What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

For the last 5 weeks, I have been teaching a poetry course through Desi Writers Lounge. It is a basic, sweeping course, titled “Elements, Themes, and Form.” We have talked about things like imagery, abstraction, figurative language, and the salient themes in poetry: self-portraits and, begrudgingly, love. This is not to say that poetry is limited to these two themes. On the contrary, I feel it is the most natural form of expression for any emotion. However, when one first starts to dabble in poetry, one is, more often than not, naturally drawn towards these two themes.

For the course, I have re-read some of my favorite poems and have had the pleasure of composing discussion questions based on the weekly reading. Last week we were exploring the theme of Love and Desire, and it corresponded with the highest number of assigned readings for the entire course. We read the following poems, which I highly encourage everyone to get their hands on, like, right now.

– Li-young Lee, “This Room and Everything in It”

– Joy Harjo, “The Real Revolution is Love”

– Sandra M. Gilbert, “Anniversary Waltz”

– Richard Ronan, “Soe”

– A. Loudermilk, “Daring Love”

– Chitra Divakaruni, “Sudha’s Story”

– Sheila Zamora, “In Return”

– Nhan Trinh, “Country Love”

All three of the course participants were also given homework, which was to write an original poem on the theme of love and desire. It was an open prompt and they were told to use the week’s reading as inspiration.

I got three very different poems.

Waqas A. Qazi wrote a jaded poem titled “On Love.” He was also not a fan of the readings – a curious response as he has appreciated all the assigned poems in the past. “I don’t quite know what to make of this week’s readings. I think one needs to be in a specific kind of mood to read and appreciate romantic poetry. This has not been one of those weeks. Hence my interpretation of these poems may be quite subjective. I don’t think there is a poem here which has really impressed me yet,” wrote Waqas. I am not going to lie – the bitter honesty in his words crushed me! Lee’s “This Room and Everything in It” is one of my favorite poems and I have used it as a motif to write a poem myself, which in my opinion, is some of my more polished work.

The response from the other two course participants was encouraging. Hafsa Malik wrote, “Okay, so love is a hackneyed theme, I agree, but to sound like a bit of a cliché myself, I am a hopeless, hopeless romantic. So I really love good love poems! You should have totally included Brown Penny in this [by the way], Noor. A gem, that poem is.” I agree. I should have included “Brown Penny” by Yeats, a poem that remained my signature on the Desi Writers Lounge forums for a few years. Hafsa wrote a poem about love and longing, beautifully evocative, titled “You and I.”

Raiya Masroor also said something after my own heart. “The poems in this selection deal with this clichéd theme in a realistic way. Most of the poems are about real love, loss, and desire instead of focusing on the beloved, his/her characteristics, and the waiting/pining for a lover. They deal with the concept of love in real lives.” Raiya really hit the nail on the head, I think. It’s the simple and frightening reality of love in these poems that makes them so compelling to read, in my opinion. Raiya’s own poem, a remarkably well-written piece about finding bliss in a relationship, seeing love in the simplest of acts once you discover and possess it (like the snores of your partner), was absolutely brilliant and a testament to the fact that not all thematic poems on love have to be long, torturous, drawn-out cliches. She intriguingly titled her poem “Mythbuster.”


Excerpts from poems written by DWL Poetry Course participants. Click to enlarge.

Reading through the work of these three poets, each with a very different approach towards and perspective of love and its perils, I thought about the poems I have written on the subject. They have been few and far between, but they have definitely portrayed more of the weary frustration reminiscent of Waqas’s “On Love” rather than Hafsa’s longing in “You and I,” and they have certainly never been as obviously blissful as Raiya’s “Mythbuster.”

Last week we read about love, we talked about love, but I have come to believe that all poetry ever written has barely just scratched the surface of this compelling theme. In the pleasant deluge of poetry on love and desire that I immersed myself in last week, I kept circling back to the two lines of wisdom that (to me) represent a universal truth about this reckless emotion, penned by the great W.B. Yeats:

“Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny

One cannot begin it too soon.”

So, in talking about love, I did not discover anything more than I already knew. And I was reminded of the fact that I really don’t know much about love at all.

