Here are our Top Ten Poetic Picks over the past month (or so).
Where would the world be without the humanities? On my worst days, I imagine a scenario not unlike It’s a Wonderful Life on continuous loop, without the final scene where George comes back to his life, and played all day every day. The world without George is akin to a world without literature and without art and without philosophy.
Nicholas Kristof writes of such a world at the New York Times, making a case for the continued value of the humanities in a world gone digital:
I wouldn’t want everybody to be an art or literature major, but the world would be poorer—figuratively, anyway—if we were all coding software or running companies. We also want musicians to awaken our souls, writers to lead us into fictional lands, and philosophers to help us exercise our minds and engage the world.
I recently joined my state’s poetry society in order to better follow poetry events in my region. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there is, at least in some larger areas and particularly close to the universities, the occasional poetry reading. To my knowledge, there has yet to be one on Main Street of my little town. So needless to say, I’ve not had opportunity to attend many readings. But I have heard enough poets reading their work (or someone else’s) to recognize the phenomena of “poet voice” and understand Rich Smith’s call at Arts in the City for it, to go, a-way:
It’s as if at some point between the last breath of banter and the first breath of poem a fairy has twinkled by and dumped onto the poet’s tongue a bag of magical dust, which for some reason forces the poet to adopt a precious, lilting cadence, to end every other line on a down-note, and to introduce, pauses, within sentences, where pauses, need not go.
I’m still in the middle of a long-term business assignment a few days’ drive from home. I’m by myself, so I have to figure out my own meals and do my own laundry and get myself around to all the places I need to go all on my own. Of course, I do that when I’m home, too. I’m sort of a grown-up that way. These 13-year-old models, on the other hand, have gone off to Japan for Fashion Week alone in a peculiar sort of reverse-helicoptering. Think of it what you will.
According to Writer’s Digest, the optimum length for an adult novel is in the 80, 000-89, 000 word range. Below that, a reader may not feel as though they got as much book as they deserve. An author has some latitude beyond that, but much over 100, 000 words and the author might be asking a bit much of the reader. That is to say, that if your book is long enough to span a city bridge, it might be a little longer than the average Goodreads user is looking for. Of course, this didn’t stop St. Paul visual artist Sarah Stengle from creating just such an epic read in time for Art on the Avenue. The mile-long book, assembled with the help volunteers and schoolchildren stretches a mile long and is created from pages of old books and other recycled papers. It gives new meaning to the term “longreads.”
Ever wonder how that book you’re reading got its cover? Book cover design is its own fascinating animal, and not the type of design that just every designer (even very good designers) can do. While it may be true that one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, it is more true that we often do. Jamie Keenan, whose work includes a quietly provocative new cover for Lolita, talked to James Cartwright at It’s Nice That about his process for creating a cover design:
Read the manuscript (if it’s non-fiction this probably isn’t necessary – sometimes the subtitle is all you need to know), have a bit of think about the book and scribble the title and author in pencil on a piece of white paper a few times (this alone sometimes suggests an idea), let it float around in your subconscious for a few days – by then you’ve hopefully built up a weird, semi-abstract picture of the world the book lives in (but only in your head) – and then you just need to show what that world looks like to other people.
Are you an author looking for creative ways to find audience for your book? Don’t forget the humble book club. Or the audacious book club, for that matter. Nichole Bernier writes about the power of the book club in providing speaking engagements for authors as well as just spreading the word about good books. With around five million people participating, “clubs are in fact spawning a business niche that is driving marketing decisions of authors and publishers. (The Millions).
