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News in Poetry

November 2019

Late in his career, William Carlos Williams wrote a long poem titled “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower.” Toward the end of the poem, he wrote: "It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there."

Is news what is found in poems? Or is what we get from poems not news but what we need to live?

In B.J. Ward's poem, Daily Grind (from Jackleg Opera: Collected Poems, 1990 to 2013, North Atlantic Books), a man decides to get his news not from the newspaper but from Shakespeare's Othello.

In the play, Othello confronts Desdemona about committing adultery and then strangles her in their bed. But Emilia realizes what her husband Iago has done and she exposes him. He kills her. Othello now realizes, too late, that Desdemona is innocent. He stabs Iago but doesn't kill him, saying he would rather have Iago live the rest of his life in pain. Then Iago and Othello are arrested for the murders of Roderigo, Emilia, and Desdemona. Othello commits suicide.

Othello is not a comedy.

If the "daily grind" is the difficult, routine and monotonous tasks of daily work - the newspaper, coffee, breakfast, shaving, the tie - then reading Othello breaks that routine. But "the complex drama of his every morning" was always there, "always unfolded on the kitchen table." And now, "a secret Iago come to light with every sunrise."

What news did the husband find in this play-in-verse?  Is it the syllables of "betrayal and suicide always echoing" and he waits for his ride to work? Is that what is "just under his lips / even as he pecks his wife goodbye?"

This is not a comedy either.

But returning to that poem by William Carlos Williams, "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower," here the poet finds the news in the form of a love poem written to his wife. But this long love poem also has its dark moments.

My heart rouses
                        thinking to bring you news
                                                of something
that concerns you
                        and concerns many men.  Look at
                                                what passes for the new.
You will not find it there but in
                        despised poems.
                                                It is difficult
to get the news from poems
                        yet men die miserably every day
                                                for lack
of what is found there.
                        Hear me out
                                                for I too am concerned
and every man
                        who wants to die at peace in his bed

Ezra Pound said, “Poetry is news that stays news.”

So much news by poets. This month we asked for poems about the news as it is found in poetry, or the poetry found in the news.  As Williams might have said, this is the information that doesn’t become dated or irrelevant with the passage of time.

For more on all our prompts and other things poetic, check out the Poets Online blog.


With the 24-hour news cycle disconnected
the breaking news is that things are bad at work.
This morning we found out that they will cut two of us
in this office at the end of the year.
Happy New Year
is proclaimed on TV and store signs
but not so here.
And Jenny is pregnant so we hope she's not one
but we also hope we're not one either.
The Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah
passed in the hallways seems ironic or sarcastic.
At lunch, I hesitated on my order
thinking about paychecks and bills.
At my desk, I made calculations.
With my end-of-workday tea,
I started writing this poem.
At 11 pm, the late night report was that
I finished writing the news in a poem.
And we'll be back,
after this brief night's sleep.

Lianna Wright


Time was, The News was ladled out more slowly
You took it with your meals
One portion with your breakfast
A second after dinner

Nowadays, it's available anytime
Like an all day (and night) buffet
Seasoned differently
Depending on the source
TV, in print, online
You can even order it To Go

But consuming News like this
Is not without its risks
A bad batch can have your stomach churning for a day
Infect you for a week
In rare cases
Trigger lifelong side effects

Better, perhaps, to process News a bit
Blend information with perception
Flavor data with reflection
Reduce unfiltered News to poetry

Like paintings, songs and other forms of Art
Poems penetrate the surface
Reveal hidden clues
Release the essence of raw facts

Particulars are in a constant state of flux
Names and locations changing all the time
But underlying themes remain the same
And few

News of any consequence
Requires time to chew
Poems act like threshing stones
Grind through confusing piles of allegations
Lay bare what's worthy of our time
And true

Frank Kelly


The news is all around us
filling up our days,

morn to night, month to month, in
varied forms and ways.

With the morning paper, our
constant stream of scrolls,

it infiltrates our brain like a
zombie horde of trolls.

News financial, substantial,
gossip large and small,

alerts, pings, and other things,
we digest them all.

But why not stop: Take a walk
in the morning dew

where poetries of light and shade
play in polished hues,

where birds sing, seasons change,
and there is no me, nor you?

Robert Miller


The news is fire. Familiar hills –
spring-green, summer-gold tarnished
by fall – suddenly incandescent
red/orange/yellow galloping
flame so blinding-bright it turns
everything still standing dead-black.
Then ashen. News bite. Bites.
We can’t get enough of it on TV.
I need to break away, open the door
to November chill, interrogate crisp blue
sky for its rumor of smoke;
listen for distant sirens. Sirens on TV
muffled by the closed door.
Isn't sensory news more reliable
than what comes over the airwaves
from afar, edited, filtered through media?
What’s happening on the other side
of our ridge? I need to clear
the constant commentary in my head,
re-televised speculation that seems
to solidify with every repetition – fear.

Taylor Graham


A man finds the news in a Shakespeare play
taken in small bites with his breakfast.
"What news?" he asks
"None my Lord, but that the world's grown honest."
A hopeful thought that oddly prompts him to say
"Then is doomsday near?"

I write my poems and “My words fly up,
my thoughts remain below."
Words settled like the dregs in a teacup
"Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”

"Suit the action to the word,
the word to the action."
This news found in poetry
is never the poetry found in the news.

Pamela Milne