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Monday is the 5th anniversary of the first Tweet, sent by @jack, founder of the 140-character communication service.

It’s also World Poetry Day, a coincidence that did not go unnoticed by the New York Times this weekend (read, if the Old Gray Lady‘s new paywall hasn’t gone up, the story here.

The Times even commissioned new Twitter poems by four well-known bards for the occasion. (You can tell they aren’t really users of the service.)

Twitter has been a great outlet for poets almost since the beginning.  As the Times points out, the constraints of the service are perfect for haiku or a loose approximation of the form.  The poet and editor @poeticmindset even has a poetry challenge called the #haikuthrowdown.

Here is a list of some of the poets on Twitter, compiled by Collin Kelly, and a Twitter list of poets, presses, libraries, and poetry lovers that I curate.

Some of us sprinkle poetry into our every day Twitterstream, whether linking to poems we love, poems we’re reading, or poems we are working on. The journal 32 Poems hosts a #poetparty on Sunday evenings at 9PM ET, which brings together poets from around the world.

I was an early adopter of Twitter, thanks to Fred Wilson, who got me hooked several years ago, and have often shared poetry or poetic observations among my regular tweets @greenskeptic.

Here’s a sampling from a few summers ago, which I pulled together into a poem sequence:

TwitterVerse, or 12 Micropoems Composed on Twitter

1.      Cloudy morning in the mountains. A murder of crows cleaning up last night’s messes.  (10:22 AM August 21, 2008 from TwitterBerry)

2.      Tent caterpillars attacking the sourwood trees. Crape myrtle taken off like dismembered figureheads.  (07:28 PM August 21, 2008 from TwitterBerry)

3.      Darkness falls, misty fog in the mountains. Night of oppossum and opacity.  (09:37 PM August 21, 2008 from TwitterBerry)

4.      A bat hits the plate glass window, sonar ignoring proximity. Breathlessness of all that is fragile.  (11:47 PM August 21, 2008 from TwitterBerry)

5.      Pair of late-nesting goldfinch at the feeder: she’s telling him to watch his cholesterol; he’s rolling his eyes. (10:18 AM August 22, 2008 from TwitterBerry)

6.     Periwinkle clouds and forest green mountains sandwich a raspberry jam-colored sky. (09:22 PM August 22, 2008 from TwitterBerry)

7.     The female house finch must be jealous of her more resplendent husband; especially when she’s mistaken, in passing, for passer domesticus. (10:56 AM August 23, 2008 from TwitterBerry)

8.      The edges of darkness are drier than kiln dried wood. Even moths are logy, drought sucking moisture from papery wings. Where is the rain?  (01:15 AM August 24, 2008 from TwitterBerry)

9.      Morning: a rose red dawn, hush of newsprint, and whispers between the chair and its ottoman.  (11:07 AM August 24, 2008 from TwitterBerry)

10.  The blue jay glances around before he screeches; as if to make sure no one will throw a bad tomato, sneaker, or tin can. Comedian or poet?  (03:01 PM August 24, 2008 from TwitterBerry)

11.  House of whispers, try playing a different game tonight. All your old plays are recorded and discarded. Creaks diminish with every footfall.  (01:47 AM August 25, 2008 from TwitterBerry)

12.  Rain at last, but not enough to soak the grass or slake the thirst of trees or titmice. Fay does not show herself, cloud-veiled.  (10:17 AM August 25, 2008 from mobile web )

–Scott Edward Anderson

(Twitter: greenskeptic)

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Two naturally-leavened (sourdough) loaves. Fro...

Sourdough Loaves

I love baking bread and pizza.  I make my own dough and everything is done by hand — from the starter to the kneading and shaping.

Back in the late 1980s, I contemplated going to apprentice with the famous French boulanger, Lionel Poilâne. I still fantasize about opening a bakery/pizzeria.

My good friend Mark Herrera, who lives in San Francisco, also loves to bake bread.  We often swapped recipes and shared stories of our bread baking.  Once he shared with me a starter that had been in his family for years.

I loved the idea of sharing starter over a long distance and this idea became the starting point for a poem called, “Bread,” which was published in the journal Earth’s Daughters in 1999.  Here is my poem,

“Bread”

“Christ may have risen all at once, the gospel according to Betty Crocker seems to say, but flour and yeast and people made of dust require successive chances to reach their stature”Garret Keizer

 

He takes the bread from the oven, pausing

midway between the bread board and cooling rack,

absorbing the gluteny scent through crusty skin

–the color of a child’s arm

after a long hike on a summer’s day.

 

She says, “I have a marvelous sourdough starter,

passed on to me from a cousin who ran a bakery–

I can bring it to you.”

One pinch of starter travels two-thousand miles,

five hours through adventure, through altitude,

the acrid odor filling the cabin of the plane.

“It makes a bread that Jesus would be proud to call body.”

 

“Just a pinch?” she asks. “How can you deny me?”

She says that not to let her test it is tantamount to lack of love.

He gives in, just to see her face grow sanguine and lustful.

 

He once baked thirteen loaves for a homeless shelter;

then, nervous over numerology, he baked a fourteenth.