Looking through my work from years ago, my very first poetry workshop to be exact, circa 2006, I found two short poems in an old chapbook. They must have been written in response to a similar prompt, a prompt related to love, which is why the poems are so succinct and, quite frankly, stiff-necked, opinionated, rigid, but at the same time, they are fascinating specimens that bring to light the state of mind of the 21-year-old Noor.

I am going to leave you with these specimens now. Not my best work by any stretch of the imagination, but here it is for what it’s worth. Two poems from October 2006.


We are at the place

where it is easier to hate

than to love each other.


He calls me,

I answer,

as much out of duty

as out of love.

 And after the sheer humiliation that comes with posting the two poems above, I am compelled to post something recent that is more representative of my present poetic voice, loosely related to the theme under discussion.

Hand in Hand

we are on our travels with
undercurrents of conversation,
promises cracked through the middle,
wrapped in the cloth that blinds us

there are so many realities of us,
a decade full of crests and troughs,
a steady progression of waves and bodies,
flesh loosening,
the crow’s feet around my eyes,
the subtle lethargy in my breasts,
and you look new still

you have come and gone
like a song that disappears
as a car with the radio blaring
passes us by on the open road

now, after sheltering my body
in the fetal position,
broken wholly in some places
and incompletely in others,
I wonder if dignity,
(the price of this compromise)
is to be eaten for dinner
to fill up my stomach
that knows no sin,
and if the measure of my affection
is how much I have cried

let’s take a diverging walk now –
some furlongs on foot
and you will meet a small gap in the asphalt,
we can fall through it and come out
on the other side –
one lurch and a blink,
and we will cross oceans and icebergs
to be reborn –
ourselves again
in the native land,
our eyes feasting
on cotton crops and sugar cane and
tilled fields

you say nothing –
it’s just as well,
here, on our journey,
language has no power
and we haven’t crossed over yet

two thousand ears of corn,
two thousand ears
scattered in the ocean
their tympanic membranes
vibrating still,
and voices taking shape,
murmuring like ghosts lazing on the waves

the darkest place I have been to
is this ocean at night, with you,
we are on our travels still,
we are on our travels


1. The title is stolen from Raymond Carver’s excellent short story, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. I highly recommend it!

2. This post originally appeared on the author’s personal blog, Goll Gappay – Little Matters That Matter.


1. If you’d like to join Desi Writers Lounge, a platform dedicated to coaching new writers and poets, please complete the registration form here. The writing sample is important. We do screen our applicants, so please be sure to provide one.

2. All of us at Desi Writers Lounge work very hard to create a bi-annual online literary magazine called Papercuts. Browse through our hard work and let us know what you think on the Desi Writers Lounge Facebook Page or leave comments on the webpage.

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Thank you, DWL.

It was my birthday on the 17th. My husband’s family was here, and he decided to take on a DIY project for the weekend. We are the people who laze in front of the TV on Saturdays, put off doing laundry until we can see the bottom of our drawers (no pun intended), and call a plumber for fishing out a nail out of the sink. A DIY project in this house presented itself like a looming disaster. And this is not just any project I am talking about. It’s not like he was planning to hammer some nails and hang our pictures, not at all – a monkey could do that. My husband, ladies and gentlemen, was planning to put tiles all over the kitchen walls above the granite counters to create a dazzling backsplash. Aaaaarrrgh!!!

So, the project began on the 15th. The boys made several trips to Home Depot, selected tiles and grout, and began putting adhesive on the walls, christened chipkum by our cousin, between annoying sessions of FIFA on PS3, endless cups of chai, and loud, harmless cursing. By the time the chipkum was done, it was the 16th, and my kitchen was in complete and utter chaos. At this point, they started to press down the tile sheets on chipkum while I was cooking a birthday feast…wait for it…for myself! Yes, I was, in fact, required to cook a feast for the entire family on my birthday to celebrate. Charming, right? God bless our cousin’s wife, she did most of the cooking while the boys showed mock annoyance and worked around us. At midnight, a wannabe black forest cake from a chain grocery store was cut by yours truly. All of us looked like construction workers. Grout was all over our clothes and all over my kitchen counters (gasp!), the chai was still flowing freely, and of course, FIFA was still being played.
Such was my birthday celebration. Imagine my surprise then, when I logged on to DWL on the morning of my birthday and found AMAZING, beautiful, thoughtful, absolutely wonderful birthday wishes from the mods and members. It REALLY made my day, guys. All of a sudden, it was OK that I was working like crazy on my birthday, cleaning up wretched dried-up grout from the newly installed tiles. My arms were ready to fall off, but it was all good – DWL loves me – and that made it all bearable.
Almost a week later, I am sitting in my living room. My husband is STILL cleaning the grout. We are almost ready to seal the tiles, and in two hours, my kitchen will look amazing.
For this difficult birthday and horrible week, I thank you, DWL. The ‘Lounge has been with me through some grave times; this last week was one of the “insignificantly troublesome” variety, but I would have pulled my hair out if it weren’t for DWL and Papercuts.
Brimming with love,

