Written by Chloe Hawkins
On a crisp Spring morning, hoards of women gathered at the Pasadena Hilton hotel to celebrate one other, together. It was the 2019 Pasadena Festival of Women Authors, attended by enthusiastic readers, local writers, editors and all around badass women. Around 8:00 AM the ladies trickled in through the lobby, down the hall to a room filled with hundreds of tea, muffins, churros, croissants, jugs of coffee, and bowls of butter and jam. There was also flowers and books galore. The collective vibe of the room was caffeinated excitement. We had a roster of stunning writers scheduled to speak, including Paula McLain, Ivy Pochoda, Rebecca Makkai, Nova Jacobs, Aja Gabel, Zinzi Clemmons and the 2018 National Book Award winner: Sigrid Nunez. After checking in and oogling at tables of colorful books, I stacked my plate with croissants and butter as the ballroom doors opened and women flooded in eagerly to find their assigned tables.
Paula McLain was the first author to speak. She talked about growing up in the foster system, her humble beginnings as a poet, and how her dream state informed the contents of her writing. One fateful night, years ago, she read Hemingway’s Parisian classic, A Moveable Feast, and became swept away in the moment. The moment was early 1920s on Paris’ Rive Gauche, a historic slice of time buzzing with jazz, art, romance, red wine, prolific writers, and cobblestone rues. Paula began researching Hemingway and his wives, and soon discovered a well of untold stories. This research became her framework for bestselling novel, The Paris Wife, and her most recent book Love and Ruin. Paula dug particularly deep for any and all historical insight on Hemingway’s first wife Elizabeth Hadley Richardson, and his third wife Martha Gellhorn.
During her talk, Paula explained how this research became so absorbing, she reached a point where edges blurred between these women and herself. Paula explained, “when you lose yourself in someone else’s story, it sharpens your humanity, empathy and all the senses.” In her quest, she discovered some incredible facts that illuminated the plot for her books. Paula explained to the audience how some of the facts she discovered simply blew her mind, like the fact that Hadley was the only one of Hemingway’s wives who wasn’t a journalist, and that Martha Gellhorn’s father was Hadley’s family gynecologist. “You just can’t make this stuff up, the facts are better than anything I could have made up” Paula exclaimed.
After Paula McLain, we listened to Ivy Pochoda discuss a bit of personal history, her relationship to writing, and her experience as a writer and teacher in LA. She told us that one can begin a writing career any time, anywhere, during any period of their lives, and that writing does not discriminate. You just have to do the damn thing -- to write pages and pages! Ivy was not always a writer. Before achieving her status as acclaimed author, she was a professional squash player, ranked 38th in the world. She noted that with writing, similar in training for sports, you only have yourself to rely on if you are to make personal progress. Nobody forced her to wake up extra early for squash practice every morning in college before attending classes. Nobody forces an athlete to focus, or train, or eat well in their private time. It is a personal decision, just as it is to write a book.
Ivy’s talk was fascinating. She discussed her role as a teacher facilitating creative writing classes in Skid Row and how it has informed her writing. She noted how residents of Skid Row are largely discriminated against, and though each person has a unique story, their stories go largely untold because they are so stereotyped. Ivy explained that Skid Row is in fact, a culture, a neighborhood and a diverse community. She emphasized that her students “don’t live ON Skid Row, they live IN Skid Row. It’s a neighborhood, and the differentiation is important, because it gives agency.” Together with her students, Ivy helps to publish one of the oldest zines produced today, Skid Row Zine. You can find their booth at the 2019 L.A. Zine Fest.
After Ivy’s talk, we had a break with introductions to three breakout authors, a chance to buy books, drink more coffee, and choose one of the three young authors’ talks to attend in smaller rooms. After, we returned to the grand ballroom for mini fruit tarts, chocolate ganache cakes, avocado chicken salads lunch and our last two talks from Rebecca Makkai and the 2018 National Book Award winner, Sigrid Nunez.
