American Diary Part 2 – Make poetry not paper hats!

In a shop on the banks of the Delaware river in Philadelphia I picked up a book with the title “Newspaper Blackout” by Austin Kleon. I thought it would be about the decline of print media but it wasn’t. It was a book of poems.

In 2008 Kleon was just out of college and living with his girlfriend. He was trying desperately to make it as a short story writer but he had writer’s block. His girlfriend had stacks of the New York Times at home and Kleon, struggling to find any of his own words, resorted to the papers, which had millions. Armed with a permanent marker, he began to read and to draw lines through the words he didn’t need. He was left with the realisation that although he’d “never wanted to be a poet, .. dang if they weren’t poems”.

He posted some of his poems on his blog. Over time, they began to get attention and it wasn’t long before his work was featured on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Kleon says “writing should be fun. Everyone can do it”. It something that I have to remind me of sometimes when I’m staring at a blank computer screen late at night.

I was teaching an advanced English class today and decided to give “newspaper blacking out” a go. There were only three students in the class: a girl from Saudi Arabia and two boys from Japan and Switzerland. We read a few of Kleon’s poems first and then I gave them each a chunky board marker so they could try their own.

I’d picked up three metroheralds on the way to work. We chose to work on the cover story – the guilty verdict in the Jackson doctor case. I gave them about five minutes to complete their poems. Three completely different pieces materialised: three unique ideas jumped from the same article.

I tried my own when I got home today. Not sure I’d really call them “poems” but it was fun to eliminate words at will. See if you can read them here:

What I like most about Kleon’s poems is that you feel part of the craft of writing. You have the sense that these words were chosen actively, by eliminating others. I wonder if this kind of crafting is at odds with the processes of writing creatively. One of the biggest differences is making newspaper blackout poems is that you’re not bound by the structure of the sentence, which usually ensnares you as you begin to write. This kind of writing allows you to draw pictures and to bounce ideas abound without worrying whether your sentence is grammatically and aesthetically pleasing.

Check out Kleon’s Work at http://www.austinkleon.com

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#Occupydamestreet exposes what’s good about Ireland

I admire the Occupy Dame Street protesters. On a night like this, as the wind pounds on my window panes and the rain pours down, I imagine them huddled together discussing the agenda for the day ahead. They are a peaceful bunch, who have spent their days postering trees with quotes from Fight Club rather than hurling abuse at the workers whose premises they occupy.

In spite of my self-confessed lack of understanding of the economy, I don’t share their belief that bankers represent the evil 1% of the population and that 99% (the “rest of us”) are their unequivocal victims. It can’t be as simple as that. I’m also not sure whether the protest has any concrete aim but it is certainly drawing attention to the displeasure of many as a result of the actions of few.

What really interests me about this protest is how it exposes the Good in our society.

Here are a group of people occupying a central location and plastering around it slogans determined to undermine the country’s main financial institution.

And yet, it’s peaceful. No aggressive guard has entered the scene, and yelled “Hey, you angry hippy, move it or I’ll shoot”. No protester has screamed abuse at the passing bankers to which they attribute a decline in society’s moral code.

Instead, the public casts a glance, takes a look around, enjoys a talk with a protester about the meaning of life and ambles on, equipped to make its own mind up.

The Occupydamestreet movement tells me a lot about what’s right with this country; the assurances that we take for granted are those for which so many of the Arab Spring protesters have died for.

So inspired have I been by #occupydamestreet that I’m off to #occupywallstreet in the morning. I’m visiting my sister in Philadelphia. She emigrated there two years ago, but not before hosting an “emigrate-like-its-a-recession-party”. When I ask her about her job she tells me that she analyses butt samples but I have a funny feeling there might be a little more to the job of geneticist than that. I’m gutted to be missing the election. If there’s anybody apathetic enough to vote for my first choice I’d be most obliged. Mail me privately for my politics.

I intend to update you on my travels in the Free World but should that not be possible, I will record my thoughts in my little blue copy book and transcribe them at a later date. See you on the other side of the Atlantic!