10 Questions on Poets & Technology – Cati Porter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

if you were / dead /
I’d be free //

Power / What? //
Demand Freedom. //

Shut up & buy /
and / Sell //

by? //

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

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

Menswear /
USA out of El Salvador Now! //

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

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

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

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

No Parking //

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

working girl blues!… //

Blue //

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

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

3 meals //

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

Kill city

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. What has technology done for or to Poetry?

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

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

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

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


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


Previous responders:

Amy King
Collin Kelley
Ren Powell
Chris Hamilton-Emery

Coming up:

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

This series’ standing page: click here.


Previous Ten Questions series:

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

Published by

Nic Sebastian

Nic is the author of Forever Will End On Thursday and Dark And Like A Web. She founded the now-archived Whale Sound site and is co-founder of The Poetry Storehouse. Nic blogs at Very Like A Whale and Voice Alpha.

11 thoughts on “10 Questions on Poets & Technology – Cati Porter”

  1. “No, I don’t use Twitter. … It’s a little like responsible pet ownership: Don’t take it in if you can’t afford to feed it.”

    I am still laughing!

    Re: working on a laptop. Chris mentioned losing early drafts because one uses a computer. Do you keep all your drafts somehow, Cati?

  2. Ren — no, not all of them. I do keep many of them, but I have to remind myself to rename the file before saving otherwise I save right over the first draft.

    And yes, all of these little “pet” projects suck up a lot of resources — ! :-)

  3. I also loved that quote about Twitter, but I can assure you that very few of us who use it feel that level of obligation. There’s nothing like the expectation for meaningful social interaction that one finds on Facebook, for example, though you do find kind souls who thank people for every re-tweet. It’s mostly a broadcasting — or actually microcasting — medium in my experience. Which is not to say it can’t be wonderful for communal renga composition and so forth as well.

    Anyway, thanks for another thought-provoking series of answers!

  4. Thanks, Dave! Ooh, don’t tempt me… I am curious about Twitter but just don’t want another something that I’ll have to look after, at least not right now.

    You are doing so much and I am personally amazed by all of the e-plates you have spinning. Not sure where you find the energy but thanks for all that you do. Qarrtsiluni is great.

  5. Very lively interview; I enjoyed every word, which is rare. Many interviewees are informed and informative but dull reading.

    Also I was amused that our FB experience was very similar — a fascination with apps that soon wore out except for the Scrabble. I keep half a dozen games going with various and sundry.

    I’m on Twitter but the Humane Society is probably coming after me soon. I sometimes go days without logging on. When I do, I agree with Dave that it’s more like microcasting. I read but don’t interact. It’s useful that way; I especially like the micropoets I follow. But mostly I stay over at the smaller geekier community at Identi.ca

  6. stopping by to express interest in these on-going interviews.

    as writers, we observe and in order to observe, we become outsiders, one step away from actual engagement. it’s great to have technology that offers social networking (Facebook, blogs, workshops, etc) for all of us outsiders who spend so much time looking in. we can connect and yet maintain that writerly observation stance.

  7. I’ve had a love/hate and on again off again relationship with Twitter. I’m on again right now but really sporadically. I’ve learned not to treat it as something I have to do rather as something I do when I remember to do it :)

    Great interview. Poemeleon is a great mag!

  8. Thanks to all for stopping by and to Cati for a great set of responses.

    I hear you on Facebook privacy, Cati! Also on ‘cannot, yes, cannot’ write without a computer! I am terrible about keeping early drafts, though, and tend to save over them all.

    On this: “An effective poem must work as well on the page as off” – I don’t know. Must it? I suppose one’s definition of ‘poem’ would be key.

    best, Nic

  9. Hi Nic –

    Thanks for bringing that up. I have actually given it a lot of thought, and while I do know that the origins of poetry are largely oral, and current definitions of poetry and what makes a successful poem vary, I do believe that a poem that works better off the page rather than on has more in common with song & drama than with poetry. For me, a successful poem is one that is well-crafted, without cliche (unless the cliche is employed for a specific purpose), and contains an element of music. I’ve heard some darn good slam poetry, and in fact attended a lecture recently on slam/spoken word vs. “academic” poetry. The presenter was an advocate for slam & spoken word and argued that spoken word & page poetry have a lot in common. She presented the poems first, then followed that with video of the poems as performed. Frankly, it was a mixed bag. I enjoyed listening to the performances but I felt the strength of the performances often masked a lack of craftsmanship on the page. When a poem is performed its easy to gloss over the rough spots; I think — and of course this is only my opinion, and there is always room for differing opinions — that a successful poem must first work well on the page; after that, the performance is just gravy.

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