Rebecca discussed the long and delicate process of writing her book The Great Believers, a story outlining the AIDS crisis spanning from 1980s Chicago to contemporary Paris. She noted the extensive research that this book required in order for Rebecca’s voice as the writer to feel tender, authentic and historically accurate. She described the effect this research had on her personal life as both a person and a writer, including hundreds of interviews with the people who were personally affected by this crisis. Fully committed to the authenticity of her book, Rebecca took four years to research the AIDS epidemic in Chicago, interviewing doctors, lawyers, artists, bartenders, activists, survivors, friends and friends of friends. She read every issue of the Windy City Times, Chicago’s largest gay weekly publication, from 1985 to 1992. Rebecca’s tender, meticulous, heartfelt dedication to her subject was truly inspiring.
The last speaker of the day was Sigrid Nunez. She spoke about writing in an eloquent and matter of fact way. My heart skipped a beat when I learned that in the 1970s, Sigrid shared an apartment with one of my all-time favorite authors, Susan Sontag. During this time Sontag was recovering from cancer surgery and Sigrid was a budding writer, having just earned an M.F.A. from Colombia. She began meeting up with Susan regularly to transcribe her letter correspondence. Eventually, Sigrid met Susan’s son and the two began dating. It was then that she moved in to Sontag’s New York apartment. One important bit of advice Sigrid took away from Susan was to “Teach if you want to, but not for safety. [To] forget tenure for safety, [to] forget safety and security all together, [to] take risks, [and] be bold.” Since getting that advice from Sontag, Sigrid has taught at Columbia, Princeton, Boston University, and the New School-- because she wants to! She’s also been a prolific writer in residence at Amherst, Smith, Baruch, Vassar, Syracuse, and the University of California, Irvine.
I purchased Sigrid’s book Siempre Susan and perused it during our midday festival intermission. During Sigrid’s talk in the grand ballroom, she discussed her most recent book The Friend, a story about a woman who endures the unexpected loss of her friend and mentor, and inherits her friend’s huge pet Great Dane.
Throughout the course of that day, a host of emotions swept over me. I found myself feeling both overwhelmed and inspired, eager to take action and write my heart out. Paula McLain noted that both protagonists of The Paris Wife and Love and Ruin were twenty eight years old when they married Hemingway, and that she believed this was a significant age for women, a stressful but exciting time when something big is on the horizon. Having just turned twenty eight last month, I felt compelled to buy her latest book. She signed it for me: “For Chloe, who is 28 and on the verge of something.” I walked out of the Pasadena Festival of Women Authors feeling enthusiastic, hopeful and motivated to pen a book of my own.
Chloe says, "Many thanks to Dr. Kirsten Ogden for extending the invitation to attend this wonderful event, to Prof. Manuel Perea for facilitating my attendance and to Ellen Carroll from the Pasadena Festival of Women Authors Committee for the generous ticket donation to Pasadena City College."
Written by Chloe Hawkins
The year is 2003. Gas is $1.83 per gallon and there is no such thing as an iPhone. Americans are breaking up with AOL for Google. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dawson’s Creek have come to an end but PCC’s student-run literary magazine is still going strong. Welcome to the 58th volume of Inscape! Our 2003 full-color issue was undoubtedly one for the history books. This is one of our most rare and coveted issues because it featured original serigraph artwork hand printed with silk screens by the Graphic Communications Technology students at PCC.
In addition to over fifty poems and short stories, ten original fine art prints, and a few literary award winners, this issue featured a “Poet of the Year” chosen by Inscape’s seven student editors from 2003. His name is T. Cole Rachel: a writer, teacher and ceramic cat collector from Oklahoma, now living in Brooklyn. Over the past sixteen years his career as a writer has really taken off. Since being selected as our Poet of the Year, Cole has published his second poetry book entitled Bend Don’t Shatter, interviewed countless music legends like Madonna and the B-52s, and is a current contributing writer for cool contemporary publications like The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Interview and V Magazine. We had the privilege to catch-up with Cole this Spring and and see what he’s been up to since being awarded ye auld 2003 Poet of Year title.
Since 2003, society has come a long way technologically speaking. Some writers still love clacking away on a good ol' fashioned typewriter, or the romanticism of pen and paper. Now that we have so many options for how to write, it's really more of a personal preference. We asked Cole to bring us up to speed on his 2019 methodology.
Inscape: Ideally... pen, typewriter or computer?
