National Poetry day: the best of Twitter

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28 September marks National Poetry Day. Across the UK, poetic events are being hosted as part of the annual celebration that inspires people throughout the country to enjoy, discover and share poems. Everyone is invited to join in, whether by organising events, displays, competitions or by simply posting favourite lines of poetry on social media using #nationalpoetryday.

Days like this harness the power of the humble hashtag to great effect. As such, we have spent our days hard at work not quite working; but instead scrolling through the annals of the Twittersphere to compile some of the best Tweets of National Poetry Day.

Enjoy!

  1. Downing Street’s Larry the cat tries his hand at poetry…

Larry the cat

 

  1. Technically Ron reminds us of some home truths…

Technically Ron haiku

 

  1. The problems of autocorrect…

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  1. Poetry can be confusing…

Joe poetry day

 

  1. SPOILER alert: Tyrion on the ending of Game of Thrones…

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  1. Advice on how to live on a narrow boat…

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  1. Blackadder’s Baldrick could be a greater war poet than Wilfred Owen…

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  1. Skelator really doesn’t like He-Man…

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  1. Poetry from the London Underground…

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  1. Professor Snape loves combining poetry with Harry Potter puns…

Professor Snape

 

Want more poetry? Why not check out our poems created from the verbatim comments of Donald Trump

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Thank you for listening – Donald Trump poetry

Listen you mother fucker,

There are no mixed messages.

We are backed by everybody

Even the haters and the losers

 

Please don’t feel stupid or insecure

I’ve never had any trouble in bed

I always insist on being politically correct

You have to treat women like shit

 

I could be dating my daughter,

Ivanka,

Look at that face!

We have a very good relationship,

Believe me.

 

I have the highest I.Q.

I am a really smart guy

Very, very, very intelligent

All I know is what’s on the internet:

  1. We could use a big fat dose of global warming
  2. You can never be too greedy
  3. Pregnancy is certainly an inconvenience for a business,

 

Sometimes –

I wish I was a black,

I have a great relationship with the blacks.

I have black guys counting my money

So I am the least racist person,

 

It must be a pretty picture,

A great, great wall,

Nobody builds walls better than me,

Believe me,

I’ll build them very inexpensively,

Thank you for listening.

Anonymous 

 

A note on the above poem: 

All the lines of ‘Thank you for listening’ are taken, verbatim, from Donald Trump speeches, Tweets, interviews or recorded comments. For a fully referenced version of the poem please send the NITRB team an email!

Why do we pay any attention to apparent ‘rules’ for writing?

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Elmore Leanoard on writing rules: illustration by Joe Cardiello 

If there is one feature of humankind that clearly defines our civilisation, it is, perhaps, the written word. All of human imagination can be found within the walls of our libraries – the perfect sanctuaries for books – as written language has emerged as the perfect means of cataloguing our thoughts, our discourse and our histories.

While other species of animals have been shown to communicate with one another, it is our ability to form complex language that sets us apart. This in itself is one of the things that unifies us and brings us together as human beings, regardless of our background or birthright: Everywhere on earth, human languages use the same kinds of grammatical machinery, such as nouns, verbs, auxiliaries and agreement.

Yet despite these defining features of our language, the way in which they are used has never been fully formalised. Of course, there have been prescriptive rules of how to “write well” and “speak properly” for generations; yet how each individual writes and speaks is unique to them.

Despite the obvious idiosyncrasies innately tied to the way one writes and expresses themselves, there has never been a shortage of people seeking advice on writing – nor of people looking to share their tips and “rules”.

Perhaps this is because, as Harvard psycholinguist Steven Pinker wrote in his wonderful modern guide to style, “A crisp sentence, an arresting metaphor, a witty aside, an elegant turn of phrase are among life’s greatest pleasures.”

And it is, of course, a natural human inclination to find ways to improve oneself, particularly in the way we express ourselves. Quite simply, this is because human beings want to be heard and understood by others.

It is the way in which we approach this self-improvement that is interesting, as it proves what many of us no doubt suspected all along: that the rules and advice people give on how to become a better writer or a better communicator are just as unique and idiosyncratic as the writing or speaking styles they seek to improve.