Plans for the Resource Board

Our team was extremely excited about the resource board when it was launched last year. We are very pleased with the exercises that some of you participated in, specifically the ones featured in “Breaking the Block.” I find those to be very helpful and now that the content for volume 7 has been finalized, which we are all completely in love with, I will be making frequent appearances on the forums in order to encourage everyone to write more.

I will be introducing an interesting new dimension as well. I am taking a course here at Stanford titled “This is your life: Personal Stories in Poetry and Prose” and I am eager to share all that I learn with DWL members. We all write personal stories in our poems and stories from time to time. Even if we think a subject has nothing to do with our own lives, we can often trace back the roots of a piece to one personal experience or observation. This is why I am eager to take this course. Not only will I learn how to pen down personal experiences, I will also rediscover ways to critique such writing. I know we run into critique disagreements frequently. Keep your eye out for tips regarding helpful and honest critique in “The Critic.”

Another plan for the resource board is to post more of the classics in “The Critic” for discussion. I know we touched upon a few pieces, just brushed the surface of them, really, but I plan to update that thread with more short stories and poems for us to critique and discuss. I have some of my favorite and widely enjoyed authors and poets on the list. So stay tuned.

Finally, guess what?! It’s January – beginning of the year, which means there will be a lot more competitions to look forward to. Keep checking “Publication Avenues” for updates. I encourage all of you to send your work to these competitions. Usually there is a nominal non-refundable reading fee, but consider it a creative investment. Remember, we are all here to critique and polish your work so it is in its best shape. Please post your entries on the forums and wait for your peers to comment before submitting to a journal/competition. More often than not, you will find that critique on the forums will make your work more competitive.

A special scoop: there are a few other major plans we are working on, including but not limited to another writing competition. More on this later.

All of you who are able to make it to the DWL Reading and PaperCuts Pre-Launch Event, have fun. It has taken a huge effort to bring this together and our team in Pakistan has been working tirelessly to arrange it. If you are able to attend this event, please do! And don’t forget to contact Shehla to let her know that you’ll be there.

I am getting super excited for all these new plans, and I better get to work now so I can deliver all that I promised above.

See you on the forums!

Happy New Year

Happy New Year, everyone.

I can’t believe it’s 2011. Babies born in nineteen ninety are going to turn twenty one this year. I feel ancient. I am a mid-eighties baby myself and really detest the ugly hairstyles and questionable fashion trends associated with my decade. But really, my decade was the nineties, the late nineties particularly when I finished school. Ah, those last few years in an all-girls missionary school were full of day-dreaming teenagers. The poster boys were Shahid Afridi (he still is a hero, was just younger and clean-shaven back then), Shahrukh Khan (“Kuch kuch hota hai, Anjali. Tum nahi samjho gi” and “Senorita, aisay baray baray shehron mein aisi choti choti baatein hoti rehti hain” – eww, and yes, I still remember these lines!), The Backstreet Boys (I thought they were horrible, frankly), and the ones who wanted to be really “different” liked Saqlain Mushtaq/Shoaib Akhtar, ‘N Sync/Boyzone, and Amir Khan/Salman Khan. Sigh, ten years after graduating, I still think my world at that time was perfect for the fifteen-year-old me.

