revisiting ten questions for poets – on poetry, publication, technology

This series represents a wealth of poetry and po-biz wisdom from a bunch of awesome contemporary poets. I used to have these linked as separate standing pages, but didn’t refresh that format when I changed blog themes recently. Have just added these standing pages back to the left-hand column, and got lost in re-reading while I did so. Thank you once again to the generous poets who participated for doing so! That wonderful group includes Ron Silliman and the late Reginald Shepherd.

TEN QUESTIONS SERIES
- poets on poetry
- poets on publication
- poetry editors on publishing poetry
- poets on technology

self-learning

I can’t begin to describe what a bizarre (but great) process of self-discovery it is to totally focus on interpreting someone else’s work, the best way one possibly can. There is a lot of angst over doing the work maximum justice, but I am so grateful to all who are participating in this project. With each posting, I learn more.

Whale Sound

I have read others’ work for different publications (here and here, for example), in addition to reading my own work for different publications (e.g. here and here).

Reading other peoples’ work aloud is the most tender and respectful, and also the most careful, way to engage with it, I find.

So here’s my new idea.

It’s going to start slowly. I’ve decided I will only read and record poems that sing to me. To me. Not my stuff, though – yours.

There will be a link to text if the poems are available online, but I won’t be posting any text. Just voice.

I’ll be out looking for those poems. So don’t be surprised to hear from me soon, asking if you would let me record and post that brilliant piece of yours that ran in Magazine X last week.

Bad News in Technology: Writing Invented

Socrates, in Plato’s Phaedrus, laments the advent of writing, saying “.. this invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory.”

Socrates
I heard, then, that at Naucratis, in Egypt, was one of the ancient gods of that country, the one whose sacred bird is called the ibis, and the name of the god himself was Theuth. He it was who invented numbers and arithmetic and geometry and astronomy, also draughts and dice, and, most important of all, letters. Now the king of all Egypt at that time was the god Thamus, who lived in the great city of the upper region, which the Greeks call the Egyptian Thebes, and they call the god himself Ammon. To him came Theuth to show his inventions, saying that they ought to be imparted to the other Egyptians. But Thamus asked what use there was in each, and as Theuth enumerated their uses, expressed praise or blame, according as he approved or disapproved. The story goes that Thamus said many things to Theuth in praise or blame of the various arts, which it would take too long to repeat; but when they came to the letters, “This invention, O king,” said Theuth, “will make the Egyptians wiser and will improve their memories; for it is an elixir of memory and wisdom that I have discovered.” But Thamus replied, “Most ingenious Theuth, one man has the ability to beget arts, but the ability to judge of their usefulness or harmfulness to their users belongs to another; and now you, who are the father of letters, have been led by your affection to ascribe to them a power the opposite of that which they really possess. For this invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory. Their trust in writing, produced by external characters which are no part of themselves, will discourage the use of their own memory within them. You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom, for they will read many things without instruction and will therefore seem to know many things, when they are for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with, since they are not wise, but only appear wise.”

(Hat tip: Joe and his comment on yesterday’s post.)

Ten Questions on Poets & Technology: Eric Elshtain

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 Eric Elshtain.

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

One central poetic power of recent digital technologies is the ability to assist in the actual death of the author. If I may quote from friend and poet Matthias Regan, whose group the Next Objectivists is poetically mobilizing here in Chicago and beyond:

Until now the ‘author’ as authority and autonomous creator has only been ‘dead’ in theory, never in practice. Indeed, many of the previous generation’s critics and poets have proclaimed the death of the author so successfully that we all know them by name! A poetics based on the deconstruction of predominant economic sensibilities has become capitalized upon in turn. We must generate the language of a new kind of subjectivity—the language of the multitude. The theoretical discarding of authorship must be replaced by an actual anonymity.

The Next Objectivists use typewriters to create the “language of the multitude”; collective poetry writing situations set in public places that the Next Objectivists call “transcription events.” What computer assisted poetry can do (if used for good and not evil) is give a poet the ability to create a public situation in her own home, via software that gives the poet/end user access to language from existing texts (novels, newspaper articles, the complete works of Gertrude Stein), thereby composing poetry not out of some archaic sense of “genius” or “self,” but out of a collectivity of voices that inherently democratizes the poetic process on the level of meaning. That is, the reader is allowed to become the last link in the authorial chain. This extension of the poetic process outwards is what differentiates computer-derived poetry from many human poetic poetries and procedures, but the technology of scissors can perform the same task. The computer just makes it easier, faster, and gives one the ability to derived poetry from thousands of texts, rather than just a few, as well as chips away at the harmful poetics of distinctions.

As the editor of an on-line chapbook press, what can I say? Beard of Bees has a devoted set of readers in Tallinn, Estonia. What else can you ask for as a small poetry press that has never advertised, does not have a blog, Facebook page, &c? The web is a tremendous poetry delivery mechanism…as Ron Silliman suggested in his answers to these same questions, the implications of this new relationship to readers of poetry has yet to be fully considered, though at best the Web’s form of free and unfettered delivery (if used in this way) can steer the practice of writing away from personal entrepreneurship. For people who just want their poetry to be read, music to be heard, films to be seen, what better technology could there be than what we have available to us today? I am not doe-eyed and over-optimistic, but the potential is there less-privatized, anti-individualized, fully politicized poetry and poetry publication.

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?
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?

While the technologies are ethically neutral and can be used wisely and well as tools for dissemination of literature and ideas, the very notion of “friends” (Facebook) and “followers” (Twitter) feels suspect. Creepy, even. Sites like Facebook are fantastic tools to disseminate information and create collectives, though in reality, they are mostly used as billboards of the self, and all that. I created a Beard of Bees GoogleGroup to announce events and publications. That is about as close as I have come to anything like a networking site. I also began, but no longer maintain (that has been taken up by someone with much more energy than I) a GnoetryDaily blog where experiments with Gnoetry and other poetry-generating machines are publicly demonstrated. Twitter is interesting given its word count constraints—but I do not know if anyone is doing anything interesting with Twitter.

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.

