10 Questions on Poets & Technology – Dave Bonta

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 Dave Bonta.

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

I’ve always gripped a pen or pencil tightly, a habit perhaps not unrelated to the fact that my First Grade teacher, Mrs. Faust, from whom I learned the rudiments of writing, made extensive use of fear and shame in her pedagogy. “Keep your finger straight!” she’d snarl, but as soon as she left the side of my desk my index finger would fold back into a sad little peak, like my family’s end of the mountain viewed from the center of town. I’m reminded of this now when I attempt experimentally to draft a poem on paper the way I used to. A blister quickly rises on the side of my middle finger where years ago there used to be a callous, and I can hardly remember how to shape the letters. My pen gets lost in the middle of an S or a G. To think I used to do calligraphy for the titles of articles and poems in the mimeographed magazine my brothers and I self-published when we were teenagers!

Typewriter, whiteout, carbon paper — these I don’t miss at all, though I’ll admit I keep my dad’s old Olympia under my writing table, ensconced in its conveniently dust-colored carrying case, because You Never Know. But I do miss the making of drafts by hand, keeping my lines as straight as I could on the unlined back of a piece of scrap paper, which for many years would have been used computer printer paper from the Penn State library where my dad worked, edged with neat round holes for the tractor feed like arrow-straight animal tracks melted into the paper’s snow, and on the other side the light-green bars and the pages of text from scholarly monographs. This was to have been the last paper before the advent of the paperless office, and from an institution whose zealots used to dream about the imminent obsolescence of the book. I still have reams of those drafts in an old file box, next to a box filled with 20-year-old floppies containing my first book-length manuscripts. Barring mice and fire, those paper drafts could remain readable for hundreds of years, while the information on the floppy discs couldn’t be recovered now without considerable trouble and expense.

So my basic attitude toward computer technology is, in a word, ambiguous. I try to resist the fetishistic allure of gadgets. I do not own a phone or other mobile device and my lack of a real income fortunately prevents me from upgrading my essential equipment (desktop computer with free-standing microphone and speakers, digital camera and camcorder) very often. My only television is a completely gutted cabinet TV from the 1960s, repurposed as a shrine to negativity.

With the gusher in the Gulf dominating the headlines, I think Americans in general are beginning to understand why we environmentalists tend to be so dour about the long-term prospects for our fossil fuel-powered weekend binge of a civilization, and why we tend not to believe the cheery assurances of engineers and technocrats that we can always fix whatever messes we make. Critiques of Silicon Valley rarely point out that it once had a different nickname, the Valley of Heart’s Delight, and was renowned for its orchards and its rich soil. “Until the 1960s it was the largest fruit production and packing region in the world, with 39 canneries.” It now boasts the densest concentration of Superfund sites in the United States. Brutal wars in places like the Congo are fueled in part by the demand for rare metals essential to the manufacture of new gadgets, and Mac lovers may have heard about the multiple worker suicides in the Chinese plants where iPads are made. They say Apple products are more expensive than they need to be, but if you had to pay the true cost of those sleek penis substitutes, you might have to remortgage your house.

While things like email and the print-on-demand publishing revolution can indeed save trees, we must also remember that the server “farms” that run the internet make extreme demands on the energy grid. The sooner they can be moved to places like Iceland, where cooling isn’t such a problem and energy comes straight from the planet’s hellhole of a heart, the better I’ll feel about my own role as a small-time web publisher.

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 do. Facebook is like one of those government printing presses in Soviet bloc countries which turned out mind-rotting anti-literature by day and samizdat by night, with snoops keeping copies of everything for “quality control.” Like all analogies, of course, this one has its flaws. Under capitalism, poems do not need to be banned in order to remain unread, and we poets, lord knows, do not need to stake our lives on what we write. We can gather without fear of retribution and live in happy poet ghettoes where we never have to worry about some ignorant policeman disturbing our sleep or challenging our specialness. But Facebook is too new for the ghetto walls to have solidified yet; non-poet friends and family can listen in on our conversations and follow the links to our blogs where the true samizdat (literally, “self-published”) culture flourishes in all its hand-made glory.

I use Facebook in my capacity as a literary magazine publisher, too. In fact, that’s really what drew me back to the site, after my initial disgusted attempt to quit. I like the way social networks like Facebook can put writers and editors on more of an equal footing, and far from increasing cliquishness as some suggest, now these collegial conversations about life and literature are more or less public, and almost anyone who cares to can join in. Based on our experience at qarrtsiluni, I’d say it’s actually easier to reject work from people you know than from strangers, because you’re more likely to be able to find the right words, professional but empathetic. And since anyone can be an editor and publisher now, there’s a much greater sense that we’re all in this together. Our Facebook group page turns out to be a convenient way to run an email list, less restrictive than Gmail, though I do resent the fact that those of us who did the proper, social thing and set up group pages for our organizations have been penalized: you have to put the brand front and center and create a fan page in order show up in people’s feeds.

Discovering the hidden Block button also strongly influenced my decision to remain on Facebook, at least until something better comes along. For all its creepiness and its imposition of bland uniformity, at least Facebook lets us each play censor. Since I share a lot of links myself — postings to almost all my various blogs and websites appear automatically, for example, via a great little app called RSS Graffiti — it eases my anxiety about possibly overwhelming people who really just want me for a contact, knowing that they can simply block all my updates, or block all updates from that app. And my wall is as public as I can make it, so prospective “friends” will know exactly what they’re in for.

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?

Twitter is central to my plans for brand positioning and world domination! After all, what could be more emblematic of the power of poetry to save us all than a small squadron of birds flying in two different directions while somehow hoisting a whale?

Actually, my first loyalty is to the much smaller and better-designed Identica and the nascent, decentralized, federated network of microblogging sites of which Identica is the flagship. Twitter’s refusal to join that network means that we Identica-based poets can only send our posts in one direction, and can’t subscribe to — er, I mean follow — Twitter users without going to Twitter or using a Twitter client. So basically we are back in the early 90s, when you had to have a Comcast account to exchange emails with other Comcast users.

I do love the fail whale, though, and it amuses me to see respectable tech journalists cite its frequent appearance as a sign of success, for example during big World Cup matches when Twitter handles — or fails to handle — a record volume of tweets. I’m sure Soviet apparatchiks felt similarly cheered by the appearance of long lines at every shop as proof of the desirability of Soviet goods. As with Facebook, I’m a pragmatist: if you’re serious about reaching out to poetry fans wherever they might be, you simply can’t ignore Twitter’s huge user base.

