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Bringing Keats to the Big Screen

posted: 11.8.09 by archived

It can be a treat when talented directors decide to bring poets and their poetry to the big screen. In the recent past, the focus has been on 20th century poets—think of Sylvia (2003) on Sylvia Plath, Il Postino (1994) on Pablo Neruda, and Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994) on Dorothy Parker.  The imaginative 1998 Shakespeare in Love, which drew on real characters and plays, was entertaining but largely fictional.

This September, New Zealand director Jane Campion (The Piano, An Angel at My Table) brought us a biopic about  John Keats (1795 – 1821), one of the most romantic of the later Romantic poets.  Bright Star dramatizes the love affair between Keats and his Hampstead neighbor Fanny Brawne.  Campion decided to make the movie lush in image and sound, heavy with emotion, and short on Keat’s social life. (No Charles Lamb. No Percy Bysshe Shelley. None of that set.)

This, as some reviews have said, was a smart movie. Since Keats was such a rich character, his life offers too many channels to explore in one feature-length movie. And it was clever of Campion to deliver Keats’s exquisite poems on the stream of an intoxicating love affair. General movie goers may not have known of Keats, and general students of poetry may not have known of the affair. The result: more poetry for all.

Fanny, played by the milk-skinned Abby Cornish, begins as a spirited seamstress and designer stitching fantastic stand-up collars and intricate pleated skirts. Keats, played by Ben Whishaw, is whimsical, serious, and thin, nursing his ailing brother Tom.  Charles Armitage Brown (Paul Schneider), Keats’s rascally friend and quasi-benefactor, triangulates the love affair,  his jealousy growing in pace with the couple’s affections.

While the movie’s  lupin- and daffodil-filled fields and the blossoms of English spring are dazzling, even better is Whishaw’s reading of Keats. At the screening I attended, everyone stayed for the final credits in order to listen to the entirety of Whishaw reading “Ode to a Nightengale.”  (You can hear a brief excerpt here [click “download”].)

(Caleb Crain, writing in the On Language column in the New York Times last Sunday, muses on Keats’s language and some of Campion’s language choices for Bright Star.)

The film wasn’t a total success for me since the lovesick pining followed by howling grief became hard to sit through. I also would have liked to have seen more of Keats’s life in poetry and I was dismayed that Fanny’s proud sewing was reduced to mere stitching as she became more besotten—but perhaps that’s just the reality of  first love. (I’m comforted by the fact that she did not end her days traipsing the heaths of Hampstead reciting poetry, as the film says, but rather went on to marry and have a family.)

It was a pretty picture that leaned more in the direction of a love story than a cinematic-literary masterpiece.

An informal poll around the office finds opinions on poet biopics are pretty low. They suffer from “heavy-handed miserablism”  or are “a collection of pious platitudes masquerading as courageous” delivered by “bloviating and gesticulating” characters. (Watch for future posts here by these two passionate writers.)


1. Do biopics help make poets and their poetry more approachable for students? Or do their efforts to appeal to the mainstream turn students off? How do you manage student responses?

2. Which biopics work best in your classroom? How do you assign them?

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Send Us Your Turkey-Day Assignments!

posted: 10.31.09 by archived

Holidays can be hard to write about. The “what you did on your summer vacation” prompt probably tops the pile, but tired sentiments about gratitude and world peace might not be far behind.

With Thanksgiving coming up, the Teaching Poetry blog wants to know how you approach this holiday with your students. Do you assign elegant odes or SPAMku? Do you avoid the topic altogether?

  • How do you get around clichés and get your students thinking for themselves?
  • What models do you use?
  • If you teach creative writing, what assignments work best for generating original turkey-day themed verse?

Send in your thoughts, your favorite assignments–or stories of classroom disasters. We’ll be collecting your insights over the next couple of weeks and posting your responses on November 16th, just in time for the holiday. Then, we’ll ask you to vote for the coolest activity!

E-mail assignments to: aflynn (at) bedfordstmartins (dot) com

Deadline: anytime before Friday, November 13
Vote on all submissions: November 16
Favorites go live: November 17

Stay tuned!

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posted: 10.26.09 by archived

by Carolyn Lengel

Poems can be fun, and sometimes they can even be funny. For proof, look no further than the haiku collected in the SPAMku archive.

Most of the poems on the site are really senryu, which is parodic, rather than haiku, which includes a seasonal reference—both types, however, require the same five-syllable/seven-syllable/five-syllable form.

