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.

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Previous Ten Questions series:

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

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6 thoughts on “10 Questions on Poets & Technology – January O’Neil

  1. Thanks to you both for stopping by!

    I too enjoyed January’s responses. The point she made which stuck out the most for me: “Poets are content providers.”

    A lot of food for thought there.

  2. There is definitely too much negativity for negativities sake! It is one thing I dislike about the web-the ability to hide your identity to the pint of spreading meanness. January is in no way one of those negative poets out there. Het first collection is very good and her blog is one I wish I had more time to visit :)

  3. Loved this interview – kudos to Nic and January. (The only other January I know of is January Jones on “Mad Men,” and she rocks, too!)

    January – your observations about civil discourse vs. snarkiness are right on. I learned that lesson early on in my blogging at different sites. My poetry can be quite confrontational and it gives rise to some spirited debate. But the world is a big, beautiful, achingly tragic, diverse place, and I’m from the Carl Sandburg school of showing the hard knocks, particularly as involves mental illness, social justice, and LGBT issues from a straight woman’s point of view.

    Thanks for a great read and lesson. Amy Barlow Liberatore

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