This book is broken, and other things I tell myself while writing

Victoria (V.E.) Schwab

I am currently writing/attempting to write/failing to write my 13th book.

Authors often talk about murky middles or needing to stick the landing, but I’m going to be honest. For me, writing a first draft is one long doubt-ridden roller coaster, punctuated by brief moments of hope and long swells of you-suck-you-suck-you-suck.

This isn’t a matter of self-doubt and self-loathing.

This is a matter of being WILLING to write badly. To let yourself fail over and over again, to resist the urge to hold down delete and get. To. The. End.

For me, writing a first draft is an exercise in controlled failure. Or at least, controlled falling.

The dilemma is that, the more books you write, the more aware you become of when things are Not Working, but no matter how many books you write, you don’t become magically capable of fixing something until you have something to fix.

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Purging daily demons: what’s behind the popularity of exorcisms?

At the moment I am working on a new book about a Melbourne Exorcist and I’m being inundated by surprisingly current research on the matter. The following is an article written by Joseph P. Laycock , Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, Texas State University has written for the fantastic news site The Conversation.

It goes into some of the history and the current issues surrounding this controversial topic. While it focusses primarily on Catholic and Christian tradition I’d love to know about exorcism rites in other cultures, so if any one has any recommended reading please comment or answer this thread on Twitter.

Purging daily demons: what’s behind the popularity of exorcisms? November 30, 2015 6.02am EST

An exorcism being performed in Fafe, Portugal. Jose Manuel Ribeiro/Reuter

At Texas State University, I teach an honors course called “Demonology, Possession, and Exorcism.” It’s not a gut course. My students produce research papers on topics that range from the role of sleep paralysis in reports of demonic attacks to contemporary murder cases in which defendants have claimed supernatural forces compelled them to commit crimes.

In fact, talk of demons isn’t unusual in Texas. The first day of class, when we watched a clip of an alleged exorcism at an Austin Starbucks, many of my students said that they’d seen similar scenes in the towns where they’d grown up.

In 2014, an exorcism took place outside of a Starbucks in Austin, Texas.

A few students even admitted their parents were nervous that they’d signed up for the class. Maybe these parents worried their kids would become possessed, or that studying possession in the classroom might make demons seem less plausible. (Perhaps it was a mix of both.)

Either way, these parents aren’t a superstitious minority: a poll conducted in 2012 found that 57% of Americans believe in demonic possession. Nonetheless, demons (invisible, malevolent spirits) and exorcism (the techniques used to cast these spirits out of people, objects or places) are often thought of as relics of the past, beliefs and practices that are incompatible with modernity. It’s an assumption based in a sociological theory that dates back to the 19th century called the secularization narrative. Scholars such as Max Weber predicted that over time, science would inevitably supersede belief in “mysterious forces.”

But while the influence of institutionalized churches has waned, few sociologists today would claim that science is eliminating belief in the supernatural. In fact, in the 40 years since the blockbuster film The Exorcist premiered, belief in the demonic remains as popular as ever, with many churches scrambling to adapt.

Exorcism’s golden age

So why has exorcism made a comeback? It may be that belief in the demonic is cyclical.

Historian of religion David Frankfurter notes that conspiracy theories involving evil entities like demons and witches tend to flare up when local religious communities are confronted with outside forces such as globalization and modernity.

Attributing misfortune and social change to hidden evil forces, Frankfurter suggests, is a natural human reaction; the demonic provides a context that can make sense of unfamiliar or complex problems.

While Europeans practiced exorcism during the Middle Ages, the “golden age” of demonic paranoia took place in the early modern period. In the 16th and 17th centuries, thousands were killed in witch hunts and there were spectacular cases of possession, including entire convents of nuns.

A 1788 painting by Francisco Goya depicts Saint Francis performing an exorcism. Wikimedia Commons

The Protestant Reformation was a key contributor to these events. The resulting wars of religion devastated Europe’s population, creating a sense of apocalyptic anxiety. At the same time, exorcism became a way for the Catholic Church, and even some Protestant denominations, to demonstrate that their clergy wielded supernatural power over demons – something that their rivals lacked. In some cases, possessed people would even testify that rival churches were aligned with Satan.

