poets and technology – the thesaurus?

I’m probably going to come across as a cave-person, but I confess it’s only been about a year and a half since I started using a thesaurus while writing poetry. And I never used a book thesaurus – went straight to the online thesaurus. I’m pretty sure it’s made a huge difference to the speed and facility of my writing. I always know the right word as soon as I see it in a thesaurus, but I don’t always have all the available words immediately accessible in my own mind. The thesaurus brings that pool to me instantly, with almost no effort on my part. Pre-thesaurus, I suppose I must have either gone with less than optimal word choices, or waited around for time to push the right word up to the surface.

Of course, there are two issues here – one revolves around the question of using a thesaurus at all, and the other around using an online version rather than a book version. The second is obviously by far the least significant – a question not of paradigm shift but of degree of convenience.

But now I’m wondering what the the invention of the thesaurus (Roget’s, the first one, was only published in 1852) did for poetry? How many poets use a thesaurus when composing? The reason I think it’s significant is because I recall this paragraph cited in this post (am substituting ‘poetry’ for ‘music’ – italics mine):

…human composers draw on a huge amount of data when they sit down to write a piece of music. “We don’t start with a blank slate,” [Cope] said. “In fact, what we do in our brains is take all the music we’ve heard in our life, segregate out what we don’t like, and try to replicate [the music we like] while making it our own.” What separates great composers from the rest of us, he says, is the ability to accurately compile that database, remember it, and manipulate it into new patterns.

In other words, the more that your accessible memory contains, the bigger your advantage as a composer. Surely that principle applies to words, the raison d’etre of poetry?

The thesaurus comes along as a big cheat, then – like a sort of external hard drive, or additional RAM purchased on the side. It gives would-be poets with smaller natural RAMs – who would have been non-competitive or less competitive in pre-thesaurus days – the same advantage as their more gifted peers with huge natural RAMs.

Works for me!

What if the Facebook (Un)Privacy Revolution Is a Good Thing?

The truth is that the events of the past few weeks have been no accident. I’ve interviewed Zuckerberg and/or members of his team more than a dozen times in the last three years, and I believe they all completely understood the company’s new privacy settings would be controversial. Indeed, I think they intended them to be controversial. Look back at the history of Facebook’s privacy firestorms — they happen roughly every 18 months — and you’ll see they all fit the same pattern. In order for Facebook to succeed, it needs to keep challenging existing conventions about online privacy. This isn’t a secret. Zuckerberg has said it many times. What he hasn’t said – but which he and anyone else with a brain knows – is that there is no way to do that without making some users angry.

10 Questions on Poets & Technology – Ren Powell

The internet, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, websites, iPad, iPod, podcasts, digital video and who knows what else. What do they all mean for the poet qua poet? For Poetry? Is it still pretty much where the Gutenberg press left it? Is Poetry technology-proof? In our fearless ongoing quest to exploit other people’s wisdom on poetry-related subjects, we are posing ten questions to a group of illustrious contemporary poets on this topic. This week’s responder is Ren Powell.

1. Characterize your general attitude as a poet towards technology.

I would like to split that into two interpretations of “as a poet”, if I can.

First, how I feel about technology in light of how it has been central to my being able to function as a poet—that is, being received by readers, perceived by colleagues, and educated by mentors. Without Internet, I don’t know that it would have been possible. I owe so much to the poets whom I have met on listservs, to distance learning programs and to online journals. Not to mention Paypal.

As a person who expresses her creativity through the deliberate manipulation of language and metaphor, I am excited by how technology can enhance, frustrate and push language and metaphor—how it challenges established concepts of poetry, keeping the “literary” form as organic as language itself.

2. Do you use Facebook in your capacity as a poet? If so, how, and what are its upsides and downsides? If not, why not?

You are catching me in the middle of my facebook midlife crisis. When I created a profile on facebook it was with the intention of networking with other poets I knew from listservs. Then I began adding some bloggers I read. Then people from work. Former students. Former teachers. It is out of control!

A couple years ago I was promoting an anthology by poets with mental disorders and illnesses: as a poet I am comfortable making public that part of my life, obviously, since I wrote the essay for the anthology. But I am not sure I want to promote that part of my identity with my current students or my kids’ teachers (or former classmates who are nodding and muttering, “Oh, that explains it”). I used to think the idea of deliberately creating an “online profile” (public persona) was silly. Now I think it is complicated and necessary.

As a poet who reads the work of other poets, reads reviews etc., it is unquestionably valuable to me. I get my almost all of my book recommendations from facebook contacts. I also love it when a colleague celebrates a publication in a status update and is cheered on by a whole community.

3. Do you use Twitter in your capacity as a poet? If so, how, and what are its upsides and downsides? If not, why not?

I have a twitter account but rarely use it. I read tweets by people like the Norwegian poet Helge Torvund and the American poet “Stoney” (Deb Scott via Identica). But as a narrative poet, the 140 character format doesn’t interest me much. I wish I were able to participate in live discussions like Robert Lee Brewer’s #poettues, but I am rarely online at predictable times. Still, Twitter’s immediacy and brevity makes me feel under pressure to be witty. I am not that witty.

4. What other technologies – including blogs, websites and podcasts – do you employ in your capacity as a poet? Explain how, and the upsides and downsides of each. If none, explain why.

