• Scriptorium Reviews: Catherina's Death, Avarice, Neko Haiku and The Worst They Could

    Scriptorium Writing Competiton 2016 Reviews, part 2:
    Reviews of Catherina's Death by Tigellinus, Avarice by Salah ad Din Yusuf,
    Neko Haiku
    by Gunny and The Worst They Could by Kyriakos
    Reviewed by Caillagh de Bodemloze and Shankbot de Bodemloze

    The Scriptorium Writing Competition is a highlight of the year for writers on TWC. The winners of the 2016 competition were announced by the Scriptorium team in the Scriptorium Editorial; the announcement includes short reviews by both members of the Scriptorium team and members of the Writers' Study & Critic's Quill team. The Writers' Study & Critic's Quill team are continuing to work together with our friends in the Scriptorium in these reviews; we are grateful to the Scriptoriums's excellent team, particularly Shankbot de Bodemloze, who wrote two of the reviews below and Settra, Director of the Scriptorium, for the opportunity to work together on this project. Four of the winning entries are below, followed by our reviews.

    Catherina's Death by Tigellinus
    “Hannibal, Her Majesty Catherina is my wife.” He stops, and he pictures her smiling face as she touches his cheek with their child in her other arm; hugged against her breasts as she smiles at him, happy that they are a family, together. “She is pregnant with my child!” Kaldratos watches as the masked Eleusis jerks back, and for a moment Kaldratos is thankful. He did not know; he will surely end this madness now! “She cannot die, please.” There is a roar around him as gunfire pounds the shell of Champion, and he curses as he swerves, dodging the fire as much as he can. Around him, alarms beep and sirens go off as Champion warns him of the significant damage he has taken. Not yet, not now. Not until she is safe, please! Champion drops a little as the engines begin to falter and fail. *ing damn it! Fly! As he screams in his head, his Frame kicks into action again, roaring to life as he descends on the soldiers again.

    “I need her.” He pleads as he dodges behind a wall, the rockets exploding around him, punching through the Palace walls. “You cannot kill her!” He rushes from the wall, heading straight forward the soldiers. I just need to get through them! I just need to kill them, then I can save her! Yet they open fire again before he reaches them, and he cries out as the flak smashes through his shield and collides with Champion, rocking him violently. He blacks out for a moment, and he feels blood flowing from his forehead. Catherina, I love you… Yet he hears her call his name in desperation and fear, and his body launches to action, on its own accord, in desperate to save his wife. He hears Hannibal calling to his soldiers, yet to Kaldratos it is only a faint whisper as his blade cuts apart another enemy, blood in his mouth and in his eyes, he gives a final plea to his brother. “Eleusis. Please?” Champion rocks again, and the screen goes black as he loses communication functions.

    He roars and spins, opening fire with his particle beam, shooting straight through the cockpit of the last Resistance soldiers. The Frame stands for a second, as if the machine is a sentient being and it is shocked by what has happened. But its legs fold beneath it, and it crashes to the ground, a shuddering and electrical wreck.

    As he turns towards the area where he knows that Catherina is, he feels a pain in his gut, around his right hip. He puts his hand to his hip, yet there is no wound there that he can feel, his hip is not broken and there is nothing wrong. He is gripped with fear for Catherina, and he tries to fly, but Champion cries in protest, not having the ability to fly with as much damage as it had sustained. The cockpit was filling with smoke, and Kaldratos was beginning to feel light headed. He pressed on, smashing through the Palace in his desperation to find Catherina and to save her.

    As he smashes through the East Wing of the Palace, he comes face to face with a scene of horror. He sees Catherina lying in a pool of her own blood, her head turns slightly to face him as she sees him, and he can see the expression of fear and the tears staining her cheeks. He sees her mouth move, and he can barely make out what she is saying. I love you.

    He screams at the screen before him, and rushes forward. The Resistance soldiers open fire on him, and he can see Hannibal calling out to them. You! You treacherous bastard! I’ll eradicate you, Eleusis, right after I have saved Catherina and the medics have seen her, I’ll destroy you for hurting her!

    “I won’t let this be our last goodbye, Your Majesty.” He chokes on the words as he storms forwards, blade carving through the Resistance soldiers, tears streaming down his face and cheeks as he turns and obliterates the final Resistance soldiers.

    He turns again, and he sees that Eleusis and the women who was there with him have disappeared. He goes to the exit of Champion and presses the button for it to open. It screeches and groans, and he roars, kicking it violently, forcing it open. He leaps from the cockpit and crashes to the ground, bashing his shoulder as he rolls. He taps his wrist. “Veronica, Brendon, Alexian, any goddamn person. Get a medic and come to my location immediately.” He stifles a cry. “Her Majesty has been shot.” He then rushes to her side, dropping to his knees as he picks her up in his arms and clutches her close to him.

