How I Read a Poem

I’ve written before on how to to write a poem. Followed by how to truly write a poem – study Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook and then practice.

But reading a poem is a whole different pack of monkeys.

I developed this weird method to help me absorb the poems I read. It slows me down, so I don’t rocket through the lines. The aim is to bury the verses in my subconscious.

See if it works for you.


First I read the poem to myself. From the first verse to the last, all the way through.

Then I’ll read the poem from the end to the beginning. I read line by line, from the final verse, back up to the opener:

From Over the Fence, Emily Dickinson

Reading it backwards is like reverse engineering. It helps me see the poem’s structure. How each verse builds up to the final one.

After that, I’ll read the poem beginning to end again, but this time out loud.

Reading out loud helps you find the poem’s rhythm. I’m sure there’s things like meter and tone involved as well, but I won’t pretend to know how.

Then I’ll read the poem in reverse order again. But this time in full blocks. Starting from the bottom of the poem to the top:

From Again his voice is at the door, Emily Dickinson

While reading I’ll keep a pencil close. If the poem rhymes I search for the rhyming pattern by underlining all the rhyming words.

From Again his voice is at the door, Emily Dickinson

Once finished, I’ll log the date, author, and name of the poem in my steno book. Keeping a record gives me a sense of progress.

It’s a practice I stole the from director Steven Soderbergh who publishes a yearly log of what he’s watched, read, and listened to, on his site.

This how I read a poem. You may read a poem once and bin it. And that works too.

Who we all want to be: Our imaginary-self.

Deep roots

We all have that ideal person we want to be.

That imaginary, idealized person who drifts into our daydreams during a Wednesday afternoon budget meeting.

This imaginary-self is usually a mix of various people you admire. And everyone’s imaginary- self is different.

Some are a cross of Conan O’ Brian, Beyoncé and Martha Stewart.

For others it’s a mix of Joe Rogan, Bill Gates and Morgan Freeman.

And for others it’s part Frank Lloyd Wright, part Tony Bennett and part Jane Austin.

But my imaginary, idealized person? My imaginary-self?

A bear.

Robert Macfarlane describes him with incredible detail in his book Underland: A Deep Time Journey

There is something of the polar bear to Bjørnar: there in his powerful physique, his heftedness to the north, those white eyes, and of course in his name: Bjørnar, the Bear, from the Old Norse bjørn. He is an intense, intelligent presence; a person you would want fighting for you and would dread as an enemy. He is not without self-regard, but I do not begrudge him that.

There is also a strong mystical streak to Bjørnar: unexpected perhaps, in a man whose working life compels him daily to such pragmatism and self-reliance. But – as I will learn – Bjørnar looks often through things: hard into them and right through them with those pale eyes of his. He looks through people, through bullshit, and the through the surface of the sea.

Robert Macfarlane, Underland: A Deep Time Journey, pg 292-293, Chapter: The Edge.

A heftedness to the north.

A powerful physique.

The ability to look through the surface of the sea.

Add relentless, creative, box-to-box midfielder to the list and my imaginary-self’s profile is complete.

What traits does your imaginary-self possess?

And now some:

Wordsmithing –

Heft - n. chiefly N. Amer. 1 weight. 2 Ability or influence. 
Origin ME: prob. from HEAVE , on the pattern of words such as cleft and weft.

Forgotten Photojournalists: Robert Capa

Eyes of the World winked at me from the top shelf.

On the cover, Robert Capa was rockin’ a knit tie, Gerda a beret. I didn’t know who they were, but I knew they were special. I turned to chapter one and gave the first sentence a read:

As Robert Capa tells it: A metal ramp cranks open and lands with a splashing thud. Chilly dawn fog rushes into the craft where thirty soldiers sit shivering, crouched on benches. The floor sways, slick with vomit; the seas have been rough.

Reading that first sentence I realized, pictures of D-Day are so ubiquitous I never asked the question: Who took those photographs?

It’s easy to forget that amongst the soldiers, bullets, and death, were photographers like Robert Capa on the ground. Pioneers documenting war in a brave new way.

Forgotten Photojournalists: Gerda Taro

Gerda putting in work

Before reading Eyes of the World: Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, and the Invention of Modern Photojournalism, I’d never had an interest in photojournalism or photography. Photography was my fathers thing. Not mine.

