This Week’s Top Ten Poetic Picks

The best in poetry (and poetic things)


1 Art

Here’s a guy who makes me never want to put a toothpick in my mouth again. After seeing this sprawling (and exquisite) sculpture of San Francisco built entirely of toothpicks, I’m thinking it would just feel wrong. Artist Scott Weaver created the piece over 35 years, using 100,000 toothpicks, many from around the world. Weaver notes that he’s just short of the world record (there are bigger toothpick sculptures?), but that the others don’t have a kinetic function. His takes little yellow and white balls on an exclusive toothpick tour of the city. (Maybe next year’s Tweetspeak Supporters Party ought to look into a toothpick tour of New York City.) (Colossal)

As a kid, I rode my bike at least once a week to a nearby car wash and scavenged through the dumpster. Usually I came out with glass pop bottles I could return for a dime. Sometimes a comic book or a curious trinket. My best haul was the day I rode my bike home with a typewriter between my knees. But the dream that kept me riding back each week was the thought that maybe I could find somebody’s treasure that they thought to discard. Like this guy, who found a slim wooden case full of fascinating drawings, maps and writings that he calls the “Box of Crazy.”


2 News

Uh oh. I don’t know if this is the sort of thing that scholars and translators resolve in an epic underwater battle with a dissolving sword, but Dr. George Walkden of the University of Manchester has research that says that our existing translations of the Beowulf have the first word (Listen!) wrong, essentially treating it as a standalone exclamation rather than part of a longer opening line. It is, perhaps, to those who argue against the proliferation of the exclamation point, on par with the comma-enthusiasts’ life-and-death punctuation argument: Let’s eat Grandma vs Let’s eat, Grandma. That opening word, also translated previously as “Hear me!” and “Indeed!” was rendered “So!” by Seamus Heaney in his translation of the (very old) Old English work.

According to the historical linguist, rather than reading: “Listen! We have heard of the might of the kings” the Old English of “Hwæt! We Gar-Dena in gear-dagum, þeod-cyninga,  þrym gefrunon, hu ða æþelingas  ellen fremedon!” should instead be understood as: “How we have heard of the might of the kings.” (The Independent)


3 Publishing

Think that self-publishing is a recent phenomenon since the advent of the e-reader? You’d be wrong about that. Think it just goes back to the days when Lulu, Lightning Source and Createspace brought print-on-demand to the market? You’d be wrong about that too. Going to take a big leap back to the first half of the 20th century and credit Virginia Woolf? Yes. You’d be wrong. (I spent the day yesterday taking 70 quizzes in an online continuing ed course. I need to hear someone else be wrong today.)

Here it is: Self-publishing goes all the way back to the days when readers clutched clay tablets to their breasts and cried out in protest against the scourge of the papyrus scroll, which threatened to forever alter the pre-traditional publishing industry. “I love the feel of the hieroglyphs under my fingers. I love the smell of a freshly baked clay tablet straight out of the fire, when the edges are still hot enough to blister. The texture of the scroll feels so…sterile. I’ll never read one of rolled up things.” Yep. Self-publishing goes way back to the very first tablets. Poets & Writers has a video-packed piece chronicling the history of self-publishing.

Trace it back to my childhood fears of the creepy troll that showed up in commercials for the Jolly Troll Smorgasbord where my family liked to dine, if you’d like, but I’m not a big fan of buffets. It takes me just about twelve and a half seconds after arrival to lose my appetite. At least when it comes to buffet-style readers, neither is Porter Anderson. He wrote last week on the Ether about new subscription book services. It’s a thoughtful discussions of the abundance of issues raised by these services, not the least of which (it’s worth reading all the way to the end for this) is the risk that the value of books is redefined. (Read: devalued.) Comparing the effects of subscription book services very naturally to that of film, Anderson says this:

I don’t value film as I once did. Maybe I’m completely alone on that. You can tell me so in the comments, if you like. But on-demand viewing has made movies interchangeable with many other entertainments for many of us. B-grade selection-deepening productions have made the field at once broader and shallower, harder to catalog in the mind, easier to skim over or to pass over completely for an equally boggling array of television programming.

You’re not completely alone on that, Porter. And that’s even without the Jolly Troll. (

Poetry at Work

4 Poetry at Work

Once upon a time, apparently, large corporations commissioned songwriters, singers, and dancers to launch new product lines or marketing campaigns with musicals (or, more aptly, “industrials”) for their staff. NPR talked to songwriter Sheldon Harnick and actor John Russell, as well as Steve Young, who has written a book about the industrials, elaborate shows about bathroom fixtures or tractors or Bell Telephone were intended to motivate and educate employees. According to Young:

There was the belief for quite a long time, I don’t know if there was ever hard data to back it up, but if you bring everyone together for this thrilling theatrical experience — and it often actually was thrilling to the audience — then they’d have a sense of purpose, they would get out there, they would charge ahead and have a renewed energy for selling. (NPR)

We didn’t stage a musical in the Tweetspeak editorial offices, but last week the team and its supporters did, in a manner of speaking, attend Phantom of the Opera in the city that never sleeps. We were so delighted at the early response of our community to join us in our Tugboat campaign that we held an online party complete with terrific prizes and a virtual tour of New York City.


