Kindling Controversy

E-books are harder to burn...

I asked for an Amazon Kindle for my birthday. Like Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol,” I have been haunted ever since. In my dreams, I visit the destitute families of the former owners of small, independent book stores. The youngest, a cripple, gives thanks before a paltry meal, declaring, “God bless us, every one — even that mean old Mr. Peake, the last person on Earth we thought would betray the printed book!” I wake in a sweat.

And yet, it is precisely because I love literature that I decided to try buying it digitally. None of the typical reasons for e-books really tipped me over the edge. Nor did the counter-arguments counteract the most compelling reason I have to take the plunge. Our small cottage is lined with book shelves. We moved five times in five years during the U.S. housing boom, when landlord after landlord decided to sell at the end of our one-year lease. That meant schlepping dozens of bankers boxes full of books — heavy books! — from one home to the next.

As a teenager, I watched “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” repeatedly. This 1970s Zeffirelli bio pic of St. Francis, complete with a soundtrack by Donovan, features the overacting of Graham Faulkner as the crusader-turned-saint. The scene that stayed with me is the moment of Francis’ enlightenment, when he strips naked and begins flinging his worldly possessions — and those of his rich father — out the window, into the arms of a receptive crowd of peasants below. That’s pretty much how I left college (though I kept my clothes.) And, while I miss my record collection (and my parents could have used the futon), the idea of simplifying my possessions — if not to enlighten myself, at least to lighten my stance — remains compelling.
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3 Poems from Iota Online

Thanks to the Southbank Centre Poetry Library’s ongoing digitization project, funded by the Arts Council England, three of my poems published in Iota less than eight months ago are now available as part of this excellent website.

The first poem, “The Language of Birds” is a kind of love poem to my wife; the second, “To Friends Not Knowing What to Say“, is dedicated to the memory of our son; and the third poem, “Yellow“, explores the subterranean, and can also be heard read aloud on this website.

Besides my delight that these poems can now reach a wider audience through the web, this project to round up the disparate poetry journals of the past two centuries and archive their contents for posterity seems, beyond noble, absolutely necessary. Twenty-first century publishing is a fragmentary mess. Who needs barbarian hordes to burn your libraries to the ground? These days, a single mis-click of the mouse can obliterate whole swathes of our literary heritage.

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Poem Flow for iPhone

I found myself in a meeting today with my boss and several other tech-savvy colleagues, discussing the educational and productivity-enhancing implications of various new technologies. When we got around to the iPad, I mentioned its potential to bring some sizzle to literature — possibly in ways the Kindle cannot. I whipped out my iPod Touch, fired up the new Poem Flow for iPhone application that just got released today, and we all sat around for a few minutes watching “The Second Coming” by W.B. Yeats elegantly fade, in measured lines, across my tiny screen. The implications for the larger iPad seemed obvious.

The implications of this technology for poetry, however, remain to be seen. I was contacted at the start of this month by Laura Often, Public Relations for Text Flows, the company that partnered with The Academy of American Poets to bring Poem Flow to life. She was interested in having me blog about their project. I’m not sure if she found me as a former technology blogger or a current poetry blogger, but nonetheless I took a look. Unfortunately, at that time, I could only see a brief Flash-based demonstration on their web site.

Holding my iPod Touch in my hands while it runs this application is a different experience. The font is lovely. The transitions between lines (and parts of lines) are thoughtful and well-executed. In fact, the deliberate slow-down of the reading experience seems to be one of the few actual enhancements I’ve seen technology make to literature — perhaps the only enhancement in this regard, since mostly when it comes to reading, technology encourages us to speed up. Continue reading…


Website Redesigned

I spent the day redesigning my website. What may appear to be just a simple visual touch-up was actually a major overhaul. I ported my site from Serendipity — which I began using when I first transitioned to a blog format in 2006 — to the more popular WordPress platform. The template is my own custom design built on sandbox.

I have had a personal web presence for over ten years now, and interestingly enough, when I look back on previous sites, it seems I have upgraded the site look-and-feel about every two years.

For your amusement, here are some screen shots from the past (click the thumbnail or year to see a larger image):

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Interviewed on Public Radio About Poetry and Technology

CyberfrequenciesKPCC aired a program on their “Cyberfrequencies” segment today about the relationship between poetry and new media — particularly, Twitter. Having read a previous post on this site about the inherent disconnect I sense between the always-on babble-stream of new media, and the deliberate relationship to language I crave in poetry, producer Jackson Musker asked me to weigh in. You can listen to an audio archive of the show on the KPCC website (6 minutes, 48 seconds.) You can also listen to audio of Tao Lin, Katie Peterson, and me reading poems on the Cyberfrequencies website.

In the radio show, I essentially came out as a naysayer about the idea that technology presents a golden age of opportunity for poetry itself. That is, while I have found tremendous value in being able to connect with fellow poets and poetry aficionados through the web, I see poetry itself as an antidote, in so many ways, to what this technology does to our attention span, our relationship to language, and our understanding of ourselves. Still, my views on technology and poetry, having spent most of my adult life immersed in both, are far more subtle than can be expressed in a few short audio clips.

It is a topic, in fact, that I would love to see given the treatment of, say, the half-hour BBC 4 radio program “The Atheist and The Bishop.” Fortunately, however, this brief segment does bring up some interesting points on all sides — and, thanks to new media, this dialog can now continue — in blog posts, comments, and tweets. So, what did you think of the show?


The Coherence of Poetry (and Sarah Palin’s Tweets)

In a reprise of William Shatner’s spoken-word rendering of excerpts from Sarah Palin’s Gubernatorial resignation speech, the actor of Star Trek fame returned to NBC last night, at Conan O’Brien’s request, this time to interpret Palin’s Twitter Tweets as “poetry.” Take a look:

Sadly, this is what so many Americans have come to believe is poetry: expressing the banal (“no rain, no rainbow”) with gravitas and, preferably, an upright bass and bongos in the background. This bizarre fusion — of beatnik hauteur, the self-indulgence of Twitter tweets, and the incoherent, wink-to-camera narcissism of Sarah Palin — symbolizes so much of what has gone wrong with our society’s appreciation of the four-thousand-year-old tradition of making art from words.
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A Week in Hyperdrive

Warp speed ahead!Normally, as the weeks roll by, I get up early to write, read in the evenings after work, and collect the occasional acceptance or rejection slip from the mailbox. By contrast, this week felt like the equivalent of some kind of poetry hyperdrive, including:

Phew! Time to get back to my day job, so I can get some rest.