This Week’s Top Ten Poetic Picks

The best in poetry (and poetic things)


1 Art

I can give you two quick reasons while you’ll never see an article about what happens when I collaborate with my 4-year-old on drawings. First, I no longer have a 4-year-old. (And even for the sake of such a project, I have no intention of acquiring a new one. Children last a very long time.) Second, my drawings already have a sort of “Hey, I think a 4-year-old did this” mystique to them, so the effect of such teamwork would be lost. But, in the case of illustrator Mica Angela Hendricks, the results of of her (at first) unwitting collaboration with her daughter are whimsical, beautiful, amusing and delightful.

When you go look at the Hendricks duo’s artwork, take a peek at the tattoo on the little girl’s arm. I think she got wind of our September Tattoo theme and she’s mugging for an extra feature at Tweetspeak. Just use her tat as a teaser for this great collection of tattoos inspired by famous works of art, including Magritte’s “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” and “The Scream” by Edvard Munsch. And if that’s not enough cultured tattoo culture for you, then please feel free to swoon at this set of tattoos featuring Margaret Atwood quotes. For extra bonus tattoos, you might be interested in The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos from Bookworms Worldwide in softcover, a collection of literary tattoos and essays.


2 News

Sadly, the big news in poetry this past week was the loss of Irish poet Seamus Heaney, who many consider to be the greatest Irish poet since Yeats (others consider him greater than that). Heaney was the Nobel laureate in literature in 1995 and beloved around the world. Heaney’s last words are reported to have been a text to his wife, Noli timere, “don’t be afraid” in Latin. (Or, depending on your source, Nolle timerean interesting discussion) If you haven’t already, take a little time to read the eulogy given at Heaney’s by fellow poet Paul Muldoon. And if you just need a moment, spend it with this collection of 10 of Heaney’s best poems, or even listening to Heaney himself.

In brighter news, they’re celebrating this month at the Emily Dickinson Museum. It’s the 200th anniversary of the Homestead’s construction (without it, Emily wouldn’t have had a home to be a homebody in) and the 10th anniversary of the museum. Now, I’m still trying to get over Emily standing me up the day I visited the museum, and if I were in the neighborhood, I’d definitely swing by again for the Poetry Marathon on September 20 and 21, during which time every last one of her 1,789 poems will be read from the back of envelopes and chocolate wrappers. Well, no. To make it simpler they’ll no doubt read them from books. But you’re welcome to take notes on the back of chocolate wrappers if you wish. And who is not up for a marathon that involves sitting still and listening?


3 Publishing

“Yet authors continue to use social media—and their online networks—as blunt instruments…” Jane Friedman has a few very helpful things to say about how authors can use social media in a way that provides a kinder, gentler “alternative to begging.” Specifically, she talks about nurturing relationships through social media so that when you need to call on folks, you can do so without hard-sell broadcasts. “It’s much easier to approach warm connections, or people with whom you’ve interacted over a span of months and years,” she says, “than cold ones.”

Poetry at Work

4 Poetry at Work

How’s work going today? Boss got you down? You already know that “good descriptive imagery has its advantages in dealing with the frustrations of the workplace,” right? Victoria Chang has a new poetry collection entitled The Boss that helped her “channel some of those frustrations into art.” Maybe you can make art with your own.

Of course, writing poems about your boss isn’t necessarily going to add anything to your paycheck, as these writers suggest in pointing out that “poetry’s a life, not necessarily a living.”


5 Creativity

Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes may or may not be the “greatest comic strip of all time.” As much as I would like for the rest of the world to agree with Gavin Aung Than (and me) on this point, it’s a bit of a subjective question, and you may have your allegiance already cast with Doonesbury or the Archies. Nevertheless, this gives you a new reason to vote for Calvin (which I encourage). The cartoonist at Zen Pencils produces wonderful comic illustrations of inspirational quotes, this time using a Calvin-esque strip to present Watterson’s own brilliant creative advice.

