important imposing interesting beautiful

Anything one does every day is important and imposing and anywhere one lives is interesting and beautiful.

So said Gertrude Stein and I keep coming back to this line as to the border of a new country, as to a world inside a grain of sand.

It’s so easy to undervalue almost any activity with that creeping, unspoken but pervasive belief that one should always be somewhere else, doing something else.

As I get older though it’s becoming easier – and how sweet and relieving it is – to really believe that the most important thing in the world is what I have chosen to do now, right now.

business presentation software: a great tool for poetry remixes

Here’s something fun I’ve been working on for The Poetry Storehouse. Making videopoems using film footage is a lot of fun, but I’ve always wanted to do more with still images. Until now, I thought one was limited to power point-ish slide shows, which lack nearly all the dynamism of video. Enter Prezi, the business presentation software with a ‘Zooming User Interface’ which offers quite a different presentation experience.

This presentation was put together using a poem by David Sullivan from The Poetry Storehouse and wonderful images by Donna Kuhn (thank-you for letting me use them, Donna!). Go here to view the presentation. If you know how to use Prezi, you’ll be fine. If you don’t, it’s easy enough, but here are some basics:

- Once content has loaded, set screen to ‘full screen’
– then EITHER start the presentation by clicking on the right-pointing arrow (you can then click through all the frames at your own pace)
– OR set the presentation to ‘autoplay’ by clicking on the little clock in the bottom right-hand corner and choosing your preferred interval length between frames

Appreciate any feedback you care to leave – this is a first for me and am sure there are a million ways to improve the experience.

a wedding ring inside, another flute, a moon, an advocate

More remixing fever based on Poetry Storehouse submissions, this time ‘Stopping’ by Dick Jones. I tried for a voice collage, with Dick’s voice and mine, sort of like the four-voice collage I worked on for Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven (not a Storehouse poem).

In other excellent remixing news, Marc Neys made this beautiful video based on a Peter Ciccariello poem from the Storehouse. Such a beautiful, unexpected study – tender and touching, with so many hints and textures, perfect in black and white, with that evocative soundscape. I found it very moving.

a bamboo flute, a telescope, a moment in shadow

What do a bamboo flute, drifting smoke, a human eye and earth seen from a space telescope have in common? More than you might think. I put on my remixer hat this weekend and worked on a video based on one of the poems at The Poetry Storehouse. I have to say it’s nice to have a such a rich selection of poems to choose from when one gets the urge to voice, or en-video or en-sound, or do whatever creative thing with someone else’s poem.

Here’s a video remix of a Storehouse poem by Randy Adams (original Storehouse post here).

In other Storehouse news, we have a bunch of new poems up for remix, from W.F. Lantry, Lissa Kiernan, Cheryl Snell and Kate Marshall Flaherty. There are also new remixes up for poems by Randy Adams, Eric Blanchard and Peter Ciccariello. Check them out!

If you’re a poet, consider submitting; if you’re a remixer, please check out the poems – lots of search options by poet or category or tag. If you know any digital or video artists interested in remixing, please send them the Storehouse link!

‘The Poetry Storehouse’ gains traction

Since we launched The Poetry Storehouse on October 15th, six poets (for a total now of 11 Storehouse poets) have thrown their poems into the mix. Many of the poems were captive print-journal poems that had been held in hard copy beyond the reach of links, search engines and the remixers who could give them a new lease on life. We also celebrated, sooner than expected, our first remix results. Check out the new poems and remixes here. If you’re a poet, consider submitting and if you’re a remixer, have at it!

poem + voice + film + music

Flagging a blog post over at Serena Agusto-Cox’s Savvy Verse and Wit by Erica Goss which features me in part on my usual ‘voice as instrument of investigation’ soap-box. I’ve been voicing a series of moon poems written by Erica, which are being set to music by Kathy McTavish and film by Marc Neys. A most enjoyable collaboration, which fits right into the ethos of The Poetry Storehouse, our new ‘poems for creative remix’ initiative. If you haven’t submitted, what are you waiting for?!

