of her fear.

Let her pull them out.

(3-10 March 2006)

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[poetry]: Plato’s Dream

by on Apr.05, 2017, under Poetry

(c) Nin Harris, 1998 —

(inspired by Aristophanes’ Dialogue in Plato’s Symposium)

let me grow here, alone, unfelt, unseen,
let me step into these shadows
out of your demanding light
let me grow, hidden and wild
in shadowy groves,
in dew-soaked nooks
where the soil is lush and damp.
a wildflower knows only
the kiss of sunlight
mates only with the morning dew
let me soak here unnoticed

in aeons of vegetative
ecstasy

never the kitten
nor a house-bred tabby
preening amongst the potted plants
i will jump off rocks
for no phaon
leucus wait not for me
desire for the pounding surf
is all i need

let me ascend, arise
as one with tiptoed feet
eyes the fresh-washed moon
rising over
aeolian waters

a solitary lioness stalks the long grass

a shadowy diver poised above the precipice

let me be the fire
as it burns on the coals of dreams
and i will strum on lyre
beat at drums,whirl with hennaed feet
around a circle of desire
while my hidden voices roar

alone,
complete
infinite
within this cycle of oneness
i will renounce
plato’s dream —

and lay to rest my phantoms

(15 June 1998- last line amended 29th November 2002)

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[poetry]: lateral revolutions

by on Apr.05, 2017, under Poetry, Runaway Words

(c) Nin Harris, 2005 —

I

I awake from textual simulacra
of green-laced birdsong
and binary flora and woods.
Fresh-washed of hexadecimal
visions; I strive
to contain a
carbon – ridden form
within actuality of
the Moment.

(15 February 2005)

II

Forgetting reason and
needful places within the soul
— I seek self-directed
retribution nestled
within interstices of sound.
They are different from sensation
but still the same – unbidden yet
mathematical in crystalline symmetry.
I seek solace in,
semi-tonal modalities
nestled between
time and space.

Raise one, lower another –
till I know not
what comes before and after.
(3 March 2005)

III

Distinct; the trill of sparrows
in a post-diluvian dawn
conveys semiotic imprints
to perplex my soul
from embedded slumber
I find myself again
where the thread unravels

Lost; a monosyllabic
resolution to a quest
of findings.

Found; a backstory
containing no meaning beyond
glittering sharp edges of
glistening words.
(9 March 2005)

IV

Woodsmoke furling around
aural angles and curvature.
I remember this.

I have sung paeans to this
collocation of sensate modalities
like joyce within a textual stream,
I seek the undoing of cohesion.
I have danced barefoot
between these waiting trees
of sharp-angled alphabets before.

I have revisited these morphemes, phonemes –
sundry units of sound; arranging
then rearranging like some
obsessed housewife keeping
semitones in order –
wordchild dancing within
syntax and context;
presupposing there is no
universe outside of sounds;
chaotic and uniform.

Where will you find me?
– Somewhere between anvil, stirrup and hammer.

Where will I find me?
– Somewhere beyond lateral revolutions
against the palate.
(14 March 2005)

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[poetry]: The Clockwork Tide

by on Apr.01, 2017, under Poetry

(c) Nin Harris 1999 —

Nessun maggior dolore. Che ricordarsi del tempo felice Nella miseria

– Dante Aliegheri, from The Inferno

the sea strikes –>
patterns left on the shore
are like the marks of experience
upon self.

touched by the sea,
carved, changed, wrapped, sucked in,
thrown back onto the sand
are sandcastles crafted from
expectorated verbiage.

(legitimise this breakdown of cohesion –>
the trails my fingerpads make on
the pane separating us
my hungry breath that
frosts the glass
)

waters swirling –> cresting
in her afternoon tempests
the coastline is loveliest in the morning
despite the ravages of the night
all the debris has been wiped away by the night-tide
yet to be washed –> in noon-tide
what will the currents bring today?

{remove these remnants of
‘humanity’
verbiage debris trivialities
salt water will pierce and pickle us clean
all the ground
bones of aquatic ancestors, in the air that you breathe
redolent luxuriate exfoliate these
grimy senses
}

*

can one write about absence as
accurately as one writes about presence?
can it accurately delineate
every fibre? acuity – is sometimes only felt
when that which has been possessed
is taken away from us.
what is added –> subtracts
what subtracts –>donates
the immediate sensation
of loss – brings home to me
what has been swept in –>
felt, recorded, filed away always in there –>
and what has swept out –>
nudging –> piercing
a soul poised within a soul.