So many blogs, so little time. I stumbled into the online possibilities for poetry at the exact same time my life got insanely busy, so I still feel as overwhelmed as a kid with a map of Disneyland. I see a website as an absolutely necessity for poets these days. A standard calling card. If you aren’t going to have one yourself because you share Albert Goldbarth’s aversion to technology, you better be an Albert Goldbarth, with Poets.org calling on you.

I love the idea of podcasts and enjoy Writer’s Almanac especially. I am hoping to organize my virtual resources this summer. I am trying to use google reader as a kind of clearinghouse for the blogs I don’t want to miss. It takes an investment of time to understand the technology, but it’s worth it. I plan on scheduling my podcast downloads so I don’t lose them in the chaos of the rest of my life; and I will resume uploading podcasts myself.

5. What do you dislike most about how other poets use technology?

I wish I could say something like, “Oh, all the publishing opportunities will mean so much more exciting poetry,” and stop there. I know many people think I am against self-publication. I am not. But I don’t believe that self-publication will rescue poetry from any alleged tyranny of publishers. There will always be hierarchies and gatekeepers and schools of form, whether they are academics or bloggers. I don’t think self-published poetry is any more original or authentic than poetry published by established presses.

I read a quote by Chris Wink of the Blue Man Group about how he dislikes it when people throw first drafts out there and say it is “good enough” by virtue of its authenticity—I feel that way, too. The definition of art that I adhere to includes the idea that the creation of art is a skill that is mastered. Few people wear a diamond in the rough as jewelry because it is not “art” it is “nature”. I don’t think craftsmanship and editing is the absence of authenticity as it is so often implied in discussions about self-publishing. I get very defensive.

I live in a culture that is still very much seeped in the tradition of craftsmanship. I once told a friend of mine, a visual artist, that I was going to try making paper for a handmade book. She told me how her colleagues spent years studying the art of papermaking. She herself had traveled to Korea to study it briefly but won’t attempt it herself. I felt like I had just told Gaudi I was going to build a Cathedral out of Popsicle sticks. Being a “published writer” used to indicate that you paid your dues and studied the skills it takes to take on the role of “author” in a community. Now people go to Lulu after spending their month of NaNoWrMo and describe themselves on their Facebook profile as “published author”. It isn’t that I dislike it, but I do feel a little cheated since I went through years of submission and rejection to get to say “published”. Sour grapes and envy, maybe? Could be. I have read some really great poetry published through Lulu.

The only thing that I have seriously disliked about the technological boom is the plagiarism, or forced collaboration I’ve seen on occasion. I once saw a videopoem in which a poet had videotaped a film shown at an art gallery and incorporated it into his/her own work. But these kinds of ethical questions that technology has brought us aren’t restricted to poetry. I have listened to TEDTalks given by minds much greater than mine advocating the doing away with copyright all together. I know, I know, we are supposed to be above needing recognition and lauds for our work, right? Not me. I am not Gaudi, but if I ever do build a cathedral out of Popsicle sticks I damn-well want recognition what I did with my time on Earth. Sorry, Nic. That is a long-winded and very personal extrapolation of my ambivalence.

6. What do you like most about how other poets use technology?

I am grateful for poets like Ron Silliman, Dave Bonta with his Moving Poems and Jilly Dybka with her Poetry Hut. There are so many out there, but I point to those three specifically for personal reasons. Dybka’s because it was the first of the kind that I saw. I am continually overwhelmed by people’s generosity with their time and knowledge. Silliman’s because it was my introduction to the fact that serious poets and an interest in craftsmanship are flourishing outside of academia. And Bonta’s because it made me remember that thinking you are “original” may simply be a matter of ignorance. I had jumped into animated poetry fearlessly because of my ignorance, and growing now as a poet because of Bonta’s dedication to archiving and community.

7. Technology is enabling poets today to take poetry off the page in ways that were previously inconceivable. Either comment on this piece by Tom Konyves or provide a link to and comments on a different piece of work that uses technology to take the poem off the page.

Aren’t we living in an exciting time as poets? Some books still give the definition of poetry as “metered language”. The printing press and availability of affordable books and poetry became something we recognize in part by how it appears on the page. Now we are being pushed even further in our search to define poetry.

Konyves work has elements of found poetry, of Dadaist experiments and it uses music. The literary element of this piece isn’t experienced aurally and I am not an expert, but I would dare to say that we don’t even truly read the words in the graffiti as language – we process the images almost as graphemes, the “font” communicating as much of the meaning as the words themselves. This is a huge step away from traditional definitions of poetry. It begs a post modern and very liberal definition of language. It is not a literary piece as far as I can see. I don’t experience or approach this as a poem. I am being extremely subjective and not claiming any academic ground for my response. As an artist, I am drawn to his work. As a poet, I have no desire to emulate or experiment with this form of art.

Having said that. I think it is extremely exciting. I think it is similar to how technology gave rise to Performance, which is a genre unto itself now – no longer the stepchild of visual art or of theater. If I have understood Konyves correctly, that is what he is really after anyway?

