This Week’s Top Ten Poetic Picks

The best in poetry (and poetic things), this week with Lyla Willingham Lindquist.

Artful Girl by Claire Burge

1 Art

I live in a part of the US that gets a bit chilly this time of year. I drove my son to school this morning because his car went on strike about the same time the temperature hit 18 below zero. I offered to drop him a block away to save him the shame of riding with his mother, and he patiently endured the story (for the 73rd time) of the day the district superintendent picked me up along the highway when I was in tenth grade. The superintendent hadn’t offered to drop me a safe social distance from school, and icicles melted with each step, as I trudged with hot embarrassment from his truck to the building.

With much of the country in the cold grip of the Abominable Snowman, it’s a great day to pour a cup of hot tea sit with your laptop in front of the fire marveling at these amazing macro photos of snowflakes by Russian photographer Andrew Osokin.

News by Claire Burge

2 News

As a political scientist (by education, not by trade) I’m prone to the occasional distractions of public political process. Since poetry only meets politics every four years (and even then only when the president is a Democrat, I understand), Monday’s presidential inauguration seemed like kind of a big deal. There was inaugural swearing-in, inaugural song-and-dancing, and inaugural addressing. In some quarters there was inaugural celebration and in some inaugural seats there was inaugural face-making.  But I’ll be honest: the only part of it I actually watched was inaugural poet Richard Blanco reading his inaugural poem.

The challenge of the inaugural poet is no small one. One is called upon to write a poem of massive scope for a specific occasion to which one may or may not have any specific emotional attachment. There is little precedent to follow, what with a poem accompanying the inauguration six times in history since JFK invited Robert Frost to read. (Help me out: Frost, Maya Angelou, Elizabeth Alexander, Blanco and who else?) As if that’s not challenge enough, the poem is expected to satisfy academics as well as the masses, lovers of poetry as well as a non-poetry loving populace, media, and politico.

Some will say Blanco hit the mark while others will say he sailed right past it. Some will complain that we just don’t “get” poetry and still others would take the opportunity to lament that poetry itself is dead. In the end, Kwame Dawes would initiate an unofficial, crowd-sourced inaugural poem (we think he’s been hanging out at a Tweetspeak Twitter Party).

And now that the poetry has been read and Kelly Clarkson is done singing, the president is official again and can get on with his most important job: using his bully pulpit to reshape the landscape of language.

Publishing by Claire Burge

3 Places

We’re big fans of the literary tour around here. We just discovered an Irish literary tour by way of Dublin’s Pub Crawl for a “perspective on the city, the hostelries that line its streets and the characters that once frequented them,” including Joyce and Beckett. Feel free to sign us up for that one, and we’ll happily report back to you. If you prefer something a little closer to home, and you didn’t get your fill of national poetry with the inauguration, once it warms up a bit you could take the Washington, DC, walking poetry tour and get a glimpse of the work of Archibald MacLeish, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and Elizabeth Bishop in historical context.

Reviews by Claire Burge

4 Poetry at Work

Poetry at Work can take all kinds of forms, and one of the things we love to point out is that if you’re at work, odds are good the poetry is already there waiting for you to see. Patty Paine of Diode poetry journal has been seeing poetry in ordinary objects around her workspace, reconstructing the alphabet from paperclips and staple pullers.

You might have thought that Poetry at Work Day was a brand new thing. I was happy to see last week that long before there was ever a national holiday in the making, Bill Murray read poetry to a group of construction workers. The mix between skepticism and muted delight on their faces at the words of Emily Dickinson echoing off their hard hats is worth the watch.


5 Creativity

There were a few things as a kid I always wanted to have that, even as I dreamed of them, I knew were complete impossibilities: 1) Three wishes, the third of which would of course be for three more wishes; 2) an easel; 3) a bookcase that opened into a secret passageway. Except, with no creepy villain lurking inside like on Scooby Doo.

This do-it-yourself pivoting bookcase that Book Riot tweeted this week tempted me, until I realized that there were a good 900 steps to constructing it. I figured it might be easier to go back to the three wishes. But if somebody would like to build me one, I have space available.

In fact, if a few folks wanted to collaborate on such a project, it might make those 900 steps much more manageable. You could take a few moments first to watch this video by Keith Yamashita on the three habits of great creative teams, and I think you’d have the project done for me in no time.

Carry on.

Write It by Claire Burge

6 Write-It

A couple of years ago I got a package from an old friend, a sort-of boyfriend I corresponded with across a couple of states during junior high and high school. He’d found a shoe box in his closet full of, yes, letters I had written to him that he had inexplicably saved for thirty years. (I’ve now found a new use for one of those three wishes.) I’m grateful to his wife, who mailed them back to me with a box of delicious fudge to make the embarrassment go down a little easier.

