With World Poetry Day approaching on Saturday, March 21, now is the time to reflect on why poetry is so important. Founded in 1999 by The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to “support linguistic diversity through poetic expression and to offer endangered languages the opportunity to be heard within their communities,” World Poetry Day is celebrated by diverse and talented individuals all around the world. Poetry not only encourages us to read and write, but it evokes a sense of emotion that is unique to its genre.
As a poet myself, I gain inspiration, knowledge, and a well-rounded awareness of different forms of poetry by reading any and all poets, subject matter, and forms. Poetry is a beautiful way to release your inner thoughts and emotions without restrictions or specific guidelines. Don’t think you can be a poet? Think again. Poetry can be complex and intuitive, but it is also extremely versatile and approachable for anyone who enjoys writing. Don’t worry about rhyming, play around with your form, talk about the vulnerable or talk about the mundane, take risks, get weird, and stay true to yourself.
March is also Small Press Month, so here are five must-read unique and diverse collections of poetry (also independently published!) that will inspire you to start writing and reading something new:
I Can’t Talk About the Trees Without the Blood by Tiana Clark
Published by University of Pittsburgh Press, Clark’s bold and electrifying compilation illustrates black history, pain, racism, identity, and the inability to escape the terror of the bloodied trauma of the past. Her voice rises from the South as she presents soul and integrity in her poems. Her striking language and vivid imagery will paint a picture that will leave you feeling redeemed and put you in each scene.
Odessa by Patricia Kirkpatrick
Published by Milkweed Editions, Odessa is a stunning personal narrative of the speaker’s discovering of brain cancer, leaving her facing the biggest fight for her life. Kirkpatrick’s haunting and visceral poems are also brave, filled with rage, sorrow, suffering, and a deeper understanding and acceptance of what it’s like to not know what tomorrow will bring.
Thieves of Paradise by Yusef Komunyakaa
Komunyakaa’s collection is published by Wesleyan University. As a Vietnam vet, his disorienting compilation of poetry focuses on a soldier’s return to home after war and the shock of separating war from peace. This collection is full of soul, jazz metaphors, and raw recollections of war. Komunyakaa also includes an array of forms, such as quatrains to prose poems.
There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker
A Tin House publication, Parker’s pop culture-infused look at African American women in the twenty-first century fervently tackles issues that are present in everyday life, such as racism, mental illness, tragedy, desire, and the vulnerability of living. Her visions are badass, inviting, hilarious, real, and unfiltered. You’ll finish reading wanting to change the world while listening to Beyoncé.
Virgin by Analicia Sotelo
Another Milkweed publication, Virgin is an outstanding and jarring look at womanhood from Sotelo’s own experiences. She combines mythology with biography as she conquers the tropes of femininity and explores Latina sexuality. Virgin will leave you wanting more of her gorgeous and flawless sensory imagery, such as grilled meat, golden habaneros, and burnt sugar, and a taste for exotic life experiences.
It’s Valentine’s Day, a day to celebrate love. (Insert groan or “yay!” here.) It doesn’t matter if you’re in a relationship, single, or it’s complicated. Books are always a good idea (though chocolate is, too).
Here are some books to emotionally invest yourself in this Valentine’s Day:
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
If you didn’t read these books when you were a child (or you did), there is never a good time to not read these books. Get ready to start an adventure with Harry, Ron, and Hermione at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. If you are just starting, don’t start with Prisoner of Azkaban, as it is the third one, but it is my personal favorite. By the end you of these books, you’ll understand what Hufflepuff actually is.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Peak Romance. Mr. Darcy, AKA the original fictional boyfriend. Also, he’s relatable in that I, too, die inside when I’m in public.
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
This is magical realism mixed with romance, food, and a crazy mother. You might have one of these things in your life (most likely food), and if you’re lucky, you have two out of three. Each food dish described connects to a different part of Tita de la Garza’s life and her romantic troubles.
Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
This book tells of the story of a fictional band in the 1970s. Told in interview format, the story draws you in with the band members’ accounts leading up to their final concert and how the band fell apart. Once I picked up this book, I couldn’t put it down.
The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle
You can have dinner with five people dead or alive. Who do you pick? Sabrina spends the evening of her birthday with her best friend, an old college professor, her father, her ex-boyfriend (Tobias), and Audrey Hepburn. The story alternates between the dinner and her relationship with Tobias. It’s a story of love, loss, and moving on. I cried once I reached the end and was also left with a feeling of hopefulness.
The Unhoneymooners by Christiana Lauren
When the entire wedding party gets food poisoned, Olive gets the opportunity to go on her sister’s honeymoon in Maui. However, there is a catch. She has to go with the groom’s brother, Ethan, whom she has hated since their first meeting. For the trip, they must fake being newlyweds, and Olive realizes that being fake married to Ethan isn’t so bad. This book is funny, charming, and heartfelt. You’ll wish you had this romance.