As I mentioned above, I edit an on-line poetry chapbook press, Beard of Bees. Besides my time and a modest fee to keep our web-moniker, it is free to do and free to use. That is a big upside. Working via e-mail also facilitates the ability to work closely with poets; that is, in fact being an editor rather than merely a reader with self-appointed privileges, a “gatekeeper.” Many chapbooks on Beard of Bees have been passed back and forth between the author and myself before publication, sometimes with the understanding that revisions do not automatic publication. Having worked as a poetry editor for a “traditional print journal,” the technology of email (the dispassionate frame of electronic circuits maybe?) seems to make people more willing to consider rethinking and revising their texts, thinking of the poems as semi-public property, rather than jewels dug from a lone mind. I think technologies assist in this attitude, just as using a typewriter must have facilitated the editorial and collaborative efforts of the Modernist poets. The downside is that the very screen that electronic media creates between the artist and her work creates a screen for some between a right relationship between human beings. Just like car horns are prosthetic shouting devices, so to is computer communication technologies. Never once did I get an angry letter from someone to whom I had sent comments back about his work while I edited the Chicago Review (okay, once—a hand-written screed). I have received tens of hate-filled emails from poets who sent to Beard of Bees, in response to my having sent the poets reasons why I did not publish their work. As one disgruntled poet put it to me, “I often wished I didn’t get back those impersonal slips and emails and that just one time an editor would tell me why he didn’t publish my work. I guess be careful what you ask for, especially since you’re obviously a frustrated poet who uses editing to get back at those of us who are more successful than you.” &c. I wonder if this poet would have bothered to take the time to hand write or to type such a missive?

The other capacity in which I use technology is as a poet, and I suspect my relationship with Gnoetry, the poetry generating software written by Jon Trowbridge, is the main reason I was asked to be part of this excellent Q&A session. I will get to Gnoetry below.

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

On the order of computer-generated poetries, I find myself in disagreement with those who have tried to and would like to use this form of poetry to pass some form of quasi-Turing test to prove that work generated with software can be mistaken for work written only by human hand. Why not let the machine have some integrity beyond a comparison with human poetry? Why use a machine to try to “infiltrate” some perceived non-inclusion (as with some efforts to get computer-generated work in journals and then lift the veil—“A-ha! Fooled you!”) Rather than try to pass off computer-generated poetry as not computer-related at all, for me it is more interesting to consider human-machine collaboration as a new paradigm for what can be considered poetry, and who can be considered a poet. One of the best moments I have witnessed with Gnoetry occurred during one of our early field tests—a gentleman who is a self-proclaimed “non-artist” reluctantly used the software and announced that he “felt like a poet,” that he had a hand in making language do interesting things. Imagine people using (abusing?) work hours composing poetry using Web-based computer-generated poetry software rather than playing yet another round of FreeCell. That would be sweet.

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 some ways this question hinges on defining the Konyves piece as a poem in the first place. Is it a poem and not a “film” because it incorporates language? What makes Max Ernst’s “poemes visible” poetry? Or a Joseph Cornell box (his work has long been deemed poetic)? What is at stake when we declare something a poem or call something “poetic.” Whatever the case may be, the Konyves piece is a great reminder that we are always surrounded by poetry and potential poetry, by images and texts that scroll past us or that we stroll past every day; maybe most poems are in fact never written, but are left as thoughts, or spoken as conversations, that just float in the aether…until, perhaps, they get captured and sung, filmed, sculpted, written, painted. Technologies can certainly facilitate a page-less poetics, and in particular a participatory poetics, in which end-users are am active part of the poetic process. That is, the reader becomes a poet.

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

Over the last nine years, I have been part of the creation and dissemination of the aforementioned Gnoetry, a poetry generating computer program. Discussion of its origin and how it works can be found here and continuing experiments with Gnoetry and other tools for the creation of computational poetry can be found here.

Much of my poetic output over the last three years, coincident with the birth of my daughter, has been in collaboration with Gnoetry in one way or another. I may use it to create a “rough draft” of a poem that I then revise in the traditional sense. I may use the program to compose “notes” for poems, culling lines here and there to create inspiration. I many ways, Gnoetry as a tool is no different than the many procedures poets invent to compose poems (I also use procedures to compose poetry) but Gnoetry is immediately collaborative since the language you are using with the software is from extant texts. There are some interesting implications with using a tool like Gnoetry. The language is randomized, but not beyond the reach of syntactic integrity. An author’s style resides in syntax. A group of syllable-based renga composed using the statistical analysis of a novel by Edith Wharton is, in essence, written in Wharton’s voice. Who is to say that the renga are not long-lost poems written by Wharton herself? See here.

In any case, a procedure is just another form of technê (might we say that all poetry is procedural on a certain level?) and Gnoetry is a wonderful way to proceed towards poetry. Maybe not for everybody. During a Gnoetry interactive demonstration, a young woman sat down to use the software, happy with the interface, happy with the texts she could choose to use as the language corpus, &c. Then, in a synapse flash, Gnoetry composed the poetic solution to the problem she posed (how to make blank verse out of several texts) and she read a few lines, shot up from her seat and back away from the machine slowly saying “No, no, no, that’s not what I want at all.” I have no idea what she was expecting. At another demo, the people in the crowd applauded and ohh’d and ahh’d at each gnoetic creation like they were watching fireworks. In both cases, I have never seen people react to poetry in those fashions.

In the very least, Gnoetry presents many people with a novel way to compose poems. Some do not like it because it eradicates some sense of creativity or originality or inspiration that they hold dear; others find little difference between composing with Gnoetry and composing poetry “by hand.” How else do we write poetry but with pre-existing language handed down to us through oral and textual traditions that we then randomly choose from, arrange and re-arrange into poetry? Gnoetry just makes this process very fast.

An interesting thing happened when I first started doing and witnessing extensive experiments with Gnoetry. I noticed that collaborations with the software were churning out poems that sounded remarkably like the poetry I was writing—a parataxis based assemblage of images and ideas. I felt challenged to do what the computer could not, and began to transform my own approaches to composition, and started hand writing drafts and using the typewriter much more. So: in some ways, even if I am not collaborating with Gnoetry, I am writing in reaction to Gnoetry.

