Creating An Ecosystem In 140 Characters Tell Me More continues its national poetry month series "Muses and Metaphor." Regular contributor and poet Holly Bass shares her Twitter poem.

Creating An Ecosystem In 140 Characters

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And now it's time for Muses and Metaphor. That's our ode to National Poetry Month. All through April we are featuring original tweet-length poems - 140 characters or less delivered by Twitter and written by NPR listeners and, new this year, some of our regular contributors.

We have gotten off to a great start, according to the Twitter analytics site Topsy. We have had more than 2,500 tweets on the #TMMPoetry. They are still coming in. We were really excited to hear from Native American poet Heid Erdrich. Here's her Twitter poem inspired by the North Dakota landscape

HEID ERDRICH: Whirlwinds, glitter, flat rivers snake her cleft of low cliffs. Cold, lonely, lovely then green grass sweet. Who would not want to eat?

MARTIN: That was Native American poet Heid Erdrich. And here to tell us more about the series is poet Holly Bass who's helped us in each of the last four years that we've been doing it. Holly Bass, welcome.

HOLLY BASS: Hi, welcome. It's so great to be back.

MARTIN: As I mentioned, this is your fourth year participating in Muses and Metaphor. One of our regular contributors Fernando Espuelas is a talkshow host in Univision, a successful businessman.

He said this is the hardest assignment that he has had in years. On the other hand, Heid Erdrich told us she loved the 140 character limit. What about you?

BASS: It's definitely challenging. But, you know, who doesn't like a good challenge?

MARTIN: Some people. Well, thank you for taking the challenge. You've started a teen writing initiative at a detention center, and you've been working with your students to create Twitter poems. How do they feel about it?

BASS: They like it. But they also think it's, you know, really difficult. So what I tell them to do is just write a whole poem, and then you can take one line or two lines from that poem and turn that into your Twitter poem.

MARTIN: Do you have one to share with us?

BASS: I do, actually. This is - we did metaphor and we did I Am poems. And here's some lines from the girls. I am a plant with no seeds, fiending for soil. I am a good witch with no spells.

MARTIN: Nice. Very nice. Was that a group effort or does it have one author?

BASS: It was a group effort, yeah.

MARTIN: Very nice. Very nice. What do you like about it?

BASS: I like the contrast. So one of the things we talked about is how do turn an emotion into a metaphor. So you could start with something like feeling powerless, and then that becomes a good witch with no spells. And so how do you visualize powerlessness in a creative and unique way? And so that's how we came up with some of those lines.

MARTIN: That was lovely. Now you've also been monitoring the submissions on Twitter, which you do every year for us, which we appreciate very much. What stood out for you?

BASS: Well, I think this year, being the fourth year, what I really loved was the sense of coming back to a sort of reunion, like a poets reunion. And all these people who maybe I've never met in person, seeing their Twitter poems over and over, I was like, oh, yeah. You're back. Yay.

MARTIN: That's wonderful. Of course, original poems they're delivering to us, right?

BASS: Yes.

MARTIN: OK. So do you have one or two for us?

BASS: I do. I have one...

MARTIN: That's the wonderful pleasure of this is because they're so short, you can always share like one or two.

BASS: Absolutely. And there's been a lot of nice exchange. So the poet I'm going to read from actually took one of my poems and translated it into Tagalog, which I thought was fabulous. And so it's my pleasure to read this poem by Su Luyag. Marbled waterscape mosaic of fields - The Great River has witnessed birds, seeds, humans - stories before migration was a word.

MARTIN: Lovely. I love that.

BASS: Yeah, isn't that just beautiful.

MARTIN: I love that.

BASS: There's a whole sort of ecosystem within those 140 characters.

MARTIN: Well, I'm going - you know I'm going to put you on the spot and ask if you would give us - share a poem with us. But before I do, do you have some advice for people who would kind of like to try it and might be a little intimidated by it?

BASS: I think, again, you know, it's easier to cut away if you think of it as sort of, like, a big chunk of marble, and that's very intimidating. But you just start to cut away, cut away, cut away until you get something that emerges from that. So I would say write from your heart and focus on vibrancy of language and then distill down.

MARTIN: Do you think about picking a - how do you pick a subject? I mean, do you think about just, like, what's on your mind, like what's bothering you or something you feel or happen to feel or something you want to get off your chest?

BASS: Absolutely. I think poetry is a great way to process the day. A lot of poets I know, they do a haiku every morning. And so you could think of it as a meditation in a way of processing. I've been writing poems about working in the detention center because there's a lot that I'm processing. So I find that very helpful.

MARTIN: Well, tell us about the poem you are about to share with us - your original Twitter poem?

BASS: Absolutely. And so I'm very proud about this one. You have to let me nerd out for five seconds, right...

MARTIN: Well, let's hear it. Let's do it.

BASS: ...Because it's in iambic tetrameter, OK, and it's a Twitter poem. So I thought that was kind of cool to do both. So most of us are familiar with iambic pentameter. You hear that in Shakespeare, my mistress eyes are nothing like the sun, or Elizabeth Barrett Browning - how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. So the iam is that combination of unstressed and stressed syllables. So da-da - da-da, da-da, da-da, da-da, da-da. So that would be iambic pentameter when you have five of those pairs. Tetrameter is simply four of those pairs.


BASS: So you'll hear the rhythm - da-da, da-da, da-da, da-da. OK, and here we go. To tweet, to sing, to send out sound, napomo, to write, each day, to read, to meet, retweet, to wit, to spring, to hash, to tag, to play.

MARTIN: I love it. Thank you. That was Holly Bass. She is a writer and a poet. And she was kind enough to join us once again in our Washington, D.C. studios. Holly Bass, thank you so much for joining us.

BASS: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: We still want to hear from you. Tweet us your poems. They have to be 140 characters or less. Use the hashtag #TMMPoetry.

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