Weekend Writing Warriors: Sunday 30 August 2015 (WIP: Ship’s Heart, character interview)

Feo embraced me and laughed. “Is that him?” she whispered, nodding toward Hernan. “He is pretty.”

I forestalled her before she could even joke about the next bit. No, he’s not her traveling-companion, but mine; if he wants to join the circle, if he wants the circle to join us, that’s his choice, not mine.

Feo’s not stupid, of course. “I see,” she said, “serious, yes?”

She didn’t add: he’s awfully young (because he’s not all that much younger than she is, and we already had that argument), nor how foreign (because we’re Outposts for a reason).


The narrator is Taryn the Outlander. From character interviews for the Ship’s Heart universe.

Weekend Writing Warriors offers a selection of eight-sentence excerpts from many different writers. For the full selection, see here.

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Weekend Writing Warriors: Sunday 23 August 2015 (WIP: Ship’s Heart, character interview)

When I was first restored to my gene-mother, or she to me, after her Transition, she bathed me in the lullabies of the Inhabitants, waves of warmth. I understood she was different, as I was. The Shipwright had explained it to me, but I knew it in my own person. I was Spider now, the weaver of webs, and I showed her all the knots I had learned. I knotted models of various crystal structures, playing with tensions as bond-strength, setting vibrations going; I designed musical instruments. One must amuse oneself, Laila-Istvan had said to me many times when I was little.

That was the first lesson I learned as a child: there is no such thing as boredom if you are paying attention.

So some claim I’m bored, but really I am constantly looking for things to pay attention to.



The narrator is Taryn the Outlander. From character interviews for the Ship’s Heart universe.

Weekend Writing Warriors offers a selection of eight-sentence excerpts from many different writers. For the full selection, see here.

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Poetry Review: A Supernatural Song of Ourselves (Bryan Thao Worra’s Demonstra)

Bryan Thao Worra. Demonstra. Innsmouth Free Press

Note: I’ve followed Bryan Thao Worra on Twitter (and vice versa) for a while now. This July, I met him in person at CONvergence 2015. When I told him I’d be happy to review his collection, he shared a PDF review copy with me.


Only a few years ago, I didn’t know that SF/F poetry was a thing. As I got more active on Twitter, I started joining conversations with interesting folks who turned out to be SF/F poets (among their many other accomplishments): Lev Mirov, Rose Lemberg, Likhain (artist/writer!), Bryan Thao Worra, as well as prose writers whose precise and evocative prose shares ground with poetry, such as Yoon Ha Lee, Polenth Blake, Aliette de Bodard, and Zen Cho.

Here are the three lines that hooked me in the reading at CONvergence:

An American werewolf in Luang Prabang
Would stand no chance against a real Lao weretiger.
Both should still try to observe the five precepts as best they can.
(From “Idle Fears”)

In person and in print, I felt an immediate ‘click’ with Bryan Thao Worra: the wry, dark sense of humor, the opening of a door to another world (real, fantastical, and intersections thereof). Horror and humor have certain rhythmic similarities; I love work that walks the line, and these poems do, in limpid understated language, that sparkles with occasional flourishes of pure beauty.

Esthetic judgments are matters of resonance; you can explain them intellectually after the fact, and that’s what this review is going to attempt. Here is the short version of the review, because poems are best answered with another poem:

Arboreal manifesto

(for Lev Mirov and Bryan Thao Worra)
In the dark forest
will sneak up on you if you let them
very like partisans
or ghosts

The crypto-poetic guerrilla hides out
under cover of prose,
the better to carry subversion
into the heart of the citadel

History is complicated, everywhere.
The curve of the earth only hides it
by a trick of perspective.


Prose translation:
  Years ago, I heard a talk by Minnesotan essayist and poet Bill Holm, where he described reforging poems into prose, because for some reason American readers found big blocks of text more accessible than lines of verse. Which is pretty funny if you think about it. Poetry, like film, is full of cues to the reader about where to look, how to breathe. Line breaks play breath against meaning, and poetry shares deep roots with music.

I’ve read poetry for years now, in English and Russian, and to a lesser extent, French. “Lightning strikes you but you have to keep living,” Marina Tsvetaeva wrote. If you want that electric transformation, read Verses to Bohemia in the original. Or listen to a recording of Anna Akhmatova reading Poem without a Hero in deep old age: at first you hear the voice of an old woman, and then the years drop away, the music takes over, and you’re in the presence of an ageless firebrand who will live forever as long as anyone breathes that poem’s ghost-voices in an empty room, to summon an echoing palace in the middle of a siege, a New Year’s masquerade, where the mummers reveal themselves as revenants from 1913.

High above, a stray cosmic hound’s maw widens,
Foaming with nameless stars
From close of “What the Guide Said”

Poets are the brain surgeons, cliff divers, astronauts, deep-sea divers of literature. They go into the dark places where electric beasties swim in the crushing depths.

In an interview at CONvergence, Bryan Thao Worra talked a lot about the current fashion of dystopia, how we don’t hear a lot from writers hailing from places where the apocalypse has already happened. (Not by coincidence are my teachers Russian; in my Cold War upbringing, I learned they were the bad kids on the other side of the earth, so had to get to know their moves.)

And I swear,
Each time I break this promise, that the next time
Will be the last word I write about this damn war.
(from “The Last War Poem”)

The 20th century diasporas from Cold War proxy conflicts are full of poets.  How else to make sense of the apocalypse? History is like a haunting, and it stands to reason that ghosts and monsters of folklore would find themselves displaced as well.

Like some of the short fiction works I’ve reviewed here, this collection is slim on the outside, huge on the inside. Lovecraft meets the Laotian diaspora, in the mythical midwest; presences travel from one lifetime to another. Karma rules all, and that doesn’t mean what you think. In fact, the metaphysical references were simultaneously the funniest and most disturbing part of the whole thing – yes, you are bound by the rules regardless of what kind of sentient creature you are, which opens whole new vistas of dilemma.
Most of these poems are short — a page or two — with whole worlds packed inside. When they stretch out, they go epic fast. “The Dream Highway of Ms. Mannivongsa” is a Trip in all senses of the word, a nonlinear traversal of space, time, and mythology, dense with allusion and still a wild metaphysical romp even if you don’t get all the jokes and references. The supernatural night-side of America looks just as diverse as the daytime, with immigrants from every corner touched by US foreign policy in the last centuries.

And then there are just moments where he hits the right strain of descriptive truth, and reminds me all over again of why I read poetry: so much packed into so few words, with no dead air space at all.

Useless barbed wire sighed in the sun, wondering
Who would come by worth keeping out or keeping in.
(from “The Doom that Came to New Sarnath”)

The last 70-some pages of Demonstra map the political, cultural, and supernatural ecosystem of Laos, with both maps and illustrations of creatures that lurk in all kinds of niches. These poems follow the Laotian fantastical and mundane into the diaspora ffollowing the Vietnam war and what geopoliticians politely call its sideshows.

The horrific is always interwoven with metaphysics, ethics, and religion; inquire of the Wendigo, or Skeleton Man (see Joseph Bruchac’s middle-grade thriller of the same name), or the hungry ghosts of the Buddhist world, what feeds their elemental horror. Ask the zombie (who flowered into full horror this side of the Atlantic, in the notion of enslavement beyond death).

Inquire, as Demonstra does, of the monsters of legend and folklore, how the noble truths of Buddhism might apply to their karma. Inquire how that might look in the allegedly mundane Midwest.

This reader, formally unschooled in the ways of Elsewhere, felt the free-falling elation of a door opening to a world just as complex as the one I know. The US curriculum teaches a truncated geography indeed; we know almost nothing of the rest of the world.

Don’t mistake this book for an edifying tour, though. It’s not only the darkness in these poems that drew me, but the laughter: the sense-of-balance in the face of the literally unspeakable, the things unspoken that nonetheless exist whether we believe in them or not.

Some are benign:
If you sleep among the black gibbons of Bokeo,
A similan Phi Poang Khang passing by might catch you
To slooowly lick salt from your big toe. Nothing more.
Hardly fearsome, but ponder: “Why just the salt?”

Or what would really happen if you interrupt.
(from “5 Flavors”)

My own sense of humor is steeped in mortality and disaster, so I felt as if I’d met a cousin here. Some folks don’t have the luxury of ignoring historical horror. It’s right in their faces, right in the room, stalking through dreams every night. Those who acknowledge it have been my literary teachers.

It’s under-the-skin that makes kin, as the proverb has it, “Skinfolk ain’t kinfolk,” and the reverse is true: I’ve found so many kindred-spirits in translation. No, I am not ethnically Russian, but it’s part of my literary descent. African-American prose and poetry, Jewish narrative of the Holocaust, Native American novelists and poets, all have helped me make sense of the truth behind the Pollyanna-Potemkin suburban positive thinking with which US culture covers over its own hidden horrors.