Curated by John Nagamichi Cho of MIT, the SPAMku archive grew from a collection that filled a small paperback (SPAMku: Tranquil Reflections on Luncheon Loaf, Harper Perennial, 1998) into a gelatinous, porky giant with more than twenty thousand contributions.

Although the SPAMku archive no longer accepts new verses, the poems contributed by volunteers and enthusiasts are a revelation. Everyone, it seems, loves a poetry challenge—and what could be more challenging than crafting a poetic ode to a prosaic canned meat?


Here are some favorites among the archive’s many, many delights:

Roseate pork slab,
How you quiver on my spork!
Radiant light, gelled.

—L. Sheahen

Zen Buddhist SPAM quest:
“What are the ingredients?”
What do you desire?

—Alex Dunne


Give your students the poetry challenge they crave. After a class discussion of the appeal of combining formal Japanese poetry with a not-very-dignified pork product, ask every student to write a SPAMku. (Vegetarian/vegan students can write Tofuku if they prefer.) Who knows—perhaps you’ll end up with a SPAMku archive of your own.



Carolyn Lengel is a senior editor for English at Bedford/St. Martin’s, where she works mainly  on handbooks. She is not a poet (although she did write a YouTube sonnet about Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan for the National Day on Writing), and she generally does not eat Spam, though she admires Spam both as a word and as an aesthetic object.

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The Art of Revision

posted: 10.19.09 by archived

By Sage Cohen

One of the trickiest—and most liberating—aspects of poetry is that there is no Gold Standard against which we measure its worth. Without this standard, it can also be difficult to evaluate when a poem is finished. Because each poem is trying to accomplish something different, it is up to us to decide when the poem has arrived. This is not easy to do, even when one has been writing for decades, but it sure is satisfying to practice!

The important thing to remember about revision is that it is a process by which we become better acquainted with the poem and push it farther toward its own potential. In the revision stage, we revisit and may reinvent the choices we’ve already made with language, image, voice, music, line, rhythm, and rhyme.

The tricky balance involves wildly experimenting with what might be possible in a poem—beyond what we first laid down on the page—without losing the integrity of idea or emotion that brought us to the poem in the first place. This is a skill that develops over time, through experience and largely by feel. If it seems like you’re groping around in the dark when revising, welcome to the club!

The process of revising poems is unique for each poet; often, each poem has its own, unprecedented trajectory. I’ve had a few “whole cloth” poems arrive nearly perfectly complete in one contiguous swoosh of pen to paper. And I have other poems that have taken me more than fifteen years to finish. More typically, I work on a poem for a few weeks or months. Sometimes, I think a poem is finished, but years later, it proves me wrong, demanding a new final verse or line structure or title.

For the purposes of establishing a revising practice, I recommend that you divide writing and editing into two completely separate acts that happen at two different sittings, preferably on different days. The goal of this checks-and-balances system is to give yourself the space to let it rip when you’re writing without fearing interference from your inner editor. Don’t worry: If it’s bad now, it will still be bad next week; you can fix it then.

Once you feel you’ve exhausted every last drop of poetic possibility in the writing of the first draft, or any time you get stuck and don’t know where to go next, put your poem aside for a while. The next time you return to it, you’ll be wearing your editor hat.

In my experience, time is the greatest of editors. The longer a poem sits untouched, the more likely you are to have a sense of how to proceed when you sit down to revise.


Don’t know where to start with your revisions? Try asking yourself the following questions:

  • What is most alive in your poem? Underline the line(s), word(s), phrase(s), stanza(s) that seem to be the kindling feeding the fire of this poem so you can easily reference what’s working throughout the revision process.
  • Is there introductory information at the beginning or summary information at the end that could be trimmed?
  • Who is speaking? What would the poem be like if told from a different perspective? (For example, if a poem is about an experience shared by a mother and daughter, and told from the daughter’s point of view, try telling it from the mother’s point of view.)
  • Where is language weak and flabby? How can you give it more energy and muscle? Can passive verbs become active? Can modifiers be cut? Should “dropped” be changed to “plummeted”?
  • Verb tense: What would your poem be like in a different tense than it was written? Even if it happened in the past, try the present, and vice versa. See what gives it the most power and energy.
  • Does the shape of the poem (line length, stanza breaks, white space) mirror the emotion and rhythm of its content? Should it?
  • Are punctuation and capitalization consistent?
  • Is there good music of repeating sounds throughout the poem?
  • Does each line break create the desired interest, pause, movement, and focus on key moments or words?
  • Does the title serve the poem? How can the title take the poem further?