Announcing: The Poetry Storehouse – collaboration, remix, multimedia poetry

Think of The Poetry Storehouse as a get-out-of-jail card for poems long locked up in dusty print journals, beyond the reach of links and search engines. As we say over at the site:

The Poetry Storehouse is an effort to promote new forms and delivery methods for page-poetry by creating a repository of freely-available high-quality contemporary poetry for those multimedia collaborative artists who may sometimes be stymied in their work by copyright and other restrictions.

Technology has not just connected people and poetry and poets and artists who weren’t connected to each other before, it has also changed both the face and the delivery of poetry itself. Poems locked up in hard-copy print editions only available for sale are struggling in new and serious ways, while poems delivered in multiple creative ways online have new leases on life and are reaching an ever-widening audience.

With thanks to Rachel Barenblat, Donna Vorreyer, Erica Goss, Jessica Piazza, Swoon and Dave Bonta for being part of the Storehouse team. Go on over and check it out!

recruit actors to do the reading at poetry readings?

That’s what the UK’s Forward Arts Foundation did at their big poetry prize day in London last week, provoking much indignation among UK poets.

“On the way in to the event, a Forward Trustee told me that the origin of the actorly coup came from the premise that poets can’t read their work,” wrote a protesting blogger. She went on to characterize the evening as “a solemn, ponderous series of readings by a group of actors who made heavy weather of the poems.”

“If the motivation was doubt as to whether poets can read their own work well, that’s outdated,’ asserted another protesting blogger, adding that ‘one only has to go to a TS Eliot prize-giving or a major magazine launch to understand that most good poets are somewhere between competent and excellent at reading.” Am not sure I completely understood the rationale she then used to explain her position, but she went on to say that “most of the actors just didn’t inhabit the poems effectively. I think it was harder, hearing most of the poems for the first time and not knowing several of the poets’ work, to ‘get’ each poem than it usually is at readings. I don’t mean the ostensible subject, if any, but the motive force and the magical something that might make the listener/reader connect with the work.”

The Foundation’s response was, um, snarky: “The controversial decision to use actors to read the shortlisted poetry has provoked vigorous debate: some poets, publishers and bloggers insist that poetry should be read aloud only by its authors and no one else, while others reckon that a poem lives in the voices, ears and minds of the many, not the few,” it said on its website.

As my long-suffering readers know, I’m a big fan of the you learn way more about pretty much everything by reading other people’s poems to an audience or by having your poems read to you, than you do by reading your own poems to others school of thought. As such, I am very intrigued by this idea. Note that the actors provided their services free for the event.

Has anyone ever tried this? Asked an actor friend or friends to take the poet’s place at a reading? If not, do you think it might be a good idea to try, or a stinker? Why?

Meanwhile, here are some of the readings from the controversial Forward prize-giving event last week. There were three big winners – Best Collection, Best First Collection and Best Single Poem.

Best Collection – Michael Symmons Roberts (see him read on a different occasion here – jump to about 1:17 for the reading). At the prize-giving, actress Natascha McElhone read one of his poems, here. Roberts struck me as a competent reader, but I thought McElhone did a really fabulous job with her reading.

Best First Collection – Emily Berry. See her read here. Actress Helen McCrory read one of Berry’s poems at the prize-giving, here. An unfortunate stumble on the last line of the poem, but an otherwise engaging performance, I thought.

Best Single Poem – Nick MacKinnon. I couldn’t find any readings online by MacKinnon. His winning poem was read at the prize-giving by actor Samuel West, here – an excellent reading, in my judgment.

Very interested to hear others’ thoughts on all this. To close things out, here’s a great post from the Voice Alpha archives by Rachel Dacus (with discussion in the comments), on the advantages of having someone than the author read poems to an audience.

(Cross-posted at Voice Alpha. Hat tip Dave Bonta for pointing out the Forward story.)

Does ‘look of the line’ = ‘meaning of the line’?

