Monthly Archives: March 2009

Of Travel, Lapses, and General Merriment

To start off I’d like to apologize for having taken such a long unexpected hiatus from blogging.  Last Wednesday I left for Minneapolis to attend the Sigma Tau Delta Convention.  In case you’ve never heard of it, Sigma Tau Delta is an honors society for English majors across the globe, but is mostly made up of American undergraduates.  Anyway, I thought I was going to have more consistent access to the internet while I was there, and this wasn’t the case.  So thanks to all who stopped by looking for articles and didn’t find them; I’ll resume my regular schedule after this post!

I don’t think of this as a space to share my personal experiences with you, but when they pertain to poetry I can’t help but fold it in.  This conference is a gathering of students from all across the country, and in addition to scholarly papers they are permitted to submit and present original works of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction.  I was accepted for an original fiction piece, and it was nice to be able to travel there and share some of my writing with the larger world.

Needless to say, I spent the better part of the week listening to a lot people read their work.  I was instantly struck by how easily technology could have improved the experience.  Sigma Tau Delta is generally a place for people on the brink, future literature scholars and creative writers who are just finishing their undergraduate degrees and represent the next wave of thinking and writing literature.  The only whiff of technology I got the whole time was a rather unsuccessful proposal for a live-blogging program.  There is no current evidence on the website that this blog even existed.  If the literary world is to move into the 20th century, we must continue to embrace technology and the ways in which it can help us. 

Social networks like Twitter, Facebook, and WordPress are quick, easy ways to focus a large group of people on a single goal, but for some reason many at this particular conference seemed uneasy to try these approaches.  I’m thinking mainly of the SXSW conference, where for the past three years Twitter has been responsible for main ebb and flow of events.  Had they begun their blogging project sooner, we could have used the site as a way to familiarize ourselves with the pieces before the short readings.  Questions to panelists could have been tweeted to a special account, making it possible to participate in several panels at once.  And though I’m not a huge Facebook fan, a 2009 Conference group would have made it possible to meet people beforehand, and recognize them throughout the weekend.  These are just a few of the ways that social networking can improve conference experiences.  And in an area such as poetry, which thrives on collaboration, social experiences should be enhanced in any way possible.

Overall, the conference was wonderful.  I discovered a beautiful new city, and I enjoyed the time spent with my fellow writers and thinkers, particularly the ones who I have gone to school with for years but never really gotten to know.  I only think of all the other connections I could have made had more people there been willing to use the extraordinary tools that other groups of thinkers have already embraced.

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The Advent of the American Haiku

It’s pretty hard to turn around on the web today without running around, stepping over, or bumping into a haiku. These short, three line poems are quickly becoming ubiquitous, and one of the internet’s favorite forms of poetic expression. I know I’ve commented before on this subject, but I think it’s worth taking a closer look.

Haiku, as you may know, are short Japanese poems, originally and more correctly known as hokku. They traditionally feature a single image, glorifying nature or using the natural world as a metaphor in some way. They are meditative and to-the-point. The writing of Japanese haiku is as careful and methodical an artform as the practice of bonsai. As Wikipedia is eager to tell us, the English-language form of the haiku is much less defined than its Asian predecessor, ranging anywhere from 10-14 syllables. A set number of syllables per line is encouraged but not required. The haiku is a very accessible foreign form of poetry, and as such has gotten wide play in America and other countries with a strong emphasis on cultural diversity in the last several decades. I, like many others, was first introduced to them in elementary school.

The internet, however, has redefined haiku, just as it’s redefined newspapers, phone calls, and pizza delivery. Somewhere along the way, internet poets, amateur and professional alike, have taken haiku and morphed into something new: something that’s both uniquely American and tech-savvy. Because they are short and relatively easy to produce, haiku are now the poem of choice to express the every day, from random spurts of thought on Twitter to hilarious and creative error messages. The contemplative and naturalistic nature of haiku has been replaced by the technological, the delightfully mundane, and the American sense that a poem can be anything it wants to be.

What we see now each day online is the beginning of a new era of popularity for haiku, both in reading and writing. This ancient form of poetic expression is having a renaissance right before our very eyes. Enjoy it while it lasts!

