This Week’s Top Ten Poetic Picks

The best in poetry (and poetic things)


1 Art

For those of us who’ve had to wash a wall or two (or caused someone else to have to wash a wall or two), there’s Judith Ann Braun, who creates artwork on walls–with her fingers. See the whole collection on her site, or watch her in action in the video clip (and really, put that bottle of 409 away).



2 News

I’m highlighting this a bit late, since the US government has brought itself back (by inches, mind you, but back) from the brink. However, in the wake of the recent shutdown David Biespiel wrote a caustically delightful piece on poetry’s own shutdown due to the failure of poets and critics to agree.

In the hours leading up to the deadline, the critics voted for approval of a new plan to tie further poetry writing to a one-year delay in a requirement that poets do more than write their best words in their best order. The proposal would deny subsidies to poets, poetasters, tinkerers, haikuists, meter-makers, versifiers, and would-be postmodernists.

But minutes later, and with almost no debate, the poets killed the critics’ proposal and sent the stopgap measure right back, free of aesthetic prescriptions. Earlier in the day, America’s poets had taken less than 25 minutes to convene and dispose of a poetry-with-more-music proposal by critics.

This piece, featuring “quotes” from Don Share and Natasha Trethewey, might help prepare for December’s looming opportunity for Congress to do it all over again. (The Rumpus)

And as if to bolster Mr. Share’s declaration that “Our music is our music is our music,” new research has found that brain activity in response to poetry is similar to that of music, as opposed to prose. Researchers mapped brain activity to compare responses to poetry and prose. In contrast to the brain’s response when reading a heating system installation manual (that feels like cheating so I’m happy to see they also included an “evocative” passage from a novel), reading sonnets and other poetry activates not so much the “reading areas” of the brain but those linked to introspection and recollection, allowing scientists to explore the biology and psychology of our experience of art. (MedicalXpress)

Well, here’s something you don’t have to shut down the government to learn: the smell of chocolate can improve book sales. Belgian researchers conducted a 10-day study infusing a Belgian bookstore with a slight scent of, yes, Belgian chocolate. They discovered that under the influence of chocolate (except for those claiming “I did not inhale”), customers browsed longer and actually bought books, though apparently chocolate-sniffing reduces the drive toward crime thrillers and history books. Now, if you’d just pass me a Lindor truffle, I’ll tell you how chocolate affects online book sales. (Moo-Lolly-Bar)


3 Places

I don’t astonish easily. But go ahead, call me astonished at the discovery that the most famous book set in South Dakota is A Long Way from Home by Tom Brokaw. I took exception to this, thinking surely we had a more famous book than one by the esteemed Mr. Brokaw. I wondered why, at the least, one of the five Little House on the Prairie books set in the state was not featured instead. To soothe my scalded indignation, I Googled “books set in South Dakota” and scanned the list from Goodreads. Not a single title I recognized. I even went to the website of one of the major libraries in my state. I recognized two titles. One, Mr. Brokaw’s. The other, not as famous as Mr. Brokaw’s. I don’t want to talk about it any more. But you might be interested in discovering what is (allegedly) the most famous book set in your state at this infographic at Business Insider.

Poetry at Work

4 Business

This week marks the release of the preview issue of Scratch magazine, a new publishing quarterly edited by Jane Friedman and Manjula Martin. The magazine “publishes smart, useful stories about the intersection of writing and money,” and based on the preview issue, will live up to its promises.

In a thought-provoking interview, Jonathan Franzen neglects to mince words in his take on the net result of the Internet’s glut of free content:

Where’s the pay model? I have many reasons to resent this new electronic world, and one of the big ones is that the people whose job it is to report responsibly are getting kicked out of work, downsized, reduced to half time, having their pay slashed, by this bloodsucking monster squid of the Internet. All these blogs—they all need information. Where’s the information coming from? Who is paying for the information? The Silicon Valley visionaries say, “Oh, well, we’ll crowdsource it.” Yeah, give me a fucking break. As if you therefore don’t need people whose job it is to have a beat, to work contacts for years, to understand a subject thoroughly, to put things in context, to be able to distinguish meaningful information from nonsense… it’s just not doable.

But all is not monetary angst. He also shares important advice for writers, from taking a big hard eraser to to the clichés in your writing to echoing Annie Dillard in the recommendation to become an expert at something no one else is:

It was one of those great research positions, which I continue to recommend to all fiction writers: make yourself an expert at some arcane thing, because then you become very hard to fire. That was five years of living. It’s how I got my first novel written.


5 Creativity

How many writers can give you sound writing advice in two minutes and twelve seconds? I lost count after the first three. But here it is: a full two minutes and some change worth of good words for writers. (And? Take note of the words that come up over and over: Write. Read. Trust.) Now, go get ’em. (Poets & Writers)

What’s the relationship between creativity and doubt? Alan Iny, co-author of Thinking in New Boxes says “Revolutionary ideas come about when we doubt our existing view of the world.” Along with Luc de Brabandere, he goes on to challenge not only the notion of thinking inside the box, but also of thinking outside it. The authors argue that we still need the structure of boxes in order to get our best creative thinking. But sometimes we need a different box. Case in point? Olympic high jumper Dick Fosbury changed the sport when he went over the bar back first instead of hurdle-style (now known as the “Fosbury Flop”). Why did he take such an unorthodox approach? “Because he wasn’t good enough at the traditional one.” (Forbes)


6 Write-It

I’m pretty good with a Windsor knot. I used to wear a tie once in a while in high school, but I just got lucky with the knot. When my basketball player-sons had to start wearing neck ties on game days, I went online to find directions. They still come to me to tie their Windsors in the morning. If you ask me, I think there’s a little poetry in the knot-tying (in all fairness, I also thought there was a little poetry in the roadkill, though that turned out to be a bit controversial). Found Poetry Review has a poetry prompt creating a found poem from the “how to” text of an article. Not sure what you’d like to try? Just type in “how to” and let Google give you some topics.