E-book formatting is not the same as print formatting and e-reader devices definitely require us to recalibrate our relationship to text. Doing this seems to have been easier for readers of poetry (who seem, by and large, a flexible and open bunch), than it has been for many writers of poetry. Many writers of poetry can separate the look of the line from the meaning of the line, but many absolutely equate the two and flatly negate the possibility of separation. If, as a poetry publisher, you admit the possibility of separation, then, as Gabrielle David emphasizes below, your central task is to ensure that, no matter how the e-reader or the human reader adjust text size, the meaning of the line remains intact. I much enjoyed the post below from Gabrielle, in which she made this and other interesting points. Gabrielle’s post first appeared on the WomPo listserv and is reproduced here with her permission:

“I have watched the rise of the ebook biz and the various devices (many of which have come and gone) in the past six years. I understood that at some point I would have to consider ebook formats (for both phati’tude Literary Magazine and 2Leaf Press), and have been tinkering with the design and format of the ebook for quite some time, before coming up with a “recipe” that would address poetry and the issue of line breaks.

When you are dealing with multiple devices coupled with the fact that the end user has the ability to change the size of the font, it is a foregone conclusion that the text is going to shift. For years, the issue was the conversion of text through Word and other word processing programs which exacerbated this and other problems. At the same time, there is no standard way to convert text to reading devices, everyone does it differently, so ebooks have had their share of problems, primarily just really bad formatting of text (including poorly designed books and horrible editing), but in recent years, as the devices have grown more sophisticated, the reading public has demanded more for their money. The large publishing houses have scrambled to get people who know how to code ebooks and work with the latest technology to produce them (which they can well afford), but for the smaller presses, it’s just another resource that’s not readily available to them.

Since I have worked in the technology field for years, I was at a greater advantage and understood what needed to be done, but was in no great hurry to do it because the industry was changing rapidly, especially in the past five years. Right now, we are down to four major devices: Kindle, iPad, Nook and KOBO, including Android and Apple phones. While there are different nuances to each device and a standard ebook format continues to develop, its safe to say that the format issue as it pertains to poetry will always remain an issue because the lines will always change from device to device and end users will always control how text appears on their device.

Since most poetry books are published by small presses and many do not have the resources to convert print books to ebooks, coupled with the “hysteria” of the poets, many have not taken the plunge. I think this is a huge mistake. Poets and small presses are precluding themselves out of a market and a built-in-audience of poetry lovers who would like to read poetry on their devices. The public is buying more ebooks than print books. It’s a market that you simply cannot ignore if you want your work, including your poetry to reach a wider audience.

And really, the lines are handled just as they are in print — if it’s too long, you wrap with an indent to show it is a continuing line. Most poetry readers understand that in print, so if they see it on a reading device, they will understand it as well. To be sure, poetry with gaps of spacing, poetry typeset as a visual centerpiece to the poem is more complex to convert into an ebook. Right now there are two solutions: (1) working with someone who has a total understanding of the technology who can figure out ways to work around it, or (2) publishing the ebook with the lines flush left, but even that may change in time as the technology continues to develop.

Right now, the best way (in my humble opinion) to prepare ebooks is to hand-code the text using XHTML. This solves a number of problems: you have better control over line spacing and the flow of text, and as the technology changes, you can go back to your original XHTML file and update it. People are big on apps right now and interactive text (click and a photo or illustration pops up; click and music comes on), which is becoming popular in the children’s and YA market, but it also provides writers some creative ways to reproduce their books on reading devices. So by hand-coding books, your work is able to grow with the technology.

What’s happening is that these reading devices are providing a new stage on how we communicate through text — the world is no longer flat, it’s round. In fact, we recently released three poetry collections by Jesus Papoleto Melendez, Shirley Bradley LeFlore and Tony Medina, with more to come. Jesus’ poetry has lines all over the place and we were able to recalculate the spacing so that the work is not falling off the page/device. On the other hand, Shirley has extremely long lines, so we had to code for the indent to show that it’s all one line. When the ebooks are viewed in normal size they look just like their print counterpart on all of the devices, however, if the end-user decides to blow-up the screen, the meaning of the lines remain intact. In the end, I think that’s what really matters, when you format poetry in ebooks, the meaning of the lines remain intact (repeated twice here for emphasis).”

