Reading Censored Mother Goose Rhymes at The Encyclopedia Show

Austin Kleon at the Encyclopedia Show

Christopher Hitchens said that “the great thing about writing a book is that it brings you into contact with people whose opinions you should have canvassed before you ever pressed pen to paper. They write to you. They telephone you. They give you things to read that you should have read already. [Putting out a book is] a free education that goes on for a lifetime.”

Last month I got an email from Mike at The Encyclopedia Show Austin, telling me about Censored Mother Goose Rhymes—a charming little book featured in the Ransom Center’s excellent “Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored” exhibit.

Censored Mother Goose Rhymes

Published in 1929 by a writer and editor named Kenneth Banning, it was dedicated to “THE CENSORS who have taught us how to read naughty meanings into harmless words” and was supposed to be a demonstration “of the effect of censorship upon anything it touches.” If I’m not mistaken, it was even passed out to congressmen in the middle of the censorship debates.

Censored Mother Goose Rhymes

It’s a very very funny book.

Anyways, Mike asked me if I’d do something with the book, and while I almost never read my poems publicly, I think this book is even better read aloud, so, with the help of my iPhone, I read a few at the show.

Watch the video →

See the slides →

Jean-Michel Basquiat on crossing out words

My Reading Year, 2011

Ten great books I read this year:

Lonesome Dove
Larry McMurtry

“I’m sure partial to the evening,’ Augustus said. ‘The evening and the morning. If we just didn’t have to have the rest of the dern day I’d be a lot happier.”


“We were kids without fathers…so we found our fathers on wax and on the streets and in history, and in a way, that was a gift. We got to pick and choose the ancestors who would inspire the world we were going to make for ourselves…Our fathers were gone, usually because they just bounced, but we took their old records and used them to build something fresh.”

The Dog of the South
Charles Portis

“My wife Norma had run off with Guy Dupree and I was waiting around for the credit card billings to come in so I could see where they had gone.”

Herman Melville

“Small erections may be finished by their first architects; grand ones, true ones, ever leave the copestone to posterity. God keep me from ever completing anything. This whole book is but a draught–nay, but the draught of a draught. Oh, Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience!”

The Art of Fielding
Chad Harbach

“All you had to do was look at each of your players and ask yourself: What story does this guy wish someone would tell him about himself? And then you told the guy that story. You told it with a hint of doom. You included his flaws. You emphasized the obstacles that could prevent him from succeeding. That was what made the story epic: the player, the hero, had to suffer mightily en route to his final triumph. Schwartz knew that people loved to suffer, as long as the suffering made sense. Everybody suffered. The key was to choose the form of your suffering. Most people couldn’t do this alone; they needed a coach. A good coach made you suffer in a way that suited you.”

Skippy Dies
Paul Murray

“‘But, Dennis, do you think Mr Slattery’d be teaching it to us if it was really about anal sex?’ ’ What does Mr Slattery know?’ Dennis scoffs. ‘You think he’s ever taken his wife up the road less travelled?’”

Believing Is Seeing
Errol Morris

“The essays in this book should be seen as a collection of mystery stories.”

After the Apocalypse
Maureen McHugh

“Cahill lived in the Flats with about twenty other guys in a place that used to be an Irish bar called Fado. At the back of the bar was the Cuyahoga River, good for protection since zombies didn’t cross the river. They didn’t crumble into dust, they were just stupid as bricks and they never built a boat or a bridge or built anything. Zombies were the ultimate trash.”

The Medium is the Massage
Marshall McLuhan

“Xerography—every man’s brain-picker—heralds the times of instant publishing. Anybody can now become both author and publisher. Take any books on any subject and custom-make your own book by simple xeroxing a chapter from this one, a chapter from that one—instant steal!”

Where Good Ideas Come From
Steven Johnson

“Go for a walk; cultivate hunches; write everything down, but keep your folders messy; embrace serendipity; make generative mistakes; take on multiple hobbies; frequent coffeehouses and other liquid networks; follow the links; let others build on your ideas; borrow, recycle, reinvent.”

Ten other good books I read:

See my past reading years: 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006

See also:

PS: I post stuff I’m currently into on my Tumblr.

Like a chain smoker

Above: a snapshot of my corkboard during the writing of Steal Like An Artist, about to be cleared…

I dread the end of a project. Day after day, you’re working on this big thing, and suddenly, it’s over. Now what?

I’d like to be a chain smoker when it comes to projects: use the end of the last one to light the next.

Unfortunately, I’m just not there yet—I don’t have the discipline or the stamina to jump into the next project right away. I need some idleness, play, and a mini-sabbatical to recharge the batteries.

So, I doodle…

Your north star might be a hallucination

…make collages on my iPad with the Mixel app:

Dirty Fireworks collage

Constructive Criticism collage

…and make de-signs:

…and slowly gather up the momentum to start the next big project.

New 20×200 Prints: “Open Road” and “How To Be Cool”

Just in time for the holidays, here are two brand-new Newspaper Blackout prints.

Open Road 20x200 print

“Open Road” available at 20×→

How To Be Cool 20x200 print

“How To Be Cool” available at 20×→

This poem is a “deleted scene”—it was cut from my book, Newspaper Blackout, late in the editing process, although now I can’t remember why. It was made from an article about the Brooklyn rapper Lil Mama.

Also: Steal Like An Artist is available for pre-order!

See more of my work for sale →

What drives me?

what drives me?

The folks at AIGA San Diego (I’ll be speaking at their Y17 conference next March) asked me for a 15-second video of me answering the question, “What drives you?” I will do anything to avoid talking to a camera, so I drew them this: