My Voice is like Bomba

Gabriela García Sánchez

Writing, music, art, and dance all have one thing in common–voice.  No matter the art form, the creator laces his or her own voice into the work. In Eleanor Parker Sapa’s blog, Finding Your Unique Writing Voice, Sapa defines voice as  “the unique way by which we see, experience, and interpret the world as individuals.” She goes on to discuss her thoughts about the use of voice and how there is no one-size-fits-all for this element of the creative process. Her definition demonstrates how the development of a voice is entirely dependent on the artist, and that makes sense to me. If no one person is exactly like another, how can their voices be the same? As someone who is both indecisive and fears commitment, I appreciate that fluidity that Sapa’s definition provides.

I am on a constant search for writers, singers and artists who share work that demands attention as well as a response from their audience. Lately, I have been very drawn to Latinx and Afro-Caribbean writers and artists. I’m interested in the variety of voices, experiences, and attitudes that come from these individuals because they possess similar identities to my own.

My desire to experience art created by artists who identify as Hispanic began when I read Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan. This novel did not fully embody my own experience as a female of Latin descent because Esperanza, the story’s protagonist, is Mexican and I’m Puerto Rican. However, I must give my parents credit for exposing me to a novel that was written by and of Hispanic females.

Similarly, my parents noticed early on that I had a passion for the visual and performing arts. They put me into a Caribbean dance class where I learned salsa, merengue, cha-cha, plena, and bomba. This time of my life was filled with people who looked like me, spoke Spanish, and taught me about my Boricua heritage through dance.

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Out of these dances, bomba was my favorite. Dancing Bomba leaves me in an empowered state, where I am focused on myself as well as my own interactions with the rhythm. In Bomba, this interaction produces the dance steps that in turn influences the beats.

Let me explain: Bomba is one of the beautiful treasures produced from the African influence within Puerto Rican culture. The rhythms, music, and dance of Bomba are derived from the traditions of the African slaves that were brought over during the colonial period, which is why we see variations of this dance and its rhythms throughout the Caribbean. Back in that time, bomba allowed people the space to express their sadness over their living conditions and the struggles that eventually drove them to rebel and protest. However, bomba was also a space they could explore as an expression of joy and celebration, which is how it is more commonly used today.

To truly understand bomba as an artform is to understand the conversation between the dance steps and the beat. In bomba there is always a call and response; a soloist sings a phrase and it evokes the drummers to begin. The crowd then gathers and the dancers begin to come forth. When a dancer comes to the forefront and engages the lead drummer, el primo, he or she is challenging the drummer to follow their steps and body movements with the beats that they produce. The challenge is done like a gentleman’s duel, starting with polite saludos, then the drummer and dancer can go for as long as possible until one tires and a new round begins.

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Bomba gave me an ear for rhythm that I now try to paint onto the canvas. Unfortunately, what the ears hear and the eyes see rarely translate perfectly. Transitioning from dance to painting as my artistic media was a challenge. Developing designs, compositions, and placement of colors to replace the feel of a rhythmic beat was both a strange and daunting task. Unlike dance, where everyone hears the same music, the rhythm that I feel and build into the painting is not the same rhythm that the viewer may experience. Rather than translate my perspective exactly to my audience, I allow my temperament in that moment of creation to dictate the art that I create. Therefore, my work is constantly changing. Recently, I have tried to redirect my art back to the basic of both colors and textures in order to depict movement. Either way, I find myself wanting to cut the ties I’ve placed on myself. The lack of cohesiveness in my art pushes me to explore the lack of a distinct voice that I feel. In all honesty, I still don’t understand the art I create.

Ginsberg Would Have Wanted You to Get this Tattoo

By: Betty Noe

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Browsing through the blog of the literary journal Paper Darts (a fine publication that I would recommend to anyone—even if only for the top notch staff bios) my eyes hit on a headline that I couldn’t pass-up: Five Roxane Gay quotes we just might tattoo on our biceps. Talk about a hook. That title has everything that a girl could want from an online post: tattoos, Roxane Gay, biceps. The piece itself was equally as interesting, replete with Bad Feminist wisdoms and a number of links to Gay’s many articles outside of her famed book.

This article got me thinking about more than just Queen Roxane and her sage life advice. I asked myself, what literary quotes would actually look good as a tattoo? Pretentious as it may appear, we do live in a world where Gucci Mane had a tricolor ice cream cone tattooed on his face. Therefore, a good quote isn’t the worst thing you could get inked on your body. So, let me make a few light-hearted suggestions about what you should get permanently etched on your skin (and please don’t blame me when your tattoo is inevitably misspelled).

“First a warning, musical; then the hour, irrevocable.”

— Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

Mrs. Dalloway is by far Woolf’s greatest novel (A Room of One’s Own doesn’t count because it’s an essay) and it’s difficult to find a passage or a line from the book that isn’t a profound revelation on life, love, and the passage of time. That being said, not everything written in Mrs. Dalloway would make for great body art. I love this quote because, out of context, it could apply to anything you’d like and it’s not immediately recognizable as a Virginia Woolf quote. And if this line is a little too serious for your taste, you could always go with the classic “I prefer men to cauliflowers.”

“Instead of death there was light.”

— Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilyich

Part of the human condition is a fear of death, which is what makes Ivan Ilyich so timeless. Tolstoy dissects the fear of the unknown, common between all of us, without sugarcoating it. Ilyich’s long, drawn-out end to this novel comes with this final, uplifting sentiment: Instead of death there was light. Wouldn’t you like to carry these words with you wherever you go?

“The moon has lost her memory.”

— T.S. Eliot, “Rhapsody on a Windy Night”

We all have that one friend who’s obsessed with the moon; sometimes we are that one friend. And if you’re that person, this quote is for you. There’s no Do I dare to eat a peach? here. This poem was originally published in Eliot’s Prufrock collection and, in my opinion, it’s the unsung hero of this book (no offense to “Love Song;” it deserves all of the attention it gets). And this one line—although arguably more powerful when read in the context of its stanza—really lends itself to a tattoo.

“Time flows in strange ways on Sundays.”

— Haruki Murakami, 1Q84

While there are whole paragraphs of this book that I would willingly have tattooed on my chest, I understand that not everyone is as enamored with this novel as I am. Therefore, I’ve narrowed my search for a good Haruki Murakami-inspired tattoo down to this single sentence. In 1,157 pages, this book warps time, space, and reality in ways that I can’t summarize in one blog post. However, this one quote is indicative of the familiar surrealism that Murakami so masterfully creates. And he’s right: time does flow in strange ways on Sundays.

“the madman is holy as you my soul are holy!”

— Allen Ginsberg, “Footnote to Howl”

Isn’t it funny how the “Footnote to Howl” has become more famous than “Howl” itself? By comparing the two, however, it’s easy to see why. “Footnote” is pure Ginsberg, the poet at his finest, and it’s the reason I got hooked on his poetry in the first place. In such a racing poem, it’s hard to snatch out a single line that is small enough to make a great tattoo. But this one is my choice. I decided if I’m going to permanently attach great literature to my body, I’d like it to remind me that, “you my soul are holy.”

 

Punctuation Party Stereotypes

By: Mairead Loschi

If you’re living the life of a typical college student, you’ve probably made it to a party or two (no word back on if you remember them…). And, if you’re at all like me (a writer and a deeply introverted person), you’ve probably also cringed at the memory of going to any of those parties. I’ve tried a few methods to get over my shyness at these social events. My latest plan was to bring a notecard with 3 thought provoking and engaging questions to foster interesting conversation. This, however, inevitably failed. I remember being stuck, sitting on a couch, and watching my fellow partygoers move around me. Suddenly, it hits me. Every person in this room can be described with a punctuation mark (and no, I haven’t been doing any illicit substances or been drinking heavily. I’m just a writer at a party who is isolated with her thoughts and has been doing a lot of copy-editing recently).

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So here it is, my punctuation party sketch.

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The exclamation point: (used to indicate strong feelings or high volume)

This person crosses the threshold into the party and, although it is pretty dark in here and there are bodies everywhere, is greeted without fail with “Finally, I’m so glad you made it!!” or “OMG so happy to see you!” You look up and it’s your tipsy guy friend who always seems to get cheerier and touchier the longer the night goes on. He wraps you in a huge hug. He’s wearing a white T-shirt under an eye-watering shade of blue button-down and a hat that reads Let’s Party.

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The comma: (indicating a pause between parts of a sentence or used to separate items in a list)

The comma is the friend that you arrived with who grabs you by the wrist, pulling you deeper into the crowd. She says, “okay here’s what I need, another drink, a dark corner where I can dance, and Ignition Remix on repeat”. She’s your comma, a lover of lists and a firm believer in the classic use of the Oxford comma.

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The Certitude point: (used to end a sentence with unwavering conviction)

Standing by the doorway, you get the chance to observe the pick up artist who is well practiced in the delivery of cheesy one liners (For example: “how much does a polar bear weigh”) and a whole array of surface compliments. But hey, at least this guy can approach others with statements of purpose and certainty in his intentions. After all, confidence is key.

