The Poetry Home Repair Manual by Ted Kooser 📚

A joyful read that’s full of insight for new poets—and readers of poetry

Ted Kooser was Poet Laureate of The United States from 2004-2006. He is a professor of English at The University of Nebraska-Lincoln, although for years he worked as an executive in the insurance industry (because even the best poets must have day jobs). He’s a Pulitzer Prize-winner and has published many collections of poetry. And with The Poetry Home Repair Manual he wrote one of the most approachable, practical, and joyful books on writing poetry that I’ve yet run across.

A friend of mine recommended this book to me a while back when I started writing poetry, and I was intrigued by the title right away. Who writes a book for beginning poets and styles the name as a home repair manual? Well, only a few pages in, I got it. The book is a repair manual. In it, Kooser will not teach you the basics of verse, rhyme, or rhythm. He does not lecture about forms. Of course, this is all ground that he covers, and he covers it well. But it’s not academic or theoretical. Instead he approaches poetry as he would a broken lawnmower or dishwasher. He helps the reader see what’s wrong, and then instructs you how to fix it by demonstrating how the thing is supposed to work. This unusual title is actually perfect for this book.

The book is a casual read, but more than that it’s a joyful read. Kooser is not only a good teacher, he is a great curator. He uses wonderful poems (more from other poets than his own, by my estimation) to illustrate his points. And some of the gems I discovered in this slim little book made this book worth it on their own. One great example is this poem by Frank Steele:

If you are interested in writing poetry—or just understanding it—this is a great place to start. As I am writing this review it’s hard for me to think of anything I didn’t like. The chapters are a good length, the whole book is not too long—which has encouraged me to re-read it—and the tone is perfect. If I was pressed to find something that another reader may not like, I would mention that Kooser’s advice lends itself well to his own particular style and voice. If you want to write poetry that is not about everyday life, earthy, and utterly human, maybe (maybe?) you wouldn’t find it useful. But honestly, I’d only make that observation if pressed. The truth is this book is a great place for a poet to start. It will help you find your voice, understand who you are, and write poems that are yours. And really, what more can you want from a book with the subtitle, “Practical Advice for Beginning Poets”?

I highly recommend this book. Honestly, if you are serious about your writing in any form or genre, I’d suggest that you pick it up. This book can help any writer connect with their readers and write with more power and feeling. And that’s a great thing for writers of all stripes.


Goodbye Facebook, Hello Web!

I’m leaving Facebook soon, and here is how to keep up with me

As I posted earlier this month, I am leaving Facebook soon. I will be deleting my existing Facebook and Instagram accounts soon. If you are interested in why, you can read the post linked above. But, I will still be writing and posting on the web! I know that given the dominance of Facebook I will most likely lose touch with almost everyone that follows me on those platforms, but that’s okay. However, I know some folks will want to keep in touch (and I’m glad you do!), so I want to make that easy for you. So here are six ways to keep in touch once I am no longer on Facebook.

Sign up for my new email newsletter

I am reviving my email newsletter on a new platform, and with a new focus. In the past you could sign up to get emails of blog posts, but going forward I’m going to send a weekly-ish email with brief updates highlighting blog posts I’ve published, links to what I’ve been reading each week, and other interesting stuff. If you want to follow what I’m thinking and writing about, this is the best place to do that.

Sign up for my email newsletter here.

Subscribe to brianlundin.com in an RSS reader

This might be too old school—sometimes it feels like I’m the only one using RSS anymore—but this is best option to directly follow my writing. Unlike the previous two options, if you follow my blog in a feed reader you will just get the blog posts I publish. If you don’t have a feedreader? I suggest you try this one. If you have never heard of RSS, here is a handy beginner’s guide. There is nothing I recommend more highly for people who want to read on the web than a good feed reader, full of your favorite writers.

Here is the direct link to my RSS feed to add to your reader: https://brianlundin.com/feed.xml.

Follow me on Micro.blog

Follow @blundin on Micro.blog or view and subscribe to the RSS feed of my microblog on this site. You will get the same feed either way.

You have probably not heard of Micro.blog, but it’s the one thing on this list that I hope people try out. Micro.blog is a new social network created to specifically address some of the problems that Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks experience. It is both a blog platform and Twitter-like social network in one. It is free to create an account and try it out, and most importantly it is always free if you want to follow other people and read their posts. If you want to host your own blog and publish original content, plans start at only $5 a month.