Thanks to frequent re-tweets of our bridged Identica posts (“dents”) by a minor Twitter celebrity, the very literate, nature- and poetry-loving film critic Roger Ebert, I and a couple of my long-time fellow poetry microbloggers are currently gaining largish audiences while continuing a pattern of minimal participation there, which is great if somewhat guilt-inducing. Unfortunately, the population of active poets on Identica has dwindled in recent months. At its heyday, our favorited posts hit the Identica home page so often, it developed a reputation as “Twitter for poets,” as the founder once put it. In truth, we were never as numerous there as members of other cults, especially those around various open-source software projects such as Ubuntu and Debian, we just had more of a curatorial instinct and hit the little star icon more often.

I attribute the decline of that scene to the spreading popularity of Facebook, but Identica, Twitter, and other microblogging sites continue to fascinate me and a bunch of other writers because of the challenge of writing well within a strict, 140-character limit. A recent article by critic Chris Vognar in the Dallas Morning News, “Twitter’s character limit sparks new style of short-form writing,” describes how this works, quoting journalism guru Roy Peter Clark:

“Having that calculator of characters really drives you to certain strategies which are probably good for writing in general,” Clark told me. “You’re more inclined to use nouns and verbs rather than adjectives and adverbs. You’re more inclined to make sure every single word works. If I had written what I’d just said I would take out the word ‘single,’ because it doesn’t do any work.”

And Clark points out that William Carlos Williams’ poem “The Red Wheelbarrow” weighs in at just 88 characters, counting the slashes for line-breaks.

I started my daily microblog The Morning Porch back in November 2007 as “an exercise in paying close attention to language and to the world around me,” and for many months I didn’t think of what I was writing as poetry. Most readers seemed to feel that it was, though, and one day at Identica I half-jokingly coined the term “micropoetry” to describe what happens when the 140-character limit of microblogging leads one to unintended lyrical heights. It’s now a reasonably popular hash-tag on Twitter.

Writing one tweet-length observation every morning about what I see and hear from my front porch as I drink my coffee has turned out to be a fun and sustainable formula for a blog. Since I happen to live way out in the country, most of what I write about is “nature,” which has its own constituency on Twitter and elsewhere. I’ve listed the blog in the Backyard category of the 1145-member Nature Blog Network, a fantastic resource for anyone interested in nature blogging. People have asked why my yard seems so much more interesting than theirs, and a good part of it is the location next to a woods-edge ecotone and a water source, and the fact that my yard is an unmown meadow. But part of it too is that I’ve been fortunate to receive a pretty good nature education, so I know what I’m looking at or hearing most of the time. You can only write for so long about generic birds, trees, and butterflies, but if you know specific names, here in the biodiverse Appalachians you’re unlikely ever to run out of writing prompts.

The technological aspect is interesting to me, too, the fact that by far the largest number of readers are following The Morning Porch on Twitter, followed by Facebook, feed readers, Identica, Tumblr, and Friendfeed, probably in that order. What I think of as the canonical location at morningporch.com receives on average just 25 visitors a day. There’s an existential homelessness to writing on the web that appeals to my inner Buddhist, even though I do still treasure books as well.

The phenomenon of Twitter haiku has received quite a lot of attention, and I do sometimes microblog haiku myself — last Saturday while watching the USA-Ghana World Cup match, for example. I have little patience for the 5-7-5 crowd, but serious haikujin abound on Twitter, too. As a social network, it’s great for linked verse exercises, though I’ve only participated in a couple. Here’s a chain poem I collaborated on with PF Anderson last year, riffing on current news items.

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.

Blogging has been central to my development as a writer. I am a huge believer in the technology, and use it also to publish a literary magazine, as I mentioned, a videopoetry site, the coordinating site for a monthly blog carnival on trees, a couple of static collections of my best poems, and other projects too numerous to mention. Rather than launch into another interminable answer, though, let me just link to a blog post from last December: “Personal blogging for writers: a manifesto.” Here’s a snippet:

Many writers prefer to use blogs merely to share news of their publishing success elsewhere, and that’s fine. But I think those with a more exhibitionist streak are missing out on a great deal of fun, and poets in particular — who are almost invariably exhibitionists, let’s face it — are missing an unparalleled opportunity to connect with audiences they might never otherwise reach. But there’s a risk, too: that they will be so seduced by this new medium that they won’t want to go back to jostling for publication in snooty print magazines no one reads, and their professional reputations will suffer as a result.

I’ve been blogging since December 2003, and for the first couple of years I posted a lot of long essays on anthropology, religion, philosophy and the like, but once I got that out of my system my blogging at Via Negativa matured into the present mix of poems, essays, and miscellany. A reader’s gift of a used digital camera in early 2005 got me hooked on photography, and I discovered what great writing prompts photos could be. Successive Christmases brought me a better digicam and a camcorder. With the latter I began to shoot wildlife footage — because, again, I live way out in the woods, not because I’m opposed to filming people — and pretty soon that footage was finding its way into videopoems. I’ve also been recording and posting audio for at least three years, mostly at qarrtsiluni for our daily podcast, but sometimes at Via Negativa too. In January, I started a weekly, half-hour podcast, which is currently on summer vacation and might return as a monthly podcast. Since I’m a bit of a perfectionist with the editing, it turned out to be more time-consuming than I’d expected, but it was fun as hell.

The question says “in my capacity as a poet,” but in all of this I think of myself as a blogger or publisher first; poetry is just one aspect of what I do. And I kind of recommend the miscellaneous approach to blogging because I think it builds a more diverse readership. Of course, if people are only interested in my poems, they are free to subscribe to the feed for just that category and not bother with all the other stuff. But I would hope they’d want to see where the poems come from, too.

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

I get frustrated with some poets’ reluctance to post drafts of their work to their blogs because they don’t want to ruin their chances of getting published elsewhere, but I can understand why they do so. My frustration is directed more toward the literary magazine editors who refuse to consider previously blogged work. I’m grateful to Very Like a Whale for opening my own mind on the subject a couple years ago with your series of posts on the subject. My co-editor Beth Adams and I talked it over and changed our policy at qarrtsiluni shortly thereafter, and I encourage other magazines also to consider making an exception for work self-published on the author’s own blog or website. Since rights almost invariably revert to the author after publication, you’re not protecting yourself from duplication of content online in any case. And by welcoming bloggers, you get the benefit of their ready-made audiences, too, when they proudly blog the link to their poem in your magazine.