Cole: Pen for poems, computer for everything else.
Inscape: Who are some of your favorite writers?
Cole: I love Sharon Olds, Ada Limon, Albert Goldbarth, and Taeyoon Choi. I love music writers like Jessica Hopper and Hanif Abdurraqib. I adore Hilton Als.
Inscape: We love music writer's like you! t’s so exciting to be able to have a chat in 2019 with you, our 2003 Poet of the Year. Could you catch us up on what’s happened in your life since then?
Cole: I’m still in NYC, though the past two decades of my life have mostly been consumed with my work as a journalist. After publishing Bend, Don’t Shatter, I started writing about music full-time. Having spent so much time deeply immersed in the culture and writing of poetry, I started to feel kind of burned out on that world and eventually turned my attention to doing other kinds of creative work—doing music supervision for films and for brands, writing about art and culture for magazines, screenwriting, and painting. I had all but given up my poetry writing practice until about 4 years ago, when I was asked to teach a writing workshop here in NYC through ICP (the International Center for Photography) called “Poetry & Photography.” Being back in a workshop setting and working with people, most of them artists, who were interested in writing poetry for the first time, soon reinvigorated my own practice. In the time since I started teaching the class (which I’ve taught now over a dozen times or so), I’ve put together a new manuscript of poems and essays that I’m currently shopping around and I’ve started to send out poems again on a regular basis. I found that I had to step away from poetry for a while until I truly felt like I had something to say again. I’m currently serving as the Senior Editor at an art and culture website called "The Creative Independent", which is a job that nicely dovetails with my own creative pursuits.
Inscape: How does living in NYC influence your writing?
Cole: Oh, NYC influences me in a million different ways, both good and bad. Everything that has ever happened to me professionally, every job I’ve ever had, every writing assignment I’ve been given, has happened to me because I was here. There is something about the proximity factor—being so close to where everything in culture is happening— that makes it feel both possible and plausible that you can also be a part of it. Most of my most important and fruitful professional relationships originated as casual friendships, most of them born out of just being a part of the culture here—going to readings, seeing lots of shows, and hanging out in arts spaces. In that sense, NYC is great—a sort of an inexhaustible resource. The flipside of that is that NYC is also exhausting, expensive, and a frequently punishing place to live. Nothing here is easy.
Inscape: What is your favorite time of day and place to write?
Cole: In the morning at my desk in Brooklyn. Or on the subway, usually in the form of making notes on my phone.
Inscape: Can you recommend any writing resources?
Cole: Not to toot my own horn, but people should check out the site I work for, The Creative Independent. We describe ourselves as “a growing resource of emotional and practical guidance for creative people. Our goal is to educate, inspire, and grow the community of people who create or dream of creating.”
Inscape: As a professional interviewer yourself, do you have any advice for our beginning
writers learning the art of interviewing?
Cole: I teach intro to music journalism at NYU in the summers as a part of the summer journalism program there. I always tell my students that interviews should be conversations, not interrogations. The more you can approach and talk to someone like a normal human being, the better the result will usually be.
Inscape: How has writing helped you as a person?
Cole: In so so so many ways. The only way I’ve ever been able to understand anything is by writing about it. Writing has made me a kinder, more generally empathetic person, particularly my journalism work. Poetry has helped me understand myself, being a journalist has certainly helped me understand other people...or at least come to grips that most people, despite what they do for a living or where they are in life, are basically grappling with the same kinds of issues that I am. None of us are all that different.
Inscape: If you could give your 2003-self some writing/career advice, what would it be?
Cole: To be more self-confident and less fearful of trying new things. And I’d tell myself not to worry so much about trying to forge a career. As it turns out, your career kind of just happens while you are doing other things. I’d say to just focus on chasing after the kind of work, both personal and professional, that makes you happy. When you are doing that in a really honest way, truly following your curiosity wherever it leads you, the career stuff kind of just falls into place.
T. Cole Rachel featured as our 2003 Poet of the Year in Inscape Vol. 58, available at
Pasadena City College’s Shatford Library.
