Reading Literature Makes Us Smarter and Nicer

An article from “TIME Ideas” on how the deep reading of literature makes us more empathetic, intelligent human beings. Fascinating!


Gregory Currie, a professor of philosophy at the University of Nottingham, recently argued in the New York Times that we ought not to claim that literature improves us as people, because there is no “compelling evidence that suggests that people are morally or socially better for reading Tolstoy” or other great books.

Actually, there is such evidence. Raymond Mar, a psychologist at York University in Canada, and Keith Oatley, a professor emeritus of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, reported in studies published in 2006 and 2009 that individuals who often read fiction appear to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and view the world from their perspective. This link persisted even after the researchers factored in the possibility that more empathetic individuals might choose to read more novels. A 2010 study by Mar found a similar result in young children: the more stories…

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Art and Vocabulary – the ‘A-Z of Unusual Words’ Series


James and Michael Fitzgerald – two graphic designers, apparently after my own heart – have made a poster series called the “A-Z of Unusual Words” series.  In it, they have selected unusual or rarely used vocabulary and made an abecedarium of corresponding posters.

The above poster is for the word “Scripturient” which means “possessing a violent desire to write.”  You can purchase their posters on their website, “The Project Twins.”  Other words included in their series are:

  • Tarantism – A disorder characterised by an uncontrollable urge to dance
  • Yonderly – Mentally or emotionally distant; absent-minded.
  • Biblioclasm – The practice of destroying, often ceremoniously, books or other written material and media.


  • Cacodemonomania -The pathological belief that one is inhabited by an evil spirit.

Cheers to having a diverse lexicon!


Prompt: Self Portrait

Prompt: Self Portrait

Artist Frida Kahlo focused much of her art on the self portrait. As Kahlo herself said, “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.” Her self portraits were often out of the ordinary – Kahlo herself was always an eclectic representation of femininity. But, for example, one of her more famous portraits, “The Little Deer” is of her head painted on the body of a deer riddled with arrows.

So, here is your prompt: write a poem that portrays the self. YOUR self. Borrow from Frida and make your self portrait out of the ordinary, surreal, beautiful, weird. Put flowers in your hair, or paste your head onto the body of an animal. Please share your results!


Zines as Literary Tools

Zines as Literary Tools

In my glory days I wrote my own zine. It was called “The White Rabbit Zine” and I featured local artists, poets, and writers, as well as little DIY projects. I dropped the project after my course-load at school became way too heavy, but it was a fun commitment while it lasted!

What constitutes a zine, you ask? Zines are widely variable. They don’t have to just be literary. They can be an art-piece in themselves, they can have a very specific theme. Zines can be little comic books, they can be in black and white and copied at Kinko’s. They can be hand-bound or cut and pasted. The options are limitless, really.

Making a Zine can be a great way to self-publish your own art or writing, or to feature other artists that you admire. They’re little labors of love – homages to our fascinations. Collecting zines is a great means of reaching out to your arts community, and connecting with underexposed authors and artists.

The Zine pictured here is a literary Zine available for purchase on, that features some short stories and poems all on the theme of heartbreak. Here are some other great zines, and information about zine-making:

SPACE PLEASE: A zine/poster set by Alex Hahn

A Review of Fur, Hide and Bone Zine

How to: Be a Feminist Zinester

5 Ways to Stay Inspired

ImageInspiration can be fleeting and fickle.  Sometimes it’s there, looming over your shoulder like thick rainclouds, begging you to comply.  And as soon as it came, it’s gone again, leaving you in a creative drought.  In Kim Addonizio and Dorriane Laux’s book, “The Poet’s Companion,” (which I recommend to every poet EVER…seriously, you should consider purchasing it) there is a chapter on writer’s block.  Addonizio describes writer’s block as not writer’s block, but instead “times when you are empty and times when you are full.”  Sometimes it is necessary to inspire yourself, to fill yourself and surround yourself with things that compel you to write.