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

Computer and Internet technologies have made reading and publishing poetry available to people—free—in an unprecedented way. I want to note two reactions to this form of free publication. The slow integration of Web-based publishing into the fold of “legitimate” publishing, something many poetry “professionals” became anxious about. That is, one could start putting Web-based publications into one’s CV since they were deemed just as “serious” as print journals. Fortunately, the Internet allows for self-publication and self-promotion, and while this may be bad for the novel, it certainly cannot hurt poetry. Poetry best exists outside of the usual marketplace; the Web helps keep more and more poetry safe from the typical arbiters of verse culture.

The other reaction I have noticed to the ease of publishing on the Web has been the explosion of small presses using older technologies such as letterpress, making beautiful hand-made, hand-sewn book objects.

There will always be a new lyre for poets to strum, for poets to imagine being strummed by some wind or another. There is always someone out there doing interesting with or to the lyre, and with the communication technology available to us, we are more likely than not to be able to see it. How great is that?

I recently finished my PhD at the University of Chicago. If you see me, call me “Bones,” please. I work as poet-in-residence at John H. Stroger, Jr, Hospital, conducting poetry and art workshops for hospitalized children through Snow City Arts, a non-profit foundation. I also edit the exclusively on-line Beard of Bees Press.

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Previous responders:

Amy King
Collin Kelley
Ren Powell
Chris Hamilton-Emery
Cati Porter
Ron Silliman
January O’Neil
Dave Bonta
John Vick
Sandra Beasley

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

Ten Questions on Poets & Technology – Sandra Beasley

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 Sandra Beasley.

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

I attended a high school for science, and there really was a time when I’d have chosen an afternoon of noodling around in Pascal code over fumbling my way through a sonnet. So I don’t have any inherent resistance to technology, nor do I have any attachment to older writing modes. I’ll draft using whatever is handy—email body, sheet of notepaper, Word document, napkin, blog post. I’m a pragmatist; I don’t fetishize the latest edition or software.

But I’ll admit reticence in using icons of technology in my poems. I love using the vocabularies of chemistry, biology, and physics, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a cell-phone in I Was the Jukebox. In Theories of Falling one poem equates “the click of our million keyboards” to “the sound American souls make as they collide.” Though I don’t know how I could have gotten at the idea without referencing computers, it still nags at me. Why? I don’t know. My worry can’t be becoming dated, given my poems name-check Pringles and Log Flumes.

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 status updates, so sometimes that implicitly promotes an upcoming reading—or gives me an opportunity to congratulate another writer. But I don’t do much with events or notes or memes. I certainly don’t expect people to track my career via Facebook.

Honestly, I’m not crazy about the commingling of personal and professional communities in such an overly articulated space. When I first signed up it was for the sake of sharing photos with old school friends. As it happened one University of Virginia friend was also a poet, which opened the floodgates. Now I receive a steady stream of messages asking me to subscribe to a journal, buy a book, or somehow make it to a reading on the opposite coast, often a dozen messages per day. It’s the equivalent of poetry spam.

Sometimes a reader reaches out, which is lovely—I don’t take that for granted. But I wish they’d use email instead, since that’s a medium where I can organize and archive correspondences. Facebook’s messaging system is dreadful.

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 don’t Tweet. I don’t follow feeds. I don’t know how to create hashtags. 140 characters: no great threat to one’s attention, right? But think of little birds, each scraping the tip of an outstretched wing-feather along the face of the mountain. Soon the whole damn rock is worn away.

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.

My website and blog are primary entry points into my work. That’s how I promote my readings, make connections to new work and interviews, and in the case of the blog gossip, complain, and share my undying love for the music of Josh Ritter. The balance between the time I devote to each site shifts periodically. Right now I’m anxious to do some overhauling of the website, so I’m looking forward of getting back into the groove of HTML and template tweaking. I have not been posting blog posts because the matter of my life over the past few months has been, well, kind of dramatic and private and mine to keep. (And when not all those things, ridiculously paced by travel.)

I’m loyal to the blog though. People have been so responsive, and many new readers seem to have come to my work through Chicks Dig Poetry. So–unlike many of those who started up blogs around the same time, I suspect–I’m not trying to figure out my exit strategy just yet. But I may switch the focus over to the machinations of the nonfiction publishing world for a year, as I get ready for my memoir (Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl) to make its way into the world next fall.

I don’t do podcasts of my own simply because I don’t have the flair for the technology, but I have taken part in more than a few. I think a well-edited and concise show that mixes readings and smart talk about poetry can be a tremendous thing.

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

Sometimes I worry we—and I count myself guilty here—offer up too much explanatory clutter around the full texts of poems in online postings. One of the most remarkable things about the Internet is its unlimited vertical space. Because of technical constraints, it used to be that reviews, interviews, and critical essays would excerpt a poem to illustrate a point; now whole poem texts are regularly plopped in. I hate to think that the first time someone encounters a poem of mine might be in immediate juxtaposition to a critical or narrative explanation of its function. The reader should have some time to form his own theory first, in a neutral reading space.

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

I’m drawn to times when poets use hyperlinking to create a constellation of creative sources and resources they care about. That constellation may go on display in a website with multiple authors (HTMLGIANT, The Rumpus), a blog that seems mimetic of an individual personality (Ron Silliman, C. Dale Young), or even just one single sprawling online essay or post that makes a cultural argument. It’s not that only poets do this, but I love that poets are among those who do, and that I have this way of encountering them as three-dimensional personalities in the two-dimensional space of a computer screen.

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.

Can poetry be taken off the page, entirely? Or does a “poem,” at that point, cease to honor some of the core components of poetic craft versus the craft of the visual and dramatic arts? It’s great to present poetry in innovative ways, whether YouTube video-poems or dynamic performance, but at the end of the day I want the anchor of text on a page, whether that page is cotton rag or PDF file. Yes, poetry began as an oral tradition, but that’s just playing devil’s advocate; when we study our Homer nowadays, a written text is considered key to contemporary comprehension.

A poem should feature language, shaped with intent by the author—in terms of conception or lineation—and gesturing toward a larger tradition. That’s the bare minimum, before considering the manipulation of sound and figuration of image, which I consider central pleasures of poetry. I enjoy Konyves piece, but I’d call it a clever video assemblage with a few particularly lyrical juxtapositions. I wouldn’t call it a poem unless cued to do so by this prompt.