Remember that only you know the best way to craft your poem. Have fun, be willing to experiment, and you’ll learn a little more about revision each time you try.


Sage Cohen

Sage Cohen

Sage Cohen is the author of Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry (Writers Digest Books, 2009) and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World. An award-winning poet, she writes three monthly columns about the craft and business of writing, publishes the Writing the Life Poetic Zine and serves as Poetry Editor for VoiceCatcher 4. Sage has won first prize in the Ghost Road Press poetry contest and been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She curates a monthly reading series at Barnes & Noble and teaches the online class Poetry for the People. To learn more, visit Join the conversation about living and writing a poetic life at!

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Jim Carroll: 1949-2009

posted: 10.7.09 by archived

by Cecilia Seiter

Poet, musician, and author Jim Carroll died of a heart attack in New York on September 11th of this year. He was best known for his memoir, The Basketball Diaries, about his high school years playing basketball for a private school, while simultaneously supporting his growing heroin addiction. The New York Times has a good obituary; The Guardian writes about Carroll’s poetic legacy; for a more personal remembrance, with pictures, poetry, and an interview, try poet Tom Clark’s blog.

While learning more about Jim Carroll’s life, and reading some of his poetry (I picked up Fear of Dreaming, which contains selected poems from 1969-1993) what struck me was how inextricably linked his life and works were to New York City. Born on the Lower East Side, spending his adolescence in Inwood at the northern tip of Manhattan, and going to high school on the Upper West Side, Carroll had the run of Manhattan from a young age. The poetry workshops on St. Mark’s Place, which he attended starting in 1965, encouraged his writing. And, what better place than Manhattan during the sixties and seventies to find the mix of art, drugs, and rock and roll that were so influential to his work?

In many of his poems, Carroll refers to specific streets and and places in New York, as if to let the reader in on the places where he hangs out. These references also ground the poems in geographical reality, and invite the reader’s knowledge of the street or neighborhood to  enhance the experience of reading the poem.

You could do your own walking tour of Manhattan based on Carroll’s poetry, though the streets aren’t the same anymore. In a 1998 interview with Rolling Stone, Carroll himself said,

The New York that’s in my poems is the New York that’s in my head…I walked past Times Square the other night and it was just like being in Vegas or something. But it wasn’t the sleazy Vegas. I can remember when I was a kid going up to Times Square and it was this breathtaking sense of depravity, which I think every kid should go through and be exposed to. Now, it’s more like Disneyland or something.

Jim Carroll is definitely worth watching and listening to. You can hear him read his poem “Heroin” here, thanks to the Paris Review (who first published his poetry in 1968, and published excerpts from The Basketball Diaries in 1970). This video, from the film Poetry in Motion (1982), shows Carroll reading “Just Visiting”, from “The Book of Nods” (the clip ends with some bonus footage of Charles Bukowski).

A final thought on writing poetry (versus playing basketball) from Forced Entries: The Downtown Diaries 1971-1973:

Poetry has too many variations. Mr. Frost was right about one thing: there are always promises to keep, and variations on that theme. With basketball you can correct your own mistakes, immediately and beautifully, in midair.


blog-photo Cecilia Seiter is an associate editor at Bedford/St. Martin’s.

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Wallace Stevens, Poet of the Month

posted: 10.5.09 by archived

Wallace Stevens was born on October 2, 1879—130 years ago—and led what seemed, on the surface, a rather ordinary life.

Educated at Harvard, he became a lawyer and spent his life practicing law, eventually becoming vice president of the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Co.  While leading the daily life of a lawyer, Stevens produced some of the most important American poetry written in the twentieth century—composing lines in his head while walking to work in the morning and writing them down at night. Like composer Charles Ives, Wallace Stevens happily joined work and art, turning down a professorship at Harvard to remain at his firm. Widespread recognition came late, just a year before Stevens’s death in 1955, when his Collected Poems was published.

The Poetry Foundation’s biography summarizes Stevens’s talents: “an extraordinary vocabulary, a flair for memorable phrasing, an accomplished sense of imagery, and the ability to both lampoon and philosophize.” Stevens is frequently regarded as a difficult poet—his poems are opaque and philosophical, his images whimsical, his language complex—but the visceral power of his words is on display in his recordings of his poems, like this one of “To the One of Fictive Music” (with some creative animation):

(See also recordings of Stevens’s poems here and here, as well as these two clips from a documentary.)

