Set me Free

Salvatore Striano quote from Set me Free

I haven’t met a Shakespeare fan I didn’t like. 

Dreamy fierceness oozes from his words like a tube of toothpaste, and make readers stick like mosquitoes on an oil plate.

And when two mosquitoes meet on oil plate, what else would they share than their love for wit that landed them there in the first place? 

It was with that curiosity that I picked up Set me Free by Salvatore Striano. The title itself wasn’t any different from the thousands that line the library aisle. It was the sub headline of the book that forced my feet to retreat and my hand to reach out: The story of how Shakespeare saved a life.

At that moment, I knew I had to read it.

Life got in the way, many times, slowing down my progress. And yet, I persisted—the deadline loomed and I didn’t want to be that person who extends a library book because they were too busy not reading.

I read in the bus, I read walking around the lake, I read in bed at night sipping black coffee.

This tale come from behind bars. It’s the story of a high-security, long-sentence serving prisoner in Italy. The narrator, Sasà—the prisoner himself—tells how he’s been a frequent visitor to jails since he was seven, walking us through various parts of his life leading up to the present. And all the while, he explains the realities of prison life, the solitude and hopelessness that hugs the air, and the spite that separates groups.

What’s Shakespeare doing in a place like this?

Saving souls, of course.

The narrator goes on to illustrate how one accidental play they put on opened the vault to an under-appreciated realm of sonnets and theatre. He reads Shakespeare, and with every play he finishes, Sasà feels himself glow and grow as a person. And in the end, the book closes with a hint of how even inside prison, lessons from good literature change and free people of their darkest despairs.

It’s a well-told short book.

However, at many instances while reading this book, I felt a tinge of irritation scratch the surface of my patience. For there are pages in the book that function, not as part of the story, but as the author’s opinion and observation of The Tempest. I scoffed, remembering CliffNotes. The narrator does this a lot—there’re chunks of references, poetic verses, and lengthy explanations of how and why Prospero forgives his enemies in the end. Sasà even argues with a fellow prisoner, who plays Prospero, for doing the character injustice.

As I read on, though, my annoyance melted. I grew intrigued at the narrator. For he’d internalised Shakespearean characters so much that he began identifying their real-world counterparts.

As readers, we see the plays help him discover his feelings towards the people in his life. His wife was like Miranda—loyal and pure. An older cellmate, a mentor and guide was Prospero—a father-like figure in jail. And he, the narrator, himself was Ariel. It becomes more than a role in a play, and we see how Sasà lets Ariel and other Shakespearean characters influence his own behaviour. Like an earthworm tossing out the dirt to let a breath of fresh air down the ground, these fictional men wade in and out of Sasà’s consciousness, picking out hatred and sadness, and replacing them with gardening, writing, and composure.

This is a small book. With a big takeaway. 

The more I recall incidents in the book, the more I understand the impact of these plays on the narrator. From being a thief, drugger, and gangster, he emerges as a poet, and a rather philosophical actor.

This is a good book. Give it a read.

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What rules?

It was in an English literature class, while studying Shakespeare, that I first heard of poetic licenses.

Poets breaking rules.

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Source: Giphy

Writing as their heart desired. Morphing labels, forging words, scouring attention.

It fascinated me. I grew up learning to obey authority, as most of us did. And I followed devotedly, setting additional rules for myself.

I hated putting a foot out of line. Always submitted homework on time.

Though I loved restrictions, I also found immense joy in testing those boundaries. That’s why haiku as a poetic form attracted me. It threw a challenge: tell a story with limited words. Couldn’t resist.

I’ve been writing haiku for a while. And I’ve always vehemently stuck to the traditional pattern. A haiku is a Japanese form of poetry containing three lines in the 5-7-5 syllable pattern. That’s how I’ve always written it; that’s the only way I knew of writing haiku.

Until I heard of Haibun—a piece that combines haiku and prose, often in travel writing and autobiographies.

Haiga—a haiku accompanied by a work of art like a painting or photograph.

And haikai—linked verses relating to vulgar, witty, and earthy topics written by multiple poets.

