What Makes A Tweet A Poem? Writer and poet Holly Bass joins host Michel Martin to review listeners' submissions to Tell Me More's daily poetry series, Muses and Metaphor. Bass is curator for the series, which commemorates April as National Poetry Month

What Makes A Tweet A Poem?

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If you've been listening to our program for the past two weeks, then you have heard at least some of the poetic tweets we've been airing every day in honor of National Poetry Month. These are poems, 140 characters or less, that listeners and friends of the program have posted on Twitter. It's all part of our series called Muses and Metaphor, which combines two of our passions: poetry and social media.

Now, you might wonder how we selected these tweets. And as we mentioned, when we started the series we've enlisted the help of poet Holly Bass. She's a writer and poet in residence for Busboys and Poets. That's a group of popular gathering spots here in the Washington, D.C. area, where poets and writers often share their work.

She's been our series curator, which is to say she's been going through the hundreds of submissions we have received and helping us pick the ones to record and put on the air. And we thought here at the midway point, it would be fun to ask Holly Bass to join us once again in our Washington, D.C. studios.

Welcome back. Thanks for joining us.

Ms. HOLLY BASS (Writer and Poet): Hi. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: I think some people would want to know: How could you possibly narrow them down?

Ms. BASS: Because it's such a short poem, you really want to have really distinctive language. So I look for words that aren't everyday words, and then I also look for something that seems evocative, that paints a picture of something. And then I'm very concerned with sound, melody and music. So that's something that I enjoy in poetry. And so I look for those three qualities the most.

MARTIN: Let's play one of the tweets that you picked. It's from Katelyn Cowan of Washington, D.C. Let's listen.

Ms. KATELYN COWAN: (Reading) La Callas, mouth like a wooden box, in perfect viola with the neck cut off, biding time till the hard spots, swallowing eggs, time.

MARTIN: Now what did you like about Katelyn Cowan's tweet?

Ms. BASS: Well, the first thing I liked was that we had this direct reference to a historical figure, Maria Callas. And then these great images, mouth like a wooden box. That is such a strong image. It's not an oval. It's not in O. It's this square, huge sort of a box of a mouth - and even a reference to the wind box. And when you think of Maria Callas' sound, that's what she was known for, having this great power in her voice. So I loved that.

I loved the image of an imperfect viola, because that's another thing. She was often criticized for having a flawed voice. But that was what made it so distinctive. And then the viola, that feminine sort of shape and image, and you can imagine her standing on stage, so statuesque. So all of that was layered in these very few words.

MARTIN: One of the things that I've liked about the series is that we've heard from all kinds of people. You know, we've heard from people all different ages, all different backgrounds. That's been an exciting.

As an example of that, I want to play today's tweet. It's from Eric Kobb Miller. He's a retired dentist in Downingtown, Pennsylvania. And here it is.

Mr. ERIC KOBB MILLER: (Reading) Delicious, capricious and surreptitious. Tinted and printed with a muses cues. A dream slipped over me and settled within.

MARTIN: It was so cute. I'm going to play it again. Here it is.

Mr. MILLER: (Reading): Delicious, capricious and surreptitious. Tinted and printed with a muses cues. A dream slipped over me and settled within.

MARTIN: Now, I love this. But I don't even know why. I can't...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BASS: Exactly.

MARTIN: Tell me - you know, so tell me why I love it.

Ms. BASS: I'll tell you why you love it. We all love rhythm. But it's got this this poem has this rolling rhythm, so each word sort of rolls into the next one. It's got this round sound. All this alliteration and abstinence - muses, cues. And then what it does, which I think is really clever, at the end - for me, this poem is like a feather that's drifting down, drifting down, drifting down, and then it settles and stops. So the very ending doesn't rhyme, which is a nice sort of release of tension, and it keeps it from being too cloying or sweet. So we go from all this delicious capricious to slipped over me and settled within.

MARTIN: Well, you know, what I else I like about it? And this is, of course, the journalist here - is that it makes sense. You know it's a sentence that makes sense. Okay, oh, now I get what he's talking about.

Ms. BASS: Yeah.

MARTIN: You know, I understand it. So - and I appreciate that. Very nice. I mean, thank you, Mr. Eric Kobb Miller.

MARTIN: Okay, Holly, finally, I'm going to put you on the spot. As the curator, you got something?

Ms. BASS: I do. I do.

MARTIN: What you got? Tell it. Tell us what you got.

Ms. BASS: I've been working on a series of poems about Elizabeth Keckley. I'm fascinated by her. She was Mary Todd Lincoln's seamstress. So she was a former slave, basically worked her way, stitch by stitch, out of slavery. And I just think - find that fascinating. So I wrote this poem, and then I'll talk a bit about what I'm doing with the language.


Ms. BASS: (Reading) Liz Keckley kept D.C.'s best-dressed ladies secrets swept under endless crinoline. A hustler's bustle, a freed-woman's hem.

MARTIN: Oh, read it again. It went by fast. Read it again.

Ms. BASS: (Reading) Liz Keckley kept D.C.'s best-dressed ladies secrets swept under endless crinoline. A hustler's bustle, a freed-woman's hem.

MARTIN: I love it. And a hem, is it H-E-M or H-Y-M-N.

Ms. BASS: It is. It's H-E-M.

MARTIN: H-E-M. A hem. Oh.

Ms. BASS: But I definitely wanted to create that double entendre, a freed-woman's work, her hemming, but also her song. And she worked really hard. She went from city to city and got better and better, and by the end, she was the one, the go-to. You know, she would be dressing Michelle Obama right now if she were alive. That's how it goes. And also this idea of a hustler's bustle. You know, so hustle and bustle and the sound of the dresses, but also the busyness.

MARTIN: No, I love it.

Ms. BASS: Yeah.

MARTIN: Nobody freed her. She freed herself.

Ms. BASS: She did.

MARTIN: I love it. I love it. Lovely.

This is Holly Bass. She's the curator of TELL ME MORE's Muses and Metaphor tweet poetry series that we will continue running throughout April.

Let me tell you that in the next two weeks, you'll hear tweets submitted from all over the country.

Holly, thank you so much for doing all this.

Ms. BASS: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: If you'd like to help us celebrate National Poetry Month, you still have a chance. Go to Twitter and tweet us your original poetry - using fewer than 140 characters, of course. If your poem is chosen, we will help you record it for us. We will air it some time this month. Tweet us using the hashtag TMMpoetry.

You can learn more at the TELL ME MORE website. Go to npr.org. Click on the Programs menu to find TELL ME MORE, and you can listen to all the beautiful poems that you've missed.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today.

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