He couldn’t remember which one had been the offending loaf,

so he started all over again.  This time he scored each one

with a distinguishing mark using the blade of a sharp knife.

 

In the bread bowl, he mixes flour, water, salt.

Kneads, lets it ferment.  Kneads again, pulling and folding,

folding and pulling, lets it come into fullness.

Then lifts it into the oven, from where it will emerge

so finely crusted, so evenly textured, so giving of itself.

Bread that cries, when placed in her mouth,

“Eat me and you will never die.”


–Scott Edward Anderson, Earth’s Daughters, Issue 54, 1999

 

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Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, Pawhuska, Oklahoma

If you’ve never seen a bison up close then you can’t know how big they are: massive wedge-shaped heads, calling to mind an anvil or a the head of a maul, and bodies that look like what you’d get if you crossed a cow with a moose.

So imagine hiking through the tall grass prairie and rounding a bend to find a whole head of these prehistoric-looking beasts, staring and snorting at you on the open plain.  Awestruck is the word that comes to mind. And that was me in the mid-90s at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.

I was there with Annick Smith, helping edit her book, Big Bluestem: A Journey into the Tallgrass, which she wrote for The Nature Conservancy and Council Oak Books.

We spent a lot time out on the prairie, when we weren’t working on drafts of the text at the big farm table in the ranch house.  We walked in the bluestem, sometimes with experts, sometimes alone, and always struck by the power and beauty of the landscape and the ecosystem.

One night, after we’d stopped wrestling over sentences, put the manuscript to bed, and all was quiet on the plain, I stepped outside onto the porch to take in the night sky.  The sky was huge — Montana has nothing on Oklahoma skies — and the stars were so bright and plentiful, they formed an opaque glistening broken only by a chalk white moon.

Here is my poem, “Osage Moon,” which appeared in The Cortland Review in 2002:

Osage Moon  

Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, Pawhuska, Oklahoma

The moon
is a soft pinprick
in a sky
so expansive
even Ursa
Major seems minor.
A dog barks
and ghost voices
echo down Indian song—
piercing the Osage hills.
Grasses are weather-worn
and wild; wild-
flowers lay dormant—
everything abides green days.
Besides, cold weather slants
in from the north, taking the plains,
where a few days ago
hot winds came
up from the Gulf of Mexico,
fooling the dogwood,
and fires seared the earth
the color of burnt toast.
Miles, miles of dry grass
and sky
in every direction.
And there, where bison stood
at noon, sheltered
by blackjack oak,
only shadows—
unruly apparitions,
under the Osage moon,
awaiting the culling
of their existence;
binding grasses,
four-color wildflowers,
and forbs pressed between pages,
tangled in bluestem.

–Scott Edward Anderson, The Cortland Review

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John Haines Photo © Dorothy Alexander

In the spring of 1997, I was living in Anchorage, Alaska, and was invited by the University of Alaska Anchorage to put together a program for their annual Writing Rendezvous conference.

I thought about the fact that I was in Alaska and we were coming to the close of a century and that poetry seemed to be at a crossroads.

And then I thought about John Haines.  Any panel on poetry in Alaska must feature John Haines, I thought. Haines was a kind of unofficial permanent poet laureate of Alaska.

Since moving there to homestead in 1947, Haines had crafted and composed poetry of great solitude and sincerity out of his Alaska experience.

Haines was pleased to join the panel, although he said something about being too old to be of interest to the audience.  Then I told him the panel would be rounded out by a young spoken word poet and an Alaska Native woman poet.  He got a spark and became more interested in the prospect.

I don’t remember much about the panel — and I confess I don’t have my notes at hand.  It was called “Poetry at the Edge of the Millennium” or somesuch.  I do remember the panelists were engaged with each other and engaging to the audience.

And I recall that Haines stirred up a bit of controversy on the panel talking about spoken word versus conventionally printed poetry.  That was pretty typical for the poet.

“He was a cantankerous, insufferable, unbendable old bastard but he was a damn good writer,” longtime friend John Koolstra told the Fairbanks Daily News Miner.  “He is Alaska’s best writer.  He was a standout.”

So when I heard that John Haines died last night in Fairbanks at the age of 86, I thought about his poetry.

From his isolated cabin above the Tanana River in Alaska’s Interior, he learned  “to make things for myself, to build shelters, to weave nets, to make sleds and harnesses, and to train animals for work.  I learned to hunt, to watch, and to listen.”

And there he crafted poems out of a spiritual wilderness where his solitary imagination confronted existence without the comforting illusions of society (to paraphrase poet Dana Gioia).

Here is John Haines’ poem “Fairbanks Under the Solstice”

Slowly, without sun, the day sinks
toward the close of December.
It is minus sixty degrees.

Over the sleeping houses a dense
fog rises—smoke from banked fires,
and the snowy breath of an abyss
through which the cold town
is perceptibly falling.

As if Death were a voice made visible,
with the power of illumination…

Now, in the white shadow
of those streets, ghostly newsboys
make their rounds, delivering
to the homes of those
who have died of the frost
word of the resurrection of Silence.

–John Haines

 

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