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

I respect people who are much more cautious about using new tools than I am. I think poets should take their role as preservers of tradition seriously, and sometimes this translates into a curmudgeonly rejection of anything more modern than a typewriter. I don’t have a problem with that. But I most enjoy poets who are willing to experiment and take full advantage of the read/write web. Despite what I just said about liking miscellaneous blogs, I love poem-a-day bloggers like Christina Hile and Hannah Stephenson — they set a great example for us slackers. And most of all, I like seeing the generosity with which online poets and other writers link to each other, comment on each other’s work, workshop each other’s poems (the internet is great for that), and form new and I think more resilient networks than we’ve seen in a very long time, especially here in the U.S. where the poetry world is so factionalized.

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.

The other week I had a realization: all poetry is found poetry. It was prompted by this found videopoem:

Talk about news that stays (and stays, and stays, and stays) news! I’m very interested in the potential of multimedia to liberate poetry not merely from the page but also from the tyranny of monolingualism. Because of the way the visuals hint at the content while the audio conveys the word-music, videopoems in languages the viewer doesn’t know, if done right, can convey poetic qualities that would otherwise remain inaccessible except through translation. Here for example is a Japanese tongue-twister about pigeons by one Hanafubuki:

And check out this wonderful reading by Icelandic poet Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl, a sound-poem in homage to a 17th-century nonsense poet called Æri-Tobbi, or Crazy Tobbi, whose poetry is discussed at length in a fascinating essay archived at Norðdahl’s blog: “Mind the Sound.”

I’ve been curating a blog of other people’s videopoetry and poetry films, Moving Poems, for a year and a half now, posting four or five videos a week, and there’s no indication that I’ll ever run out of fresh material. I invite everyone to stop by and browse the archives. A true librarian’s son, I am ridiculously pleased with the detailed indexing system I’ve put in place there, though lately I’ve begun to wonder if I haven’t shortchanged the filmmakers a bit by placing the focus on the poets. Anyway, choosing almost at random, here’s an example of what I consider a pretty good videopoem with real populist appeal by award-winning filmmaker Chel White, narrated by Alec Baldwin. I love the way they’ve repurposed a century-old poem by Antonio Machado (in Bly’s translation) to convey a contemporary environmental message — showing, again, that “foundness” at the heart of authentic listening.

This is obviously very conventional in its choice of music and imagery, but the choice of honeybee footage to accompany the reading itself was inspired, I thought. I tend to react negatively to videopoems that are too literal. Another way many videopoems use “foundness” to help prompt a deeper, or at least different, understanding of the poem is through repurposed footage, as in this video for a Rumi/Barks poem from Four Seasons Productions:

I love the way film can rescue poetry from its long exile in print. One commonly expressed hope is that it will bring poetry to new audiences, including those with stunted attention spans. I don’t know. Some of the best videopoems I’ve found have been viewed less than 100 times. I don’t think people are going on YouTube, or even Vimeo, to look for poetry most of the time — at least, not in the Anglophone world. I do know that those of us who are already devoted members of the poetry cult can find fresh inspiration for our own writing from the gestalt effect of watching really good videos.

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

Sometimes, yes. I mentioned ekphrastic writing earlier. A couple years ago, I got really interested in digital poetry postcards, in which the image and text are all of a piece. Some of my best efforts were for a series I called Postcards from a Conquistador. Similarly, with some of my most successful videopoems the text has been prompted by the footage. The final shaping of the video happens after the audio recording, which is a procedure that works for me because sound has always been more central to my poetry than its shape on the page.

I’ve written a couple of neo-flarfist poems using Google search results — who hasn’t? — and I think I’ve pioneered the genre of opinion poll poetry, which seems to be going nowhere fast. I even did one survey poem, though I failed to take full advantage of the medium and have branching questions, choose-your-own-adventure style. This is clearly a genre that deserves further exploration.

9. What has technology done for or to Poetry?

This is a tremendously broad question, and I’ve been enjoying the range of responses from the other participants in this series. No technology we can devise will rival the impact of the invention of writing systems, for sure. (I’m a big Walter J. Ong fan.) But the other day I ran across the following intriguing observation in a blog post by the poet and retired journalist Djelloul Marbrook:

My guess is that the press has had a profound influence on poetry, and I think poems now lighting up in cyberspace will have an equally revolutionary impact. I don’t know if hypertext will become a protocol in poetics, but the mere knowledge that a word has the inherent capability of being a hyperlink is bound to influence poetry, because now we must presume that words are tangible as well as metaphorical gateways.

I love that suggestion, and suddenly it makes me want to reverse my policy against including hyperlinks in poems! One site I know that does hyperlinks and multimedia exceptionally well within the confines of a thematically unified online project is The Peter Principle, Clayton Crosby’s collection of poems about work. Links are off by default, but clicking “etymology” to the right of a text turns them on. This is an interesting compromise between the desire for textual purity and the desire to see how a text is connected to the larger world. He also accompanies each poem with a Flash animation and an audio player. There is no single authoritative form.

I find my expectations of poetry changing and softening under the influence of online media. As I mention in my blogging manifesto linked above, I used to be an obsessive polisher before I caught the blogging bug. Now I am much more accepting of imperfections in my poems, secure in the knowledge that I can go back later and fix them. True, William Stafford didn’t need the internet to teach him about the virtues of daily writing, but I definitely needed that nudge. I have grown to like the way many poetry bloggers embed their poems within accounts of their creation, though my own ideal mix of prose and poetry is something closer to haibun. I am so comfortable with comment sections now, online magazines without comments strike me as peculiar. One writer friend defended this lack to me a couple of years ago, saying essentially that he didn’t enjoy the transition from the carefully chosen words of a poem to the typically dashed-off quality of comments, but I rather enjoy the contrast, as long as the comments are clearly separated from the text.

So in general I see online media and social networks contributing to a more relaxed understanding of the relationship between poems and the matrices in which they’re embedded. Just as Facebook, Twitter and interlinked networks of personal bloggers can help poets break out of their ghettoes, I think we’re seeing poems, too, assume a more natural, less precious position.

