The best in poetry (and poetic things)
The Muppets were a big deal when I was a teenager. The original Muppet Show was in first runs, and it was long before any of their various (well-deserved) revivals in the years since. I was especially fond of Beaker (who was shaped more like a test tube), perhaps for his awkward inability to express himself, and the balcony hecklers Statler and Waldorf, perhaps by contrast for their unfiltered excess of self-expression. Love for the Muppets never seems to fade, so it’s fitting they now have an Instagram account, complete with Muppet selfies. (A.V.Club)
What does one do with the everyday belongings of a person who is no longer here? As FastCo Design writer Shaunacy Ferro observes, “Over time, we become desensitized to seeing the ephemera of our everyday lives—mattresses, suitcases, dishes, coats. In death, those plain belongings take on another dimension as reminders of loved ones, memories to be sifted through and organized.” A collection of images by photographer Andrea Tese pay respects to her grandfather “through the lens of the possessions he left behind.”
We love poetry here. Many of us grew to love poetry even before Tania Runyan’s How to Read a Poem was published (any hangers-on still unsure of the “cryptic nonsense” are urged to rectify the situation by reading the book posthaste). We love poetry so much that we’ve been known to dare a person now and again to read it. But let’s be clear about this. We might get a little rambunctious sometimes and issue a poetry dare (and we’ve even explored poetry duels), but we will not countenance a literary fight to the death unless it takes place in the pages of a novel or the lines of a poem. Tragically, an argument over poetry’s superiority over prose turned deadly in Russia. According to the investigative report cited in the LA Times,, “The literary dispute soon grew into a banal conflict, on the basis of which the 53-year-old admirer of poetry killed his opponent with the help of a knife.” Incidentally, dude needs some Play Doh.
There’s a reason that a certain publisher I know will say, “Publishing is not for the faint of heart.” I chatted just the other day with an author whose book releases soon. The author is in the thick of marketing and promotion and wonders when it will be time to get back to writing. “The fun part was getting the call from my agent telling me she’d sold the book. It’s been downhill from that point on.” Writing the book is one kind of hard work. Promoting it is another.
Author Lisa Napoli writes, “These days, it’s not enough to have an idea, find an agent, write a proposal, sell a book, and then actually write it. I’m one of the lucky ones, the very lucky ones, who got to this point, and I thank my stars every day. Briefly. Then, I get back to work.” Napoli outlines the skills and mindset needed for “hardcore guerilla marketing mode” in this article at Writer’s Digest.
While authors are being assimilated into it in more direct ways, and though some may be loathe to view it this way, literature has long been a business venture. VQR has a fascinating read on the history of the business of literature. Richard Nash argues that “What is particularly crucial to understand is that books were not dragged kicking and screaming into each new area of capitalism. Books not only are part and parcel of consumer capitalism, they virtually began it. They are part of the fuel that drives it.”
As the business of literature continues to change—changes many would argue very credibly are driven by the behemoth Amazon—the financial rewards for authors (as well as for booksellers and publishers who are not Amazon) diminish, which in turn is shrinking the circle of authors who have the financial means to write a book. Publisher Colin Robinson is quoted by George Packer in a lengthy but illuminating article at the New Yorker on Amazon’s effect on the publishing landscape: “The real talent, the people who are writers because they happen to be really good at writing—they aren’t going to be able to afford to do it.” Jane Friedman of Open Road offers a contrary view, finding the changes Amazon has wrought on the publishing industry to be good news: “What do you want as an author—to sell books to as few people as possible for as much as possible, or for as little as possible to as many readers as possible?”
4 Poetry at Work
So if literature is business, than does the written word become a commodity? It could be seen that way, as with any other cultural contribution. Noah Berlatsky takes on the issue many freelance writers face in the constant push to produce and the blurred distinction between what is work and what is leisure. “If I love doing something, spending more time on it isn’t a chore. I’m not oppressed because I work all the time. I’m fortunate. What more could I wish for? I get paid to do everything I do. My actualization is monetized. I’ve won capitalism. Nice as winning capitalism is, though, it’s also somewhat unsettling. In an economy more and more focused on cultural production, the line between producer and consumer and marketer just about disappears.” (Salon)
No surprise here: “Critical thinking has long been regarded as the essential skill for success, but it’s not enough, says Dr. [Gerard J.] Puccio. Creativity moves beyond mere synthesis and evaluation and is, he says, ‘the higher order skill.’” Puccio is chair of the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State College, the birthplace of university “creative studies” programs. Such programs have existed for years but are garnering renewed attention given the way the market now demands creativity and “process skills,” the ability to develop “strategies that reframe challenges and extrapolate and transform information, and to accept and deal with ambiguity.” (New York Times)
I never grow tired of examples of people who have used Twitter to take their writing to a new level. It’s part of the spirit behind our invitation to write short poems for possible feature, knowing that the constraints of 140 character (well, 128 if you leave space for a retweet, which we’re sure you would like) compel the writer to use the best possible words in the best possible order (kind of like poetry, yes?). A professor of German, Eric Jarosinski, started tweeting while he was writing a book and found himself unhappy with “his own sentences.” In time, Twitter taught him to write better sentences. ”Over the next two years, tweeting almost thirty thousand times, Jarosinski developed a crisp, allusive, irreverent Twitter voice: ‘Signifying nothing is harder than it looks.’ ‘At Starbucks I order under the name Godot. Then leave.’ ‘First as tragedy. Then as farce. Then as tragedy-farce-banana smoothie.’” Read more about Jarosinski, the voice behind @NeinQuarterly, and the places his writing has gone as a result at The New Yorker.
