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For National Poetry Month, in April I produced a series of stories on The Takeaway highlighting poems submitted by listeners around the country. The project grew out of the #ThisIsWhere poetry contest WLRN and O Miami held this month for south Floridians; The Takeaway expanded the call for submissions to include listeners around the country, inviting listeners to send us their poems the places that really matter to them.

New Jersey listener Jane Byron described moving to Camden as a young single mom with a dream of revitalizing the city.   Worcester, Massachusetts resident Augustine Kanjia wrote about the love he discovered for the city that welcomed him in  after he fled war-torn Sierra Leone.   A poem from Cathy Wells of east Texas paid tribute to the family land her parents purchased, cleared, and settled together.  And in Miami, WLRN listener Eduardo Lis wrote about finding freedom and solace on North Beach as a new immigrant  with not much more than a Walgreen’s bathing suit to his name.  Hear their stories at: http://www.thetakeaway.org/series/thisiswhere/.

 

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Screen Shot 2014-03-11 at 12.30.56 AMA little bit of everything in this week’s all-star line-up– grifters, gold-diggers, and Kool and the Gang. As usual, full reviews at The Daily Beast.  Bonus: Hear Hisham Aidi talking about Rebel Music (and take a listen to some of the music he describes) over at The Takeaway.

selfieIn early October, The Takeaway explored the possibility of doing a story about The National #Selfie Portrait Gallery.  Suspecting that our host would be more than a bit skeptical about the premise of the segment, I spent some time reading up.

We ultimately scrapped the segment but on Tuesday when Oxford Dictionaries named “selfie” 2013’s Word of the Year, it was time to return to the topic.   Writer Casey Cep gave Takeaway guest host Anna Sale a lot to chew on in her radio interview. To round things out I blogged about the selfie think-piece and my own relationship with the selfie for On the Media’s TLDR:

I fall into the selfie-averse crowd.  I’ve tried, but I can’t figure out the right angle at which to position my camera or the best way to purse my lips.  At selfie-range, I don’t recognize—or particularly like—my own features.  I’d like to think my selfie-allergy is a symptom of humility but writer Brian Droitcour might interpret it differently.  “The real narcissists are the ones who never take selfies,” Droitcour argues. “They imagine their self as autonomous, hermetic—too precious to be shared.”

Writing the post was fun; seeing the reaction to the piece on social media has been even more fun. Turns out people have strong feelings about selfies– and about my big cat shirt.

(This photo, by the way, was taken a few hours before my bachelorette party in response to inquiries about my level of excitement.  I was very excited.)

In fifth grade, four of my classmates and I tested out of elementary school math.  Instead of one more year of long division, every day during recess we marched ourselves across the muddy field separating the elementary and middle school and entered a strange land of lockers, period bells, puberty, and pre-algebra.

One day, while sitting in the back of Mrs. Lambiotte’s classroom (the back of the room, I discovered, was the best place for witnessing the novel hormonal mayhem of a seventh grade classroom — and also for finding the kinds of students who didn’t mind talking to a 10-year-old), I chewed a little too hard on my red pen.  A bitter taste erupted in my mouth; within moments, my jaw was covered in red ink. I fled to the bathroom.

This is a story that could’ve easily ended in tears and a lifelong loathing of math.  Instead, after some quality time with the faucet, I skulked back to Mrs. Lambiotte’s class, where after a mild ribbing, my spectacle was forgotten as my classmates got back to business of being twelve and thirteen-year-olds — trading moony glances, tightly folded notes, spitballs, and the like.

I lucked out that day.  But when I think about how scary school — and math in particular — has a potential to be, I think about the flash of terror that descended when I realized that I’d eaten open my pen, underscoring my presence as the classroom freak for once and for all in a burst of bright red ink across my face.

Everything that’s awkward about school is multiplied in the math classroom.  That’s why I was particularly excited to explore the topic of “math anxiety” last week — through an interview with Dr. Rose Vukovic, professor of teaching and learning at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and in a visit to MoMath, the National Museum of Mathematics in Manhattan.  Listen to the piece that resulted here.