Take the approaches of two great writers as one example here. On the one hand, the late, great, David Foster Wallace advises a deep studying of one’s use of language, practically applying the rules of a faithful usage dictionary to ensure your writing is applied correctly in meticulous detail:

“Get a usage dictionary… you need a usage dictionary, you have to be paying a level of attention to your own writing that very few people are doing… A usage dictionary is [like] a linguistic hard drive… For me the big trio is a big dictionary, a usage dictionary, and a thesaurus.”

On the other hand, F. Scott Fitzgerald describes good writing as something that comes naturally, from deep inside us – and is expressed through our pens (or typewriters, or laptops) in a way that cannot be overthought:

“If you have anything to say, anything you feel nobody has ever said before, you have got to feel it so desperately that you will find some way to say it that nobody has ever found before, so that the thing you have to say and the way of saying it blend as one matter—as indissolubly as if they were conceived together.”

What this all teaches us is that language and writing can be ever truly mastered, because they are not static things bound by real rules; but rather living and ephemeral, ever evolving over the course of time. At any moment in time a style of writing could be dying out, and, simultaneously, another may be born. This is because language is defined not by rules of syntax or grammar; but by the human mind that creates it.

World-class literature courses you can study for free right now

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“We should learn to treat literature as doctors treat their medicines, something we prescribe in response to a range of ailments and classify according to the problems it might be best suited to addressing,” say the creators of an excellent video explaining what literature is for.

Centuries previously, Galileo observed that books have an uncanny power to transport us, across time and space, into the mind of another person. And suggests that we are drawn to books, and derive such pleasure from reading, because literature is a means of connecting human beings and human ideas across boundaries – and is, in this way, a means of both time travel and telepathy.

For those passionate about reading, and who wish to take the study of literature to new levels (but at their own convenience), we’ve provided below a list of dozens of online literature courses you can take for free, right now, from the world’s leading universities, including Yale, Oxford, Harvard, and Warwick.

You can download these audio & video courses straight to your computer or mp3 player. 

  • This Craft of Verse: The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures – Free Online Audio – Jorge Luis Borges, Harvard

 

So that was my words – Donald Trump poetry

I am a great man,

Big, big, big,

The beauty of me is that I am very rich,

And my fingers are long and beautiful,

I have farmers coming up to me and kissing me,

Smart strong guys love holding my hand,

I live in the White House,

It doesn’t matter what the media write,

They don’t know how to write good,

As long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass,

You can do anything,

Grab them by the pussy,

Just start kissing them,

Don’t even wait,

That’s politics,

You can do anything,

So that was my words.

Anonymous

 

A note on the above poem: 

All the lines of ‘So that was my words’ are taken, verbatim, from Donald Trump speeches, Tweets, interviews or recorded comments. For a fully referenced version of the poem please send the NITRB team an email!

Literary Constellations: visualising the opening sentences of famous books

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From Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to The Time Machine, data art meets literature through Nick Rougeaux’s Literary Constellations project.

When Kurt Vonnegut proposed for his Ph.D thesis statement that “stories have a shapes which can be drawn on graph paper”, it was rejected as by his university. According to Vonnegut, the reason for this rejection was that “it looked like too much fun”.

The idea that it is possible to visualise the way stories are structured may not be entirely new; yet it is always fascinating to see how Vonnegut’s thesis has progressed.

In a new project, the data artist Nick Rougeaux aims to do just this. In Literary Constellations he posits: “words can be transformed into constellation-like diagrams. The first words of a story—and even every chapter—are unique in that they set the stage for what’s to come.”

The project contains a series of astronomy-inspired diagrams of the opening sentences of beloved books and short stories in the public domain, from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to The Time Machine.

Rougeaux explains:

Constellations were created from words of first sentences of each chapter in classic short stories to draw a path based on word length and part of speech. The directions of lines were based on part of speech (noun, verb, adjective, etc.) and length is based on the length of the word. Star sizes are also based on word length. Constellations were hand-arranged in a loose clockwise pattern starting at the top with a faint highlight connecting each in the order chapters appeared in the story representing the cloud of the galaxy usually shown in vintage star charts.”

Given that the first sentence of a story is often seen as the most important – Julian Barnes once noted that an opening sentence of a short story or novel “should contain the entire plot in nuce” – it is fascinating for both aspiring and established writers to explore the patterns contained within the first sentence of famous novels; to better visualise the way these critically important first words set in motion the rest of the story.