The advantage to this platform—and why I’ve been an early supporter—is that there is no advertising and the motivations of the company behind it are clear. The advantage to paying is that no one is trying to monetize your personal data. No one is selling you to an advertiser. I urge you to try it out. The success of Micro.blog and sites like it will lead to a better internet for all of us.

Follow me on Twitter

Follow @blundin on Twitter.

I don’t love Twitter, but until Micro.blog gains wide adoption or blogs come back, this is the best way to get posts from my blog out into the world. I will be scaling back my time on this site, but all of my blog posts and posts to Micro.blog will be posted there automatically. If you follow me there, you will see everything I publish. But seriously, please consider Micro.blog too.

Sign up for our monthly family update

Finally, if you want to know what’s going on in our family’s life, I am starting a private email list just for that purpose. We’ll send email updates once a month about what’s going on with our family. We’d love to have you sign up. Please make sure to sign up with your name, so we can see who you are.

Sign up for the Lundin Family Updates here.

I hope you choose to follow me via one of these methods. I’d hate to lose contact with everyone, but I just cannot continue to support Facebook. So, I hope to see you on the open web!


A Systemic Breakdown

Rebooting a whole life is hard, but when the systems break down there is no other choice.

This year I am going to make a clean restart of every area of my life. From my spiritual life, to my marriage, parenting, ministry, writing, academic, and personal responsibilities, I plan to spend the next year working through it all. I’m calling it the Year of Rebooting.

The trick is, that’s a lot to sort through and make sense of. When it comes to organizing our lives and living up to our responsibilities, each of us are wired in very different ways. For some, systems are overwhelming. A simple, effective list of priorities paired with a daily to-do list may be all that’s needed. For others, a detailed and thorough system is required to help them think through everything that is on their plate. Neither is right or wrong, it all depends on the way our minds think and the circumstances of our lives. But regardless of the what kind of system we have, or don’t have, everyone needs organizing principles for their life.

When it comes to systems, I am on the more complicated end of the spectrum. I need heavier, more detailed systems. I need daily routines, weekly lists of priorities, and a system to track the many projects I’m committed to. I don’t simply like having detailed systems in place, nor does it come naturally to me. But I need them to compensate for my shortcomings. My system has never flowed from my strength, but rather from my weakness.

And in the last year it has become clear that these systems are not working in most areas of my life right now. Simply put, they are no longer compensating for the right things. As a husband and parent of two very small children, my systems for ensuring they have enough of my time, attention, and care are no longer working. As a writer, my system is not protecting my writing and creative time. As a student my system… and on, and on, and on. Hence, the Year of Rebooting.

Unlike my previous annual planning, my approach this year is not heavily structured. I will build the airplane while it’s in the air, as it were. Starting this month I will inventory every area of my life, identify problem areas, and kill off any thing that needs to go. Soon I will post about how I’m doing this, but for now here are the areas I’m starting with (in rough priority):

  • Spiritual life
  • Marriage
  • Family life
  • Ministry
  • Writing
  • Academics

While I will certainly not be sharing all of the details, I do want to document and share how I go about rebooting my life this year. I’ll detail some of the ways I explore and evaluate these areas, and share some of the solutions I put in place.

Maybe this is interesting to you. Maybe you feel the same need, the same pull, to reboot and reframe your life and your systems. Maybe you’ve never even thought of systems in this way. As you can clearly see, I’m no guru. I’m a guy who developed a system years ago that worked really well to fight against my biggest areas of weakness. And now, I need to do it again.

I will keep writing about this stuff here as I go along, and maybe it’s interesting, or helpful to you. Or maybe it’s fun for you to watch people flail around. 😂 Whatever the reason, if you want to keep up with my process this year, you can subscribe to my email newsletter or subscribe to the RSS feed for this site in your RSS feedreader. 1

  1. Don’t have a feedreader? Try this one. Don’t know what RSS is? Check out this beginner’s guide. There is nothing I recommend more highly for people who want to read on the web than a good feed reader, full of your favorite writers. 


Year of Rebooting

It’s time for a clean start

My Annual Plan is a big deal. For years I’ve worked to develop and refine my own annual planning process. I set aside the month of January to reflect and plan. I would create a long document that contained all of my roles, goals, plans, and responsibilities. I had my wife and friends review it, and gave them permission to correct it, or add to it. Then, each year, I turned it into an actionable plan that I fed into my task management system. It’s been really valuable and worked for me.

Until it didn’t. This past year my January was interrupted with several big life events for our family. So the planning simply could not happen then. It took months to get back on track, and when I did, the process was really difficult. It was more time-consuming and ultimately unhelpful. For the first time in years the whole exercise felt forced, false even. What had once worked well was broken. That’s no surprise really, it’s the way of the world. But now it’s time to fix it.

