Monday, May 19, 2014

Streetwise: poetry on demand

When it comes to street entertainers, what springs to mind for me are jugglers, mimes, and musicians. Never poetry.

Until, that is, I found myself in the midst of poets, typing away on small, manual typewriters, on the sidewalk of Overtoom in Amsterdam on King’s Day.

The Amsterdam Writers Guild was celebrating "the biggest street party of the year" by offering poems on demand, free, in English or Dutch, on the subject of your choice.

I stepped up and put in my order. A poem, in English, about Philadelphia.

The poet who took on the challenge had a bit of an advantage. His name is Cameron Kelly (wearing the gray tie), and he is from Pittsburgh. While about 300 miles lie between our two Pennsylvania cities, from the vantage point of Amsterdam, we were next-door neighbors.

So he thought for a minute and then began clacking away. The result, minutes later, was “Key to the City.”

It was the best deal of the day.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Selfies for centuries

Amy's selfie

Selfie was the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2013. Among the factors in its choice was this: “It seems like everyone who is anyone has posted a selfie somewhere on the Internet. If it is good enough for the Obamas or The Pope, then it is good enough for Word of the Year.”

Selfies are many things – fun, ubiquitous, convenient. One thing they’re not is new.

The earliest usage of the word selfie is credited to a drunk Australian who posted a photo in 2002 of his banged-up lip and apologized for the focus by saying, “…it was a selfie.”

If you define selfie more broadly – as a self-portrait photograph – then Robert Cornelius takes first place. This Philadelphia chemist took a photograph of himself in 1839, making it the first photographic portrait.

And if you define the term simply as a self-portrait, then the practice dates back centuries and includes just about every major (and minor) artist. From modern painters such as Andy Warhol, Frida Kahlo, Picasso, and Matisse to those who preceded them, including Monet, Van Gogh, Goya and Rembrandt.

Whether painted centuries ago or snapped in an instant, a selfie is a selfie is a selfie. The content is constant; what changes are the tools and technology for getting the job done.

So when you take your next selfie, there’s no need to be self-conscious. You’re in good company and following a time-honored tradition.