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NewsPoet: Monica Youn Writes The Day In Verse

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NewsPoet: Monica Youn Writes The Day In Verse

NewsPoet: Monica Youn Writes The Day In Verse

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Each month, we invite a poet to spend the day with us and compose a poem reflecting the day's news. Well, today, we're joined by Monica Youn. Her second collection of poems, "Ignatz," was a finalist for a National Book Award in 2010. In addition to her life as a poet, Monica Youn is a lawyer specializing in election law. Monica, welcome to the program.

MONICA YOUN: Thank you so much for having me.

BLOCK: How tricky adventure was this for you, being a poet and at the same time digesting the news and trying to meld that into one thing?

YOUN: Well, this is very hard because in my life as a lawyer and as an advocate, I do election law, so I'm very much tied into the news and politics and all of that. And so I'm very used to dealing with that with the lawyer half of my brain. And so trying to handle a lot of that same material using the poet side of my brain was kind of like trying to draw a picture with your left hand when you're used to being right-handed. It just felt strange and uncomfortable but also sort of interesting.

BLOCK: And were you able to rise above that...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: ...uncomfortable feeling and then get the creative juices flowing?

YOUN: I certainly hope so. I mean, I just wrote this poem. It's fresh off the presses, and I'll take a look at it...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

YOUN: ...in a few weeks and tell you what I actually think of it.

BLOCK: Now, I'm really curious to hear what you've come up with. Can you read it for us?

YOUN: Sure.

BLOCK: Great.

YOUN: It's called "24."

(Reading) Fear is the coin dropping into its slot; $2 fall to the liquor shop floor. The day is a net of 24 knots. A modestly veiled woman poses no threat, but the veil truly masks a thief's face and hair. Fear is the coin dropping into its slot. Three hundred Priuses that someone forgot voluptuously rust in the Miami air. The day is a net of 24 knots. The primary insight of Keynesian thought: The way out of debt is for us to spend more. Fear is the coin dropping into its slot.

(Reading) A lawsuit, foreclosure, inescapable debt is the price of a new mother's prenatal care. The day is a net of 24 knots. A blind man trapped in a ring of perpetual light slips the noose, vanishes into the glare. Fear is the coin dropping into its slot. The day is a net of 24 knots.

BLOCK: The poem "24" from Monica Youn. And I see you've incorporated the thoughts from a number of the stories in the program today. Tell me about this repeating line: The day is a net of 24 knots.

YOUN: That was initially inspired by this blind activist who has escaped in China because apparently he had 24 guards stationed around his house at all times who were, you know, creating this sort of net. But I was also thinking of it in terms of the constraints of the 24-hour news cycle and that things just keep happening. And in terms of my own, I guess, self-pitying constraints in trying to write this poem on the schedule and...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

YOUN: ...and thinking about trying to be a poet on the 24-hour news cycle.

BLOCK: Do you think - when you think about the poem now, is it something that you might go back to, tinker with, play around a little bit?

YOUN: Oh, yeah. I think I definitely might. I mean, I might sub in some things. I was relying kind of too heavily on the online rhyming dictionary while...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

YOUN: ...writing this on the schedule.

BLOCK: Oh, true confession here from our NewsPoet.

YOUN: So, yeah, I'm sure I would tweak it quite a bit.

BLOCK: When you usually write a poem, what's your process like?

YOUN: Usually, when I write a poem, I think of it like super saturating a solution, like you just keep adding things into the beaker until something crystallizes. And it happens all at once, but the whole process of adding things into the beaker usually, for me, takes months, if not years. So I think this was as fast as I've ever tried to write a poem.

BLOCK: Well, we thank you for taking it on. Monica Youn, who's our NewsPoet for the month of April, thanks so much.

YOUN: Thank you.

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