Jeez, I sound so harsh and conservative. Sorry about that. But if I don’t stick up for what I believe constitutes a poem, what good am I?

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

I am drawn to reading poetry in front of a live audience, and being able to respond or edit organically based on their intellectual attentions, energy, and willingness to laugh. I can’t take pleasure in being reliant on a pre-recorded musical track, a laptop—or even a power source—to bring a poem alive. Things can and will go wrong in such scenarios. I’m staying unplugged.

9. What has technology done for or to Poetry?

As a reader, I am grateful for the ever-increasing number of texts that can be accessed on the virtual page—whether in the case of seeing new work in online journals, or affirming a line from something I once had memorized, or passing the work of a favorite poet along to someone else. While sitting at an office desk, I can just as easily steal three minutes for poetry as for a round of Minesweeper or the latest celebrity gossip. Technology has made poetry a more immediate art.

There are some who will jump on me for not making all my poems available online, given I’m championing the idea above. Actually, the full text of I Was the Jukebox can be found on Norton’s site; it just can’t be copied and pasted, or printed. If its poems as portable texts you’re looking for, about half my poems have been printed or reprinted in online journals. It’s true that I haven’t centralized access through a set of links or a PDF on a site of mine. But so what? I believe in the book as the primary body for a collection, and I want to support my publishers (who have supported me) by letting them be the sole purveyor of that body. I don’t suspect this will satisfy Mr. Knott, which is too bad (I like his work), but so it goes.

Before I leave the topic entirely, I want to recognize that technology has also put previously isolated or self-segregated pockets of poets in conversation with each other. As a writer, I appreciate that the web lets me create a community of peers outside my immediate geography and lifestyle. A poet in Alaska comes to the virtual table; a poet with physical impairment responds as quickly as any able-bodied participant; the poet-mom with only one free hour a day—some ungodly hour, 3 or 4 AM—still contributes to a discussion.

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

There’s got to be more poetic cell phone sounds out there—let’s get our best voices at work on the problem. What we need is the Edgar Allan Poe ring of bells, bells, bells. Perhaps the vibrate mode that echoes the buzz of a fly when it dies. And who doesn’t want a ding announcing that yes, your text message is slouching toward Bethlehem?

Sandra Beasley won the 2009 Barnard Women Poets Prize for I Was the Jukebox, selected by Joy Harjo (W.W. Norton, 2010). Her first collection, Theories of Falling, won the 2007 New Issues Poetry Prize judged by Marie Howe. Her poetry has appeared in Poetry, Slate, and The Believer, and was chosen for The Best American Poetry 2010.

Other honors include the 2010 University of Mississippi Summer Poet in Residence position, a DCCAH Individual Artist Fellowship, the Friends of Literature Prize from the Poetry Foundation, and the Maureen Egen Exchange Award from Poets & Writers. She has received fellowships to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, the Millay Colony, VCCA, and Vermont Studio Center.

Beasley lives in Washington, D.C., where she serves on the Board of the Writer’s Center. Her nonfiction has been featured in the Washington Post Magazine and she is working on Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales From an Allergic Life, forthcoming from Crown.

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Previous responders:

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

Coming up:

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>

10 Questions on Poets and Technology – John Vick

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 John Vick .

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

I was fortunate not to fall into the fear-of-change mode when first exposed to something based on the byte. I was only twenty-one. Sitting in a cinderblock windowless building in a nuclear weapons storage area near the Great Bay in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, I held the 12” x 12” discs (one for spell check, one for composing, one for data) and learned everything there was to know about a CPT word processor. I was hooked. When discharged (for being gay), in 1984, I landed in a law office and there was one of An Wang’s devices, then others followed. WordPerfect ruled the day and it would not be hyperbole to say there was an obnoxious number of discs to maintain.

I now have a MacBook, a Mac Mini, an iPod Touch, and a few old music iPods gathering dust – I must have an iPad soon. I was a PC – or the like – for twenty-eight years. Not to preach, but I love my Mac because it is.

All that said, there is something difficult about embracing this “here are my likes and dislikes,” of a blog, Facebook account, etc., which is open to the public/the world. My generation (the designation of which is debatable given a 1961 birth year and the various definitions), is in the midst of transitional ticks regarding such exposing of personal information. So I am intimately tugged back and forth. I have put up and pulled down many blogs and a good number of YouTube videos, depending on which side of my age is tugging me.

But, despite the fact that I chose Europe over an Apple when I was close to leaving home, I am through and through a geek at heart. So all new, all novel; I’m into whatever is new and better at communication, whether or not I actually utilize it.

I was given an iPod Touch last holiday season and one of the first apps I got for it was Christine Klocek-Lim’s chapbook, which is a free app.

Stepping back far before HTML 5 I realized my site impact strategy wasn’t lending itself to anything slick, contemporary, or competitive (which is something I never wanted to be). At that point I archived my own website – my effort years back to get audio of poetry out. That part of my long-term game, “The Adroitly Placed Word Project,” was also victim of my HP laptop crash a couple of years ago and my failure to be able to control changes in the appearance due to software changes.

But my drive didn’t end there. I think what the project accomplished was important, and my obsession with poetry from new technology has a profound effect on me, as it does us all – regardless of our willingness.

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?

No, I had difficulty with Facebook and stalking. It was unfortunate, but I had to suspend my account twice and now I basically stay with the same friends. I try to stay invisible in step with Facebook’s ever-loosening privacy protections, so ideally I’m within a safe bunch.

I’m not sure how much it is of value right now, but I have friends who publish their work on Facebook (and I would consider that self-publishing – as on a blog – so that can be an issue depending on your goals). I love that the poetry is shared that way but I opt not to do it. So, I think there will be more and more dynamic website platforms for sharing work, already there are some workshop sites sponsored by well-established poetry organizations, and those are of great value, especially for the geographically-removed poet. In fact, several of those workshops from years back, the bulletin boards of the early 90s, were instrumental in building my confidence as a writer through a handful of friends who eventually formed circles for sharing work.

