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!
CWIP Self-Publishing Resources Guide
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.
Coming up next (once a week on Thursdays):
This series’ standing page: click here.
Previous Ten Questions series:
1. Ten Questions on Poetry
2. Ten Questions on Publication
3. Ten Questions for Poetry Editors