There are plenty of books out there to get emotionally invested in. Just visit a bookstore or a library; you’ll be able to find anything. If you want, you can even take your significant other or your friends to help find the right book for you.
Remember that this Valentine’s Day, you aren’t alone, and that there are plenty of books in the bookstore.
If you’re a working adult, or even just a busy person of indeterminate age, you may have heard this sentiment among your peers. Maybe even you have slipped into that tenebrific bookless existence. I am here to offer a solution you may not have considered before: graphic novels.
This Saturday, May 5th, is Free Comic Book Day, an event created in 2002 in order to celebrate and increase the visibility of independent comic sellers across the United States. Various comic publishers release special 1-issue samples for comic shops to give away on Free Comic Book Day. Series such as The Avengers, Tank Girl, Riverdale and many others are represented on the list of this year’s free comic samples. If you’ve ever been interested in the world of comics, but had no idea where to start, Free Comic Book Day could be an excellent, low-risk opportunity for you to make your entrance. Locally, businesses such as Paradox Comics and Cards and Comic Junction are joining in on the festivities, but for a list of participating businesses in your area, or for more information on the event, you can visit the official Free Comic Book Day website.
There is something of a stigma surrounding comics and graphic novels. Their ample use of images rings in people minds as akin to childish picture-books. Much like cartoons, comics and graphic novels suffer from the assumption that only children can, or should, enjoy them. While children certainly enjoy reading comic books, and an ample supply of the comics on the market are meant for children, there is also a thriving market of comic stories meant to be relevant to adults. When it comes to comic books for adults, the thought is that with fewer words per page, this makes graphic novel reading easier and thus less fulfilling than reading a full prose novel. Additionally, there exists and undesirable stereotype about the kind of adult who reads comic books: that of an obsessive, dysfunctional, child-like adult. Let’s banish all of these misconceptions from our minds. Just as there is traditional literature of every genre for every age, so too, are there impactful comics for everyone of any background.
Comic books (as well as their Eastern counterpart, called manga/manhwa) have been making strides recently both in widespread popularity and in credibility as a legitimate form of art and storytelling. In 1992, the historical memoir graphic novel Maus, became the first graphic novel to win the Pulitzer Prize. As a result, it is often read alongside other historical literature in classrooms around the country. The first volume of Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples’ Saga series, a provocative space opera with elements of fantasy, won a Hugo Award in 2013.
In 2009, five comic book artists had their artwork displayed at the Louvre in Paris as a part of a special exhibit titled “The Louvre invites the Comics“. Among the participating artists was Hirohiko Araki of Japan, the mangaka (comic book artist) who created the internationally acclaimed manga series Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure.
As we can see, comics, manga, and graphic novels have continuously proven their legitimacy as a media for art and storytelling. They can offer a fulfilling reading experience for people of any age, often with a smaller time commitment. As a visual medium, graphic novels are distinctly poised to enrich the experience of stories in which world-building or character nuance is key. The novel’s artwork allows the author’s vision to be communicated in the truest way. There exist many comic book adaptations of already existing classic or acclaimed literature. Here is a list of 5 graphic novels based off your favorite stories to help get you break into the world of comics.
A Wrinkle In Time
Adapted by Hope Larson / Based on Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time
Grahic Novel – Monochrome / Sci-Fi, Adventure
Published by Margaret Ferguson Books
Many Americans remember A Wrinkle in Time as “that confusing sci-fi book” from their middle school English class days. You may have had the chance to revisit this story with the recently released live action adaptation. If you just can’t get enough, pick up a copy of Hope Larson’s A Wrinkle in Time and see how the medium of the graphic novel has transformed this familiar yet delightfully strange story.
Adapted by Kaoru Mori (writing & art) / Based on Jane Austin’s Emma Manga – Black and White / Historical Fiction, Romance
Published by Yen Press
In Japan, comic books are called manga, and have developed their own iconic look and conventions for telling stories. They are marked by their unique art style (sometimes also referred to as “anime style,” after their animated, and more widely known equivalent) their inventive use of paneling and emotive character expression.
While I have not personally read this adaptation of Emma, I have read Mori’s other work, A Bride’s Story, a collection of stories from the perspective of different women in the historical Middle East and Central Asia. Mori’s artistic attention to detail, especially in clothes and home decor is astounding and her nuance in character development make her perfectly suited to adapting this classic novel.
Note: read from left to right, as per the original layout in the Japanese language.