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 tweet in the winter about ten times more than the summer – probably due to activity – and I don’t tweet much in the first place. It is a really great way to follow current news and ideas, for sure. I just haven’t become devoted yet. I do follow news tweets (along with Paula Abdul – because she is laughably crackers, Ashton K – for various silly reasons, Paula Dean – the food upon which I was raised, and other various odd people who seem able to go beyond the color of shoes they picked for the day in the text limitations).

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

I have done one video of a short poem and I would like to do others. Time is a factor with creating video.

I would like to be included in the types of venues suggested by the question, but I do not feel the ability to organize such events at this point. I’m really not very good with marketing.

The use of the Internet is more powerful than we can realize, In the same way I have no idea how much a trillion dollars is, I have no idea how much free literature is available in all its possible forms on the web. That is good.

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

This invites a certain critique to me. I’ll say it is really self-destructive to judge other artists negatively. If one cannot, in thought and words, come up with a true wordsmith’s comment on someone else’s work – helpful, not critical – then one is not a poet. It is just as important to carefully place each word in speaking about another’s method as it is to handle delicately the terms placed in our poetry. You may absolutely hate a poem you read, see, hear, observe (all of it), but your commentary should be positive and speak for itself. One slightly nuanced change from the norm of what might be said can easily direct the poet to areas you find of concern in their art. You have to be skillful and it helps with your own work. So, that is what matters. I don’t mean to argue the question, but I try to stop before expressing my dislike of art.

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

Freedom. Ever increasing freedom. It shows and it is unstoppable in its exponentially larger palate for new work, hybrid work, avant-garde work. All of it.

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 Konyves piece for its obviously excellent scouting and gathering of images, but more so choices like fading in or basic scene changes make it really smooth – works well. The words displayed – oftentimes quite declarative as with U (heart) U NOW, great choice as are all pieces of the compilation

This is a poem I created a couple of years back.

I had two poems accepted for a forthcoming qarrtsiluni issue (“The Crowd” theme edition), due out in August. Interestingly, qarrtsiluni provides iTunes podcasts of work on their site, which includes a recording of the work. So there is a development of interest — iTunes as a source of contemporary poetry. Audience potential is huge if we can make the world outside of poets and their junkies read, see, participate.

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

Other than recording my poems, or using Alex (Mac’s inflection-wise beta voice) – to use in editing – no, but I understand the value and embrace it philosophically. I’m just waiting for what comes my way right now, but the initiative to do more video is coming stronger with this.

9. What has technology done for or to Poetry?

It has increased momentum toward the realization that literature is unlimited, as the Oulipians said decades ago and essentially proved, mathematically.

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

Maintain vigilance as the machines grow and our ability to reach others increases. We know there is huge responsibility in caring for the Internet, robotics, cable television, digital radio, devices, tricorders – the works of mankind trying to satisfy its desires with the least possible effort.

John Vick resides in Minneapolis. He is working toward publication of his first full-length collection. Vick’s chapbook, Chaperons of a Lost Poet (BlazeVOX [books], 2009) received honors in the 2008 Skidrow Penthouse Wardell Prize for Poetry contest. He has been published in various venues internationally. Vick provides both group and individual training. He is a veteran of USAF and has lived at more than twenty-five addresses (excluding sofas) in his life, many in different locales. Vick says what the arts needs right now is a philosopher king who values culture enough to ensure it is property reflected for posterity.

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Previous responders:

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

Coming up:

Sandra Beasley
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>

look at me!

Just highlighting a comment by Dave Bonta on his 10 questions answers below, because the video he is flagging is terrific! It also has 440,000 views in three months. Dave writes:

As an addendum to my answer to #7 — the discourse on video — I’ve just found a videopoem that appears to have gone viral: Television, a slam-type poem by screenwriter Todd Alcott, made into a video by Beth Fulton, a professional multimedia producer. It’s been played close to 440,000 times in just three months. The only English-language videopoem that’s been viewed more times, to my knowledge, is Juan Delcan’s animation of Billy Collins’ poem “The Dead” on YouTube, with 761,340 views. But it’s been up for three years.

So despite what I said about people not going online to look for videopoems (yet!), it seems that a well-made videopoem with a popular message can attract hundreds of thousands of viewers and be shared all over the social web even in our allegedly poem-phobic culture. OTOH, I don’t think “Television” or “The Dead” come close to challenging “hamster on a piano” or the latest adorable cat video.

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.)

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.

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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

10 Questions on Poets and Technology – Chris Hamilton-Emery

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, bringing us a UK perspective, is Chris Hamilton-Emery.

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

The end of hope. No, I’ve worked with new technology in publishing for almost twenty years, so a lot of my immediate thinking here centres around mark up languages like XML, XLink, XPointer, metadata, issues around discoverability, granularity, fragmentation, standards, subject classification, topic maps (remember them?) tagging and so on — the seriously boring end of things: the kind of stuff that gets cited in the divorce proceedings. The kind of stuff that ends up in sentences that start with “He was a real loner all his life…” I’ve been working on a new database system that encodes poetry for ePub and Kindle products, but that might seem a rather constrained and reductive way to approach this question! I love programming XSLT conversions, and thinking about XSL-FO and how we might auto generate books from vast corpora of tax returns. It’s a bit sad. It’s a lot sad, actually. I think technology is a metaphor for bereavement.

Still, I think that the way we approach literature, the way we read, is about to change profoundly. As far as I can see with my kids, give them new technology and you can kill reading altogether; we’re building a post-literate society. The preferred medium is shifting from paper to electronic and I can now see a future where physically printed books will diminish as the principal means of reading poetry, reading immersively, for pleasure, for insight, for wonder and entertainment. I keep thinking of all those Scandinavian forests. They’re slow crops and soon we won’t need them and I can imagine as the paper pulp industry collapses and all those lumberjacks have to change careers to become, you know, W3C programmers, that we’ll simply deforest Scandinavia and build housing. Neat and tidy housing, though. Wooden housing.

