#NPRpoetry Tips: Think About What You Know And Take Advantage Of Twitter Constraints

Apr 15, 2017
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There once was a radio host who liked April Poetry Month the most, she thought it would be neat for others to tweet their rhymes in the form of a post. OK, so you know our director Liz Baker wrote that. Anyway, her creative outpourings are the signal that it's time for more of your Twitter poems in honor of Poetry Month. This week, David Orr, poetry columnist for The New York Times Book Review, he's with us from Ithaca, N.Y. David Orr, thanks so much for joining us.

DAVID ORR: Oh, thank you. It's great to be on the air with you.

MARTIN: So I confess I am a little bit nervous about this exercise given that in your latest book, "You, Too, Could Write A Poem," you say in the introduction, I don't like poetry. I do like very much certain poems and poets. Poetry is a lot like America in the sense that liking all of it means you probably shouldn't be trusted with money or scissors.

(Laughter) So I hope you'll be a little gentle with us given that these are amateurs. OK. So, David, we asked you to take a stroll through our hashtag #NPRpoetry submissions so far. Did you see any trends, any traps, anything that caught your eye?

ORR: I had a couple of ideas in looking through the feed. The first has to do really with the attitude with which one approaches poem writing, and I'm going to say poem writing rather than poetry because I think as soon as people think, you know, here I am writing poetry, you can almost hear the capital P form. And it almost seems as if they're trying to elevate themselves into something that they're not entirely comfortable with. So I think it's better to think here I am writing a poem than here I am writing poetry. But I think my general suggestion is that when people think about writing a poem, they should think about their own lives and what they actually know and not what they think other people think they ought to know.

MARTIN: Do you have any other tips for our Twitter poets who might want to up their game?

ORR: I have one other tip, which is that Twitter is a constrained form already, so it makes sense to take advantage of the forms of poetry that really play to that constraint. And it seems to me, just in general, if you're looking at space requirements, that anything based in a quatrain - that's a four-line poem - tends to work pretty well and come in right around 140 characters. So things like common measure or ballad meter work really well. Just in case people don't know what I'm talking about, you know, common measure is - it's a four-line poem that's four stresses, three stresses, four stresses, three stresses, and it usually rhymes A-B-A-B. Ballad meter goes A-B-C-B usually.

But an example from Wordsworth would be something like "A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal." A slumber did my spirit seal, I had no human fears, she seemed a thing that could not feel the touch of earthly years. And at least my computer, anyway, tells me that's about 110 spaces. And another potential stanza would be something like the envelope stanza, which is sometimes called the In Memoriam stanza. It comes from Tennyson's poem "In Memoriam" which was an elegy for his friend Arthur Henry Hallum. He is not here, but far away, the noise of life begins again and ghastly through the drizzling rain on the bald street breaks the blank day. And it's in the ballpark of 135 characters, so Tennyson would squeeze right in for your contest.

MARTIN: (Laughter) Well, that's intimidating.

(LAUGHTER)

ORR: Hopefully not. I mean, some of my favorite examples from your feed actually...

MARTIN: Yeah, please, yeah.

ORR: A couple were by a guy named Rick Reed (ph). Actually, his poems are both quatrains, and they're funny. You know, there's nothing wrong with being funny in a poem. I mean, if you're writing a poem on Twitter, there's something already sort of funny about that project, so just roll with it. But a good example from him is I've come to terms with pachyderms. I let them have their way. As it concerns the pachyderms, I've nothing more to say.

It's sort of a hat tip to Ogden Nash there, you know? Do awkward giraffes often make gaffes of etiquette and decorum, and do the giraffes often get laughs, or do others simply ignore them? I mean, come on, it's fun.

MARTIN: (Laughter) I agree. That's David Orr. He's New York Times Book Review poetry columnist. He's the author of "You, Too, Could Write A Poem." Thanks so much for joining us.

ORR: Thank you. It's really fun. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.