4 Poetry at Work
There are countless benefits for those of us in the millions who work from home. We’ve escaped the daily prairie dog habitat of the cubicle farm, we don’t have to share public restrooms, we save the fuel and time consumption of dreaded commute, and we can even manage the laundry between work tasks on a good day. But some days we might also feel the pique of isolation, alone in our basement office thinking we really shouldn’t have trapped that mouse we saw last week or we’d have a tiny office mate to invite up on the desktop to share a little afternoon tea and dark chocolate. Anne Brinser Shelton has written a piece about Team Building for the Self-Employed at McSweeneys that might feel at least mildly familiar:
Our manager of operations (me) is not doing a great job motivating her direct reports (also me). To be frank, I am a pushover, and I allow myself to get away with a lot that might not fly at other, more professional organizations. For instance, while I’m impressed with my progress in Candy Crush Saga, when I took me on as administrative assistant, I was expecting some actual administrative work to get done, but I’m clearly not taking this role very seriously. I’m still waiting for me to get around to drafting those emails I promised to send out two weeks ago.
One of the people I’m sharing a house with this week offered this assessment of my career: you work claims to support your writing habit. There’s some truth to that, I suppose. Many (if not most) artists and writers ply one trade during the day in order to practice another craft by night. It has its trade-offs, as I find the mental space for creative work very limited under my current working arrangements. A simple online simulation helps illustrate the dilemma between the oft-dueling pursuits of creative expression and economic sustenance. After playing the game and experiencing her own simulated creative crash-and-burn, Mary Carty noted the importance of not staying in the basement office feeding bits of your dark chocolate to a small rodent companion but of asking for help when needed. So, how long can you make it as an artist? I managed 13 weeks before I ran out of money and inspiration and went back to planting ficus trees.
You have run out of money. Your artistic career is over.
Perhaps it’s time to consider the debt from your student loans.
You own € -100. Your inspiration is lacking.
You survived as an artist for 13 months and produced 7 art works.
Every writer has his creative process, with varying degrees of discipline. For some, the “Butt in Chair” approach works well.
How to write: Butt in chair. Start each day anywhere. Let yourself do it badly. Just take one passage at a time. Get butt back in chair.
— ANNE LAMOTT (@ANNELAMOTT) July 26, 2012
Others create better when not putting such constraints upon themselves. Many writers know what they are going to write before they sit down. Others of us routinely know only the first sentence, if that, and the rest of it is as much a surprise to us as to anyone else. Author Ian McEwan says, “I have to write it to find out what it is” as he shares about his process and writing through the not-knowing in this video.
We aren’t going to host a debate here about whether or not an MFA is worth the investment of time, money, and effort. (Or, as the band Blood, Sweat and Tears would say, blood, sweat and tears.) We aren’t going to do the MFA vs. NYC vs. POC vs. REO (Speedwagon) debate. Nope. (We do, however, have a wide array of tools to help you achieve a Masters in Fine Living. Go ahead, debate that a while.) In the event you’ve come up short on the blood, sweat and tears needed to achieve an MFA, Tori Telfer at Bustle has an ingenious plan you can follow to fake one. That is, get the benefit of MFA-type experiences without the parchment in the end. Here’s a sample (yep, looks like you’re still going to have to invest at least the sweat and tears):
Listen, if you don’t force yourself to read in order to strengthen your writing, you’ll never read. In five years, you’ll barely be able to write, either. And you’ll also have rabies. And scabies. Compile a list of 10 books that you’re going to read this “semester, ” and begin to work through them. Try this: two classic novels, two books of poetry, one memoir, two books written in a style you love, two books you think you’ll hate because your writing styles are so different, one new release or big seller.
We’ve begun a small daily practice in our community here at Tweetspeak of choosing a favorite line from the day’s Every Day Poems installment and sharing it on Twitter with the hashtag #dipintopoetry. It’s an opportunity to dip into a poem, find the little morsel the feeds something in you, or the “lightswitch line” as our latest Poetry Dare participant Ed Cyzewski will be exploring. My favorite line from this selection by Todd Davis, recently featured in Every Day Poems, is “I remember cherries in a white bowl.”
Meditation on Hunger at 2 a.m.
Night is the black earth in the garden, a peach
held to the sky as the moon writes the history
of its shadow on the bedroom floor. Awake,
I remember cherries in a white bowl and think
of the faces of those I have loved
rising to the surface of the pond
where I fish with my sons. The flesh fades
if not fed; this is the business of living.
