Photo source: Found Poetry Project

Celebrate National Poetry Month this April by creating your own “found poem” and submitting it online. (Anonymously, if you wish.) Head on over to the Found Poetry Project, the brainchild of Jenni B. Baker and Beth Ayer, graduates of UMass Dartmouth’s Professional Writing Program.

The information below is from the project’s web site and press materials.

Found poetry, defined

Found poetry is the art of excerpting words and phrases from any written source and combining them in new ways to form a poem. Sources can range from traditional texts like books, newspapers and magazines to more unexpected origins like product packaging, Twitter updates and court testimony.

The project

The project will distribute more than 500 found poetry kits in communities across the United States and four countries and curate the resulting poems online at http://www.foundpoetryproject.com.

The kits, each containing all the materials someone needs to write a found poem, will be distributed in community bookstores, libraries, coffee shops, public transportation and other public locations for people to stumble upon beginning March 28. Kit finders are encouraged to write a poem using the kit and share it on the project website.

A Kickstarter campaign run between February 3 and March 4, 2012, generated more than $1,250 for the Found Poetry Project, double the project’s original goal.

A word from Jenni B. Baker, founder & editor-in-chief at The Found Poetry Review

“While poets have been incorporating and building on one another’s work for centuries, found poetry is still an under-practiced and, in some cases under-appreciated, art form. We hope the Found Poetry Project will be a fun initiative that gets the public involved in experimenting with found poetry and showcases the contributions that can be made in the genre.”

Create your own kits!

Individuals and groups are encouraged to extend the reach of the project by creating their own kits to distribute in their communities. Guidelines for those wishing to participate in the project are available on the Found Poetry Project website.

More information

Contact Jenni B. Baker at foundpoetryreview@gmail.com.

butterflyTwo quotes I’ve come across lately speak to the writer’s need to write: as a way to hold fast to fleeting experiences and to make sense of the world.

It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment?
Vita Sackville-West

I would feel dead if I didn’t have the ability periodically to put my world in order with a poem. I think to be inarticulate is a great suffering, and is especially so to anyone who has a certain knack for poetry.
Richard Wilbur

In pursuit

Interior, Grace Cathedral, San FranciscoYesterday the Writer’s Almanac featured Pursuit, a poem by Stephen Dobyns that begins:

Each thing I do I rush through so I can do
something else. In such a way do the days pass—
a blend of stock car racing and the never
ending building of a gothic cathedral.

Through the windows of my speeding car, I see
all that I love falling away: books unread,
jokes untold, landscapes unvisited.

I initially recognized the poem as an anthem for our plugged-in age—when our fingers and our brains pursue the next click even as we’re only beginning to absorb what’s currently before us (never mind actually grapple with that one thing, or complete it). But Dobyns, who published “Pursuit” in 1987, isn’t laying blame for his concurrent agitation, distraction, guilt, and regret on an external force such as the Internet. It’s all his: “the confusion of childhood/loping behind me, the chaos in the mind/the failure chipping away at each success.”

How remote 1987 seems from 2012. No distractions of email or Facebook or YouTube. But Dobyns was having a hard time staying focused even then. He recognizes his struggle for what it is: a race against time, a fear of slowing down, a need to keep the past at bay by rushing headlong into the future. Behind it all, the ultimate pursuer, Death. Yet, Dobyns hangs on to his greater purpose, the “cathedral” he’s toiling to build, that which will remain—even if only half-built—when the stock car races are forgotten.

With today’s multiplicity of diversions, do I let myself off too easily, blaming my own lack of achievement on external forces when I should be looking within? Does my frittering away in the here and now provide such an illusion of busy-ness that I can hide from my own cathedral-building work? Do I even know what my larger purpose is anymore, or am I content with stock car races?

I just finished Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains—not a cheerful read. Citing study after study and using his own experience as a case in point, Carr argues that we are ceding the best of being human to—as Ken Jennings said of Watson—“our new computer overlords.”

Dozens of studies by psychologists, neurobiologists, and educators point to the same conclusion: When we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning. Even as the Internet grants us easy access to vast amounts of information, it is turning us into shallower thinkers, literally changing the structure of our brain.

As we click from link to link, we simultaneously erode our ability to read deeply. Ever try to read a book and find yourself distracted? It’s not because you’re getting older—it’s because you need something to click to. Me, you, all of us—we’re addicted to distraction now.

I, for one, will not give in or give up on books, even as I make use of the web for what it offers. Little did I suspect when I cracked open a fresh paperback edition of Nicholas Nickleby earlier this year that I was doing my brain a favor—keeping my deep-reading neural pathways well-greased.