If you look at work by someone like David Moolten, you can see there is no doubt that the work began with the literary art form and developed from the language (language as defined by fuddy-duddies like me). Moolten’s poetry is traditional poetry with a visual presentation. It may not be as radically new or as ambitious as Konyves, but I think it is exciting, too. Technology is a tool in the service of poetry for Moolten. Poetry is a tool in the service of a technological art form for Konyves. I mean…. if I were to be putting things in boxes…

8. Do you use technology as an integral element of your poetry? If so, how? If not, why not?

I do, in part to reach people who otherwise I wouldn’t be able to reach because my books are published in Scandinavia and cost far too much to attempt to sell abroad, and in part because my first love was the spoken language. Listening to the pastor read the Bible, to my mother read Dr. Seuss. Later I read Edna St. Vincent Millay aloud to myself in my bedroom. It isn’t that I love the sound of my own voice, but I love what good prosody does to the body. Poetry readings are wonderful intimate experiences because they are very physical. Listening is as physical as laughing, singing or weeping. Poetry resonates. Whether it is your own voice or the voice of the reader across the room or the Garrison Keillor coming through your headset at your cubicle at lunch hour. Technology makes that possible for those of us who can’t get to readings.

I also studied studio art a while in college and like playing with visual images. I am not a very good craftsman when it comes to visual art, though. Technology is absolutely a tool in the service of traditional poetry in the work I have done. I have even made interactive flash buttons so that the reader can pause the animation and see the poem “on the page”. There are buttons on some of the poems that allow the “reader” to access notes. Of course, most people just watch the QuickTime versions and are passive viewers. I’m not complaining. But I think of how often at readings I have wanted to hit the pause or review button to hear a line again or to double check a reference I thought the poet made to something in the previous stanza…

One of my advisors at university told me he thought the video versions of my poems were less interactive than the poems alone on the page. Several people at that meeting pointed out that people will not use the interactive buttons, will not put in the effort they would with a poem on the page. Well, does that me we accept limitations based on people’s habits? Or can we try to get people to use technology differently in the service of literature? We don’t read a poem once. Why should we watch a 2-minute video version of a poem just once and expect to have digested everything it has to give?

I am doing a lot of thinking these days. I will return to action soon. I am working on an entire interactive collection that will be published here in Norway.

9. What has technology done for or to Poetry?

The printing press changed poetry, the atom bomb changed poetry in another way. We could ask how Internet is changing poetry in regard to international/intercultural exchange, reader’s attention span and expectation, academic influences, grassroots publishing: how technology effects the dissemination of poetry, as well as the form. Most interesting in my mind is how it is changing the way we view the world and how we will express that in terms of actual material presentations as well as “form” (as in style). Can we know that yet, being smack in the middle of all this experimentation?

I think new kinds of “schools” will certainly emerge now that people with common aesthetics don’t have to be able to meet in a living room on Tuesday evenings to have ongoing conversations.

10. What should Poetry do with or about technology that it has not yet done?

I wouldn’t presume. I do hope that poetry remains true to literature, to literacy. I love that language can be presented on the page with clauses that have to be seen and connected in the mind, that a metaphor about grief can hover in a collection until it is completed twenty pages later in a poem about a dog. But there was a time when Scandinavian poets used complicated meters and they could make those kinds of wonderful epic artworks through memory and oral performance. We’ve lost that, as poets and as audience members. We will certainly lose something of Poetry along the way. I expect we will have a newly defined form of Poetry through which to express our grief.

Ren (Katherine) Powell is a poet, playwright, teacher and translator. She is currently completing her PhD in Creative Writing at Lancaster University. Her fourth poetry collection, forthcoming in 2011 (trans. Eirik Lodén) with Wigestrand Publishers in Norway, forms a biographic novel in verse about the American reformer Dorothea Dix and will feature an interactive CD-ROM. In the autumn of 2010 Phoenician Publishing will give out a “new and selected works”, which will be available in North America. She has recently begun blogging here.

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Previous responders:

Amy King
Collin Kelley

Coming up:

Chris Hamilton-Emery
Cati Porter
Ron Silliman
Sandra Beasley
Dave Bonta
January O’Neil
John Vick
Eric Elshtain

This series’ standing page: click here.

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Previous Ten Questions series:

1. Ten Questions on Poetry
2. Ten Questions on Publication
3. Ten Questions for Poetry Editors

music & technology (why not poetry?)

This is a fascinating read. I couldn’t help but substitute “poetry” for “music” while reading it. A couple of excerpts:

Cope has been writing software to help him compose music for 30 years, and he long ago reached the point where most people can’t tell the difference between real Bach and the Bach-like compositions his computer can produce. Audiences have been moved to tears by melodies created by algorithms. And yet, it’s not exactly that Cope has created a computer than can write music like a human. The way he sees it, it’s that humans compose like computers.

and

…human composers draw on a huge amount of data when they sit down to write a piece of music. “We don’t start with a blank slate,” [Cope] said. “In fact, what we do in our brains is take all the music we’ve heard in our life, segregate out what we don’t like, and try to replicate [the music we like] while making it our own.” What separates great composers from the rest of us, he says, is the ability to accurately compile that database, remember it, and manipulate it into new patterns.

10 Questions on Poets & Technology: Collin Kelley

The internet, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, websites, iPad, iPod, podcasts, digital video and who knows what else. What do they all mean for the poet qua poet? For Poetry? Is it still pretty much where the Gutenberg press left it? Is Poetry technology-proof? In our fearless ongoing quest to exploit other people’s wisdom on poetry-related subjects, we are posing ten questions to a group of illustrious contemporary poets on this topic. This week’s responder is Collin Kelley.