    He feels her arm wrap around her chest, and her hand cradles his face. He can feel the wetness and warmth of her blood against his cloak, and his grip tightens on her as he weeps into her neck. “Kaldratos.” Her voice is soft as winter’s kiss and her eyes twinkle with regret and sadness as she gazes up at him. She kisses his lips softly, and he can feel the weakness in her body. “I love you.”

    As she says the words he grabs her tighter, and hushes her, kissing her forehead, and feeling the wetness of his cheeks against her head. “Shhh, Catherina. I’ve called the Doctors, they’ll be here soon, you’re going to be fine and... and.” He doesn’t know what to say, yet she snuggles her head against his chest, and places her hand softly on his arm.

    “Kaldratos, you have to lead them. You have to take my place.”

    “No, Catherina, we’re going to rule together, remember? Maybe we should put it forward a bit sooner, as after this you’re going to need to rest for a while. But we’re going to rule together.” He reassured himself, he tried to tell himself that she would be fine, that everything would be alright. That Catherina would be okay, that she would be safe and okay, and that later tonight he would come to her room and cuddle her for a few hours, before getting up and pacing the room, guarding her as she slept and recovered.

    “Kaldratos…” She looked up at him with tears filling her eyes once more. “Say you love me.” Her voice was much quieter than before, and she seemed to have to make much more of an effort to speak. He nearly choked as he tried to speak, his mouth was parched and tears wet his face.

    “I love you, Catherina.” He wept again. “I love you so damn much.” As he said these words she cuddled against him more.

    “Thank you. You make me so happy, my love.” She positions her head against his chest, listening to his heart beat as he cries her name as she softly drifts away.

    “Catherina?”” He gently rocks her, trying to get her to answer him. He feels her body shudder once more and he cries out. “Catherina! Majesty?” He screams at the world as he holds her body against him, crying into her shoulder like a child.

    Review by Caillagh de Bodemloze
    Catherina’s Death plunges us straight into the heart of the action with no preparation or explanation. From the first paragraph, it’s obvious that there is some kind of fight going on, and that Kaldratos is urgently trying to save his wife, but we do not immediately know much more than this.

    Tigellinus gradually gives us more details, telling us where Kaldratos is in relation to Catherina by showing us how he reaches her; telling us a little about Champion, the vehicle Kaldratos in travelling in, which is eventually shown to be some kind of mecha; giving us more information about the scale of the conflict; telling us that Kaldratos and Eleusis are not only enemies, but also brothers.

    By showing us the world a little at a time, Tigellinus draws us into his world almost imperceptibly. The lack of information we have at the start mirrors the confusion and chaos of the battle Kaldratos finds himself in. As he discovers more about what’s going on, so do we. Our understanding of the situation grows as his develops and changes. Then we reach the hinge-point, the pivot of the story – Kaldratos discovering that Catherina has been shot – and everything is up-ended. Where we began by knowing less than Kaldratos, now we know more than he does, because we know the title of the piece. We know he can’t save Catherina.

    From then on, we watch as Kaldratos slowly realises that his wife is dying. We see his love for her, his desire to care for her and protect her, and his helplessness in the face of her injuries. Finally, when Kaldratos knows that Catherina is dead, we see, and understand, his anguish and his anger – and we feel sure that Kaldratos will not rest until he has killed his brother or died trying.

    By the end of the story, Tigellinus has successfully taken us from being completely uninformed about his world and his characters to being almost a part of the scene he is describing. He threw us into the middle of the action, and somehow all that action and drama around us has coalesced into a coherent scene – one powerful moment of enormous tragedy for one man.

    Avarice by Salah ad Din Yusuf
    Coveted by hungry eyes,
    Dunes and rocks, our home.
    They try to take our lands and wealth,
    Greek poleis, Egypt, Rome.

    Desert sand stirs awakes,
    His winds expose and sift.
    The desert gives, the desert takes,
    Invaders, be our gift.

    Dead wisdom laid to rest,
    They come and come again.
    Loot fills the chest,
    One's ignorance, a gain.

    As above, so below,
    Gold dawns on the east.
    Counting metals, warm or cold,
    Eyes revel in feast.

    Sweeter than water,
    Stronger than sword,
    Wealth flows through this land,
    Well loved by the horde.

    Review by Shankbot de Bodemloze
    The aptly titled 'Avarice' is the second poetry entry into this year's Scriptorium Writing Competition, and like the other poetry entry 'Neko Haiku' it offers plenty of opportunity for analysis. It has a simple structure of five four-line stanzas and focuses on the extreme greed directed towards the 'dunes and rocks' of the speaker's home - a home that is 'coveted by hungry eyes'. Straight away this first line shows the sense of greed and desire that is implied by the title. This is reinforced by certain language choices such as 'hungry' and 'feast' which only builds upon the imagery the poet creates. The simple structure of this poem contrasts nicely with the ideas of wealth and excess that are presented throughout, as well as suiting the desert setting of the poem.

