Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A brief bit on Afghanistan Poetry

While I was in Afghanistan, I read quite a bit about Afghanistan culture. Having a degree in Creative Writing and being a writer and blogging et al, I took special interest in articles on Afghanistan poetry. From what I've learned, as in most tribal Islamic cultures, the poet has a special place in Afghan society.

This quote from a 2005 NPR article sums up Afghan feelings on poetry:
Afghanistan remains mostly illiterate, overwhelmingly so outside the cities. Rather than read, people store material in memory and, if literary, recite it by heart. And poetry, because of rhyme and rhythm, is much easier to memorize than prose… Many Afghans internalize segments off the great Persian classical poets, philosopher-mystics whose verse rises above daily hustle and bustle.

The result is something no longer valued in the modern, literate West: a memorized reservoir of poetic wisdom. Inherited from the great poets and internalized from early childhood onwards, this material serves Afghans as psycho-spiritual ballast — a buffer against misfortune, and a reminder, when times are good, the luck seldom lasts…
Not too different from how people relate to good hip-hop verses, by reciting to heart those lines that motivate them through the grind. But that's a post for another day.

Way back in late June of last year, I saved an article about Khalilullah Khalili, one of the best poets in Afghanistan history. Khalili died in 1987 in Pakistan, but according to reports, President Karzi wanted to create a commemorative grave for Khalili, one that would assert Afghan poetry. Karzi doesn't want to end there. They also are in cultural battles with Iran and Turkey over ancient poets who they claim had Afghan roots, albeit when the nation was under Persian control.

Meanwhile, poetry is being used by different classes of Afghans to reclaim their voice and share their message with the world. This Al Jazeera article from May 2012 discusses how women are using poetry to express themselves. Unfortunately, many have to share their poetry through secret avenues as their families might not approve of them stepping out.

As women are using poetry to assert themselves as minorities, another more powerful subculture in Afghanistan is getting their words to prose. In June 2012, the book Poetry of the Taliban was released. This book is a collection of Taliban poems collected off the internet. For Westerners, the book is a unique look at the words of that is philosophically different to everything the West stands for. According to reviewers, the poems are not merely propaganda. They are pieces that describe all forms of human emotion, from sadness to remorse to love to contempt.

Interesting stuff.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Finding the Blues in Bradfordville Florida

A few weeks ago, I took a trip up to Tallahassee. It had been about three years since I was in Tallahassee last and there were a few places and people I needed to see.

One of those places was the Bradfordville Blues Club, located just outside of Tallahassee in neighboring Bradfordville. For the uninitiated, the Bradfordville Blues Club has been, under different names, one of the oldest running spots for blues in the south. It is a backwoods juke joint in the old tradition, when farmhands put up secluded buildings and hosted weekend jukes all night until they had to go back to work. Juke joints and churches littered the rural south for years in the early and mid-20th Century. Now few remain.

While swinging by the Bradfordville Blues Club, I noticed a new sign. The BBC is now an official marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail as designated by the Mississippi Blues Commission. That's a real good thing and should ensure the BBC stays rocking for years to come.

For  a great article on the Bradfordville Blues Club, check out Tampa Bay Times write Ben Montgomery's feature piece from May 2013.

Bradfordville Blues Club in woods near Tallahassee a soulful secret

Back in April 2000, I wrote an essay for a Music Appreciation Class about my first visit to the Bradfordville Blues Club. Back then it was called "Dave's CC Club" and the area around there was a lot less built up than it is now.


On Friday I talked my roommate into joining me on a trip to Dave’s CC Club. At first I had no idea where Dave’s was but we looked it up on the map in the phone book. At first my roommate was hesitant because of Dave’s is quite far but I convinced him to come along.

The trip out there was pretty uneventful except for the occasional jokes about wilderness hunters shooting at us. As we turned off of Bradfordville Road onto a dirt road we both wondered if we were going the right way. Then we saw a small sign that said Dave’s CC Club that way and we knew we were in the right direction. After following the long, dark, dirt road for a while I finally found it.

When we pulled up to Dave’s I heard some good music coming from inside. As we walked to the front door I saw a sign that said that Charles Atkins was playing. I was so pumped. I had really enjoyed watching Mr. Atkins play during our class.

Dave’s CC Club had the perfect environment for the blues. There were not many people there and it had a very relaxed atmosphere. Charles Atkins and his band were playing in the corner. There was Mr. Atkins on electric piano and a guitar player and a drummer.

When we first walked in, Mr. Atkins was playing some old blues songs. We sat and listened for a while then walked outside. Outside of Dave’s there was a few people sitting around a bonfire. We joined them, relaxing, sipping our drinks, listening to the sound of the blues.

It was a great night as we listened to some of the local people talk amongst themselves. Particularly interesting to watch were some of the individuals under the influence of alcohol. It was an older crowd and that is what I like. No younger people running around acting stupid.

After spending a little while by the fire we back in the club. Mr. Atkins and his band were still playing. He was amazing. The emotion and power in his voice is unbelievable. After a short while the band took a short break.

About 15 minutes or so passed by until Mr. Atkins came back out. Being blind of course he had someone help him to his piano. As Mr. Atkins was sitting there waiting for the rest of his band to join him my roommate and I went and started a conversation with Mr. Atkins. I told him how much I enjoyed his playing during our class. Mr. Atkins asked me where I was from, and when I told him Melbourne he told me how he had played there about 30 years ago with a guitarist from the Commodores. He told me how he had liked playing in Melbourne. He also introduced us to his fellow band members.

