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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