Take a look at some of Rougeaux’s excellent posters below. All of these are available for purchase starting at US$27.80 for 24×36

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Flash Fiction: A list of places to submit your work

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If you’ve checked out our list of writing competitions and want to try your hand at something else, why not explore the world of Flash Fiction websites and magazines?

Whether you want to call it micro-fiction, sudden fiction, smokelong lit, short-shorts or flash fiction, writing stories under 1000 words requires dedication, skill and applying new techniques to make them zing. But, when done right, a good piece of flash fiction can offer a true – albeit fleeting – moment of literary delight to both writers and readers.

We’ve compiled a list of places accepting flash fiction submissions on the regular for you to try your hand. Check them out!

  1. Flash Fiction Magazine

A leading journal of flash fiction and reviews, published in April and October. For work no longer than 360 words. Contributors receive a complimentary copy of the issue in which their work appears. Flash nominates selected stories to the Pushcart Prize and Best Small Fictions anthologies.

  1. Flash Fiction Online

Flash Fiction Online strives to publish fiction that presents the full variety of humanity in its pages. As such, the website encourage submissions from writers of every stripe. The editors particularly like to see stories from writers whose backgrounds not well-represented in the field of short fiction, whether it be due to race/ethnicity, religion, ability, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, or something not listed in this statement.

  1. 100 word story

100 words for your story … no more or no less. Tell a story, write a prose poem, pen a slice of your memoir, or try your hand at an essay.

You get 100 words—exactly 100 words—which is both the pain and the pleasure here. It’s short, you tell yourself. You would write 100 words at a bus stop, on your lunch break, in your sleep. But with 100 words you must tell the whole story in its entirety, so it holds together like a perfect little doll house. (Your title is not part of the 100 words.)

  1. Everyday Fiction

Every Day Fiction is looking for very short (flash) fiction, of up to 1000 words. There’s no such thing as too short — if you can do the job in 50 words, have at it! — but preferred submissions should tell or at least hint at a complete story (some sort of action or tension rising to a moment of climax, and at least a clue toward a resolution, though it doesn’t have to be all spelled out).

All fiction genres are acceptable, and stories that don’t fit neatly into any genre are welcome too.

  1. The Collagist

The Collagist considers all lengths of fiction from flash to novella. It is published once every two months. Each issue features original fiction, poetry, and essays, most of which come from unsolicited submissions.

  1. Smokelong Quarterly

Founded in 2003, which makes it one of the longest-running flash fiction journals. For fiction you can read during the length of a cigarette. They publish fiction under 1000 words.

  1. Two Sentence Stories

They count full stops. There should only be two.

  1. Vestel Review

One of – and possibly the – oldest magazines dedicated exclusively to flash fiction. The editors are looking for good flash fiction – the type of work that contains a cohesive plot, rich language and enticing imagery all within 500 words. Your stories should engage the mind not only for the time it takes to read; but for a long time after, too.

  1. Lunch Ticket

These guys want your writing, go send it to them.

  1. Writing Maps – the A3 Review

The team at the A3 Review believe in words and images, and love a combination of the two. They’re looking for prose, poetry, graphic stories, photography, paintings, drawings, and other visual and word-based creations and various combinations of the above.

The two winning entries each month are published in The A3 Review, a fold-out literary and art magazine that comes out every six months.

  1. Ad Hoc Fiction

Run by the team behind the Bath Flash Fiction competition, Ad Hoc Fiction runs weekly contests – you write 150 words, they publish a long list of submissions, and the public decides the winner. Your chance at winning a £1000 prize.

  1. Nothing in the Rulebook

Hey now, you can’t forget us! We’re always looking to support new writers and artists with their creative endeavours. We publish poetry, micro fiction and short stories of almost any length – from 50 words to 10,000. If you have something you’d like to see out there, and you want us to read it, get in touch!

 

Have we missed something? If you have a flash fiction journal, magazine, website or app that you’d like to see on this list, then get in touch and let us know.

 

Ernest Hemingway’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech

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In October 1954, Ernest Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. And, although he chose not to attend the ceremony (being as he was still recovering from two consecutive plane crashes that had almost killed him), we can still hear him reading lines from his speech, as he recorded it in his own voice at a later date following the ceremony.