One frequent online conjunction I don’t care for is between poetry and advertising. But I tend to think of poems as anti-ads, so maybe it’s not such a bad thing to place the two in direct conflict. A good poem can pretty much rob any nearby ad of meaning and relevance. Of course, should poetry ever become as wildly popular in the U.S. as it is in, say, the Arab world, I expect that corporations would simply pay poets to name-drop products in their poems.

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

Critique it more effectively. With a few exceptions, we poets haven’t done a particularly good job of educating ourselves about science and technology and making them subjects of our poetry. We’re a technology-obsessed civilization, and our technology could very well destroy or (possibly) save us, so I think we owe it to ourselves to begin thinking more deeply and critically about that.

Dave Bonta lives in Plummer’s Hollow, Pennsylvania and is the author of Odes to Tools. He recently compiled what he fears may be the first stab by anyone at a comprehensive guide to formatting poetry for the web.

Previous responders:

Amy King
Collin Kelley
Ren Powell
Chris Hamilton-Emery
Cati Porter
Ron Silliman
January O’Neil

Coming up:

Sandra Beasley
John Vick
Eric Elshtain

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

who says the poem belongs on a page? (poets & technology)

A couple of intrepid blogosphere poets have answered the ten questions on poets & technology on their own blogs. Thank-you, Rik Roots and Caroline Crew! We have linked to them on the series standing page. (Note: If you answer the questions on your blog, send us the link and we’ll add it. The standing page will keep your answers peeled and fresh for poetry knowledge-seekers for years to come!)

Rik writes:

Personally, I blame the Sumerians for the death of poetry. If only they hadn’t invented writing, poetry would still be the pure, instant, sacred, utterable conscience of the tribe/society that it was always meant to be

An intriguing reminder. Writing itself is technology. In his responses, Ron Silliman made a claim for the seminal role of the the typewriter (Poets who write as though the typewriter has yet to be invented strike me as curiously pathological), and that was good double-take material for me. In line with a peeve Ron describes in response to #5, which asks what he dislikes about how other poets use technology (I can’t say that there is anything that fits this, unless it’s younger poets treating any sort of technology ahistorically, as if it’s “permanent” or transhistorical), Rik takes it a step further with his focus on writing-as-technology.

Poetry has evolved to be comfortable on the page. But the page is a late-comer to the poetry game. “Page” is not sine qua non of “poem.” (Although I know Cati Porter will disagree, per her responses, where she said in response to #7 – An effective poem must work as well on the page as off.)

experiment in poetry composition (poets & technology)

Look what Edward Byrne is doing! We are flattered that he credits the current Ten Questions series on Poets and Technology as his inspiration for the idea. Thanks, Edward!

(For separate thought-provoking insights, check out Edward’s responses to the last Ten Questions series, for poetry editors.)

home again, home again

Finally back home after a long road-trip, internetting on the fly, not eating properly, barely exercising and reading much less than I had hoped. On the plus side of the ledger, I did finish Trollope’s Dr. Thorne and To the North by Elizabeth Bowen and also managed a fair amount of quite detailed tree-identifying.

On the flight home I read Prufrock and watched Tim Burton’s new Alice in Wonderland. The latter I thought well worth the time, with great interpretations by Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter, tremendous visuals, and of course, the brilliant dottiness of Carroll’s language + Burton’s direction underpinning it all. Not sure why I was reminded of Alice, reading Prufrock afterwards.

And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?

10 Questions on Poets & Technology – January O’Neil

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 January O’Neil.

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

I look on technology as a conduit to bring together a community of writers. The Internet is tool to enhance and distribute their work. It’s an equalizer, of sorts. The rise of online journals gives writers more ways to publish. It’s also a terrific way for poets to market themselves, their projects and events, and share them with a broader audience. Poets work alone so much that it’s nice to connect to others on a *global* level.

I wish more poets took advantage of the options that are out there. Talent will “get you in the door,” but poetry competes with more leisurely distractions than ever before.

Nowadays, a writer with little or no publishing experience can start a blog, connect to other writers on Facebook, tweet their events, start Web zines, self-publish, post a poem video, or an audio file—all of which leads to having his/her voice heard. We can publicize ourselves in ways we couldn’t do 10 years ago. I am a glass half-full kind of person. As poetry expands to keep up with technology, it reinvents itself for the next generation of poets and poetry lovers.

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 won’t lie—I love Facebook. I started using it at the college I work for to see what students were talking about. But now, I use it as a way to connect to other writers, and to let people know what I’m up to. I enjoy seeing what my fellow writers are doing in their corners of the world. I like knowing that someone is having a tough time with a stanza, or had poems accepted for publication, or had a turkey sandwich for lunch. I love it all. I can do without the cheesy games and gimmicks, but Facebook has certainly made my world a little smaller.

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?

For a long time, I didn’t get Twitter. 140 characters? So what? Yet, it’s proven to be an essential for sharing immediate information. I use it primarily to pass along articles about poetry and the publishing industry. The shelf life of a tweet is probably 15 minutes, so you put it out there, and it’s gone. I like that.

I’m fascinated by those poets who do a good job of tweeting interesting blurbs on the writer’s life as well as event information or publication news. That’s a skill and the beauty of Twitter. You’re forced to be economical with your thoughts and share only the essential information.

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’ve had the Poet Mom blog up and running for about four years. It’s always been a place for me to connect with others by posting poems and talking about the other aspects of my life. Much of the time, I’m balancing poetry and motherhood. I talk about how difficult it is to write; readers can relate to that. I really enjoy reading about other writers on blogs. I cheer their successes and relate to their challenges, too.

In 2010, the blog has given me a chance to talk about Underlife, my first collection. But I’ve also used the blog as a medium to speak with professors who are teaching my book in class, and with students asking questions directly to be. Additionally, I use the blog to highlight the arts community around the metro Boston area. That being said, the blog is for me. I am my first, best audience. It is 100 percent me, and has become an essential part of my writing life.

I’m also on Goodreads, LibraryThing, and SheWrites, but to be honest, I feel stretched. It takes a lot of work to maintain the ancillary sites I’m involved with, so I see myself cutting back so I can focus my energies where it makes the most sense. Technology does take me away from the act of writing poetry—definitely a downside.

I have yet to do a Skype poetry reading but will probably try it this year.

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

The Internet has given some poets an open invitation to be snarky. I’ve read some very harsh, mean-spirited blog posts and critiques lately. It’s unfortunate, yet more and more commonplace. I’m all for a well-crafted review or a well-stated difference of opinion. But it doesn’t interest me to read ongoing verbal fist-fights because one poet values a particular aesthetic over another. I wouldn’t want that out in the world. How does that make poetry better?