Chloe Hawkins is a student at Pasadena City College fulfilling her last few degree requirements. She will graduate this June with a B.A. in Psychology and Studio Art with emphases in photography and creative writing. She says, "My passions are traveling and self-reflective writing. I hope to channel these passions into a one-woman traveling writing show this summer."
Written by Cassie Wilson
I was 16 years old the first time I was discriminated against for being a woman. I can still remember the black and white flannel shirt that clung to my sides, the taste of cafe con leche that lingered on my lips and the knife like tears that cut my face as I lay my head against my dad’s baby blue Chevy truck. I had spent the prior 6 months studying, reviewing and practicing for my driving exam. I was a bushel of hope, excitement and a little anxiety the morning of my appointment. I reminisced of the past summer and how many mini road trips I spent with my father driving 5 hours up to Fresno only having my learners permit. I had kicked ass on those drives, my dad guiding me every step of the way until I learned the in’s and out’s of that truck. I knew what I was doing, but as my driving exam begun I could hear every scribble my examiner jotted down on his grading sheet. Anxiety surged through my veins, my hands became sweaty and my breath shaky. As I pulled back into the parking lot of the Glendale DMV, my driving exam had concluded. I was so nervous to hear my results. I peered out the back window where my dad sat eager to hear the news. My instructor then handed me my driving test sheet. It was marked up with blue ink for mistakes I was sure I did not do. His only words before he exited, “Next time bring a different car, a girl like you can’t handle a truck like this.”
This experience began to shape me into the fierce, independent woman I today. As I sit here and ponder over the experiences that awoke that woman within me, I think of Kate Chopin’s book, “The Awakening”.
A feminist manifesto that demands to be read with every seductive image, symbol, motif and archetype. Eloquently written, Chopin describes Edna, Louisiana Creole woman, trapped within the confines of a 19th century traditional society. The journey of her awakening, her rebirth into her own fierce and independent woman, is far from easy. She is surrounded by the traditional expectations of a women, her verbally abusive husband and her own self-illusions of life. In order for change to occur, it must succeed the awakening. For me, being a college student can be daunting, I am constantly piled with what seems like endless amounts of work, while also contemplating my very existence in this world. So when I was assigned this book, I was struck with both: awakening and work. The difference, I was uncovering parts of my soul as I decoded figurative language, recognized important symbols and uncovered themes from text. I was growing, as I was learning, without even realizing it.
In chapter 3 as Edna’s husband, Mr. Potellier arrives home drunk with wine and excitement, his verbal abuse begins. He stumbles in, waking Edna from slumber, gaudily describing his merriments from the night. Edna is unmoved, unable to relate or care for his nights festivities. He begins his illusion of care by stepping into their children’s room to check if they are sleeping soundly and discovers that one of their boys has fallen "ill" with fever. Edna is positive the boy is fine, but her husband is insistent for her to check. I can feel Edna’s annoyance arise, while Chopin ironically describes Mr. Pontellier’s own annoyance, “He reproached his wife with her inattention, her habitual neglect of the children. If it was not a mother’s place to look after children, whose on earth was it?”(Chopin 6). The dramatic irony of the text is evident. Mr. Potellier is completely capable to care for his children, as any father should, yet he forces his wife to do it. The expectations of Edna become clear - remain silent, stagnant, obey and don’t question. Her voice didn't matter in comparison to her husbands. When Edna returns after assuring her children are fine, just as she'd expected, she is received by her fast asleep husband. She is overcome with an overwhelming and deep sadness. She begins to weep as Chopin describes, “The mosquitoes made merry over her, biting her firm, round arms and nipping at her bare insteps. The little stinging, buzzing imps succeeded in dispelling a mood which might have held her there in the darkness half a night longer (Chopin 7). The mosquitoes serve as a symbol of her husband, he stings, buzzes and nips at Edna in their late night encounter.
I’m burning with anger as I read, remembering my own experience remaining silent, still, stagnant in my father’s baby blue chevy truck. After hearing my examiner's comment, I did not look up from my lap. I did not reply. I did not even acknowledge him as he left the car. I tilted my head to the left to rest on the car window, as the tears rushed down my face. I knew I had not made any driving errors and I knew how to handle that truck. I had merged in and out of lanes on the 5 freeway, made endless left turns at intersections and abided by every speed limit on those 5 hour mini road trips to Fresno. I was never pulled over, I was never honked at and my dad rarely corrected me. Yet when my examiner nipped, bit, and stung at my integrity, my ability, and my intelligence - I remained motionless. Edna and I both were blind - not to our intelligence - but to our worth when attacked by a masculine voice of authority.
