NewsPoet: Carmen Gimenez Smith's Day In Verse
Today at All Things Considered, we continue a project we're calling NewsPoet. Each month, we bring in a poet to spend time in the newsroom — and at the end of the day, to compose a poem reflecting on the day's stories.
Today, poet Carmen Gimenez Smith brings us the news in verse. She is the editor-in-chief of the literary journal Puerto del Sol and the publisher of Noemi Press. Her poetry collections include Goodbye, Flicker; The City She Was; and Odalisque in Pieces. She is also the author of the memoir Bring Down the Little Birds, and she teaches creative writing at New Mexico State University.
Carmen Gimenez Smith sat down with Audie Cornish to talk about her day spent with NPR's All Things Considered. She told Cornish that she was preoccupied with the death of Bee Gees member Robin Gibb. "I came in with that in mind," she said.
After observing the morning news meeting, Smith immersed herself in the stories that would air on All Things Considered — many were still in their planning stages.
Much of Smith's own planning was in figuring out what kind of poem to write — eventually settling on an elegy. "I decided to use Frank O'Hara's poem "The Day Lady Died" as a backdrop for the other work that I wanted to get done in the poem," Smith explained.
In order to do that, she examined the O'Hara poem closely. "I thought about the sentences and the music of it," she said, "and I applied the language and the ideas that I heard in the newsroom." In combining the different news items of the day, Smith joked — "I made them into a little mutant."
When asked if the process was difficult, Smith said that starting was the hardest part. "I just worked on the first stanza over and over again, and got a rhythm and a music going." After that, the rest came more easily.
It helped to have the O'Hara poem to work from. "The energy and the themes guided me," Smith said.
All Things Considered's NewsPoet is produced and edited by Ellen Silva with production assistance from Rose Friedman.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Finally, this hour, an artistic take on today's news. Each month, we invite a poet to spend a day here at ALL THINGS CONSIDERED and then give us a poet's eye view of the day's top stories. And today, we're joined by Carmen Gimenez Smith. She's based in New Mexico, and her latest poetry collection is called "Goodbye, Flicker." Welcome to the show, Carmen.
CARMEN GIMENEZ SMITH: Thank you.
CORNISH: So what was this like, this task, today? How did you sort of figure out what ideas to pluck from the ether, from our meeting?
SMITH: Well, I was a little preoccupied about the death of Robin Gibb, and so I came in with that in mind, and I listened to all of the stories. And because this is an occasional poem, I thought that an elegy would be perfect for that, and so I decided to use Frank O'Hara's poem "The Day Lady Died" as a backdrop to the other work that I wanted to get done in the poem.
CORNISH: What's the definition of an occasional poem?
SMITH: A poem that's written on an occasion for like a wedding or a funeral or, I think, Calvin Trillin wrote - he called it "Deadline Poet." He wrote weekly poems for The Nation, so just poems on demand.
CORNISH: And what were the things that - did you find you had many drafts, or sort of - how did you - what was the process like?
SMITH: I basically took the Frank O'Hara poem and thought about the sentences and the music of it and just kind of applied the language and the ideas that I heard in the newsroom. And so I just kind of made them into a little mutant.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
SMITH: And I just worked on the first stanza over and over again, and I got a rhythm and a music going. And then I wrote the rest of the poem a little bit more easily because I had that sound and that concept that emerged from the first stanza. But I also really used the energy and the themes of the original poem to help guide me.
CORNISH: So let's take a listen to your poem. It's called "The Day Disco Died."
SMITH: (Reading) It is 12:15 in Washington, D.C.; a Monday; the day after an earthquake in Italy. And I'm listening to "I Feel Love," the song Bryan Ferry said would change music for good. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: It was Brian Eno who commented on the song "I Feel Love," and his actual quote was that it was "the future of music."] In Afghanistan, a Marine sergeant tweets about boredom and generators from a gritty keyboard in Combat Outpost Marjah. I conjure up the unrelenting sand he describes in 140 characters while a new Barnard B.A. strategizes her type of rekindling and a poli-sci grad at Liberty types up an op-ed on Romney and values, and stories get made this way, then taken down. Just as quickly, the imprint of one, a ghost in the other, the way Harvard links two opponents, the way a fracture is also a seam.
(Reading) Songs about rivers inflect an Italian art revolution against austerity, or we're forces multiplied both in the streets of Chicago or in the alliances of nations. Or we once listened to a soundtrack in falsetto that sounded like the end of the past and also the future as our parents waited hours for gas, but still danced to these new thumps in the analog network we made of our lives then, except that time or history whispered their own songs along the keyboard and pushed us into the tangle of before, and the web of last where everyone and I are still that held breath, made sharp and vital harmony.
CORNISH: Carmen Gimenez Smith, today's NewsPoet, thank you so much.
SMITH: Thank you.
CORNISH: In addition to her poetry, Carmen Gimenez Smith has also written a memoir called "Bring Down the Little Birds." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.