Interviewed on Public Radio About Poetry and Technology

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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?

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

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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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Twitter, Revisited

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TwitterYou can find me on Twitter now. Yes, you read that right. Me. On Twitter.

As many readers know, I have been a Twitter agnostic for years. Which are centuries in Internet time.

And yet, slowly, I have come around. It started with Goodreads, then Facebook. And today, I discovered enough interesting poets on Twitter (via a reprint of a list originally compiled by Collin Kelley) to reach a tipping point.

There’s not too much difference between Twitter and the IRC chatrooms I frequented in the early ’90s, except that Twitter takes advantage of two new developments: hypertext and mobile devices. But the concept of short, syndicated conversations is basically the same.

I am a different person now than when I was an adolescent trying on virtual personae through clever quips and emoticons. So, why Twitter now? I suppose I re-joined Twitter for the same reason I read and write poetry, and the same reason I started this blog: to be a part of the conversation — about poetry, and life, and what makes us human.

Can a medium so inherently distractable provide such insight? Can we get the news from Twitter, if not from poetry? Will the signal-to-noise ratio prove worthwhile? There is only one way to find out. Commence Twitter experiment number two.

“You could not step twice into the same river; for other waters are ever flowing on to you.”

-Heraclitus
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Blogging, Reincarnated

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“I rhyme / To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.”

-Seamus Heaney, “Personal Helicon”

PhoenixWired Magazine‘s Paul Boutin recently declared personal blogging dead. Soon after, The Atlantic‘s Andrew Sullivan extolled the endurance of blogging’s “human brand” in a postmodern world of words. Me? I just keep writing. But why?

In “Personal Helicon” Seamus Heaney rhapsodizes on his boyhood love of wells, then concludes that writing poetry has become a sublimation of this love of the messy, muddy darkness no longer accepted in adulthood. I, too, write — both poems and blog posts — to create reflection in the dark, and to delight in the mess.

I did not start as a poetry blogger, but rather converted my existing site from a static collection of all-about-me pages into the chronological format of a blog. I did so around the time I became a freelance technology writer and consultant. It became a great outlet for me to float my nascent technical ideas before a global audience, and I soon found my blog posts widely re-syndicated.

This was during the heyday of personal blogging. Boutin now sees this golden age as having been pulled apart by two forces: the major news sources catching on, and dominating the market, and social networking sites like Facebook providing an alternative outlet for those seeking self-expression and a social community of peers online.

But my blog isn’t about monetizing my writing. Otherwise, I would still be mostly writing about technology. And, although I joined Facebook some time ago, social networking messages and status updates have by no means supplanted my writing here.

I never set out to write about poetry, or about grief for that matter. But by following the thread of my thoughts through the thread of my life, I seem to have touched upon a wide range of subjects, and to have built new thoughts upon past ruminations. In doing so, I feel I have also actually begun to build up a greater understanding of my self, and of how best to share that self with others. Far beyond “self-expression,” blogging for me represents a means to see myself in Heaney’s well, to gaze down through layers of history, into the dark.

For those who are afraid of the dark, perhaps it is true that many of the rewards of blogging’s prime have withered, and with it a certain breed of personal blogging has died. For the rest of us, I say: personal blogging is dead; long live personal blogging!

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Social Networking Curmudgeon

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After a brief experiment with Twitter, I concluded that the trend toward quantity over quality being perpetuated by social network status updates wasn’t for me. In fact, it seemed downright unpoetic. Then, thanks to Jeanine’s site, I discovered Goodreads. Finally, a niche network with a purpose I could get behind: discussing books. The only other specialized social network I had signed up for in the past was LinkedIn. But that was about work. This is about books. Delicious books!

I even went so far as to set up a private group for other students, faculty and alumni in the Pacific University MFA program. I figure this could help provide an outlet that is missing from the low-residency format — the opportunity to chat throughout the semester with other students about what we are reading. The results of that experiment remain to be seen.

Shortly after that, however, softened by my recent joinerism, I caved in and signed up for Facebook. It seems I am of a certain generation such that if I want to keep up with some of my friends, I need to be on Facebook. So, there I am — to the chagrin and relief of my wife, who has been reconnecting with friends overseas for some time through Facebook and and attempting to impress its wonders upon me (“Look! I gave someone a garden gnome!”), and a number of friends who have invited me to join up at various times. OK, OK, I’m on — happily reviewing books, posting photos, and turning friends into zombies. How did I ever live without this? Curmudgeon no more.

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Poetry 2.0?

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“Every word was once a poem”

In this so-called information age, we live among language more than ever before. For example, one of the latest fads drawing hype to itself faster than a black hole sucks light is Twitter: a web-based social networking site predicated on “tweets” — brief text messages uploaded to a web site that others subscribe to, follow and read. Thus, the blogging concept of writing for a perceived audience is accelerated to a dizzying pace.

All good poems, no matter their style, share this: an enforced attention to language, and some degree of innovation upon it.

I tried Twittering for a day, sending tweets when I changed my activity or mood. Between the web-based, software-based and cell-phone-based options, I was never disconnected from a sense that I could and perhaps should send an update in case someone out there might actually really care about the excruciatingly mundane details of my life. This is the fundamental promise of the internet, and social networking in particular: the audience that cares. It has been the impetus, since the beginning, for a mind-boggling number of words, from the early days of IRC and BBS systems to a shiny new rehash of the same fundamental drivers and mechanisms, which is now being called Web 2.0.
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