I remember these trivial details well. There was no fear, no worry, just a normal and healthy childhood. When I called home this morning from the warm comfort of my commuter train, my thirteen-year-old brother answered. After exchanging pleasantries he said, “Do you know Salman Taseer was assassinated today?”
“Yes,” I said. “It’s horrible.”
“Not so horrible for me. I get a day off from school tomorrow,” said my brother.
Both my sister who was sitting near him, and I, a world across from him said “Shahzil! Someone DIED! Should you be saying this?”
“Sorry, sorry,” said my brother, completely non-committal.
How’s it possible to think this way? Did I have the same mentality as a child? Granted he is twelve years younger than me, but in that moment this morning, I felt decades older. I have never felt so distant from him before.

In this situation, who do you blame? We’ve both had the same parenting, same facilties, similar schooling. The circumstances, however, of our respective childhood are different. When I was his age, I never heard a bomb blowing up my neighborhood marketplace. I didn’t ride my bike across the carnage. My mother didn’t go looking for me frantically in the street because she had heard hand grenades going off two roads down our house. My brother has seen and experienced all this in his thirteen summers. He has switched three schools to be closer to home. He has lost distant family members in street violence, bombings, and suicide attacks. His mother and uncle have been robbed multiple times at gunpoint. He has seen two monumental natural disasters in his country: the earthquake and the floods, along with the mass migration of internally displaced persons. His parents and sisters are paranoid about his safety. All this has led him to treat death as something trivial, an everyday occurrence. Something about his childhood is lost and damaged. He has grown up too fast, too soon. His eyes have hardened and narrowed. I don’t see the mischief in them that was so apparent when he was five and was waving goodbye to me at Lahore International Airport in 2003.

It is two thousand and eleven, everyone. My little brother will turn fourteen this year. When I was as old as him, I was writing really bad poetry inspired by nineties Bollywood. They are horrible poems, but my childhood was beautiful enough to turn me into a poet. Hopefully we can all make an extra effort this year and do what we can to improve the world we live in. Resolve to make the world better in any way you can. Go green, even if it involves a small change like switching to paper bags. Write a small check for a charity every month this year – every dollar helps. Blog about what you see around you, raise awareness for the causes you believe in. Write to make someone’s life better, even if it is for an instant. Put a smile on someone’s face even if you have to contribute a joke to a local paper. This year, don’t make colossal commitments. Start small. Do something for someone else. A tiny little thing. And see where it takes you.

Happy New Year from all of us at DWL. Sorry for the sadness, but some days laughter eludes me after the first paragraph.

Best wishes.


posted by Noor

We recently posted Mohammad Umer Memon’s interview conducted by chapatimystery.com on the DWL forums. I was particularly intrigued by the quality of work he has translated from Urdu to English. I have always felt that literature in Urdu is overwhelmingly rich – like the arable lands of the country it originates from.

I grew up reading books and short stories in Urdu – literature that was perhaps more suited for an adult than a child. My parents, both writers by profession, maintained an overbearing library – a room with an imposing desk, carefully decorated with fountain pen holders and crystal paperweights, rocking chairs, floor pillows, sketches of writers, my parents’ awards, and wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling shelves overflowing with books and magazines. From a very early age, I began to know names like Bano Qudsia, Nazir Ahmad, Ishfaq Ahmad, Qurat-ul-ain Haider, Imtiaz Ali Taj, and the like. I devoured these books just like I ate up every last word of Dickens, Shakespeare, and Eliot.

I remember, I was in the library once, and my father came in and saw me with one of Manto’s anthologies. “Perhaps this is better suited to a young lady’s tastes,” he said and extended a copy of Mira’at-ul-Uroos towards me. “After you’re done with this one,” he said pointing to the book I was holding. Manto is nothing if not controversial. But so layered is his work that I find something new and rather chilling every time I read one of his stories. So rich with metaphors – there was this one story in which a man collects empty cans and bottles and ends up marrying someone who looks like an empty bottle after getting rid of his collection. Sigh! I have butchered it. If you have not read Manto, READ MANTO! His work contains perhaps the most powerful social commentary that I have ever read. Alas! I digress.

I slowly discovered poetry in Urdu, too. I cannot claim to fully understand Ghalib and Iqbal, but took a particular liking to Mir Dard and Mir Taqi Mir. Contemporary Urdu poetry opened up to me like a ball of yarn running loose around the house. The romance in Parveen Shakir’s work took me through my angst ridden adolescence. I found thehrao, control, clam (how would I translate this?!) particularly in Mansoora Ahmad’s work. Gulzar’s “Chand Pakhraj Ka” remains a favorite to this day.