One of my favorite podcasts is Cortex, a podcast that is marginally about productivity, but aimed at my particular kind of nerd. For the last several years on the show the hosts have used used the idea of yearly themes to organize and guide their plans for each year. On this year’s annual themes episode something in particular struck me. One of the hosts’s theme was the “Year of [Re]Order.” He recognized that his previous theme, “Year of Order”, was not successful and it needed to be readdressed. It was a simple and honest admission—one that regular listeners were surely not surprised by, and yet it struck me as profound and—in the limited sense of this subject—brave. It’s hard to admit it when things do not go as planned, especially for those who are planners. It’s even harder to admit it publicly when you have people that look to your for help on planning. Listening to CGPGrey’s analysis of his theme choice, I realized what my own theme needed to be. I need a clean break. I need a hard reset across several areas of life. I need to reboot.

There are many reasons that my annual planning failed, but a post-mortem to figure them out would not be helpful. The question that matters is, how do I get back on track? That’s the goal of the “Year of Rebooting.” I will inventory all areas of my life, examine and reflect on each one, and then do a hard restart of it. Like any good reboot, there are some processes that need to be killed for good, and there are others that require significant changes. But none should be left untouched.

The process starts this month, January 2019. I am in the process of making several hard decisions that lay the groundwork for the rest of the year. The first decision I made is to leave Facebook and Instagram because of privacy and social concerns I noted in another post. The second was to start writing on the web more, partially to document this journey. The next decision in front of me is how to approach my Year of Rebooting. It’s not an annual plan. It’s not what I have done in the past. It will be something new, and I will build it as I go. But I do know one thing, it’s a fresh start.


Why I’m Leaving Facebook

The costs associated with the free social platform are just too high

There is a point beyond which a service becomes too expensive. The latest round of news about Facebook has made it clear to me that we have passed that point. The social impact and privacy costs of Facebook are too high for me. So, at the end of this month, I will be deleting my Facebook and Instagram account.

I’ve read many people lately who are making the same decision over concerns about how much social media dominates their time. Although that is a serious question, this is not my concern with Facebook. In fact, the app hasn’t been installed on my phone for months. I am deleting my Facebook and Instagram accounts because of the clear record of Facebook’s violation of the public trust. They know more about me than any other organization in the world. And I don’t trust them with that knowledge.

My goal is not to make a convert out of you. I’m not looking to spark a boycott or any sort of public demonstration. This post is to explain my thinking and maybe prompt you to think about your relationship with this company. That is all.

The issue I have with Facebook is cut and dried: They know too much about us (even if you don’t have an account), and they lie about what they do with that data.

Over the course of 2018, we learned a lot about how Facebook really operates, and it generated numerous scandals. Not only does Facebook follow you all over the web, track what you read, watch, and listen to, they also know what you purchase, where you go, and who you hang out with. Facebook has built a surveillance infrastructure that rivals in reach and depth anything George Orwell or the CIA could have dreamt up. And they have convinced us all to willingly hand over this information. Every day, millions of people share private and intimate details of their lives with this company.

The surveillance is not even the worst part. What’s actually worse is the purpose for which they use our private data. They are not using it to identify terrorists, study social ills, or encourage a constructive conversation in the public square. They are not aiming for any number of controversial, yet arguably defensible goals. No, they are using it to sell us T-shirts, insurance, and rugs. And of course in the process they are actually contributing to many of our societal ills. Smartphone addiction, a poisonous political discourse enflamed by filter bubbles, and foreign interference in our elections are just some of the problems that are being made significantly worse by Facebook. And in the last few weeks we’ve even heard about how they police political speech on their platform, with no transparency.

In tech punditry circles there was a popular phrase for a while that said if you used a service you didn’t pay for you were, in fact, the product. That’s not exactly true, but it does broadly capture the strategic reasons behind the success of companies like Facebook, Google, and others. My private data and ad impressions are Facebook’s inventory. I am their product. And that reality is one I can no longer abide.

By willingly handing over private information to these companies for a free service that is not essential—especially services that can be so destructive in how they can capture our attention—we are opening ourselves and our culture up to potentially massive problems. What we have seen with the Cambridge Analytica incident, Russian interference in our elections, and other Facebook scandals is just the tip of a very, very big iceberg. And I don’t think they can change course.

So I’m getting off the boat.

If you would like to keep up with what I’m doing after I leave Facebook, the best ways are to follow me is on Micro.blog, Twitter, or by signing up for my email newsletter.