This Week’s Top Ten Poetic Picks

The best in poetry (and poetic things)


1 Art

I once worked in an art and gift shop. My niche was in the cellar where I stood in a pile of sawdust and cut molding with a chop saw that I’d later craft into completed custom framing projects in the back room. But now and again when things got busy, I’d have to give in and shuffle to the front of the store and assist customers in selecting gifts for family and friends who needed absolutely nothing. Rather than the collectible figurines, I’d usually steer them toward the consumables — the coffees and teas, the truffles, or the shortbread cookies. The perfect gift, in my mind, for the person who has everything is something she can eat or drink and be done with. In that spirit, perhaps the perfect gift for your favorite Harry Potter fan who has everything (even his own sorting hat) might just be to bake (yes, by yourself) an edible Hogwarts acceptance letter. Well, the letter isn’t edible, but it’s baked into a delicious — and beautifully hand-addressed — cookie. You can get the directions from Sugar Bean Bakers.  (Cross your fingers that the mail carrier doesn’t snitch a bite.) But no, there’s no Snitch included. (Huffington Post)

If you’re wondering if a cookie can be considered art (trust me, it can), perhaps you also wonder if an infographic can be considered art. A good infographic expresses data visually, in story form. I tend to think that’s art. (Pass me a cookie, please.) A new book, edited by Gareth Cook, releases this week in the Best American series, Best American Infographics 2013. You can find a fascinating graphic that maps tweeting patterns in New York City and the how colors broke down in ten artists’ paintings over a ten year period. Perhaps it’s the graphic created by Evan Roth featuring images created from finger smudges on your handheld device screen (not, as the article notes, “hard data but still vital”) which gives me hope that Tweetspeak’s growing infographic collection, also not conveyors of “hard data” but of what we believe is vital, has a place in the infographic world. (Blouin Artinfo)


2 News

Last month’s brutal attack by gunmen at a shopping mall in Nairobi left Kenyans, and the world, mourning. Poet Kwame Dawes lost friend and mentor Kofi Awoonor in the attack. He wrote a poem for Awoonor:

We can see the thick smoke rising to the sky less than a mile away. We can hear the explosions, the quarrel of rifles. Helicopters batter the air, sirens complain, the bite of tear gas sends us inside from the balcony. Inside the air is calm. I have to relearn the language of mourning like someone who has forgotten what he has lost, like a widow who has misplaced her husband’s corpse.

Read the rest of Kwame Dawes’ poem at WSJ’s Speakeasy.


3 Places

Remember the controversy a few years ago when the cast of the film Valkyrie all spoke in their native accents—including American, British and other European English accents — instead of adopting fake German accents for their native German-speaking characters? (I have to say it was a brilliant move by director Bryan Singer, but most people don’t ask me.)

You don’t remember? Well, it must not have bothered you much then. It probably also hasn’t bothered you that Shakespeare’s plays are not performed with their original English accents. Linguist-actor father-son duo David and Ben Crystal have studied the language as it was spoken 400 years ago (yes, it’s possible to determine this through the study of other pieces of literature and how they describe sounds). Enjoy the sounds of Ben Crystal performing some of Shakespeare’s lines as he would have read them. (22 Words)

Poetry at Work

4 Poetry at Work

Back at the turn of the century Harold Levy was appointed interim chancellor of the NYC public school system. To the surprise of his board members, he asked them to read and discuss poetry — Wallace Stevens, to be specific — and gathered the system’s superintendents for a group violin lesson.

Levy’s role (he was a businessperson) was to bring efficiency to the system, but he also brought what might be deemed the opposite — a conviction that Board members should be conversant in the philosophical questions of the sort that one would hope kids in the schools would face if and when presented with probing teaching.

Of course, not everyone agrees there’s poetry at work, apparently. One board member preferred serial killer novels at work. I suppose, perhaps, there may have been a certain efficiency to that. If it were me? I might have liked him to bake me a cookie with the meeting agenda inside. (Jacket2)

Chris Bittler recently came across a found poem in a pile of paperwork he was reviewing, what he calls a “note poem” that a colleague used to write as he typed notes during phone interviews. This piece, from an interview with a doctor about a building project, shares the perspective of this physician about the work of an architect, including this opening: “I don’t think / There’s a lot of room / For physicians in aesthetics.” Read the rest of the poem at the Bittler Blog.

You know we believe there’s poetry at work — one simply needs to look for it. In fact, we just kicked off plans for the 2014 Poetry at Work Day coming up on January 14. Our new infographic has great ways you can plan to celebrate the day in your workplace, and this year we’ve produced a striking official Poetry at Work Day poster you can request for free. (The infographic, by the way, features cookies.)

And? Sometimes there’s what you might call “un-poetry” at work. This cleverly named Tumblr collection, Terrible Real Estate Agent Photographs, might make you laugh or cry. It’s a bit of a warped tribute to real estate agents, though I’ll extend the tribute to any of us whose work might call us into other folks’ houses.


5 Creativity

Depending on the schedule, I don’t always get a daily walk, and sometimes even when I do, it’s on the George Jetson-like contraption in the basement instead of across the street in the park. But most mornings I do still get a few minutes outdoors on my deck while my tea gets itself ready. Besides the obvious benefits of the fresh air and sunshine, an unexpected result of these micro-excursions is a series of poems centered around two trees in my front yard. Some of them aren’t even half bad. Of course, there’s a reason that even those few minutes on my deck frees up a little writing. Carol Kaufmann writes of the benefits of writing outdoors, and has the science to back it up.

