Archive for the ‘micro-essay’ Category

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.

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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?

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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.

Related links

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Cross Road in winterJames Taylor is crooning “heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.” Because I don’t know the lyrics to this carol (In the Bleak Midwinter), I’m really concentrating as I try to sing along. It occurs to me, as it has a few times as I listen to holiday albums in the days before Christmas: how fervently does ole JT believe this religious sentiment? About as much as I do, when I sing along with Pete Seeger, Emmy Lou Harris, Aaron Neville, Nat King Cole?

A sullen former Catholic, a questioning Quaker who no longer attends meeting, I have a hard time with organized religion. Although I sincerely seek a spiritual component in my life, I struggle with faith, with belief in any sort of deity. And lest you think this is a diatribe against Christianity at this most Christian time of the year—quite the contrary. This is the time of the year when the story of Christ’s birth—its simplicity and improbability, its angels and kings, its gentle beasts and kneeling shepherds—inspires great good. Acts of charity and kindness. Thoughtful and nurturing gifts. Aspirations for peace and goodwill.

The story of the nativity has inspired so many more stories with themes of charity, hope, and love. Santa Claus. Good King Wenceslaus. A Christmas Carol. The Gift of the Magi. How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Reading them, listening to them, watching them, singing along—at this time of the year, these stories of generosity and light are at the center of our celebrations, whether we’re particularly mindful of them or not. There is something in us that loves a good story.

So even if I don’t necessarily believe that angels were heard on high the night of Christ’s birth, at this darkening time of the year, at this darkening time in history, I cherish stories that affirm that we still have goodness in us.


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