Though appreciation of Stevens’s poetry was a long time coming, it is now near universal. Stevens’s Selected Poems, recently published by Knopf, has garnered a lot of attention and occasioned reassertions of Stevens’s place in the pantheon of modern poetry.  “[W]hen we hear the sound of Stevens in poems by subsequent poets,” James Longenbach writes in The Nation, “it is most often the music of austerity, at once worldly and otherworldly, that we hear.”

Reviewing the book in the Times, Helen Vendler makes the case for Stevens as the poet of our age:

Stevens’s conscience made him confront the chief issues of his era: the waning of religion, the indifferent nature of the  physical universe, the theories of Marxism and socialist realism, the effects of the Depression, the uncertainties of    philosophical knowledge, and the possibility of a profound American culture, present and future. Others treated those issues, but very few of them possessed Stevens’s intuitive sense of both the intimate and the sublime, articulated in verse of unprecedented invention, phrased in a marked style we now call “Stevensian” (as we would say “Keatsian” or “Yeatsian”). In the end, he arrived at a firm sense of a universe dignified by human endeavor but surrounded always—as in the magnificent sequence “The Auroras of Autumn”—by the “innocent” creations and destructions within the universe of which he is part.

Happy 130th, Wallace Stevens!


1. As noted above, Stevens was unique in his ability write great poems while achieving success in the legal world. Why is this so rare? Are poets opposed to work? Consider some poems that deal with the mundane world of work—perhaps “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” by Gray or “The Unknown Citizen” by Auden—and discuss how the poets conceive of this work as related to their craft.


Andrew Flynn is an editorial assistant at Bedford/St. Martin’s. He graduated from Columbia in 2008, with a BA in history and philosophy. Before coming to Bedford he interned at the Paris Review.

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Helen Vendler: Close Reader In Action

posted: 9.28.09 by archived

by Andrew Flynn

Helen Vendler is famous for reading poems closely. Her skills are certainly on display in this discussion with master interviewer Christopher Lydon a couple of years ago. It appeared on his Internet radio show Open Source.

Vendler talks about her then-new book on W. B. Yeats, Our Secret Discipline, offering thought-provoking analysis of a number of poems, including the famous “An Irish Airman Forsees His Death”:

I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My county is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

Vendler makes many illuminating observations (the discussion of the poem begins at minute 5:12)—about the poem’s history, its form, and its content—but I was particularly struck by her analysis of time and place. Vendler notes:

The thing that Yeats does that to me is astonishing in this poem is that he makes the airplane take off. When the Irish airman begins speaking, he’s on the ground, saying “I know that I shall meet my fate/Somewhere among the clouds above”—so he’s looking up to the clouds in the sky, the clouds are above. Later, he says, “A lonely impulse of delight/ Drove to this tumult in the clouds”—this tumult that he is now experiencing in the clouds, where he is surrounded by the clouds and is up in the air. And, somehow between line two and line twelve the plane has gone up into the air and he is speaking from the air, where he began speaking from the ground. And that seems to me one of the sort of amazing things Yeats could do in a poem, without telegraphing it, without saying, “First I will show him speaking on the ground, then I will show him aloft in his plane.” He doesn’t say a word. He just makes it happen. It’s all show and no tell with Yeats.

I’d read this poem a dozen or so times before, but I’d never noticed this major shift in time and place. Her analysis makes for fresh reading of this well-read poem, though I’m still trying to figure out what happens between lines two and twelve.

The quality of Vendler’s reading is that it reveals both subtleties that benefit academic debates on interpretation and also make the act of reading more pleasurable.

In her Poems, Poets, Poetry text, Vendler includes “An Irish Airman Forsees His Death” in chapter 6 on “Constructing a Self.” The chapter focuses on space and time, testimony, typicality, and motivations—considerations that help readers understand how poets create their speakers. Vendler advises:

As you read a poem, ask yourself question about the speaker constructed within the poem. Where is he or she in time and space? Over how long a period? With what motivations? How typical? Speaking in what tones of voice? Imagining life how? Resembling the author or different from the author? The more you can deduce about the speaker, the better you understand the poem. If you think about what has been happening to the speaker before the poem begins (if that is implied by the poem), you will understand the speaker better.

Helpful advice—and the entire Open Source interview with Christopher Lydon is well worth a listen.

Take a favorite poem that you think you know well. Then consider Vendler’s advice quoted above. How do these considerations about the poem’s speaker change the way you read? How does it change your understanding of the poem’s meaning?


Andrew Flynn is an editorial assistant at Bedford/St. Martin’s. He graduated from Columbia in 2008, with a BA in history and philosophy. Before coming to Bedford he interned at the Paris Review.