1. Characterize your general attitude as a poet towards technology.

I am absolutely obsessed with it. I’m also an Apple junky, so I want the most expensive gadgets, too. Every time I see someone with an iPad, the green-eyed monster rears its head and I start mentally calculating how much ramen I’d have to eat to afford one. I bought my first computer in 1998 and I’m still addicted to the Internet.

Technology has put me in touch with other poets, allowed me to befriend some of my icons, and given me an education in poetics that is invaluable. But it’s also pulled back the curtain on the po’biz and revealed the egos, insecurities, infidelities, indiscretions and insanity of many a poet and contest. Sometimes, I wish I didn’t know as much as I do, because it can leave a nasty aftertaste.

2. Do you use Facebook in your capacity as a poet? If so, how, and what are its upsides and downsides? If not, why not?

I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. I love that it’s connected me to poets around the world, and it pisses me off that Facebook can’t leave anything alone for five minutes in a nearly pathological attempt to “make it better.”

I have nearly 1,600 friends and I would guess more than half are writers or poets. I put all my upcoming readings on Facebook as invites, link my blog postings and occasionally post a poem. A writer without a presence on Facebook is doing himself or herself an incredible disservice. They are missing opportunities to find new readers, interact with fans and fellow writers. I know there is a learning curve for many on the need to help promote their own work, but Facebook is an easy (and free) way to do it. Facebook has usurped blogs as the way to connect with other poets. It doesn’t require big posts or essays, but just a few words or clicking “like.” The Internet has made us all lazy, even when it comes to technology. The less labor intensive the better appears to be the new motto.

I created a group page for my last chapbook, After the Poison, and there’s a fan page for my novel, Conquering Venus, with over 400 people following. I try to keep the book-related stuff to those pages and post inappropriate articles, comments and Lady Gaga videos on my personal wall. I think a great example of the power of Facebook is the campaign to get Betty White to host Saturday Night Live. If the networks are listening to Facebook users and are influenced by them, writers should take note.

3. Do you use Twitter in your capacity as a poet? If so, how, and what are its upsides and downsides? If not, why not?

Like many, I didn’t “get” Twitter’s power until last year. In May 2009, Mashable.com did a list of 100 writers you should follow on Twitter and there wasn’t a poet among them. It made me wonder if there were any poets out there really using Twitter. My own Twitter account had been sitting fairly idle for six months or so. I’d post a tweet or two every week or so and my number of followers was in the double digits for months.

I decided to compile a list of Poets on Twitter and post it on my blog and the floodgates opened. My blog received 4,000 visitors in one day and my number of Twitter followers jumped into the mid three-figure range in a matter of days. OCHO literary magazine publisher Didi Menendez was watching all this and asked me to guest edit an issue featuring poets on Twitter. I’ve got 1,600 followers now and it’s growing.

When I interviewed Margaret Atwood earlier this year, she described Twitter as the modern day version of the telegraph – an easy way to send short, important messages. You build a following and community on Twitter by interacting, re-tweeting (or sharing) other followers messages and by including useful links to articles, news, videos, etc. Twitter caught fire last summer during the Iran election protests and people suddenly realized just how important 140 characters could be.

Like Facebook, I use Twitter as a platform to network and promote my work, but more importantly it’s to share information of interest to other writers. The new list function allows you to put groups of people together to make it easier to follow and keep up, which can create a conversation. Sure, there’s plenty of misinformation out there and waaaaaaay too many Justin Bieber fanatics, but it’s free and easy to use.

4. What other technologies – including blogs, websites and podcasts – do you employ in your capacity as a poet? Explain how, and the upsides and downsides of each. If none, explain why.

I have been blogging since 2003 on Blogger and it is now my main website, which is called Modern Confessional. Blogger recently updated its tech, allowing for custom design and creating pages, which gives you the functionality of a traditional website and blog all rolled into one. I used to have a static website, which I built with Microsoft’s old Frontpage software, but once I started the blog, traffic on the static site dried up.

My blog has become a mishmash of me – poetry, favorite music videos, recaps of American Idol, book reviews, rants about the homophobic Christian right wing, and become almost exclusively political while I was campaigning for Obama in 2008. I know many poets keep blogs and write exclusively about poets and poetry, but I could never do that. I have many interests and the blog reflects that.

A couple of years ago, I created a YouTube channel to post videos of some of my readings and this year, I used iMovie on my MacBook to create a short video of two of my poems. YouTube is another logical step for poetry, whether you’re a performance or page poet. Millions watch YouTube everyday, so why not put your work out to the masses? Once again, it’s free.

I’m also on Goodreads, which I call the literary version of Facebook, Red Room (which has now started to charge, which is disappointing) and I have an author page on Amazon.com. I’m always looking for new outlets online to share my work.

5. What do you dislike most about how other poets use technology?

I don’t necessarily dislike how they use it, but maybe how they misuse it. Many journals – both print and online – have instituted rules that poems can’t have previously appeared on blogs or websites, so that has scared many poets away from even posting even rough drafts. I think that’s a shame, and I wish poets would rise up against this. It also boggles my mind that there are journals out there still refusing to take submissions via email.

