“Beauty, Sleeping” & Thoughts on This Semester’s Creative Writing Class

I write this on Friday evening, at 10:30pm, in a coffee shop I’m likely to be kicked out of in half an hour. The only other people who’ve been here as long as I have are a couple who seem to be locked into one of those fights that involve no actual fighting, just a pretty woman sitting silently with a frown on her face, and a handsome, baffled-looking young man who is sitting across the table from her with a frustrated look on his face, learning that sometimes, a pretty woman is also the hardest sort of girlfriend to have.

Ha, you can see him waiting for the ice to crack, but it hasn’t yet. You can see him glance over at the other tables, at the girls who aren’t exquisitely made up, who aren’t dressed in the most stylish outfits, and wondering if, maybe, life would be easier with one of them. Poor guy. Poor girl.

All of which is pretty pertinent to the stuff below, so I’m mentioning it. But really, when I started this note, it was just to note that I’m writing this on Friday night, not on the Saturday afternoon when it will be appearing on my blog.


I was writing some feedback for one of the great students in my Creative Writing class, and I ended up rewriting one of her poems, to make my point that when writing poems, we can be, as I wrote to her,

less concerned about putting the sentences together in a sequence that makes sense in the way a “prose” story would. It’s still storytelling, but works in little tiny stolen moments, instead of cinematically. In poetry, we leave most of the story out because a smart reader can fill it in. It’s almost like taking a story and smashing it on the ground, and then picking up only the most interesting pieces and assembling them so the reader can see all the bits we left out.

I rewrote her poem — which is, by the way, obviously a sort of rewrite of the origins story of “Sleeping Beauty” as an allegory for the plastic surgery craze that we have going these days over here in Korea, which is pretty neat, really, for student writing — because it seemed the best way of showing her what I meant about cracking apart the narrative in this way, and using spaces to imply stuff, as well as to focus on the really crucial moments, to make them gorgeous little fragments.

Anyway, which is not to say my rewrite of her poem is gorgeous, but I think it’s not bad. And since I cannot send it out somewhere — that seems ethically wrong — I figure I may as well plonk it up here for people to enjoy.

Beauty, Sleeping

A face, hideous and gnarled,
scarred, untouched, the color of shame and
a lonely shadow at the foot of a tree
tears upon its cheeks.

The sage’s voice intones, the ashen
wand waves, and then there is light:
like sunrise bursting through the dimness
she turns radiant now. Finally, dawn.

The village boys hurl stones more more.

Yet dusk haunts her, alone at the tree;
crepuscle clings to her throat. But softly
comes a distant voice, a lark — perhaps —
sings, beckoning, and she follows.

Safely preserved, like an ancient crown, or
the blade of some hero who slew some hell-thing
laid out like the robes of a forgotten queen,
safely displayed in a crystal glass case.

Safe as houses, safe as calm sweet death,
her hands, lips, and her breasts untouched:
eyes, gazing upon this terrified longing
the sun, trapped in noontime glory.


I suppose this is as good a time as any to say that I’ve seen some amazing, amazing stuff in these packets of fiction and occasional poetry. I’m glad we have a Creative Writing course going, and the amount of work some of the students have put into their stories and poems — and the fact they went to the trouble of preparing SASEs — makes me more than happy to type up feedback for those who request it.

My favorite stories so far include one by the same student who wrote the poem, about a woman who gets plastic surgery and then decides she wants her beauty to last… and decides taxidermy is the best route! There’s also a pretty wild story about a romance with an “older woman” (who turns out to be the stepmother of the girlfriend whom the guy is trying to forget!), and a story that made me pretty sure that insisting — pace Lester Dent’s Master Fiction Plot — that they continue to “shovel the grief onto their hero” (or heroine)… which, basically, is a story that starts with a guy smoking his last cigarette before trundling off to a bridge where he plans to kill himself… and then, his life takes a turn for the much worse! (But it ends up being a powerful, and in the end even uplifting, war story!)

There are also a few speculative fiction pieces: one is more slipstream, with people — especially businesspeople — turning into household objects because of some inexplicable disease, and another that I daren’t comment about except it has the weirdest (grammatically parseable) sentence I’ve read in a while:

“Did you clean your asshole with toothpaste?” she said to me on the bed.

Don’t ask me, I have no idea. (Not that it’s a bad story, but… WTF?)

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