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Kay Ryan, Poet of the Month

posted: 9.21.09 by archived

by Andrew Flynn

Kay Ryan, the US Poet Laureate, turns 64 today.

Ryan is not a household name—not even a poet’s household name until quite recently—and her journey to the Library of Congress does not follow the course of a typical literary career. “It feels very unlikely,” Ryan told Charlie Rose in an interview last November. “I hadn’t ever expected this to happen to me.”

She grew up the daughter of an oil-well driller in the San Joaquin Valley in the 40s and 50s, in a working-class culture that did not welcome the pretensions of poetry. Her adult life has been spent teaching writing—but not of the MFA variety. Since the 1970s she’s taught remedial English classes at the College of Marin, her local community college. She lives in a house she shingled herself, is an avid runner, and has never taken a creative writing class. Carol Adair, Ryan’s fellow teacher at Marin and longtime partner, died earlier this year. Ryan wrote about their relationship and marriage in Salon.

Ryan’s success came later in life. Her early works attracted little notice. The first published essay on Ryan’s work appeared little more than a decade ago—but its author, poet and critic, Dana Gioia, proclaimed her achievements in no uncertain terms. “Over the past five years,” Gioia begins, “no new poet has so deeply impressed me with her imaginative flair or originality as Kay Ryan.” Gioia, who became Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, also became a champion of Ryan’s poetry. The last ten years have marked a rise to prominence for Ryan, with highlights including a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2001, the eminent Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize in 2004, and appointment as Poet Laureate of the United States in 2008.

It only takes one poem to show Ryan’s unique style. Her poems are short, sometimes funny, almost always accessible, yet rich and complex. Analyzing the internal wordplay of “Paired Things,” Dana Gioia picked out the hallmarks of a Ryan poem: “dense figurative language, varied diction, internal rhyme, the interrogative mode, and playful, which elusively alternates between iambic and unmetered lines.”

Paired Things

So many paired things seem odd.
Who ever would have dreamed
the broad winged raven of despair
would quit the air and go
bandylegged upon the ground, a common crow?

“[C]lown suitcase” is her own description of her poetry. “[T]he clown flips open the suitcase and pulls out a ton of stuff,” she said in her Paris Review interview. “A poem is an empty suitcase that you can never quit emptying.” She’s balked at Gioia’s Dickinson comparison—“[H]ow would you like to be compared to God?”

Adam Kirsch wrote in praise of Ryan’s appointment as Poet Laureate, commending her “diffidence and self-sufficiency” and her “dark vision and metaphysical scope,” offering an incisive reading of Ryan’s poem “Chop”:

Here are the short lines, plain diction, and buried assonances—”sharp/chop,” “step/stamp”—that define Ms. Ryan’s verse. But once you ponder the miniature allegory of “Chop,” that homely music starts to look desperately ironic. For Ms. Ryan’s bird is an emblem of man in his arrogant mortality.

Something similar could be said about much of Ryan’s work.

The Library of Congress has aggregated the wealth of resources about Ryan available on the Internet, including essays, interviews, and recordings of readings. If you’ve never read Kay Ryan before, she’s worth discovering. If you don’t read much poetry, she’s still discoverable.

Kay Ryan is noted for her frequent use of recombinant, or internal, rhyme. (See, for instance, “four-oared” and “afford” in “Turtle.”) How is the effect of internal rhymes different than traditional, end-of-the-line rhymes? Why does Ryan seem to use internal rhyme in “Turtle”? For example, how does internal rhyme add emphasis to certain images or change meaning?


Andrew Flynn is an editorial assistant at Bedford/St. Martin’s. He graduated from Columbia in 2008, with a BA in history and philosophy. Before coming to Bedford he interned at the Paris Review.

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Poems are Fun!

posted: 9.14.09 by archived

by Nick Richardson

I hadn’t realized this until I took the time to click through our archives, but the overarching argument of all the Bits poetry blogs I’ve written so far has been that poetry can, in fact, be fun… and toward that end, poetry should be read aloud and recited, incorporated into our daily lives, and actively enjoyed.

As educators, this is our mandate: resuscitating the literary arts and exciting students. It’s a difficult challenge, often because—as previously discussed —it’s easy to get frustrated by indifference and “turn to public domain big guns to inspire respect if not obeisance.” Unfortunately, the inherent fun of poetry usually slips away during the resultant fracas.

