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Don't Sweat Over Iambic Pentameter


Today we begin celebrating National Poetry Month by featuring poetry from our listeners. The poems will be tweets, messages 140 characters or less, exchanged via Twitter using the hash tag #TMMPoetry. It's all part of our series that we call Muses and Metaphor, combining two of our passions, poetry and social media.

And to help us along, we welcome back poet Holly Bass. She is a writer and performer here in Washington, D.C. She's back again this year to be TELL ME MORE's curator, helping to choose some of our favorite tweets to feature on the program. She's with us now once again.

Holly Bass, thanks so much for joining us.

HOLLY BASS: Oh, thanks for having me back. I'm so excited.

MARTIN: I can't believe it's been a year since we had our poetry series. It was so much fun that we decided to do it again and you were our curator last year, so thank you for that.

I was thinking about our conversation. I was thinking about something that said when he was asked how - you know, the performer with the Black Eyed Peas - and he was asked how did he know he was an artist. He said when I realized my name is a sentence.

BASS: That works.

MARTIN: So I wanted to ask - what makes a tweet poetic?

BASS: Well, I actually like to kind of flip that question and say what makes a poem tweetable? And I've been thinking about this a lot and people ask me this. I actually recently did a Twitter Poetry Slam, which was really fun, and...

MARTIN: And quick, I bet.

BASS: Yes, and very quick. So people - they read their tweets twice because, you know, they go by really quickly. I kind of make this analogy with cupcakes, so a long form poem would be like a layer cake and a Twitter poem is like a cupcake. So you still need all the same ingredients. You don't skimp on the ingredients just because your end product is smaller. You still want really awesome buttercream on top of that.

So I think that's the case with a Twitter poem. You still want all the things that make a poem great, so wonderful language, visual imagery, the sounds, the rhythm. It's just like a bite-sized morsel of poetry.

MARTIN: Well, that works for me and I'm hungry now too. So we've got some special tweets to play today so people can get a sense of what we're looking for. These come by way of Hart Middle School here in Washington, D.C. and it so happens that the D.C. Creative Writing Workshop has a program at that school.

Previously, we interviewed senior program director Alan King, and then we thought, what a great idea. We'll ask his students if they would like to participate and of course they said yes. We are going to hear tweets from two students in a minute, but first, here is one from program director Alan King. Now, remember, these are short, so let's listen carefully.

ALAN KING: There you are as if the world weren't(ph) a ball of yarn unraveling in the hands of toddlers. You, with a Sufi's glow.

MARTIN: Well, you know, you had the idea, Holly, since these are short, let's play them twice, so let's play it again. Here it is.

KING: There you are as if the world weren't(ph) a ball of yarn unraveling in the hands of toddlers. You, with a Sufi's glow.

MARTIN: So what did you think of Alan's poetic tweet?

BASS: I like it a lot. And if you listen to what he's doing, he's not rhyming, but there's this sort of rolling sound of world, ball, yarn, unraveling, and so that's where the poetry comes in. And then I like this image of this - I imagine a woman, but just an unnamed person with a Sufi glow and the sort of, you know, person who's calm in the face of chaos.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We are beginning our Muses and Metaphor poetry series today. I'm joined in the studio by poet and writer Holly Bass. She is going to help us curate some of the poetic tweets that come our way.

You can still contribute by going to Twitter and using the hash tag #TMMPoetry.

OK. As we said, that we invited students to participate. Everybody can participate, but you know, we got ahead of the game by asking students. The first one comes from Daisha Wilson. She's 12 years old. She's in the sixth grade at Hart Middle School in Washington, D.C. Here it is.

DAISHA WILSON: A is the darkness. E, you hear a trumpet. I, you and this unknown man or woman. U, you are afraid to move.

MARTIN: And as we said, these go by quickly. Let's hear this tweet again. This is from 12-year-old Daisha Wilson from Hart Middle School in Washington, D.C. Let's play it one more time.

WILSON: A is the darkness. E, you hear a trumpet. I, you and this unknown man or woman. U, you are afraid to move.

MARTIN: Holly Bass, what stands out for you in this tweet? Don't you just love it?

BASS: All of it. I was like, oh my gosh, this is so fantastic. I love that sort of schoolyard, you know, using the vowels, but then it's not an acrostic poem, so A is the darkness. It's not, you know, A and then something that would be obvious and starting with the letter A, so it's just full of surprise from the outset and there's just something - I want to hear that over and over.

And I think that's a sign of a good poem, when - if you hear it twice and you still could use another round, to me that's a good sign. Oh, that was lovely.

MARTIN: And don't you love her little 12-year-old voice?

BASS: Yes, yes. So adorable.

MARTIN: With this big thought. This little 12 year old voice with this big...

BASS: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...idea. You go, what? All right. And finally, for today, this one from TyJuan Hogan. He is 13 years old. He's a seventh grader at Hart Middle School in Washington, D.C. Here it is.

TYJUAN HOGAN: My eyes are my trademark. I get them from staring at the sky, but the sun ruins my memory. I look up anyway.

MARTIN: Let's hear that one more time.

HOGAN: My eyes are my trademark. I get them from staring at the sky, but the sun ruins my memory. I look up, anyway.

MARTIN: That's 13-year-old TyJuan Hogan of Hart Middle School. Holly, what...

BASS: That's just profound.

MARTIN: Don't you just love that too?

BASS: It's just profound. I'm feeling, actually, this really intense emotion about (unintelligible) I look up, anyway. I mean that says so much about so many things and I've actually taught at Hart and - in the past, when I was with Writer's Corps - D.C. Writer's Corps – and it's - I felt like it was full of wonderful children in really tough circumstances because it's a pretty tough area to grow up in. And to have that optimism and to - you know, also that strength. My eyes are my trademark. And the idea of the sun, you know, erasing memories, but you still look up, you still keep trying. That's just wonderful.

MARTIN: Beautiful imagery. So we don't want people to be intimidated now that they've heard, but it's still a high bar. What will you be looking for in the poems you select for us?

BASS: Well, these young people just provided some really excellent examples, so I like the idea - when you have a short poem, it's nice to have a surprise in there. It's really nice to sort of go beyond the sort of everyday and the prosaic, literally and figuratively. So that's one thing I'll be looking for.

Really wonderful visual imagery or use of the five sense, I think, is important. And, as well, I would like to see more people actually use some of the elements of Twitter itself, so hash tags, @ signs, maybe condensed, abbreviated words, the way we would when we're texting each other. So I think that would be cool if people could use the form itself to sort of expand or alter their own poetic style.

MARTIN: So everybody's invited. No...

BASS: Everybody's invited.

MARTIN: ...age, no race, nothing. Everybody's invited to participate who...

BASS: Correct.

MARTIN: ...wants to write.

BASS: Yes.

MARTIN: Holly Bass is a poet. She will be curating TELL ME MORE's Muses and Metaphor Tweet Poetry Series. She joined us once again in our studios in Washington, D.C. If you are poetically inclined, go to Twitter and tweet us your original poetry using fewer than 140 characters and the hash tag #TMMPoetry.

If your poem is chosen, we will help you record it and we will play it on the air this month as part of our celebration of National Poetry Month. To learn more, you can go to, select TELL ME MORE from the Program page or read about it on our blog.

Holly Bass, thank you so much for joining us.

BASS: Oh, thanks for having me. I'm so excited. Looking forward to April. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.