Current Weather
The Spy FM

NewsPoet: Monica Youn Writes The Day In Verse

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
April 27, 2012

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.

The series has included Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy K. Smith, Craig Morgan Teicher and Kevin Young.

Today, poet Monica Youn brings us the news in verse. Her second collection, Ignatz, a series of poems loosely based on the Krazy Kat comic strip of the 1920s-’30s, was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2010. Youn is also a lawyer and a Brennan Center Constitutional Fellow at NYU School of Law, where she focuses on election law and First Amendment issues.

Monica Youn sat down with Melissa Block to talk about her double life as a lawyer and poet, and her time spent with NPR’s All Things Considered. She told Block that her two worlds don’t often collide. “I use one form of work as a vacation from the other form of work,” she said.

In fact, there was a point in her life when she leaned toward doing poetry exclusively. But not practicing law was tough. “I missed the intellectual rigor,” she explained. “Poetry is rigorous, but in a very different way.”

Now she does both. But even though Youn is accustomed to the fast-paced life of a lawyer, writing a poem quickly presented a new kind of challenge. She called it “one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” explaining that although she is attuned to news and politics, this assignment forced her to use the other half of her brain — the part usually reserved for isolated contemplation. “It was like trying to draw a picture with the wrong hand,” she said.

The end result was a villanelle. Youn said she chose the form, which calls for lines that repeat throughout the poem, because it allowed her to make connections between the different stories she was hearing.

One of Youn’s repeating lines refers to the day as “a net of twenty four knots.” She said it was inspired by the story of a blind Chinese activist who had escaped house arrest, unnoticed by the 24 guards stationed outside. But the symbolism didn’t end there. “I was also thinking of the constraints of the 24-hour news cycle,” said Youn, “and of my own self-pitying constraints of trying to write this poem on this schedule.”

Usually when writing, “I think of it as supersaturating a solution,” said Young. “You just keep adding things into the beaker until something crystallizes.” But today there wasn’t time for that. “I think this is the fastest I’ve ever tried to write a poem,” she said.

In the end, she was happy with how it turned out. “I might sub in some things. I was relying too heavily on the online rhyming dictionary,” she laughed. But “I’m happy with the overall theme of surveillance, entrapment and fear.”

24

by MONICA YOUN

Fear is the coin dropping into its slot;two dollars fall to the liquor shop floor.The day is a net of twenty four knots.

A modestly veiled woman poses no threat,but the veil truly masks a thief’s face and hairFear is the coin dropping into its slot.

300 Priuses that someone forgotvoluptuously rust in the Miami air.The day is a net of twenty four knots.

The primary insight of Keynesian thought:the way out of debt is for us to spend more.Fear is the coin dropping into its slot.

A lawsuit, foreclosure, inescapable debtis the price of a new mother’s prenatal careThe day is a net of twenty four knots.

A blind man trapped in a ring of perpetual lightslips the noose, vanishes into the glare.Fear is the coin dropping into its slot.The day is a net of twenty four knots.

All Things Considered’s NewsPoet is produced and edited by Ellen Silva with production assistance from Rose Friedman. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

Leave a Reply

12AM to 5AM The Spy

The Spy

An eclectic mix of the Spy's library of more than 10,000 songs curated by Ferris O'Brien.

Listen Live Now!

5AM to 9AM Morning Edition

Morning Edition

For more than two decades, NPR's Morning Edition has prepared listeners for the day ahead with two hours of up-to-the-minute news, background analysis, commentary, and coverage of arts and sports.

View the program guide!

9AM to 10AM The Takeaway

The Takeaway

A fresh alternative in morning news, "The Takeaway" provides a breadth and depth of world, national and regional news coverage that is unprecedented in public media.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center