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Newspaper Poetry

Years ago, when I lived in Ithaca, I authored a blog that was the predecessor to this one. I called it Words & Colors. The blog was a place where I combined photographs I'd taken with stories I'd written. While some entries comprised a single image with a few short lines of poetry, others were painstakingly crafted essays. Of those latter works, many took months to write as I obsessively chose each word with careful intent. I haven't purposely written like that in more than three years; life continues to get busier and there are only so many hours in the day. But recently, and quite out of the blue, a writer introduced me to a great exercise he called "Newspaper Poetry." And in participating in the exercise, I was reminded of the fun I used to have crafting stories.

Prior to beginning the Newspaper Poetry exercise, I was handed a few random pages pulled from the morning newspaper. The task, as it was explained to me, was as follows: from the paper I held, create a poem from the words on the page by crossing out those that surrounded selections of text that appealed to me. I was given two minutes, and I produced the following starter:

Here’s an anecdote that illustrates the corrosion of life; these barnacles, so sluggish. It’s a wonder anything comes out the other end. The cost of this process is enormous.

On it's own, the poem I crafted is abstract (to say the least). But I felt like I could take the starter poem and write for another hour. And, of course, it was created by simply looking at the words already in front of me. Incidentally, the exercise also reminded me of magnet poetry, where one can re-arrange little phrases and single words printed on magnets into poems. I keep a set of magnet poetry in my office for people to play with, and I love seeing the creative things they come up with!

In the end, participating in the Newspaper Poetry exercise helped remind me of how much fun writing can be. Like the creative process itself. It was also a great parallel to my thoughts on photography. Like the words on the newspaper, good images are always right in front of us - hiding in plain sight. What separates an artist from an observer then, in my opinion, is the thoughtful eye that enables the artist to capture the image in a way that presents new meaning to others. As I told my eight-year-old son recently, thought-provoking pictures can be made from our every day surroundings, one just needs to learn how to see.