Monday, April 10, 2006

Publisher's Weekly Interview (Extended Mix)

I thought people might be interested in my full answers to the questionnaire that Craig came up a couple of months ago in order to write his PW article. The thoughts these questions provoked were very helpful in preparing my talk for the poetry-on-the-net panel that I took part in at AWP. I haven't for the most part turned names and publications into links, but most should be readily available from the linkroll & blogroll at right:

1. How, when, and why did you get started blogging?

It was January 2003. I had become aware of various poetry and poetics blogs through their being mentioned on the Buffalo Poetics List, which I was becoming increasingly disillusioned with, and I was impressed by rigor and whimsy of the thought there, and the sheer variety: Ron Silliman is not Jordan Davis is not Nada Gordon is not K. Silem Mohammed, yet they all participate in the same wide-ranging and ec-centric conversation. I wasn’t sure what I’d be able to contribute to that conversation, but I thought I’d give it a try. And I had a more practical consideration: since my first book, Selah, had recently won the Barrow Street Book Contest and would be published that year, I thought I’d try blogging as a means of developing the public persona and thick skin that I imagined to be the necessary attributes of a published author. Which, as it turns out, they are. But I’ve gotten so much more out of blogging than I’d ever expected, and have kept it up for longer than I would have predicted. I’ve made friends (and a few enemies) from literally all over the world; I’ve discovered poets, books, and journals I might not otherwise have encountered; and above all I’ve participated and in some small way helped to steer that conversation about poetry and poetics. It’s one of my chief modes of access to the life of poetry in our time.

2. Do you enjoy reading poetry online? Do you miss curling up with a book?

I’m not actually a big fan of reading actual poems online, and I usually have to be pointed toward something exceptional (recently for example there was Helena Bennett’s remarkable “chapbook” you don't have to call me Merle Haggard, (anymore), which you can read at before I’ll summon the patience to read a poem of any length on the screen. Short poems are okay, but the quality of attention I like to bring to poetry seems antithetical to the experience of a glowing screen.

3. What online publications / blogs do you read? What are some favorites?

There are some truly terrific online magazines and I’ll just list a handful here: Shampoo, Can We Have Our Ball Back?, Octopus, Tarpaulin Sky, Typo, word for/ word, GutCult, and let’s not leave out everybody’s online granddaddy, Jacket. But I confess to spending most of my online poetry time reading blogs, because it’s conversation about poetics that I’m hungriest for. The bloggers I mentioned above are long-time favorites; others who helped introduce me to the possibilities of the genre are Catherine Meng, Jonathan Mayhew, Gary Sullivan (who shut his virtual doors recently, sadly), John Latta, Jim Behrle, Nick Piombino, Stephanie Young, Henry Gould, and Steve Evans (not really a blogger, but definitely a web presence). Slightly newer kids on the block: Anne Boyer, Jasper Bernes, Ange Mlinko, Joshua Clover aka Jane Dark, and Tony Tost. Lists are invidious and I’m leaving out lots of folks whose rants and ruminations form the texture of my sense of “the literary life” in 2006.

4. Do you read many print literary publications? If so, which ones?

The Poker, The Hat, Chicago Review, CARVE, 1913: a journal of forms, NO: A Journal of the Arts, jubilat, American Letters & Commentary, Logopoeia, The Tiny.... I will confess to skimming issues of Poetry (Chicago) at the local Barnes & Noble in search of irritation; I generally find it, too.

5. How many books of poetry would you say you read in the average week?

Varies from none to three or so. This week I read Joshua Marie Wilkinson’s Suspension of a Secret in Abandoned Rooms from Pinball Publishing, Karla Kelsey’s Knowledge, Forms, the Aviary from Ahsahta Press, and David Larsen’s The Thorn from Faux Press.

6. What effects do you think the internet has had on poetry overall? Are more people reading it? Does it become, in some way, more accessible?

