Forty Stitches

I think I write decent haiku. I take pictures of everything that makes me gawk, and then I twist them, interpreting them in my weird way. Sometimes I even manage to impress myself.

But I never thought of how my haiku sounds to others.

Now I know. Because I’ve read CT Salazar’s book.

The title made me “ooh” and smile as if I understood what it was about. ‘Forty Stitches Sewing a Body against a Ramshackle Night’—hell yeah—this is my jam. I write haiku—I know exactly where this is going. Or did I?

Cover of CT Salazar's book, Forty Stitches Sewing a Body Against a Ramshakle Night
Cover of CT Salazar’s book, Forty Stitches Sewing a Body Against a Ramshakle Night

It’s a compilation of forty short poems, a hybrid-haiku form which the poet calls ‘stitches’. See, I didn’t realise that when reading the book. And so when I did, much later, it was as if someone had turned the lights on, laying bare the contents that had been so artfully cocooned within the title.

Ah, the pleasures of decoding poetry!

That title paints a powerful image to hook readers. Just enough, but not at all. That’s the biggest advantage—and the problem—with writing haiku. Everyone knows (or thinks they know) what to expect, but they know nothing of what they’re about to read. 

As a writer, you have to satisfy their wants—throw them a bone, if you will—and then when they think they’ve got the hang of what you’re saying, pull the carpet from right under their feet.

That’s what haiku is about. It embodies minimalism. It’s the ultimate form of contraction. Salazar does all of that. And then some more.

Opening the metaphorical pages, I thought I knew what style, tone, and tenor he’ll use. 

I assumed.

One should never assume anything about haiku.

trimming your hair
in the bathroom hundreds
of commas curl

No punctuation, no explanation, no direction for the reader. 

Go figure.

But that’s what’s so beautiful about haiku—and Salazar’s haiku, in particular—it makes you see—really see—the small, everyday things in life. The next time I see a strand of hair on my bathroom floor, I’ll think of commas. (And then I’ll moan about losing said hair.) That’s what good poetry does to you—it leaves you with lingering moments. 

As I read through the pages, more word treasures jumped out, shaking me completely off balance.

watched a cardinal
fly through me—sorry
through a window

Like most poetry enthusiasts, when I came across e e cummings for the first time, I was fascinated. As an English student, I cringed—no capitalisations and no language order. But I adored his rebel blood. He broke the rules and still made all the sense in the world.

Salazar does too. I mean, look:

river river
we’ve both been
running

See? It’s subtle, it’s delicate, but it punches you in the throat, and as you temporarily recover from gasping for air, it hits you again. 

I’ve read and reread this book plenty of times, and I still can’t quite put my finger on what exactly it’s about. Sure, I have five or six story lines running in my head, and every time I read the book, one of them seems to take precedence over the other.

However, as someone who writes a whole lot of haiku (or as I call it), I don’t mind if my readers don’t see what I see. That’s the beauty of any creative endeavour—it should always be open to interpretation. And so with Salazar’s book, even though I still haven’t cracked the code, I’m quite happy to revel in the pristine beauty of his words. After all, it’s not a test I need to clear—poetry is an artistic form of expression and food for the soul. And I will consume it in all greediness, inhaling it in gusts and letting it bloat me with pleasure.

Of Love and Other Demons

Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel García Márquez - cover

I won’t lie. This book took me an embarrassingly long time to finish. Not because I’m a slow reader, but because, as is the case with so many books, I found it easier to put it down and not pick it up again. Another prominent book I did that to is One Hundred Years of Solitude, also by the same author. I might be sensing a pattern here…

Regardless, it didn’t help that the story picked up well into the story. It was designed to be a slow start, much like One Hundred Years of Solitude. It’s almost as if Marquez was testing his readers to see if they’ll hang around long enough, if they were loyal enough, to endure the creeping pace of the initial chapters before bestowing upon them some of the greatest and heart-wrenching prose of all time.

In other words, Of Love and Other Demons features beautiful writing—writing that will stay with you well after you finish reading the book.

“Disbelief is more resistant than faith because it is sustained by the senses.”

I’m not pious. And I don’t enjoy the company of people who shove their religious beliefs on others. This story is scattered with Christian beliefs and the ancient traditions of bishops and exorcism. Even though this book personifies everything I’m against, I cherished the way it’s done.

I mean, just read this:

“The bishop could not continue, because the thunder resounded over the house and then rolled out to sea, and a biblical downpour cut them off from the rest of the world. The bishop lay back in a rocking chair and was shipwrecked in nostalgia.”

Isn’t that beautiful?

I started reading this book before COVID-19 was born. And now, as I got to the last page of the book and rethink the narrative, I’m amazed at the uncanny and coincidental reference to today’s reality.