I try to read Dickens on a regular basis, but it was still a struggle at first, plunging back into his torrent of words. Nickleby is new to me, and I almost gave up as Dickens set up the storylines and main characters  that will play out over 65 chapters, 769 pages. But now I’m hooked on a tale that features both a dastardly rich uncle and an “infant phenomenon.”

A different kind of distraction.

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Jamberry by Bruce DeganOnce upon a time two little girls snuggled next to their mom every evening for bedtime stories.

When they were very young, they giggled at “raspberry, jazzberry, razzmatazzberry” and bid goodnight to the moon. As they grew older, they dodged drizzling meatballs and chased the stinky cheese man. Enchanted not only by words but also by pictures in their storybooks, the girls hunted for hidden hedgehogs and stopped in the woods on a snowy evening.

It’s been a long time since I read aloud to my daughters—both are now in their twenties—but lately I’ve been thinking about that time we spent together.

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Photo source: http://www.harpercollins.com/books/Jamberry-Bruce-Degen/?isbn=9780060214166

Some people check into Boston’s stately old Parker House Hotel while on business or as tourists. Others frequent its restaurant to sample the famous rolls and the original recipe for Boston Cream Pie. I visited the Parker House to peer into an old mirror, hoping that Charles Dickens might peer back out at me.

I’ve loved Dickens since I read A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities, and Great Expectations in junior high. I’m hardly alone, of course—there are thousands of Dickensians around the globe. Venturing beyond the books, Dickens’ fans also frequent fellowships and fairs, memorials and museums, pubs and web pages and even a theme park in Kent, England. When I discovered there was a Dickens Room at the Parker House—in the midst of those dedicated to Emerson, Hawthorne, and Longfellow—I wanted to see it for myself.

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On reading

The Ghost of Blackwood Hall

A warm spring day—April school vacation, bright sunshine and not yet enough leaves on the trees to supply much shade—and my mother is taking all four of us for a long walk. My brother and baby sister are riding in the stroller while my younger sister Mary Anne and I tag along. My mother is taking us to Toytown, a narrow strip of a shop with shelves of cars, trucks, dolls, and stuffed animals stretching all the way to the ceiling. My parents must have received their income tax refund and, in typical fashion, my mother is lavishing some of it on treats for us.

While she picks out toys for the babies, Mom tells me to help Mary Anne find a toy. I immediately let my four-year-old sister wander away while I concentrate on my own selection. A Barbie outfit seems like a natural choice; I could never have too many. But on my way to the Barbie aisle, I’m sidetracked by a shelf filled with books: the yellow and green spines of the Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames series, the Bobbsey Twins (both the classics and the mysteries), Heidi, Louisa May Alcott, anthologies like American Heroines (Dorothea Dix, Ida Lewis) and To Dance, To Dream (Isabella Duncan, Maria Tallchief).

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Country life

I have a favorite story about living in the country—not the country of daisied meadows, white picket fences, and sturdy red barns, but the country of manure and ripe silage, barns gradually collapsing into themselves, and cows bellowing deep into the night.

We’d been at our house on Horseneck Road for about a year and half. New house, new baby, they say, and we had one of each. We also had cats. Lots of cats, and because it was spring, lots of kittens. Only one of the cats was officially ours, but cats don’t care about property lines, so they’d worn a cat’s-paw-wide path across our big field, from our nearest neighbor’s yard to ours. Something I learned about cats in the country: they like to tuck themselves away from nighttime nuisances like frosts and coyotes by crawling up under a car. You have to remember to bang the car’s hood in the morning to rouse them.

Our baby’s first few months were a challenge—a succession of health problems that eventually faded, but that left me, an inexperienced new mother, frazzled. One morning—long after my husband Tom had left for work—Meggie was sick again, and we needed to get to the doctor’s. I hurriedly got us both ready and bundled her out to the car in the driveway. And started it up. Without banging the hood.

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Old fashioned

Old FashionedLast Valentine’s Day, my husband Tom and I took a meandering ride along Cape roads in search of a romantic restaurant. (We’re spoiled by how many times we’ve found perfect places by chance.) After conceding that February might not yield the full range of charming spots, we settled at a well-known if not entirely dreamy restaurant.

Drinks? The waitress was visibly impressed when Tom ordered his standard martini: very dry, Sapphire gin, olive. She turned to me. My drink challenge was on.

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Westport Free Public Library borrowers downloaded 250 e-books last year—and that number is expected to rise dramatically in 2011, as more patrons discover the online service.

Anyone with a library card and an Internet connection can borrow the free e-books, which are digital versions of printed books. After downloading the required software, patrons can search for and borrow e-books just as they would a book in print. But there’s no need to return an e-book—it disappears from your virtual “bookshelf” once its due date is reached.

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