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Herrick backdates emoticons to 1648?
April 16, 2014 | 12:25 pm

Robert_Herrick_HesperidesWhile attending the WCF Davos Forum in March, I was lucky enough to attend a presentation by Scott E. Fahlman, widely hailed as "father of the first smiley emoticon in 1982." As it happens, though, there have been other challengers to that claim - the New York Times once ran a story citing an excerpt from an Abraham Lincoln speech in 1862 that may have had a smiley inserted. Now, though, writer and editor Levi Stahl claims he may have discovered one of the earliest emoticons of all - a line in the poem "To Fortune" by 17th-century English poet...

Jimmy Carter endorses grant to Dylan Thomas Centre
April 10, 2014 | 4:37 pm

DSC_3730aIn the centenary year of his birth on October 27th, 1914, great Welsh poet Dylan Thomas is to be recognized with a grant of almost £1 million ($1.68 million) from the UK's Heritage Lottery Fund to further develop the Dylan Thomas Centre in his home city of Swansea, according to advance reports from The Guardian. The move has been praised by ex-U.S. president Jimmy Carter, who has cultivated a long-standing enthusiasm for the poet. "I have continuously advocated the importance of commemorating his life and work," said Carter, as quoted by The Guardian. "It is great to see that this funding...

For Burns Night, the online heritage of Robert Burns
January 25, 2014 | 10:00 am

Scotland has one up on its southern neighbor a matter that says a lot about the current struggles over British identity - a national day and a national hero who is also its national bard. That gives a unity of expression to Scottish nationhood that in England is too diffuse: no one can likely remember offhand the English national day, while Burns Night is known worldwide. Yet like his near contemporary William Blake, born just two years before, Robert Burns (January 25th, 1759 – July 21st, 1796) developed his muse in poor surroundings to become an embodiment of national sentiment, with verse...

Mark Grist wants ‘Girls Who Read’
November 19, 2013 | 10:25 am

What do you look for in a woman? Mark Grist has something to say about it. According to him, it doesn’t always have to about physical attributes – but, of course, those bits are nice too. Here’s a video performed by Mark Grist, who is a poet and Educational Consultant, according to his website. His newest video is titled “Girls Who Read.” Here’s an excerpt from it, but it’s worth watching: “I would like a girl who reads, who needs the written word and who uses the added vocabulary she gleams from novels and poetry to hold lively conversation in a range of social...

Pounding It Out With Ol Ez: Ezra Pound’s Birthday
October 30, 2013 | 2:25 pm

ezra poundOctober 30th marks the birth of Ezra Pound (1885-1972), one of those giants of 20th-century literature who, thanks to the same quirk of copyright timing that affected his contemporaries and sometimes collaborators (no, no, not that kind of collaborator ...) James Joyce and T.S. Eliot,  has a large part of his oeuvre freely available online. Project Gutenberg, to name but one source, has many of his early poems and translations, including his translations from Chinese and his apprentice masterpiece Hugh Selwyn Mauberley. The Open Library also carries numerous essays and articles. You could build entire poetic careers out of one...

The positive curative power of poetry
October 26, 2013 | 10:47 am

poetryAs a follow-up to my earlier piece on the latest neurological evidence for the actual physical effects of verse, here's a couple of items detailing further evidence of the power of poetry over the human mind. Catherine Porteus, a reader of UK live poetry platform and fan site Pass On a Poem, describes how the sound of verse enabled her to learn poetry even though she was a self-described dyslexia sufferer. And Living Words, "an arts and literature programme that uses the spoken and written word to help ...people with dementia and isolated and disempowered people," employs "poetry, personalised word books and anthologies" plus other...

Scientists show that poetry is the music of the mind
October 22, 2013 | 10:29 am

poetryClaims by generations of poets, critics and readers that poetry shares the power of music to directly affect our emotions and feelings have been given some substance by researchers at the UK's University of Exeter, as reported by the University itself and retweeted by the UK Poetry Society. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), Professor Adam Zeman, a cognitive neurologist from the University of Exeter Medical School, led a cross-disciplinary team with Psychology and English faculty members to examine which parts of the brain are triggered when readers read poetry and prose. And they found that the areas of the brain which...

UK National Poetry Day uses apps, websites to spread the poetry love
October 3, 2013 | 4:18 pm

Britain's National Poetry Day, a "a nationwide celebration of poetry" which "shakes poetry from its dust-jacket and into the nations’ streets, offices, shops, playgrounds, train stations and  airwaves," launches this year with the help of a Love Book App, available for iOS and Android for , which "presents a new anthology of timeless poems, short stories, quotes and letters, all inspired by that most noble (and most troublesome) of emotions: love." According to The Love Book app's website, the app has already had a stealth launch that went viral, and is now Number One top paid app on the iPhone App...

R.I.P. Seamus Heaney: The passing of a giant
August 30, 2013 | 12:50 pm

A few hundred words are going to be far too little to pay tribute to Seamus Heaney (April 13th, 1939 – August 30th, 2013), one of the titans of modern literature, a giant who the whole earth is too small to hold. The Irish Times' official obituary quoted Robert Lowell's judgment in calling him "the most important Irish poet since Yeats"—it might just as well have said the most important poet of the later 20th and early 21st centuries. Only his predecessor as Nobel Prize for Literature holder Pablo Neruda rivaled him in popularity, and arguably never surpassed him in moral stature. We...

Poetry gets serious support in Scotland as Edwin Morgan Poetry Award launched
August 21, 2013 | 9:48 am

Scotland is a nation that takes poetry seriously—its national day, after all, honors Robert Burns. How seriously? Take the new Edwin Morgan Poetry Award, launched this weekend at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and worth £20,000 ($31,300). The new award, as the official release makes clear, "is the result of a bequest by the late Scottish Makar, Edwin Morgan (1920-2010), and a Trust has been established in his name to administer the award and further promote poetry in Scotland." The first modern Scots Makar (Scotland's Poet Laureate), Morgan inherited substantial investments from his parents, which grew still further in the hands of his retained advisors. One...

Dylan Thomas: The words set free
August 10, 2013 | 8:00 am

Dylan Thomas (1914-53), whose centenary is this year, lived for only 39 years, but by a lucky accident of timing and copyright, his early death at least ensured that, unlike his near contemporary W. H. Auden (born 1907), his most important and best-loved work is available for free online - in Australia. And in practice, that means to all of us. As Thomas writes in his 1952 foreword to the edition of his "Collected Poems, 1934-1952" available on the Project Gutenberg of Australia website: "This book contains most of the poems I have written, and all, up to the present year,...

Happy birthday, Philip Larkin: If “books are a load of crap,” what does that make you?
August 9, 2013 | 1:00 pm

Fresh from the gratis delights of Dylan Thomas, free as a bird on the Project Gutenberg Australia website, I was dragged down to the level of Philip Larkin. For, as one of the best British poetry Twitter feeds reminded me, "on this day in 1922, Phlip Larkin was born...." That little spelling error is as flip as any of the offhand, ironic, self-depreciating, other-depreciating, self-maiming throwaways that Larkin threw out in his long career as poet, novelist, professional librarian, curmudgeon, and possibly one of the most pernicious influences on British letters of his times. (If, that is, he influenced many...