The year’s best in poetry (and poetic things).
The editors have culled our very favorite links from our weekly Top 10 Poetic Picks from 2012. Reviewing these and many other links was a great reminder of the amazing sights and sounds we’ve highlighted here in the last year. If you’re in need of creative inspiration or just some general year-end cheering, browse our previous Top 10 Poetic Picks.
April 19: Let me be clear: this first item—Lavatory Self-Portraits in the Flemish Style—has pretty much nothing to do with poetry. But it’s so flipping creative I just had to include it. Besides, what else are you going to do on a trans-Atlantic flight? —Kimberlee Conway Ireton (KCI)
May 10: As a kid, the appearance of a train crossing the street always captured my imagination. While sitting in the passenger seat of my dad’s car, exotic train cars rolled past me with mystery cargo and spray-painted graffiti that broadcasted strange words and peculiar shapes. Where were the trains going? And who had marked them along the way? Here’s an Instagram tribute to the magic of graffiti. –Matthew Kreider (MK)
August 9: What would you do if a mystery artist left exquisite sculptures on literary doorsteps all over your city? Last year, an unknown artist crafted books into ten intricate works of art, then quietly left them at prominent institutions, beginning and ending with the Scottish Poetry Library. I suppose if you really must know who was responsible, you could check hands of Edinburgh residents for paper cuts. –Will Willingham
October 11: I suppose it goes without saying what type of images displayed in the art gallery of my mind when I read the headline Portraits Drawn with Tea, Vodka, Whiskey and Ink. One part preschool finger paint, one part erratic Picasso distortions, shaken not stirred. Not so. These portraits by Carne Griffiths are breathtaking. And I didn’t say breathalyzer-taking. You must see. –LWL
August 9: This just in. Among other difficulties facing Emily Dickinson, a textbook used in some Louisiana schools claims she sported a bad attitude. When asked about the allegation, the late Ms. Dickinson replied, “Saying nothing . . . sometimes says the most.” –LWL
November 1: This week, the Northeast hunkered down as Hurricane Sandy came barreling in off the Atlantic. Tweetspeak’s own L.L. Barkat weathered that storm, and she’ll tell you first hand–it was as terribly tumultuous as predicted.
Sasha Weiss wrote of the gale, how it reminded her of a poem by Wislawa Szymborska entitled, “Into the Ark.” The poem, in part, reads:
For the sake of the children
that we still are,
fairy tales have happy endings.
That’s the only finale that will do here, too.
The rain will stop,
the waves will subside,
the clouds will part
in the cleared up sky,
and they’ll be once more
what clouds ought to be:
lofty and rather lighthearted
If you dive into one poem this week, make sure it’s this Szymborksa piece, the full test of which is found in Weiss’, “A Poem for the Sandy Aftermath.” –Seth Haines (SH)
March 29: So, your grandmother thinks Kindle is a travesty? It’s okay. This technology is fundamentally altering the daily diets of a whole new generation of writers. How do you explain to your grandmother that Kindle is changing the structure of plots? Could poetry be the next victim or beneficiary? —MK
October 18: Do you remember the first book you read cover to cover? (For me it was The Old Man and the Sea.) That expression–cover to cover–is quickly losing meaning in this world of digital publishing. In fact, I sometimes wonder whether the definition of the word “book” isn’t being constantly rewritten. But as much as I like my Kindle, my iPad, and other means of digital literary consumption, the truth is, there’s nothing like a good, tangible book. –SH
4 Poetry at Work
March 22: Katherine Larson is a molecular biologist. She’s also a poet (winner of last year’s Yale Series of Younger Poets competition and last month’s Kate Tufts Discovery Award). Science informs her poetry—pomegranates, cancer cells, bleeding maples, gills folded like satin—and poetry allows her to explore and even push beyond the epistemological limits of science, of which she writes: “every time I make love for love’s sake, I betray you.” Good stuff, Maynard. –KCI
November 22: As much as I might like to crawl out of bed in and take that sweet red bus for my all-in-one commute and work space, some folks think that the answer to our cubicle farm woes isn’t just a redesign of the workspace but a redesign of how we work, creating spaces that reflect the growing merger of our private and work lives, flex time and play. Some of the images and concepts in this article at the New York Times remind me of Glynn Young’s recent call to consider how we find poetry in our workspaces. –LWL
November 29: Do you see the efficacy of poetry in the workplace? Perhaps not. Perhaps you view the abstract creativity of poetry as an ill fit for the rational, profit-driven motive of the business world. I must admit, I’ve been guilty of drawing such distinctions myself. But this piece at Small Business Notes eschews these traditional notions and indicates that effective business leaders employ poetry on a regular basis. John Coleman at theHarvard Business Review agrees, stating that the inclusion of poetry in the workplace is invaluable. He writes that poetry enhances employee creativity, teaches professionals to simplify the complex, and fosters empathy among coworkers. –SH
May 24: Every day we come across unsightly sidewalks or sentences. But the creative mind knows what to do. This guerrilla gardener turned unbecoming potholes into miniature works of art. –MK
