The best in poetry (and poetic things)
1 Art & Apps
I don’t think I’d be wrong to say that how you see things depends on how you look at them. And if what you’re looking at is an art installation that relies substantially on the use of mirrors, you’ll see that reflected in a multitude of little ways. Take this 5600 sq. ft. installation in the Church of St. Lawrence in Klatovy, Czech Republic, by artist Olga Ziemska. Each piece of this installation is pointed to gaze at the same sky, but the net result suggests that the angle is everything. (Design Sponge)
Abstract art, for some viewers, can be a squinting exercise, looking and looking for something that may not be there at all. An article at the Guardian on abstract artist and mystic Agnes Martin discusses “what seems at first glance to be the same thing over and over again, the same core structure subject to infinitely subtle variations. A grid: a set of horizontal and vertical lines drawn meticulously with a ruler and pencil on canvases six feet high and six feet wide.” The article goes on to say that the paintings “were explicitly designed to dodge the burden of representation, to stymie the viewers in their incorrigible habit of searching for recognisable forms in the abstract field” and quotes the artist as saying,
Nature is like parting a curtain, you go into it. I want to draw a certain response like this … that quality of response from people when they leave themselves behind, often experienced in nature, an experience of simple joy … My paintings are about merging, about formlessness … A world without objects, without interruption.
If the work of Olga Ziemska and Agnes Martin is not enough to convince you that we can all look at the same thing and see something else, then perhaps you need a few moments to study the work of Italian photographer Dan Bannino and his #POETICDOGS project, a series of portraits of rescue dogs looking like famous writers. Take a look, and tell me there’s not something going on with Charles Baudelaire’s canine doppelganger. (BuzzFeed)
And if we needed any further proof of the notion that “it all depends on how you look at it, ” consider the recent Instagram looting (or, if you prefer, transformative re-photographing) by Richard Prince. As the story goes, Prince took screen shots of certain Instagram user posts, enlarged them and displayed them at the recent Frieze Art Fair in New York. He made minor alterations in order to meet some fuzzy standard of “transformative, ” which appears to have been a matter of adding comments to the screenshot of the post. Word has it most of the photos sold for around $90, 000. To Prince, not the Instagram user. (Washington Post)
(Incidentally, if anyone has some Instagram posts sitting around that I could blow up, add goofy comments to and display in an art fair, I’d be happy to cut you in on the proceeds, even if we could only sell them for $50, 000.)
2 News & Opinions
More than a half-century after the obscenity trial triggered by the publication of Howl, Allen Ginsberg set off howls again, this time in a school district where a teacher read Ginsberg’s “Please Master” in his AP English class, at the request of a student. The teacher (who had previously earned the Excellence in Teaching Award from the Connecticut Education Association) was promptly put on administrative leave and has since resigned. Many in the district are defending the teacher, arguing that a single lapse in judgment should not cost one his job. The poem is provocative, and graphic to be sure. I can see where it can be upsetting. It is certainly not for the faint of heart, and even if you are of hardy stock, you may not wish to go read it. But this thoughtful piece at The Daily Beast considers whether it should be considered a “mistake.”
But to call Olio’s reading of the poem a mistake—a poem a student brought to class and asked to be read—is to say the reading of a work by one of the towering figures of 20th-century American poetry is out of bounds.
The district’s action earned it a bit of a talking to from literary critic Helen Vendler, who wrote to the school board that “to add Ginsberg’s poem to school-censored works of Twain, Faulkner, Whitman, etc., is to deny freedom to read what one likes, and share what one likes with others, which is the basis of intellectual life. Given what students are already exposed to via TV and film, Ginsberg’s poem, which concerns a well-known form of abjection (whether heterosexual or homosexual) reveals nothing new.”
Ginsberg in any case would likely be proud.
