March 8, 2013, 12:01 am
Photograph by David Benbennick, via Creative Commons
Compared with a headline, a sonnet is a piece of cake.
That’s what I said last week, pointing to the difficulty of constructing an old-fashioned newspaper headline that fits to exact measure and that, in no more space than a haiku, exactly reflects the information, emphases, and tone of the story it heads.
I took as evidence a 1950s wire-service story used as an example of headline writing by Bruce Westley of the University of Wisconsin at Madison in his 1953 classic textbook, News Editing. Here is the story:
WASHINGTON, May 2—Ireland, growing prosperous, had its Marshall Plan aid suspended today.
The economic cooperation administration announced the end of the program with the agreement of the Irish government.
“As a result of Ireland’s…
February 27, 2013, 12:01 am
In the composing room of the “Daily Mail” in 1944, a newspaperman locks the blocks of type into place on the metal frame or “form,” which will be inked and used to print the newspaper page. UK Ministry of Information Second World War Official Collection.
Newspaper headlines, as I said last week, are prose poetry. Not only do they have distinctive grammar and diction, they also have a tightly constrained form and even more tightly constrained content. Compared with a headline, a sonnet is a piece of cake.
At least that’s how it used to be in the good old days of the mid-20th century, in pre-CNN, pre-Internet, pre-Twitter times, when newspapers felt the burden of conveying the day’s important developments accurately and for the record.
Those were the days when every word written for a newspaper was…
February 15, 2013, 12:01 am
This will be my last post for Lingua Franca. It’s been a good experience but I need to put my shoulder to some other wheels.
Last month, in Berkeley (at University Press Books), we launched the third issue of Mixed Blood, the national publication I started with two friends at Penn State. (Mixed Blood began auspiciously—it’s the result of a series of late afternoon conversations at Whiskers, the company bar at Penn State. The publication continues to reflect the interests and involvement of its founding editors—Jeffrey T. Nealon, William J. Harris, and me—but its new home is the University of California at Berkeley.)
We’re hoping that Mixed Blood is something different, more than one more literary magazine—we invite poets to the UC campus to give public readings of their work and to give talks as well about the connections (or lack thereof) between the languages of…
February 7, 2013, 12:01 am
Alexander Pope (1688-1744), from crayon drawing by W. Hoare in the National Portrait Gallery, London
Poetry has its uses, even if your attitude toward poetry is like Hotspur’s in Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 1:
I had rather hear a brazen canstick turned,
Or a dry wheel grate on the axletree,
And that would set my teeth nothing an edge,
Nothing so much as mincing poetry.
’Tis like the forced gait of a shuffling nag.
But if you shuffle through the landscape of earlier poetry, you can find fossils that show how words were once pronounced. It’s particularly evident in rhymes, where a rhyme that’s slant today may once upon a time have been perfect. This may well be the case with Mother Hubbard’s bone:
Old Mother Hubbard
Went to the cupboard,
To give the poor dog a bone;
When she came there,
January 3, 2013, 12:01 am
A recent post in The Stone, a New York Times blog, has been sitting on my browser for a couple of weeks now, bugging me. I refer to “Philosophy and the Poetic Imagination” by Ernie Lepore and Matthew Stone, which uses a poeticized version of a Craigslist personal ad to advocate for what the authors dub “the poetic imagination”—an imagination they locate in the minds of readers, not poets. Lepore and Stone describe a number of features they find especially salient in the “lineated” version of the ad—though they miss a few, in my view—to argue that “a poem—and artistic language more generally—is open to whatever we find in it.”
Let us set aside, for the moment, the possibility that the authors are so steeped in William Carlos Williams that they fail to recognize the way in which the found poem on which they focus is indebted to one particular type of…
December 10, 2012, 12:01 am
Apollo, god of poetry, courtesy of Stephen Vincent
My friend Stephen Vincent, a Bay Area poet and raconteur, was in Turkey last summer and snapped a picture of the sculpture of Apollo at Nemrut just as the sun was coming up. Beardless Apollo, the god of light, prophecy, healing and plague both, and music. And poetry. Shelley wrote (in “Hymn of Apollo”), “I am the eye with which the Universe/ Beholds itself, and knows it is divine.” At a poetry reading in San Francisco last week Stephen said, of his encounter with the god, “I thought I should ask him, Do you have any thoughts about creative-writing programs?”
In the creative-writing industry one commonly comes across metaphors for and references to the mercantile. The Association of Writers & Writing Programs—the venerable old AWP—is the…