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NewsPoet: Philip Schultz Writes The Day In Verse

Sep 28, 2012
Originally published on September 28, 2012 7:24 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, former Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, Paisley Rekdal and Tess Taylor.

Today, poet Philip Schultz brings us the news in verse. He founded The Writers Studio in 1987 and has written many works of fiction and poetry, including Living in the Past, The Holy Worm of Praise; and Like Wings, which was nominated for a National Book Award. He received the 2005 Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry and won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his collection, Failure. His most recent book of poems is The God of Loneliness. He is also the author of a memoir, My Dyslexia. You can click here to read an interview he did about this topic.

Philip Schultz sat down with NPR's Melissa Block to talk about his experience at All Things Considered, and about the poem that he composed for today's show. Most NewsPoets have felt some panic and anxiety throughout the day, trying to write a poem on deadline, but Schultz seemed immune to that. When Block commented on his cheerful smile, he remarked, "I've had the time of my life. Watching everyone and how you all do this huge job — everyone seems so calm and knowledgeable and smart. I love it."

Schultz sat in on the daily meetings for the major news shows. He told Block that he had come to NPR's headquarters with an idea for what to write about, but "25 minutes into the first meeting of the day ... I realize that was going to go." Instead he said, "the news for me today were the people around the table."

The All Things Considered meeting was especially interesting for Schultz. "It's a huge table," he said, "and a large gathering of people. And I saw how everyone is so comfortable ... there was just no sign of any ego or tension." He compared the setting to his own experiences working in academia: "There was all kind of friction, and it wasn't fun." But at All Things Considered, "it was like you all were on the same side, you had this job to do. There was this kind of esprit de corps, this special camaraderie, that I don't think I've ever seen before."

"Are you sure we were at the same meeting?" Block joked.

Schultz assured her that they were. "You were no small part of it," he told her. In fact, the show's hosts, editors and producers made him so comfortable, he said they'd make his "ideal dinner party." High praise, indeed, from a man who describes himself as never comfortable at dinner parties.

"And so I decided to write about that," said Schultz. You can see the poem he came up with below.

The NPR Morning Meetings

BY PHILIP SCHULTZ

Much lively discussion of, say, an orchestra
being integrated into larger programs to stave off
more lay-offs, plastic boulders chasing people for fun,
the anti-Muslim video producer arrested on
questionable charges not unlike Al Capone
going up on tax evasion, bypassing the devious
highways of the 1st amendment — not to mention
blueprints of their new building, fittings for
ergonomic chairs that afternoon — I'm here to write
about the news but the news today is this gathering
of remarkable people, mostly women, an allegiance
of shared endeavor, 30 Sisyphuses being chased
by the endless cycle of world-sized boulders,
a festival of street smart camaraderie, the world
in all its raw magnificence, this room growing older
by the minute, not anything I know, the object
not ego but a mission to select, qualify and articulate
a lasting quality to all those trusting, downcast,
yearning ears hungry to be astonished by the truth.

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

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

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Each month we've been inviting a poet to spend the day with us and turn the day's news into poem. And our news poet for September is Philip Schultz, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his collection titled "Failure." Philip, it's been great to have you with us.

PHILIP SCHULTZ: It's been great to be here.

BLOCK: I have to say a lot of the news poets I've seen here have had a look of panic and anxiety on their face all day. You have had a big smile on your face all day, like this was a real adventure for you.

SCHULTZ: I'm having the time of my life. I just - watching everyone and how you all do this huge job. And everyone seems so calm and knowledgeable and smart. I love it.

BLOCK: It's all an illusion.

SCHULTZ: Well, I don't know. The meetings I sat in on which - you know I brought what I thought would be at least an idea of a poem that I would write about. And I was 25 minutes into the first meeting, and I realized that was going to go. That what I was taken by are the people. I know that, you know, NPR is news and the news is very important. And I've listened to it plenty. But the news for me today were the people around the table.

BLOCK: What was the germ of the idea that you originally brought in? What did you think it was going to be?

SCHULTZ: Diogenes. I mean I - it's just been coming back to me for some reason, you know, the campaign and everything. One party calling another liars, and who's telling the truth. And what would Diogenes be doing today with his lamp in daylight looking for an honest man. And I would chuckle to myself - where would he go if he attended both conventions, would he find any? And what would he make of it?

I mean here's a guy who, by choice, he lived in a tub in the middle of Athens and he believed that poverty was nobility. And here he was the founder of cynic philosophy, cynicism, and just lived on the outskirts of politics. And I just thought, wouldn't bringing him and introducing him to NPR and everyone, wouldn't that be, you know, like this is - I'm a ventriloquist and he would be my doll. And I thought I was going to do something with him, because I was taken with the idea. But then I saw something much more fascinating.

BLOCK: OK, Philip, let's hear what you came up with today.

SCHULTZ: The NPR morning meetings. Much lively discussion of, say, an orchestra being included into larger programs to stave off more layoffs, plastic boulders chasing people for fun, the anti-Muslim video producer arrested on questionable charges not unlike Al Capone going up on tax evasion, bypassing the devious highways of the First Amendment, not to mention blueprints of their new building, fittings for ergonomic chairs that afternoon. I'm here to write about the news but the news today is this gathering of remarkable people, mostly women, an allegiance of shared endeavor, 30 Sisyphuses being chased by the endless cycle of world-sized boulders, a festival of street smart camaraderie, the world in all its raw magnificence, this room growing older by the minute, not anything I know, the object not ego but a mission to select, qualify and articulate a lasting quality to all those trusting, downcast, yearning ears hungry to be astonished by the truth.

BLOCK: On a good day that would be a great mission.

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: Philip Schultz, it's been great to have you with us. Thanks so much.

SCHULTZ: Thank you. It's been a great pleasure to be here.

BLOCK: This month's news poet, Philip Schultz, with his poem, "NPR Morning Meetings." His collection "Failure" won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008 and his most recent book is a memoir, "My Dyslexia."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.