Billy Collins, Animated

Billy Collins, one of the most recognized among American poets, did a wise thing years ago. He harnessed the power of video to many of his poems. This not only helped poet-writers with the art of imagery, it also gave reluctant poet-readers (often known as "students") a door into the not-so-bad-after-all genre of poetry. Given …

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“You Have Spent Vast Amounts of Your Life as Someone Else…”

In the final essay of her book, The Faraway Nearby, Rebecca Solnit proposes, sensibly enough, that we are not ourselves. The pronoun "I" is suspect, in other words, but for a reason most of us wouldn't consider: stories. I'll let Solnit speak for herself with a few relevant paragraphs: "Listen: you are not yourself, you …

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“As Dead Now as Shakespeare’s Children”

David Kirby, another one of those poet slash professors (in this case at Florida State University), is known for long-ish narrative poems, often leavened freely with humor. It's an engaging combination, one I've been coming to know better since I picked up two of his books. As a short intro, I found an unusually (for …

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“Catching Grain Through Spread Fingers”

You may think it strange that I annotate magazines, but sometimes, thumbing through them afterwards, I enjoy revisiting certain lines. The sentences and paragraphs I choose are not necessarily pithy like an adage or purposeful like a sage. Sometimes they just strike me and the reason is, as the French say, je ne sais quoi. …

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“Fiction Isn’t Machinery, It’s Alchemy.”

Before I say a reluctant goodbye to Peter Orner's book, Am I Alone Here?, that has been such good company these past three days, I thought I'd share a few final quotes I marked in the book. Six are from Orner himself, and three are ones he fished from Frank O'Connor's book, The Lonely Voice (and …

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Reading the New York Times’ “By the Book” Feature

One Sunday ritual I enjoy is reading The Book Review in the New York Times, where I can reliably find a feature called "By the Book." In this column, famous people (mostly authors, but sometimes actors, singers, artists, etc.) answer pre-submitted questions about their reading habits, prejudices, and insights. For me, "By the Book" is …

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When the News Kills the Muse

Sometimes it feels like you're faced with an everyday dilemma of rock or hard place, devil or deep blue sea, Scylla or Charybdis. You know what I'm talking about: poetry or citizenship. A steady diet of the news, it seems, is good for becoming an informed citizen (something all countries of the world need today, …

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Inspired by Water: One If By Lake, Two If By Sea

Vacation. For students, its special meaning lies in summer, the granddaddy of all vacations. For adults, however, it's more narrow. Most full-time workers enjoy but 2 to 4 weeks of paid vacation each year. Compared to the nine-week wonder of childhood, slim provisions indeed. Conjuring vacations of your childhood is sure to bring back a …

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