If shock is not your thing, you might find yourself inspired by awe. A new study suggests that experiencing awe can actually increase generosity. “Experiences that elicit awe—say, gazing at a starry sky or a vast ocean—tend to make us feel small and insignificant. This, in turn, leads to greater generosity, as our personal gains or losses seem less important, ” the researchers say. Interestingly enough, in the experiments conducted, awe was more effective in producing generosity than was compassion. (Pacific Standard)
Traditional publishing, small press publishing and self-publishing are regular topics of conversation, and one frequent question that comes up is whether self-publishing will hurt later efforts to land an agent or a traditional publishing deal. In an interview published on Jane Friedman’s blog, literary agents Vicky Bijur and Ayesha Pande discussed the upside and downside of self-publishing literary fiction. In response to the question of whether a self-published author might have trouble finding representation without strong sales of the self-published work, Bijur had this to say, an answer which reflects so many of the primary pieces an author needs to successfully sell a book (including a terrific book, a platform, and connections in a niche community):
When Lisa Genova approached me with Still Alice in 2008, which she had self-published, I didn’t care about how many copies she had sold. Here’s what I cared about: I couldn’t put down the book; my twenty-three year-old assistant couldn’t put down the book; I thought Lisa’s background as a neuroscientist with a Ph.D. from Harvard University provided her with an instant platform; she had the savvy and the sophistication to have hired a PR firm for her self-published book; she was writing about a topic that had a huge audience; she had already made deep connections within the Alzheimer’s community. That is, the book was spectacular, and it was clear the author was a superstar. (Jane Friedman)
4 Poetry at Work
We love to see poetry at work. And what more fun way can you see that, but poetry in the service of comics? Ink Brick is a journal of comics poetry, what Huffington Posts suggests is an examination of “two crafts by fusing them into one.” The journal’s editors explain:
We don’t want to be overly prescriptive, but we’re most interested in work that performs a sort of dance between words and images, where each part contributes something different, but both are necessary for the work’s success.
I always had a hunch that diagramming sentences was more math than grammar. Now NPR confirms it:
When you think about a sentence, you usually think about words — not lines. But sentence diagramming brings geometry into grammar.
Diagramming sentences fell out of favor a few decades ago, with the Encyclopedia of Educational Research saying in 1960 that “Diagramming sentences … teaches nothing beyond the ability to diagram.” But to some, it’s an art form all on its own. Take, for instance, Kitty Burns Florey, who wrote Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences:
I like to call it a picture of language. It really does draw a picture of what language looks like. (NPR)
Some writers struggle from time to time with writers block. They will likely have no sympathy for those writers who just can’t stop writing, no matter how hard they try. Fortunately, McSweeneys’ Max Andrew Dubinsky is offering coaching services to get that under control, promising those who are “missing out on a crucial part of the creative process if you don’t spend endless hours staring at a blank page questioning your existence” the “tools you need to stop writing today.” Get procrastination tips like how to binge on Netflix, cooking classes and vacuuming, and his curated collection of “time-wasting websites” that is guaranteed to “tie up hours and hours of your precious writing time.” (McSweeneys)
It’s Shakespeare and Company month at Tweetspeak, and maybe in honor of the Bard you’re trying to write a few sonnets. Some people make writing a sonnet look really hard, like when Barbie® stared down a math problem. But according to Stephen Kessler, in his poem “Any Hack Can Crank Out a Hundred Sonnets, “ it as simple as writing to the clatter of a metronome. (Read the whole poem at Rattle Poetry.)
Any hack can crank out a hundred sonnets
if he has to; all you have to do
is set up your metronome and start typing,
taking dictation from the day’s small gifts,
Do men and women submit differently? I know. There’s a totally different question there that I’m not asking. Let’s talk about submitting to journals. Kelli Russell Agodon notes, at least anecdotally, a difference in the way men and women submit, particularly in persistence and timing.
If an editor of our press rejected work from a male writer, but wrote something like, “This came close. We’d like to see more of your work, please send us more poems” on the rejection note — we would usually receive another submission from the male writer within the same month and sometimes even within a few days after he received his rejection.
When we sent this same note to a woman writer, she might resubmit her work in 3–6 months, but more likely, we would not hear from her until over six months to a year later. Sometimes, she will not resubmit at all.
My kids, through no fault of mine, adopted what I consider to be strange prepositional habits, using phrases such as “on accident” and “bored of” rather than “by accident” and “bored with.” Someone, somewhere taught them this behavior. (I blame the schools, because some days it just feels good to blame the schools, and if you don’t blame the schools for things often enough, they start doing outrageous things like reading Ginsberg poems in AP English classes.) There may be regional explanations, of course. They grew up in South Dakota, while I learned to speak in a bastion of proper English, across the border in Minnesota. The use of prepositions across languages and dialects is actually a fascinating thing, and often puzzling, which the Economist chalks up to the idea that “the majority of preposition usages are either metaphorical or abstract.” As an example, the article cites German-speakers as saying “I am in the train” while English-speakers would say “I am on the train.” If you enjoy linguistic idiosyncrasies, you’ll want to read this one. (The Economist)
How to Read a Poem author Tania Runyan recently led a poetry reading workshop after which a 70-year-old woman exclaimed, “I never knew that this could be done. My whole life, I thought there was just one right answer to a poem, and I was never smart enough to find it.” In her article, Too Late for Poetry? Runyan encourages the reader to approach a poem as an invitation: “Open it again and again. Don’t worry about ‘meaning’ as you read it, but eat, breathe, and survive on its ‘stars, ‘ which are, of course, its gleaming, sizzling words.”
