The best in poetry (and poetic things)
It’s true that I am supposed to talk about art in this section, not poetry. And I imagine there is someone, somewhere, who draws bold lines of definition around such things and thinks I should talk about poetry in the Poems section and leave art to the Art section. To that person (sorry if it’s you), I say Look: the covers of Richard Hansen’s tiny poetry books are fantastically artful. Hansen, who owns an independent book shop in Sacramento, creates the little books and leaves them where people will find them. And why does he carry on this labor of love, which is a marvelous example of bringing poetry into the public square? To “give pause, ” Hansen says. To give pause.
You’ve opened that book and you’ve read at least the first line and Bam. Whether you know it or not, whether you like it or not, whether you realize it or not, you’ve just read poetry. I like to think that puts ideas in people’s heads.
Check out Richard Hansen’s little books of poetry. (And if you’re intrigued by the power of a single line of a poem, join us on Twitter weekday mornings for a #DipintoPoetry, sharing over Every Day Poems.)
Those same people would probably say this collection of photographs at Bored Panda isn’t art either. They would say no, that’s just nature having its way with the ragdoll of civilization. And some of us would say, “Looks like art to me” and “You should go find a tiny poetry book to read.”
And this? Well, this has to be art because it’s the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Earlier this year, the Met released over 400, 000 hi-res digital images of works in their collection which can now be used (or, you know, just viewed) without the museum’s permission. So, when you want to view that Jackson Pollock untitled piece while eating an ice cream cone, a museum security guard won’t tell you to step back. (And Flickr, if you’re listening, you could learn a thing or two from an art museum.)
In my other life I occasionally have to draft complicated correspondence which cites dense contract language. It’s meant less to actually inform the recipient than it is to protect the entity from which it is issued. That is, it is intended to comply with equally densely written statutes and keep an insurance company (and me) from being sued. It’s often believed that “opaque prose is a deliberate choice, ” writes Steven Pinker in The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. He goes on to argue that the “bamboozlement theory” is too easy and it’s more often the case that “good people write bad prose” because of the “Curse of Knowledge.” That is, the writer’s inability to imagine “what it is like for someone not to know what you know.” Find out his solution in this article at the Wall Street Journal.
Ever wish there was a Google for writers? A search engine just for writer resources? One with over 23, 000 articles just for writers (and I suppose for people who wonder what writers would read about writing). Maybe there is such a thing, with even the magic number of articles for writers: meet the Writer’s Knowledge Base. And where does such content come from, you (or your curious non-writer friend) ask? Author Elizabeth S. Craig (who I don’t think is any relation to our own author Charity S. Craig, who, along with editor and writing coach Ann Kroeker, has written another terrific resource for writers in T. S. Poetry’s new release, On Being a Writer) curates an extensive list of articles each week in her Twitterific Writing Links, which is ultimately fed into the Writer’s Knowledge Base for Sunday dinner.
When I’m not busy writing cumbersome prose, I work as a designer, often scratching my head to match aesthetically pleasing font pairs. While that might look dashing on the screen, if you’re dyslexic, aesthetically pleasing doesn’t mean easier to read. A Dutch designer, Christian Boer, has designed a font that is intended to be easier for folks with dyslexia to read. “Dyslexie” varies the shapes more significantly between similar letters like b and d, among others. Boer’s font is now available for free.
There were moments at the National Book Awards that many, especially emcee Daniel Handler, would like to forget. But Ursula Le Guin’s speech accepting the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the National Book Foundation, was not one of them (well, unless you’re Amazon, that is). You can watch her speech, or read the text at OregonLive.com.
“I think hard times are coming, ” Le Guin continued, “when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries — the realists of a larger reality.
Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue is not quite the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship.”
And with that, I think anything else that needs to be said about publishing will have to sit down, take a deep breath and wait to be blurted out until next month.
4 Poetry at Work
Glynn Young has written about the ways that poetry is in our workplaces and how he has heard it in a CEO’s speech or in the discussion during a meeting. Damion Searls writes in Paris Review of the “serendipitous, spoken, American form: the overheard haiku.” For example, he heard this:
It’s just, right now I
don’t feel very much respect
for myself is all
She has a home phone.
Who has home phones?… Yeah different
lifestyle … Totally.
He suggests that the American way of speaking has this form built in naturally: “You can’t plan a phrase like this, craft it, present yourself to the world with it; it’s something you run across, something the facts of the world and of language fall into. As though by chance. It’s something you’ve trained your ear to notice, a way of paying attention.”
Journalist Quinn Norton went to Puerto Rico in part, if not in most, to be productive. To get away and establish a writing routine and chase the pursuit of productivity. What she discovered was not how to be productive, but how to live. In a long (well worth the time) read at Medium, Against Productivity: The Essay that Took Four Years to Write, Norton argues that productivity is killing us (even though we don’t have a word for that kind of death):
The Japanese have defined a form of death-from-productivity: karōshi. Karōshi is when you are so productive your heart or head break and you bleed to death inside yourself. Conversely, if those organs have persisted but the mind has not, karōshi can become karojisatsu: suicide from overwork.