*

harm not a fly
if you are who you say you are
does the hidden foot smell?
humanity’s best foot forward
brings forth –> debris
purity is a dream
fettered –> but unconquered
optimism in the wake of this machinery
and the lemmings rush into the sea –>
trivialities –> shackled divinity
the light is dimmed –>
stamped out –> but it burns
expectorated verbiage
flotsam – ad nauseum
ad nauseum
AD NAUSEUM

*

true voices –> do not speak in tongues
click against the roof of your mouth
curl around the sounds of vowels and
the clip of consonants –>
pleasure not quite added up yet
to the unseen whole

will racial memory herald the death
of Art?

If perfect memory
sprawls into ribbon-like halls of
records with meticulous notations
within our souls, would Art exist?

human beings are ultimate litter:
but litter too can be beautiful
when it combines, when it is absorbed.


If you must toss me out
make me bio-degradable, dear.

primeval ultimate purity
music is the language that
seats at the base of your
soul.

cerebral larynx
making music without sound
deeper falls the harpoon
in search of narwhals beneath the ice.

*

what is poetry? a chain of words.
a coil.

speak not to fools –> but listen to
them for they divulge more truth
than they think they do.
than you think they do.
volcanoes spewing out the
building blocks of the coastline
rocks are hewn down, chipped away
slowly –> coarse sand or smooth powder
which one came first?
we walk upon the crushed
bones of ancestors.

there is no greater magic
than this inter-connectivity –>
dining off the tears
of some matriarch
buried in the depths

a womb encircling
the clockwork tide
the rubberband that coils around us all-
the serpent gorging on its tail –>
longevity is the
sunlight reflected off the sea
inter-connectivity.
i nurture the loki
coiling at the
base of my being
too aware of
soul tendrils
dredging for ore at the
core of my thoughts.
my careless fingers
must sift unseen
and scavenge.

(5 December 1999)

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[poetry]: The Emissary

by on Apr.01, 2017, under Poetry

(c) Nin Harris

trickster-like
an emissary nudged into
free-associative
pictures of the mind
ante.sleep
raven-wings bound
at nape; discoursing art and myth
pigments and colors suffuse
soft-eyed animus with
gesticulating hands
that would later smooth sheets
on a dreaming street sloping
downwards to the sea.

she gapes at paintings and sculptures
feet tapping on shiny wooden floors,
cold winds blowing into elaborate
art show of the mind.
an elegant scrawl labels
every piece with latin, oglala
yoruba, gaelic and keraton whilst
bisons, standing stones, maenads
whirl in expressionistic squiggles
and splashes of pigments:
orange, red and demure peach for
what is first seen at birth,
blue and silver of refracted light on
undersides of scholarly fish, then
black, indigo and adamantine
threatening to encase.
tasting salt on the tongue
the observer hovers
at the entrance of a fictive tableau
she could choose not to weave;
words she could choose to savour without
expressing them into waking sounds.
pre-existing only when the dreamer
is sightless and drifting,
pushing a little into the veil between
grandmother Whale breaches before
tunneling back into the blue.
( 8 March 2006)

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[poetry]: Language of the Green

by on Apr.01, 2017, under Poetry

(c) Nin Harris

{mother i cannot breathe}

these thoughts blanket me
stifle like walls as we speak
we inhale exhausted green
exhale and out again are words
that entomb like wrappings
and trappings of tombs

my fingerpads like the “O” of
air exhaled; oscillated-osculated
they make patterns on the glass

separating outside from within

air comes in-between us
great matrix of connectivity
intersecting thoughts from bloodstream
to bloodstream.

my heart translates
messages the green encodes
wispy veins on parchment
{leaves in life-giving mode}

a melody of green resonating,
air initiates the rhythm of
.existence.

*

II

the language of green
can it be found in filaments of colour?
or in exhalations made as diaphragms contract.
instruments of survival-fingerpads will
run then splay across ribs
which protract as they
protect blood-pumping heart
and these lungs heaving
to keep me standing
and fuel the passion
of this art.

these organs receive
the language of green and
transcribe it like an army
of UN interpreters —
organic pipelines move
results found upwards then downwards
where it sings to
chambers of heart and head with
far more efficacy than
any security council
could ever envision
in political pipedreams.

what? you say politics
have no place in
epiphany

it exists
as all else must, you know.

the green has a secret plan
to overthrow the government
of flesh and blood

{listen}

they control a valuable resource
use it well, heed it well
you will never be majority
without their
sanction

we are nothing
without
air.