I think there’s an unspoken barrier at journals that won’t take email submissions. If it’s so easy to do, they’ll get more submissions and they might have to expand their contents page beyond the usual suspects and the few handpicked newbies who they deem acceptable to print (or who have been recommended by their professor, wife, lover, friend).

Some poets use their blogs and websites as bully pulpits, too, and there’s usually a “poetry is dead” essay twice a year on someone’s blog. That gets old. There are many poets I love (including Sharon Olds) who have steadfastly refused to have a presence on the Internet. I wish they would stick their toe in. I actually would like to know what Dr. Olds had for dinner, the music she’s listening to or the latest book she’s read. It puts a human face on the poet and let’s readers have a more tangible relationship with the author.

6. What do you like most about how other poets use technology?

I like when they are completely unafraid to post whatever is on their mind without fear of repercussions from the community. Reb Livingston and Barbara Jane Reyes come instantly to mind for letting it all hang out when something or someone is bugging them in the poetry world.

Ron Silliman, Jilly Dybka (at Poetry Hut) and C. Dale Young are total givers when it comes to sharing news about poetry and poetics on their sites. During this past April’s National Poetry Month, Charles Jensenreviewed a collection every day at his Kinemapoetics blog.

Diane Lockward and Kelli Russell Agodon always have useful information about contests, festivals and suggesting new poets. I think a blog or website should definitely be used to share and promote your own work, but balance it out with promoting the works of others. Be a giver.

7. Technology is enabling poets today to take poetry off the page in ways that were previously inconceivable. Either comment on this piece by Tom Konyves or provide a link to and comments on a different piece of work that uses technology to take the poem off the page.

Most computers now have the ability to make a sound recording, which is uploadable as a podcast in a matter of minutes. I started doing that on MySpace four or five years ago. Sites like YouTube and Vimeo (which doesn’t have nearly as many content restriction as YouTube) has turned anyone with basic knowledge of editing software into a filmmaker and many poets are creating videos for their work and posting it around the Interwebs.

Poets are collaborating with artists and musicians to move their words off the page and into different arenas. Poet Steven Reigns has created installations of his work and created photography exhibits that incorporate words and images. Musician and poet Vanessa Daou created an interactive website that allows the user to hear, read and cut and paste her words into new forms.

On Twitter, haiku has made a great comeback. I love that online literary magazines like The Courtland Review and qarrtsiluni are using podcasts of the poet reading their work along with the poem itself.

8. Do you use technology as an integral element of your poetry? If so, how? If not, why not?

It has been the inspiration for several poems, even as far back as 2003 when my first collection, Better To Travel, was published. There’s a poem called “Wired World” that I wrote in 1999 about how computers were the new confessionals. “We whisper to it our hopes and dreams in quiet little clicks” is how I defined it. Since then, I’ve written about the joys and dangers of hooking up with strangers on Craigslist and a couple of months ago I wrote a poem about getting the kiss off from a lover via a Facebook relationship update, so, yeah, technology has found its way into my work. I’m not a “little birdy flying past the window” kind of poet. I write about reality, and the reality is that I am a tech geek, a voyeur and an agitator and the Internet gives me daily opportunities.

9. What has technology done for or to Poetry?

Many poets believe technology has ruined poetry. There are too many poets, writing too many poems and having the nerve to self-publish and shamelessly self-promote. It’s anathema. There are poets who bemoan poetry’s exile into the tiniest niche of literature in one breath, then pooh-pooh efforts to bring it out of the wilderness guarded by ivory towers. The Internet has allowed poetry of all kinds to flourish. Whether it’s “good” or “bad,” poets of all stripes have a potential audience with just a click or tap. Anyone can be a poet and that scares the hell out of the old guard.

10. What should Poetry do with or about technology that it has not yet done?

I think poets should be required to have their work recorded so I can download it on my iPod. You can’t even get a good CD of Anne Sexton reading her work and I’ve nearly worn my cassette out. There is such a huge opportunity to make poetry available to the masses and yet there is still resistance in many circles and at many publishing houses who fret over copyright, royalties and other vagaries of dissemination. There is no money in poetry, so stop worrying over who’s downloading it or reposting it. This is art, and art is made to be seen and heard. Go buy a $30 digital recorder at Target and put your work on iTunes or as a podcast on your blog. Make a video. Collaborate with a band and make a performance. Do it. Now.

Collin Kelley is the author of the novel, Conquering Venus (2009, Vanilla Heart Publishing), and three poetry collections, After the Poison, Slow To Burn and Better To Travel. Kelley, a Georgia Author of the Year Award-winner and Pushcart Prize nominee, is also co-editor of the Java Monkey Speaks Poetry Anthology series from Poetry Atlanta Press. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Atlanta Review, MiPOesias, The Chattahoochee Review, New Delta Review, Locuspoint, Ecotone, Tears in the Fence, The Pedestal, Blue Fifth Review and dozens more.

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Previous responders:

Amy King

Coming up next:

Ren Powell
Chris Hamilton-Emery
Cati Porter
Ron Silliman
Sandra Beasley
Dave Bonta
January O’Neil
John Vick
Eric Elshtain

This series’ standing page: click here.