Technology isn’t in itself liberating, is it, but the range of tools available to us to disseminate works and the opportunities to augment our experience of a text is increasing steadily. I think we’ll all expect more from writers, too, and this may create new pressures for poets to see themselves as working in a range of media to create a kind of multimedia experience of their work, to capture the visual and aural experience of a poem. We’re moving into a second wave (or even third or fourth) of networked communities, further globalization and our sense of nationality, of place, of belonging, of political and social engagement, is going to be profoundly changed — that’s all self evident though now, and it’s rather banal to state it. Facebok is a nation isn’t it? Anyway, I’m hoping for more flashmob experiences of poetry and lots more dance videos.

In fact, technology is really a triumph of banality: it’s a trainspotters paradise, isn’t it? I mean we’re more likely to be stuck on Facebook than with our physical next door neighbour. More likely to join One Million Fans to Rename Des Moines Obamaville than to help old Mrs Silverstein clean her gutters over there. I’m kidding. But I think technology can give the impression of engagement, can symbolise engagement, but it can be disempowered and dissociative, too. Yet, when it works it’s quite incredible. Poetry can be like that, it can look like poetry and have lots of comments and friends saying ‘Wow, I really care about Haiti, too!” , but it can be a kind of new way to fail as well; but poets are good with failure. In fact failure is the manure of poetry. Technology multiples the ways to fail. It’s nirvana for Beckett fans.

So I think I’m saying that the real issue is this new networked society, this networked life and where it’s all leading, this kind of total exposure, but the instincts and processes are all still profoundly human: neighbourliness, collaboration, exchange, friendship — as well as those darker characteristics: like the obsession everyone has with being bothered about stuff. How much of social networking is about loneliness and belonging? Quite a bit I’d guess. There’s a lot of group think and flame wars that act to normalise behaviour, too, just like the parish council or the local branch of the WI (Women’s Institute). We’ve yet to see how this will really affect poetry reading (as opposed to its production), but we’re heading towards a new phase of World English, of English further dominating writing around the world. That has some serious implications, doesn’t it? I guess everyone will just have to accept English, like they do democracy and MFAs and BP.

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 everyday, from morning till night, I pin my eyelids open so I can do more Facebook, but that’s for business, really. I’m trying to wean myself away but they’re closing Bebo down and my Ning is really dysfunctional and MySpace is like taking days to load and is full of music geeks wanting Wavves T-shirts. I’m an addict and I know it. I admit it openly: I wonder if there are seven step programmes for Facebook addicts. I create separate profiles for me as a poet and me in my day job as sales director for a secret publishing business. Actually, I run over fifty profiles and talk to myself in the evenings. I forget who the hell is speaking and find myself running over the same old themes all the time “What is it with your mother, Rich?”. I’m not sure I can keep these things apart, after all these conversations all take place within the same body, the same mind. This is what I tell myself. I think Facebook is the poet’s best friend, though. It has this astonishing ability to connect you to readers: in some cases this means more than your mum and that guy from Social Services you discovered who collects gnomes and uploads photos of his allotment on Flickr. In some senses, as part of the whole social networking phenomenon, it’s the tool which turns the Web from being passive to being active. After all a Website just sits there waiting for visitors like a big lump, but social networking makes it active, it proves that no one is interested in your writing. Seriously though, it draws people to you, people who share similar interests or similar trajectories, needs and desires. Like say, blancmange fantasies. Or NFA league tables. Or micro-breweries. It puts poets in the way of new readers and that’s got to be good for the art? On the other hand it can really show you that you have no friends in the virtual world, too, that you really are alone and that there’s good reason for this and it’s a lot to do with you learning Vulcan in your spare time and giving up deodorant. And writing poetry.

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 for my poetry, though again, I have profiles on Twitter which I use for business, and I link my blog to Twitter and Twitter to Facebook, so I have this kind of feed of my activities shifting around these tools: it’s a CIA paradise. But everyone is doing that now, it’s the connections between these tools that builds audiences and helps people to get a sense of what you’re doing.

Of course, for all these things, you need to be prepared to have a large window on your private life and social networking really works through how much of yourself you want to put on show — a bit like Bentham’s Panopticon — it’s about personal display as well as a form of control, there are consequences when thinking of social networking. For a writer this might mean going public about your life in ways that were unimaginable a decade ago. Imagine discovering that Les Murray always writes naked on that OzLit Web cam, or discovering that Ron is really a franchise (and that’s how he does it). Depending on your own psychology that can be either liberating or imprisoning, a bit like day time TV — sometimes I do wonder if social networking is a form of neurasthenia.

In a way I imagine it reflects how writers consider audiences: as something close and participative or remote and disengaged. Or dead. You still get the “If lots of people read this stuff it must be a crock of shit” crew, and the “It’s only good if it isn’t read at all” crew as well as the “Only you are permitted to read this and in this precise way” lot — the literary eugenicists. Social networking is not a good medium for those who believe their readers aren’t yet born. But I don’t use Twitter to write a poem — 140 characters is really rubbish for epic poems in alexandrines. There’s no reason why one shouldn’t do this, but I’ve no creative thrill there. Someone mentioned haiku earlier in this thread, though I think haiku in English are pretty awful most of the time — it’s like opening a family bag of M&Ms and finding one sweet inside (well, two, so you can repeat it, naturally) — I always feel robbed. Twitter’s power is to simply natter, it’s a banal tool, and a lot of human experience is, well, basically pretty banal. That’s its charm. It’s a kind of conversational backwash, like chatting with folk in the bus queue while waiting for the No. 47. It’s just that the bus won’t ever turn up.

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 keep a blog, I use podcasts, to open out a window on what I’m doing, I see these things as sketch books, it’s no different than having an open studio as a painter, and folk can drop in and see what I’m working on and I can see what I’m doing too, and most of it is provisional and developmental, which means the failed stuff — well not always, but the really good stuff you have to keep offline or those Poetry Police come along and spread the word to magazine and competition editors that you published this thing on your blog and ought to be disqualified from entry, or worse your shortlisting ought to be invalidated. Actually, this really happens, I get this a lot in my business life. Poets shopping poets. It makes you think. I can see the pressure to read something on the Web as published, but I hope that poets can begin to share worksheets and warming up exercises with us all (I mistyped that as “arming up” exercises, which is kind of interesting, too). My instincts are that we should be open with our processes, though I know that many see this as demystifying the art.

