Friday, July 9, 2010

Three Poems

In the comments section of Joanna's post earlier this week, I mentioned that I write poetry. Joanna's suggestion that I share some poetry here at Popculturedivas pointed me in the direction of my Poetry Archives, where I rummaged around and came up with three poems I'd like to post here.

The first is a backstory poem about one of the main characters of a work in progress. I really enjoy writing these - I tune into the characters on a much deeper level when I do them.

Gold That Burns

At my birth, my father bid his love goodbye
She slipped away, my sister clutching to her breast
Five boys - poor Jean a wee thing and all
No girls to wash and peel and mend
Five boys too young to work. Too young
To stop the men with fists who took him off

I pulled upon her hand yet on we trudged
She knew our father's cough would never heal
The damp, the rot, the gaol's stone walls
Took on the spectre of his hollowed gaze
My sister raised us all with his firm hand
With mother's gentle kiss, and so we thrived

While Jean seemed yet a girl, so slight, so worn
No suitor, only brothers grown and safe, in service all
Though it would hurt her to the quick to know
Her dearest Guthrie poached from the estate
Putting guineas by to sail from these cruel shores
Determined that I be the man my father dare not dream

Risking stone gaol and iron door with every snare
Am I seeking life and fortune with my plan?
Or do I run from father's dying grasp, gaining no ground
Seeing only Jean's trusting gaze each time I
Lift the false shelf to hide the gold that burns

© Julia Smith, 2008

This next one was written while I was at film school, sixteen years ago.

Skewed Landscapes

As Darwin's hairy men
Turned and strode from
Adam's gentle brow
Begloved matrons
Swooned in their seats
Overcome by Stravinsky's dissonance

A democracy of junk
Ripened into collaged provinces
Turner's spectral train
Retreated to Romantic gloom

Europe turned to mud
Its watery trenches
Inheriting the fallen

Big Bertha spewed hard death
At the Somme
Gallant bayonets faltered
As noxious clouds robbed the
Divisions of their glory

Braque's Portuguese man
While Picasso's Harlequin
Shouldered his sliced violin
Digressing into the angular fragments
Of a modern age

© Julia Smith, 1994

This third one is a personal poem, exploring aspects of myself.


I've built my own keep
Brick by smiling brick
No room at the inn
How they suffer
Bottomless and vast
I kick fresh straw
Free another corner in the stable

I'm greedy with compassion
My outstretched hand
Beacon of sanctuary
They see a wave of cheer
Though it flails to break a fall
I limp and soldier on
Grimace or grin, hard to say

I'm pilloried by pride
So many heads
Invited to my shoulder
My neck stiff with them
Progress is glacial
Boulders uproot to be
Dragged, scouring the bedrock

I've built my own fortress
The bricks all made of smiles
The bedrock is compassion
The moat was dredged by pride
My arms stretch wide like ramparts
Chains release the drawbridge
I am their refuge. They are mine.

© Julia Smith, 2007

Are there any other poets out there amongst the divas and readers?

Friday, June 11, 2010

A Book Launch in Style

Our own Popculturediva, Pam Callow, held a book launch last week here in Halifax, Nova Scotia - and I thought I'd take everyone along for a how-to on doing it right.

First - write an amazing book. Like Pam's debut thriller, Damaged.

Next - find a fabulous venue like The Carleton, jam-pack it with people and feel the anticipation vibe rise into the evening air.

Have someone very dear to you, someone who knows just what it's taken for you to show your true grit, to write the amazing book, find an agent, make connections with editors and finally sell your book - have this person raise a toast to you, celebrating the magic of this dream-come-true moment.

Preferably this someone will be your husband, and your husband will say the most romantic toast. It will definitely put a glow in everyone's heart and a tear in their eyes.

Make sure there's a table filled with loads and loads of your debut thriller, as well as multiple pens or markers. Then you can begin that moment you've visualized for so long - your book signing!

Send champagne to all of the people celebrating with you, those who always believed in you when the going was tough - especially people like your critique partner and fellow Diva Kelly Boyce, shown here at right.

Be sure you've included booksellers on your invitation list, like Carolyn shown at center. Graciously mention your Romance Writers of America chapter in your own speech, a chapter which includes the three women pictured here. Revel in the mutual support - even mingle if you get a minute!

And last but not least, be sure to release your inner shining star as you give your book reading.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Shakespearean Idol Soliloquy-Off

A few weeks ago, I had the wonderful surprise of stumbling upon a new version of Hamlet, broadcast by PBS Great Performances.

It gave me the idea for today's Shakespeare Idol.

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who has the most amazing delivery of - To be or not to be - of them all?

