This Month’s Top Ten Poetic Picks

The best in poetry (and poetic things)


1 Art

While I write, I’m listening to the new Spanish Lace playlist that we won’t be releasing until next Monday’s poetry prompt. I don’t want to ruin the surprise for anyone, but an artist whose name rhymes with Lori Esteban keeps telling me how I’ve got to get myself together because “Once the music hits your system / There’s no way you’re gonna stop.” (Come on now, it’s not like I’m dropping Downton Abbey spoilers into your Facebook feed.) With or without a Conga beat, few would argue that music is a powerful force. So really, I suppose it shouldn’t be so surprising to us when music showed up in the surprising places shown in this piece at Twisted Sifter—including the middle of wars and protests.

Not every photographer can have a sprawling studio in which to work. Of course, not every photographer needs one. For Korean artist JeeYoung Lee, it’s all in what you make of it. She “creates mystical universes in the confines of her 3×6 metre studio.” Take a look at her room of Legos, mice and trapdoors releasing birds in this set at the Guardian.


2 News & Opinion

I live in a quiet little town with a small library. The kind of small library in a quiet little town whose librarians know all of their patrons by name. At least they know my name. Which might be because every time I check out a book I get a call the day after it’s due reminding me to bring it back. The last book I checked out was Annie Dillard’s The Maytrees (highly recommended). I didn’t get a call from my librarian this time, but I also don’t remember ever returning the book. Maybe Nhia Vue—the St. Paul woman accused of securing library cards for 24 make-believe children and making off with book totes full of material she checked out for them—doesn’t remember not having 24 children. Maybe she also doesn’t remember that Minnesota is pretty unfriendly about overdue library materials. Instead of a friendly phone call, you could get charged with a petty misdemeanor. Not that I’m suggesting she should have brought her fabricated children to one of our fine South Dakota libraries. Anyway, we confine our fiction section to books.

Ever read a book and want to know more about the author? Ever go off to learn more about said author and find yourself disappointed in the search results? Apparently that’s happened at least once. And the eager researcher was apparently quick to chastise Dani Shapiro, author of Still Writing: The Pleasure and Perils of a Creative Life and Devotion: A Memoir, for not writing a book that aligned more closely to what the reader discovered on Google. Shapiro writes an open letter at Salon to this “disillusioned reader who contacted me on Facebook,” attempting to help the reader understand a key word in Devotion’s subtitle: memoir. Memoir, she explains (and maybe many of us could use this helpful, sharp-tongued review), is not autobiography: it is “a good story shaped out of a lived life.”

Here is what I consider to be my side of the pact, oh Disillusioned One. Each day, I sit alone in my little room. Sometimes I write fiction, and sometimes I write memoir. When I write fiction, I make things up. I enter the world of my imagination, where pretty much anything can happen. But when I am working on memoir, I burrow deep into a small, dark place inside me, no larger than the head of a pin. This dark place contains within it all the sorrows and confusion of my life: the death of my parents, the loss of most of my family, the harrowing illness of my infant son. When I burrow into that place, it expands and becomes oceanic. It fills and fills the room in which I write until it is the air I breathe, the water in which I swim. It becomes everything. I live inside the memory of whatever it is I still need to know. I try to shape a story – the only redemption available to me – from memory. …  The memoirist looks through a single window in a house full of windows. After all, we can’t look out of all the windows at once, can we?  We choose a view. We pick a story to tell. We shift through the ever-changing sands of memory, and in so doing create something hopefully beautiful, by which I mean universal. We try to tell the truth – by which I do not mean the facts.


3 Publishing

Writing a book? Hope it’s successful? I have three words for you: use more verbs. That’s the best I can figure from a new study from Stony Brook University, highlighted by Melville House, which attempts to predict a book’s success by computer modeling. When you edit your manuscript to ratchet up your verb usage, be careful to avoid the past participle, apparently the bane of less successful books. For those who excel at grammatical hair-splitting, perhaps you could investigate whether past participles used as adjectives count against your verbs.

Seems no study ever had to be completed to establish that the most successful books are the ones that actually got written. We have a saying here at Tweetspeak that helps us break free from the “paralysis of analysis” and get things done: just mow the damn lawn. Perhaps there is a helpful corollary for authors who are stuck in the quagmire of wondering if their book will be a success: Just write the damn book.

Poetry at Work

4 Poetry at Work

Those who write code have long thought of their work as poetry. But until now, they’ve not had a Code Poetry Slam. A recent event at Stanford University featured just such a competition. According to the organizers, featured on PSFK, “‘Poems that are readable to humans AND readable to computers perform a kind of cyborg double coding (in language, double coding means a sentence that is readable in multiple languages at once),’ their website explains. The winning project, ‘say-23’ by Leslie Wu, featured her typing and reading 16 lines of code (with the help of Google glass) that read and sang psalm 23 from the Bible.”

Interested in climate change, but unable to get past the “Oh, man, I should have stayed awake in my high school science classes” part? Oceanographer Greg Johnson is here to rescue you. He’s broken down the most salient points of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report (in its complete form it is over 2000 pages) into a set of 19 beautifully illustrated climate change haiku. According to Sightline Daily, the collection is “stunning, sobering, and brilliant. I’ts poetry. It’s a work of art. But it doubles as clear, concise, powerful talking points and a compelling visual guide.”