I just interrupted myself to turn on streaming music from my Clapton station in the adjacent room, after the sound inexplicably refused to work on my writing engine here in the kitchen. It’s too bad, because now I don’t hear the bell ding on my Focusbooster app, and I don’t realize when 25 minutes of focused work ends and I’m entitled to a dork-around-online-somewhere-for-five-minutes break. I just worked through another one.) I don’t always work with music, but today I’m trying to drown out the cicadas and crickets (which sound more like some sort of electric power takeover of my back yard) and Tom Waits just can’t rasp out Jersey Girl’s “sha la la la la la” loudly enough. What do you need for background noise? A new study tested the correlation between noise levels and creative thinking. Bottom line, for many, a perfect mix of distracting-but-not-too-distracting “background noise boosted their creative thinking,” which  is thought to explain why coffee shops are such a popular workspace. If you can’t get out, this article offers a handful of ambient noise options online, including a coffee shop noise loop, white noise and rain. And if music is your kind of background noise, let us point you to ten great writing playlists.


6 Write-It

You may have heard us say it before: Read a poem a day, become a better writer. We believe it around here. And we dare other people to believe it. Ahem. But we’re not the only ones. Take it from Melissa Donovan: Poetry helps improve your writing.

Of course, if you’d rather not read poetry, but still want to become a better writer, then it is recommended that you get yourself a good critic. (Poetry doesn’t look so bad all of a sudden now, eh?) A new book, William and Dorothy Wordsworth: ‘All in each other’, by Oxford professor Lucy Newlyn explores the collaboration between Wordsworth and Dorothy, who “was not only his beloved sister, but his muse, first reader, first critic and editor.” This article at the Telegraph looks at other writers and those they relied on to make their work better.

And maybe you just need a little something to get you into a writing frame of mind. I can assure you I might need a different solution, but writer Sonya Chung, says it was a pair of big red boots that helped propel her through a “baggy, raggedy stage” in writing her novel:

I‘ve been wearing them with shorts and t-shirts, ankle socks that don’t show. Four inches: that turns a 5-foot-2 girl into a 5-foot-6 girl. The library is four blocks away, mostly uphill. These boots are not easy to walk in, and that has turned out to be a good thing. I have to walk slowly, mindful of each step — as opposed to booking it, urban-commute-style. I have had to re-learn how to walk. My daily journey to the library has been a thoughtful, deliberative one: I’ve become aware of not just my feet and legs, but the swing of my arms, my posture. In line at the coffee shop, I feel tall, and grounded. And by the time I get to my carrel, my brain and body have already started working together; I am ready.


7 Poems

Looking to change up your poetry-intake regimen? You could try Lyrikline, an online collection of poets reading their work. The site features over 8000 poems by 907 poets in 60 languages. If you’re careful, instead of first pulling up an Arabic poem translated into German (like some of us did), you could hear Billy Collins or Anne Waldman.

If you’re looking to save time in the morning, you could combine your reading of poetry and the Op-Ed page of the newspaper. The LA Times recently ran a collection of delightful editorial poems, including “The Free Refill Policy Has Been Rescinded” by Richard Scarsbrook:

the glass is not half-empty
the glass is not half-full

the glass
is completely


Read the rest of Scarsbrook’s and the whole collection of opinion poems.

We’re featuring tattoo poems this month at Every Day Poems, like this selection from Dzvinia Orlowsky.

Tattoo Thoughts

Because of lightning
on a young waiter’s bicep
I lied and said I forgot my sweater,
left my family with our menus,
followed after him, outside,
into the parking lot,

rain coming down,
a few cars, one tree with ugly branches,
clouds tensing into pig shapes,
then releasing—I waited for him.
I’ve thought about the long vine
that like a motorcycle

on an open road
would begin at my shoulder—
I do anything I want
how words like chrysalis
squirm into blossom,
how a body willingly

takes on its own unnatural blue—
bare winter breasts,
veins like phone wires
beneath my wrist.
Yes, tattoo thoughts.
Yes, better than another small dog.

Once, a woman flinched
when I touched her skin
lightly with my finger.
She must’ve sensed
the entire small fires in me –
stranger heart,

barbed wire,
Sweet Jesus,
looking buckshot into her eyes –
like I knew she was
going to miss me,
like I’d already left.