First up:

Mel Gibson

Our second contestant:

Kenneth Branagh

Next, let's welcome:

Laurence Olivier

And for our final contestant, let's bring out:

David Tennant

And so, dear readers - who is the most amazing Hamlet? What say you?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Songs That Make Up the Soundtrack of Your Life

Whenever I hear certain songs or pieces of music, I am whisked into a time tunnel, to that moment when the song became seared into my soul.

Where Evil Grows - The Poppy Family

Unfortunately, this song had dark connotations for me, because it played on the car radio on a trip home from the doctor's when I had just received two painful shots in each knee joint to combat mononucleosis. I was 5 at the time and was in bed for a month with it. When I hear this song I can still see the red uphosltery in our white VW bug.

Maggie May - Rod Stewart

On the opposite side of the spectrum, this song played on the radio as my family moved from Michigan in the US to Nova Scotia, Canada when I was six. When I hear this song, I'm in the cab of the truck as my dad drove, while my mom, baby sister, grandmother and uncle were in the car following behind in our little caravan.

My first intense impressions of the golden seaweed along the rocks by Peggy's Cove always accompany this song for me.

Stairway to Heaven - Led Zeppelin

Fast forward to high school, when the house parties we'd have often led to dancing, and eventually this song would encourage us to take that chance and ask the guy or gal on whom we had a crush to slow dance. Oh, the mindblowing feeling of being closerthanthis to a certain someone.

E=mc² - Big Audio Dynamite

When I was 21, I moved from Nova Scotia to Toronto, Ontario, where I blossomed in the glow of Big City life. This song instantly takes me to that time of self-discovery, where I can hear the streetcars, feel the heat of a Toronto summer, experience the recognition in the eyes of the man who is now my husband that we had found each other in all the wide world.

Rusholme Ruffians - The Smiths

This song takes me to that time, still in Toronto, when I was a student at Ryerson Polytechnic University, working towards my film degree by day and as an usher at the O'Keefe Centre by night. This song brings the chill of a fall night, the sound of dry leaves skittering and the grateful warmth of hopping on the subway.

Sucks to Be You - Prozzak

This song takes me to the two years my husband and I spent in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, where we moved so my grandmother could have someone living in the house with her. Although it was a return to my home province for me, and a reunion with the Atlantic Ocean, which I'd missed every day that I'd lived in Toronto, going from a city of millions to a fishing town of 8000 was a bit of shell shock for us. MuchMoreMusic kept us from going completely out of our gourds.

Start Wearing Purple - Gogol Bordello

My current soundtrack is definitely dominated by the music of Gypsy Punk band Gogol Bordello. I'm currently back in my hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia. This music will always make me think of this time in my life, forever more.

So what are the songs that make up the soundtrack of your life?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Thursday Thirteen - 148 - 13 of My Favorite TV Shows

Every Thursday for the past 148 weeks, I've taken part in a meme known as Thursday Thirteen. What's that, you say? A what?

Memes are formats that multiple bloggers can use to create posts which will be repeated by other bloggers, yet each version will have its own twist. Generally there is a central blog where the meme originates, and everyone who plays that day will sign in so you can find the other bloggers also taking part. Memes generate a lot of traffic, moreso if you take the time to visit the other participants.

Because my Popculturedivas post fell on Thursday, I decided to bring my Thursday Thirteen over here. Simply put, Thursday Thirteen is a list of thirteen things, of whatever subject matter you so desire.

Today, I've got thirteen of my favorite TV shows.

1 - Faces of America

2 - Family Guy

3 - Legend of the Seeker (scenes of violence)

4 - PBS's Masterpiece

5 - Merlin

6 - Spartacus: Blood and Sand (scenes of violence)

7 - Spectacle

8 - Spooks / MI-5

9 - CBS Sunday Morning

10 - The Colbert Report

11 - The Ricky Gervais Show (language warning)

12 - The Venture Brothers (scenes of violence)

13 - True Blood (scenes of violence)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

My Top 10 Romantic Films

Most of my favorite love stories are really tragedies. I just love having my heart shredded by doomed love. In fiction, at any rate.

But I love Happily Ever After, too. Would I belong to Romance Writers of America if I didn't?

Here is a list of my favorite romantic films that promise a sigh of contentment at the end (although the road to these happy endings is as tough as it can get):

1 - A Town Like Alice

English Jean Paget meets Australian Joe Harmon when both are prisoners of the Japanese in WWII Malaya. After the war, both travel across the globe to find each other again, only to discover the hardest part of making their relationship work is replacing romanticized longing with day-to-day reality.

This is a clip from the miniseries.