“Most people think of the mind as being located in the head,” writes Diane Ackerman in ‘A Natural History of the Senses,’ “but the latest findings in physiology suggest that the mind doesn’t really dwell in the brain but travels the whole body on caravans of hormone and enzyme, busily making sense of the compound wonders we catalogue as touch, taste, smell, hearing, vision.” There was no substitute for being immersed in nature — in my case, in the home turf of elephants, lions and crocodiles — and hearing, smelling, feeling and sometimes tasting what was in their environment.

Next time you’re stuck — or mentally bankrupt from paying “continuous partial attention” — go outside. Your writing will thank you. (And if you go for a brisk walk, you might earn the right to a cookie.) (New York Times)

Are you learning a language? Poetry could help you. Richard Benton is learning Somali and discovered a resource in, where he can listen to poems in the original language and in translation, as well as gain cultural and artistic insight:

I encourage you to compliment your language-study with this site if possible because it will help you on multiple levels.  First, it will allow you to learn grammar and vocabulary from solid native sources.  Second, it will highlight the way that your language uses imagery to convey ideas. Third, you will gain insight into what the speakers of the language consider most beautiful in their language, and you will deepen your knowledge about their point of view.


6 Write-It

For some of you, it’s “submission season.” Indiana Review has Five Writing Hacks for Surviving Submission Season which you ought to read even if you aren’t submitting this fall. There are tips to help you hone your work no matter its intended audience, and besides, they have animated gifs. (But? No cookies.)

Tom Clancy, among the most well-known and best-selling authors, died this week. Writer’s Digest pulled a classic interview with Clancy from the archives, in which he gives this writing tip:

I do not over-intellectualize the production process. I just keep it simple: Tell the damn story.

Sounds a little like the internal company motto of a certain online media company I know, which has me thinking that this tip could be adapted to so many areas of life. Mow the damn lawn. Eat the damn cookie. You know.


7 Poems

Poet Dave Malone recently published View from the North Ten, a collection of poems inspired by Mark Rothko’s No. 15 and the Ozarks. Every Day Poems featured Red Center from the collection this week:

Red Center

Could Rothko have known
you are so much woman
when oil sprung from inside, not daubs,
but red and yellow gashes
slicing from his arms. A tall man
invisible in front of canvas nearly twice his size.
Supernova bursts spread top and bottom,
logged in redshift of his making.
No above and below in three-dimension space.
Only star fuel where you and I take shape,
apparitions partitioned here only for explanation.
That midsection is curious.
A cloaked croak for critics.
But intersection for you and me.
A pair of nebula
firing through atmosphere,
nothing but light and heat,
like these August afternoons
west of the Delta where farm fields,
stripped of beans and cotton,
reach for the horizon, a magenta strip
of oil paint, vanishing into black.

— Dave Malone, for more see View from the North Ten


8 People

Steven Burt recently delivered a talk at TEDGlobal 2013 on the power of poetry. In an interview at Huffington Post, Burt shares what to many seems counterintuitive: how poetry makes sense. (Despite the many who shy away from it because they think it doesn’t.) He suggests letting go of the need for a poem to have a “message” and just let it be what it is:

I teach high school students in summer school and I meet them regularly; they want poems to move them and speak to them. Some of them have been mis-taught to count similes and dutifully name techniques, but more often, and more harmfully, they’ve been mis-taught to look for “messages,” as if all poems proposed solutions to the problems that they embody or describe. I want readers, of any age, to look and to listen. Once they do that we can, as William Empson says, rely on the poem to tell us the way in which it is trying to be good, to tell us what it is trying to do.

Remember the fellas who are working on performing Shakespeare in its original English? Looks like some folks are finding their way around that challenge by just rewriting Shakespeare. Margaret Atwood, Howard Jacobson, Anne Tyler and Jeannette Winterson are slated to write prose interpretations of the plays. I suppose given that not everyone believes Shakespeare was really Shakespeare, it might make perfect sense for someone else to rewrite his (or her) work later. (Guardian)


9 Books

Programmers are often known as “code poets.” And now, there’s a book of poems written by these code poets — a collection of poems written in programming languages from C++ to SQL to Java. (Yes, and you thought it was already hard to understand poetry.) Ishac Bertran, the project’s founder, says moving code to a something “natural in people’s hands” was a challenge. If you have an interest in coding, (and even if you don’t) code{poems} might be a book for you.

It’s been really exciting to design a book in which the code feels comfortable living in this physical medium, and poetry doesn’t feel betrayed. Code literature might still sound strange but it feels right to me, to have around in our times. (Wired)

sound n motion

 10 Sound ‘n Motion

Motionpoems has a fine animation of  David Wagoner’s poem Thoreau and the Lightning. And just when I was going to sit down under that tree and eat my cookies.

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


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  1. says

    I’ve read Kwame Dawes’s piece at least a half-dozen times; it is deeply moving.

    I had to share that real estate pick with my real estate friends on FB. That site is destined to become a favorite.

    So pleased to see Dave’s collection highlighted. I had the privilege of reading his manuscript. It’s a wonderful series of poems.

  2. says

    Really wonderful links here. I’d read the piece by Carole Kaufmann and it really struck a chord. Of course, as a writer, I can’t help but think how cookies might sweeten rejection letters.

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