Poetry is big enough to handle all sorts of dissension, but when it’s not based on the work—when it’s all about the personalities and not about the content—that hurts the genre as a whole. I am not down with poet-on-poet crime.

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

Technology is at its best when it brings together people for poetry. Good examples of that are the now defunct Read Write Poem and Big Tent Poetry. Poets with limited experience in submitting and publishing poetry can be seen and heard in the virtual world.

When I started blogging, I had an infant and a toddler—and I probably wasn’t sleeping. Needless to say, I couldn’t drop everything to attend a weekly writers’ workshop. So technology made it possible to share poems and get critiques that eventually helped me publish my first book. Technology makes poetry assessable.

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 like the found poetry quality of this piece. I like the randomness of the visuals for this piece. It gives me hope for what people can do with poetry. I’m also a fan of hypertext. It expands how poetry is presented as well as how it’s received, which heightens the experience. But I am more of a traditionalist. I like poetry on the page. It’s hard for to me to connect with a visual representation of poetry because, for me, poetry is such an oral experience. I feel distant from the experience rather than connected to it.

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

No. Not yet. At this point, I don’t have any desire to use technology in that way. I’m not ruling it out; I’m not ready to take on that challenge yet.

9. What has technology done for or to Poetry?

Again, the Internet is the great equalizer. Anyone with computer access can publish a poem. Whether or not the poem has any merit, or will last longer than a Twitter feed is another conversation. But poetry on the web will be seen by more people than in a printed journal.

While poetry is a time-honored tradition, poets are content providers. I’d like to think that with the shift to online publications, money spent on printing costs could be funneled back to the writer, but I can’t tell if that’s happening yet. Writers (me included) are so desperate to get published that we give our work away for free. Just because this is the present model doesn’t mean things can’t change. We should watch closely over the next 10 years to see how newspapers handle the transition from free access of online content to a subscription-based model. Will the poetry community pay more for premium poetry content? Whatever happens in the newspaper industry will greatly influence print publications in general.

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

Poetry should remain nimble and accepting of whatever technologies are available to enhance the user experience. There are pockets of the poetry community so steeped in tradition that they are slow to change when opportunities arise. Let me reiterate that poets are the content providers. Poetry is not going away, but how are poets going to remain relevant in the face of change?

January Gill O’Neil is the author of Underlife (CavanKerry Press, 2009). A Cave Canem fellow, she is a senior writer/editor at Babson College and blogs at Poet Mom.

Previous responders:

Amy King
Collin Kelley
Ren Powell
Chris Hamilton-Emery
Cati Porter
Ron Silliman

Coming up:

Dave Bonta
Sandra Beasley
John Vick
Eric Elshtain

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

10 questions on Poets & Technology – Ron Silliman

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 Ron Silliman.

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

I’m a skeptic. I tend to think that I write best when I write most in the modes I quite literally grew up with, pen & notebook. But then I had been writing for a couple of years before my mother enrolled me in a summer school program to learn how to touch type, a prerequisite to gaining permission to use my grandfather’s giant old manual typewriter, probably a Royal 10. She might have been encouraged in this by school teachers who despaired of ever making out my poor handwriting.

When I got my first “real” job in 1964 as a shipping clerk for PG&E in Emeryville, my very first paycheck went to the purchase of my own personal typewriter, a smaller, more portable Royal, which is what I wrote poetry on pretty from that point until sometime around 1969 when, moving it from table to desk in my Berkeley apartment, it slipped from my fingers, fell, and disassembled into a gazillion individual subcomponents. My first wife and I carefully gathered all of them together and took them in a bag to a typewriter repair shop across from the University of California campus. The fellow there convinced us that it would be less expensive to purchase a new one, which we did. That lasted me until the day I got my first NEA grant a decade later & used about one-tenth of my award to finally purchase an IBM Selectric. I knew then that I would never need another typewriter, since I now owned the gold standard that every professional writer seemed to have or covet. This actually turned out to be correct, but only because within four years I would be working on a Kaypro II computer at my job and coming in to work on the weekends to use it to type up my poems. This was a pre-DOS system that used C/PM as its OS. I replaced this with a DOS 2 system when I moved over to the Socialist Review in 1986 and soon went out and purchased my first personal PC, a 286 white box put together by some guys operating out of a store front on Mission Street in San Francisco. Since then it has been a series of progressively more powerful PCs up to a Vista-based HP Pavillion that had a catastrophic disk drive failure just last Thursday. At this point, I’m just waiting to get a new hard drive.

All of which is to say that I experience these writing systems as transient – that one typewriter I bought in Berkeley that lasted ten years is the system that I’ve used the longest in 54 years of writing practice, with one exception I’ll mention in a minute. When the little Royal portable that preceded it died, I went for a few weeks without one at home and was forced to resort to writing by hand for the first time in several years. This actually enabled me to write on the bus – I was attending San Francisco State but living north of the Berkeley campus, so had a long schlep down to the “F Bus,” then a second one on the street car out to the campus at the furthest end of the City. Writing on the bus – I was using legal tablets – was an exceptionally liberating experience for me. Later when I bought my new machine, I typed up the manuscripts and discovered that every single text I’d written came to a single page, typed single space. I had really internalized that frame without realizing it. From that point forward, I started to make notebooks part of my practice, and they still are.

When I do one-week workshops, one of my primary tasks is to get workshop participants to recognize how much that “seems natural” to them is in fact the consequence of some choice, so one of the things I have them do is work differently than they did before. If they use a PC to write, then they must try something else. If they focus on the 8.5-by-11 page, then they need to focus elsewhere. I get back works written on napkins, even leaves.

All of this is technology and needs to be acknowledged as such. Most of my poems have been written with the same pen now for 29 years, a Waterman that I modified when I bought it to accept felt-tip refills. When I switch to some other pen – usually because of the porousness of the paper I’m using, which differs from poem to poem – it invariably comes as a huge shock.

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 use Facebook for marketing, and sometimes I get ideas for links in my blog from it. I’m not a big fan: the program itself is both limited and controlling and the design of the Facebook page is terrible. For one thing, the type is too small. I think that is intentional, part of the plan to keep its usage skewing younger. I’m amazed at the level of cynicism that is given a formal expression by Facebook, for example its privacy settings.