Once you get the hang of found poetry, think about trying Robert Lee Brewer’s Remixing the World’s Problems Challenge. The poet is inviting readers to remix (ie, create found poems) from his collection, Solving the World’s Problems. You could win $500. Entries are open until May 15.


7 Poems

While we’re on the subject of the Internet (well, we were a couple of items ago), I’ll share a darkly funny, poignant piece from Poetry Foundation. In Ode to Browsing the Web, poet Marcus Wicker explores the loneliness of such a vast, crowded space.

I’ve been told the internet is
an unholy place — an endless intangible

stumbling ground of false deities
dogma and loneliness, sad as a pile of shit

in a world without flies. My loneliness exists
in every afterthought. Yesterday, I watched

a neighbor braid intricate waves of cornrows
into her son’s tiny head and could have lived

in her focus-wrinkled brow for a living. Today
I think I practice the religion of  blinking too much.

Read the rest of Ode to Browsing the Web.

If the writing advice in that short video clip was not enough to just send you to your writing chair, perhaps you are still awaiting the arrival of your muse. Perhaps your muse will aid you in observing the tiniest detail, as in the difference between spearmint and bubblegum “when pressed to the sidewalk.” A word of caution, though. The muse may be more of a distraction.

The Coming

Muse needed,
I hung the sign at the top of my door.

Meantime, you’d been passing by every morning,
checking out the way spearmint gum
looked different from bubblegum
when pressed to the sidewalk
by Italian leather, white rubber, dragon heels.

Once, I think without either of us realizing,
you looked up my skirt

(it was my fault, really, for getting back
on the step-ladder to fiddle with the flat head
of the nail I’d placed the chain upon, and really
you did it without thinking—but maybe
a lack of thought makes it your fault).

What happened next
cannot be explained except perhaps
by a directional taboo (you must ask Genji)
that turned you away from the bubblegum
and led you straight through my front door,
sign banging behind you. You came to me
in a great rush—no pretense, no pride—
and have been, ever since, unfastening
and opening my skirt.

— L.L. Barkat, author of The Novelist

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8 People

As an insurance adjuster, I’ve heard just about every falling-object story there is to tell. But here’s a new one: falling tortoise. So, was Greek playwright Aeschylus killed by a falling tortoise? (Better yet, was it an eagle mistaking the tortoise for an egg who dropped it on the head of the playwright who thought it was a rock?) Find out at Huffington Post, where the legends surrounding the unusual deaths of nine authors are explored–some are true, some are not. But they’re all quite interesting.

Meanwhile, young poet and illustrator Sara Barkat has released two delightful installments in her Edward Gorey-style series of Horribly Tragic Deaths of Some of My Favourite Characters series, beginning with Watson and Holmes and some fellas from Star Trek.

If you’re like me (and hopefully you’re not), every year the Nobel Prize in Literature comes out and you read the announcement and say, “Gee, you should really read more (or something) by that author.” How much Alice Munro have you read? Probably you could use a little bit more. Open Culture has rounded up 17 short stories by the Nobel Prize winner that you can read online for free. Best be getting to it before they announce the next winner.


9 Books

Mary Oliver has a new collection out this month, Dog Songs. She talked with Writer’s Almanac’s Joy Biles about the book. It was noted that Billy Collins’ new collection Aimless Love also released this month and also featured a dog on the cover. It seems, in fact, that poetry about dogs is a thing now. Oliver said that she didn’t think any of the other recently released books about dogs would be “as conversational” as hers. “All my dogs talked,” she said, “so they talk in the book.” Yes, well. It’s worth noting the interviewer abruptly changed directions at that point.

sound n motion

 10 Sound ‘n Motion

It’s no secret that I’m not good with all things Shakespearean. His sonnets are not my strong suit. But I’m pretty sure that if my high school English teacher had played this clip of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour singing Sonnet 18, it might have changed things for me. Just a little. (Open Culture)

In fact, I’m emailing it to the English teacher at my son’s school as soon as I’m done posting it here. It’d be a nice companion to the Quatrain Wreck sonnet infographic.

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

    Thanks for mentioning the Remixing the World’s Problems challenge!

    I’ve already received some pretty cool entries, including a person who sent a series of 60 tankas. Wow!

    Also, cool to see a mention for Jane Friedman’s new magazine.

  2. says

    Business Insider is wrong about Texas. They must think it’s “No Country for Old Men” because there’s a movie. No way, Jose (er, Cormac). It’s Larry McMurtry’s “Lonesome Dove.” The story is in the air and the water and in the land and the livestock. There were three–count ’em, three!–offhand references to “Lonesome Dove” in the August 2013 edition of “Texas Monthly” magazine. I know two people who named a son after Captain Woodrow F. Call. Even people who’ve never read the book have seen the miniseries. Men and women love it and they don’t know why. It’s just … Texas.

    (rant over)

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