5 ways poetry doth rock

Clostridium-difficile_456pxA friend this week shared a poem as her Facebook status, resolved that 2014 would be the Year of Viral Poetry. The game went: “Like” it and she would assign you a poet. Thus tagged, you must plunge into this master’s work, like unstopping a brain clog — getting down and dirty, because contemporary poetry has fewer rules than the augured couplets of ninth-grade Honors English. Next, share your wonder by pasting in a poem as your status. So non-status-quo!

Then, as others glom onto you with “Like” petals, you’ll divine, assign, entwine, and this rivulet of streaming consciousness become a swollen wave to displace the dreariness of insipid trumpery.

That was the plan.

c-diff-photo-300x225.jpgSo I dove, cannonballed, belly-flopped into the source material, hoping to dislodge a pearl from the sandy, stingy depths of complacency. But that poem seemed just words randomized, a word cloud, a fluffed pillow of broken dreams, alphabet soup. This poem didn’t speak to me. Another poem sabotaged itself with quirk. The famous series — mere postcards to a celebrity. I rifled, like a picky eater with a shellfish allergy, through the digital poem links, downloaded mp3’d poems, YouTubed and buzz-fed for a Great Poem, one that itself might be shared exponentially. The more I typed “poem” the more it didn’t look write [sic]. A tiny voice started whining: How did she get to be an acclaimed poet? Who is she to pout and ponder? What makes these word choices arranged this way art, and others but utterances? And isn’t “WordPress” so aptly named — we’re all just slaving in a word mill of meaninglessness, churn, churn, churn.

light-virus-1I begrudgingly posted one — of course about death, too obvious — stating I didn’t really like this one, but it’s published, it must be worthy … and waited for the thunderous clap of “Likes” and my turn to pick a pack of poetic, pickled, plucking peckers. … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … Hello? … … … … … … … … … Is this thing on? … … … … … … … Turned out my friend had assigned me one of her poetry teachers, ouch, and I had probably offended everyone in the room.

Tonal2

The word cloud I created from the poem I chose to post, “Tonal,” by Julia Bloch.

‘Course I think that I’m halfway smart and thoroughly understood this poem. Then my friend analyzed the poem … and in the process psychoanalyzed me. She showed me I had been applying my editing skills, and a poem is not necessarily built to withstand the acid tests. I had been reading it wrong, trying to sniff out the person behind the pen, legitimize her, case some logic or crack some code. Worse, I had been reading just the words.

Here is what I discovered about poetry through this fanciful Facebook exercise:

1. There is no “About Me” in poetry.

What was all that we learned in school about the id, the ego and the super-ego? Well, writers have ego. Writers-editors, super-ego. But the poet knows only the id, and that’s not spelled “I-D,” as in construct a Gravatar and share a little something about yourself in three pithy sentences. The poet dissolves amid the fluid exchange of lucidity.

2. Poems have an “interiority” complex.

This goal of “going viral” with a poem? Ridiculous. It’s already viral in the smallest and largest (universal) sense of the word. It connects like a unicellular predator inside of you and eats at you and decimates your defenses. You can’t put the experience “out there.” It’s like “E.T: The Extraterrestrial,” both outlandish and “right here.” It is of creation. A fabrication of the fabric of life. So there’s little point in sharing. That would be redundant.

3. To appreciate poetry, you must reject authority.

As puzzling as a poem might be, and as clever as you think you are in unlocking its meaning, there is no answer sheet. As my friend pointed out, “Is the poet the ultimate authority of her work? I think not.” You aren’t, either, because the next time you attend to it, it may strike you differently.

4. There’s death in every poem.

Writing may bring some immortality, but an immortal poem confronts death as the life-affirming force it is. What is life but the absence of death? When we write poetry, we are, in the most reductionist sense, tangling with mortal measures — and that’s why I’m writing this at 3 a.m., praying someone will hear, or care.

5. We are all poets.

What’s really happening on Twitter, Facebook and the “Like”? A percolation of delineated and concentrated thought that congeals — like the creation of a Facebook status or that guy’s blog post, “Marriage Is Not for Me,” going viral — it was really his headline that did it. Yes, a certain twist on words, or something that connects, strums, makes inner music that others dance to. Our accidental choices mixed with nail-biting deliberations produce a form of condensed poetry, every time. We blindly follow the rules while cloyingly obliterating them. Technology is the platform for us to rise to the next stage, to one-up ourselves, but we stay above it, hovering, waiting for that next burst of creativity or clarity.

And that’s why I sat agape watching this commercial the other night, pondering: Is 2014 indeed the Year of Viral Poetry? “That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.” — Walt Whitman, taking flight on an iPad Air.

Powerful play, Apple.

Oh, and jk about the “5 ways.” There are hundreds more, but I’m clearly no authority.

Living in an age of telepathy

The age of communicating via telepathy is upon us, and its name is Twitter.