But do you ever wonder what poem to read? We have a couple of suggestions for you. First, you could cue up delivery of a poem a day to your inbox. Or, you could try this “Poetry Prescription” tool, which matches you up with a poem based on your mood.
Our poem a day subscription, Every Day Poems, recently served this poem by Rita Dove:
—for Michael S. Harper
Billie Holiday’s burned voice
had as many shadows as lights,
a mournful candelabra against a sleek piano,
the gardenia her signature under that ruined face.
(Now you’re cooking, drummer to bass,
magic spoon, magic needle.
Take all day if you have to
with your mirror and your bracelet of song.)
Fact is, the invention of women under siege
has been to sharpen love in the service of myth.
If you can’t be free, be a mystery.
— by Rita Dove
Saddled by budget woes, the U.S. Postal Service hasn’t had all that much to write home about these last few years. So a good literature fan can hardly help but line up at the post office window and cheer at the announcement of a new 3-ounce Flannery O’Connor stamp. Well, surely Flannery O’Connor weighed more than three ounces. And the Flannery O’Connor stamp does not weigh three ounces. But you can mail a 3-ounce parcel with a 3-ounce, (currently) 93-cent Flannery O’Connor stamp. (LA Times)
When I was standing in my own post office line the other day, I saw a little flyer for the new Maya Angelou stamp on the wall, and being savvy with my Top 10 segues, thought it might be good to mention it here. I discovered an interesting little story about that (or, depending on your perspective once again, a really big story). The Angelou stamp features the well-known quote “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” Because Angelou was known to quote the line, and because of the title of her autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the quote has been mistakenly attributed to her, though according to the New York Times, the line originally appeared in a poem by Joan Walsh Anglund in 1967. Happily enough, Ms. Anglund seems pleased with the stamp, since the postal service, having been made aware of the incorrect implicit attribution, doesn’t plan to change the stamp.
For the armchair philatelists among us, here’s a short list from Longreads of other personalities that made their way to a postage stamp.
If, when you’re a famous author, you don’t get put on a postage stamp, you could always hope that a Starbucks goes up in the place of your childhood home. Such is what happened with Edith Wharton. And never let it be said that Edith Wharton wouldn’t find a way to posthumously review said Starbucks. I’ll tip my cup to Arielle Zibrak at The Toast for this one. An excerpt:
Upon arriving at my destination of the register, the barista dispenses with the usual pleasantries, simply asking what I want. Having bathed in the aroma of stale, burnt beans for the entire duration of my wait, I decide to settle on an Eastern tea and inquire about the provenance of the ‘chai.’ I’m promptly asked whether I’d prefer an ‘Oprah Chai’ or a ‘Regular Chai’ and choose the ‘Oprah Chai’ in a frenzy of indecision hastened by the angry hordes piling up in my discomfited wake. Ms. Winfrey’s considerable theatrical talents aside, I found her tea blend— drowned in milk, cloying in its sweetness, and completely unrecognizable as the fine south Asian varietal whose name it irresponsibly bears—barely palatable.
Go now, get in line for your Oprah Chai and read the rest.
9 Reading and Teaching
We already know that movement stimulates learning and is essential for kids with ADHD. Now, new research suggests that dyslexia is rooted in rhythm. According to the study, “Brain scans shown that the metre of words was out of phase with internal rhythms in brain, meaning that youngsters struggled to encode the patterns, and therefore memorise speech.” This is great news. It means that things like “clapping games, music, nursery rhymes and marching to the Grand Old Duke of York” can help dyslexic kids train their brains. Says the researcher, Usha Goswami, “If children keep it up they will learn to read. It will definitely happen.” (The Telegraph)
Once they do, we can only hope that they, like author Roxane Gay, will find that they are “made” by the books they read. Gay’s essay, The Books that Made Me Who I Am, includes titles as wide ranging as the Little House on the Prairie books and Anne of Green Gables to work by Angelou and Wharton, as well as Vladimir Nabokov, Zora Neale Hurston, Sandra Cisneros and many more. Her list, which may or may not include books you would enjoy reading, is rich with her experience, and she is shaped by writing that empowered her and writing that troubled her. Gay writes, “In all these books and in so many more, I find the most essential parts of myself. I become more myself. I learn what to hold most necessary when using my voice. I learn and continue to learn how to use my voice.” (Buzzfeed)
10 Sound ‘n Motion
For some, books have made them what they are. For others, it’s cookies. Yes, cookies.
Oh, and by the way, o-la-la! is French for Cowabunga!