They all seemed like great guys just enjoying playing the blues. After my roommate and I sat back down Mr. Atkins and his band started back up. Their first song was called “Just One of Us” and Mr. Atkins dedicated it to my roommate and I!

The group kept on playing until about two in the morning. Before they finished Mr. Atkins thanked everyone for coming out to Dave’s, thanking my roommate and I by name. As we left I thought about how great of a night I had and how I had to go back to Dave’s as soon as I could.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Weekly Book Update

If you aren't aware already, I have been working on my first book over the past year. Every night I pour a little more time and energy into the manuscript. So far it is progressing well. My goal is to have this book published. Not self-published, but actually published by a publisher. I've self-published before and I might do so again, but I want to test the waters in the publishing industry. I want to put the name of a publisher on my resume.

With that in mind, I've decided to make every Friday "Book Update Day". Every Friday I will give an update as to where I am in the writing/editing/publishing process - at least as far as I can say.

Book Status:

Finishing the second draft - currently on page 120 of the re-write.

Pages: 137 - 11 font, Calibri

Word Count: 61,575

Next: Working through the text has made me realize I need to re-write the intro and Chapter 1. I need to work on the "how did we get here?" part of the story.

Meanwhile, a few writing links that have motivated me this week:

The Secrets of How To Write Short (Time.com)

The Evolution of the Hot Take: A Brief History of Bad Sports Writing (Pacific Standard)

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Bill Alfonso Talks Suggestive Selling and Pro Wrestling

A few years ago I had the unique privilege of working with former pro wrestling manager and referee Bill Alfonso. For over a month, I hung out with Fonzie, driving around Florida with him and filming his interactions with other wrestlers, from legends such as Dory Funk and Afa the Wild Samoan to the relative newcomers of the Florida indy wrestling scene. Fonzie was entertaining to say the least. I learned a lot about the wrestling business, about wrestling history, and about the man himself. But the most important thing I learned was always keep the camera rolling.

I've uploaded little snippets of our journey on youtube. Little nuggets of knowledge or memories or pieces of advice from a man who has been part of professional wrestling for over 25 years.

Here is the latest video, followed by links to other videos I have posted so far.

Bill Alfonso on "Suggestive Selling" and Professional Wrestling

 Here are other videos of Fonzie that I've posted:

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Popular Delusions, Witchcraft accusations, and injustice

I've been reading "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds" lately. Written in 1851 by Charles Mackay, the book is a fascinating look at crowd phenomenons and events that have upset social fabrics in Europe, from the 1200s to the 1830s.

Although the chapters on alchemy and the Crusades were interesting, perhaps the most eye-opening chapter was that on witchcraft. For nearly 200 years, people - mostly old, lonely women - were put to death on suspicion of being witches. So bad was the hysteria the onus was on people to prove they were not witches in order to not be put to the stake, drowned, or killed in other cruel devices. They were guilty until proven innocent.

And anyone could accuse anyone of being a witch. Mackay writes of children accusing adults and adults accusing children of witchcraft.

Eventually, the tide turned on accusers, and not only were people they accused innocent until overwhelming evidence could be provided, but soon accusers were prosecuted for faulty accusations.

However, all of Europe did not advance at the same pace. Here is one of the more interesting cases:
Julian Desbourdes, aged fifty-three, a mason, and inhabitant of the village of Thilouze, near Bordeaux, was taken suddenly ill, in the month of January 1818. As he did not know how to account for his malady, he suspected at last that he was bewitched. He communicated this suspicion to his son-in-law, Bridier, and they both went to consult a sort of idiot, named Baudouin, who passed for a conjuror, or white-witch. This man told them that Desbourdes was certainly bewitched, and offered to accompany them to the house of an old man, named Renard, who, he said, was undoubtedly the criminal. On the night of the 23rd of January all three proceeded stealthily to the dwelling of Renard, and accused him of afflicting persons with diseases, by the aid of the devil. Desbourdes fell on his knees, and earnestly entreated to be restored to his former health, promising that he would take no measures against him for the evil he had done. The old man denied in the strongest terms that he was a wizard; and when Desbourdes still pressed him to remove the spell from him, he said he knew nothing about the spell, and refused to remove it. The idiot Baudouin, the white-witch, now interfered, and told his companions that no relief for the malady could ever be procured until the old man confessed his guilt. To force him to confession they lighted some sticks of sulphur, which they had brought with them for the purpose, and placed them under the old man's nose. In a few moments, he fell down suffocated and apparently lifeless. They were all greatly alarmed; and thinking that they had killed the man, they carried him out and threw him into a neighbouring pond, hoping to make it appear that he had fallen in accidentally. The pond, however, was not very deep, and the coolness of the water reviving the old man, he opened his eyes and sat up. Desbourdes and Bridier, who were still waiting on the bank, were now more alarmed than before, lest he should recover and inform against them. They, therefore, waded into the pond--seized their victim by the hair of the head--beat him severely, and then held him under water till he was drowned.

They were all three apprehended on the charge of murder a few days afterwards. Desbourdes and Bridier were found guilty of aggravated manslaughter only, and sentenced to be burnt on the back, and to work in the galleys for life. The white-witch Baudouin was acquitted, on the ground of insanity.
So for no reason, they killed a guy. Then they got off with only aggravated manslaughter. And the ringleader was acquitted.


If you are interested, this book is available for free download here or in html form here. Although it is a bit of a read at over 700 pages, it is worth it just to see how stupid, naive, and insane societies were and continue to be.