Brian Spears

Poet, Editor, Teacher, Blogger.

A New Poetry App for the iPhone

Currently, on my iPhone, I have the following poetry-related apps: Vogon Poetry, Poem Flow (reviewed here), iPhrase (like magnetic poetry), WGBH Poetry (videos mostly), multiple e-reader programs, and now, the app from the Poetry Foundation.

I’ve had the Poetry Foundation app for a few days now and I have to say it’s a fun little app as poetry apps go. The interface is unique in that it takes advantage of the motion sensors in the iPhone. You shake the phone (or press the button which says “spin”) and two bands of rectangles containing categories spin one atop the other. Once the spinning has stopped, the app generates a list of poems that coincide with that combination of categories. Here’s what it looks like:

The poems come from both the Poetry Magazine archives and from public domain poems, best as I can tell, and the interface is fun to play with. You can “share” the individual poems via Twitter, Facebook and Email, as well as favorite the ones you like best, which provides you with easy access to them later, should you wish.

You can also search for poems directly, using keyword, title or author searches, or you can browse by mood or subject. The subject groupings are: Youth, Aging, Family, Love, Nature, Spirituality, Commitment, & Work and Play. The two subjects missing, I think, are War and Death, even though there are poems in the library which would fall into both categories easily–Wilfred Owens’ “Anthem for Doomed Youth,” for instance, is in the Aging category. But that’s a minor quibble.

The failing of most poetry apps, at least from my perspective, is that they don’t expand much. Updates are sporadic, assuming they happen at all. What I hope happens with this app is that they continue to add content–new poems from the latest issues of Poetry in particular–and I wouldn’t mind if they threw in the occasional essay either, though that sort of content might require its own application.

The poetry app of my dreams is an aggregator, one that scans the web daily for new publications and then pulls them into a reader. It would need to push traffic to the online journals of origin and would have to include a way to limit the places you receive poetry from–maybe set it up so that the user gets a poem from a place and then decides whether or not to receive future updates from that journal. Swindle is a start toward that on the web, but I haven’t found anything like that for the iPhone yet.


May 20, 2010 Posted by | poetry, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

No Jealousy, Just Admiration

Don’t have time for a long post here, but I wanted to get this out there. I finished Sandra Beasley’s latest, i was the jukebox (don’t know whether to capitalize it or not), and I am in awe of it. Not that I want to ape the style or the voice, not that I look at it and think “I will never do what she does as well as she does”–just pure awe. It’s not what I do, and it’s not what I want to do, but damn, do I want to read it again. It’s easily one of the best collections I’ve read this year so far. Now I just need someone to offer to review it for The Rumpus for me.

May 9, 2010 Posted by | poetry | Leave a comment

More poetry and politics

David Biespiel’s scolding essay in the latest issue of Poetry would bug me more if its claims weren’t so easy to debunk. Many of the commenters there–and thanks to the Poetry Foundation for not closing them down the way they did the ones at Harriet–did a good job of disemboweling Biespiel’s claims by pointing to a number of contemporary poets who are doing powerful work in both the political and poetical realms.

I understand where Biespiel is coming from, though, and what his goal is (I think). He’s trying to get poets as a class to become more politically vocal, and thereby increase their exposure, and poetry’s exposure by extension. And I applaud that. Poets ought to be good communicators, given our constant work with language, even those poets for whom communication in their work is secondary (or problematic), so it makes sense that in the political arguments of the day that poets ought to be able to provide some clarity.

The thing is, though, we do. The commenters noted the political engagement of the Split This Rock festival, the writing of poet/activists like Martin Espada, Patricia Smith, Naomi Shihab Nye, Joy Harjo, Lorna Dee Cervantes & Sinan Antoon, for example (all poets of color, which doesn’t reflect well on either Biespiel or the Poetry Foundation, frankly). Poets are making their voices heard on everything from health care reform to immigration issues to war protests to even organizing relief efforts for earthquake victims–and if someone doesn’t do something for Nashville, I’ll be really surprised.

If Biespiel is looking for examples of poetic engagement with politics, I’d suggest he check into Split This Rock, journals like Guernica or Ecotone, or drop by The Rumpus sometime, where we often use our platform to bring attention to political issues. Today, for example, we ran two pieces on the immigration debate, one by me and one by Peter Orner. I won’t say he does it often, but Ron Silliman has been known to get political on his blog as well. I can see how Biespiel might miss some lesser (in reach or volume) voices, but how do you miss Silliman?

