Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | August 5, 2014

Finding Inspiration in the News

weird_news_photos_01Writers need look no further than the headlines to find enough fodder for a lifetime of stories and poems. Best-selling author T. C. Boyle claims he’s gotten all his ideas this way – as seen in his stories about kidnappings, liver transplants, cloned dogs, brush fires, racist neighbors, and whether evolution should be taught in schools.

This year, writer and editor Robbi Nestor of Lummox Press in California published an entire book of poetry called The Liberal Media Made Me Do It! The collection contains 85 poems inspired by pieces heard on NPR and PBS.

Nestor told me he he was inundated by responses.

LiberalMediaCoverFinalOver the years I’ve assigned my students to write poems based on news stories, so I’d already written several, but Nestor was asking for pieces that could be traced to particular public TV and radio stories, so I began paying closer attention to NPR each morning. In just a few days I knew I’d found my inspiration.

The story, airing on the morning of December 31 last year, asked the question: Would you want to know the exact date of your own death? And if so, would you live more fully and joyfully? Maybe we’d like to think we would. However, the research shows very mixed results.



Here is the poem I composed about the Tikker watch, a device designed by a Swedish inventor that can be set to count down to your death date (based upon an algorithm comprised of data about you and your personal habits). Many of the details in the poem were taken directly from the story.


Strap a Tikker Onto Your Wrist, Stretch Your Arm To Heaven


Nothing focuses the mind like the ultimate deadline.


Set the “happiness watch” for twenty years – long enough

to have a new career, write a book, run for mayor. Ten years –

travel the world, keep a photo blog, grow herbs, learn to cook.

Five years – two – ditch the diet, skydive into Malibu. Leave a

giant footprint, donate blood. Go see everyone you’ve ever loved.


Reach for what matters, the watch reminds you again and again.


Or instead, you may become paralyzed with fear. Begin to hate

your neighbors, be annoyed by every lame-brained driver and

rainy day, find doctors worthless, books a total waste of time.

That dark underbelly – anxiety – casts a shadow on any

glory you felt when the chains of time first fell away.


Hurl the thing at the wall – convince yourself you’re still immortal.


And why not? No inventor has the goods on you! Better to stay

numb, race toward the weekend, watch TV. Believe in exercise,

wine, the need for more vitamin D. Read more Deepak and Peale,

then cradle your inner child. You’d rather be the poor schmuck

who gets hit next week by a bus and goes down smiling, oblivious.


Would you want to wear a Tikker? If you had one, do you think you’d respond like the people in stanza 1 or stanza 2? I’m sure I’d be much more likely to freak out, or worse, develop total ennui. No Tikker for me, thank you. I’ll take my chances with the bus. (Which may remind you of another work that deals with this topic, the brilliant film “Stranger Than Fiction,” starring Will Ferrell in his most serious role to date.)


The link to the original NPR story on the Tikker (by Lulu Miller) is included in Nestor’s book:




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