But by the 19th century, medical experts such as Jean-Martin Charcot and his student Sigmund Freud had popularized the idea that the symptoms of demonic possession were actually caused by hysteria and neurosis. Exorcists came to be seen as unsophisticated people who lacked the education to understand mental illness – a view that made exorcism a liability for churches instead of an asset. This was especially true for American Catholics, who had long been disparaged by the Protestant majority as superstitious immigrants.

The Exorcist effect

By the time William Peter Blatty’s novel The Exorcist was published in 1971, the secularization narrative had gone mainstream. In 1966, Time magazine had run its famous cover asking “Is God Dead?” In 1970, Gallup found that 75% of Americans claimed religion was losing influence – the highest percentage in the history of the poll, which was first conducted in 1957.

The April 6, 1966 issue of Time Magazine. Time

Blatty’s protagonist, Damien Karras, is a Jesuit psychiatrist-priest who has lost his faith. At the end of novel, Karras lies dying from his battle with the demon Pazuzu. He cannot speak, but his eyes are “filled with elation” – presumably because he now has positive proof that demons and, by extension, God, actually exist. Through the character of Father Karras, Blatty captured a widespread feeling of longing for the supernatural in a disenchanted age.

While the Jesuit-run magazine America panned The Exorcist as “sordid and sensationalistic,” Blatty proved that Americans were not dismissive of the idea of exorcism. In 1971 and 1972, the novel spent 55 weeks on The New York Times bestseller lists. The film adaptation grossed over US$66 million in its first year. In 1990, as part of homily given in New York City’s St Patrick’s Cathedral, Cardinal John O’Connor even read from The Exorcist in order “to dramatize the reality of demonic power.”

A demonic renaissance

Today a significant segment of the population reports belief in demons.

According to a 2007 Baylor Religion Survey, 48% of Americans agreed or strongly agreed in the possibility of demonic possession. And in a Pew Research Survey conducted that same year, 68% of Americans said they believe in the presence of angels and demons.

While the surveys can’t reveal what exactly people mean when they say they “believe in demons,” it’s clear that these people don’t constitute a superstitious minority. Rather, they’re a normal part of today’s religious landscape.

People have historically used evil spirits to explain any number of misfortunes, whether its a physical illness or routine bad luck. But today, demons are frequently used to interpret contemporary political issues, such as abortion and gay rights. Since the 1970s, Protestant deliverance ministries have offered to “cure” gay teenagers by casting out demons. This practice now has corollaries in Islam – and even in Chinese holistic healing methods. When the state of Illinois legalized gay marriage in 2013, Bishop Thomas Paprocki held a public exorcism in protest. Politically, the bishop’s ritual served to frame changing social mores as a manifestation of demonic evil.

Similarly, Catholic exorcists in Mexico held a “magno exorcisto” in May 2015 aimed at purging the entire nation of demons. The mass exorcism was partly motivated by the drug wars that have devastated the country since 2006. But it was also in response to the legalization of abortion in Mexico City in 2007.

During one Mexican exorcism, a demon (speaking through a possessed person) confessed that Mexico had once been a haven for demons. According to the four demons identified in the exorcism, hundreds of years ago, Aztecs had offered them human sacrifices; now, with the legalization of abortion, the sacrifices had resumed.

Divided over demons

In the Baylor Religion Survey, 53% of Catholics said they either agree or strongly agree in the possibility of demonic possession. Twenty-six percent disagreed or strongly disagreed, and the rest were undecided. Progressive Catholics still regard exorcism as an embarrassment, and there are also increasingly vocal atheists and skeptics eager to cite the practice of exorcism as an example of the absurdity of religion. But in countries like Italy and the Philippines, there is active demand for more Catholic exorcists.

Pope Francis blesses a boy in Rome. Tony Gentile/Reuters

Church authorities are keenly aware that if they do not provide the spiritual services these people need, Pentecostal deliverance ministries will. In the past, the Church had much more ability to tailor its message to its audience. But in an age of Twitter and cellphone cameras, an exorcism performed in one country will be witnessed by the entire world.

Pope Francis seems especially skillful at navigating the question of demons. While he has inspired progressive Catholics with his stances on climate change and social justice, he has also emphasized the reality of the devil. In 2014, the Congregation of Clergy formally recognized the International Association of Exorcists. This is a group of conservative priests that has existed outside the Curia since 1990, and has lobbied for recognizing and normalizing the practice of exorcism. Founding IAE member Gabriele Amorth has even attributed the group’s sudden success to Pope Francis.