About Gabrielle:

I am the executive director of the Intercultural Alliance of Artists & Scholars, Inc. (IAAS) (, a NY-based nonprofit organization that promotes multicultural literature and literacy.  I am a lover of poetry, and have been reading, writing and studying poetry since elementary school through college.  I became involved in the NY poetry scene during the 1990s doing poetry programming at the Langston Hughes Community Library and Cultural Center in Queens, NY, booking artists like Maria Gillan, Jesus Papoleto Melendez, Sonia Sanchez, Shirley Bradley LeFlore, Louis Reyes Rivera, among others. This program prompted the creation of phati’tude Literary Magazine (, and later on, the television program phatLiterature (, which was videotaped at the Library and aired nationally on college networks and public access outlets. We recently launched our imprint, 2Leaf Press (, which promotes multicultural poets and writers. 

on locking up poems

Poems locked up in hard-copy print editions only available for sale are struggling in new and serious ways, while poems delivered in multiple creative ways online have new leases on life and are reaching an ever-widening audience.

Nice article at the Best American Poetry blog on poetry collaboration & technology by Rachel Blarenbat. Short interview with me as part of it, and of course I had to make my favorite point.

negative capability & a letter to a young poet

… it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously – I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason [...] capable of remaining content with half-knowledge.

Have always liked that concept, as articulated above by John Keats. Same message from Rilke in the excerpt from “Letters to a Young Poet” envideo’d below:

I thought I knew that Rilke segment well, but, us usual, the ‘voicing’ process made me see I had only half apprehended it before.

who needs words in the age of the image?

…the most important language of our so-called post-literate society. The image. Ours is a world where the ability to communicate doesn’t require anything more than rudimentary reading and writing. And, in fact, sounds and pictures can do the job just as well.And given time constraints today, perhaps better. This is what virtual reality has wrought.The image is the new word. Don’t send a message expressing your emotion, send an image representing the idea.


It would be useful [..] to trace the history of Western civilization with an eye towards evaluating the war between image and word. Start with the Mona Lisa on one side and Don Quixote on the other and count up the wins and losses in each column [...] most realists among the wordsmiths already know that short of some massive cataclysm that lays to waste the electronic grid that makes the delivery of images so easy, we are pretty much done for.

From The War on Wordsmiths by Ali Eteraz – read full article here.

I don’t necessarily disagree with his premise, but do think there is a key distinction to be made between written wordsmithing and spoken wordsmithing. Which doesn’t much help the written word crowd, but does make the overall case for wordsmiths somewhat less dire.

‘You’re Going to Die, So Start Talking About It’

Consumers call [us] by the thousands and talk about death in the subjunctive mood: “Well, I don’t need your services now, but if anything should ever happen to me. . .”

Death is not an optional lifestyle choice that may not be right for you.

– Joshua Slocum, director of Funeral Consumers Alliance, a nonprofit that helps people avoid funeral fraud. More here.

This is the third post for which I’ve used my new Very Like A Whale death tag. Not sure why I’m making friends with death just now, with my life bouncing along quite happily as it is.

Or maybe that’s why.

Here’s a nice TED talk: Peter Saul: Let’s talk about dying

Poetry finally joining e-book revolution

Over the past two years, publishers have been steadily filling one of the largest gaps in the e-book catalogue – poetry.

Adrienne Rich, Allen Ginsberg, Langston Hughes and Wallace Stevens have been among the poets whose work recently became available in electronic format. And Random House Inc., W.W. Norton and several other publishers now routinely release new books in both print and digital versions, including last month’s Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry, Sharon Olds’ “Stag’s Leap.”

from the Associated Press, more here.

About time.

marketing your art

We strongly believe in free culture. Therefore all our films are free. We encourage you to mix, remix, re-edit or to make something weird, beautiful and original out of our work. If you [do] we’d love to brag about it. Send us a link and tell us about it, or just post it on our Facebook page.

I love it when people release their work freely into the world like this, for many reasons. But, quite apart from those, I see now that this approach is also, quite simply, fantastic marketing.