Throughout the novel Edna befriends a woman named Adele Ratignolle. She is an archetype representing the embodiment of what a women “should” be. Delicate. Dainty. Graceful. So beautiful that everyone in their society noticed her for it, yet always in need for help because of her fragileness. Adele was a “mother-woman” - constantly pregnant. Chopin details her idolizing her children, her role as a mother, and her husband(8). She is the perfectly traditional household woman. Edna was the opposite, possessing strong sturdy hands, unlike Mrs. Ratignolle’s dainty fingers. Edna was capable of enduring the sun, while Adele needed to be shielded by garments constantly when at the beach. Edna and Adele disagreed - but they remained close friends, Adele serving as Edna’s first influence of her awakening. When the two women enjoy a day at the beach - their differences come to surface. Edna doesn’t wish to be like Adele, she is comfortable with herself and pities Adele’s life. The sea surrounds them and with this realization Edna is drawn into the ocean’s seductive allure. Edna is not the “typical” household woman - she seeks freedom, adventure, love, and life. Chopin highlights their differences purposefully, exemplifying Edna’s free nature and lack of traditionalism. She represents the REAL thoughts, emotions, and discriminations that women in the 19th century endured. She represents the oppression, the restrictions, the responsibilities, and the lack of voice that existed for these women - that still exist today.
Just as Edna realized her and Adele’s differences, I realized my worth vs. my expectations. My examiner questioned my ability to drive my father’s 4 door baby blue Chevy truck. He expected me to be delicate, dainty and fragile. Throughout our drive he marked me down continuously for mistakes I knew I wasn’t making. His expectations overpowered my ability. I have strong, sturdy hands able to grip the wheel of my fathers truck. Able to control the car’s movement and power. My legs and feet are tough and powerful, able to push down on the acceleration and brake. My mind intelligent, radiant, and gleaming of knowledge. My ability to drive that truck was apparent, I glided throughout the Glendale streets with fierce ease and gentle power. Although none of this mattered, the only thing that mattered was my examiners opinion and expectation of me. If he said I wasn’t good enough, then I became just that - not enough.
Throughout the novel water is an important recurring symbol, constantly drawing Edna into the depth and freedom the ocean represents. At first she is unable to swim, blind to free will and independent choice. As the novel continues, Edna learns to swim, and with her first dip into the ocean, her awakening begins. She recognizes herself as a human being with the capacity for more than just household chores and child care. As Edna swims out in the water against the current, she realizes her worth. She is enlightened, curious, excited, confused, and overwhelmed with realization. This continuous realization is accompanied by vivid descriptions of the sea throughout Chopin’s book until Edna eventually becomes completely aware of her self-worth. In the last paragraph Edna describes to her Doctor before going for her final swim, “I am not going to be forced into doing things … I want to be left alone. Nobody has a right .. one might go on dreaming - but to wake up… it is better to wake up …, even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusion all one’s life”(92). This is the boiling point, her final awakening. Edna refuses to be like Adele: fragile, delicate, and dainty. She refuses to let the mosquitoes of her husband’s abuse, nip and bite her strong arms any longer. She refuses to let anybody, ever again, tell her what to do, how to act and who to be. She becomes her own woman throughout her own journey, she will not be the same wife or the same mother. She is reborn as she walks out into the moonlit ocean and completely surrenders to her freedom, willingly drowning in the ocean.
As I sit here today, completely reborn myself, I am no longer still, stagnant, motionless. I returned for my drivers test the following month in the same baby blue Chevy truck. The days before my next appointment I spent contemplating and questioning, just as Edna did, until I finally decided I had to do something about it. I refused to be a victim of expectation. I drove with confidence through the vibrant Glendale streets, I made my ability apparent. Every turn I made with a fierce elegance that shivered up my spine and out of my mouth. I spoke up - telling my new examiner my previous experience and that I would not tolerate that type of discrimination again. My voice mattered, it was fierce, loud, and powerful. As I continued to grow up I never let my voice be dim and puny again. I lead my own life without expectation of others. I had reached my ocean. I was enough.