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The Period: (a full stop that ends a sentence)

This person is leaning against the doorframe, largely unimpressed by the pick-up artist’s attempted come-ons, and simply states, “climate change is a real problem and I don’t think it’s the weight of polar bears that’s causing fissures in arctic ice caps,” before walking away to refill their drink. End of that conversation.

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The Semicolon: (used to connect two independent clauses)

At the bottom of the staircase that leads to the second floor is the friend who’s eveyone else’s wing-(wo)man. She spends the night connecting acquaintances with “have you met”s and “my friend’s super into tennis too”s.

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The Question mark: (used to indicate an interrogative clause)

A few feet away are two new acquaintances and you can tell that one is interrogating the other. That’s the Question mark. He rattles on with, “What’s your major?” “Where are you from?” “How many pounds did you weigh at birth?” “What’s your astrological sign?” He is crushing any possible future conversations under the weight of his questions.

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The Em-dash: (used to mark off information or ideas that are not essential to an understanding of the rest of the sentence)

At the corner of the kitchen table – now a makeshift snack bar – is any member of the LRR fiction panel, newly obsessed with the grammar of em-dashes and using every opportunity to clarify the long-winded story they’re telling.

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The Quotation Marks: (used to set off direct speech, a quotation, or a phrase)

The pretentious intelligentsia drink-sipper boring those around them with, “I was reading Nobokov the other day” and “I believe it was Audre Lorde who said”.

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The Interrobang: (combination exclamation point and question mark that has recently begun gaining popularity)

The resident hipster drinks her elderberry wine with holistic properties in order to prevent hangovers. She got this symbol tattooed on her forearm because she saw it online once and loved the symbolism, as she also questions life with a passion.

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The Ellipses inside Parentheses: (used when omitting a word, phrase, or more to save space or remove material that is less relevant)

Me, sitting on the couch. I am half caught up in daydreams of my punctuated fellow party-goers and half inner eye-rolling, carrying on an internal conversation questioning why I even went out.

 

Books and Videogames: A Marriage of Two Mediums

By: Autumn Magro

I love videogames more than books – sometimes. It’s not easy to admit that books are not my one bountiful passion in life (because how romantic is that?), and it’s taken me even longer to rationalize the two together.

Unlike books, there is a negative connotation with video games. There is a good possibility that a certain type of person comes to mind when you think of this medium: orange Dorito-fingered teenagers with potty mouths perhaps. I get it. The buzzwords are endless: unintelligent, mindless, frivolous – the list goes on. Perhaps this is why I hid my late-night gaming sessions from everyone except close relatives and my boyfriend for years.

But this past December, I stumbled across a blog while sitting on a bullet train on its way to Zurich: “Video Games: Developing a New Narrative.” The fact that the word found its way onto a literary website was in itself astounding to me, since typically these two worlds steer clear of one another. Instead of a scathing review of games’ gross lack of content and taste, I was pleased to find the author of the piece defending their credibility with one pointed question: “Must a video game be on par with such literature as Dickens’s Great Expectations or Tolstoy’s War and Peace to receive recognition [as an art form]”? The answer: Certainly not.

The primary argument presented for video games as an art form is that it is a dynamic medium for storytelling. Furthermore, it allows you to “do things with narrative that no other medium has done before” and that is be in control over the unfolding of events. Naturally, all humans look for some modicum of control over their lives, but there is a delicate balance. Too much control leads to hubris. Too little control leads to manipulation.

For me, this is a balance that I’ve begun to internalize by examining my use of video games and books in my own life. Recently, I’ve let Dostoevsky rule over my time and pick apart my notions of judgment and justice to the wee hours of twilight. I spent spring break playing an interactive story by Telltale games called “Life is Strange,” which got me thinking about the weight of my choices on others and how life can truly be strange sometimes. And that’s okay.

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“Life is Strange”

Furthermore, it is video games that have taught me a little bit like what it feels like to be a writer, a passion I have wrestled and wrangled with over the years.  I take great care in choosing paths for character in games, which is not unlike what a writer does for those in their books. I feel for them. I revel when I can lead the detective to the missing girl in “Heavy Rain,” or cry when I have Joel lie to Ellie in the final scene of “The Last of Us.” These things matter to me in the same way that they do in my own stories.

Above all, I’ve gleaned what I believe I already knew: I am a lover of all kinds of stories. I like to be told stories as much as I like to tell them to others. The parallel of these two inherent desires is one that books and video games have bred into me over years. They have crossed the delicate and sometimes hostile line between mediums and have found a happy middle in their ability to offer me their stories.

And now, when someone says to me “I don’t read,” instead of drawing that line in the sand between readers and non-readers, I offer them my PS4 copy of Metro 2034 (which also may happen to be based on a book of the same title), and let the story do the rest.