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A Literary Peace Offering

Unfortunately, there’s just not the time today to do the kind of review of the Touch Poet app that I wanted. So as a consolation prize, here’s a great video about online publishing and some related links:

You can also literally register your interest in Author 2.0 here. And I recommend that you follow aptly-named Joanna Penn, the brain behind this operation, on Twitter.

I wish you all a great weekend, and keep writing!

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The Wednesday Five

Another week has passed, and here we’ve arrived at the next five poetry recommendations:

1. Writers’ Cafe

I like to think of this site as Facebook for writers. It’s basically a social networking/blog-hosting community that is geared toward poets and authors of all kinds. The Contests section of the site is the most original part, allowing anyone who has an account to issue various writing challenges. If you’re looking to build a community with like-minded poets, this is the place for you.

2. Book Beast

While not technically a poetry site, this newish section of The Daily Beast’s popular news site is a one-stop shop for all kinds of literary information. Book Beast was one of the first places to break the story that Hudson River hero Sully Sullenberger would get a two-book deal, one of which would be a collection of poetry.

3. Fresh Water Writing

I must admit that I am slightly ambivalent about this pick, though I like it enough to mention it here. This very simple, Canadian html site is basically an application to be included on this tightly-controlled web publishing platform. While not taking advantage of some of the benefits that Web 2.0 has to offer, I like Fresh Water Writing because it’s old school. There is something to be said for having your work vetted, edited, and published on the web by an impartial third party.

4. The Poetry Foundation

It’s hard to be a poet on the web these days without quickly being introduced to this fantastic site. They offer so much content it’s difficult for me to summarize here. Suffice to say that if you need a one-stop source for poetry text, media, and news, you’ll find no better place on the web than this mainstream compendium.

5. Read Write Poem

This collaborative blog/poetry resource is managed by my new friend Deb Scott. This is a great project that’s fairly simple to get involved in: every Friday at GMT-5 a new poetry prompt is issued, and readers respond to the prompt a week later with original poems which are discussed on the site. It’s a great way to join a community which has a vested interest in helping you with your writing process.

That’s all for now! This Friday look for my review of the Touch Poet app for the iPhone or iPod Touch.

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Google Poetry Robot

My apologies for the very late post: this week has been particularly difficult on my schedule.

Today’s offering is a very cool little search tool and writing aid: the Google Poetry Robot. First out in 2006 but consistently updated, this tool from Geoff Peters uses Google searches to suggest words for poems. You simply type in the line you’re stuck on, and the robot suggests a new word. Geoff offers a published example on the site:

Example poem “Here in Canada”:
Mooing is more than just Breathing.
Clucking is sooo out of date.
Laughing is Healthy and crying is ignored but why?
I believe breathing is illegal here in Canada.
Writing the right words is always welcomed graciously
but those who believe that human wisdom
can do away with nationalism and religious beliefs
are truly inspiring but severely deranged.

-Geoff Peters and the Google Poetry Robot, 2006
Published in the May 2006 issue of High
Altitude Poetry.

He even offers an example in French as a demonstration that the bot works in other languages.

Now, I’ve used this a few times to varying effect. I highly recommend it if you’re completely stuck and need suggestions on filling in just one or two words in your poem. For writing a whole poem, I’m not so sure.

By typing in “In Xanadu” I can get the first line of Coleridge’s Kubla Khan through a series of clicks, but not too far beyond that. In entering lines of my own invention, I found that after the six or seventh click my choice of words became very limited and/or the same two or three choices kept coming up.

Though this may not be a perfect tool for writing a complete poem, give Google Poetry Robot a try for those times when you just can’t find that word that’s on the tip of your pen. I guarantee it’s a lot faster than frantically flipping through the dictionary.

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A New Wednesday Tradition

There are so many places out there to read or post poetry. A broad spectrum of web tools has been employed to help disseminate all the poetry out there, putting it into manageable chunks for us to happily digest. As the beginning of what I hope will be a long-standing tradition, I’d like to use the Wednesday post here at Paradise Tossed to list five poetry web sources that I think are worth checking out.

