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I Want To Be Surprised With Language, Curator Says


And finally, today, if you have been listening to our program for the past two weeks, then you have probably heard at least some of the poetic tweets we've been airing every day in honor of National Poetry Month. We've heard tweets from students at Hart Middle School in Washington, D.C., and from an administrative assistant from Bandera, Texas. We heard from a writer-director who Skyped his poem from Sydney, Australia, and a poet and storyteller who sent us heard tweets from Henderson, Texas. It's all part of our series called Muses and Metaphor. Now these are original poems, 140 characters or less, that you have posted on Twitter.

Now you might wonder how we you pick the tweets we air, so we brought in the person who does just that. Holly Bass is a writer and poet in Washington, D.C. She is our series curator and she's been going through the hundreds of submissions that we get, and she's helping us pick the ones to record and put on the air. And so we thought, at the midway point, it would be fun to ask Holly Bass to join us once again in our Washington, D.C. studios.

Welcome back. Thanks for joining us.

HOLLY BASS: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So from the hundreds of responses that you've seen so far, have you picked out any kind of themes or through lines among them?

BASS: Sure, there are definitely a lot of threads. The first thing that I noticed is that the quality and quantity this year is so much greater to last year. And we had great poems last year, but it's really hard to choose this year and there's just so many good ones. I've noticed a lot more twiku(ph), Twitter haiku, and other Japanese forms like tanka and senryu, which is really cool. I've noticed some Ars Poetica.

MARTIN: What is that?

BASS: Ars Poetica are poems about poetry or the art of writing.


BASS: So several poems that address that, and poems that address writing and technology. So we've gotten poems about Twitter itself.

MARTIN: Interesting. We're going to hear a new tweet in a few minutes. But I want to play one of your favorites, so far.

BASS: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: And I want to ask you what you likes about it. This is a tweet you selected from Luisa Igloria of Norfolk, Virginia. And here it is.

LUISA IGLORIA: Remember when summers strung fish bodies to bleach in the sun, then winters, their quick salt a welt on our lips.

MARTIN: Now we know these go by quickly, so here it is.

IGLORIA: Remember when summers strung fish bodies to bleach in the sun, then winters, their quick salt a welt on our lips.

MARTIN: I love it.

BASS: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: What do you like it?

BASS: I think I like it because - well, first of all, the language is really lovely. There's a rhythm to it, like summer strung and sort of these rolling sounds. But what I really love about it is that, even though it's less than 140 characters, it captures a year's worth of narrative. So we start off with the summer and people are fishing and they're catching the fish and then they're salting them out to dry. And then in the winter they get to taste the fruit of their labor. So there's this sort of delayed gratification. It takes us on a journey.

MARTIN: If you've just joined us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm speaking with poet Holly Bass. She is the curator of our Muses and Metaphor series. That's our celebration of National Poetry Month, where you are sending us your poetic tweets - those are points of 140 characters or less and we are at the midway point and Holly's telling us what she's seen so far.

OK, Holly. Let's listen to today's poetic tweet and you can tell us why you chose this one. We are going to hear from poet, playwright, and fiction writer Dave Malone. He calls the Ozark Mountains in Southern Missouri his home and here it is.

DAVE MALONE: I love the unknown in you. The unfair, the shy backs of your knees, the colony of dimples, sleeping in moon-shaped huts at your mouth.

MARTIN: Let play it again.

MALONE: I love the unknown in you. The unfair, the shy backs of your knees, the colony of dimples, sleeping in moon-shaped huts at your mouth.

MARTIN: I love this one too.

BASS: It's just luscious. It's just...

MARTIN: What did you like about it?

BASS: Well, it's I think it's just this sort of really gorgeous love poem about the day-to-day simplicity of really loving someone. And you know - and knowing them - the shy backs of their knees, And even the unfair in you. So it's not like oh, you're glorious, you're beautiful, you're fantastic. It's like no, you know, you've got these dimples that I like to look at, you know. And the language he uses, you know...

MARTIN: I know, the unfair in you - I love that.

BASS: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: The idea that even when you're wrong, I like you.


BASS: Exactly. Exactly.

MARTIN: And I like that it has a different point of view than the other poem. The other point was kind of more, you know, you can kind of see it as a person who lives in the outdoors or is very sort of thinking about nature, and this is just like thinking about one person.

BASS: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: So Holly, for somebody who has not yet submitted a poem and would like to, is kind of working up his or her nerve, can you give them some idea of what to aim for, what to strive for, what you're looking for?

BASS: Well, one of the things I like is to be surprised. So, you know, if you start off one way, and then there's a turn in the poem or if the language can be surprising. So for instance, with the love poem we just witnessed, you know, I never think about the shy backs of someone's knees. But when you're sitting with someone, you might actually touch that area and it might be something that you really, you know, appreciate about them. So I'm looking for surprise in the language. I'm looking for really vivid imagery that resonates with me. A lot of times I select the poems at night, I go to bed, and then I look at them in the morning and I see which one still sort of resonate and vibrate. And then as well, I'd like for people to try something new. We've been getting some experimental poems, which is really cool. I don't know how they'll read on the air, because that's another consideration, but I really just I want people to surprise me with their language.

MARTIN: What do we have to look forward to the rest of the month? And I know I'm, you like to be surprised. And I don't like surprises. Who am I kidding?


MARTIN: So tell me what to look forward to the rest of the month...


BASS: Well, I know we always...

MARTIN: ...a little bit, from what we know so far, because I know that poems are still coming in.

BASS: So far I've been seeing a lot of really wonderful seasonal poems. And we've been getting a fair amount of international poems, which is exciting. And so we might get some translations, fingers crossed. So we're waiting to hear about that. And I just love the diversity of all of the poets. I mean they're coming from all over the country, all different ages, ethnicities and backgrounds and now they're talking to each other. So I love seeing people re-tweet someone else's poem, or someone who has already been selected and they still keep posting, because they like it, because what's not to like about a Twitter poem?

MARTIN: What is not to like about a Twitter poem? You know, it's funny because, from time to time, there are these conversations about how, you know, poetry is dead or is poetry still alive. And, you know, from the experience that we are having here, there is no question that this is still an art form that people are passionate about and people from all different backgrounds.

BASS: It's definitely true. I mean I host open mics at Busboys & Poets, which is a local space here. And, you know, we get, on average, anywhere 100 to 150 people on a weeknight at 9 PM coming to hear poetry. And so it's absolutely not dead at all. And this just is further proof. I think when you give people a forum to bring their poems out into light, there are so many closet writers and journalers, and if you give people a community space where they can come they'll show up. And I think you've created a wonderful community space with hashtag, TMMPoetry.

MARTIN: Thank you, Holly. I've been speaking with poet Holly Bass. She is the curator of TELL ME MORE's Muses and Metaphors tweet poetry series that we are running the series throughout April which is, of course, National Portrait Month.

If you would like to help us celebrate National Poetry Month, go to the Twitter, tweet us your original poetry, using fewer than 140 characters, of course. And if your poem is chosen, we will help you record it for us and we will air it some time this month. Tweet us using the hashtag, TMMPoetry. You can learn more at the TELL ME MORE website. Go to NPR.org, click on the programs menu and find TELL ME MORE.

And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk tomorrow.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.