In his dying my father taught me language
fails. Thus, his love for the turnip’s sting,
even when soaked in butter and cream,
or the sweet on sweet of honey drizzled
over baked apples, makes an elegy
of autumn olive as it takes over this field.
How could it be otherwise, and what choice
do we have? Like him I give thanks
for the neighbor’s draft horse, asleep
and dreaming in its stall, enormous teeth
moving over oats that still sit in a scoop,
waiting for a hand to offer them.
While we’re talking about the white bowl of cherries, let’s not forget the plums in William Carlos Williams’s icebox or Allen Ginsberg’s bananas. Elisa Gabbert has an amusing list of Ten Fruits Ruined by Poetry at Electric Literature. What other fruits or foods have been ruined for you by a well-meaning poet?
Where did Jack Kerouac’s road begin? According to a letter in a newly found collection of correspondence from the famous Beat Generation novelist, it began in his hometown of Lowell, MA. Writing to a friend, he said he was going to visit Lowell “because that is where the road began.” The collection of letters, postcards and fragments are set to be auctioned in November, according to the LA Times.
Kerouac’s letters weren’t read sooner because they weren’t discovered until now. But Margaret Atwood is writing a text that won’t be read for a hundred years, on purpose. The Future Library project, a literary time capsule of sorts, “began, quietly, this summer, with the planting of a forest of 1, 000 trees in Nordmarka, just outside Oslo. It will slowly unfold over the next century. Every year until 2114, one writer will be invited to contribute a new text to the collection, and in 2114, the trees will be cut down to provide the paper for the texts to be printed – and, finally, read.” According to the Guardian, Atwood is the first writer to be invited to contribute.
As though most writers are not fully capable of being absorbed into the Internet all on their own, publishers, agents and would-be experts often compel writers to get onto social media, with the hopes of cultivating relationships with readers and building broader platforms. The result is often distraction at best, and rare is the day I log on to Facebook or Twitter and do not see a status posted from a writer lamenting the fact that he cannot get his writing done (though perhaps, we all think, he could if he would merely log off Facebook or Twitter). Cory Arcangel, curator of the Twitter feed Working On My Novel, has a new book, also called Working On My Novel, and it features a collection of status updates related to . . . writers working on their novels. The book features Twitter quotes from 675 aspiring novelists, and according to the author,
is about the act of creation and the gap between the different ways we express ourselves today. Exploring the extremes of making art, from satisfaction and even euphoria to those days or nights when nothing will come, it’s the story of what it means to be a creative person, and why we keep on trying.
In a review of the new title at Paris Review, Dan Piepenbring adds another perspective: “But the book piques my interest for the opposite reason: it’s the story of what it means to live in a cultural climate that stifles almost every creative impulse, and why it so often seems we should stop trying.” And at the New Yorker, Mark O’Connell finds that the project highlights the paradox of creative, individual expression that becomes lost in a sort of technological conformity:
Arcangel has reflected something poignant about this collective yearning for creative individuation, about how technology seems to facilitate self-expression while effecting a strange obliteration of the individual—a symbolic compression of the self into the repository of the personal brand. The paradox of social media is that it offers a channel through which to communicate yourself while the technology itself shapes and limits what is communicated, and how. All these people, each of them tweeting a tiny Whitmanesque song of himself, are largely indistinguishable.
Now, whether you’re working on your novel or not, get out there and tweet something.
10 Sound ‘n Motion
We sort the world through stories, I think. We use them to explain, to understand, to make things fit. The story the children tell themselves in “The Man With the Beautiful Eyes” by Charles Bukowski seems to have just such a story, the way they explain their parents’ fear of a man being too beautiful. Or rather, creating such a fear to explain the dissonance of a man with such beautiful eyes being the sort of hard man he seems to be. Or maybe it’s a different story altogether. I’ll let you watch this animation of the poem by Jonathan Hodgson and Jonny Hannah and you can decide.
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