2 - Amelie

A Montmartre waitress devotes herself to bringing happiness to others as the self-appointed godmother of the rejected. When Amelie finds a lost scrapbook filled with discarded photo booth pictures, she tracks down the owner and promptly falls for him. But it's far easier to make problems disappear for strangers than to fight past her own shyness.

3 - Kate & Leopold

An impoverished English duke is about to choose a wealthy American bride in 1876 when he follows a time-travelling man from present-day New York through a time portal, thinking the stranger was about to commit suicide. Leopold discovers a century was not enough to keep him from meeting the independent woman of his dreams, while the time-traveller's ex-girlfriend Kate is shocked to find a fairy tale unfolding in her own big city apartment.

4 - North & South

Margaret Hale leaves the genteel south of England for the industrial north when her father leaves the clergy and relocates. John Thornton runs a cotton mill with a strong hand, but yearns to gain the education he could never afford to pursue. When John becomes a private student of her father's, Margaret refuses to give into her attraction for such a ruthless man. John and Margaret struggle to see past their own prejudices, their feelings for each other demanding a truce between regional cultural divides.

This is a fanvid made by a You Tube user.

5 - Persuasion

Anne Elliot at 27 is a Regency spinster with a heartbroken past, having unwillingly rejected the offer for her hand by a social nobody, a mere naval officer. Captain Frederick Wentworth returns from the Napoleonic wars with his situation greatly improved. Now considered a catch, Wentworth shows little interest in anyone but the woman he still loves. Anne and Frederick must forgive the wounds of the past, pursuading themselves that their love is greater than the misguided intentions of those fighting to preserve a vanishing social order.

This is a fanvid made by a You Tube user. *SPOILER* by the 3:00 mark.

6 - The Irony of Fate

Moscovite Zhenya Lukashin meets with his friends at a bath house on New Year's Eve, intending to later propose to his girlfriend at the stroke of midnight, a romantic Russian custom. Many toasts to his future happiness later, Zhenya is mistakenly loaded onto a plane bound for Leningrad. Because the Soviet era resulted in identical cities with identical addresses, Zhenya takes a cab to what he assumes is his own apartment, but winds up drunkenly disturbing the romantic proposal of the true tenant, Nadya. As she faces the truth about her unfulfilling relationship with Ippolit, it becomes harder for Nadya to let Zhenya leave her apartment - and her life.

This clip is in Russian with English subtitles.

7 - The Irony of Fate 2

A continuation of The Irony of Fate, here we discover a parable for the New Russia: the more things change, the more they stay the same. Kostya Lukashin finds himself in a drunken state in the very Leningrad-now-Saint-Petersburg apartment where his father Zhenya once ruined Nadya's New Year's Eve engagement. Nadya's daughter - also named Nadya - sets the table in anticipation of her boyfriend's proposal, but now has a physical intruder joining the countless business phone calls stealing her boyfriend's attention. Two generations of mismatched lovers and destined sweethearts careen through the bittersweet farce as Kostya and Nadya discover that some traditions are worth treasuring.

This trailer is in Russian without subtitles.

8 - The Scarlet Pimpernel

Sir Percy Blakeney disguises his adventurous persona - The Scarlet Pimpernel - with the innocuous mannerisms of a harmless fop. Celebrated actress Marguerite St. Just sees beneath his artifice and falls in love with the man he hides from all others, though she is unaware of his secret missions to save aristocrats from the guillotine. When Marguerite is implicated in the death of a nobleman, Percy cannot rest until he uncovers the truth behind his wife's suspected revenge.

9 - Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!

Marina is a heroin-addicted Spanish ex-porn star who once enjoyed a fling with unbalanced Ricky. Now released from a mental hospital, Ricky's obsession culminates in kidnapping Marina so she can fall in love with him. Though Marina initially reacts with revulsion, Ricky's naive no-holds-barred belief in their love chips away at her heart. Gradually Marina's kidnapping reveals itself to be merely the chains of love that enslave us all.

This trailer is in Spanish without subtitles.

10 - Wings of Desire

Lyrical and haunting, this tale drifts toward love as angels keep watch in the skies over Berlin. Damiel has watched over humans with his angelic friend Cassiel since the beginning of time. His attachment to a trapeze artist pulls at Damiel's heart until it becomes love. Determined to see, hear, feel as humans do, Damiel leaves his angelic existence behind. As erik150x writes at IMDB, 'The climaxing scene at the bar is like seeing the world in a grain of sand.'