America has no death from karōshi. We don’t count it as a category of death, and therefore in our measurable world it doesn’t exist. We are productive without price. Not because people aren’t dying, they surely are, uncounted lives and families are smothered with despair. There is no price because there’s no measure to quantify what we are losing.
There was a time when you could write a few poems, die of TB, and call it a life well lived. When one learned to wait for hard thoughts, when we took time to doubt, to question, to be unknowing in the face of a large question, when we had no lights at night and no smartphones and only our imagination to keep us company in the dark. We used to daydream about stars we could see because the nights weren’t obscured with light pollution. Then the questions got too big and scary. We got too good at math and engineering without really noticing that we weren’t actually good enough, and we don’t even know if good enough exists. We lost our useful doubts and forgot to ask why. It takes so long to ask these questions and maybe nothing at all will come of it.
The real value of that time that one might say she frittered away in Puerto Rico was in the not doing:
When I wasn’t beating myself up for not being productive enough, I was thinking about and interacting with the world. I was laying the first stones of a new foundation, a new way of thinking about networked culture, and even about our place on this planet. Instead of getting things done I was learning, smiling at people I didn’t share a language with, and cross-connecting the notions of my brain and the experiences of my life. It all lay fallow in me for a long time, as notes on my blog, snatches of poems, story bits to never be written.
Author Andre Dubus didn’t go away to Puerto Rico to become productive (or unproductive, as the case may be). But he does have an approach that rather goes against the conventional writing wisdom of just keep writing, as Nick Ripatrazone explains in an article at The Millions:
“At my desk next morning I held my pen and hunched my shoulders and leaned my head down, physically trying to look more deeply into the page of the notebook. I did this for only a moment before writing, as a batter takes practice swings while he waits in the on-deck circle. In that moment I began what I call vertical writing, rather than horizontal. I had never before thought in these terms. But for years I had been writing horizontally, trying to move forward (those five pages); now I would try to move down, as deeply as I could.”
Horizontal writing is focused on amassing pages and words. When Dubus wrote horizontally, he wrote convinced that fiction was created through aggregation. Vertical writing, in contrast, values depth over breadth. Stories are written when they are ready to be written; they are not forced into existence by planning or excessive drafting. Horizontal writing seeks to move across the page; vertical writing seeks to dig into the page, to value the building of character and authenticity over the telegraphing of plot. The folly of horizontal writing is that it convinces writers that fiction writing operates on a production model. If they simply sit at the desk and pound out page after page, the story will come. That might be true, but Dubus argues that such forced work creates a lot of “false” fiction.
The takeway? Write on a vertical surface in Puerto Rico.
Whether or not you intentionally write your thick prose to bamboozle your reader, or you merely suffer under the curse of knowledge, when it comes to writing a college paper you want to be sure to get your unreadable sentences together in good order. McSweeney’s has a terrific template of sorts for any generic college paper application you might have. A sample, from the opening paragraph:
Since the beginning of time, bullshit, flowery overgeneralization with at least one thesaurus’d vocabulary word. In addition, irrelevant and misleading personal anecdote. However, oversimplification of first Googled author (citation: p. 37). Thesis statement which doesn’t follow whatsoever from the previous.
And if you’re not super interested in writing a college paper because, let’s say you’re not in college, you could try one of 13 great writing prompts, also from McSweeney’s, which seems fully committed to bringing out your best writing.
1. Write a scene showing a man and a woman arguing over the man’s friendship with a former girlfriend. Do not mention the girlfriend, the man, the woman, or the argument.
So then let’s say you write that piece, and it’s brilliant, and you’re ready to submit it for certain publication. Like mortgage companies and Lending Tree, outlets will be competing to publish your work. How do you get your submission ready? Susan Rich offers 10 tips for sending your work for a contest or residency (fair to say that the tips work for other types of submissions as well). Here’s one to take to heart:
3. “Poetry” words (such as dance, twirl, illuminate, or any gemstones) need to go. It’s like fingernails on a chalkboard.
Always a good idea not to have your submission come with its own chalkboard and overgrown fingernails.
And speaking of submissions, sometimes folks ask how they can submit work. We now have our submission guidelines posted on the site, but there’s a bit of a catch: “The short (but kind) answer is: Tweetspeak and T. S. Poetry Press do not accept unsolicited submissions.” So how will we recognize your work? Read the long(er) answer (and get to know us better by participating in our community).
Midlife is a funny thing. And by funny I mean the sort of thing that makes you laugh and I also mean the sort of thing that isn’t funny at all, that is infuriating or makes you cry or makes you not want to think about it at all. One of those funny things is the way that a life can seem like two distinct lives (or more, I imagine). A before this moment in time, and an after this moment, whatever this moment happens to be. The lives are wholly separate, and yet one and the same. Poet Denise Low captured that sense of two-lives-lived-in-one in her poem “Two Gates” which was recently featured in Every Day Poems.
