Friday, March 22, 2013


If you tweet or text, you are used to writing small.  

As writers, we are often encouraged to expand what we have written, to add more details. 

We are taught to elaborate and extend individual moments in narratives to enable readers to see what we see. 

But sometimes we want to do just  the opposite, condensing our writing to its bare minimum.  We want to write small--distilling our thoughts until we have just the gist--just the crucial, sometimes cryptic kernel. 

Small writing is everywhere--advertisements on the television, billboards, corporate slogans, titles of books (with important information after the colon), and, of course, newspaper headlines.

Newspapers are gold mines for writers, a treasure trove of ideas that can lead to a variety of forms of writing.

In a previous post, we considered newspaper blackout, a 
creative poetry  form developed by Austin Kleon, using newspapers to create new writing. 

We can also find poetry in newspaper headlines. 

 I "found" three small poems below.--they are each composed entirely of unaltered headlines appearing in the Columbus Dispatch the past three days

Wounds deep,
healing slow
Dementia costs prove
Widow's gift to help veterans,
and herself...
Celebrating life
The way we were


70 mph speed limit gets closer
Lying speedometers
Some drive long 
and winding roads to jobs
In Ohio,
auto rates
a bargain

not as dominant
in mobile market now
Samsung's latest 
takes a new shot 
at iPhone
Macs aren't immune 
to malware
                                                      Monitoring your vitals
                                                      with a webcam?
                                                      Lawsuits underscore 
                                                      issues of privacy

No changes were made in the wording.  I simply juxtaposed them. (However, anytime you write you want to reserve for yourself, the  writer's right of flexibility--it may be necessary to make small changes to get the result that you want.)

In the Columbus Dispatch Random Thoughts Column (January 9,2012), Carol Ann Lease writes about  the difficulty of constructing original and accurate headlines, due to the loss of shared experiences, knowledge of Greek mythology,as well as other literary allusions, that drove headlines of yore, and resulted in poetry for past readers.

What would make a good headline for your life today?

Nigerian author Teju Cole searched newspapers to create his  fait divers  or what he calls small fates. These condensed, stripped bare reportings are short incidents, items or bits of news, usually bad or grim, that may also have an ironic twist.  The kind of news that is buried in the back pages of the newspaper and can be expressed in a brief sentences. 

For a two year period, I followed his Small Fates Project on Twitter. Below are two examples from near the end of the project:

10 JanAdegbegha will not wed in March after all. A police corporal in Ibadan found him stubborn and shot him dead.
3 JanIn Katsina, both of Mallam Isa's wives are in hot water, Binta for having scalded Hadiza.

For a more complete explanation of The Small Fate Project  and more samples, visit Teju Cole's website  or read/listen to the NPR story Simple Tweets of Fate: Teju Cole's Condensed News.

One additional way to "find" writing in the newspaper is to select one headline that puzzles, intrigues, amuses, or in some other way touches you--- then explore, explode, analyze  or deconstruct that headline in an essay or poem or narrative.

Warren Wolfson digs deeper into  the following headline in his poem, Misplaced Blame, included in Rattle (#23, 2005):

A power failure blamed on a cat shut down the Cook County Criminal Courts Building Monday.                                               --Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, 9/26/03
Start searching your local newspaper.  What headlines do you notice?   

What do those headlines mean? 

What small fates lurk on the back pages?

Today's Deeper Writing Possibility

Search your daily newspaper for headlines that intrigue, puzzle, amuse, or in some other way touch you.

Try combining several seemingly related (or unrelated ) headlines to create a small poem.

You may want to analyze one particular headline, either writing a small fate or series of small fates. 

Try exploring one headline through writing a poem or essay.

Finally, you  may want to try your hand at writing your own headlines.  

Can you write headlines connected to either one or more events in your own life or current events. 

 You may want to return to the above suggestions, this time using your own headlines.

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