So with Demonstra, I’ve just added a new member to my world-wide family of literary kinfolk.

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Weekend Writing Warriors: Sunday 16 August 2015 (WIP: In the Breath of the Groves and the Brightness of the Stars)

Ever since Landfall, the ship-colonies have traversed the True Ocean. They follow the fisheries and the storm-systems, closely enough to capture rain, not so close as to receive the worst of hurricane winds.

Ever since Landfall, the Groves have been growing. In the ship-colonies stretch decks of forested green, thick with leafy creatures of all sorts. Continue reading

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Weekend Writing Warriors: Sunday 9 August 2015 (WIP: Shipwright, Captain, Figurehead)

Storm-gate, Naime celebrated with the apprentices in the workshop, and the Master of the Yard, who was a patron-cousin of her elder-father on the Iskra side. A delegation of fresh-faced cadets and students from the New Academy came all the way out from the shore of the Inland Sea on the fast train that several Zoia clan-branches and two branches of the Iskri had constructed in honor of the peace of Naime the Just, now most of a century ago.

The snowy volcanic reaches of North Continent, with its Water-Temple guest-houses built around hot springs, and the steppes and mountains of South Continent, where the journey-ships’ horse-stocks roamed wild and recombined in all their glory, not to mention the Colonies within a Jump, all sent their youthful tribute to the New Academy.

Desnaray of Iskra, the clan-branch famed for the terraforming of the first colony-planets, had its own little group of cadets, whispering together. They raised the flaming punch in its goblets, extinguished the flames with a single sharp out-breath, like a voice-blow in grappling, and tipped their heads back to drink.

Indeed, a voice-blow. On the right shoulder of each of them, a shoulder-cord and ribbon-rosette of white and red, slashed diagonally so the cut ends hung loose. The knot, cut through: one of the other traditional props of Martis-Mortis, the sword and the cut-knot, the sword that erased difficulties by severing them through to show white of nerves, red of blood or flesh.


From Camp NaNoWriMo project Shipwright, Captain, Figurehead, short stories in the Ship’s Heart universe.

Weekend Writing Warriors offers a selection of eight-sentence excerpts from many different writers. For the full selection, see here.

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Weekend Writing Warriors: Sunday 2 August 2015 (WIP: Shipwright, Captain, Figurehead)

Slava was an Outlander, a shame about that, Axia had said. What could she have meant … except that Outlanders weren’t candidates for clan-marriage.

Naime closed her eyes, as if sinking into the cybernetic reverie that carried her to the Great Yard. Viewed from orbit, yes, if Slava weren’t an Outlander, if one considered only the qualities of character and mind, yes, Slava would be a brilliant candidate. They fit together, working as one, in the manner praised in great alliances: complementary skills, with a considerable overlap of interest and talent, all turned to the same task.

For the glory and honor of great-clan Astok–no, for glory and honor in themselves. For the glory of the Ship-to-be, for the honor of the thing done well.

Considered from orbit, where mountain-ranges shrank to wrinkles and great storms to a froth of the atmosphere, yes, she could well imagine it, and not regret that she’d never considered such an alliance with anyone else.



In which Naime the Shipwright compares her political situation to that of her namesake. From Camp NaNoWriMo project Shipwright, Captain, Figurehead, short stories in the Ship’s Heart universe.

Weekend Writing Warriors offers a selection of eight-sentence excerpts from many different writers. For the full selection, see here.

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Weekend Writing Warriors: Sunday 26 July 2015 (WIP: Shipwright, Captain, Figurehead)

“Our world is called Karis: grace unearned, unlooked-for, the very picture of the Original World before our species entered on the scene.”

“Cloud-wreathed, water-wrapped, jeweled seas and skies,” the Zoia cadet replied, half speech and half song. Her hands relaxed at her side. “The gods give, open-handed. We rise to the divine in generosity, not brute force.”

Ah, that one had been well-catechised, both at home and later.

“I have kin in South Continent,” Naime said. “I am no less proud of the steppes than of Landfall-on-the-River.”


In which Naime the Shipwright explains the name of the world. From Camp NaNoWriMo project Shipwright, Captain, Figurehead, short stories in the Ship’s Heart universe.

Weekend Writing Warriors offers a selection of eight-sentence excerpts from many different writers. For the full selection, see here.

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