5 Creativity

For all our talk about valuing creativity and invention, says Jessica Olien, “It’s all a lie.”

This is the thing about creativity that is rarely acknowledged: Most people don’t actually like it. Studies confirm what many creative people have suspected all along: People are biased against creative thinking, despite all of their insistence otherwise.

Our love of creativity is hindsight, it appears, as researcher Barry Straw suggests, arguing that what “we celebrate is the after-effect.” Creative solutions, presented in the moment, are resisted. Take a look at this thought-provoking article at Slate.

Maybe part of our resistance comes of what we’re doing to our own creative capacity through technology and constant stimuli, for either good or bad. World Science Festival talks about this subject in this video clip, The Creative Brain Across Time and Cultures.


6 Write-It

I’m not the best judge of my own written work. I have a few (very few) people whose assessments I rely on because I trust them to always tell me the truth, even if I will bristle a bit (a lot) when they do. If you have this same trouble, sometimes it can keep you from reworking a piece you think is beyond salvaging, or is so great you are afraid if you touch it you’ll break it. David Wright offers 11 Ways to Revise Work You Thought Too Wonderful or Awful to Revisit Again. It’s a great piece to help you see how you can revise (or revive) your work.

Speaking of revision, Kristy Eldredge has an entertaining piece at The Rumpus in which she channels Pema Chödrön rewriting a handful of the classics. If you have the double-vision of having read the works in question and familiarity with Chödrön, the entertainment quotient goes up exponentially.

And also speaking of revision, if you are ready for a new challenge in your writing, try writing funny. L.L. Barkat explains why humor writing is hard work, and may require more revision than your lyrical prose in 5 Great Reasons to Write Funny at newly-launched humor site

Writing funny often requires multiple revisions to really work a piece. Lift those juxtapositions! One more twist. Another turn. Flip something on its head. Cut, cut, cut (upper cut!). The harder you revise, the funnier you can make a piece.


7 Poems

Do you mind if we talk about revision once more? Jon Henke has taken the (civil) liberty of updating Edgar Allan Poe:

Once upon a database query, while I pondered weak security,
And many avenues of access via backdoor,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a wiretapping,
As of some one gently sniffing, sniffing at our server’s door.
“‘Tis some hacker,” I muttered, “tapping at our server door
Or just a virus, nothing more.”

You can read the rest of Henke’s NSA update to Poe’s The Raven at The Atlantic. “Quoth the Agent: ‘Classified!'”

I recently started following Walt Whitman on Twitter. Over at the Atlantic, they say Whitman is a pretty good tweeter. @TweetsofGrass posts a few lines each day of Leaves of Grass, which apparently takes around six months and it’s on its fifth go-round. No revisions, by the way.

A taste:



You can follow Walt for your daily Whitman, or as luck would have it, if you subscribe to Every Day Poems, you can get your daily dose of Walt Whitman (and a world of other poets), like the Learn’d Astronomer that showed up in my inbox this week:

When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns
     before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add,
     divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured
     with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
— Walt Whitman


8 People

I missed Emily Dickinson’s birthday last month. I mean, it’s not like she would have thrown a party or anything. Leastwise not a party anyone would actually have been invited to. But still. I felt a little bad about it. (Then I remembered how she stood me up the day I visited her house in Amherst and I didn’t feel so bad anymore.) The Gorgeous Nothings: Emily Dickinson’s Envelope Poems released last fall not long before her birthday, and if you are a Dickinson fan, this looks to be a must-have. The collection features poems Dickinson wrote on envelopes (she was known for writing many of her poems on scraps of paper, including envelopes and chocolate wrappers). Given the poet’s unique style, reading the poems in her own hand, on the original papers where the shape of the paper gave shape to the poem, gives a new a peculiar insight to the poems themselves. Says editor Jen Bervin in Poetry Magazine,

When Dickinson approached her compositional space to write, she was reading and responding to her materials, angling the page to write in concert with the light rule and laid lines in the paper, using internal surface divisions, such as overlapping planes of paper, to compose in a number of directional fields. Sometimes Dickinson’s writing fills the space of the envelope like water in a vessel or funnels into the triangular shape of the flap. Often she invents columns, typically two, to further divide the space, demonstrating a propensity to break poem lines shorter and shorter. She draws additional line segments or arcs to further divide the compositional space. One would think that such a space would feel carved up, crammed, but it doesn’t. The page feels bigger yet, as if there has been an insertion of space.


9 Books

It’s always a gamble for an author to sit down at the table with Stephen Colbert, even if you’re Elizabeth Gilbert. Colbert talks to Gilbert about her new book, The Signature of All Things, the story of a “polite botanist” (as female botanists were known) in the 19th century. It seems the field of botany was more amenable to the entrance of women because they “snuck in the through the garden,” so to speak. It’s a great conversation, including Gilbert’s challenge to the notion that one must suffer in order to secure legitimacy as an artist.

sound n motion

 10 Sound ‘n Motion

Billy Collins reads his poem, The Best Cigarette, in this video poem from JWT-NY. No revisions to report.

Photo by Jennifer R Graevell Photography, 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, your writing style
    just makes me smile
    here in a pile
    on my bed.

    Glad to see the NOAA guy’s piece, being from Seattle and all.
    I’m with Megan–the memoir piece–what it is and isn’t–was remarkable.

    Keep up the good work.

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