The best in poetry (and poetic things)
Do you fiddle with photography? Try your hand with Instagram? Ever wonder how that other Instagrammer posts photos of their food, or laundry pile or even their feet that look like masterpieces when yours just look like half-eaten Chipotle, a messy living room and, um, dingy athletic socks? Most of which, especially the feet, I’d be happy enough if we stopped trying to make into masterpieces. But since this is the age of the Internet (except that in a few minutes we’ll discover this is the post-Internet, and we’ll explain all that confusion in the past-future time warp of another Top 10 category), I know that most of you will keep posting your food and feet (and, occasionally, laundry).
So here’s a video from the Cooperative of Photography that was featured at Fast Company with some excellent composition tips that will have you posting photos that’ll make your neighbors wanting to come over and do your laundry for you. And if you participate in our monthly Photo Play prompts, you might especially like this video featuring iconic photographer Steve McCurry. And by iconic I don’t mean that he photographs icons. Though perhaps he does. He certainly could. And they would be amazing.
And if you’d rather read than take photos, perhaps this collection of book covers photographed as extensions of themselves will be of interest to you, recently featured at The Millions. Matt Allard is merging “two loves” namely, writing and photography, by photographing novels “with fun visuals that expand upon their cover art.” Go look. It’s fun. I especially liked his rendition of The Goldfinch, which I haven’t read because, while I very much like its cover (and heard the book is very much better than even that), I don’t want to spend days reading it only to give up before the end. (I’ve heard, too, that it happens.)
Terms like post-Internet confuse me. Take, say, postmodern—which really, if all current time is “modern-day, ” seems like as impossible a time to reach as tomorrow. Because postmodern feels like a time in the future that’s always just a step or two ahead, every day it becomes more difficult to think of as a period which could have started nearly 150 years ago. So, post-Internet? I strain to see it as a present-tense concept, when it seems more likely to refer to a time, some distance in the future, when the Internet has imploded and is no more.
But, alas, while still too dizzying for my weary mind, it turns out that post-Internet is now, and refers to the “the practices of artists who use the Web as the basis for their work but don’t make a big deal about it. For these artists, unlike those of previous generations, the Web is just another medium, like painting or sculpture.” An article at The New Yorker highlights the work of post-Internet poets such as Steven Zultanksi who published Bribery, a collection of poems created out of the texts of true crime websites, or his earlier book, Agony, which used online calculators to provide the unique measurements and counts which became the basis of his poems. In both cases, the Internet is essential to gathering the raw material from which he creates his work, “yet his writing shows few obvious or familiar traces of it.” An example:
Given that the volume of a human mouth is, on average, 7.2628 cubic inches, we can assume that the mouth can, in any given average situation carry up to 6335.666 tears. / Which would take 38.14 minutes to shed, if they were to be shed at the average rate at which tears are shed.
The AWP Conference is just around the corner. For me, it’s almost quite literally around the corner, as it’s happening in my neck of the woods. Or my neck of the prairie, as we might say here in South Dakota, where woods (and their respective necks) are harder to come by. But no, AWP is in Minneapolis, which is not in South Dakota, but is pretty near South Dakota, or pert’near as a person might say if they lived in either Minnesota or South Dakota, because that’s just the way we say things around here. Maybe you’re not going to AWP, and you wonder if there’s somewhere else you might go (say, somewhere that’s not pert’near South Dakota, perhaps), and how writers go about deciding to attend a writers conference and how they choose which one. The Write Life has a helpful article on choosing and attending writers conferences that might be helpful for you.
“The open secret of publishing is that very few authors can live by books alone.” So says the Economist in an article that made me wonder more than once if it was actually dated 2005 and not 2015, because I thought we were long past thinking this bit of a hard-to-swallow pill was news. But perhaps we are not yet all convinced of the challenging marketplace publishing has become, and perhaps there are still those who believe that they can go all Harper Lee and quietly publish a book one day, and then 60 years later let slip another without really talking to anyone in between. (And certainly without spending a mockingbird’s nest full of time marketing said book.) Though, I don’t think I’ve talked to any authors lately who only want to publish two books in six decades, either. More is better, right? Unless you’re killing mockingbirds. Or mockingjays. It’s possible they have a role in this discussion as well. The Economist notes that instead of the way many authors “dream of a happy ending in which, having delivered their magnum opus, they sit back and enjoy an endless stream of royalties, ” authors must work harder on the business side, effectively becoming “businesspeople as well, thinking strategically about their brand, and marketing themselves and their products.” And thus, we think, the term “authorpreneur” is born.
