Good extended weekend.
For starters, October is happening around me and I can feel it in the space between my molecules. It tickles. Also, I’ve gotten to be a kick-ass, award-winnning epic poet/swordfighter/reverend.
Please explain Josh?
Well, this weekend, I got to see a large quantity of the people whom I have very acutely missed lately (in fact, I’ve had the opportunity in the last few weekends counting trips to Springfield and seeing Torrie, Wil, my writing class fellows, and others).
Friday, I got to see Dave and Adrienne and drink with them and start discussion on how they want their impending marriage ceremony to go. That’s right. It’s Rev. Joshua…at least for legal purposes, and I’m going to marry a couple in a few weeks. Things get strange in October. It’s my favorite month.
Saturday I got to see Val’s husband’s band play…and I got to see some of my favorite mammals from Eureka (I love you guys). I thought they did an excellent rendition of “Ballroom Blitz.”
Sunday saw me with Jeramie, Amy, and adorable-goddaughter-Reese, for a brief visit. Then on to Genenda’s place in Southern Illinois. The purpose? She’s directing a high school play involving pirates and I promised her I’d help teach her students how to drink rum……just kidding – teach them some basic stage combat. Come Monday, it went well, considering I just had a few hours with them, and I’m a bit rusty. Though I think I did alright, I’m sure I’d be much better at teaching the kids how to drink rum.
Come Tuesday and a long train ride and I’m back. But that ain’t it. I received an email from my teacher/advisor/mentor, Nancy Perkins. She had nominated my thesis/novel for Outstanding Thesis of the year (first in the English department…and then the school, should it advance). She said not to be too, too disappointed if nothing further came of it as fiction is often overlooked, even in the English program, let alone the rest of the school, but that she thought mine had merit.
Well, today I got this email…
Happy day! I found out on Sat that your thesis did win the vote in the English Program to represent the English Program in the competition for UIS Outstanding Thesis for last year. I wrote my/the Program’s nomination on Sun. and Faxed it in yesterday.
I’ve attached it for your files–it is your first “review”!
Because I believe in your novel’s merit, I was honored to write the nomination.
Always my best wishes,
And here is the official nomination, my first review. It’s the stuff blushes are made of.
To: Provost Harry Berman and Members of the University of Illinois at Springfield’s Outstanding Thesis Selection Committee
From: Nancy Genevieve Perkins, Associate Professor of English, Representing the English Program
Date: 1 October 2006
Re: English Program Nominates Joshua Alan Doetsch’s Master’s Creative Writing Closure Project Souls Unsure: A Dark Epic in Prose and Poetry for UIS’ Outstanding Thesis
Joshua Alan Doetsch’s Creative Writing Closure Project combines epic poetry with brief interludes of stand-alone fiction. The poetry intertwines classical literary allusions with Native American, Caribbean, Latin American, African, and Creole-American literatures as well as contemporary street slang, music, movies, and other pop culture. The plot traces the universal theme of good verses evil through the sinewy streets of New Orleans to the shadowy regions of Sheol, and the temporal setting pre-dates time itself interwoven with the moment of now.
The epic poem began in Dr. Marcellus Leonard’s Long Poem course with a twenty-page tale spun from the wondering conscience of what happened back then: back in the dawn of time in the Judeo–Christian history of the War in Heaven, which resulted in good and evil, good angels and bad angels. Were all angels such? Or did some get caught between such warring forces, and if so, what happened to them? Where are they now? Dante wrote in The Inferno, III 30-37, “This is the sorrowful state of souls unsure./ Whose lives earned neither honor nor bad fame” (Book II, Coda 91).
One of the three primary characters/voices of this epic tale, which is written in the form of a drama script, is one of these not fallen, not soaring, angels. Josh named him Syth. Syth is allusional, of course, to Seth, the third child of Adam, of Eve, of promise, of curse. The Biblical Seth neither soared nor plummeted; he was neither the Promise of Abel nor the Curse of Cain; he simply was, and is, the between of all that is and of all that could be. He is the best and worst of the modern Everyone. Josh’s Syth is true to the prototype of Seth; he is neither good nor evil; neither black nor white but ashen and usually seen in shadow forms; he has a broken crystal voice which he uses only in whispers and sparingly because his voice reminds him of the best of what could have been, a voice in The Celestial Choir; he has broken wings, which allow him to move from world to world but without grace. And Josh gives him a broken spirit—bound to his broken body with barbed wire, it longs to rest, to be quiet, to join the unfeeling of uninvolvement. The opening Interlude, however, tells of the screams of a pure child, and those screams transverse this modern world to the nether world, beyond knowledge of time and space, and touch this broken spirit, and Syth intervenes in her misery, stopping the unnatural predatoring by her own father. This action, this pure action, evokes the tortured souls in the nether regions of nightmares and Danté’s Hell to blister the readers’ minds and to taunt these minds with memory’s silent screams, and punish Syth for daring to feel.
