1 Art & Apps
Is there a connection between the rise of street art and hard times? Some would say yes, including the writer of a piece at Huffington Post featuring contemporary graffiti in Greece, which few would argue is not experiencing hard times. Take a look at the work of photographer Milos Bicanski to capture the street art in Athens, and see if you don’t think there’s a connection.
So, I’ve heard said that sometimes the work of Georgia O’Keeffe is not what it seems to be. That sometimes, just maybe, the delicate flowers in her paintings could as well be something else. I have not, however, heard said that her paintings bear any resemblance to the Empire State Building. If you happen to be in New York City on May 1, be sure not to miss the light show in celebration of The Whitney Museum of American Art’s new location opening. The one-night-only light show is based on a dozen works from the Whitney’s collection (including art by O’Keeffe, Andy Warhol and Edward Hopper). And if you don’t happen to be in in the city that night, you can follow along on the Whitney’s website. (h/t Flavorpill)
2 News & Opinion
You may know that I keep a sort of informal count of articles announcing the death of poetry. And while they often take on a sort of Donne-ian “never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for Poetry” air, English professor Charles Harper Webb seems more drawn to the lesser known opening line of Donne’s famed passage, “Perchance he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill as that he knows not it tolls for him.” Which is to say that poetry is not dead, but is most clearly gravely ill. Or, as the article title suggests, ailing. In A Cure for What Ails Poetry, Webb argues that poetry’s ailment is lack of audience. “It’s no secret that the main audience for poetry is other poets, ” he says. And Webb’s cure for poets who wish to nurse the ailing poetry back to life is to write with the expectation of being more widely read:
The cure I tout, poets, is this: write as if a large audience of general readers is already yours. Write not for each other or the cognoscenti but as if general readers actively seek good poems. This does not mean dumbing your poetry down; it means smartening it up so that readers who love excellent prose—whether by literary masters such as Joyce Carol Oates and Tobias Wolff, or by genre masters such as James Lee Burke and Stephen King—will love your poems.
I might take exception with his argument that “By writing for a general audience, poets will write better poetry. They will write about things that excite and/or move them, in ways that will excite and/or move readers, too.” Audience matters, indeed. But to suggest that poets routinely fail to write about things that “excite and/or move them” as though they intentionally choose subjects that don’t even interest them as poets in order to perpetuate audience contraction seems a bit dour even for a poet. But I can’t take exception to his call for poetry to “tell good stories, as poetry used to do.” Nor can I quibble with his appeal to poets to “use humor, as Shakespeare did, ” at least not in a paragraph where he invoked the phrase “serious fun.” (Publishers Weekly)
3 Publishing & Places
Over the past several months, I’ve made a conscious effort to read books by men. I feel mildly apologetic about that in a time when initiatives like the VIDA Count are necessary to work to set to right the stark imbalances in work published by men vs. women (if it’s not obvious, let me say it: it looks a lot like the playground seesaw when the fourth grader sits on one end and the kindergartner is on the other). But for some reason, the seesaw on my reading playground had tipped the other way, and so I’m reading guys like Cormac McCarthy and Richard Ford and David Sedaris, poets like Tony Hoagland and Jeffrey Skinner and Major Jackson for a little while.
Diversity in the publishing industry is not just a current topic, but a deeply significant one. Sunili Govinnage just wrote at the Washington Post about the challenge of reading only minority authors for a year. Of course, it wasn’t reading minority authors that was so difficult; rather, the difficulty was discovering their work, given the disparities in actual publication as well as reviews in major publications, etc.
In his essay, Self-Portrait of the Artist as Ungrateful Black Writer, “ Saeed Jones wrote of the difficulty of being one of the “diverse voices”:
The same evening as that party in Miami, a poet who is also black and gay told me that he’d been so nervous about our books coming out within a month of each other. I couldn’t pretend not to understand his anxiety. When literary gatekeepers and publishers continue to overlook the vast diversity of writers, the special few who make it into elite spaces are constantly compared to one another in both flattering and troubling ways. It’s an anxiety that straight white men will never know. Could you imagine telling Jonathan Franzen that he can’t release his novel because Michael Chabon has one coming out next month?
In truly happy news, BuzzFeed is launching an “Emerging Writer’s Fellowship.” Headed by Jones, along with the upcoming development of a literary magazine at BuzzFeed, the fellowship seems to hold real promise for the efforts to increase diversity in the publishing industry.