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Previous Ten Questions series:

1. Ten Questions on Poetry
2. Ten Questions on Publication
3. Ten Questions for Poetry Editors

poetry technology – two kinds?

1. The kind of technology that distributes pre-existing poetry. Primarily the Internet.

2. The kind of technology that is poetry – without which there is no poem. Primarily computer-power.

The ongoing Ten Questions series will (I hope) address both aspects. Without presuming to speak for anyone, I’m guessing that Ren Powell will have quite some focus on type no. 2, as will Eric Elshtain, poet and editor at Beard of Bees, who has just agreed to participate (thanks, Eric!).

From the Beard of Bees site:

Gnoetry is an on-going experiment in human/computer collaborative poetry composition.

[...]

A key aspect of the Gnoetry software is the ability of a human operator to intervene in the language generation cycle, helping to “guide” the artistic process and to produce a result that is a true collaboration of equals.

Amy’s poetry/technology idea

Amy wrote: “If every poet were to record just one book of poems that they loved for the rest of us to listen to, and not just their own poems, how excellent would that be?”

I’m picking up positive reactions to this idea in different online venues today. One representative observation:

Now that wouldn’t be so hard, would it? I mean, they don’t have to be famous poets who do the recordings, do they? It would be easy to get it disseminated on iTunes wouldn’t it? Just do it as a podcast? I’m tellin’ ya, if I were retired, I’d grab that ball and run with it. And I’d love to pick a book I love and record it — though there’d be the issue of permissions, I guess.

I’d be up for it, for sure. Emily Dickinson, Sharon Olds, Sarah Manguso – think of it! A question of bandwidth, maybe? And permissions…

10 Questions on Poets & Technology: Amy King

The internet, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, websites, iPad, iPod, podcasts, digital video and who knows what else. What do they all mean for the poet qua poet? For Poetry? Is it still pretty much where the Gutenberg press left it? Is Poetry technology-proof? In our fearless ongoing quest to exploit other people’s wisdom on poetry-related subjects, we are posing ten questions to a group of illustrious contemporary poets on this topic. Our first responder is none other than our very own Amy King. Thanks for kicking off the series, Amy!

1. Characterize your general attitude as a poet towards technology.

Technology offers a variety of platforms for disseminating one’s work. Some are difficult to master, but most are not. Poets who don’t want to spend tons of time convincing a handful of big-name publishers their work is worthwhile should master just a few platforms like blogs (I prefer WordPress.com) or writer-friendly DIY sites such as Red Room and She Writes, and even the self-publishing mediums now readily available like Lulu.

Women in particular might consider knuckling down and forego the fear of “going public” independently (i.e. no publisher to do your PR, which is rare anyway). We’ve been modest and quiet far too long. We need more women’s voices, styles and revelations in that literary landscape, from what I’ve seen.

You can be as revealing or as careful as you want when embarking into the online world of Do It Yourself Public Relations, but my sense is that if you avoid technology and the resources it offers, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. You could hold out as the ‘quiet genius waiting to be discovered’ for a long, long time if you like. If you don’t believe in your own work enough to tout it, I guess you wait. And hope. Lots of people self-published and stomped for their own work such as Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, and Walt Whitman, without pause. Why not?

2. Do you use Facebook in your capacity as a poet? If so, how, and what are its upsides and downsides? If not, why not?

Facebook is an online water cooler. Do you gossip and get yourself in trouble at work? Or do you comment on the latest music you’re digging and drop a line about the last book or poem you published? You can get lost in the maze that is FBook, and that includes wasting time killing zombies and watering other people’s gardens (don’t go there). I treat my time and space on FBook as an opportunity for telling folks, casually, what interests me as of late, what I might be drinking that night, and oh yeah, take a peek at the latest review of my book, if you’re up for it.

Like I said, be casual and limit your time per day: your personality will shine through and you’ll get to know others, a bit, to boot. You can comment on other’s posts and shoot the breeze. You don’t need to reveal your innermost secrets nor should you invest yourself to the point that virtual friendships end up disappointing you. The online world is just that: fragmented and fleeting, and you should consider it a facet of your poetic life – no more or less. If folks are drawn to your work because they want to know more, awesome. If not, you’re no worse for wear, especially since you didn’t hang your hopeful hat on their latest comment/zombie score/scrabble wager, etc.

3. Do you use Twitter in your capacity as a poet? If so, how, and what are its upsides and downsides? If not, why not?

I have an account but almost never use it. I don’t like the lack of interaction, the truly one-sided advertising feel to it, and the general air of limited, abbreviated nose-picking ‘updates’ that roll down the screen. I’ve been told on repeat that I haven’t given it a chance. How many chances does it need? Still not buying it.

4. What other technologies – including blogs, websites and podcasts – do you employ in your capacity as a poet? Explain how, and the upsides and downsides of each. If none, explain why.

I create a “web” on the internet that almost always returns people to my homepage.

I primarily use my blog as an “author site,” a.k.a. my “anchor site.” I sometimes cut and paste blog posts of substance to my SheWrites and Red Room author pages, which also have blog capacities, and my Facebook profile automatically imports my blog posts.