There is such a wealth of Urdu literature in our country – both classic and contemporary – and it’s tragic that many in our generation are not familiar with it. In a time when Urdu is no longer the fashionable or cultured language to speak, Mohammad Umer Memon is translating books and short stories from Urdu to English to introduce the depth of human emotion, understanding, and wisdom contained in them.

It’s unfortunate that I, too, living in a world where Urdu is seldom recognized as a language in existence, let alone spoken or read, am losing my command over it. Sometimes, I find myself wondering how a word is spelled – if it uses “tay” or “tuaein.” Small, everyday battles to keep a little bit of my roots alive. For people who are not familiar with the richness that is in the works of authors who write in Urdu, Memon comes as a fresh breeze, a rescuer of the ignorant. More importantly, he is an ambassador of literature written in Urdu and is a voice that reaches everyone in the world and proclaims: “This is how we do it!”

Currently reading: Harper Collins Book of Urdu Short Stories by Mohammad Umer Memon.

Get a copy!

How to Tackle Writer’s Block (By Indirection!)

posted by Noor

We have all encountered this beast at some point in our writing careers. Sometimes you can fight it head-on; other times you have to cheat it, find a way around it, and give it a surprise defeat.
These techniques may work for you!

1. Start with Chapter Two. Pretend that you have already given all the background information about your characters. Start writing the second chapter.

2. Dessert First. When you’re just writing, write the delicious parts, write the parts that you like.

3. Resist the rapture of research. Stay away from Google, the library, reference books. Look up information later. Write now.

4. A good idea that doesn’t happen is no idea at all.

5. XX factor. When you don’t know a fact about your story, don’t stall to ponder it. Put XX there and move on. When you are ready, go back and fill the gaps later.

6. Listen to your characters. How do you know who they are?

7. Interview your characters.

8. Take a shoebox and put physical things in it that remind you of your character. For example, you see an easy chair in a catalog and your character should be sitting in that chair or you can imagine him/her sitting in it, cut it out and put it in the box.

9. What if? Ask creative what if questions that might just jump start your story.

10. Even if you feel like life is interfering with your writing, remember that you need that life and its activities in order to write.

11. Banish the devil on your shoulder – the critical voice. You need a critical voice at some point, but certainly not when you’re blocked.

12. Write letters. Besides being an emotional catharsis, it also leaves you with a bank of emotions that you can withdraw from later.

13. Responsive writing. Keep asking yourself questions, they can be random questions, and keep answering them. Question-answer loop on a page to break out of the block answer by answer.

14. The Hemingway Technique. Hemingway often stopped writing at a high point, frequently even in the middle of a sentence. Instead of writing and writing until you get stuck so that the next day you’re dreading the point where you left of, you should perhaps stop when you are in the zone and you’re loving to write, so that you will be looking forward to the writing the next day.

15. Sometimes writer’s block is a message to you that you have picked something inherently wrong to write about – emotions, material, characters, voice, it can be anything. Once you have recognized and acknowledged this message, the writer’s block becomes a building block.

16. Sometimes the silence of the black screen is really a shout – it’s the silence of incubation.

Useful Resources, Good Books, Websites:
Publisher’s marketplace http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/
Halldor Laxness – Independent People
Art of Racing in the Rain – Garth Stein
Enzo – book written from the perspective of a dog – Garth Stein
What If?: Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers – Anne Bernays, Pamela Painter
The Paris Review Interviews (3 volumes)
Bird by Bird – Some Instructions on Writing and Life – Anne Lamott

The Problem of Imagery

“There is a simple trick at the heart of imaginative writing…The trick is that if you write in words that evoke the senses, if your language is full of things that can be seen, heard, smelled, tasted, and touched, you create a world your reader can enter.”

-Imaginative Writing – The Elements of Craft by Janet Burroway. Second Edition. Page 3. (Not following a standard citation method here).

I have often belabored a singular point in my critique to poets who must have come to detest it by now: introduce more concrete images to your poem. When you create a poem, no matter how commonplace the language written, it evidently transforms into a masterpiece in your mind. It is the same instinct that makes a mother love her child beyond its physical appearance. Obviously, the devotion to the poem from the poet is of (slightly) lesser magnitude.