I don’t want to suggest that, on the whole, poets are manning the barricades shouting “Viva la Revolucion!” in between shifts at the sit-in and the picket line. Biespiel is right, to an extent, that the poetic conversation is insular at times, and that there’s often more concern over protecting one’s poetic turf than there is in conversing across aesthetic boundaries. That’s due, no doubt, in part to the scraps of public attention and monetary reward we’re all competing for. But we are also capable of taking part in more than one conversation, and more to the point, there’s a lot of poets writing a lot of poetry, and many of us are deeply involved in the politics of the day as well. Just get out there more, beyond the major organs of the press and dig down to the–forgive the cliché–grassroots. We’re there and we’re having an effect on the discourse, alongside the community organizers and other writers and activists.

May 6, 2010 Posted by | poetry, politics, Uncategorized | , , , | 2 Comments

Am I a feminist poet?

I’ve been a feminist for a long time now–even in my more conservative days, I was a strong supporter of equal rights for women, even though I was a bit of an ogre personally. I’ve had a long way to travel from my fundamentalist upbringing, but it’s been a good road and I’m glad I’ve walked it.

But does that necessarily make me a feminist poet? I ask this because, well, I was looking for something to blog about and I came across this piece from Femagination asking “what makes a feminist poet?” The main question that Ellen Keim, who wrote the piece, was really asking was whether a poet who didn’t identify as a feminist could be called one. Her answer is yes, and I don’t have any argument with that.

I’m more interested in the other side of it. Could someone like me, who is both a feminist and a poet, be considered a feminist poet if women’s issues aren’t a major part of my creative work? In other words, is “feminist” an adjective in this construction, or one half of a compound noun? What’s the difference? And does it really matter?

I’m not sure how much it has mattered to me so far, but that’s because there’s no social expectation that I be a feminist poet (compound noun). That’s the privilege of being a man–from a certain perspective, all I have to do is not be a misogynist, and I’ve set myself apart. Being an advocate for feminism is, by that construction, lagniappe, or gravy. And in places other than my poetry, I have been an advocate–I talked about this some in a post a couple of weeks ago. But is that enough?

I guess it depends on who’s doing the judging, and I feel uncomfortable pointing fingers at others and saying “you should be doing more” (though I am comfortable at calling out insensitive or misogynist language and actions), so I’ll just point a finger at myself and say it’s something I ought to be more aware of in my work. I don’t want to be someone who just gets credit for not being a douche–I’d rather be an anti-douche, whatever that is.

I have no idea how to do that in my poetry, by the way. Teaching, editing and reviewing? No problem. I’m responding to the creations of others. But in my poetry? If anyone has suggestions, I’m open to them.

May 3, 2010 Posted by | poetry, privilege, Uncategorized | | 1 Comment


How does one review a collected works? I’m having some problems figuring out an approach that doesn’t reduce to “do you like what so-and-so has written over the course of his/her career? Then you’ll probably like this.”

I suppose a reviewer could review the poet’s career as a whole, but that seems a daunting, if not impossible, task for an essay the length of most reviews, especially given the kind of ground that a Collected Poems tends to cover.

With a Selected Poems, the reviewer can admire or question (or both) the choices that the editor made, but even that feels, to me, like the editor is being reviewed rather than the poet (assuming the poet wasn’t involved in the intricacies of the poems being chosen). That requires a fairly extensive knowledge of the poet’s career, since one is looking at what was excluded as much as what was included, but it’s a decent way of attacking the book.

But for a Collected, I really have no idea. I don’t have one on my plate to review or anything, but I get them across my desk from time to time, and have problems getting people to take them on. Any suggestions? I’m open to anything.

May 2, 2010 Posted by | book reviews, poetry | 2 Comments

Some Post-National-Poetry-Month Thoughts

  1. I’m really proud of the selection of poems and poets I was able to gather for The Rumpus project. I got good poems from a wide variety of poets–I discussed that variety here–and had a strong month in terms of reviews and interviews as well, something I hope will carry over into the rest of the year.
  2. I had a good month creatively, and I’m not just talking about the poems I wrote for NaPoWriMo, though some of those (more than I anticipated at the start) will see further work and revision. I started a new book-length project that’s way outside my previous aesthetic and I’ve had more fun writing than I’ve had in a long time. Something I hope, again, that will carry over into the rest of the year.
  3. Oh, am I ready for summer, even though I’ll be teaching a class for the first six weeks of it.
  4. I’m really going to try to keep blogging regularly here, even though I’ve had troubles keeping it up in the past. I’ve always felt a little unsure of myself when writing about poetry issues, and while I’ve gotten better about it since I’ve been poetry editor of The Rumpus, I still have trouble coming up with topics. But I’m going to try, even though I won’t be posting a new poem every day.