There’s your hegemony.

*

III

i grew up beneath the
shading trees of both
my imagination and the reality
of blistering afternoons in the tropics
leaves filtering light within me
freeing oxygen moving within
my blood, red as the flametree blossoms
red as chinese firecrackers signifying
wealth

red as the red red bloom of courtly love

fluttering air-making green fuels the power within my stride

– it is the slave driver pushing
these sounds out
from my diaphragm to the larynx
moving it into the waiting spaces
between our thoughts
gently coercing its way into
syllables created to undo structures

this air we breathe is a constant
lover
moulding itself
to thoughts- to skin
– to skim the water even as it
slips into our
veins

the gift of trees
and the lightsucking moss you
trample beneath your feet

air encodes the sigh
another tree cut
to print this out.

(12-15 JUNE 2001, revised 4 JULY 2002)

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On Authorship

by on Feb.17, 2017, under (post)colonial Gothic academia, The Escritoire

I’m creating this post as a kind of place-holder to explain why on my bibliography I no longer list the editors of the publications that have my stories in them.

I initially listed all of their names because I’m very proud and honoured* to be working with those editors — and to keep track of which editor pulled which story of mine out of slush.

But this pride has turned to consternation as some mind-boggling sorts take it to mean I am not the sole author of my works. I’ve seen places where authors are attributed alone while I am attributed along with my editors. Now, this is patently ridiculous. Even the one story that got a revision request in my oeuvre was still revised with my having full autonomy over the story. Alas, this also meant a huge typo got through, but that’s fine, mistakes happen. When I work with some editors, it’s mostly hands-off — as in they give me the permission to make whatever changes I may need to make (typos etc, very few). Some editors do have a more active hand in that they would suggest a different phrasing, or suggest I change a transition between scenes (actually, only one editor has done this and this was early on in my career). But mostly, my stories are my own and while there is always dialogue and constant communication with my editors (I think communication is very important in all working relationships), I remain the author of my texts.

Now, I wouldn’t have to spell this out if I weren’t an Asian woman from a developing country in the Global South. It irks me that I have to do so. When I was working on my PhD dissertation on Helen Oyeyemi and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, it really had me spitting blood to read an academic article that insinuated that when authors like Oyeyemi and Adichie thanked their editors it’s because those editors were ghostwriters. I never actually thought the same situation would befall me. I really should have made the correlation.

This is naturally in response to an extremely bad faith review that decided to credit my work both to me and the editor in charge of the magazine. I suppose in their mind it was unimaginable that one not from the first world had anything of value to say.

I am generally quite phlegmatic about the various interpretations to my works, even the wrong-minded ones. Mostly, I giggle at them. But I take aspersions cast upon authorship very seriously indeed. I also pity people who are so insular, with worlds so narrow and shriveled up that they cannot imagine that people outside of that world have the capacity and competence to create, and to articulate. But I suppose that was the thrust of my PhD dissertation as well — articulation, and how we are stymied every time we raise our voices, by these forces, these imperialistic forces** that assert themselves in the most appalling of ways.

*okay, okay, more like, star-struck!

** to be clear, I actually even had a Malaysian ask me “how much of that story did you write and how much of it was your editor’s work?”

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[poetry]: Interrogate Me

by on Dec.18, 2016, under Poetry

(c) Nin Harris

if i am locked in stasis
like the pose of some ancient dancer
preserved in a jellied womb
lucent like amber glows
am i still the dance?
fingers will not tingle
bloodstream clogged with worries
and doubt–is this the moment the dancer
separates and becomes waxwork
– a representation of her art?
who divides?
{questioner and the questor}
what dissects?
{answer from the interrogator}
are you the unresolved yearning of
the ultimate eroticist for diversion
or mystic desiring one-ness with the slurry
of Universal harmonics?

You seek to re-create me, but is it rather
my destruction that you desire?
Pull me into the tabernacle of your quest(ion)ings
you can attempt to pry
apart the skins that hold me close —
I feel fingers along every fibre of those
protective coverings, trying to penetrate
the interior. Sometimes a dirt-encrusted
nail reaches within only to encounter resistances
of bloodstream, body, and mind.

Automatic pilot activates the spooling of programmed
answers while they drive in another
stainless steel nail to unearth obscure
treasure from the wreckage of experience.

The hunt is the head of the serpent
the hunted is the tail
watch me swallow myself whole
watch me swallow myself whole.
(11 August 2003)

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