1. Poetry Wikia

This poetry wiki, which uses wikia.com as it’s particular base of operations, is the best poetry wiki that I’ve found. As a wiki should be, it’s very user-oriented and makes a concerted effort to foster a community. They’re doing well so far, with 228 poems to date, and a quick look around the site shows that the folks in charge know what they’re doing technologically speaking. Also, my favorite part is that some of the poems include links to specific quirky Wikipedia articles that define some of the poets’ words. It’s a very meta-wiki-experience.

2. Open Micro

Open Micro, a tumblelog for micropoetry, gets its submissions mostly from Twitter users, but the site itself is part of Tumblr. They’re really breaking into this whole idea of reading and discussing micropoetry outside of Twitter. It’s also nice to have a source that sifts through the wide array of micropoems that are out there.

3. World Class Poetry Blog

Not only does this blog have a completely understated and modest title, it’s also a nice comprehensive poetry source. There are plenty of poetry posts, but also lots of discussion about the internet and the direction in which poetry is moving. They just started accepting guest bloggers, so you may want to see if you’ve got two cents to put in!

4. The Library of Congress

Now, I’m sure that when most of you think of poetry, the federal government is not the first thing to come to mind. That’s why I’ve included the Library of Congress’s site on the list. This site offers information about the Poet Laureate, resources for teachers and students, information about archived poems, and a whole bunch of poetry news that’s hard to find anywhere else.

5. Poetry Notebook

I try to stay away from plugging more personal blogs, but Dirk Johnson’s site is exceptional. His poetry is both deep and accessible, his knowledge of poetic history is very informative, and he links to a bunch of other good sites. This site is a great starting point if you’re thinking about starting your own blog-as-personal-poetry-journal.

All of these sites, along with future recommendations, will be added to the “Sites You Should Visit” list for reference. Please comment with suggestions for sites you think deserve a shout-out.

I leave you today with yet another great poetry comic. I told you two posts ago that Randall Munroe constantly pushes the envelop, and he certainly didn’t disappoint in today’s comic:

Title-text: It's even harder if you're an asshole who pronounces  brackets.

Title-text: It's even harder if you're an asshole who pronounces brackets.

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Where Has All the Hypertext Gone?

For starters, some poetry news from over the weekend:

Apparently, former British Prime Minister Sir John Major wrote secret poetry, though why he was keeping it a secret we’ll never know.

In a truly nasty coincidence, Ryan North of the fantastic Dinosaur Comics, posted this comic after I had already finished my post on webcomics and poetry. Now, on to today’s topic!

Long ago, when the internets began, before they were even a glint in Al Gore’s and/or Ted Stevens’ eye, there was a phenomenon known as Hypertext Poetry. Initially gaining a bit of traction in the poetic community, hypertext poems combined traditional techniques with some very basic hyperlinks, allowing poems to weave in and out of several webpages. Sites like this one and this one made honest efforts to provide collections of these poems to internet readers.

In the early nineties the movement exploded, with scholars at Brown University, including noted author Robert Coover, beginning to take notice and participate. As you can see on their site, they even began to expand into other forms of virtual poetry.

So what happened? Why do some of the links to poems in the sites above not even work anymore? Why isn’t hypertext a class taught in Lit programs at colleges across the country? Why doesn’t every poem posted on a blog today have dozens of links in it?

The answer is complicated. First of all, as you may notice, hypertext can be a little cumbersome to read. After the initial flair of a new technology wears off, it won’t stay popular unless it’s accessible. Take a read through some of the poems above if you can; it’s a safe bet most of you will find the reading a bit cumbersome, maybe even a little frustrating. Even one of my favorites, a compilation piece entitled “The Astrophysicist’s Tango Partner Speaks,” gets to be too much after a while.

Even more than that, the form really only got its sea-legs between ’95 and ’99, just as online video was becoming truly feasible. This made oral poetry and performance poetry easily communicable, and purely visual online poetry started to seem passe.

The final death knell of hypertext was probably Web 2.0. Wikis, blogs, and other user-driven-content sites allowed virtually anyone to self-publish. The need for controlled hypertext projects passed away with the rise of social networking. Something to think about the next time you post your latest as a “note” on Facebook.

Regardless of whether or not it’s still widely in use, the hypertext poetry movement is one that you should definitely check out if you haven’t already. Who knows? You may even decide to bring it back!

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