You can listen to an excerpt of the speech here, and read the transcript of the complete work below:

“Having no facility for speech-making and no command of oratory nor any domination of rhetoric, I wish to thank the administrators of the generosity of Alfred Nobel for this Prize.

No writer who knows the great writers who did not receive the Prize can accept it other than with humility. There is no need to list these writers. Everyone here may make his own list according to his knowledge and his conscience.

It would be impossible for me to ask the Ambassador of my country to read a speech in which a writer said all of the things which are in his heart. Things may not be immediately discernible in what a man writes, and in this sometimes he is fortunate; but eventually they are quite clear and by these and the degree of alchemy that he possesses he will endure or be forgotten.

Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.

For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed.

How simple the writing of literature would be if it were only necessary to write in another way what has been well written. It is because we have had such great writers in the past that a writer is driven far out past where he can go, out to where no one can help him.

I have spoken too long for a writer. A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it. Again I thank you.”

Writing vs self-doubt

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For writers, artists and creative spirits alike, the issue of confidence – or lack thereof is as important as it is complicated. The way in which creatives align their relationship with their own work, and whether they feel confident in it or doubting, can be said in many ways to define any successful creative endeavor.

Reflecting on his poem, friendly advice to a lot of young men, Charles Bukowski explains the issue adroitly:

“The problem is that bad writers tend to have the self-confidence, while the good ones tend to have self-doubt. So the bad writers tend to go on and on writing crap and giving as many readings as possible to sparse audiences. These sparse audiences consist mostly of other bad writers waiting their turn to go on, to get up there and let it out in the next hour, the next week, the next month, the next sometime. The feeling at these readings is murderous, airless, anti-life. When failures gather together in an attempt at self-congratulation, it only leads to a deeper and more, abiding failure. The crowd is the gathering place of the weakest; true creation is a solitary act.”

In a way, then, self-doubt offers an antidote to the arrogance that produces most mediocre art. And this is perhaps a good thing, too, since self-doubt is likely a familiar state to many who attempt to create artistic representations of their inner lives into the outside world.

Of course, to be aware of the propensity to feel doubting in ones work is relatively healthy, as it requires a level of self-awareness and consciousness necessary to keep oneself grounded in that unique space between reality and creativity. Though of course, to be too keenly aware of it, or feel too great a sense of self-doubt, can paralyse any artistic work, as the late, great, David Foster Wallace explains:

“There’s good self-consciousness, and then there’s toxic, paralyzing, raped-by-psychic-Bedouins self-consciousness.”

The inherent problems with self-doubt means it isn’t something we readily or heartily embrace. Instead, we often run from it; we judge it, and we hedge against it using a range of coping mechanisms, many of which backfire into self-loathing. This is to be avoided: “Don’t mask self-doubt with contempt,” Zadie Smith advised in her ten rules for writing.

Few people have captured this exasperating dance with self-doubt better than Virgina Woolf. In Orlando: A Biography, Woolf captures the anguishing self-doubt with which all artists tussle along the creative process:

“Anyone moderately familiar with the rigours of composition will not need to be told the story in detail; how he wrote and it seemed good; read and it seemed vile; corrected and tore up; cut out; put in; was in ecstasy; in despair; had his good nights and bad mornings; snatched at ideas and lost them; saw his book plain before him and it vanished; acted people’s parts as he ate; mouthed them as he walked; now cried; now laughed; vacillated between this style and that; now preferred the heroic and pompous; next the plain and simple; now the vales of Tempe; then the fields of Kent or Cornwall; and could not decide whether he was the divinest genius or the greatest fool in the world.”

How many of us have similarly spent entire nights awake at keyboards or notebooks, frantically writing word after word in what seems such an intense creative burst that everything that is put to the page must be worth something, only to look at it once the ink has dried, and we have slept a touch, to find ourselves left cold by the words on the page, and feeling a strange sense of disappointment that even in the most intense creative moments we create something that feels lacking in substance or truth?

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We doubt ourselves because it is natural to do so; yet while awareness of an artist’s tendency to doubt themselves is healthy, it must always be balanced with a dose of self-esteem.

This is not to encourage over confidence in one’s ability, or to suggest it valuable to ignore feelings of self-doubt in one’s work. Nobody should seek to become one of the boring, over confident writers reading to each other in lonely bookstores as Bukowski warned. Yet Self-esteem for creative people is important because it helps you organise yourself and others around an idea, so that you can take it from just that – an ephemeral thought – into something real and actualised. Human beings have more ideas than we often know what to do with; to make them real takes consistent, persistent application of energy toward that idea. Self-esteem is the foundation from which this persistent application, this driving force, can emerge.