5 Creativity

So, the research says that American businesses lose more than $178 billion in productivity to the Internet. Employees misusing it, that is. If you spend any time with a computer and an Internet connection during the work day, you know the challenges of staying focused when there are well over 178 billion distractions a click or two away. One researcher says that denying yourself the urge to surf may cost you productivity as well — that willpower itself is an energy suck. The solution? Go ahead and take the Internet break (your concentration will probably thank you for it) but browse the good stuff: spend less than 20 percent of your online time on “silly” things:

People need to zone out for a bit to get back their concentration,” researcher Dr. Brent Coker told Ars Technica’s Jacqui Cheng. “Short and unobtrusive breaks, such as a quick surf of the internet, enables the mind to rest itself, leading to a higher total net concentration for a day’s work, and as a result, increased productivity.” The research found that those who spent less than 20 percent of their time perusing the Internet’s silly offerings were 9 percent more productive than those who resist going online. (99u, The Atlantic)

Once you get done frittering away your day 20 percent at a time on the Internet, you might want to think about pursuing that creative career. Scott Belsky, CEO of Behance, talks about the future of creative careers. Take a little time to listen to his presentation. There’s a very interesting discussion of his expected change in the creative marketplace from referral-driven to discovery-driven. That is, rather than having your work found by a complicated luck-governed strategy of connecting with the right people, that artists and creatives need to find ways to showcase their work in ways that they can be discovered. That is, featuring work in a “connected portfolio” rather than a captive showcase in one’s own space on the Web. His discussion of the character of the creative in the marketplace as “free radical” is worth your time as well.


6 Write-It

When I write a poem, it’s usually first in my head, and very sketchy, maybe just the images. As soon as I’m able, I find paper and pencil it out as best I can, and then I type it in one long paragraph, hoping it is at least mildly coherent by that point. And finally, I break it into lines and then begin to rearrange and replace words and phrases. That’s as systematic as it gets for me. Carmen Giménez Smith has a great list of 22 “poem hacks” (“intentional copyediting strategies”) you can use to rework or move forward on a poem when you’ve bumped into the wall. I found the first (cutting the first stanza) and the last (moving the first stanza to the end) to be the “hacks” in her list I use most often, but the whole list is worth printing out and keeping handy. (Poetry Foundation)

Ever wonder if there are tools online you can use to better organize yourself as a writer? Mila Araujo has a helpful collection of several online apps from mind-mapping to list-making to help keep your writing life organized. (Perspectives)


7 Poems

I had no idea, really, that the world was so full of cat poems. There are dog poems too, yes, but I think cats make the better poets. Temperamental, or at least perceived to be. We’re featuring cats here at Tweetspeak this month. We’re writing poems about cats in our Monday poetry prompts, and we’re featuring whole litters of cat poems in our daily poetry subscription, Every Day Poems. Here’s a sample:

We love our cat
for her self
regard is assiduous
and bland,

for she sits in the small
patch of sun on our rug
and licks her claws
from all angles

and it is far
to “balanced reporting”

though, of course,
it is also
the very same thing.

Read Thing by Rae Armantrout, author of Just Saying, on Every Day Poems


8 People

Ever since the day our editor Tania Runyan discovered that daguerreotype of Emily Dickinson and L.L. Barkat in her minivan, we’ve paid very close attention to any news surrounding the reclusive poet. Meaning Dickinson, of course. So naturally, news of the launch of the Emily Dickinson Archive ( — am I the only one that gets that?) was of great interest to us. For the first time ever, the full archive of Dickinson’s poems will be available online, in high-resolution images of her original manuscripts, including poems written on envelopes, paper scraps and chocolate wrappers.

Of course, true to the Dickinson legacy, there appears to be a bit of drama between Harvard and Amherst College, two of the collaborating (which may now be an overstatement) entities which currently hold the documents, over the definition of “poem.” (Cue up finger-wagging.) All I know is that Emily Dickinson, who spent much of her life alone behind a door and asked that her poems be burned upon her death, would surely be thrilled with the whole enterprise. (TeleRead, New York Times, Telegraph)


9 Books

“You’ve been called the most popular poet in America. Does that hurt?” This is Stephen Colbert’s question for two-time U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins. Of course he’s being funny, in his don’t-act-like-you’re-being-funny way, but it’s a very interesting question. Considering how often poets are not popular until after their death, is a poet considered more or less successful when he is contemporaneously popular? They don’t answer that question, but they have a rousing conversation about Collins’ new collection, Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems. And, they read “To My Favorite 17-Year-Old High School Girl” from the book together. What more could you ask? The interview is all the fun you’d expect from these two.

sound n motion

 10 Sound ‘n Motion

Did you look at the poem hacks above? Then you maybe saw this video from The Creators Project, which is both mesmerizing and delightful. I found myself captivated by the movement and though I was trying to be very serious and attentive and figure out how the shapes worked, I found myself giving in to it and just smiling, involuntarily. According to the creators, “Box explores the synthesis of real and digital space through projection-mapping on moving surfaces. The short film documents a live performance, captured entirely in camera.” (The Creators Project, Poetry Foundation)

Photo by Hamed Saber, 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 listened to the Fresh Air piece on the Industrials twice. Someone should write a musical and incorporate some of those songs.

    I love the image of you scavenging a typewriter and carrying it home on your bike. That just says, “Lyla!”

      • says

        I read the entire post, but my mind was stuck on the image of you carrying a typewriter as you did…

        And of course your comment above goes a little Patrick McManus on me as I imagine how you musta strapped all of your bedding & books & clothes & assorted whatnots to your bike as you rode off into the collegiate sunset.


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