Journalism's good ol' days. Except it wasn't too good for women, or non-smokers.

Journalism’s good ol’ days. Except it wasn’t too good for women, or non-smokers.

Long ago and far away, news was dictated by “the public’s need to know.” Journalists had to sift through the facts surrounding an incident or figure, decide what was relevant or newsworthy while taking a step back to filter out (or let their editors filter out) biases so that the public could form its own opinions. In this one-way show ’n’ tell, people extracted news and views on a daily — maybe twice-daily — cycle, giving time for dust to settle and for story tellers to fit the right frame to the story. It was a way of telegraphing the news — send it out there, as if on the wires, to get a point across that hits close to one’s intended target.

The age of Twitter power: Use it wisely.

The age of Twitter power: Use it wisely.

A week ago, I experienced something entirely new. As the apprehension of the Boston Marathon suspects unfolded — and I mean “apprehension” in every sense of the word — I couldn’t sleep, feeling an untapped energy I couldn’t put my finger on. Part of that was no doubt the jangly communication device I keep in my pocket that I can’t keep my fingers from tapping. Images of those ordinary college kids on a video loop that had replayed on the airwaves were also coursing through my brain, so I checked my Twitter feed once more before bed, and discovered there was trouble afoot at MIT. Turned on CNN — not much to go on there, as the anchors somersaulted over themselves to make sure no one would infer that the chaos unfolding in Cambridge or Watertown had anything whatsoever to do with the story at the top of everyone’s minds. Our “need to know” was trumping everything else in our lives, it seemed. How? Why? Who? These questions haunt us each time something bad happens.

On display on Twitter, though, was more than a need to know. It seems fueled by “a need to tell.” Twitter empowers every single human on the planet who has a data plan and even the weakest signal to feed the need-to-know machine. It’s so instantaneous and so exponentially more than two-way communication — try a billion-way — that the news feed, a feeding frenzy, becomes a blur. You’re not even sure at times whether your thoughts are your own or someone else’s. Retweeting, favoriting, hat-tipping, direct-messaging, sending modified tweets, partial retweets, subtweets, little ehs, uhs and half-thoughts that spend little time churning in your brain before they’re out there, disseminating.

In psychological terms, “telepathy” is defined as the communication between people of thoughts, feelings, desires, etc., involving mechanisms that cannot be understood in terms of known scientific laws — also called “thought transference.” OK, that’s definitely happening. Does anyone really KNOW how Twitter even works? How we are connected to other beings we’ve never encountered and maybe whose real names we don’t know? We are followed and followed-back at lightning speed. We blink, we process, we share.

All the news that was fit to know — during the three hours that it took the established (establishment) news organizations to verify a single fact — was out there for anyone to see on Twitter late last Thursday night into the wheeeeee Friday hours. We had raw video from folks holed up in Watertown, Mass., their laptops held up to windows framing the story as it unfolded. We had nearly live audio of gunbattles, play-by-plays from people peering out bathroom windows on the second floor. It was incredible, as if we had an aerial view of the universe, like God, if I may, honing in on this one distress signal. And yet I was safe in a spare bedroom of my house, curled up with pillows, gnawing on raw veggies. 

Sunil Tripathi, in his Brown University hoodie, gets a group hug in the family kitchen.

Sunil Tripathi, in his Brown University hoodie, gets a group hug in the family kitchen.

And that was about the time I saw a tweet that the young suspect seen in the video was almost surely a college student from Brown University who had been struggling with depression and missing since mid-March: Sunil Tripathi — one of those odd names that Americans have a hard time placing, pronouncing or spelling, thereby rousing instant suspicion. Even friends of his were tweeting and retweeting their theories and shock. “Oh, God, no, unbelievable, that’s Sunil.” And, without thinking, I shared it. Because it was “new” — thus, “news.”

Eventually, Tripathi’s name bubbled up to Twitter’s top-trending-hashtags list.

The need to show and tell and know. It was out of control, yet honing in like radar, connecting every synapse in our collective brains, with retweets revictimizing one young philosophy major caught in the cross hairs of supposition.

Today, of course, we know better. Today, Sunil’s body was identified after being pulled out of a river near his Rhode Island campus. Whether he was already dead at the time the innuendos swirled around the ether, I’m unsure.

But as if by telepathy, I feel connected now to his grieving family. On the Facebook page they used to reach out for tips and support while missing him (and, of course, they will  miss him eternally), they wrote:

“This last month has changed our lives forever, and we hope it will change yours too. Take care of one another. Be gentle, be compassionate. Be open to letting someone in when it is you who is faltering. Lend your hand. We need it. The world needs it.”

That’s 203 characters. Too long for a tweet. They wrote much more, all of it excellent context, but that was the part that resonated most with me. That’s the part I’m sharing on my slice of the social-media pie. Lending my hand, the only way I can, to type more words.