Perhaps the greatest example of Francis’s demonological savvy occurred on May 13 2013, when he placed his hands on a young man in a wheelchair after celebrating mass in St Peter’s Square. (This young man was, in fact, the same Mexican parishioner believed to be possessed by four demons.) Video shows the boy heaving and slumping forward under Francis’s unusually long embrace.

To those who feel the Catholic Church ought to take exorcism seriously, this was a clear example of Francis performing a public exorcism. But to those who regard exorcism as a relic of the Dark Ages, Church authorities can plausibly claim that this was only a blessing, perhaps lasting just a little longer, due to the pontiff’s sincere compassion for the young man.

For a church with over a billion followers, it’s a tough – but necessary – balancing act.

 

 

 

 

 

Theories on the Enduring Power of Myth

Myth is defined as being a traditional or sacred story, the latter essentially distinguishes “myth from other forms of narrative such as folktales, which are ordinarily secular and fictional,”[1] however whether or not these stories are universal or only culturally significant for their intended audience is debatable. Psychoanalytical studies of myth theorise that myths express unconscious desires or anxieties, or in Carl Jung’s case they are the result of a collective and inherited consciousness, whilst the Naturalists like Max Müller claim they are pre-scientific theories to explain natural phenomenon. Mythologists such as Geoffrey Kirk argue that  “all universal theories of myth are automatically wrong”[2] as the complexity of each myth differs and are made up of cultural symbols, traditions and charters of that people. Despite similar themes and archetypal characters, it is man’s desire to use story to answer larger truths that is the core of the universality of myth. It is through their retelling that keep these stories, myths and morals alive and relevant in today’s global society.

1922 --- Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) Swiss psychologist and psychiatrist. Head and shoulders photo, 1922. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Carl Jung created his theory regarding myth through a method of proof focusing on archetypes or primordial images, found in the collective unconscious of humanity and accessed by dreams. His perspective was that “myths are essentially culturally elaborated representations of the contents of the human psyche”[3] which is why there are common characters and themes such as the Saviour Child and Devine Mother found throughout the world. Jung’s archetypes can be applied to a whole manner of story not just myth, his Hidden Saviour Child figure can be likened to Moses, Horus, Jesus as well as Sleeping Beauty, Harry Potter and Kal-El.

'Moses'_by_Michelangelo_JBU140            horus_nefertari_afterlife

Max_Muller Max Müller focussed his studies on attempting to “trace scientifically the development of human thought in terms of the artefacts of language, mythology and religion”[4] and theorised that people were inspired to write allegorical stories to explain natural phenomenon and create anthropomorphic personifications of these in the form of Gods. Müller’s studies could be used to explain why the Greeks had Zeus to create lightning just as the Norse had Thor. Universal theories on myth, while presenting an interesting study and view point, “can be negated by citing many obvious instances of myth that do not accord with the assigned origin or function.”[5]

Despite the similarities that can be drawn from various myths they are filled with symbology, social and religious charters and other codes of conduct which makes them all genuinely unique. Geoffrey Kirk’s research and deconstruction of myth reinforces the concept that myth cannot be defined in any universal way, citing that “the wide range of morphorical and functional variation…from practical charter type uses to responses to abstract dilemmas of human existence…suggests that the mental and psychic process of myth-formation are themselves diverse.”[6]

42-fightpatroklos“That myths are sacred means that all forms of religion incorporate myths of some kind”[7] and it is the interference of the Devine that separates mythology from other traditional stories. Each mythology incorporates God or Gods in some form or fashion, which is why despite The Iliad having every indicator of being a legend, it is through the squabbling Greek Pantheon that it is classed essentially as a myth. With Gods comes religion and these stories often provide insight and explanations to religious ceremony or charter through origin stories.Foster_Bible_Pictures_0062-1_The_Angel_of_Death_and_the_First_Passover For example, the final plague of the Angel of Death in Exodus is the root of the Jewish Tradition of Passover still celebrated today, and why only bones and fat were sacrificed to the Gods in ancient Greece that is explained in the story of Prometheus who tricked Zeus out of the best cuts. In both examples these myth stories explain the reason behind certain practices but without specific cultural knowledge a person not sharing that cultural background might never understand why such rituals are performed, thus reinforcing Kirk’s position on why universal theories of myth should be rejected. “Mythology constitutes stories, symbols and rituals that…together they construct the truths of a culture”[8] and therefore can’t be studied with the broad universal ideologies some scholars like to apply to them.