Syth’s odyssey to find the child follows “the trail of broken doll parts”; he is chasing “the silent scream,” seeking Hope, “a youngling shade” (186) who may have had her spirit crushed by a life where prayers were not answered and evil allowed to continue for too long. This hero/antihero gives all that he can, all that he has left, to save the spirit of the child whose body he saved.
Syth’s journeys, his quests, are chronicled by Crow, the winged Trickster, to the voodoo Street Priestess, Mama Nancy. Crow admits he is not to be trusted, and all readers of Native American literature know that his words can slide and twist the truth. The voodoo priestess cannot travel to the nether worlds; she is bound to time and place, but she can, and does, evoke the spirits of power in the other worlds, Papa Ghede, Saint Gerard, Saint Patrick, the Virgin Mother, among many others. But to know of Syth, to learn of his identity and of his journey, she must barter with Crow to be her eyes in places and in times she cannot go. The irony of her bartering is that all Crow will accept to do her bidding are her eyes; he responds to her question of “why would wily Crow want the eyes/ of this poor, poor woman?” (24) with “Isn’t it obvious/Miss Too-Clever-For-Her-Own-Good?/ I don’t know/ what it is to have life in my belly,/ to pay bills,/ to grow old,/ one day at a time./ And you are loved and you are feared,/ and I want to see from your side of the divide” (25).
This unlikely trilogy of darkness, what Josh calls “Three archetype tarot cards of the soul” (xvi) illuminates the modern world while diving into the realm of the unspeakable. These are like all of the dark corners that modern people avoid and constrain in the unspeakable; the tale’s words, images, and deeds focus the readers’ attentions, tap into emotions, and shine the light of language in the darkest of corners. The Interludes paint this modern world in vignettes, emotions carried by all lost souls, and in the daily lives of those no one brags about doing activities best left unspoken. Yet, the readers recognize shards of the self in these characters, and so laugh and so cry.
One of these Interludes, “Teddy Bear Rex” (332), tells of Oedipus, the Teddy-Bear most beloved of Hope’s childhood in her Kingdom of Dolls. All of the subjects had been turned to face the wall, so they could not see a “very bad thing” (333) when she was a very young child. Then, as a grown-up with knowledge, Hope “came upon Oedipus . . . eyes leaking poison” (333). “ ‘You shouldn’t have peeked,’ she sobbed, ‘Your eyes are too clever’. She took the king of dolls off his throne and ripped out those beautiful brass button eyes. . . . [he] was exiled . . . banished to the dark closet. Blackness and silence and memories of what was lost—they were so good, his button eyes. Perhaps it was all for the best. Blanketed in darkness, the king of dolls never saw what became of his kingdom, what befell his subjects. Without the evidence of sight, Oedipus went on dreaming he was real, in that grey place” (333). This tiny vignette speaks the truth so clearly, so painfully, that when Josh submitted it as a short story for publication, it was accepted, and it has already been nominated for an Il Council Award and for a Pushcart Award.
The blending of story with journey is a powerful conveyance to the readers’ collective understanding. Just as Josh’s blending of poetry, drama, and fiction scaffolds powerful truths, his epic tale for a modern audience paints the Paradise Lost by Milton in modern hues of Innocence Lost. So which force will win in the timeless chasm between good and evil, love and hate? Can both be understood? Is a victory for one force ever the final victory? Or is it, as the street priestess says that voodoo “is not about magic, but healing—healing through relationships.
. . Sometimes, we can raise ourselves up, to rescue another, when we don’t have the strength to save ourselves” (359-360).
Joshua Alan Doetsch’s Master’s Creative Writing Closure Project Souls Unsure is nominated by the English Program for this Award because Josh set out to write an epic for the modern world, using a cauldron of literary allusions to enlighten and to entertain, and he succeeded.
Reading this made me a happy panda. Reading it made me more excited than any potential award. If I grin any wider, I’ll become a very handsome PEZ dispenser.
And on a final note: I think the film The Long Kiss Goodnight is highly underrated. If you really want to see a woman be strong and overcome adversity and the odds, put down your masterbate-with-a-Halmark-card-LIFETIME-channel-bullshit and watch Geena Davis regain lost memories as a government trained hit-woman and slay several dozen assassins to save her daughter.
“Mommy, am I gonna die?”
“Oh, no, baby, no. You’re not going to die. They are.”
OK. That’s all.