And then I heard of “modern English haiku”.

Apparently, contemporary haiku in English uses a 3-5-3 syllable pattern (with exceptions, of course).

I also learnt that the longer version is more suitable for Japanese haiku because of the language’s natural rhythm.

Hmm.

So after being inspired by a bunch of modern haikus, I decided to give it a shot myself. Oh, well—it’s not breaking the rules if there’re no rules to begin with.

rebellion 
poetic license
now convention

Thoughts, friends?

Shakes

Shakespeare's Pub, Austin, Texas

Shakespeare’s Pub, Austin, Texas

Well, shaken or stirred

drama ensues, playwright drinks

what precedes the how

Evolution of a copywriter

All the world’s a stage
And all the men and women corporate players
They have their exits and their entrances
And one copywriter in their time plays many parts,
Their acts being many stages. At first, landing page writer,
Whining and sucking up to search engine’s demands.
Then the musing copywriter, with a wonder
And unsure morning face, creeping like snail
battling the block. And then the reviewer,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful look
of enduring unendearing copy. Then a soldier,
The editor—full of strange rules, wired like a DJ,
Unperturbed, irritable, excited all in quick succession,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the manager’s good books. And then a senior,
In fair round belly with experience underneath,
With eyes bloodshot trying shoes of formal cut,
Full of wise wit and modern puns;
And so they play their part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and pushback chair,
With spectacles on nose and munchies on side;
The youthful curiosity well satisfied, in a world growing
bigger than ad copy, evolving into testing,
Turning toward marketing, managing social
media and listening. Last scene of all,
That topples this strange eventful history,
Is second copywriting and mere simplicity,
Sans typos, sans click-baits, sans vanity metrics—well, almost.


It’s been almost five years since I started working as a copywriter. And during that period, I’ve had to play many different roles within my team. I was wondering how a copywriter is also a content marketer, a social media manager, advertising writer, script writer, technical writer, creative writer, and so much more, when I remembered one of my all-time favourite poems. The connection seemed only too obvious.

Non-intelligence

After working in the tech industry for five years, I now know that it’s the only viable way of surviving the future. Sure, I’ve always known it, but a smaller part of my heart never accepted it.

That small part of my heart is the entire part of my being.

It’s the part that gravitates towards all things non-technical. The one that got away from science classes, math sessions, and chemistry experiments. The one that inhaled fresh prints, old parchments, and coffee dregs, revelling in poetic licenses. I’m a hopeless romantic—the latest Java Script breakthrough doesn’t excite me; the oldest of Shakespeare puns do.

What’s my place in the tech world then?

I can write. Ah, yes, the hipster glasses, the grande coffee cups, the iPhone with multiple notebook apps, and the whine and the wine.

Stereotypes aside, I found my way into a tech company because I wanted to write. But I soon saw that technology grew faster than I can comprehend. We’re now in the era of chatbots waking us up with inspirational quotes and sharing over two-thirds of links on Twitter. Social media has redefined itself from human-to-human interaction to human-to-bot interaction.

All this, even without the slightest interference from the world’s largest tech company. What happens we bring them into the equation, though?

This.

 

I don’t applaud scientific humans. Our minds are fascinating. The signals we communicate to and from others form our essentials.

I’m all for convenience and getting things done faster, but that small part of my heart—the one that makes my being—cherishes the little things that make humans, human.

The rush of adrenaline, the veins pulsating with blood, the mild exaggerations in prose, the excited squeaking of the voice, the racing heartbeat, the elevated tension, and the undeniable climax—that’s what we’re made of.

To experience the smartest of technology being smarter, more human-like than humans themselves is more than just an achievement. My pencil-wielding hands, poetry-laden mind, and puny self finds it an unacceptable abomination.

It’s hard for me to digest this transformation—this spurt of growth, this advancement in human intelligence. I don’t understand why we try so hard to invent replacements for ourselves. But I realise that this is the way we live now, and I, too, will learn to live with it.

But—hey—the heart doesn’t want what it doesn’t want.