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.


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>

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.

5 thoughts on “10 Questions on Poets and Technology – John Vick”

  1. This was an interesting interview to read. I’d agree to the statement that the increased popularity of social sites has done wonders for reviving poetry and any written craft (including here recorded verse), I would be curious about John’s take on how this is diluting or at worst polluting the standards of poetics and creative writing as a whole.

    1. Thanks. I think the issue is not so much the dilution, but the reader maintaining their own particular taste as acutely as possible. We can’t tell people not to write – they are going to write anyway (that is painfully obvious at times, I agree). But, we can use our wits to glean out that which we don’t care to read. A deeper well, yes – but ultimately the best water.


  2. “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.”

    I keep returning to this sentiment. I hadn’t thought about critique in this way. I don’t know if I agree. Although I might. Still thinking. (Thanks, John!)

  3. Yes – it is difficult to embrace fully – but the key word in the answer is actually “nuance” and the way one can communicate with a poet through nuance much more effectively than the average Joe — so, my theory and practice is that you slant one word, or one phrase, in a way that provokes thought in the poet. And when you’ve finally managed to get that comment written, there is a sense of great accomplishment – as you once again have learned a trick of the craft of writing – the subtleties which drive us.

    I’m glad you come back to it. I wholeheartedly endorse giving it a try for a while – see what happens.


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