I look through glass and see a young woman
of twenty, washing dishes, and the window
turns into a painting. She is myself thirty years ago.
She holds the same blue bowls and brass teapot
I still own. I see her outline against lamplight;
she knows only her side of the pane. The porch
where I stand is empty. Sunlight fades. I hear
water run in the sink as she lowers her head,
blind to the future. She does not imagine I exist.
I step forward for a better look and she dissolves
into lumber and paint. A gate I passed through
to the next life loses shape. Once more I stand
squared into the present, among maple trees
and scissor-tailed birds, in a garden, almost
a mother to that faint, distant woman.
— Denise Low, author of Ghost Stories of the New West
We love to make note of quality efforts to bring poetry to the public square, which is something that the Wall Poems of Charlotte, as its name suggests, is doing in very tangible ways. Check out their most recent wall poem featuring “These Days” by Charles Olson.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Stephen Colbert does some of the smartest, funniest literary interviews in all of media. When he recently interviewed author Toni Morrison, aside from getting her to admit she is responsible for Obamacare, he also talked to her about reading Pulitzer-winning Beloved, which she had not read in its entirety since she wrote it in the late 1980s:
TM: I read [Beloved] a couple of weeks ago.
TM: It’s really good!
If you need a little pep talk about reading and about one of my favorite Top 10 topics, Little Free Libraries, you need to listen to the enthusiasm of this Cleveland 3rd grader.
What would the world do without books? The world would be empty—it would be empty like a bucket without water. Like a brain without knowledge—like a file cabinet without … paper! We need
And if you’re looking for books to read (or to give as holiday gifts to readers and writers on your list), check out these two great book lists at Huffington Post: 10 Great Books for a Writer’s Wish List and 10 Great Titles for the Poet’s Wish List. The best part about these lists is that they not only offer a terrific selection of titles, from newcomers to classics, but also give recommendations as to who the books might be best suited for and how a writer might best use the books.
10 Sound ‘n Motion
Sometimes I think I am going to watch a movie, and it never happens. You could say that for me, the road to the theatre is paved with good intentions (and the potholes are patched with Netflix). Well, now that I’ve missed my opportunity to see the Boxtrolls in the theatre, I’m waiting anxiously for the arrival of the film to my Internet connection, all because of the little turntable at the beginning of this behind-the-scenes trailer. Late last night as I finished the last segment of the animation for our Common Core picture poem of The Raven (which had all of 13 simple panels), I thought about the wonder of stop-motion animation, and I just can’t get over the intricate detail in this film.
Somebody make some popcorn and watch this baby with me.
Featured image by Charles Martin, Creative Commons license via Flickr. Post photos by Claire Burge. Used with permission. Post by LW Lindquist.
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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.
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Always such intriguing stuff here.
I’ve never heard of Boxtrolls, but since my 11-year-old is teaching himself stop-motion animation (Lego-style) and building sets and sketching stories, maybe this is a film we should watch…
And that dyslexia font? Needed. Very much so. I like the heavy base of the letters. I think it’ll be useful for more than those with dyslexia, maybe for those with visual impairments and/or traumatic brain injuries.
So, did you try the writing prompt?
L. L. Barkat says
This is hysterical. (In the best of ways 😉 )
And I love the depth of some of those long quotes.
Ah, happy morning.
Jody Collins says
I’m with Darlene–VERY intrigued with the font for Dyslexic kids…. (people).
And yes, there is way too much good stuff here.
Your life fascinates me with it’s breadth of interests and abilities, I’m just sayin’.
I am so tagging Teddy on that generic college paper link. We’ve been working on college app essays this week and I’m. losing. my. mind.
Just finished reading all of this, I’m really trying to take it all in, serious about that statement, you covered so much. I really like #7 about mid-life, however, I believe mine has passed, I do laugh and cry more these days. You finally realize the only person you can change is yourself. Poem about Two Gates was really good but then I’ve already wrote the poem to be read at my celebration of death too. Bought my cremation box also, got it on auction for just $13.00, first one who dies gets it. Life is funny even when your planning your trip out of town for good. Laughing because it’s all so true and real.
Diana Trautwein says
Oh my goodness, LW, this is like opening a gigantic box of See’s Candy and not knowing where to begin. What a fantastic collection of beautiful things. Thank you!
Richard Maxson says
Excellent! I bookmarked “Against Productivity: The Essay that Took Four Years to Write”
#6 I will read again and again. I even tried my hand at McSweeney’s prompt.
An amazing collection!
I can’t wait to share this!
Ahaa, its nice dialogue oon the topic of this piece
of writing at this place at this blog, I have read alll that, so now mme also commenting