Poetry and journalism seem to be opposite forms of writing — one is creative and fabricated; the other sticks to facts. But there is some cross over between the two.
Ezra Pound wrote, “Poetry is news that stays news.” So can language remain newsworthy?
Here are a few interesting examples of news and poetry overlapping:
- Times Haiku: The New York Times has developed an algorithm that automatically detects poetry hidden in the paper’s front page. The best ones are published on this Tumblr.
- L.A. Times Haiku: This Twitter handle offers L.A. Times headlines in haiku form.
- American Life in Poetry: While not necessarily haikus, this project by Ted Kooser, the U.S. poet laureate from 2004-2006, offered newspapers a free weekly column featuring contemporary American poems.
These news haikus and Kooser’s project highlight great literary moments with articles and offer readers a different way into stories. And some of them are just beautiful.
Journalists and poets can learn from each other. Some poets write documentary-style poems about world events and the human condition, and journalists often use stylistic techniques to convey emotion, perspective and details to a reader, according to an article on the intersection of poetry and journalism in The Huffington Post. Ultimately, both rely on having someone on the other end read their words.
Pizza is the currency of newsrooms. Very classy, Chicago Tribune.
One of my favorite regular features is the Times’ Modern Love column, and the curator has lately been sharing submission tips and archived columns via the Facebook page. I really enjoyed this entire tip today, which also explains in part why I like the columns so much:
Ideally, writing a personal essay is a process of discovery. You only understand the point of your essay after you’ve spent a lot of time and effort working on it. When you come up with a “pitch” for an essay, however, you must figure out that point at the start. The ensuing writing process often then becomes less about discovery than execution. You feel you must hew to that point. Any detours into new and unexpected terrain might threaten to derail or even undermine your point, so better not go there. Better snuff out that idea before it takes over the whole thing. Better not acknowledge that wayward truth or you may have to start all over.
I don’t accept pitches because with personal essays I feel almost anything can work or not work, and nearly every pitch sounds shallow and overly familiar to me anyway, even if it would make for a great essay in its particulars. But I still end up reading many essays that read as though they were written with a pitch mentality. They don’t seem to have grown organically or stumbled into surprising places or reached a place of heightened awareness. Instead, they feel constricted and workmanlike, hemmed in by a need to execute a pre-conceived point. Often this leads to an essay that consists of a series of examples in support of the controlling idea, like: Why our marriage is a study in contrasts but still works (or something along those lines).
It’s comforting to write that way, to not let yourself get lost, to write by following the essayist’s equivalent of a pre-set GPS device. And it can be scary and inefficient to careen off the road into the deep woods. You might waste all kinds of time and energy and still wind up totally lost. But you also might discover a place that can’t be boiled down into a two-sentence pitch. It just can’t. If someone wants to understand, they’re going to have to read the whole thing. And if you’ve done your job well, they’re going to want to.