Adapted by Narae Lee (story & art) / Based on James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series
Manga – Black and White / Urban Fantasy, Action
Published by Yen Press
For the thrill junkie, check out Narae Lee’s adaptation of James Patterson’s wildly popular Maximum Ride series. The story centers around a “flock” of children all genetically enhanced with wings and other abilities, as they evade the cruel and shadowy organization that made them that way. I personally think that the fast-paced nature of the story and the fantastic details of the plot lend themselves better to a graphic novel than a traditional book. For that reason, this manga series is, in my opinion, the best way to experience the Maximum Ride saga.
The Last Unicorn
Adapted by Peter B. Gillis (story) Renae De Liz (art) & Peter Dillion (art)
Based on Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn
Graphic Novel / Color
Published by Idea & Design Works LLC
You may take on look at that word “unicorn” and conjure up notions of silly, girlish, fantasies swathed in pink. Nevertheless, you will find something a fair bit more nuanced and mature in The Last Unicorn, though no less pretty to look at. This story feels equal parts folk and fairytale, and the art style of the graphic novel adaptation does an excellent job evoking the unnerving yet alluring nature of both. The story revolves around the eponymous last unicorn as she leaves her forest to search for her kin, rumored to be missing by malicious means. She is joined by a clumsy magician and courageous bar maid as they forge into the territory of the ruthless King Haggard in order to discover the truth.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Adapted by Andy Seto (story & art)
Based on The Iron-Crane Pentology by Wang Dulu
Historical Fantasy, Wuxia (Martial Arts Action Adventure), Romance
Manhua / Color
Published by Comics One
You may not have known that director Ang Lee’s year-2000 award-winning martial arts epic was based upon a series of novels dubbed the Iron-Crane Pentology. Or that it was further adapted into a gorgeously illustrated manhua (Chinese graphic novel) series. Inspired in combination by the original novel series and the movie, this adaptation of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, offers an action-packed, drama-filled saga set in a fantastical interpretation of historical China surrounding the wielders of the legendary sword, Green Destiny, and those who would seek to steal or destroy it.
Originally posted May 3, 2018
Written by Mikaila Norman
It is always necessary to celebrate women and their accomplishments especially during the month of March. Women’s history month celebrates the integral contributions by women to better the world. One such woman who has proven words and words alone can make an impact on the world is Margaret Atwood. She has shown time and again how influential her writing is. The Handmaid’s Tale, published in 1985, continues to be one of her most popular novels, and for good reason; it still has people talking about it today.
Margaret Atwood was born in 1939 and has since written more than 40 books of poetry, fiction, and essays. She has said that she never intended to be a feminist writer, but soon began to change her writing based on the evolving world around her. Many of her novels and poems involve female characters who are suffering in some way. Atwood has said, “My women suffer because most of the women I talk to seem to have suffered” (“Margaret Atwood”). This encapsulates The Handmaid’s Tale. The female characters are all struggling, both internally and externally.
For anyone who hasn’t read The Handmaid’s Tale, it follows a young woman named Offred. Her name is formed from a man’s first name, Fred, and the prefix “of” meaning “belonging to.” In Offred’s case, she belongs to the Commander and his wife. Together they make up one of the many households in Gilead, a theocratic republic in what used to be the United States.
Offred is a Handmaid and must provide a baby for the Commander and his wife, who is infertile. This is the sole purpose of the Handmaids. If Offred does not provide a baby she will be given to a different household or sent to the colonies. The colonies are areas of North America that have been contaminated by radioactive waste and pollution. Anyone in the Republic of Gilead who has broken a law or proven themselves useless to the reproductive cause is sent to the colonies to clean the area up as retribution for their crimes.
The world in which The Handmaid’s Tale takes place is one in which almost all women are infertile. The “lucky” ones who are fertile are essentially kidnapped, enrolled in a school to learn obedience, and forcibly placed into households to provide children. The Handmaids are given no other objective and have almost no rights as human beings. They are only allowed to leave the house for scheduled appointments or to fetch supplies, and they must never go alone. They cannot wear anything other than red dresses and white bonnets. They cannot speak out of turn, or disrespect their household in any way. The Handmaids are considered property more so than human beings.
So why is this book about a society built on seventeenth-century Puritan roots still relevant today? So much of The Handmaid’s Tale is controversial, and controversy gets people talking. Much of what happens to the Handmaids in the book is cruel and unspeakable. For instance, while in the Handmaids’ school, Moira, Offred’s best friend from before Gilead, pretends to be ill. She is brought to the hospital and when it is found out she is faking, her feet are maimed using steel cables. Only the feet and hands were injured because they were not essential to reproduction. However, the women prove time and again how strong willed, intelligent, and determined they are to fight past each obstacle thrown their way. As a result, The Handmaid’s Tale is considered a feminist novel by many.