This book is reminded me of my evolution - I grew as Edna grew. I found myself in Chopin's text, while learning and engaging. The Awakening is social change - it influences women and men to speak up, stand their ground and never let themselves fall victim to the expectations of society or others. It promotes change with the challenges, the struggles and the rebellion of Edna Pontellier. I urge you, your peers, friends, students, parents, coworkers and anyone who is willing, to please read it. It will plant the seeds to your own awakening.
This is the now, this is our generation, this is our time.
Stay Woke and do something about it.
Cassie Wilson is a student at Pasadena City majoring in English. She is a Creative Nonfiction Writer and enjoys weaving analysis of literature or poetry into her personal life. She says, her favorite thing to do before she writes is sit down with some coffee and play instrumental pop music.
Written by Andrew Zapata
Are we all just naturally hateful? Or is the sense of hate instilled in us by someone or something? Throughout history various dictatorships have been held around the world - each one leaving its people robbed, broken, and resentful. Hate and fear are inspired to take the place of kindness or love, creating a bleak and deserted void in it's wake. The poem, "Frankenstein of the Year" by Amanda Chan, touches a thematic resemblance to tyranny. Chan alludes to a monster creating a monster - relating back to the original story of Frankenstein.
Chan uses Dr. Frankenstein and his monster to illustrate her struggle of loss in the face of an evil maniacal villain.
The award goes out to you./
With your hands bent over corpses,
Dead set on bringing them back to life-
Hoping to magically breathe a spirit of fear and hate,
She expresses hate towards someone she alludes to being the embodiment of horror; full of animosity, pushing the brink of destructive mayhem. Chan illustrates Dr. Frankenstein "hoping to magically breathe a spirit of fear and hate" into his creation. This creation mimes the idea of an oppressor trying to recreate their own version of an individual. The process of such a creation sometimes results in death, as Chan darkly describes "with your hands bent over corpses". A diabolic fiend -- trying unnaturally to mold individuals. This allusion metaphorically represents how oppressors or discriminators or even dictators attempt to reinvent or define individuals of a specific culture, race, or religion. The Holocaust being a prime example of this. Chan continues to describe:
The blood of my people curdle in their graves,
Thanks to your invention,
There will be names washed off the slate of the living,
There will be weeping across the nations, candlelight vigils,
More than tens of thousands shoes places in honor of those lost.
The tone of the poem is shifted into grief and devastation as Chan expresses her personal loss, pain, and suffering felt over the deaths of her people. The mass murder illustrated in the poem is described when Chan states, "The blood of my people curdle in their graves". The metaphoric insinuation of Dr. Frankenstein's monster represents the loss of Chan's people in the face of a vile individual. This murder is a product of the decomposition of personal identity. Animosity is felt in the souls left living with this loss. Chan feels this resent as she expresses:
Sadly, unlike Frankenstein you will not fade as easily,
Nor will you disappear like his creation.
Today I want you to take your award and take your ten seconds of spotlight
Then get the fuck off the stage in this life
Chan closes the poem referring back to her original Frankenstein allusion. Setting a tone for anger and malevolence as she expresses her resent that this oppressor can not be diminished, unlike the doctor and his soulless mutant. She compares her oppressor to Dr. Frankenstein and his perverse creation. She explains, "unlike Frankenstein you will not fade as easily". Despots, like Hitler, often don't fade away until after their carnage. They receive a lot of public attention and approval by individuals who support their reign. Chan describes this when she states, "I want you to take your award and take your ... spotlight then get the fuck off the stage". During Hitlers dictatorship he received mass amounts public praise and approval. He was loved and even celebrated. This example parallels to Chan's expression of loathsome to her oppressor's "spotlight" to the public. She is passionately angry and desperately wants this person to get off the stage.
