This Week’s Top Ten Poetic Picks

The best in poetry (and poetic things)


1 Art

Hold out your hands like you’re a scale, weighing options. Left hand, read a book. Right hand, look at art. Now, shift them up and down like the scale is really trying to balance and see which one weighs more. Read a book, look at art. Hmm. Still undecided? Well, how about you put them both in your left hand and fill your right hand with something that will weigh a little bit but not as much as the art and book options, like, say, marbles. There you go. You don’t have to decide:  you can do both. Colossal has a list of six new art books that look very fun, from a collection of art made from books to eye bugging geometric art to a little tiny person mowing the rind off an orange. (And you thought the absurdity of this segment would be putting marbles in the right side of your make believe scale?) (Colossal)


2 News

Thinking about a tattoo? Proposed regulations in DC want to impose a 24-hour waiting period before getting inked. If that feels like a lot of hassle, you could just hang out with us this month while we read and write tattoo poetry. And check in for our weekly book club on Dorothy Parker’s Elbow. Or, you could drive to North Dakota, where tattoos are still largely unregulated. (And don’t think I wasn’t amused at the idea that there’s a 30-day waiting period on new legislation in DC.) Of course, I’m wondering if Charlie Hopper lives in a waiting-period state, and that’s why he hasn’t gotten his Thanks, Sorry tattoos done yet. (Yahoo! News, Charlie Hopper)

While you wait — for your tattoo or DC legislation — maybe could go to the library. After you browse the video rentals or sleep in one of the tiny chairs in the children’s section, take note that librarians have been hard at work adapting to changing user needs. Brian Mathews has a few things to say about a possible future role for librarians as curators of learning experiences and how his library at Virginia Tech is working to best serve the emerging needs of professors. (The Ubiquitous Librarian)


3 Publishing

About once every couple of months I ask my kids if they really still get anything out of our Netflix subscription, or if I could cancel it and save eight bucks a month. They always half-heartedly tell me that it would be okay, except for the whole Breaking Bad thing. They could watch on Hulu, if they had to, they say. I’m wondering if they would be so attached to the new service being touted as the Netflix for books: Oyster. For $10 a month, Oyster promises unlimited access to their library of 100,000 books. It’s a fee-based digital library housed in your mobile device, complete with all those great and necessary social sharing tools (you know, the way we share with all the people in the world all the things we do all alone) so you can post your reading exploits on Facebook and Instagram. So far, it’s only available on iPhone, and you’ll need to get an invite from someone to try it out. I’m an Android user, so I’m left out on the playground on a cold winter day. Anybody try it yet? (Fast Company)

While Oyster gets into the subscription-based reading business, prominent magazines are making a go at the e-book singles market — longer reads (some in the range of 12,000-16,000 words) that are not made available in the print or online versions of the magazines but sold on Kindle for a couple of dollars. In the case of Discover magazine’s Obsessed, the story will be released in the print version some time after the e-book publication. (Thin Reads)

Poetry at Work

4 Poetry at Work

Philip Levine, former U.S. poet laureate, was recently awarded the Academy of American Poets Wallace Stevens Award for lifetime achievement. Levine is known for the poem “What Work Is,” among other things, a reflection of his effort to capture a sense of what it’s like on the assembly line in poetry. Of his work, Levine said,

I believed even then that if I could transform my experience into poetry I would give it the value and dignity it did not begin to possess on its own. I thought too that if I could understand my life — or at least the part my work played in it — I could embrace it with some degree of joy, an element conspicuously missing from my life. (New York Times)

Robert Fulford writes “an ode to those who take pride in their work” in the National Post, recalling the day his Piano Man, the mover who made an art of bringing a piano up from the first floor to the second. Taking issue with Tyler Cowen’s Average is Over, Fulford paints a poignant recollection of his father — a cheerless man who seemed to find happiness only when he was working — noting “the poetry of labour” in those who find something satisfying in the work others might consider drudgery. (National Post)

Watching him, I realized that he loved his work because of what it demanded from him, in good times and bad. He was attentive, alert, purposeful. Working, he came alive.

I get that.


5 Creativity

Do you have a particular genre you write in? Maybe more than one? Maybe one that doesn’t seem to exist on the standard genre scale? Maybe you feel a bit hemmed in by the labels. Joyce Dyer wonders if maybe “our minds have outgrown” the idea:

If we’ve felt sometimes that the page is too tight for us, it may be because our minds have outgrown it. The brain that propels the mind, after all, is deeper than the sea and wider than the sky, isn’t it? The page may be forcing compromises that the brain, in such close relationship with the mind, must rightly refuse.