I don’t think of writing as some kind of sacred thing, something sacral or filled with mystery. Some poets like all that spooky stuff, don’t they? Some go for the theory stuff, too. Too much theory is like acetone. It rubs the varnish off of a poem. Again I realise that many people do see writing as this primal, private and secret activity, where the kind of exposure I’m talking of here would be horrifying. Each to their own. I’ve never been turned on by the technology dictating new forms of writing though, I’m quite conservative in that sense, or maybe just pragmatic. I ultimately want the words. Do you know the Alice for the iPad thing? — I watched this, along with lots and lots of publishers and thought how sexy and whizzy it all was, but of course, you read Alice, don’t you, and in that YouTube vid you get the impression that this is really about people who hate words, they’re just like furniture in this little advertisement where the object is to shake Alice to bits. To knock her about. Ultimately, I’m just a words guy. I like words to look beautiful though. If you add bells and whistles, you’d better be sure they’re not dressing up a bad poem, or killing a good one.

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

Nothing really. I hope people do experiment, and experiment wildly. I see a lot of stuff come across my desktop using CSS typography (usually quite badly), and some try to create routes and tours of a text through hyperlinking, but this is ultimately a scripted and artificial thing. It’s an artificial form of heteroglossia where the tension is contrived and intended, but sometimes that can add this further contextual pressure to a text, but I’m not especially keen on it, you know, I don’t read a poem hoping for the footnotes. I don’t dislike this, but I think it fails on a number of levels. And navigation experiences, clicking from place to place discovering collisions of intention, a kind of online parataxis — this kind of thing, it strikes me, is difficult to succeed with: I mean that surfing is the entire nature of the Web, and so constraining it is somehow inauthentic. Maybe that doesn’t make a lot of sense. A lot of online “concrete” works fail for me too on the graphics side, because the poet doesn’t necessarily have a terribly sophisticated visual sense of the world or an ability to make it gorgeous. And sometimes, when a visual artist uses text in their work, that too can seem ineffective, contrived, sometimes bathetic. But when it does all come together I think that it can be quite astonishing. I guess that I feel that in the cases where this could succeed, the poet would have to forgo their sense of themselves as poet, and move towards being a multimedia artist? Maybe we’ll all end up there? Maybe we’re all filmmakers now. You’d better consider what your day job will be though, as there’s no money in this and you can’t gain tenure in a writing program working as Final Cut Pro 7 editor.

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

I like it when they innovate themselves an audience. I mean, there’s not much point in any of it without readers, so I love seeing how poets are using these tools to reach people. Blogging, reviewing, networking, drawing people in, sharing in the conversations, I love seeing the writerly generosity of it all. I’m not much into closed societies and locking readers out, so all that opening up in video, sound, performances, seeing and hearing the growth of a poet’s mind, that fascinates me. The boring stuff, I guess. The bells and whistles things are cool, but I want to see and know the person and get an insight into what’s going on there: I’d like more biography more of the orthogenesis. Shaky cam poetics can be okay though. I enjoy being surprised, so it’s good to avoid redoing stuff. I’m envious of those who can use Final Cut Pro 7. I like interviews actually. And you know I really like ads and promos, too. I love that W.W. Norton thing from AWP a year back I hope we have more poetry advertisements.

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’ve never seen the Konyves piece, but why would we limit our experience of this to poetry? I can see this as an art installation, it’s a nice piece of filmmaking, and I do think that poetry has a lot to do with film — the same chthonic seams, but if I simply read this work, I’m not sure I’m getting a great textual experience. I guess I think it does the poetry a disservice in this example. I like it a lot though. I like it as film. You know it makes me want to go and write, that’s the highest praise! I wish more poets used YouTube and Vimeo and I wish more folk collaborated with filmmakers to create responses to poems and riffs on poems. I like Ronnie McGrath’s Mingus Music in this context and I also like the lo-fi triumph of it all. You know, we can all jump in and push the art.

I think we’re only just beginning to see this stuff emerge. I want more of it. Jen and I have been thinking about filming some of my poems in London, and I find that it’s my visual imagination that kicks in there, my painterly mind, coming back into the fray, much more than the poet stepping in. It’s a perceptual thing isn’t it? I like Miranda July’s kooky promo for her book. Do you know that? I like the fact she’s continued developing that promo. Especially talking to the dead. And then you turn up and think, “Hey maybe that’s me.”

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

I was unsure reading this what you might mean, how can one avoid technology? It’s all coming back to Blake’s “infernal methods” the celebration of the medium: the mythology of the medium, the medium dictating the outcomes and the poet overcoming these resistances. We all create our own resistances and mythologize our experiences, our collaborators, comrades, even. I would counsel against letting the medium become the whole story, though.

All media dates, some dates badly, some ends up looking nostalgic, like those poets who dye their manuscripts with gravy browning to make them look really, really old (a bit like those who use ‘innovative’ techniques from say 1910). We prize nostalgia when the original artists were being new and radical — a lot of collage is like this, isn’t it? — we may even adopt certain practices because they symbolise authenticity, codify authenticity, when they’re really historical reenactments. A bit like punk, it was really all over by 1979. I think this can often be a failure in some works — some art fails in this respect: it can be repetitive and predictable — it pretends to be new, but it’s actually already ancient, synthetic, it also has a very narrow range of effects — though that might be a deficiency in my experience of it as a reader! New technology obviates this kind of thing — so I think we’ll see this pressure to really create something sensually new, something like opening up a new vista rather than ploughing the dead land.

Every writer I’ve ever worked with has a procedure for writing, a methodology that utilises old technologies like, you know, pencils and paper, and combines that with new one’s like iPhones and palmtops, laptops and now iPad, I imagine. I wonder if we’ll start with a visual or sonic idea, and then work through to a text, I wonder if poetry will become this filmic script, this intense collision of media?

Rather predictably, I write on a laptop in the main, I like overwriting immediately. I don’t leave traces. I like that whole erasure thing. Erasure is very important for writers, isn’t it? But it can be annoying, when you realise that, forty drafts in, it was that first one that really had something. But it’s gone. You only set for 10 levels of Undo and you’ve exhausted them. So another damn Mancunian Canto bites the dust. But then there’s always Facebook and a new protest to join about privacy settings or being made to pay for stuff. Or another natural disaster to campaign for.