4 Poetry at Work
While Charles Harper Webb believes that the key to un-ringing the death knell for poetry is writing accessible poems, I’m not sure what he would think of the Miami Herald’s suggestion that poetry’s salvation can be found on Instagram. The Herald is highlighting the work of R. M. Drake, who posts his manually-typed poems on Instagram. And his work has reached beyond the square digital walls of the snapshot repository, as he’s found a way to paint poetry in the public square (in apparent agreement with our Five Vital Approaches to Poetry for Life), painting selected poems on sidewalks in Wynwood, FL.
When it’s time to get started on a creative task, are you the one that also decides it’s time to vacuum the carpets? Instead of sitting down to your desk and writing, do you clean the silverware drawer? Or maybe you are not quite so ambitious in your distractions, and just about the time you are going to write you go to the kitchen for a snack. The snack might actually be the thing that gets your creative mind working, as long as it’s the right kind of snack. A psychologist and nutritional neuroscience researcher, Delia McCabe explores the the fields of nutrition and the brain, studying “how specific foods can improve your mood, concentration, memory and learning ability, as well as reduce stress.” Before you grab your next creative meal, check out this interview with McCabe at Food Matters.
Ekphrastic sounds like elastic, and when I hear the word elastic I often remember the day in my college racquetball class when the elastic on my sweatpants gave way. While all that revealed was a pair of gym shorts underneath, there’s still a fair share of humility (and humor) that comes when one’s pants unexpectedly drop to one’s ankles. That, of course, has nothing to do with ekphrastic poetry, but for the longest time I wouldn’t have known the difference because I had no idea what an ekphrastic poem was, but was too proud to look the word up.
Now that I know what it means, and have my pants secured around my waist, I am happy to report that Rattle Poetry is offering a monthly Ekphrastic Challenge, which involves neither elastic nor racquets, but presents an opportunity for both poets and photographers or visual artists. Submissions are currently open for this month’s artwork until May 1.
It is possible that if poetry is dying, or even just ailing, it is not for lack of audience but for lack of good poetry jokes. McSweeney’s proves the point in their list of Terrible Poetry Jokes, which includes such gems as “Rimbaud, Bukowski, and Dylan Thomas walk into a bar. They are promptly thrown out.” Enjoy, while poetry takes its last gasps. (Language may be offensive to some.)
One of the things I most appreciate about my Every Day Poems subscription is the variety of poems that are offered. One day I might receive a poem that makes me laugh. Another day, it might be a poignant or haunting piece. The poem might be a contemporary poet, or, like the other day, a sonnet from William Shakespeare. I’ve not read much D.H. Lawrence, so this selection, Green, was a lovely surprise in my inbox:
The dawn was apple-green,
The sky was green wine held up in the sun,
The moon was a golden petal between.She opened her eyes, and green
They shone, clear like flowers undone
For the first time, now for the first time seen.
— D.H. Lawrence, from Selected Poetry
Only in a world where poetry was not really dead, could a world leader be introduced as a former teen poet. At a National Poetry Month observance at the White House earlier this month, National Student Poet Madeleine LeCesne said, “Poetry only asks one thing of us: to be here. So here I am.” She went on to introduce the president (who, on the advice of the first lady, declined to recite any of his own poems) as “former teen poet and President of the United States, Barack Obama.” For his part, the president said that “President is a cool title, but former teen poet, that is pretty cool as well.”
9 Books and Teaching
Tracy K. Smith might be best known for her collection of poems, Life on Mars. One of the poems in the collection is “My God, It’s Full of Star, ” from which this excerpt comes:
The books have lived here all along, belonging
For weeks at a time to one or another in the brief sequence
Of family names, speaking (at night mostly) to a face,
A pair of eyes. The most remarkable lies.
In “Ordinary Light, ” Smith writes as a daughter who has lost her mother and is thinking of her own daughter as she submits to the “powerful nostalgia for the very years I was in the process of living, when the world of my family was the only heaven I needed to believe in.” Every line of her prose is well behaved. But ambition had been there all along: “I wanted to write the kind of poetry that people read and remembered, that they lived by — the kinds of lines that I carried with me from moment to moment on a given day without even having chosen to.”
10 Sound ‘n Motion
The other night while I was working, my 18-year-old son burst into my office dressed in a black shirt and knickers. He pulled a LARPing sword from a belt around his waist, brandished it in the air and began in full British accent to recite Hamlet’s soliloquy. We don’t usually suit up and recite Shakespeare around my house, but apparently it was an English class assignment. And it was almost as touching as this clip of Brian Cox teaching the famous speech to a two-year-old. (H/T Open Culture)