I’d never read about Robert or Gerda in a text book. Or heard their names in a history lecture. No mention of them in photography class. Hell, Amazon didn’t even list the book in my recommendations.

But Gerda’s story is irresistible, as Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos‘ book proves. The story is a mix of art, love, and living for something beyond yourself. Of stepping forward even when all is unknown. Gerda and Robert’s photography helped usher in a new form of journalism – photojournalism.

But before she became a pioneer, Gerda, then named Gerta Pohorylle, was a Jewish refugee struggling to adapt to life in Paris. Managing the demands of a starting a career. Navigating falling in love. And resisting the rise of fascism in Europe at that time.

As Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos write of Gerda’s early time in Paris:

For a brief while, she and Ruth roomed with Fred Stein and his wife, Liselotte, who had an enormous apartment with extra bedrooms. Fred had originally studied to be a lawyer in Berlin, but when he was unable to practice under Nazi law, he too picked up a camera and was making a go of it professionally.

What good parties they all had there – putting colored bulbs in the lamps, dancing! Fred snapped pictures of Gerta, mugging away. Yes, being poor, a stranger in a strange city, was awful, but to have the solace of friends, all in the same situation, made it easier. Maybe that’s why, as Ruth put it, “we were all of the Left.” That is, they belonged to a loose collection of groups opposed to fascism and in favor of workers’ rights.

Gerta was never exactly a joiner. Her sympathies, her ideas, came from her years in Leipzig. She hated the Nazis and knew how dangerous it was becoming for her family. But she wasn’t one of those who debated every political point. She wasn’t part of the Communist Party, which took its direction from the Soviet Union. But she did care about social issues, about the future ahead. They all did.

For now, there was food and coffee at the Café du Dôme and talk with friends. And photographs. Above all, photographs.

Eyes of the World is an underrated gem. A historic and important book that belongs on the shelf of every historian, photographer, professor, and curious and wonderful soul out there.

The Manual for Civilization: a curation of books for our future

The Long Now Foundation has scrambled up the the idea of a reading list.

Instead of the typical what we’re reading now list. Or, our favorite summer reads list. They’ve asked us to imagine reading beyond our lifetimes by posing the question:

What Books Would You Choose to Restart Civilization?

With the the goal of:

Gathering essential books and democratizing human knowledge for future generations.

It’s ambitious. It’s thoughtful. It’s called:

The Manual For Civilization.

There have been 11 contributors to date, but Kevin Kelly’s list via Medium introduced me to the project.

Kevin, the author of the Inevitable, and host of the stupid-dope-fresh podcast Cool Tools, assembled a list of nearly 200 tomes.

Below are three titles from Kevin’s list that piqued my immediate interest.

The Manual for Civilization has me meditating on this idea of a reading list for the future. I’m asking myself:

What books would I select, and why? 
Which books would a scholar or intellectual from an eastern culture select?
Which books would you select?

Check out Kevin’s list in full here, and the rest of the contributors here.

Pep Guardiola’s Bundesliga Lessons

To mark the opening of weekend of the Bundesliga, we’re posting 5 Pep Guardiola Bundesliga values:

1: COUNTER-ATTACKS
He has sometimes branded it the Bundesliga-counter, based on the efficacy and speed of the counters he has had to plan for. The efficacy, particularly, has fascinated him. And he’s loved it when Bayern have been capable of employing it themselves. Nevertheless, one of the great tasks of his season has been working out how to counter the counter.

2: AERIAL PLAY – OFFENSIVE AND DEFENSIVE STRATEGIES

The physical qualities of the players in German football make aerial tactics essential, both from set plays and open play. His Barca team was full of little guys, but Bayern have height and this has meant a new coaching approach to the strategy of the aerial ball.

3: AGGRESSIVE PRESSING

Against the power of Bundesliga counter-attack, it’s vital to have a high, effective and aggressive pressing game – particularly if Bayern lose the ball high up the pitch. It was a tactic at Barcelona, but in Munich the coach has needed to augment the collective aggression and intensity of this action.

4: DOUBLE PIVOTE

Although he’s been the flag bearer for using just one organizational midfielder throughout his coaching career, Pep has accepted the need to renounce this commandment on occasion, if it will bring an improvement in his team’s midfield play. He will often ignore the single-pivote concept in the latter part of this season.