4 Poetry at Work
This next bit is not really poetry (except to the extent that we are willing to agree that songs performed by B.J. Thomas qualify as poetry), and even if it were poetry, it might not be called Poetry at Work. (Oh, the conundrums faced by a Top Ten writer when debating which category best suits a link that is wanting to be shared.) But let’s say for a minute that B.J. qualifies: then Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head becomes part of “Paint it in the Public Square, ” one of the Five Vital Approaches to Poetry for Life. The ingenious folks at Rainworks have found a way to turn Seattle’s rainy days into a reason to smile with artwork (and B.J. Thomas) that shows up only when it rains. You have to see this one to understand.
Remember when Nina Katchadourian’s “Girl with the Pearl Earring” (staged in an airplane lavatory using the paper seat cover) made a huge Internet splash? (Yes, I know. I get no credit for that pun because everyone knows that due to the enormous vacuum power in airplane lavatories there is no real splashing to be had.) Now a couple of Squarespace employees have created a series of famous painting recreations using only things they can find in the office, as featured at Bored Panda. They give Nina a run for her money on their “Girl with the Pearl Earring, ” but I’m really much more impressed with their use of Twizzlers in Rembrandt’s “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp.” This, of course, is also not Poetry at Work, so give me another two demerits. But I think I should get extra credit for Art at Work, which is not even a category.
I never played a wind instrument. My time was spent with stringed instruments. And I always wished I could have made a cello from a loaf of bread. Of course, that’s a lie and I thought no such thing. But it makes me wonder why a guy would think to make a clarinet out of a carrot. But a guy did. He says it’s to show that creativity is “the putting together of two previously unrelated things.” I think I don’t have much more to say about that. But you might enjoy seeing him actually do this, and by his definition of creativity, he has the big win of the day. (TED)
We’ve been discussing questions (and asking a more beautiful one) in our book club this month. In helping people to reach higher levels of cognitive thinking, David Allen (author of Getting Things Done) finds that a question is key to clearing our minds. He suggests that in order to clear our minds, we can’t just tell ourselves to stop thinking:
The strange paradox is you actually have to use your mind to shut your mind up, ” he said. But not by meditation or mantras. “You can’t shut it up by trying to shut it off. What you have to do is [ask yourself] ‘Why is this on my mind?’
The good news, since there’s likely a reason these things are on our minds, is that Allen offers a list of things we can do to clear those nagging things out so we can get on with the business of being clear-headed. Check them out at BBC.com.
Why do you write? In a beautiful, thoughtful piece at The New Yorker, Andrew Solomon reflects on writing through the middle—beyond that place where the newness of youth entices us, before that place where we become the sage elders—using the works of Rilke as a starting place: “Above all, in the most silent hour of your night, ask yourself this: Must I write? …if you can confidently meet this serious question with a simple ‘I must, ‘ then build your life upon it.” Solomon goes on to say that the “rhetoric of urgency is the credo for most writers: we may be on this path for profit, for fame, for catharsis—but more fundamentally, we are there because it seems the only possibility.”
As he continues, Solomon considers the work that writing has a singular ability to do, enabling us to “look into other souls” and “to be what you were, what you are, what you will be, and what everyone else is or was or will be, too.” That is, writing allows us to take that walk in another person’s shoes that might not otherwise be possible, and to imagine the life and existence of another in a way that biology or geography or psychology simply won’t allow us otherwise to do. And so, in addition to what we might gain from our own experience as a writer, we also offer the world a unique hope, a particular antidote to hatred:
Despite every advancement, language remains the defining nexus of our humanity; it is where our knowledge and hope lie. It is the precondition of human tenderness, mightier than the sword but also infinitely more subtle and ultimately more urgent. Remember that writing things down makes them real; that it is nearly impossible to hate anyone whose story you know; and, most of all, that even in our post-postmodern era, writing has a moral purpose. With twenty-six shapes arranged in varying patterns, we can tell every story known to mankind, and make up all the new ones—indeed, we can do so in most of the world’s known tongues. If you can give language to experiences previously starved for it, you can make the world a better place.
This piece truly warrants a reading in its entirety.