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 use it, rarely, for one-sided communications. Again, it’s a marketing tool, not a writing one. And while marketing is a real part of the life of any writer who wishes to be published, it is not writing itself, at least for me. That may not be so true for Christian Bök or Tao Lin. Facebook & Twitter seem to me far less revolutionary web sites than, say, YouTube or Vimeo. Both YouTube & Twitter played important roles in the creation of a resistance to the Iranian regime in the aftermath of its last elections, but it was the murder of that young woman on YouTube that has had the broader & more lasting impact.

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.

In my capacity as a poet? Well, I’m working on one poem that deliberately uses funky mobile input devices, such as my cell phone & an old Palm Pilot I still use for my contacts list & as an e-reader for PDF files. But all of my other poems at the moment are being written into notebooks. These range from a giant accounting journal to a pocket-sized moleskin notebook you can find in any college bookstore, plus a couple of leather-bound fancier writing notebooks that have been gifts from friends.

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

I can’t say that there is anything that fits this, unless it’s younger poets treating any sort of technology ahistorically, as if it’s “permanent” or transhistorical. But that may even be more of a risk with pen & paper than it is with more recent writing systems. In general, I find that folks who gush on about the wonderfulness of the future or of a given gadget aren’t really engaging with the dynamics of writing itself. And indeed, they seem to drift away pretty quickly.

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

Sometimes a new system seems to free up creativity. Watching – or more accurately, listening – to how Linh Dinh makes use of text language in some of his recent work enables me to see him tapping into new social practices that I could stand to be more cognizant of. But this is not an untraditional aspect of satiric writing in general, just a new manifestation of how satire is keeping up with the socious. Linh Dinh is a very smart guy as well as a very good poet & it shows.

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.

Tom is a friend and we’ve talked at length about his efforts to create a new genre or field of genres around the videopoem. And I’ve written on my blog about this as well, as the first link above points out (the second is to a piece I use an example). I think it is one on a range of examples that could eventually become something tending toward a genre, but what the field really needs is its Pound, its Baudelaire, its Shakespeare, somebody who will make everybody sit up & think Wow & want to head off in different directions related to it. And the great risk is that the technology will become obsolete before that happens. I mean if you look at Frank & Caroline Mouris’ Frank Film (1973) as an antecedent to this genre we have not necessarily come so very far in nearly 40 years, and yet it’s clear that they never envisioned the direct path from their film – which won an Oscar no less – to the YouTube revolution of today.

Think of the Sound Poetry craze that came out of Canada in the 1970s. That was created first of all by the fact that two poets at the same time were terrific at this genre – bpNichol & Steve McCaffery – and that they worked together in the group The Four Horsemen (Steve was the Mick of that quartet, bp the Keefe, or maybe Steve was the Paul, bp the John), plus – and this is huge – the nature of government funding for the arts in Canada during that period favored live performance over the lone poet working quietly on a manuscript. There were Sound Poetry festivals in the Bay Area, in New York, and in Canada, an enormous amount of enthusiasm. But 30 years later it seems to have evaporated, except as one aspect of what one finds in Christian Bök’s portfolio. I know that there are a few sound poetry projects out there, but they are at much quieter, less widely visible level than was the case just awhile back. And yet if anything the technology for recording and disseminating sound is much better and more widely spread today than it was in the 1970s.

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

Sometimes, sparingly. I still mostly work in notebooks, but not exclusively. Right now I’m at work on five poems or sections from Universe & four of these are being composed in notebooks. The fifth as I noted is being composed on funky input devices. Three of those notebooks use the Waterman pen, but the fourth bleeds too much. You could ask what the difference between the sections is, but in many ways the answer lies in those writing technologies. Using two different journals with the same pen will yield very different poems, or at least poems that feel different to me.

9. What has technology done for or to Poetry?

It killed the novel. More accurately, the literary novel dissolved between modernism, its genre derivatives & the rise first of film, then television, as a medium for communicating stories. People seriously using the form today – DeLillo, Lethem, Auster, Pynchon, Maso, Markson (who died earlier this week), Acker (who died 13 years ago) – are rare birds indeed. I take them very seriously because they have no particular concern about the future of the novel and are driven by the best of internal reasons.

Poetry was prodded into the 20th century by the existence of the typewriter, without which The Cantos could not have existed. Poets who write as though the typewriter has yet to be invented strike me as curiously pathological – a few of them fall into the same category as those novelists above (Wendell Berry, say), but most are simply ignorant or disdainful of history, which also means the history of our own time, even as they write quatrains filled with oily pelicans.

The most important fact of poetry in my lifetime is that we have moved from an English-speaking world in which there were at most a few hundred poets in the 1950s – only 8,000 book titles of all kinds, from poetry to cookbooks, in the late ‘40s – to a world in which there are easily more than 20,000 publishing poets, several thousand books of poetry published each year & around 250,000 book titles of all kinds. The relation of the individual poet to audience has been transformed totally and nobody really knows yet what this means. It’s past time to start addressing it.

The other fact that really gets my attention right now is that for $9.99 I can get an e-book, but for $8.99 I can get thousands of motion pictures every month through Netflix. What this suggests is that e-books are wildly overpriced – they should be roughly $1. But then who makes enough money to stay in business? And a hardback at $25? A trade paper at $14.95? Netflix represents a particular moment in the film distribution process, not the whole she-bang. And yet everyone I know says of certain films, Oh I’ll wait & see that on Netflix. Not much fun if you just spend $400 million making Robin Hood or if you manufacture DVDs and notice that Netflix is shifting over to online downloads as fast as it can.

I’ve mostly not sent work out or even responded to requests from journals lately. I think the print journal may already be toast. Would you rather have your work in Jacket or Shampoo or another online site where it can be found & read, or in Conjunctions where it may look great but be seen by relatively few people?

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

What if the Library of Congress gave everyone unlimited digital access to everything for, say, $20 per month? Or free even. People would have to start recognizing how scandalously incomplete that library is, but this is where we are heading, whether it takes us 20 years or 100. And if we have 40,000 English language poets in, say, another 25 years, that would actually represent a significant lowering of the growth rate of writers. Freed of the economy of the book, and of trade publishing, the relationship between writer & reader would come to some very different place. What I can’t tell you today is what that will look like, or how soon it will get it here.

