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NewsPoet: Paisley Rekdal Writes The Day In Verse

Jul 10, 2012
Originally published on July 25, 2012 2:10 pm

Today at All Things Considered, we continue a project we're calling NewsPoet. Each month, we bring in a poet to spend time in the newsroom — and at the end of the day, to compose a poem reflecting on the day's stories.

The series has included Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy K. Smith as well as Craig Morgan Teicher, Kevin Young, Monica Youn, Carmen Gimenez Smith and former poet laureate Robert Pinsky.

Today, poet Paisley Rekdal brings us the news in verse. She is the author most recently of the books Animal Eye and Intimate: An American Family Photo Album, as well as The Invention of the Kaleidoscope and The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee: Observations on Not Fitting In. She teaches at the University of Utah, and has spent much of the past year traveling in France and Vietnam.

Paisley Rekdal sat down with NPR's Robert Siegel to talk about her day at All Things Considered watching "the news sausage being made." But she said that what fascinated her most wasn't the news that made it into the show.

Much of her poem focused on ideas from the morning meeting that were rejected — sea birds ingesting plastic, Russian floods, and rooftop missiles to protect the London Olympics.

She was also taken by some writing that had been left on the whiteboard in the NPR conference room. "As always, I'm attracted to the absolutely obscure facts," Rekdal said. "On the whiteboard was a list of reasons why someone named Rick should or should not go to Texas."

The Rick in question is NPR editor Rick Holter, who will soon be leaving and moving to Dallas. The reasons were "hilarious," said Rekdal, "but I thought, well, obviously this is not technically news." Later, though, she changed her mind: "I got sort of obsessed with what makes news and what doesn't," she explained.

Rick did, in fact, make it into her poem, as did a piece about science and technology. Listening to a story about phone apps that turn into medical devices, she thought to herself, an app is just "something that's just supposed to just get you through the day," but they often turn into something more — "a major crutch to help you deal with major life decisions. And I thought, should Rick go to Texas? That could actually be an application on an iPhone."

One more story made her cut. Rekdal's line "the brothel / slowly sliding into a sinkhole" was a reference to a piece by host Melissa Block about some buildings across the street from NPR's office that have been moved. "The story is all about that question of what do you save and what do you erase," said Rekdal. "And I find the issue of erasure constantly fascinating. Especially as I hit middle age."

All Things Considered's NewsPoet is produced and edited by Ellen Silva with production assistance from Rose Friedman.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

It's time now for our NewsPoet. Each month, we invite a poet to the show to observe the news sausage being made and then write a poem about the day. And this month, we are joined by Paisley Rekdal. Her most recent poetry collection is called "Animal Eye." Welcome to the program.

PAISLEY REKDAL: Thank you.

SIEGEL: You came up with a poem on the fly today. How do you like deadline poetry writing so far?

REKDAL: Well, it's good. It's a little terrifying. This last year, I had a lot of time to write, and I found myself spinning endlessly out of control. So, actually, having a deadline made me far more productive than I've been in about six months.

(LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: OK. You were inspired, it seems, both by some items that are on today's program but also some story ideas from our meeting that didn't make it on the program - seabirds ingesting plastic, Russian floods, rooftop missiles to protect the Olympic Games.

REKDAL: Mm-hmm.

SIEGEL: But you seem to have been most taken by something written on the conference room whiteboard.

REKDAL: Yes. As always, I'm attracted to the absolutely obscure facts. On the whiteboard was a list of reasons why someone named Rick should or should not go to Texas, and they were hilarious. And I thought that it would just be a great found poem, but I thought, well, obviously, this is not technically news. But then I got sort of obsessed with what makes news and what doesn't. And, you know, when I was reading and listening to the story about medical applications turning into devices, I became really interested in this, you know, crossover between something that's supposed to just get you through the day that becomes some sort of major crutch to help you deal with major life decisions - medical and psychological and personal. And I thought, should Rick go to Texas? That actually could be an application on an iPhone.

(LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: OK. Well, with a special shout-out to NPR's Rick Holter, who indeed is leaving NPR to move to Dallas. There's a brothel allusion in the poem. That's actually to Melissa's story about the...

REKDAL: Yes.

SIEGEL: ...block across the street from our offices.

REKDAL: Yes. At first, I didn't think that that was going to be a very interesting story - the idea of moving buildings. But the story is all about that question about what do you save and what do you erase, essentially. And I just find the issue of erasure constantly fascinating, especially as I hit middle age.

(LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: Especially as you hit middle age.

REKDAL: Yeah.

SIEGEL: Why don't you read us the poem?

REKDAL: (Reading) Should Rick go to Texas is a question for the ages, so much we've developed an app for his decision, to ease the agony that may appear ridiculous and yet, small as it is, how much time is spent wavering in uncertainty: The heart more device now than compass, which itself was once an apparatus? If life was an app, we'd call it Sisyphus: Why, when we can control floodwaters and blood, not free ourselves to be what we are: An ice cube melting in a sun-warmed glass, the brothel slowly sliding into a sinkhole?

(Reading) Didn't we realize too many options would make us only smaller increments of time? What choice when we know the end is always the same, any rooftop can hide a missile, and plastic still winds up in the belly of the albatross? It is our decisions that make, not mark, the journey now. Imagine yours erased: What would you save, forget; which shifts of the heart could you begin to follow? Such is the state that Rick will face: its arid, expansive plot. And yet, few hopes remain he'll stay the course. Even with our GPS, he'll manage to get lost.

SIEGEL: Paisley Rekdal, thank you very much for that poem.

REKDAL: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Paisley Rekdal's poem was called "Should Rick Go To Texas?" She has a new book out, not in verse. It's called "Intimate: A Hybrid Memoir."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.