9. What has technology done for or to Poetry?

It’s got it out of the mouth and the head and then put it back again some place else, hasn’t it? If we’re talking about new technology here, about electronic texts, I think we’re only seeing the beginning of things. Poetry is being put centre stage with these new means of disseminating works, it’s a revolution of logistics not of art. We’re seeing more poets than ever before, more output, like millions of writers, millions of poems, there are no gatekeepers now, we’re all free, but I imagine this was always the case. The amateur world or writing (in the proper sense, not as a pejorative) has always been with us, literacy has expanded it over the past 100 years, and we’ve industrialised it with teaching creative writing, it’s big money and big business, after all.

At one level, we’re all poets and I don’t know many people who haven’t penned something in their lives, usually at a moment of high emotion like the Spice Girls Reunion Tour. There’s a very high pain threshold for people to get involved in writing poetry — you know, not too many barriers to practise it. It’s a different experience reading it though. I guess we live in an age of ubiquity and abundance where poetry is concerned, but most of our attention goes on production and not consumption. We’ve created this vast infrastructure for production: most of the money in the genre goes on people making stuff. We have to remember that there are many billions more of us than there were in 1900, so there’s just bound to be more amateur poets out there. It’s the paying readers that just aren’t turning up: where the heck are they all. Maybe they’re all playing Red Dead Redemption.

But the changes in new technology can only help to take poetry to more general readers, but I think it will come at a cost and that cost is even more participation in writing and we haven’t seen tools emerge to help us edit our experiences, to discover what we want as readers, which is largely an issue of visibility and relevance. I like those words, Visibility and Relevance. I think they should be pinned up above every poet’s desk.

The question we should all keep asking is “Is this stuff really for me?” What we need are powerful referral engines. And I’d like to see more ghost writers for poets, you know, where you can go when you’re having a bad year and say, “Look help me write this next collection for FSG, it’s about thinginess, the thinginess of things,” and this ghost writer will say, “Sure, Bud, sit down here and let me get my iPad and log into this online thesaurus. It worked pretty good for Ashbery last month.” I think Ballard really had this covered in Vermillion Sands. He was way ahead.

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

Please god, let there be more humour. I really don’t want an increase in seriousness. I’m pretty much done with seriousness: you know tumours, addiction, conflict, — I think we’ve done these pretty well. It’s so depressing. It had better entertain me if it’s going to be about tumours again. Have you noticed how few comedy poets there are these days, there are too many lemon suckers now? And let’s stop all artistic revolutions, too. Let’s have a revolution about having no revolutions. I mean this is pretty boring, I’m okay with the anarchy T-shirts and campus politics, but the revolutions are really in Craig Venter’s realm, all those exciting patents on Life™. Poetry isn’t a match for this; well, maybe it is — maybe we’ll see some real techno changes, there, like a sonnet writing bacterium. Imagine, suddenly, every poet on Facebook going, “Yeah, I’m really with this new Coalition Government, thing!” Imagine an online poetry revolution for small government! See that’s the kind of thing that would get you hate mail for a year. Maybe I hope that technology won’t normalise poetry in some sad way. I hope we don’t all end up with institutional poetry. That it won’t all end up vanilla. I hope the young show us how it’s going to be. Shake things up with new media. Take things to new communities and bypass old farts like me. (Let’s ban poetry written by over 40s.) I want poetry on my iPhone. I want poetry on Kindle. I want poetry that wakes me up in the morning on my radio. I want a zillion bytes of beauty. I don’t want any nineteenth-century ideas, either.

Oh, I’d like poetry for stupid people too, so I hope technology delivers that. I hate the pressure to buff up on PhDs to get to grips with this line from Robinson Jeffers. There’s this tendency towards intellectual inflation, so I hope technology delivers stuff I can understand without needing third-party intervention, or maybe there could be dial-in numbers for when I get stuck on the big words. Maybe someone could program something to read all this stuff for me, too? I’d especially like something programmatic that had a vast array of single sentence answers to poems: I’d use that every time someone says to me “Yeah, but what does that mean?” I could look it up on my iPhone and read back, “Partridges, ma’am. It means complete partridges today.” And, yeah, more adverts please.

Chris Hamilton-Emery was born in Manchester in 1963 and studied painting and printmaking in Leeds. His poetry has appeared in numerous journals including The Age, Jacket, Magma, Poetry Review, Poetry Wales, PN Review, Quid and The Rialto. His chapbook, The Cutting Room, was published by Barque in 2000. His first full-length collection, Dr. Mephisto, was published by Arc in 2002. His latest collection of poetry, Radio Nostalgia, was published by Arc in 2006. He has been anthologized in New Writing 8 (Vintage, 1999) and a selection of his work will appear in Identity Parade: New British and Irish Poets edited by Roddy Lumsden, available from Bloodaxe in 2010.

He is also author of a bestselling writer’s guide 101 Ways to Make Poems Selling: The Salt Guide to Getting and Staying Published, and editor of Poets in View: A Visual Anthology of 50 Classic Poems as well as a range of pocket classics, including selections of Emily Brontë, John Keats and Christina Rossetti.

He also writes regular articles for The Writer’s Handbook and occasionally blog for The Guardian.

He lives in Great Wilbraham, near Cambridge, UK, with his wife, three children and various other animals.

Salt Publishing
Kids Salt Publishing

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Previous responders:

Amy King
Collin Kelley
Ren Powell

Coming up:

Cati Porter
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

10 Questions on Poets & Technology – Ren Powell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. What has technology done for or to Poetry?

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

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

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

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

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

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Previous responders:

Amy King
Collin Kelley

Coming up:

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

This series’ standing page: click here.

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Previous Ten Questions series:

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

music & technology (why not poetry?)

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

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

and

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

10 Questions on Poets & Technology: Collin Kelley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. What has technology done for or to Poetry?

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

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

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

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

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Previous responders:

Amy King

Coming up next:

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

This series’ standing page: click here.

<><><>

Previous Ten Questions series:

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

poetry technology – two kinds?

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

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

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

From the Beard of Bees site:

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

[...]

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

Amy’s poetry/technology idea

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

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

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

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