But I don’t necessarily think that technology by itself is the sole major force that will transform poetry in the future. For example, I expect the for-profit university – the University of Phoenix, or Stryer or any of a dozen others – to be the norm for post-secondary education sooner rather than later. I think we will see a number of private colleges collapse in the next ten to fifteen years, just as we did in the 1950s & ‘60s, a period otherwise of great educational expansion. We have already seen Antioch & New College functioning as canaries in the coal mine. But where many of the schools in the 1950s & ‘60s were absorbed into exploding state systems (the U. of Buffalo into SUNY, Milwaukee into the U. of Wisconsin, SF Teachers College becoming SF State, etc.), the state systems won’t be there this time to rescue anybody. But the cookie-cutter teaching model of the for-profit schools would have a devastating impact on poetry. So I think we’re headed for interesting times. If there is any single trend that can undercut the rapid growth in the number of poets, I think this is it. I hate to tell people struggling to get by under the indentured-servant-like conditions of most adjuncts, but these are the good old days. It’s about to get much worse. And I think that a world in which the number of poets actually starts shrinking will have much more profound of an impact on poetry than any new technology. That won’t happen in my lifetime, but I can’t say that won’t happen.

Ron Silliman has published more than 30 books of poetry, criticism and memoirs. He was some new work in the June 2010 issue of Poetry, a portion of Revelator, which in turn is the first section of a new large project (poem) entitled Universe. His blog can be found at http://ronsilliman.blogspot.com.

Previous responders:

Amy King
Collin Kelley
Ren Powell
Chris Hamilton-Emery
Cati Porter

Coming up:

January O’Neil
Dave Bonta
Sandra Beasley
John Vick
Eric Elshtain

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

10 Questions on Poets & Technology – Cati Porter

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 Cati Porter.

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

I love technology. When I was young I would write my stories and poems longhand in notebooks but my penmanship has always been awful. In high school I was given a Brother typewriter and that was a lifesaver. Then my dad, who has been involved with computers in one form or fashion since their inception, gave me one of his hand-me-downs and I’ve never looked back. I don’t think I could ever write without one. I revise as I go, using the thesaurus, dictionary, wikipedia, google, anagram machines, and whatever else seems useful. I love being able to manipulate words on the page, doing and undoing until I think I’ve gotten it right, saving multiple versions of poems.

As an editor, technology has been indispensable. I run my literary journal, Poemeleon, solely through the use of technology: We have an online submissions manager, and while I have had to teach myself – and create – various systems to keep us organized, I have loved nearly every minute of figuring it all out. I don’t know a lot about html but modifiable templates and wysiwyg interfaces make it fairly simple for me to create pages. I do say nearly every, though, and not simply every, because some of the formatting really is tedious; luckily the tedium is outweighed by the satisfaction I get from doing it all myself.

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?

Yes. Along with my profile I also have a group page for my book, another for Poemeleon, and utilize the Networked Blogs app to import recent blogposts from both my personal blog and Poemeleon’s blog. I use Facebook to stay connected with my poet-friends, post information about upcoming events, calls for submissions, contributor news, and other poetry-related stuff.

I am probably addicted to Facebook, though I’m not entirely sure of this. Maybe I am in denial? I would like to think that I could for a day or two go without checking but the only time I’ve tested this has been when I was out of wifi range for a few days in Yosemite. I even have a Facebook shortcut on my phone to check it on the go. I love the sense of community and camaraderie it fosters, this sense that I am not alone and there is whole world of poets out there buzzing and throbbing like a hive. While I’ve never been, I suspect it’s a lot like going to AWP, except without the travel expenses. At the moment, I have 1200+ “friends”, most of whom I do not know, but I enjoy the links to new poetry, announcements about new books and readings, and am slowly trying to meet all of these people and get to know them through their FB profile.

I do think that sometimes all of the self-promoting gets a bit out of hand. But even then, I’m glad it’s there. What I do get sick of are all the weird little farms, gardens, mafia wars, and zombies. It took me a while to learn that I could block those apps. I do admit that when I first received my invitation to join Facebook (from fellow 10 Questions reponder, Ren Powell, someone whom I have had the great good fortune to get to know and work with via the web) and I saw all of these bizarre applications and quizzes like “What kind of fruit are you?”, eggs that hatched bunnies with birthday hats on, etc., I was so excited because, you know, back then I only had like ten friends. So I amassed all of these apps. But not anymore. I just don’t have time and certainly don’t need further temptation to procrastinate. (Of course, if you want to play Scrabble I might make an exception….)

For a downside, aside from the time-sucking aspect of it, there has been a huge uproar about privacy recently. We all like our privacy, or most of us, but — I’m just not sure what all the fuss is about. There is no privacy on Facebook. Just accept that and you’ll be fine. Forget the fact that you’ve set everything to “friends only”; it’s virtually meaningless. Really. Don’t mistake Facebook for your own private idaho. It’s not. There is nothing stopping an unscrupulous person (or even your mother, your best friend, or some imbecile from accounting) from copying and pasting content and redistributing it. I recently heard a story about a woman in court fighting with her ex, who produced some damning comments from her, in fact read them directly from her Facebook page. There is nothing private about the internet. If it is that personal, don’t post it. It’s that simple.

Also, another thing that could be considered a downside is that I now have a number of family and friends from various circles — old work friends, friends from my children’s school, my husband’s childhood friends, cousins and extended family that I’ve never met personally — and I do sometimes worry that my posts are not in the least bit relevant to them, but am nonetheless glad to have made contact. There does seem to be a trend toward separating work “friends” from family “friends” (that is, “friends” in the Facebook context) and that may very well be the way to go in future but for now I’m content to leave it all as it is.

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?

No, I don’t use Twitter. Frankly I am sort of avoiding it. I suppose I’ll get sucked in at some point. I can see how it would be useful, but I can hardly keep up with what I have. It’s a little like responsible pet ownership: Don’t take it in if you can’t afford to feed it. I did however just run across an interview with someone who calls themself Feminist Hulk on Twitter and am intrigued so I’m probably not out of the woods yet.

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.

For Poemeleon, I use Squarespace, which is a remarkably versatile platform for building a website. It’s primarily (I think) used by bloggers but I saw early on it’s potential to be so much more. For myself, I have a website which I try to keep up-to-date with news of publications and events. It’s hosted by Go Daddy, and I built the website using Website Tonight’s templates. I also have a WordPress blog where I sporadically post essay-like musings on the creative life, reports on literary events and articles/books I am reading, plus the occasional funny anecdotes about my kids — but, maybe ironically, since discovering Facebook I have had much less interest in blogging. I find my need for connecting with other writers largely fulfilled. I came very late to the MySpace game and used it only a very short time before I deleted my page. I do still have Linked In and GoodReads profiles but I seldom do anything with those. And while I am excited by all of the podcasting possibilities — echoing what I said about Twitter — I don’t have enough time or energy to keep all of these things up-to-date.