I would argue that the poetic means of production—of publication—have been made much more accessible by the Internet: anyone can post poems on a website or blog and, if they’re good enough or savvy enough to interface with a larger Web community, find readers for those poems. On the other hand the Internet remains largely a medium of the privileged, and insofar as poetry is no longer taught in our public schools (or taught badly, as a kind of puzzle designed to make the reader feel stupid and out of it), it’s probably become less accessible to readers. But I’m very hopeful about the democratization of writing that the Internet promises and to some degree has already delivered on—it’s becoming more and more difficult for academic poets and institutions to ignore the vitality of non-academic and small-press poetries now that blogs are bridging that gap, while at the same time I think the Internet, as a “free” means of distribution and collectivization, helps to preserve the autonomy of the non-institutional communities and makes it less likely that they’ll simply be co-opted and absorbed by academia.

7. Is the Internet affecting poetry aesthetically?

I think its most significant impact comes as a means of community formation and debate, as I suggested above: it’s become less and less likely that a young poet will emerge from an MFA program, as I did, almost completely ignorant of the non-academic poets and small presses that have really got it going on today. But people are also making direct use of the Web in constructing poems and language-artifacts, and I think we’ve probably only just begun to explore the possibilities. The most visible and interesting Internet-enable poetry that I’m aware of is flarf, which had the honor of being excoriated recently by the poet Dan Hoy in a Jacket article titled “The Virtual Dependency of the Post-Avant and the Problematics of Flarf: What Happens when Poets Spend Too Much Time Fucking Around on the Internet.” Hoy’s argument is reductive and ultimately misguided, I think, but its mere existence speaks to the growing power of Internet-oriented poetics.

8. Do you think more books of poetry are being sold because of the increased presence of poetry on the web?

Hard to say generally, but I think absolutely more small press books are sold now thanks to the Web. These books rarely if ever make it to the shelves of bookstores, so the Internet has become their primary means of purveyance. Which doesn’t mean that I, perhaps anachronistically, don’t keep wishing to encounter these books in more physical, browsable forms.

9. What factors do you think contribute to the proliferation of online journals and blogs?

The blogsosphere as I first encountered it in 2002-2003 had a decidedly left-wing bent, both aesthetically and politically: it was an invaluable resource and point of contact for anyone interested in non-mainstream poetries who didn’t already have a foot planted in some scene or other. Since then blogs have exploded and you can now find poet-bloggers of every conceivable tendency, sometimes linking to each other across aesthetico-political lines. Many of the newer blogs exist solely to promote the authors and their work, to make themselves more “Googleable,” and recently we’ve seen the appearance of corporate poetry blogs from the likes of HarperCollins. Nostalgia for the Wild West days of the Internet is as old as the Internet itself, and I don’t want to indulge in it here. The conversation among poets, the 21st-century salon, is ongoing, and there are new and interesting voices emerging all the time. This medium, like others, will ultimately belong to those who discover its ownmost possibilities: what can the Internet do for poetry that the troubadours didn’t do, that Gutenberg didn’t do, that Ginsberg didn’t do? We are only just beginning to guess.


poet CAConrad said...

I'm especially excited by your answer to the last question! The Internet is splicing together needs only those of us who grew up in little rural backwaters JUST at the dawn of cyberspace can attest to having needed. If I had had the access to poetry kids in the cities had with libraries and bookshops, but I didn't. But now kids growing up where I did can click onto the Poetry Project in NY, all kinds of things, like this blog for instance. It's exciting!

Thanks for sharing your answers!
Are you a TRANS-BOXER? Or maybe you are and just don't realize it yet?

& said...

Well, once in a while there are limit events. Maybe this is one:

A little podcast:

Epigramititis: Kent Johnson

Kent Johnson awkwardly discourses and clumsily reads twelve and ½ new epigrams, to be included in the expanded edition of his recent booke of satirical trifles and incongruous pictures, Epigramititis: 118 Living American Poets [BlazeVox, 2006]. The second edition will be titled Epigramititis: 168 Living American Poets (also issued by BlazeVox and to weigh-in nigh 400 pages). The epigrammed writers honored on this recording are, in order of appearance, Jesse Glass, Noah Eli Gordon, Jonathan Mayhew, Jane Hirschfield, Cole Swensen, Katie Degentesh, Paul Hoover, Joshua Clover, Mark Doty, Tony Tost, Mark Weiss, and Joe Green.

I mean this is an example of one of the possibilities on the 21st century. So, I hope you don't mind my calling your attention to it.

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