    As mentioned, the theme of avarice runs throughout the poem. The wealth 'that flows through this land' becomes the target for different groups of people including 'Greek poleis, Egypt, Rome'. After the theme's introduction in the first stanza the poet then shows the destructive nature of greed: that despite the desert's resistance in the second stanza ('Desert sand stirs awakes, His winds expose and sift') the 'invaders... come and come again' even in the face of their own demise in the hope that 'loot fills the chest'.

    These ideas are also built upon by the descriptions the speaker uses; the people that come seeking wealth are 'invaders', which implies an inherent sense of destruction and has multiple negative connotations. Furthermore, as the poem develops these people go from individual labels of Greek or Rome at the start to a nameless 'horde' by the very end - this transition marks the all-consuming nature of greed and the negative effects it has, exemplified by the line 'sweeter than water' which suggests the desire for wealth is even more important than what is essential for life. Such a concept is enhanced by the desert setting of the poem, where water is a scarce and fundamental resource. It is also interesting to note the types of people that form this 'horde'. In Antiquity the Greeks, Egyptians and Romans were all traditionally considered enlightened and civilised peoples - by naming them the poet shows how even the highest of civilisations are corrupted by greed and succumb to desire. This is hinted at in the last stanza where such wants are shown to be 'stronger than sword', hence their ability to destroy even powerful civilisations.

    Looking into this poem beyond an initial reading, it is clear that a powerful warning against greed is being presented; a message that, despite its setting in the past, should still be heeded in society today where dreams of avarice are just as present as ever - and whilst it is unknown to me if the poet wanted to present this as a social commentary, one can't but help draw that as a potential conclusion. I am sure people will draw their own interpretations from this wonderful poem. Regardless of what they may be, this is a clearly well-thought out and crafted piece of work which should be applauded.

    If you have your own thoughts, or any comments on my review, then please post below.

    Neko Haiku by Gunny
    Grey coat yellow eyes.

    You wake me every morning.

    But I love you, Cat.

    Review by Shankbot de Bodemloze
    Although a bit shorter than some of the other entries for this season's Writing Competition, there is still a lot to say about 'Neko Haiku' literally Cat Haiku. For those who do not know, a haiku is short form of Japanese poetry with three traditional characteristics:

    - The juxtaposition between two ideas, known as 'cutting'. This concept is key to both traditional and modern haiku.
    - The structure of three phrases totalling seventeen syllables, split into five-seven-five syllables respectively.
    - Traditional haiku also have a seasonal reference, but modern haiku don't necessarily have this imagery of nature.

    So how does this entry, essentially about the love for one's cat, match up. Whilst at first glance it seems to lack a specific seasonal reference that is often found in more traditional haiku, by looking deeper at the haiku as a whole it becomes apparent that it is indeed there - if only in a slightly less traditional way. 'Cats in love', which arguably this entry is based around, is symbolic of spring in haiku poetry and a specific seasonal reference. Taking this further, the reference to 'yellow eyes' has connotations of spring, with yellow characterising the season in a number of ways. One example of this is the colour of mountain rose in Japan when it flowers, which is partly where its symbolism in Japanese poetry is found. The subtle references made to nature and season in this haiku allow us a greater understanding of the emotions and themes behind this short form of poetry, with spring in poetry being symbolic of positivity and love, much like the author's feelings for his cat.

    Next we have structure, with this entry confirming to traditional haiku structure being structured into three phrases of five-seven-five syllables respectively, totalling seventeen altogether. Interestingly, the author presents it in the English structure of three separate lines, each representing a phrase, whereas in traditional Japanese presentation the haiku is structured as one line.

    Finally is the characteristic that is key to both traditional and modern haiku, the cutting. The juxtaposition in this entry is evident through the contrasting emotions of annoyance and love. The second phrase of 'You wake me every morning' reads with the frustration we all have felt of being woken up before we are ready, and although composed as one seven-syllable line, the relative ease at which readers can relate to this emotion creates a powerful feeling. Of course the contrast is quick to follow, signalled by the word 'But' which marks the beginning of the cutting. Here a profession of love washes away the negative emotions of the previous phrase, with the author again choosing a simple yet powerful phrase, one that we all understand and is filled with emotion.

    To summarise, the short and simple appearance of this haiku shouldn't detract from the skill used to craft it nor the quality of the poet's work. With subtle references and powerful but relatable expressions of emotion, the poet has created a wonderful haiku which has been a pleasure to read and to offer some small analysis on. If you have your own thoughts on this haiku, or any comments on my review, then please post below.

    The Worst They Could, by Kyriakos
    If one was among Odysseus’ crew on board the ship, as they were nearing the rock of Scylla, rowing as always since he was not aware of what would soon emerge from the depths of that rock’s cave, observing Odysseus’ putting on his full armor and raising his weapons with perfect silence around, and finally be entirely devoid of the ability to predict that in an instant there shall pass next to Odysseus a hideous head with three rows of black teeth to pick him up high and take him with it to its cave... such a person’s sole remaining fate would be to crawl on the rocks of that cave’s edge for the little time it would take Scylla’s head to stretch backwards in preparing its voracious descent onto him...

    Back in the ship, Odysseus would recall how the above sight had been the worst human eyes could fall upon.

    And yet, if, paradoxically, one had been a member of that ship’s crew in some previous time as well, and yet again was in an identical journey, then he might even succeed (after a large number of repeats of the same conclusion) to remember at that specific moment: just what would appear next to Odysseus as he was obscurely putting on his armor. And, coming to terms with the idea that he would never avoid his pitiful destiny to come, regardless of how many times he still had to face the same, perhaps he would then discover some great source of interest in observing keenly and with ever increasing accuracy each time that shape of the beast – the shape which (as we are told in the Rhapsody) not even the gods could bare.

    Review by Caillagh de Bodemloze
    Odysseus. A man cursed by the gods to spend ten years getting home after a ten-year siege. A man who is the very image of fortitude and perseverance. A man who survived his adventures by his cunning and intelligence. And a man who had to choose either the certainty of losing six of his crew to Scylla, or the risk of losing the whole of his crew to Charybdis. Naturally, Odysseus chooses the loss of six men. Equally naturally, he does not share the information he has with his crew. How, after all, could it possibly help them to know what will happen? So the crew row on, in ignorance of the fate awaiting six of them.

    Kyriakos shows us our limitations – as human beings, we cannot predict the exact nature of our future. We may, indeed, find ourselves facing monsters we cannot defeat; monsters who will terrify us and devour us whole. And perhaps the sight of our destruction will be as horrifying to those around us who survive as the sight of Scylla devouring his men was to Odysseus.

    But Kyriakos goes further. What, he asks, would happen if we could re-live the moment of destruction over and over again, while remembering all our previous experiences of it? Would we find an escape route, a way to defeat the monster? Kyriakos’s view is that we would not; our fate is inevitable and unchanging. But if we had to endure it many times, we would perhaps find an irresistible fascination in the tiniest details of our fate – in knowing exactly how we were to suffer and die.

    This is not a cheerful philosophy, of course. There is no hope in it for any of us. It is, however, a fair reflection of the portion of The Odyssey Kyriakos has taken as his inspiration, in which Circe makes it clear to Odysseus that if he chooses the route between Scylla and Charybdis, he must either pass close enough to Charybdis to be sure of losing his boat and his whole crew, if he passes at a time when she is at work; or he must pass close enough to Scylla to be sure of losing six men – one to each of her fearsome heads. There is no other way to pass along this route. And it is undeniably true that – as has often been observed – for all of us, life is like this, at least in the sense that none of us will get out of it alive.

    Thank you for reading! We hope that reading these reviews will inspire more writers to enter the Scriptorium Writing Competition in future! In the meantime, you would be welcome to post creative writing and After Action Reports in the Writers' Study and to participate in our Tale of the Week competition. See you in the Scriptorium Competition - and in the Study!
    Comments 3 Comments
    1. Salah ad Din Yusuf's Avatar
      Salah ad Din Yusuf -
      I appreciate Shankbot for his interpretation but he has missed an important allusion.
    1. Caillagh de Bodemloze's Avatar
      Caillagh de Bodemloze -
      Hi, Salah ad Din Yusuf.

      I’m (obviously) not Shankbot, but since I am a member of the Critic’s Quill staff team, I’m going to take the liberty of thanking you for your comment, and also for pointing out the additional reference. I have to admit that one didn’t occur to me when I read your poem, so I’m grateful that you mentioned it.

      I’ve always considered it one of the great glories of poetry that it can elicit different responses from different readers. Because so much is communicated by allusion, reference and implication, and because each reader will inevitably bring different things to a poem, each reader is likely to have their own interpretation – slightly different from anyone else’s. It could, I think, almost be argued that each reader reads a slightly different poem from anyone else.

      For instance, assuming that I had noticed the reference to the faction intro, and that I had written the review of your poem, I suspect quite strongly that my review would not have mentioned the intro. Not because it is irrelevant, of course, but because I, personally, would have felt that all the other allusions and references were more important – and more interesting for me to write about.

      It’s interesting that you feel the reference to the faction intro should not have been omitted. I wonder which of the allusions in your poem other people would consider the most significant…

      Oh, and while I’m here I should obviously thank Shankbot and the Scriptorium team for letting us use the longer versions of his excellent reviews. Thank you!
    1. Kyriakos's Avatar
      Kyriakos -
      Thank you for the cool review!!!