When I was in Florida for the Miami Book Fair this past November, I got the chance to see The Takeaway’s Miami affiliate, WLRN, launch a cool crowd-sourced short story project on Twitter.  They recruited Junot Diaz to supply their story with an opening line, sent it out over Twitter, and then watched as listeners pieced together a narrative. It was a real, live, many-headed story — messy but compelling.

Inspired by WLRN’s success, last week, my WNYC colleagues and I decided to attempt a similar project– this time with poetry rather than prose.

The inauguration provided a theme.  The Takeaway invited poet Kwame Dawes to kick things off with a discussion of inaugural poetry last Wednesday.  In that interview, Dawes presented the first (original) line for what would become our crowd-sourced poem:  Say nation. In the wake of quarrels, say hope. We Tweeted out the line and asked listeners to follow up with subsequent lines of their own using the hashtag #prezpoem.

Almost immediately, the lines started pouring in.  By the end of the week, we’d recieved hundreds of Tweets.  On Friday, Dawes returned to the program to survey the lines– and to share the poem he’d assembled from them.  (He was joined by poet Elizabeth Alexander, who delivered the 2009 inaugural poem —  and who had some very smart things to say about poetry and politics.  Hear their whole interview here.)

But it didn’t stop there.  For me, the best part of the project was the grand finale, which aired this morning.  After picking out a couple dozen of the strongest Tweets, I asked their authors to send audio of themselves reading their line (plus a few stanzas before and after). Piecing together the lines with the help of The Takeaway’s resident audio wizard Jay Cowit, a gorgeous audio poetry mash-up emerged.

This is what audio of the final poem sounded like.  And this is what the final text of the poem looked like:

A People’s Poem for the Inauguration

Say “nation.” In the wake of quarrels, say “hope.”
Be not divisive nor divided.

Say “neighbor.” Say, “What can I do?”
Doors open. Together walk through.
In the hurly-burly of the day’s governing
remember the freedom of peace.

At the dawn of uncertain tomorrows, say “change.”
While darkness floods our spirit, say “light” and shatter
all our scattering shadows.

Dream, “neighbor.” In the face of fear, sing, “mercy.”
Hear unity from voices that speak.

Say that freedom, both the blessing and right,
remain the provenance of open minds.
Acknowledge the dreams that birthed a great nation — say “freedom.”
Speak it into action and watch our dreams reshape the future.

And heart in hand, for the sake of the young,
of the old,
of all those who
wade thru injustice’s tide, say “freedom.”

Say and shout and sing! Progress is a storm and our voices the thunder.

Say “peace” for the hearts of a nation’s people, in times of grief.
Say one, say all. To abandon hope is to further the fall
Say “take my hand” to the downtrodden, the lost.
Sing harmonies that blend in a spectrum of love.

In the dark of failures, say “try”; encourage, persist to light.
Say friend, my hand for your strength, your eyes for my light as we forward together.
Say hope is ours.
Wash away morose pessimism and the failings of the nascent.
Remember our virtue; remember our lofty intent.
In the wake of the struggle, speak, so that together we all may speak courage.

Say “hope,” eyes turned not to the gauzy sky
nor to the brassy gates of power
but to the frost-bitten grass beneath our feet.

I need to hear, again, those antiquated words
in this new light.

Picture 2The big think author panels The Takeaway did at the Miami Book Fair on death and love finally aired on Thursday and Friday and are now all online. At http://www.thetakeaway.org/loveanddeath/ there’s a neat little interactive with short bios with mini audio clips for everyone.

From top left to right: Benjamin Busch (Dust to Dust), Carol Blue (the afterward to Mortality), Deni Bechard (Cures for Hunger), Judy Goldman (Losing My Sister) and Susannah Cahalan (Brain on Fire) talked about death.

In the bottom row, left to right: Chris Beha (What Happened to Sophie Wilder), Jami Attenberg (The Middlesteins), Nina Revoyr (Wingshooter), Robert Goolrick (Heading Out to Wonderful) and Scott Hutchins (A Working Theory of Love) came together for a conversation about love.