Perhaps this planet is doomed to a cycle of enmity - influenced by oppressors or discriminators or even dictators. Society can be easily manipulated - striping individuality and personality from cultures, religions, and races. Tyranny that reigns throughout society not only robs personal identity from individuals, but is also capable of massacres in the process. Leaving the surviving individuals hateful and fearsome. Dr. Frankenstein and his monster represents this cycle in Amanda Chan's poem, "Frankenstein of the Year". In order to heal and prevent this sequence throughout society - we must promote love, acceptance, and individuality over all else.
Andrew Zapata is a current student at Pasadena City College, transferring next year to Cal State LA. His current major is English and he hopes to become a Humanities professor in the future.
Written by Hoang Luu
Narrow roads, yellow blurs and dreamy heat. Chickens fight and toads leap—all of such a noisy abode where people breathe on each other’s breaths. Poet Zubair Ahmed illustrates a copy of our world in his collection City of Rivers.
Dhaka, of Bangladesh, is one of the densest nationalist capitals in the world. As I read Ahmed's compilation of poems, I cannot help but bear witness to a foreign country that is so strikingly similar to my homeland where the same monsoon rain becomes the earth that shares our twin living grounds.
Both of our homelands are brightest when warmed. The sun rises early to dazzle heat upon the crowded walkways, while little shadows are provided by the enclosing rooftops that seem to shake heads with each other like canopies. Chickens flock frightfully and angrily and grotesquely on the battleground as people pitch each against the other. Their wings flap and pound while their beaks bite and grapple at the other’s throat. Laughter and shrills gather round, Dogs bark insanely. The laughs are taunting barks. The smell of lime and herbs, as well as spices and curry, fill the dazzling air. The steamed rice, the fried rice, and the cracked eggs rumble against the town’s yanking sirens and yelling overthrows.
Vietnam and Bangladesh are both politically unstable. Law enforcers are weak-willed, corrupted, or go mindfully astray. Drugs and assaults roam along with the yelling of the populace, while taxi drivers secretly leer at which ways the fare can jump highest. Townsmen gamble; women gamble; the children sleep when the sun is bright yellow.
Ahmed’s, “A Road to the Sky”, beautifully depicts the two countries’ similarities: although the rich and dense populace yell and sing to their neighbors’ ear-walls, there is yet a silent need of deliverance or companionship of love, of kindness, of security. It is interesting that Ahmed uses dark and contrasting diction that evokes an atmosphere of silence, sadness, and madness. All-in-one of the already honest, crowded but energetic dwellers of our two homelands. The images are alluring to the insane frightfulness of reality, such that reality is so sad and deep, as well as remorseful, helpless, hopeless, and dead. It is as though not only the chickens are under water but the people of the land that have been stained by corruption, deception, and poverty are under water too -- so often like a passing bullet. Despite the rich, noisy texture of Vietnam and Bangladesh, Ahmed instills a deep silence with his images of loss and of hopelessness, as if the blood vessels are narrow—narrowly hopeless, hurt, and suffocating in the heart.
The most fascinating aspect of “A Road to the Sky” is the title. I wonder why Ahmed names the piece in such a way, despite the content of luxurious darkness and hopelessness? There is so much “gray” in the poem: “[a]ll the good men are buried.” While vultures eat the flesh of these men, it is as though the speaker is saying that everything is lost, sad, and beyond cure. It is to say that even new sprouts, new life, and new youth cannot even bring civilization to the place:
Children sell knives at the corner,
A raven pretends to be a crow
There is nothing helpful that can be done. I am fascinated by the writer’s jesting of sky despite the allures of darkness, gray, and hopelessness,What does it mean when the walking journey ahead will bring you to the sky? Is the sky a haven of paradise? Heavenly? Or, is it a path to escape? To run away from all this—there is a longing for a dwelling -- a longing for wonder, for a dream, and maybe for a hope that ends in safe beauty -- in safe yelling-around.
I am another river from another distant shore. We meet in that crossing place.
Hoang Luu is a learner and writer of poetry. Hoang writes poems and stories as a hobby. His dream is to contribute to the world one day through poetry, stories, and books that celebrate morality, hope, and humanity. He is a senior at Pasadena City College and is pursuing the fine arts of Creative Writing.
Blog Posts reflect the opinions of the writer and not the opinions of Pasadena City College or Inscape Magazine Editorial Staff Members.