July 19: Focus on my goals? Whatever. If you want me to floss, Mr. Dentist, then don’t bother telling me (again!) how it reduces the occurrence of tooth decay. Instead, encourage me to write a poem, to describe the sound of the diminutive waxed string as it rises from a shadowy valley and scales the walls like the morning light of cinnamon. See? Isn’t dental hygiene beautiful? Go grab your floss and learn why focusing on goals might backfire. –MK
June 21: Snoopy often suffered humiliation after handing a finished draft to the editor with the wavy brunette hair. Alas, who wants to hear that our magnificently composed conclusion sounds, well, like a good beginning. Yes, writers have it rough. They need comic relief just as much as they need instructive feedback. Let’s go back to a classic and consider Six Rules for Writing a Great Story from Barnaby Conrad and Snoopy. –MK
August 30: Want to write better sentences? Start with asking this question: “where do sentences come from?” That’s the advice of Verlyn Klinkenborg, editorial board member for the New York Times. Equal parts philosophical, instructional, and practical, Klinkenborg leads the reader through an exercise of constructing sentences in one’s thoughts. He writes:
“Think of it this way. You almost surely have a voice inside your head. At present, it’s an untrained voice. It natters along quite happily, constructing delayed ripostes and hypothetical conversations. Why not give it something useful to do?” –SH
May 10: Poems offer us an opportunity to play with design and scale. When I read Tania Runyan’s “Jelly Belly Warehouse Tour” last month as part of Every Day Poems candy theme, I quickly marveled at the arrangement of those jelly beans. —MK
May 31: May I indulge in a little more Emily Dickinson love? Reading with my kids last week, I came upon “I’m Nobody”, and I laughed. If Miss Emily were on Twitter, here’s what I’d tweet her: “@emilyd You’re right: It’s dreary to be Somebody/sucking water like a frog/croaking tweets the livelong day/to an oblivious bog.” Maybe I should just resign myself to Nobody-hood. At least I’d be in good company. –KCI
May 31: If you’re not a subscriber to Every Day Poems, you missed out on Ken Waldman‘s beautiful poem “Irish Tea” last week. I read it twice and then twice more. To assuage the pain and disappointment you must feel about being left out, here’s another tea-related poem I love (also from EDP):
Li Po knew
the fecund trees
full of blossoms,
the tea bushes
flush with leaves,
sweet scent rising
from snow-petaled earth,
spears rolled–or broken–
between fingers and thumb
December 6: I started reading The English American last week. I haven’t laughed like that since I saw the author, Alison Larkin, perform part of the one-woman show that is the basis for the novel at the Berkshire WordFest this past fall. Larkin tells the story of traveling from England, where she was raised by adoptive parents, to America to meet her birth parents. Berkshire Magazine recently printed an interview with the hilarious and thoughtful Larkin. –LWL
BLVR: Who told you you were talented?
MS: We had a cousin. We were not supposed to like her, because she was a communist. She was very plain. I adored her, and me and my sister would steal off and go to her house. She sat and talked to me and told me that I knew how to draw and that I could be an artist, or anything, and I thought if she was in the world, then good was in the world. Nobody had spoken to me like that. She died when she was young. She married a terrible non-Jew, a really ghastly person. She was the only person who tried to tell me there was more to life than this cuckoo family. —LWL
July 26: Emily Dickinson is back. Again. This time she’s the subject of a new book, Emily Dickinson in Love, a sort of literary mystery/love story. Only it’s not a novel. At least, it’s not supposed to be. But reviewer Hillary Kelly all but calls the book fiction. This is one fun read. (Though I’m really, really glad I’m not the author of ED in Love!) —KCI
May 31: In a completely different vein, Dwight Garner reviews Michael Robbins’s first poetry collection, Alien vs. Predator:
This man can write…[R}eading Mr. Robbins’s best stuff makes you feel something new is being flogged into existence…[H]e has a sky-blue originality of utterance.
Sky-blue originality. I think I’m going to steal that line sometime. How original of me. –KCI
10 Sound n Motion
August 2: And just one last link, because I don’ t know when to quit. You might send your kid to time out for doing something like this when you have a migraine. But Imogen Heap makes a wonder of art, music and good science. –LWL
November 22: I have friends in the midst of an organ transplant journey. Their story is a poignant one, of deep need paired with a deep desire to give. The whimsical stop-motion animation that follows–based on the recipient of a donor heart–is a two-year collaboration between illustrator Molly Crabapple, singer/songwriter Kim Boekbinder, and animator Jim Batt. The story of “I Have Your Heart” goes a step further than the tangible transaction of an organ donation to the rather secret relationship between the “good girl with a bad heart and the boy whose death will save her life.” Boekbinder, who wrote the video’s song, explains:
The idea for the song came from a story on “This American Life” about a teenage girl who received a donor heart from a boy who was killed in a gang fight. I was struck by how this young girl felt so much pressure to have a really good life–that in order to deserve another person’s heart, she had to be good enough for two people. In my version of the story there is a little bit of romance between the girl and the boy that she has never met. She feels his heart beat everyday and thinks of him as a separate entity inside herself.