—Dzvinia Orlowsky, author of Except for One Obscene Brushstroke


8 People

Now, I have my theories about why Emily Dickinson stayed home so much.  You may have your own hypothesis about the reclusive poet. New “research” may suggest that it could have had something to do with her approach to meeting new people. After all, if she were using her own lines, she may have had less than optimum success and just given up. It probably goes without saying (take note, I’m saying it anyway) that we don’t recommend you try these Emily Dickinson pickup lines. But in case you do, we’d like to have you report back and tell us how you did with “The test of love is death” (541) or “Back from the cordial grave I drag thee” (1649). Or heck, we’d just like to see you try “I’m nobody! Who are you?” (260) or “I know some lonely houses off the road” (311).

So what’s the deal with Dorothy Parker’s elbow? Well, to find out, you might join us in our book club discussion of the book by that title: Dorothy Parker’s Elbow: Tattoos on Writers, Writers on Tattoos, where eventually we’ll learn about her tattoo, which is, not surprisingly, on her elbow. For the rest of your must-have knowledge about the famous poet and writer, take a look at this Beginner’s Guide to Dorothy Parker and let Jennifer Jason Leigh, Anne Hathaway and Tallulah Bankhead bring you up to speed.


9 Books

Back-to-school is officially underway just about everywhere now, and that means one of my kids has already lost his school-issued copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. While some people might be inclined to help him find it, I did him one better and tweeted him a link to Thug Notes, “your main hookup for classical literature summary and analysis” with host Sparky Sweets, PhD. I figure a few minutes in the morning before class ought  to get him back on track. (I should note a language warning for the videos.)

The book focuses on three little homies named Scout, her crippled brother Jem and some homeboy by the name of Dill. Scout’s pop is a righteous lawyer with a badass name like Atticus. Now since there ain’t nothin’ to do in Alabama, Scout and her crew spend the summer harassing a nearby shut-in named Boo Radley.

On a different note, T. S. Poetry Press just released Sun Shine Down, a memoir by Gillian Marchenko. The publisher’s description reads

What if? What if you dreamed of having a beautiful child and in your mind you saw the life you’d share with that child. First steps, little league (or ballet). Maybe the child would play piano or make you proud on the Honor Roll. There’d be eventual graduations, college, even marriage and grandchildren. You might dream it out that far. Or not. Every parent has hopes. No parents wish for pain—their own, or a child’s. Then you had a premature delivery in a foreign country. And the words swirling around you said a different kind of “what if.” What if something was wrong? The dream was at risk—or so it seemed. Would you be ready for that? Could you make peace? Or would it take you down? These are the questions author Gillian Marchenko faced as she woke up after an emergency C-section in Ukraine. Only her newborn child could answer them, in time. But first she had to find a way to hear more than the words “Down syndrome.”

sound n motion

 10 Sound ‘n Motion

Trees tell stories you cannot hear unless you look inside, count the rings. But who knew they could also make music?

The technical explanation: “A tree’s year rings are analysed for their strength, thickness and rate of growth. This data serves as basis for a generative process that outputs piano music. It is mapped to a scale which is again defined by the overall appearance of the wood (ranging from dark to light and from strong texture to light texture). The foundation for the music is certainly found in the defined ruleset of programming and hardware setup, but the data acquired from every tree interprets this ruleset very differently.”

But never mind that. Close your eyes–well, leave them open long enough to see that this is a slice of a tree that’s “playing.” Then, just listen to the music.

I am silenced by this.

YEARS from Bartholomäus Traubeck on Vimeo.

Photo by istolethetv, Creative Commons license via Flickr. Post photos by Claire Burge. Used with permission. Post by Lyla Willingham Lindquist.


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  1. L. L. Barkat says

    You made me laugh with the 4-y-o mystique comment, and then a minute later… I’m crying over Heaney and his last words.

    Ah, the top 10.


  1. […] batch of beautiful, interesting, comical and helpful links to art, beauty, business and poetry in This Week’s Top Ten Poetic Picks. This week we’re featuring a story about an artist who lets her 4-year-old finish her […]

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