I always link back to my website in my email “signature”, which is an automatic footer. I moderate a couple of listservs and belong to a few others. These communities are of topical interest like poetry, women’s poetry, education, etc. Whenever I post a comment or dialogue with someone, members often click on my signature link and take a peek at my webpage to know more about me and, hopefully, my work. Did I mention that I’m into the online presence thing to draw attention to my work?

I co-curate a reading series, and we videotape the readings. We were posting the videos to Youtube but have just switched to Vimeo, which offers better quality. These videos then get posted to our reading blog, and voila, we are known as promoters of poetry, which we are proud to be. It’s a small way of investing in one’s community. I’m not in it just to hear my own voice, despite the admission in the preceding paragraph. To be romantically truthful, poetry, my own and others, thrills me like nothing else.

5. What do you dislike most about how other poets use technology?

I don’t know about poets specifically, but I see any number of people abusing the seeming anonymity of the online world by posting abusive comments, in essence, to silence others. I’ve learned to deal with some of this nastiness by ignoring them or calling out their obvious tactics without digging in the dirt of their level. Sometimes I fail and come back with a dab of blood under my claws, but mostly I’m pretty good at pointing out the obvious. Unfortunately, I see a lot of women retreat and get offline, which is most unfortunate because then the cyber-bullies have achieved their ultimate goal: to be the voice that tops all voices. They hold the stupid belief that the most abrasive, loudest and denigrating voice might somehow be the smartest voice. Stupidity.

6. What do you like most about how other poets use technology?

I love hearing poets’ voices in the larger chorus, not just in the realm of poetry (though that’s great too). We’re poets; we listen and watch the world much more closely than the general population, with an analytical, ethical and sometimes spiritual eye. Perhaps I’m making a hasty generalization when I say we rely on the intuitive more and those sensibilities should be heard via articles and comments online in places like Salon and Huffington Post.

As far as how poets might marry technology with poetry, just getting the poetry out there with audio and videos of readings and publishing poetry is the most practical way – someone’s bound to come across it on when surfing during their lunch break or through someone else’s Facebook daily updates. The potential audience online is tremendous (consider the arrival of the iPad; poetry’s brevity is perfectly suited for these machines). I think visual poets are enjoying their current pioneer status as well. The focus though remains with the words and how we receive and process them. Beyond that, I’m not sure I’ve seen any real advancements with technology and poetry that don’t verge on the gimmicky. Poetry can stand on its own; it doesn’t need to be sold with impressive or interpretive images, though I think a few places like Born Magazine, which matches a poet and artist, have done a pretty tasteful job of putting things together in interesting ways, and e-books & online chapbooks are getting more unique by the byte.

7. Technology is enabling poets today to take poetry off the page in ways that were previously inconceivable. Either comment on this piece by Tom Konyves or provide a link to and comments on a different piece of work that uses technology to take the poem off the page.

I have to say that the Konyves’ piece feels more like an ode to graffiti art than a poem. I enjoyed Ren Powell’s animated poem, “Hydrotherapy,” though I don’t think I’m well versed enough yet to judge such video-texts. The poem is still very much a written and heard thing for me, though prefacing it with a cool or artistic image can draw a reader to the work. We live in an age where text and image are often melded together or juxtaposed, but I have trouble really immersing myself in a poem interpreted by images. Reading speed is controlled and what I see in my ‘mind’s eye’ is set before me. These efforts reduce the reading experience, though perhaps that speaks more about my own literacy than those who grew up with the internet. I’m not opposed to such efforts; I’ve even attempted something similar myself. About a decade ago, I fancied myself a photographer. I used to experiment integrating my poetry into or joining it with the photos – these attempts felt forced and failed (for me, some responded positively). The most I could muster successfully was a few words developed or written on the photos. Beyond that, the poem was overshadowed and overpowered by the images…kind of like the difference in experience between reading a book and seeing the movie. Ultimately, hybrid forms that spring from the use of different media in the interpretation of poetry certainly produce their own artistic effect layered over the read or spoken words, and that can be exciting or distracting – it all depends on the project.

8. Do you use technology as an integral element of your poetry? If so, how? If not, why not?

Hmm. No. I mean, I was publishing my poems online when it was still considered less valuable than in print journals, so in that regard, technology helped me along. I suppose many are still limited by that old notion that anything worthwhile should be in print, but even smart older poets get the turn towards online publishing. That’s not to say that books should be forgotten – by no means do I condone throwing books out the window anymore than I would say letter-writing is pointless now that we have email. Who doesn’t love the tangible feel of paper and ink? When the electricity goes out in a storm, can you burn a candle and read your iPad? Well, if your battery is charged. But you get my drift. One does not negate the other. But back to the idea that technology could be integral: no. My work is in words. I love a good typeface and a big page; I love a great web design that presents the poem in an aesthetically-pleasing fashion. But as I noted earlier, I’m no visual poet nor have I found a way to successfully integrate images with my poems without feeling like something has been taken away from the focus on the words. That’s not to say other poets haven’t somehow enhanced the reading experience or even brought more readers to poetry with their images; I’m just not capable of imagining my way into this right now in a way that would benefit my poems. I look forward to discovering successful examples though.