Elias_Lönnrot_portrait-2Myth is so culturally significant that it can be used as a vehicle to strengthen a people’s social customs and national identity in postmodern times. The Kalevala , a collection of epic mythology oral stories collected by Elias Lönnrot and published in 1835, became “a rally-flag for national aspirations, and its regarded as the ‘national epic’ by modern Finland.”[9] The Kalevala played an intrinsic part of the Finnish people regaining their cultural identity in the early 20th Century which contributed and finally led to their independence from Russian rule. These mythological tales spanning from Creation myths to the Christianisation of Finland inspired a Renaissance of music, literature and art helping to cement Finland’s social and cultural heart.display_image.php A strong example of a social charter found in this mythic poem is in Canto 22 Laments, where the Witch of the North, Louhi the Hag of Pohjola, is instructing her daughter on how to be a good wife to the Smith Ilmärinen, thus imparting the traditional women’s wisdom onto the young maidens who would have heard it recited.

Ancient Greek philosophers defined myth as mythos and from it came “oracles and the arts…while logos came science and mathematics. From mythos came intuitive narrations, from logos reasonable deliberations”[10] and it is through mythos that the larger and more ambiguous questions of life, such as why does man exist and where does inspiration come from, were studied and answered.

It is therefore a mistake to study myth with the eyes of an logos academic, as if myth were only an ancient construct of pre-scientific peoples, as “myths are compost”[11] from which new stories, interpretations, art and revelation can grow from. Myth composition is an evolutionary process that grew from oral storytelling and the defined artistic preferences of the performer. This inevitably resulted in inconsistent interpretations when writing down these mythic stories and collecting them in latter time, as seen with the conflicting Jahwistic and Priestly interpretations of story cycles like the Flood Myth in the Book of Genesis.

“Scholars agree that myth has meaning, yet there is no consensus on what that meaning might be,”[12] but one thing that is certain is that myth has the ability to appeal to readers from varying cultures and religious beliefs from all over the world.

4666eaf0b49411fa40b9f3aa7dfc162f“These stories have power”[13] because “myth is truth which is subjective, intuitive, cultural and grounded in faith.”[14] They have universal appeal and longevity because they are symbiotic in nature and it is through retelling of these stories that core truths are passed on through each generation; Cupid and Psyche begat Beauty and the Beast which begat Twilight respectively.

Despite the variations of culturally specific symbols or the possibility of these stories being a representation of a collective unconsciousness, myth represents “ways of making sense of universal matters…and exert more of an inspiration and influence than we think.” [15] “Stories are ways that we communicate important things”[16] as a human culture and society and it is through the universal vehicle of myth that man has always sought to answer the larger, often metaphysical, questions in life.

 

Footnotes

[1] Dundes, A., 1984. Sacred narrative, readings in the theory of myth. Univ of California Press.pg 1

[2] Kirk, Geoffrey S. 1977 Methodological Reflections on the Myth of Herakles. In Il Mito greco: atti del convegno internazionale (Urbino 7-12 maggio 1973), edited by B. Gentili and G. Paioni, 285-297.

[3] Walker, S., 2014. Jung and the Jungians on Myth. Routledge. pg 6

[4]  Stone, J. ed., 2003. The essential Max Müller: On language, mythology, and religion. Springer.pg2

[5] Kirk, G. and Dundes, A. (1984). On Defining Myths. In: G. Kirk, ed., Sacred Narrative: Readings in the Theory of Myth, 1st ed. University of California Press, p.54

[6] Kirk, G. and Dundes, A. (1984). Sacred Narrative: Readings in the Theory of Myth, p.55.

[7] Dundes, A., 1984. Sacred narrative, readings in the theory of myth pg1

[8] Pattanaik, D. (2006). Myth = Mithya. New Delhi: Penguin.pg16

[9] Lönnrot, E. and Bosley, K. (1989). The Kalevala. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pg8

[10] Pattanaik, D. (2006). Myth = Mithya. New Delhi: Penguin.pg1

[11] Gaiman, N., 1999. Reflections on Myth. Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, pp.75-84.