Instagram is not to be left behind when it comes to poetry on social media. Meet Rio Jones, the “anonymous bandana-wearing poet currently making a rise on Instagram.” Jones combines poetry, music, painting and photography in his work, and “ recently began printing one sentence poetry on rolling papers that you can buy in his Etsy shop. (Huffington Post)
Every Day Poems featured a poem by Anne Overstreet last month that touches on life together by way of the aging of a house and its familiarity:
gaps, settles along a lintel
that has begun to pull back
from the doorway. Everything
that could be done on the cheap,
by hand, is letting go,
having done enough and more.
Old glass warps and blurs the street
into a torrent of chrome. We’ve learned
to listen to what the stairs say,
for water in the walls, for mice.
This house eases and groans
under a roof that keeps the two of us,
the cat, and a view of the cedar
flexing and stretching in the wind
for as long as the roots hold.
We can afford agreement
of nail and plaster and wood
to hold, for now, together.
— Anne M. Doe Overstreet, author of Delicate Machinery Suspended
Have you voted for your favorite Every Day Poems feature from last month? Be sure to stop by and help us choose the Poem of the Month.
New York City’s first lady, Chirlane McCray has a new Tumblr blog that will help take her back to her passion for poetry, while she carries out her duties as chair of the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City. Metro reports that McCray sees poetry, as do many poets, as a means to express in few words what otherwise seems “complicated and emotional and just hard to understand. I like to boil things down to their essence, and I feel like that’s what a poem is.” You can read McCray’s poems, including this excerpt from Women in Need’s at #flonyc:
the round paper ears and nose,
the chubby cotton balls neglected on her table,
pieces of a polar bear with no mouth.
I’m going to take a chance and guess that the first lady also has an appreciation for story (unlike the aforementioned give-me-poetry-or-give-me-your-life poetry lover who had no time for prose) so I’m wondering, just a little, what character she may have chosen if she’d been a part of the Story Museum’s 26 Characters photography exhibit, featuring some of “Britain’s best loved writers and storytellers have transformed themselves into the characters they most loved as children.” Check out Neil Gaiman as Badger, Malorie Blackman as the Wicked Witch of the West, and more.
Gertrude Stein once said, “I really do not know that anything has ever been more exciting than diagramming sentences.” She really did. I read it on the Internet. It was quoted about a million times on Goodreads. Now, wait. This was Gertrude Stein. And she could really think of nothing more exciting than diagramming sentences? And she even said this before the creation of A Diagrammatical Dissertation on Opening Lines of Notable Novels by the Pop Chart Lab, a veritable hotbed of sentence diagramming excitement. Bonus points for sentence diagramming aficionados: diagram Gertrude Stein’s quote for us. (Popular Science)
10 Sound ‘n Motion
Whales sing. What’s more, they compose. Krista Tippett recently interviewed “self-trained acoustic biologist” Katy Payne who has studied the whale song for over 30 years. Payne says that “whales, like people, are composers. The songs are very complex. They consist of six to eight themes. Each theme has a melodic phrase that repeats over and over again and then changes to the next one. And so it would continue as a sequence of events, which then, as a whole, repeat song after song after song. But if you keep listening for months on end, and then for years on end, you discover that the song — each facet of it — is continually evolving to something slightly different. And all the whales in the ocean or in that singing population are changing their song in the same way.” Have a listen to this song of the whale:
We started with The Muppets, and so we’ll also close with them. In keeping with our Ode theme this month, and begging pardon for the abrupt tone change, enjoy a special “Ode to Joy” from Beaker.
We’ll make your Saturdays happy with a regular delivery of the best in poetry and poetic things. Need a little convincing? Enjoy a free sample.