During my years at DWL, I have come across countless poems that hold great potential. The themes may be very strong and refreshing, the idea nothing short of genius, but more often than not, the poems fall flat once written. The most important thing that the poet must understand is the importance of getting the reader involved. No one cares about your personal suffering, plight, identity crisis, break-up, et cetera, if it doesn’t somehow pull them into the theme of your poem. If readers can’t hold on to the poem by some kind of tactile imagery offered to them, they will not give a damn about the story you have to tell. Essentially, they want to be able to find a world they can enter – aptly phrased in the quote above.

In my experience, the best way to check a poem for its impact and quality is to take yourself out of the poem. Invariably, my poems are in first-person. Empathy dictates that a large ratio of a random sample of readers should be able to relate to my experiences as written in the poem. If I am to write about my life however, without giving them a chance to be a part of it, chances are empathy will be flushed down the toilet in 2 seconds flat. Even if I am writing about something that is of extreme personal significance, I must make the poem “friendly” for my readers. I generally try to do this by introducing the reader to my world, getting them acquainted with my life and surroundings. I mention the pile of dirty laundry at the foot of the bed in passing. A bamboo bowl of two month old potpourri on the nightstand – almost completely scentless, except the times when a wayward breeze from the broken window teases it. A red lampshade throwing diffuse light on a dried ring of stale chai on the coffee table. These are concrete images. Something the reader can recognize and hold on to. Now if I throw in a hurtful fight with my significant other somewhere between the dirty laundry and the caked ring of chai, with the emotional outburst highlighted metaphorically by the red lampshade – aha! I have a poem and I have pulled. You. In. I do this by writing out what exactly I want to say in the poem (the fight) and slowly fleshing it out with images, metaphors, and similes – figures of speech do wonders for your poem. Be creative with them. The way to flesh out your poem is best done by trying to look at what you have to offer beside yourself and your personal experience. So if you take yourself out of the poem, what is left? If you’ve got a handful of articles and a weak line of introduction, then you’ve got work to do. Build a world around yourself in the poem and you’ve got what you are looking for.

I am going to leave you with a short poem by Yusef Komunyakaa. It is a very personal poem (as most of them are), but please try to look for concrete imagery that he cleverly introduces along with spectacular metaphors and similes. Enjoy – and of course, happy writing!

Facing It by Yusef Komunyakaa
My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn’t,
dammit: No tears.
I am stone. I’m flesh.
My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night
slanted against morning. I turn
this way – the stone lets me go.
I turn that way – I’m inside
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light
to make a difference.
I go down the 58,022 names,
half-expecting to find
my own in letters like smoke.
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;
I see the booby trap’s white flash.
Names shimmer on a woman’s blouse
but when she walks away
the names stay on the wall.
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird’s
wings cutting across my stare.
The sky. A plane in the sky.
A white vet’s image floats
closer to me, then his pale eyes
look through mine. I’m a window.
He’s lost his right arm
inside the stone. In the black mirror
a woman’s trying to erase names:
No, she’s brushing a boy’s hair.

How we write when we write about IDENTITY (The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison)

posted by Noor

I have always thought of writing as a narcissistic activity. Many of my characters invariably start looking, sounding, and even acting like me. They are always conflicted – struggling with identity, roots, cultural values, treading two value systems at the same time, their senses continuously at war. It is often difficult to separate yourself from your writing, take a step back and view it from a stranger’s eye – but you don’t always have to. Sometimes, to preserve the integrity of the story you want to tell, you absolutely have to draw from what you know best, what you have lived through, what you have observed, witnessed, and learned. Most importantly, in order to recount a story and remain true to its essence, you must do so in an unapologetic fashion and write it not for the reader, but because the story deserves to be told. I learned this from one of my favorite authors – Toni Morrison and the genius that is her first novel, The Bluest Eye.