When asked whether the book was written to be a feminist novel Atwood replied, “If you mean a novel in which women are human beings—with all the variety of character and behavior that implies—and are also interesting and important, and what happens to them is crucial to the theme, structure, and plot of the book, then yes.” It is no wonder that in today’s society where the feminist movement is growing exponentially every day that books this continue to be used as resources and loved by many.
In addition to the book remaining popular to readers, it was adapted as a series on Hulu in April 2017. Of course with almost any book turned into movie/television there will be changes. The changes made for the series are substantial enough to be noticed, but nothing changes the meaning or plot of the book.
Since the book was written over thirty years ago, Bruce Miller, the producer of the series, made certain alterations in order to update aspects of the book. In the time before Gilead, the characters use smartphones and laptops, which did not exist when the book was written. The cast is also much more diverse than what appears in the book. This was an important change for Miller. In an interview with Time Magazine he recalled, “That was a very big discussion with Margaret about what the difference between reading the words, ‘There are no people of color in this world’ and seeing an all-white world on your television, which has a very different impact…” (Dockterman). The third big change is Offred’s character. She is more rebellious than in the book. This change was made in order to make her character more relatable and interesting to watch. Even with these changes, the series stays true to the novel and is worth watching.
Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale has quickly become a favorite book of many. The characters are relatable and the plot is harrowing, but what keeps people coming back is the fear it instills. It even appears some believe a world like Gilead is plausible in the near future. In fact, Atwood is often asked if the novel is a prediction to which she responded, “Let’s say it’s an anti-prediction: if this future can be described in detail, maybe it won’t happen.” Women from all over the United States have taken this to heart and are using the book as a way to protest women’s issues. One occurrence took place in Texas on March 20th, 2017. Women dressed in red robes and white bonnets entered a courtroom to protest an anti-abortion law being considered by the state senate. The law would make it illegal to obtain an abortion in the second trimester and would allow doctors to lie to women considering an abortion. The clothing the women wore gave them a way to protest peacefully while proving a point.
Hopefully Gilead never becomes a reality and Margaret Atwood’s beloved novel remains on the fiction shelves at the local library. Only time will tell, but in the meantime read, revisit, or watch The Handmaid’s Tale. For anyone who has already read or watched The Handmaid’s Tale do you consider it a feminist novel? What do you like or not like about it? Do you think a world like Gilead is possible? Are there any other books by Margaret Atwood you enjoy? Let’s keep the conversation going because after all controversy gets people talking.
Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. Anchor Books, 1998.
Canfield, David. “Activists Dressed as Characters From The Handmaid’s Tale to Protest Texas’ Anti-Abortion Measures.” Slate. The Slate Group, 2017. <view online here>
Dockterman, Eliana. “The Differences Between The Handmaid’s Tale Show and Book, Explained.” Time. Time Inc., 2017. <view online here>
We have a fresh new batch of interns coming on board this spring. They will be joining the team assembled last fall, sans Rachael, who has graduated and moved onto the big wide open world.
Despite the program only being about 4 years old, each of our new interns is pursing a degree in English with a Publishing Emphasis. There also seem to be some pet lovers among the bunch!
Let’s get to know our new recruits!
. . . is a senior at MSUM majoring in English with an Emphasis in Publishing. She hopes to work as an editor at a major publishing company after graduation. This is her first semester interning at New Rivers Press and is very excited to get more hands-on experience. Ashley is very passionate (not obsessed!) with Taylor Swift, cats, and reading. In her free time, you can find her on Twitter, watching New Girl for the fifth time, or forcing cuddle time with her cat.
. . . is a senior at MSUM seeking a degree in English with an Emphasis in Publishing and a Writing Minor. She grew up reading everything she could get her hands on and always knew she had a passion for books. When she is not working or interning for New Rivers Press, she is spending her time playing with her dog (AKA the cutest dog on the planet), cheering on the Minnesota Vikings, or enduring the excruciatingly long wait for the last season of Game of Thrones. She is excited to graduate in the spring and hopefully find a job in the Fargo/Moorhead area.
Trevor Fellow . . .
is a senior at MSUM, studying English with an Emphasis on Publishing. He finds himself habitually correcting people’s pronunciation and spelling, even when he knows he oughtn’t, and insists on proper grammar and syntax at all times—whether that’s at the keyboard or on his old-timey dumbphone (“I’m not ignoring you, it just takes forever to type out ‘magnanimous’!”). He likes unusual stories that fuel the imagination, and is particularly fond of Watership Down, American Gods, and anything written by the late, great Sir Terry Pratchett. He discovered a passion for words at a young age, and at a slightly less young age discovered that what he really likes is helping other people with their words. He loves working for NRP, and hopes to use the experience to find a similar job elsewhere in the field.
Its great to see another bunch of enthusiastic students joining the NRP crew. Best of luck this spring!