This trailer was made by a student as an assignment. I liked it better than the official trailers.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ring in the New Year With The Irony of Fate

In North America we have It's a Wonderful Life, a film shown every year at Christmastime, deeply embedded in our collective consciousness. Last year, I discovered that Russians have their own version of It's a Wonderful Life, which is broadcast throughout the former USSR and Soviet bloc countries.

The Irony of Fate (Ironiya sudby) is an absolute gem of a film that I can't recommend strongly enough.

Its full title is Ironiya sudby, ili S legkim parom! - The Irony of Fate, or With Light Steam! In fact, Russians generally refer to the film by the latter name, With Light Steam. This refers to the central plot device that sets the farce in motion, the Russian New Year's tradition of a group of male friends to meet at a bath house for a ritual cleansing in honor of the year to come. Because the bath house serves alcohol like a men's club, the Russian play on words calling intoxication 'lightly steamed' links the bath house/drunken state/film all together.

I discovered the film through a chain of serendipity.

Several years ago I was completely blown away by the urban paranormal films Night Watch(Nochnoy dozor) and Day Watch(Dnevnoy dozor), directed by Timur Bekmambetov. I completely fell for the lead actor, Konstantin Khabensky.

So while surfing through You Tube looking for clips featuring Konstantin, I noticed a Christmasey film directed by Bekmambetov with Konstantin in it, which I watched and was immediately swept into something that utterly enchanted me.

I dug deeper, and realized that this film I'd unearthed - The Irony of Fate 2 - was the sequel to an original cherished holiday film watched every year by Russians for the past 30 years.

Luckily, a You Tube user had posted the entire original film, so my husband and I settled down last New Year's Eve to do what Russians around the world were doing, and watched The Irony of Fate. We'll be doing it again this year, because once the charm of this story envelopes you, you can never let it go.

Once I started watching, I realized that what appeared to be Christmas decorations were really New Year's decorations. For Russians, their New Year's celebration is like Christmas, New Year's and Valentine's Day all rolled into one. It's very romantic to be proposed to at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve - and therein lies the major set of domino-catastrophes that drives the comedy on its zigzag path towards a compelling romantic drama.

When I looked at user reviews for the film at IMDB and Amazon, I was moved by how strongly they also felt about it:

"This is a New Year's screwball comedy that gets better with each viewing. The reason it does is because each viewing brings out subtleties that were not apparent before. The story is akin to the movies made in America during the 1940s, during the Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant era. It has become a permanent part of my holiday fare." - R. Burr (Amazon.com)

"This is the ultimate comedy. It makes fun of the Soviet government's efforts to make everybody equal. Not only will you love the characters, or hate one (Ippolit), but you'll also have fun with its absolute Russianness. It's like an instant immersion to their culture." - Necromantic Angel from Florida (Amazon.com)

"This movie was first aired (on television) on Dec. 31 in 1975. The second part was shown on Jan. 1 in 1976. The next day people could not stop talking about this movie. I have not yet met a Russian who does not like this film." - 10catz from Houston and Moscow (Amazon.com)

"I have been watching this film religiously since early teens every New Year, and when I moved to live in the UK, the video recording of Ironiya was one of the essential items I brought with me. It's one of those films that I can watch over and over again, instant mood lifter, and I just can't imagine my New Year day / eve without it, and a bottle of 'Soviet' champagne, and Russian salad, and the proverbial Jellied fish that Ippolit referred to as 'muck'." - Trionon07 from UK (IMDB)

"The atmosphere of this film is unique - a word which very rarely can be used discussing films. All that takes place in the film is plausible, it could have happened in reality. At the same time, there is the feeling of poetic, unreal and sublime." - Witold Brostow from Denton, Texas (IMDB)

"Andrei Myagkov delivers a character who undergoes significant, yet somehow believable transformation from a shy, nerdy young doctor to a bold, at times arrogant, yet at the same time romantic man. A great comic performance by Yuri Yakovlev, as the jealous fiance of the heroine (Barbara Brylska) alone makes the film worth watching, to the last moments." - Max-206 from Denver, Colorado (IMDB)

One of the things that I love most about this film is its use of song to reveal a character's inner feelings. As opposed to a conventional musical, the characters in Irony of Fate are musically inclined and pick up a guitar to sing at the table. The songs are music set to the works of major Russian poets. The melancholy undertone and beauty of these lyrics are haunting and gorgeous.

In the following clip from You Tube, the first song is darkly humorous, and the second one is my favorite. After the third song, if you don't want a spoiler, stop watching at 7:13.

Unfortunately I can't find a trailer for the sequel with English subtitles, but this Russian trailer should give you a sense of the magical tone of the film.

Hope you've had a wonderful holiday season so far, and all the very best to you in 2010!