[12] Plant.I., Myth In the Ancient World, Palgrave MacMillan, South Yarra, 2012

pg 23

[13] Gaiman, N., 1999. Reflections on Myth.pg84

[14] Pattanaik, D. (2006). Myth = Mithya. pg1

[15] Warner, M, 2010. Managing monsters. Random House. pg3

[16] Brain Pickings. (2015). Neil Gaiman on How Stories Last. [online] 2016

Viking Jesus

Can’t express how much I love this…

Human Pages

To see how a religion works, one of the best ways is to observe their missionaries and how they adapt the stories and created in one historical and geographic area, for people and places wildly different. On this point, nothing beats the ninth-century Saxon saga Heliand, which presents Jesus as a chieftain, prayers as runes, and refers to the Last Supper as “The last mead-hall feast with the warrior-companions.” Simply the list of chapter titles is a lesson in comparative religion, as well as being pretty funny.  (This is taken from the best edition of the poem available in English, the translation of G. Ronald Murphy)

The Creator’s spell, by which the whole world is held together, is taught to four heroes.

Zachary sees the Chieftain’s angel in the shrine.

John comes to the light of mankind.

The All-Ruler’s angel comes to Mary in Galileeland.

The Chieftain of…

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The Melody of The Music of Razors

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In nineteenth-century Boston, a young doctor on the run from the law falls in with a British confidence artist. Together, and with dire consequence, they bring back to the light something meant to be forgotten.

A world away in London, an absent father, haunted by the voice of a banished angel, presents his daughter with an impossible friend…a clockwork ballerina.

For two centuries, a bullet-removal specialist has wielded instruments of angel bone in service to a forgotten power . . . and now he vows to find someone else to shoulder the burden, someone with a conscience of their own, a strong mind, and a broken will. For a hundred years he has searched for the perfect contender, and now he has found two: a brother and a sister. Walter and Hope. Either will do.

Last night something stepped from little Walter’s closet and he never woke up. Now he travels the dark road between worlds, no longer entirely boy nor wholly beast, but with one goal in mind: to prevent his sister from suffering the same fate as he. Only the creature he has become can save Hope. But is it too late to save himself?

Disclaimer: I’ve written this blog four times and failed to capture my thoughts so if the following seems bouncy it’s because..well..fuck..I don’t think the book has finished processing in my head, or it keeps changing in my head, and when I go back to reference something the words are different.

I will however say this…………..

Some books are made for things. They are made of sunlit beaches, lazy Sundays, train ride, cafes and dinners by yourself. Some are meant for rain, to be shared in book clubs, giggled about over wine with your girlfriends or clutched tight in times of grief.

The Music of Razors is made for midnight and storms and low lit fireplaces. For knives in alleys and whiskey in dirty glasses.

It is not recommended for writers going through a moment of doubt about their craft as it’s a gamble as to whether it will snap you out of it and make you work a lot harder, or it will make you think seriously about maybe doing that accounting degree that your Dad always wanted.

I’ve seen it described as Gaimanesque.

Reviewers and critics love to throw the term ‘Gaimanesque’ around; like it’s somehow become an umbrella genre for anything that’s strange, incredibly well written and that leaves you feeling fucking unsettled. It is a term that limits both Neil and the other writer it’s referring to in my opinion. It’s the box builders in this world trying to make something different fit.

Also, Gaimanesque sounds like a sex position.

It would be more accurate to call it ‘uniqueness’ and The Music of Razors is nothing short of unique. Don’t be fooled by it’s size or innocent appearance. The writing is tight.

“There are two things to remember in this life: That the worst crimes are committed in the name of love, and that everyone makes mistakes.”

You think it’s going to be about angels and demons (the opening pages had me fan girling for freaking joy) and then you find it’s going to be about monsters. Really, mostly, it’s monsters; the ones that protect, that hunt, that wear men’s faces…the ones that you become.

‘Everyone gets a monster. Sometimes they are big, sometimes they are ugly, and sometimes they are nothing like that. But they all look like the one thing that scares you most. And that is how it keeps your nightmares away: it scares them, too. Everyone gets a monster.’

Here there be terrors my friends but something I found the most unsettling was the sheer failure of people, monsters and the Devine alike. God creates an angel that allocates power and leaves it with this burden, Lucifer won’t have him because it’s his fault for putting rebellion into his malakhim DNA. Henry is disappointed by his father as well as Dorian. Millicent is disappointed in Dorian as a neglectful father. Walter and Hope’s parents themselves are turned into monsters through tragedy. Suni’s mother is cold and ambivalent. Walter  and Suni fail Hope in multiple ways.  The book is not afraid to be a Jenga Tower of fucked up failures that all inevitably crash down around everyone.

It’s also about change in everyday shape and form.

‘People change. The interesting ones, at least. You start life as one thing, and become something else. Upgrade or downgrade, it’s all change – it’s all vital-and besides…up and down is all relative to the angle at which your head’s been twisted.’ 

It’s hard to talk about it without wanting to dissect and as I said…I’m pretty sure I’m still trying to figure it all out in my head. The writer in me wants to get my tweezers and scalpel out and start cutting ( ‘Oh ho! I see what you did there Cam…wait..what? where the fuck did that extra appendage come from?’ ) but the cleverer writer part of me knows that it’s not the best way to go about it. Like my other great find of the year Library at Mount Char  it’s going to take a couple of months of thinking about it and mulling over drinks and another re-read to capture all the tricks and find pleasure in all the little parts I may have over looked in a first read.

Cameron recently released the novelisation of the game Quantum Break (that he also helped write) and it’s on my list to read regardless of the fact I’ve never played the game because his writing is so damn good. I’m sure his games are fucking magnificent but after reading Music an irrational part of me thinks he needs to be writing more books. Shoot, I could do with a whole book just from the opening chapter of Music.

I heard him on a panel talk about villains…when I walked out of there I was pretty convinced he was one. After taking the time to hang out in his head my opinion on this matter hasn’t changed. He’s the kind of villain that is also a really nice guy at the same time so yeah..watch out for that. Really, keep an eye on him and follow what he does closely. Buy the books and learn everything you can to arm yourself. He’s like a fucked up Pied Piper and The Music of Razors is a song that get’s stuck in you head that you can’t stop listening to.

Seriously, stop reading this blog, do yourself a favour and buy the fucking book ok? Get it here, here and here.

 

The Inability of Words – Thoughts on Poetry and Humanity

61w-wFxqHPLI have a strange love hate relationship with poetry. I can be in equal parts thoroughly confused and delighted when I read it. Poetry takes work. It extracts a cost from both reader and writer. Good poetry will wrap its hands around the sorest parts of yourself and squeeze, leaving you emotionally exhausted and strangely purged.

Harnidh Kaur’s The Inability of Words is modern, fresh and yet there is something of timelessness to her themes of love, heartbreak, magic, anger and belief (and is confirming my suspicion that Indian writers are where it’s at, and drinking deep from the source).

Emotion is captured in its rawest form in Anger Management that echoed so much of my own rage ( ‘I’m convinced I’ll leave a smoking burn on whatever and whoever I touch’) and the relatable anxiety attacks in Panic (‘I’m not human, I’m just a wind up toy with gears and nuts and bolts in my body in place of skin and sinew and flesh and bone.’)

My own sting of being judged by Good Institutional Christians was revisited in Of Sins and brought up memories of my confusion at how people weren’t acting the way the God they professed to follow told them to (Love one another as I’ve loved you, judge not lest you be judged). Were we even loving the same God? I don’t think so. This feeling that’s always gnawed at me was addressed beautifully and completely in Blasphemy.

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This one hit me the hardest, especially now in these times when extremists are trying to shape their Gods in their own image, twisting them in forms of hatred even though they seem to forget they are all painting the same Abrahamic Tradition with their own vile colours. This hatred comes from the heart of man, not the heart of God. This is the face of the Gods men have created. Look long and hard at the horror of your own soul.

The point I’m trying to make is that The Inability of Words does what poetry should do – hold a mirror up to the human experience and force you to self reflect. It hits you where it hurts, makes you pause and feel it. Good poetry will always make you uncomfortable like that.

Find the book here and stalk Harnidh Kaur the Pedestrian Poet here.