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

This is a really tough question. I don’t know. Okay, one thing I do know is that I think it is wrong to publicly slam someone on the internet, whether that be on Facebook or on a listserv. I think tone is very difficult to convey on the screen and humor can easily be misconstrued. For me, I once had a conversation about poetry that began on a Lexulous board (Scrabble knock-off for those not in-the-know) in a chat that we took to email, but what started out as a calm discussion turned ugly as the other party refused to agree to disagree. What began as a friendly exchange became a badgering session. I think we’ve since worked it out, but it made me very uncomfortable. I think that it is wrong to use technology to bully someone into agreeing with you.

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

Oh wow. Well, I am always finding new things on the web to ogle. I love what Ren Powell has done with her Animapoetics, and what journals like Trickhouse and Born Magazine are doing. I admire what is going on over at Big Tent Poetry as well as their predecessor ReadWritePoem.

I also am a fan of the new booktrailer trend (check out Lara Glenum’s “Meat out of the Eater” or check out this list on Blogalicious). Also, while I don’t comment often, I do really enjoy reading other poets’ blogs. Some bloggers that I try to follow regularly: Jeannine Hall Gailey, Catherine Daly’s A List, A Miscellany, Gayle Brandeis’ Fruitful, Benjamin Vogt’s The Deep Middle, Kelli Russell Agodon’s Book of Kells, Ren Powell’s Nothing But Metaphor, Edward Byrne’s One Poet’s Notes, Diane Lockward’s Blogalicious, Cheryl Klein’s Bread & Bread, plus I also hop over to the Best American Poetry Blog for Jennifer Michael Hecht, who has taken on the admirable and quite possibly insurmountable task of trying to keep poets from committing suicide. She is really very charming, with her “Dear Bleaders” posts.

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.

In trying to articulate some thoughts about this piece, I took a few minutes to try to transcribe the text and give it some shape. It may not be what Mr. Konyves had in mind but it’s my attempt to, well, put his poetry back on the page (I’ll explain the slashes in a moment):

if you were / dead /
I’d be free //

Power / What? //
Demand Freedom. //

Shut up & buy /
and / Sell //

by? //

Exit only / do not enter //
U heart U now //

Nukes? / No thanks. //
What? // RAF //

Menswear /
USA out of El Salvador Now! //

One way / Nukes No Way //
Corection is Perfection //

Why do we wait? // [g]uilt //
Food not fear! / 3 meals //

Sex / Men rape not hormones //
Jail the real terrorists / … red hot video //

We don’t need jobs /
We need revolution //

No Parking //

We collect /
Beer bottles /
$1.00 for dozen //

working girl blues!… //

Blue //

We’re sick and tired /
of being sick and tired //

I wanna be instamatic /
I wanna be a frozen pea /
I wanna be dehydrated /
in a consumer society //

3 meals //

Big dada is watching /
what does he see?//

Kill city

Okay, so you’re indulging me, right? Right

Speaking as an editor, if I read this in the slush pile I would probably think, okay, maybe interesting as a statement of social injustice and the woes of urban society, but is it poetry? If I were reading for an issue on found poetry, and this were presented to me as such, then I would probably have to concede that it’s successful on that level. Alternatively, if I were to hear this read as a spoken word piece it would probably gain some momentum. But in its intended form, it is, I think, the most successful. But a poem in the conventional sense? I don’t think so.

I may get myself in hot water with this, but: An effective poem must work as well on the page as off. And I don’t think it does.

I like what Ren had to say about the graffiti being experienced as graphemes, and I think the true emotional power of the piece comes not just from the literal meanings of those words but from how they are visually perceived, and compounded by the non-linguistic elements like the mechanic working on his car, the people walking in front of the graffiti, and those silhouettes near the end. Also, the music goes a long way toward pointing us in the intended direction.

As for my slashes, I originally arranged this as a prose poem, but included the single and double slashes to indicate where, according to either the original graffiti or the way Konyves paused between elements, I perceived a caesura. I conceived of those caesuras as functioning as line breaks and stanza breaks. But because I’ve done some of my tweaking with the phrasing to make it look like a poem I went ahead and left them in so the original breaks would still be evident.

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

I’d probably have to say yes. From a craft perspective, I cannot (yes, cannot) write without a computer. I rely on my laptop for both drafts and revisions, and for research the internet is invaluable. As for work that, however loosely, integrates technology, I do have a couple of poems that were sparked by visits to eBay, one videopoem that I’ve produced for the declassified section of Fringe (http://www.fringemagazine.org/lit/declassified/fructify/), plus I have an illustrated e-chapbook forthcoming soon from Ahadada books.

9. What has technology done for or to Poetry?

It has blown it wide open. It has provided avenues of expression that were formerly inconceivable; flarf, googlism, spoetry, the N + 7 Machine — these things wouldn’t exist without technology. And I’m sure there is so much more out there that I’m not aware of or that is just not coming immediately to mind.

Technology has made writing, reading, and disseminating poetry easier than it ever has been. That is both good and bad. All of the online literary journals and print-on-demand opportunities have made gatekeepers of us all, for better or for worse. There is also the very real risk of plagiarism, or of contracting a virus that wipes out your hard drive — and your life’s work.

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

That really is the question, what should it do. What it can do, though, at this point, seems limitless.

***

Cati Porter is a poet, editor, occasional book reviewer. She is the author of the poetry collection, Seven Floors Up (Mayapple Press), as well as several chapbooks: small fruit songs (Pudding House Publications), a series of prose poems generated from fruit-related terminology; (al)most delicious (Dancing Girl Press, forthcoming), an ekphrastic series after Modigliani’s nudes; and what Desire makes of us (Ahadada Press, forthcoming as an illustrated e-chapbook). Learn more her work by visiting http://www.catiporter.com.

<><><>

Previous responders:

Amy King
Collin Kelley
Ren Powell
Chris Hamilton-Emery

Coming up:

Ron Silliman
Sandra Beasley
Dave Bonta
January O’Neil
John Vick
Eric Elshtain

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