This is the story of a young girl who’s bitten by a dog with rabies. Unfortunately, she didn’t contract the disease, and that abnormality made those around her, subject her to eternal damnation.

Gabriel García Márquez has given us a wonderful tale in Of Love and Other Demons.

I admit

For the last few weeks, I’ve struggled with my reading and writing.

I’d borrow an interesting-sounding book, riled up and motivated after scanning three of a five-line blurb, smiling at positive words that jump out at me, only to set the book down a few pages in, never to pick up again.

Like most of us would, I too blamed the book. It was dull and monotonous. The pacing was off, the print was too small, the page too tattered, or the story unrealistic—

Excessive excuses rained in my brain, as I told myself lie after lie for why I couldn’t get through a book.

As for writing an article, a poem, or a short story—stuff I used to do daily—I got nowhere with them. My mind drew blanks every time I determined to roll up my sleeves and create something worth sharing with my writers’ group. And for every meeting, I’d turn up empty-minded, to sit there and listen to wonderfully strung words, tap-dancing in my head even hours afterward.

It wasn’t the block—reader’s or writer’s.

I was just lazy.

I spent so much of my time volunteering, having fun, chatting with people, laughing, baking banana bread and cookies and muffins for no reason, and whiling away all day doing anything but reading or writing.

In other words, I was avoiding doing what I had to do. Reading and writing, my greatest passions, had become more strenuous than before. It was hard to sit down and focus my mind on one thing. As a result, I began using volunteering (which I enjoy just as much) as an escape mechanism.

The reason: I’m starting to understand the difficulties in writing meaningful work. When I’m in the groove, writing is easy for me. It feels so natural that I get a lot done without feeling tired or worked up. However, I’ve also come to see that it’s not always the case.

Effective word chains don’t always flow from the mind and ebb through the fingers on to the screen. In reality, writing is a draining, time-consuming task. You need to be active and present in the situation. Reading is the same. It demands more energy than thinking about baking or looking up random, irrelevant recipes.

We all go through this phase. It’s not that we’re no longer dedicated or involved, but it’s just that sometimes, even our most innate hobbies and interests can overwhelm us. To run away—or at least trying to—is common. But we should, at some point, admit it to ourselves.

I love writing and reading. But sometimes I don’t want to read or write. I’d want to watch a crappy TV show instead. That doesn’t mean I no longer love writing or reading. It just means there’s temporarily a screw loose in my head. Accepting that allows me to fix it and come back, strong as before.

A proud moment

The proudest moment for anyone who writes is having a third person read and appreciate their work.

I got my moment today.

A friend in my writing group kindly reviewed my first collection of travel haiku.

It’s my first review, and I’m quite pleased—if I may say so myself.

Read the whole review here:

Steps and Stones is available on Amazon.

The wait

I don’t believe in co-incidences. But I also don’t run away from them. Unable to write much today, I jumped from one tab to another on my browser trying to locate an idea that’d spark and open up my well of thoughts. It almost never works—I often read random things for hours before giving up on finding inspiration. I end up rambling or publishing a quick haiku.

Today, however, as I read through last week’s newsletter from the ACT writers centre (while this week’s newsletter lay open on the next tab), I stopped at this quote.

Waiting for inspiration to write is like standing at the airport waiting for a train - Leigh Michaels

I’ve heard it, or something like it, a hundred times before. It’s the standard advice any writer offers a wannabe. I’ve said it plenty of times too, to myself and to others. 

Waiting for a lightening bolt of inspiration to hit you is like taking the bus south and hoping it goes north. I know because I’ve done them both. Waiting is an excuse not to write. It’s a way to get around the larger fear that encapsulates your being, the uncertain possibility of an outcome you’re uncomfortable or unfamiliar with. And I think that’s how writer’s block comes about. It’s a reason to avoid seating yourself on that chair and getting work done. That’s what happened to me.

This afternoon, I arrived at my local co-op ready to write. It’s a great co-working space—they sell bulk foods, snacks, and have free artisan (sourdough!) bread. The best part? It’s almost empty after lunch.

And so I propped my laptop on an empty desk, wandered around the shop, bought some onion and sesame seeds, got coffee, nibbled on some bread, read through notes from a panel discussion I attended two days ago, and got distracted at least ten times before the newsletter came as a slap in the face.

The only reason I kept avoiding the blank screen is because I wasn’t sure what to write. And yet, the moment I started, I knew what I’d write. That’s the biggest hurdle most people never cross—they linger at the beginning for too long, and give up just before they discover that a world’s waiting to unravel underneath their fingers.


If you’re interested: Read the full newsletter.