She suggests that maybe brain mapping (not the same as mind mapping) can be helpful in opening up new, creative ways to see our work. (New York Times)

And once you get your brain mapped, maybe you can shift over to something really useful, like mind control. National Geographic reports on five different areas where mind control is actually … working, from composing music to answering phone calls. I’m not sure, though, about the benefit of using your mind to answer the call if it isn’t going to step in there and have the conversation for you too. (National Geographic)


6 Write-It

Do you have trouble being concise in your writing? Reading and writing poetry can help. But so can this exercise from Naomi Shihab Nye: write for three minutes in three-word sentences. Judith Conte tried it over at Ploughshares. Take a look, and give it a try yourself. (Ploughshares)

If nothing else, writing in three-word sentences will prevent you from splitting your infinitives. There’s no room for it. But in defense of split infinitives, here’s what it’s like to read a sentence whose infinitives should have been split wide open:

Slate has a critique (full of the most remarkable grammatical terms I’ve ever heard) of the Economist’s style guide, which prohibits infinitive-splitting. Even the New York Times style manual recognizes that grammarians don’t care about split infinitives, Slate notes; it’s the readers who balk. Funny, since strident refusal to split an infinitive where it makes sense to do so makes reading a sentence into running an obstacle course, and really, the only people who actually enjoy obstacle courses are people who sit on the couch with Coke and popcorn and watch them.  (Slate)


7 Poems

One year I bought a dreadful children’s book and annotated the dickens out of it with an inky new Sharpie pen until it was actually a wonderfully funny birthday gift for a roommate. Lemony Snicket joined forces with Poetry in the September edition, annotating (without a Sharpie) a collection of 20 illustrated poems entitled Poetry Not Written for Children that Children Might Nevertheless Enjoy. I must admit, in my faded 30-years-ago memory, I amused myself more, though I did find myself snickering at Mr. Snicket’s (Mr. Lemony’s?) thoughtful remarks. (Poetry Foundation)

“Uppity” refers to someone who acts as if they are more important than they are, as in the sentence “Is it uppity of Lemony Snicket, who is not a poet and knows very little about poetry, to edit his own poetry portfolio?”

I suppose, in a way, a tattoo could be considered an annotation of oneself, in the sense that an annotation is a comment, an explanatory note. We’ve been discussing Dorothy Parker’s Elbow in our book club this month, a collection of essays, poems and short stories featuring “Tattoos on Writers, Writers on Tattoos,” and this week’s readings focused on the tattoo as a representation of one’s identity, sometimes even being a part of creating one’s identity. Every Day Poems featured Triangle Tattoo by Cheryl Dumesnil this week, which in the final lines touches on this matter of the potential of the tattoo to change a person’s identity, even in some small way:

Triangle Tattoo

Wood-planked floors, twelve-foot
ceiling, a wall of glossy snapshots—
dragonfly, water lily, barbed wire
spiraling a woman’s thigh. The artist
bends over my lover’s shaved leg,
his palate of paper cups filled with ink.
Through her skin, three finches
emerge on a blackberry branch,
ink mixed with blood beading her calf.
For the third time, I run downstairs
to the car, slap the gearshift into
neutral, roll over the parking cop’s
chalk mark, buying us time. Hours
I sat beside them, telling stories,
changing the music, rubbing color
back into her fingertips. Now I
lean against the car and listen—
the buzz of the needle piercing
her skin, the heart-shaped sign
swinging its rusted chain. This is
my job—he will change her body
forever, I will love what she becomes.

— Cheryl Dumesnil


8 People

Kwame Dawes has a running “Memo to Poets,” offering bits of advice and inspiration. I laughed out loud at #110: “So it rhymes and pentameters, so what?” and nodded at #93: “Eventually, unpredictability becomes predictably unpredictable.” What are your favorite memos?

Billy Collins is in Russia doing with international relations what he asks us do in reading a poem: “I ask them to take a poem, and hold it up to the light like a color slide/or press an ear against its hive.” Pavel Koshkin writes that “Perhaps he is asking readers to suspend quick judgments and instead, listen carefully to something deeper.” Collins believes poetry and literature can help us find the common ground between nations and cultures, and perhaps improve relationships. (RBTH)


9 Books

Amy Tan’s new novel, The Valley of Amazement, releases in November. Review copies are out now, and readers are submitting photos of their face with the book that will bring out that it’s-hilarious-but-really-creepy-at-the-same-time feeling you don’t quite know what to do with. (GalleyCat)

And as though you needed me to give you a reason to read, or to love Maurice Sendak, browse this 1986 collection of Sendak’s posters celebrating the love of reading, among other things. (Brainpickings)

sound n motion

 10 Sound ‘n Motion

Good writing is like music. In that spirit, I give you La máquina de escribir (The Typewriter). Anyway, I owe you a classy video after that whole Winter Wipeout obstacle course thing.

Top photo by Chiara Cremaschi. Creative Commons license via Flickr. Post photos by Claire Burge. Used with permission. Post by Lyla Willingham Lindquist.


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  1. says

    Lyla, being here with you is like going on a splendid scavenger hunt for all the best treasures. The uncovering is a gift wrapped in Tiffany blue. And you, I cannot imagine the hours involved in collecting, collating, cataloging that result in THIS. I love it every time you go on a “search and rescue” or is it “search and recover” mission of living breathing artifacts of fun.

    You girl get gold stars on the forehead for this!! Whatever happened to gold stars?????

  2. says

    Quite a curatorial roundup, Lyla.

    D.C.’s proposed regulation is “Big Brother” stuff (I guess the mayor wants to be a Bloomberg). Everyone I know who has gotten a tattoo has done so after a lot of consideration. A lot of the shops in town are small businesses that depend on being able to provide service when a person comes in. They have been vocal in opposition to the proposal. I’ll be surprised if it survives.

    Btw, did you hear “Grumpy Cat” now has a deal to endorse cat food?

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