Last April, I spent National Poetry Month reading poems by the incomparable Polish poet Wisława Szymborska from Poems New and Collected as part of a poetry dare. This year, I’m not sure what poet I’ll read, but finding this audio of Amanda Palmer reading Szymborska’s ‘Possibilities’ has me in the mood to choose a poet again. (Brain Pickings)
And over at Every Day Poems, we featured this poem by Victor Hernández Cruz about the thing that’s really most troublesome about hurricanes. It might not be what you think.
Problems with Hurricanes
A campesino looked at the air
And told me:
With hurricanes it’s not the wind
or the noise or the water.
I’ll tell you he said:
it’s the mangoes, avocados
Green plantains and bananas
flying into town like projectiles.
How would your family
feel if they had to tell
The generations that you
got killed by a flying
Death by drowning has honor
If the wind picked you up
and slammed you
Against a mountain boulder
This would not carry shame
to suffer a mango smashing
or a plantain hitting your
Temple at 70 miles per hour
is the ultimate disgrace.
The campesino takes off his hat –
As a sign of respect
toward the fury of the wind
Don’t worry about the noise
Don’t worry about the water
Don’t worry about the wind –
If you are going out
beware of mangoes
And all such beautiful
You didn’t think I was kidding about Harper Lee publishing a new book, right? Because you do live in the post-Internet world, which doesn’t mean you don’t have the Internet, remember, and if you have the Internet, it’s hard to believe that Lee stumbling across her old manuscript went right past you. This week, the cover for Go Set a Watchman was released. Among other places all over the post-Internet, you can see it at the New York Times.
On a more sobering note, the world lost Nigerian author Chinua Achebe last week. Achebe’s first novel, Things Fall Apart, lent a powerful voice to the telling of African stories in African, not Western voices. As noted in the New York Times
Things Fall Apart gave expression to Mr. Achebe’s first stirrings of anti-colonialism and a desire to use literature as a weapon against Western biases. As if to sharpen it with irony, he borrowed from the Western canon itself in using as its title a line from Yeat’s apocalyptic poem “The Second Coming.”
9 Books and Teaching
I have not read Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See. I might start it tonight, however, after listening to this episode of Readers Review with Diane Rehm. In trying to explain why “so many people have read and loved the book, ” Maureen Corrigan suggests it is the “Trifecta: It’s got an amazing, complex, un-put-downable narrative plot. It’s got characters who are just so compelling, and the language … is poetic.” Boris Fishman suggests that while the narrative is indeed compelling, “it’s a mystery … it’s hard to say why particular novels catch on in the way they do.” And in contrast to Corrigan’s claim that the language is what attracts readers, Fishman argues that the book may have succeeded in spite of the language, that given the “exhuberance and lushness of the language it’s all the more miraculous the book has become the hit it is because the language is so challenging.” Which, he notes, makes him “more optimistic about the state of reading in America.” Listen to the entire discussion and read an excerpt at The Diane Rehm Show.
If you’re a teacher and you have a poetry unit coming up, of course we’d like you to see Tania Runyan’s How to Read a Poem. But we also recommend some great tips from 9th grade teacher Brett Vogelsinger to keep your poetry-reading activities brisk and bright. Vogelsinger’s suggestions include having your students “Sketch This Poem” which is exactly what it sounds like, and “Update This Poem” which includes rewriting the poem in contemporary (some might say postmodern) language.
10Sound ‘n Motion
Let’s just wind up quietly with this reading by W. S. Merwin of his Antique Sound, which is set with the intriguing background of “sculptor Evan Holm’s amazing installation of a turntable submerged in a pool of ink” created by Motionpoems.
Featured image by Bridgette Wynn, Creative Commons license via Flickr. Post photos by Claire Burge. Used with permission. Post by LW Lindquist.
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Maureen Doallas says
Megan Willome says
I hated “All the Light We Cannot See.” Read it and let me know what you think–either way. I am definitely in the minority.
But I loved Cruz’s poem! That was one that inspired a long journal entry.
Donna Z Falcone says
This is such a great collection of awesomeness. Thank you thank you for the ten tips on photography. Dominant eye caught my eye. It’s hard for me to think about a dominant eye without wondering ‘how do I know which one is really dominant’ when it’s someone else’s eye?
Postinternet – the word gives me a head ache. I’m hoping that this is one of those terms that will one day make sense, so am storing it away until then, into the percolator it goes.
Authorpreneur. Now, that’s a cool word. And, while this conjurs up quite the mental check list of things to do and learn, it also gives me pause to consdier what a huge remake I am attempting – and so maybe a little compassion is in order?