9. What has technology done for or to Poetry?

This is a funny question. I mean, there are practical answers, especially because poetry requires distribution. But it’s also almost like asking, ‘How has advertising affected poetry?’ Well, advertising once relied on radio jingles and billboards and then television ads and magazine ads, etc. These mediums certainly have had an effect, or vice versa, on the foregrounding of poetic devices as well as possibly shortening our attention spans so that shorter poems fare better than the epic, etc. But I’m resisting this question as I want to avoid conflating technology as somehow directly affecting poetry; instead and more to the point, I’d note that technology can affect poetry’s reception.

Poetry survives because it’s primarily about human connection and interaction as mediated by words and what that entails (the latter being a complex multitude I cannot possibly outline here). Technology is making it possible for us to get the word out, in a variety of formats and styles, to more people daily. Some of us plug away at proliferating poetry. I do. I’m invested in setting an example of someone who does not apologize for wanting others to engage with her through the poetic. Poetry is transformative, where culture can stagnate and water down to the lowest form and function, if you let it. So why not use that technology to spread the poetic? Technology is neutral; it’s what we do with it that’s going to make or break us, so to speak.

You mention that some think ease of dissemination and accessibility “cheapens” poetry. That notion speaks to the idea that poetry is somehow commodifiable. Well, it is in certain obvious ways. Books can sell, help one obtain a job, and once you’re a recognizable entity, you can get paid reading gigs, etc. But those are perks capitalism tries to water the poet down with; poetry resists anyway. Poetry, real poetry, does something akin to breaking the mindset of “what is” and “what should be”—loosely speaking, the “status quo.” Poetry is the antithesis of that mindset; it is not about trying to obtain the dollar reward. Those poets mimeographing poems in basements were not trying to reap mansions; they were responding to and even affirming life in numerous uncontrollable and unsummarizable ways (because the poem cannot be reduced; it’s always the poem), despite the insidious presence of what cheapens (ironically, the dollar cheapens). Like the mimeo before it, online technology enables an easier DIY ethics that gets poetry read. We have freedom of speech, but who gets heard is a more complex matter. Just because you can say something doesn’t mean someone will broadcast it. So, if no one will, then take matters into your own hands. You can be the steam in the engine that spreads the words. Poetry isn’t just for those who can afford it; ask Walt Whitman and his democratic vision: the more voices, the more the symphonic cacophony opens and queries what it really means to see and hear beyond our own backyards, to push past “tolerance” and co-exist in productive and even as-yet unheard of ways. I know I’m speaking abstractly at this point, but if we really look at whose voices and ideas have been heralded and rewarded, we can see that ours is a fairly limited landscape, which in turn, limits what we can know and become.

10. What should Poetry do with or about technology that it has not yet done?

One thing I would really love is to hear more poetry. Not just via videos of readings, but really just be able to download through an easy medium like iTunes a lot of poems. I know that spots like Poetry Foundation, the Academy of American Poetry, Ubu Web, and PennSound offer a variety, but I want more. I tried checking out Poetry Apps through Apple; those are limited as well. I’m a big music lover, but lately I’ve just been craving taking a walk and listening to a whole book of poems by Ashbery or someone reading Stein on the iPod. I mean, this bug has really been up my pants lately, to the point that I’m thinking about reading Vallejo’s Trilce or the Human Poems on audio and then uploading so that others can walk around and hear me loving life through these poems. Kind of like Fahrenheit 451, but with audio! If every poet were to record just one book of poems that they loved for the rest of us to listen to, and not just their own poems, how excellent would that be? And if those recordings could be streamed on the iPod or through a phone application? Who wouldn’t be checking out what book of poems Ashbery read for us? Ana Bozicevic loves X’s book so much that she spent two hours reading it for us! Jeni Olin read X! Can’t wait to listen! And so on. Poems aloud, through these very accessible mediums that music shares, would be where I’d invest my money and time. Bring back the heard word!

Resources
Blog Her
CWIP Self-Publishing Resources Guide
Goodreads
Library Thing
Lulu
Red Room
She Writes
WordPress

Amy King’s most recent book is Slaves to Do These Things (Blazevox), and forthcoming, I Want to Make You Safe (Litmus Press). She is currently preparing a book of interviews with the poet Ron Padgett. She also teaches English and Creative Writing at SUNY Nassau Community College. With Ana Bozicevic, King co-curates the Brooklyn-based reading series, The Stain of Poetry. For more information, please visit Amy’s website.

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Coming up next (once a week on Thursdays):

Colin Kelley
Ren Powell
Chris Hamilton-Emery
Cati Porter
Ron Silliman
Sandra Beasley
Dave Bonta
January O’Neil
John Vick
Eric Elshtain

This series’ standing page: click here.

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Previous Ten Questions series:

1. Ten Questions on Poetry
2. Ten Questions on Publication
3. Ten Questions for Poetry Editors

trees pending

Cedar, sequoia, sycamore, teak, willow, yew. Six more to get down on paper before full overall revision can start. I know where willow will be set, but not the approach yet. Dithering on cedar – it has to be Cedar of Lebanon but that’s such a complete dense muti-faceted theme in itself – how to handle it? Glimmerings on teak, but nothing on the rest yet.

important and fun

my mom is important and fun because she lets me fry meat and boil pasta when we cook dinner on the weekends

my mom is important and fun because she plays x-box 360 and asks me to help her she plays lara croft and monsters vs aliens

– Whale Child for school Poetry Week.

Important and fun – that’s me!