I haven’t written a lot of letters lately, but I loved this story about a woman who writes letters to strangers and leaves them in random locations to be read by unknown someones. The project has now grown into a letter-writing movement, according to this story in the Guardian.

More Love Letters is all about writing letters – not emails, but proper, handwritten letters. Not conventional love letters, written to a real beloved, but surprise letters for strangers. They don’t necessarily say “I love you”, but they are full of kindness (that’s the love Brencher’s talking about) – telling people they are remarkable and special and all-round amazing. It’s the sort of stuff that most people don’t really say out loud even to the people they care about, let alone a total stranger.

Poems by Claire Burge

7 Poems

Google has inadvertently sparked all manner of poetry, including the lines that come together from the search suggestions drop-down. (Did you see what CZDA did with the theme song from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air when they ran it through Google Translate and back 64 times?) This week, Every Day Poems featured a piece by Heather Christle prompted by her use of her phone to translate the names of famous poets:

Phone Poets Translation

I have been telling my phone to translate the names of poets from French into English and it has given me these translations:
Emily Dickinson: American pie
Walt Whitman: yourself
Langston Hughes: stencil

Read the rest of Heather’s poem at Every Day Poems.

On occasion, we’ve been able to feature the work of Tony Hoagland at Every Day Poems, which always seems to start the day righter. Ploughshares recently featured a clip of Hoagland reading “Wild” and “Barton Springs” that you might find worth your time.

People by Claire Burge

8 People

Adrienne Rich said she didn’t usually say, “I’m now going sit down and to write a poem about this.” Rather, she found an “emotional release” as she responded through poetry to something she saw, overheard, or read. Listen to this short, insightful clip from Rich on her creative process.

You’ll hear it from just about anyone who gives advice on writing: writer read. Bearing that out once more, The Boston Globe’s interview of Mark Doty is full of all the things he’s reading.

Book by Claire Burge

9 Books

If what Mark Doty is reading wasn’t your cup of tea, maybe you’ll find something to your liking at the The Free Book Incident at [Storefront]. The collaboration between Olson Kundig Architects and Wessel & Lieberman Booksellers is an exploration of “what can happen when books are made available for free.” Yep, that’s right. Free. No cost, no returns. Just books, for free, making me think one of my three wishes ought to be for a trip to Seattle.

Motion by Claire Burge

10 Sound n Motion

I am a sucker for stop motion video (hence, my soft spot for the Abominable Snowman). And I love cut paper artwork (not to be confused with paper cuts, which I hate). The combination of the two is enough to finish any day well for me. Let me leave off with this delightful paper cut animation by Katarzyna Kijek and Przemyslaw Adamski for Shugo Tokumaru’s “Katachi.”

Cover photo by Melolou. Creative Commons license via Flickr. Article photos by Claire Burge. Used with permission. Post by Lyla Willingham Lindquist.


Buy a year of Every Day Poems, just $5.99 — Read a poem a day, become a better poet. In January we’re exploring the theme Coffee and Tea.

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  1. says

    I’m hoping the D.C. poetry tour will knock away the nonsense from Alexandra Petri in the Post yesterday. She should be made to go on that tour at least once a year and then be sent to the UK to learn how to memorize poetry.

    I think it says something that we’ve only had five poets at our inaugurals. Some think Frost’s poem at Kennedy’s inauguration doesn’t count because it was not written specifically for the occasion. He recited it from memory.

    The name of that other poet you were looking for: Miller Williams. He read at Clinton’s inaugural in ’97. No one ever seems to recall him.

    • says

      Love your idea of punitives, Maureen. 😉

      I was surprised by that, actually, there only being a handful of poets involved in the inaugural. And I had a heck of time finding a full list. Couldn’t, in fact, so thanks for filling in the gap for me.

  2. says

    I liked Elizabeth Alexander’s better. But then, I really like her.

    Also, I love that Billy Collins poem that Bill Murray read because I think it’s the best use of a title–ever!

  3. says

    I discovered via NYT that Carol Ann Duffy wrote a poem “Rings” for the Prince Wm-Catherine Middleton wedding
    and that Andrew Motion wrote a poem for Prince Charles’s wedding to Camilla Parker Bowles.

    I also learned James Dickey read at poem at one of the post-inauguration balls.

  4. says

    Well, I didn’t take time to click on absolutely everything (though I think I need to make this a Friday or Saturday ritual), but I really enjoyed Bill Murray reading poetry to construction workers and the story about the person leaving letters here and there for anonymous strangers. In fact, the comments following that article were amusing, as well, as cynical folks criticized the practice.

    You find the most amazing things. Each one could inspire a blog post in and of itself, but you just pile on another and another. It’s a feast!

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