5: WIDTH

At Barca, the ball was played wide with pretty much the sole intention of distracting and confusing the opposition so that it could then be slotted back into the inside-forward positions in and around the box, in search of the breakthrough pass or a shot on goal. At Bayern, with the two full-backs often pushed up, it becomes essential for the wingers to maintain width.

It’s easy to perceive Pep Guardiola as an idealist. A man hell bent on keeping the virtues of some ancient possession football manifesto. But Martí Perarnau’s book Pep Confidential reveals an adaptable coach. A man who’s open to new ideas that a different football culture presents.

Drawing with Adam Savage

Chapter 6 from Adam Savage’s new book Every Tool’s a Hammer ripped me in by the necktie.

I knew Adam would talk about screws and cardboard. I knew there would be tips on organizing your workspace. But an entire chapter on how drawing will transform your critical thinking?

I’m in.

First Adam reminds us, despite all of the planning technologies that exist, a piece of paper and pencil are still formidable planning tools:

Today, the maker space is not lacking in planning tools. There are software and mobile apps and various mechanical apparatus, and they all work the way they’re designed, but none of them seem to do what a simple pencil and piece of paper can. Because unlike those other methods, drawing out your idea shares the physical, tactile character of the building and making it is meant to precede and facilitate. Drawing is your brain transferring your idea, your knowledge, your intentions, from the electrical storm cloud at its center, through the synapses and nerve endings, through the pencil in your hand, through your fingers, until it is captured in the permanence of the page, in physical space. It is, I have come to appreciate, a fundamental act of creation.

Then fellow maker savant Gever Tulley provides a solution to the timeless excuse I can’t draw:

“The pushback I often get is, ‘I don’t know how to draw,’ and my response is ‘Well, how about you go home and spend the summer drawing every day and then we’ll talk about it in the fall when you show me your notebook,” Gever said, rightfully indignant. “Because we know that practice can move your mark making over to something more precise and controllable.”

Adam explains how drawing works as a translation tool:

From a planning perspective-whether it’s for current or future projects-I look at drawing as a translation tool from my brain to the physical world, where I have frequently found words wanting in the explanation of complex objects and operations, which, of course, is the entire purpose of every plan ever made. What is a plan if it isn’t helping you understand what you’re building and how you’re supposed to build it?

Adam also uses drawing to topple creative blocks:

I frequently use drawing as a tool or a technique to break through that dam. Drawing always gives me a new vantage point on the project and allows me to see the thing I’m building with enough distance to identify the next step more clearly. In that regard it’s almost immaterial what I draw. I might draw some reference pictures for a collaborator to understand what I need from their contribution, or to see where their contribution fits in the wider picture. I might draw some mechanical subassemblies that are kicking my ass. I might re-draw the item I’m making for fun, just to stay inside the construction in my head. I might draw a case for an object, or a case I’d like to build for it when it’s done. Sometimes the exercise of thinking about what might contain the thing I’m working on can help me define better what it is I’m actually building and help illuminate what has me stuck. It’s all information. A conversation between my brain and my hands.

And shares his drawing inspirations:

I draw inspiration from the drawings of others. I never tire of poring over the drawings and graphic novels of Moebius, for instance. I get a lot out of looking at Ridley Scott’s storyboards (he’s a wonderful draftsman). Since I was a kid I loved all those old drawings from the mid-century issues of Popular Mechanics. Something about their clean lines and multidimensionality and the way the artists kept all the pieces separate yet constantly oriented to each other, spoke directly to how my brain looks at ideas.

Remember young ones:

You don’t have to be great with a pencil for this to work. Like I’ve said, I’ve never considered myself particularly good at drawing. For the longest time it never felt like the line did what I wanted it to do, yet I continued to draw. One, because it continued to be useful, and two, because it clearly helped me get better at communicating my ideas more precisely.

Enough reading about drawing. Grab a stack of paper and draw.

Whales on Stilts! – A fun, thrill packed adventure tale…

BY JACK F.

This was fun.

I met Whales on Stilts! in a used book store and fate took it from the there.

Real talk, author M.T. Anderson sprinkled in all the essential storytelling spices and herbs, including words like:

cada man who behaves dishonourably, especially towards women.

vestibulean antechamber or hall just inside the outer door of a building.

cetaceanan order of marine mammals comprising the whales, dolphins, and porpoises.

sinister – suggestive of evil or harm.