1.  Read, read, read:

I cannot stress enough how important it is to read when you are a writer!  This rule applies to writers in general, but especially if you are a poet – read poetry.  Read lots of poetry. Don’t just read poetry that you’re comfortable with, either.  If you’re someone who typically enjoys classic poetry or poetry in strict forms, select some contemporary poetry instead.  Read poetry that doesn’t follow a form, that doesn’t rhyme, that pushes the boundaries of tradition.  Read poetry that makes you uncomfortable, that’s inaccessible, that may not make sense to you at first or at all.  I grew so much as a poet once I began pushing my own reading boundaries.  Read beautiful prose, too.  And read things about poetry.

2. Do creative things:

If you’re a creative thinker, chances are you have more than one creative outlet.  Poetry is my creative outlet of choice, but sometimes I’m just not feeling it.  Do other things that foster creativity.  In my spare time, I play Capoeira, I dance, and I love to try new recipes out for me and my husband.  I like to bind books, and every once in awhile I’ll paint or draw, too.  Being inventive in other areas of your life helps relieve that creative itch, and can inspire you to write via external creative experiences.

3. Give yourself some quiet time:

If there’s anything I’m most guilty of, it’s not giving myself enough quiet time.  I’ve often found myself deeply inspired by something, but because I keep myself so busy with working full-time and with the activities I mentioned above, by the time I get around to writing the poem I wanted to write – it’s not quite there anymore.  Especially if you’re an extrovert like me, it’s tough to make yourself stop and rest!  I’ve got places to go, people to see!  But alone time is important.  Especially if you’re a writer.  Don’t be afraid to go into your den and let the poetry come to you.  Allow yourself to reflect, to meditate or pray if that helps you.  Give yourself time away from other people.  You may be surprised at what flows out of you if you just stop and listen.

4. Give yourself new experiences:

Doing and trying new things is a great way to stimulate your creative muscle.  Try food that you’ve never had before, try a new activity, go hiking somewhere you’ve never been before, heck – go on a vacation to somewhere new if you can afford it.  You could even try things on a smaller scale by creating a Pandora station of music you wouldn’t typically listen to, or watching a new television show or movie.  Change your daily routine: drive a different route to work, be daring and wash your face before you brush your teeth.  New experiences are excellent ways to cultivate inspiration.

5. Write! 

I bet you thought you’d escaped this one.  I bet you’re thinking, “Nichole, you don’t know what you’re talking about. How can writing help my lack of inspiration to write?”  If you’re still feeling uninspired, search for poetry prompts.  Write about your day.  Start a blog and write about your interests.  Write a poem that imitates one of the new authors that you read.  Write a review for a new kind of food or wine or beer that you’ve tried.  Freewrite: just begin writing and see where your mind takes you.  Sometimes forcing yourself to write can be the best method to fix writers block.  Don’t worry about how your poem or piece of writing is going to turn out.  The process is more important than the product in this circumstance.

What methods do you use to inspire yourself?  Do you think any of these means of inspiration is more helpful than the others?  Share your ideas in the comments.


Prompt: Ekphrastic Poetry – “Candy-Cigarette” by Sally Mann

Ekphrasis is described in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “a literary description of or commentary on a visual work of art.” The first time I wrote an ekphrastic poem, Shanalee and I were prompted by our 300 level poetry teacher at the U of A. She asked the entire class to visit our college’s art gallery, which had photography on display at the time. Some people wrote a line or two about several photos that they liked, some wrote about a single picture that really spoke to them.

There are dozens of ways to interpret ekphrasis. When writing an ekphrastic poem, you can choose to acknowledge in the poem that you’re writing about a picture or piece of art. Frank O’Hara, who was a poet and an art critic, does something like this in his poem “Why I Am Not a Painter.” Or, you can choose to write wholly engulfed in the world of the art piece.

Elect a picture, sculpture, painting, or other form of art and write an ekphrastic poem about it. You can use the photograph I’ve included here if it inspires you, or pick one of your own. Please share your results!