And now, when people say:  “My thoughts and prayers are with you” — I’m thinking, yeah. I believe that. Here’s hoping the Tripathi family can also sense mine.

Flash fiction in fewer than 140 characters

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To clarify … last weekend, I was alerted to a flash-lit-fiction slam to be held in Brighton, England, on Sept. 11, co-sponsored by ParagraphPlanet.com‘s Richard Hearn (DistractedDad on Twitter). Details at his PP site.

The challenge: Tweet a complete story in 133 characters (saving room for the required hashtag of #flf11, which steals seven, with the space, grrr).

At his urging, I submitted, but all five of mine suck (this is hard!), yet the deadline isn’t over. So when I call myself a flash-fiction virgin … well, not anymore, #TuesdayTales has spoiled me … but, see, I wasn’t counting these, which haven’t been judged yet, as the event unrolls Sunday, still time to play! Simply include the hashtag #flf11 in your tweets — open topics (which is why it doesn’t really count as flash fiction, in my mind, which en-tales [sic] prompting). 

Go ahead, Twitter peeps. Whet your appetite for lightning-round, minuscule manuscripting. You can beat this drivel:

Inspector No. 14, Otis, is having a bad day. Must reconnoiter. He slackens a smidge, loosens a screw. There. Another happy accident. #flf11

She could still change her mind. Priest, gawkers, the tux-clad brute await word. Tossing her posies too soon, a faint no-o escapes.#flf11

UPDATE: The following tweet made it to the final round!

The day’s dullsville for dogwalker Don ’til a drab-brown mound stirs. He lobs the sacrificial pug into the bear’s yawning doom. Yelp! #flf11

At 09:37, a commuter with top clearance spied a fireball, whiffed burnt flesh, verified reports, about-faced to the links. Tee time. #flf11

(That last one is inspired by a friend who did, actually, go golfing on 9/11 after glimpsing the Pentagon chaos. No names, you know who you are.)

A newfound flash-fiction addiction

By day, I make headlines. And by “by day,” I mean “by night.”

Recently I got bit by the flash-fiction bug — like writing a headline on deadline, only meatier. Most contests, though, had too-long lead times. Needed it quick and dirty.

Yesterday, I found my fix via #TuesdayTales on Twitter. (Its host is a fellow wordpress blogger, at glitterword.wordpress.com). The simple rules: Write 100 words. Incorporate “bellwether.” Take a cue from attached photo. GO! I had 20 minutes before my shift. Below is what burbled out.

What’s great about this exercise is you have no clue where it will take you until you’re done, like a sprinter against a stopwatch. This is better than Facebook SCRABBLE or iPhone’s Words With Friends, people. Prompts can be addictive. Just as I’m ever curious what kind of headline someone else might put on the same story I’m editing, this is an opportunity to see how other minds interpret the same stimuli.

And guess what? Somehow, I was judged a winner, but visit the site — many masterful entries. (I have tweaked it here slightly because, yeah, can’t help but edit.)

Entrants were given this prompt photo to accompany the piece.

Theirs was no balcony scene from Shakespeare.

Harold fired up the briquettes, pretending to host a summer soiree at the precise moment Ruby cleared her stop, bus doors squegeeing shut another grueling day at the diner, white wedgies sponging the sidewalk, leftovers leaking from foil inside her gripsack.

“You should join us, neighbor!” he bellowed, too eagerly.

She squinted upward. Crikes, who said that?

No bellwether of fashion in plaid plum smugglers, he swatted air in a grand wave, forgetting his grip on the lighter fluid. Sparks snaked into a fireball.

Later, at the shelter, ’twas a night to remember.

100 words
@terryism

The judge — author, award-winning screenwriter and writing coach Ami Hendrickson — gave this flattering review. I’m only repeating it here for the benefit of my 80-year-old mother, because she subscribes to my blog and wouldn’t know where to find it otherwise (Hi, Mom!).

”I loved reading these entries. There were so many good pieces that I ended up focusing on writing-craft things to narrow the field. I made myself get nitpicky about things like spelling, grammar, and word redundancy just to help whittle down the contenders. Sadly, this affected some of my first-glance favorites. But it helped me make my decision.” ~MuseInks

WINNER:

“I love the sights, sounds, and set-up here. This piece combines both pathos and humor in a memorable way.  It quickly places the reader in the thick of the action. The piece moves. It’s bold, active, and rife with robust, lively words. It also packs a punch at the end that makes the reader revisit the beginning and see it in a different light.

“Furthermore, this piece contains my favorite use of the Secret Word. “You’re no bellwether of fashion” may well become a catch phrase of mine.

“Well done!” ~Museinks the judgemaster has spoken!

@terryism

Mommy Byrne

Winner has received an edit & critique of the first chapter of their manuscript (up to 20 pages) and a critique of their synopsis.

Uh-oh, better get writing …