The following short films, Poems are Fun (1956) and Let’s Read Poetry (1957), are great—if a little dated—reminders that poetry can and should be lived and learned, that poetry is fun! I’d love to see what these would look like today.  Any thoughts? In any case, enjoy:

Poems are Fun (1956)

Let’s Read Poetry (1957)

A recap, for those just tuning in:

In Defense of Recitation

Who’s Afraid of Teaching Poetry?

Ars Poetica: For Students Who Wonder What the Point Is, Anyway

Contemporary Politics/Poetics

Why So Serious: Are Happy Poems Taboo?

Minute by Minute with #Micropoetry

Nick Richardson is an associate editor at Bedford/St.Martin’s. He holds an MA in Literary and Cultural Theory from Boston College and has published three books (two poetry, one prose), exhibiting what poet Andrei Codrescu has called “a fresh sort of daring in the overstrained broth of contemporary American poetry.” He is also the publisher of A Mutual Respect Books and Music, an underground chapbook press operating out of Brooklyn, NY.

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Minute by Minute with #Micropoetry

posted: 9.8.09 by archived

by Nick Richardson

It’s easy to say that poetry is dead. So easy, in fact, that I’ve said as much before on Bedford Bits: “it’s easy […] to fall into the trap of thinking of poetry as frivolous. Or as unapproachable solipsism. Or both. Largely irrelevant, in any case.” But, like a poet, I wonder about Death (capital “D”).

Is Poetry in a coffin, unsold and unread (or worse: forcibly, joylessly read)… or has it been reconstituted, its component parts unknowingly incorporated –- immanent -– into the subconsciously literary, the reflective and minutely observant; the people with Things to Say. That is, into Poets (capital “P”), both self-identified and otherwise. Take Twitter:

A quick check of Twitter (which is considered – like poetry – to be largely irrelevant) reveals a quickening pulse within the poetic corpse. Not villanelles or catalectics, but something shorter: “twaiku” — twittered haiku — and casually shared micropoetics.

Some might say this is mostly empty verbiage. They say it’s better to leave poetry to the professionals. But again, this is where our poetic problem originated. Twaiku may not be canon –- although, I am Twitter friends with Shakespeare –- but Poetry is bubbling up, tweet by tweet, into contemporary pop-consciousness.

This minute, regardless of whether anyone thinks it’s an essentially historical or privileged art form, poetry is being created and celebrated, shared and reposted and thrown away. Yoko Ono is making international news by judging Twitter poetry competitions (the prize: free admission to poetry events!); Twitter micropoetry is being codified, at least popularly on Wikipedia, as a legitimate “genre of poetic verse”; and we may even have our first serious Twitter poetry book, Tweet, Tweet: a mysticotelegraphic fistbump panegyric to the american open road odyssey (Mark Fullmer, 2009).

This forthcoming film/poetry collection, teased in the below book trailer, documents — minute by micropoetic minute — Fullmer’s “road trip from Brea to Flagstaff to Albuquerque to Denver to Provo to Ferdley to Big Sur and back” — and definitely doesn’t look anything like your grandmother’s mouldering book of Victorian twaiku.

Tweet, Tweet, by Mark Fullmer (Trailer):

So, is Poetry dead? Of course not — that’s just something we say. Poets are, as previously discussed in Why So Serious?: Are Happy Poems Taboo, driven by mortality and marginalization.

And have we really come from The Odyssey to “The Wasteland” to this? Yes and no — like almost everything else, you can find poetry alive and thriving online, but that’s just the popular fringe. Some will take solace in this explosion of poetic creation, others can always look to the traditional sources, which chug on regardless.


1. Take a look at Twitter searches for #micropoetry and #twaiku. What can be said about these short poems (140 characters maximum) as a whole? Do you think they work as poetry (why or why not)?

2. Given what you’ve noticed in the above exercise, try your hand at writing Twitter-style micropoetry. If you don’t have a Twitter account, just try to keep these short-bursts under 140 characters long. Of course, part of the vitality and fun of tweeted poetry is the social interaction, so — if you feel comfortable — try posting some of your micropoetry on Twitter. Be sure to end your post with a hash tag (#micropoetry or #twaiku).

Nick Richardson is an associate editor at Bedford/St.Martin’s. He holds an MA in Literary and Cultural Theory from Boston College and has published three books (two poetry, one prose)…exhibiting what poet Andrei Codrescu has called “a fresh sort of daring in the overstrained broth of contemporary American poetry.” He is also the publisher of A Mutual Respect Books and Music, an underground chapbook press operating out of Brooklyn, NY.

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