In the constant battle between writing – and re-writing (which requires an ability to revisit work you may find lacking and empty) – the crucial antidote, then, is determination. Just as the long-distance runner must repeat the same process of exercise again and again, we must bring the same commitment to writing; turning up day in, day out, regardless of weather, or whether we feel “inspired” enough; and sitting down at our desks and putting word after word and sentence after sentence, just as we place one foot in front of the other out on the road.

The writer and artist Anna Deavere Smith captures the importance of determination exquisitely in a section of her fantastic Letters to a Young Artist – a compendium of counsel addressed to all of us seeking to engage with the world through art and creativity. On the subject of creative endeavour vs self-doubt, and the importance of determination built on solid foundations of self-esteem, she writes:

“Confidence is a static state. Determination is active. Determination allows for doubt and for humility — both of which are critical in the world today. There is so much that we don’t know, and so much that we know we don’t know. To be overly confident or without doubt seems silly to me.

Determination, on the other hand, is a commitment to win, a commitment to fight the good fight.”

 

 

 

Raymond Chandler on what people really want to read

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Throughout his career as a writer (following his stint as an oil company executive), Raymond Chandler almost single-handedly crafted the pulp fiction genre with novels such as The Big Sleep, The Long Goodbye and The Lady In The Lake as well as numerous screenplays. His most famous creation, picaresque private detective Philip Marlowe, has been portrayed on screen by the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Robert Montgomery, Robert Mitchum and Elliott Gould.

The author’s career as a pulp writer began in the Thirties, when he realised he could make money from it. He taught himself to write pulp fiction by studying the Perry Mason stories of Erle Stanley Gardner. Chandler’s first professional work, “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot”, was published in Black Mask magazine in 1933. 

In 1950, Chandler described in a letter to his English publisher, Hamish Hamilton, why he began reading pulp magazines and later wrote for them:

Wandering up and down the Pacific Coast in an automobile I began to read pulp magazines, because they were cheap enough to throw away. This was in the great days of the Black Mask (if I may call them great days) and it struck me that some of the writing was pretty forceful and honest, even though it had its crude aspect. I decided that this might be a good way to try to learn to write fiction and get paid a small amount of money at the same time. I spent five months over an 18,000 word novelette and sold it for $180. After that I never looked back, although I had a good many uneasy periods looking forward.

From the moment he started writing pulp, he planned from the first to smuggle something like literature into the stories he penned.

Most of the magazines publishing this type of fiction at the time hooked their readers with a mixture of sex and violence – “they have juxtaposed the steely automatic and the frilly panty and found that it pays off”, wrote SJ Perelman. But Chandler wanted to do more than titillate: he had designs on his audience’s subconscious. He planned to sneak into his stories a quality which readers “would not shy off from, perhaps not even know was there … but which would somehow distil through their minds and leave an afterglow”.

His reasoning for this was that readers actually wanted to read this type of writing; even if the publishers didn’t think they did. In another letter to his editor, Chandler explained this in his characteristically simple and insightful way:

“A long time ago when I was writing for pulps, I put into a story a line like ‘he got out of the car and walked across the sun drenched sidewalk until the shadow of the awning over the entrance fell across his face like the touch of cool water.’ They took it out when they published the story. Their readers didn’t appreciate this sort of thing: it just held up the action. And I set out to prove them wrong. My theory was they just thought they cared nothing about anything but the action; that really, although they didn’t know it, they cared very little about the action. The things they really cared about, and that I cared about, were the creation of emotion through dialogue and description; the things they remembered, that haunted them, were not for example that a man got killed, but that in the moment of his death he was trying to pick a paper clip up off the polished surface of a desk, and it kept slipping away from him, so that there was a look of strain on his face and his mouth was half open in a kind of tormented grin, and the last thing in the world he thought about was death. He didn’t even hear death knock on the door. That damn little paper clip kept slipping away from his fingers and he just couldn’t push it to the edge of the desk and catch it as it fell.”

For more thoughts on writing and reading, check out our writing tips for writers, and creatives in profile interview series!