Published in 1970, The Bluest Eye spans a year in the life of Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl in Lorain, Ohio. I am not going to recount the story for you all, because that will take me away from the themes that I want to cover today. If you have not read this book, PLEASE do yourselves a favor and get a copy. It is a very fast read, and though the story is tragic, the imagery is delightful. I was struck by the vividness and beauty in the images that Morrison has so effortlessly created. What I really want to focus on is the narrative organization and themes of the novel and how she has managed to create this book of immense power without actually victimizing or criminalizing any of the characters. You are simply told about the suffering and the way Pecola experiences and internalizes it.

1. “Writing without the white gaze”
Toni Morrison has written this book without being cognizant of a white audience. She has not explained herself or her characters. She has simply written this story without apologies or warnings. She has incorporated important elements of the black culture of Lorain, Ohio around the time of the second world war. She has talked about music extensively – both jazz and blues – to the point where you start to hear it as you’re reading the book. Most importantly, she mentions in the afterword that it was very significant for her to use “speakerly” language.

2. Seasons in The Bluest Eye
The novel begins thus: “Quiet as it’s kept, there were no marigolds in the fall of 1941.” This is compounded by the organization of the book in seasons: autumn, winter, spring, and summer. Right in the first line, Morrison introduces this idea of something being wrong – and we all know it’s not just about the marigolds. There has to be more to it, but she employs a beautiful distraction to develop her theme. By introducing this idea of nature and marigolds that did not sprout, Morrison has skilfully started to build upon the themes of seasons, the natural order, and the thought that “something has gone wrong.” Right away, we learn that Pecola Breedlove is having her father’s baby – the problem of marigolds skirts this horrific reality, which is mentioned in passing, perhaps to make it more bearable. This theme of seasons continues throughout the book.

3. Developing “foils” for the main character and explanation without excuse
(Foil: A character that by contrast serves to highlight the distinctive nature of another character).
Throughout the narrative of The Bluest Eye, we see many contrasts between the Breedloves and the MacTeers. Pecola’s story is so horrifying and tragic that if it had been presented without the strength of Claudia and Frieda, perhaps we, as readers, would not have been able to accept and process it. So Morrison developed the characters of Claudia and Frieda as foils for Pecola’s character. Claudia and Frieda shoulder the weight of Pecola’s suffering because their positive experiences and their strength allows the reader to digest the horror in Pecola’s story. Pecola by herself is too frail to carry the book on her own. Through their positive experiences alongside Pecola’s harsh life, we are able to read the book with a sense of loss and despair, but without getting completely despondent. This is helpful because it allows the reader to see why the characters choose what they choose and how their choices are ultimately a reflect of their experiences.
Cholly, Pecola’s father is a product of his circumstances. This is explanation without excuse. We understand how and why someone like Cholly might come to be. Morrison, at no point, makes excuses for his behavior, but when you learn about Cholly’s experiences – how vulnerable he is made by all that he faced as an adolescent, you begin to understand his motives and why he committed the terrible act of sexually assaulting his daughter. All this is done by Morrison’s organization of the narrative. It is important to pick up a few things here.
The narrative is organized so that we immediately assume that Cholly is a heinous person. Right from the beginning, we know that Pecola was having her father’s baby – many of us immediately develop a bias against Cholly for this reason. However, as the narrative unfolds and we gradually begin to discover what brought Cholly to this stage in his life, we begin to understand his intentions and motivations. This is an extremely difficult task for a writer. To make your reader understand your character, think like your character, and realize that what your character does is a culmination and reflection of his/her life experiences is paramount! And very, very difficult. As I mentioned before, however, Morrison has done this effortlessly and seamlessly. The narrative flows from one character’s story to the other’s in a fluid manner.

There is a long list that I still have in my notes – topics that I wanted to highlight in this entry, but I think I should stop now and let you all mull this over. But if you take away anything from this entry, let it be the importance of organizing your narrative. The Bluest Eye is one of my favorite books, and I discover something new in it every time I read it. Please have a clear theme in your mind when you begin to tackle a story. Even if you know exactly what you are writing about, it is very easy to be distracted – adhere to the themes that you want to establish and develop in your work. Use creative ways to explore the nature of your characters. Develop foils – they do more for your characters and your story than you can possibly imagine! Write without apologies and explain without excuses and keep building on those themes.

Here’s to writing like Morrison one day!

Random Trivia: The title of this entry was inspired by a Raymond Carver short story. GUESS WHICH ONE?