(you’re welcome for that jump in your SAT scores)

dialogue that burns with Shakespearean fire:

“I am cleverly disguised,” he explained, “as the photocopier repairman of the future, when man, through his ingenuity, will conquer even the farthest reaches of space, and need to make duplicates of things.”

– Jasper

“Everyone wants to get back to the place the know best,” said Lily’s grandmother. “When you are old, though, sometimes that place is not just far away on the map but far away in time. How do you get home, then when home is in another era?”

– Lily’s grandmother

thrilling 5 fisted action:

Cars were stopped in the middle of roads so people could run into discount clothing stores. Smoke was pouring out of the gas station. A pop machine had ruptured; dogs licked up Dr. Pepper from the pavement.

And somewhere in all of that chaos, Lily’s grandmother lived.

and all the 3,000 leagues below the Mariana Trench deep stuff:

A whale. It was a whale, a walking whale on stilts, with deadly laser-beam eyes. Her grandpa had always said this time would come.

M.T. had me turning pages, underlining bits of dialogue, and writing back at him in the margins.

Whales on Stilts! is a worthy read. You’ll laugh from your belly, and cry from your ears – and isn’t that all we want from a book?

Hitchcock/Truffaut pg. 16

To reproach Hitchcock for specializing in suspense is to accuse him of being the least boring of filmmakers; it is also tantamount to blaming a lover who instead of concentrating on his own pleasure insists on sharing it with his partner. The nature of Hitchcock’s cinema is to absorb the audience so completely that the Arab viewer will forget to shell his peanuts, the Frenchman will ignore the girl in the next seat, the Italian will suspend his chain smoking, the compulsive cougher will refrain from coughing, and the Swedes will interrupt their love-making in the aisles.

– François Truffaut

From: Hitchcock/Truffaut (Revised Edition) by, François Truffaut

The introduction alone makes Hitchcock/Truffaut worthy of a place in your personal library. Plenty of ideas and tips to inspire writers and filmmakers alike.

Futsal – The Adaptation Game

I have futsal on the mind.

A few passages from Alex Bellos’ book – Futebol The Brazilian Way of Life reminded me how futsal is a game of adaptation.

It’s manner of play certainly – the constant dribbles with the sole. Toe pokes to shoot, all marks of players adapting to futsal’s confined space. But this thread of adaptation exists in futsal’s origins too.

Alex Bellos explains how the challenges of nature and infrastructure created “drawing room” football:

The difficulty of maintaining full-sized grass football pitches in a tropical, developing country – the cost, the climate and the lack of urban space – has led to the sport being adapted to whichever terrain is available. The incessant modification of football is also the result of a society which is not hung up about changing rules.

Futsal also went through some peculiar rule experiments:

In some games, futsal players were not allowed to speak. Any utterance would result in a foul. Fans too, for a short period, were not allowed to make any noise. But the silliest rule stipulated that players were not allowed to play the ball while a hand was touching the floor. This meant that if someone was knocked over, or tripped up, he would avoid using his hand for support – since this would rule him out of play.

Futsal of yesteryear resembles backyard games you’d make up with your boys on a boring summer afternoon. A football version of Calvinball.

Even the most successful futsal region can be seen as an adaptive response to its circumstances.

The northern Brazilian state Ceará, dominated the Brazilian futsal scene for years, based on a lack of top flight, 11-a-side football:

A peculiarity of Brazilian futsal is the dominance of Ceará, a state in the northeast better known for untouched beaches, cowboys, Catholic pilgrims and droughts. It’s capital, Fortaleza, is the only one of Brazil’s eight largest cities that does not have at least two football teams that regularly play in the top division. Perhaps because of this, Ceará has put its energies into Futsal. Ceará is the state with the largest number of victories in futsal’s Brazil Cup. ‘I think futsal fitted us like a glove. The Cearenese is irreverent, he’s not interested in tactical systems, he likes messing about,’ adds Vicente Figueiredo. ‘Here people are more interested in futsal than football. All the big futsal clubs in Brazil always have a Cearenese in the team.’

Reading these few passages, it almost feels like futsal, not football, is Brazil’s national sport. The root elite Brazilian footballers grow from.