May 1, 2010 Posted by | Brian Spears, National Poetry Month, poetry, The Rumpus | Leave a comment

Poetic Lives Online

Most of the excitement this week is in Denver at the AWP Conference, but there’s still plenty to talk about in poetry.

For instance, have you been keeping up with our National Poetry Month project? We’re only a third of a way through April, so there’s plenty of time to catch up on your reading.

I didn’t make it to Denver for AWP, but I followed the #AWP10 hashtag on Twitter, and it seems like the biggest hit was WILLA goes live! Wish I could have been there.

Seth Abramson pens an open letter to poets who hate the MFA. I expect this disagreement will continue for, oh, ever.

Speaking of never-ending disagreements, Harriet invited everyone back for National Poetry Month–everyone who’s been a contributor in the past, that is–and given the variety of voices they’ve hosted, there’s bound to be some fireworks. Have fun sorting it all out.

Follow me on Twitter.

April 10, 2010 Posted by | Poetic Lives Online, poetry, The Rumpus | | Leave a comment

Reading Ulysses on my phone

A year and a half ago, I openly mocked the notion of reading Ulysses on a tiny screen. At the time, I had an iTouch instead of an iPhone, but I was still convinced that it was, as the title of that post says, the worst app ever.

And now, I’m reading Ulysses on my iPhone, though I’m using Stanza and a public domain version, so it was free. I am abashed.

But I’m also thinking that this might be the way I finally finish the novel. I’ve never managed before (and I’m not ashamed to admit that), and I sometimes wonder if that’s because when I get to the thicker parts, I look at the book, realize just how much more I have to get through, and put the book back on the shelf to regather dust. Now the only way I have to keep track is to tap the middle of the screen and see where I am in terms of pages–or to look at the little scroll bar at the bottom–but the number of pages in the former is so large (because the pages are so small) that it’s hard to process just how much farther I really have to go, and the scroll bar at the bottom is so blunt an instrument I mostly ignore it.

I think it’s the uncertainty of just how much farther I have to go that’s keeping the pressure off. Now, I’ll pick up my phone late in the evening, crank up the app, read through 100 or so “pages,” and head off to sleep. And eventually, I think, I’ll finish it.

Other reading I’ve been doing of late: my friend Becka McKay lent me a copy of Inferno done by 20 different translators that I’m also slowly working my way through. I’ve read Dante a number of times–did a class with John DuVal at Arkansas where we read multiple translations of each section–but it’s been a few years since I sat down and really savored it. I’m going at a slow pace–a couple of cantos every couple of nights–and the different voices are really interesting. I’ll do a post on the differences when I finish it.

I’m working on a review of Stacey Lynn Brown’s Cradle Song for The Rumpus, and I just received a copy of the complete correspondence between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, which I’m looking forward to dipping into. I finished Robert Creeley’s Pieces and realized I’ll have to read it several more times before I really get what he’s doing, and that I may never get it. I’ve also received (as review copies) new collections from Derek Wolcott and Carl Phillips, as well as a copy of some translations from the Chinese. All await, along with those I mentioned in my last post along these lines. Hmmm.

March 20, 2010 Posted by | poetry, smartphones, The Rumpus, tracking my reading | Leave a comment

A New Poetic Home on the Web

I couldn’t pass it up. I was hoping to add some different functionality to my main blog, so I set one up to test on, and the name was available. What was I supposed to do?

When I started Incertus four years ago, I was planning on making it a blog that dealt with politics and poetics, and over the years I’ve tried, without success, to make it more of a poetry blog. It’s not going to happen, I’ve decided, so since I have this place now, I’ll make it lit-centered. I’ll put some of my work up here, boast about my successes (hopefully without seeming too geeky about it), and if and when I get a book published, this will be the main hub dealing with it.

And maybe I’ll actually write some critical stuff as well. You never know.

February 23, 2008 Posted by | Brian Spears, Incertus, poetry | Leave a comment