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Twitter Poetry: A Little Bit Of Real Estate Says A Lot


And now it's time for Muses and Metaphor. That's our ode to National Poetry Month. This April, we are featuring your original tweet poems of 140 characters or less. NPR listeners and, new this year, some of our regular contributors are joining the fun sending them in via Twitter.

Today, we have a special conversation with two of those contributors - filmmaker and writer MK Asante and poet Malcolm London. They will also chat with listeners on Twitter today. And they're both here with us to share their poems and talk about the experience. Welcome to you both. Thank you both so much for joining us.

MK ASANTE: Thanks for having me.

MALCOLM LONDON: It's great to be here. Yeah, thanks for having us.

MARTIN: Well, MK, in addition to being a writer, a filmmaker and professor, you are also a hip-hop artist. I think a lot of people agree that writing lyrics is a form of poetry, wouldn't you say?

ASANTE: Oh, definitely. Definitely. And it's, you know, a very relevant form of poetry in this contemporary age.

MARTIN: What was it like writing - trying your hand at a poem at tweet length?

ASANTE: Well, it was tough, you know, cause you got to - you have to move things around and figure out, OK, how else can I say this? You know, and - but it actually fundamentally gets to the core of what poetry is 'cause poetry is about saying a lot with a little, right, using a little bit of real estate to say a lot - so really the maximization of minimal resources. And the resources here being words and characters.

MARTIN: Well, that was well said.

ASANTE: Yeah, yeah.

MARTIN: I'm impressed. I know, right. Go ahead. Break it down. Malcolm, what about you? How did you feel about the 140 character limit?

LONDON: Yeah, I was going to actually say the exact same thing Asante said. But it actually was extremely fun. I wrote like eight of them. And so it was just really fun to have such short amount of space, 140 characters, and to flip words and meaning.

MARTIN: What about the - both of you perform the work. And I just wondered if that was hard to envision. Like, did you - and Malcolm maybe you'll start that off. Did you - were you kind of hearing it in your head, and were you kind of thinking, like, how would you deliver it since performance is a part of what you do?

LONDON: Here in Chicago, particularly with young Chicago authors in the organization that I work with, we try to really focus on the page poetry also matching the performance. And so for me, you know, I definitely thought about it in my head and also wanted the reader to read it in my voice. So it just kind of came naturally in that sense.

MARTIN: We've had submissions dealing with all kinds of subjects from nature to, of course, love to being stuck in traffic. But, you know, both of you write about heavy things. And I just wonder how you decided to choose what to write about.

ASANTE: I believe that if you make an observation, you have an obligation. So a lot of the times, the things that I write, in a lot of ways, feel obligatory. You know, it feels like I have to write these things because these are things that I'm seeing or things that I've experienced. And so I'm kind of guided by my heart.

MARTIN: Malcolm, what about you?


MARTIN: How do you decide what to write about?

LONDON: One of my Twitter poems is about the west side of Chicago. And I think, oftentimes, people don't have the opportunity to speak about what is on the west side of Chicago. But also, the dominant narrative about the west side is one that I must be countered to and tell the authentic truth. And so I, too, am led by my heart and also the things that I see and constantly trying to tell the story to change the story.

MARTIN: Well, I'm going to ask each of you to read us your poem in a minute. But I don't want people to be intimidated 'cause I'm going - so I'm going to ask you to do that last. But first, you've been both kind enough to watch our Twitter #TMMPoetry. Would each of you tell us the poem or grab a poem for us that grabbed your attention and read it to us, and tell us why you liked it. Malcolm, do you want to start?

LONDON: Yeah, yeah. Speaking of economy of words and maximizing the minimizing space, as my man Asante put it, there's a poem by, I think, Professor Zhara (ph) or @ZharaFaith (ph) on Twitter. Her poem is, her trophy case was full of captured hearts.

MARTIN: Tell me what you liked about it.

LONDON: Well, I loved the line breaks that are in the actual Twitter post and how small it was. And it kind of just caught me by surprise the way it ended.

MARTIN: Oh, lovely. MK, what about you?


MARTIN: Did you pick one?

ASANTE: Yeah, I chose one from Heather, also known as @jujupoetess on Twitter. Perhaps these pings come from a secret unknown, depths unexplored, entire species unheard. The reason why I like that is because, you know, one of the things about poetry, it's supposed to be relevant. It's supposed to be topical.

It's supposed to kind of address what's going on in our society. And so, you know, the whole idea of pings and kind of using the fight as a metaphor to talk about something larger, to talk about what is unknown, to even talk about and to hint that the idea of this ocean, and we've never been to the bottom of the ocean.

You know what I mean? We don't know what's - so there's just - so the unknown and the unexplored, and that's what poetry really is about, right. It's about asking those questions that we don't get to ask all the time.

MARTIN: All right. Well, now this is the moment we've been waiting for. Each of you was nice enough to write a poem for us. Who wants to start? MK, do you want to start?

ASANTE: Sure, I'll start. Children of the night, lost, found their bold type under streetlights bargaining with death for discounts on life, half off.

MARTIN: Lovely. Powerful. Thank you. And, Malcom?



ASANTE: Hashtag #TMMPoetry.

MARTIN: That's right. That's what's up.

LONDON: Yes, sir. Yes, sir.

MARTIN: All right. Malcolm...


MARTIN: Bring it home.

LONDON: Yeah, let's do this. I'm from the west side where I used to hoop here. The only time I prayed for blocked shots, needing safety nets.

MARTIN: Wow. (Unintelligible) know. One more time so we can really hear it. One more time.

LONDON: Got you. I'm from the west side where I used to hope here. The only time I prayed for blocked shots, needing safety nets.

MARTIN: Wow. Well, thank you. Thank you both so much.

ASANTE: Beautiful.

MARTIN: Thank you so much. Malcolm London is a poet and educator. He joined us from member station WBEZ in Chicago. MK Asante is a writer, filmmaker and professor at Morgan State University and the author of "Buck." He joined us from member station WEAA in Baltimore. Thank you both so much for joining us.

ASANTE: Thank you so much.

LONDON: Thanks for having us.

ASANTE: Happy poetry, everybody. Peace.


MARTIN: And remember, the conversation continues on Twitter. MK and Malcolm join us there today for a chat, and we invite you to join in. Just use hashtag #TMMPoery. And you can still send us your original Twitter poems also using #TMMPoetry. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.