“Such a small, pure object a poem could be, made of nothing but air, a tiny string of letters, maybe small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. But it could blow everybody’s head off.”—Mary Karr, from Lit: A Memoir (Harper, 2009)
“For me, the writing life doesn’t just happen when I sit at the writing desk. It is a life lived with a centering principle, and mine is this: that I will pay close attention to this world I find myself in. ‘My heart keeps open house,’ was the way the poet Theodore Roethke put it in a poem. And rendering in language what one sees through the opened windows and doors of that house is a way of bearing witness to the mystery of what it is to be alive in this world.”—Julia Alvarez, quoted in 1998 in The Writer magazine, with the quotation republished in “Great Writing Tips from 125 Years of The Writer,” in the magazine’s April 2012 issue. (via apoetreflects)
RIP Harold Ramis, via The Believer (http://the.blvr.org/Nuwq3s)
THE BELIEVER:You had that great line in your New Yorker profile, “Sometimes what people perceive as my smile is a grimace of pain.”
HAROLD RAMIS:That about sums it up. But part of my smile is also about how absurd it all is. I think I got in touch with that absurdity quite young. Sometimes it’s hysterical irony and sometimes it’s a painful irony. Life has all of these contradictory feelings and contradictory results. People spend their whole lives struggling to get what they think they want, and even if they get it, they find that it’s either not what they wanted, or it comes with so many unwanted consequences. We’re always shut off from pure joy.
“All things pass, and it feels like the time of the blog has in some sense passed too. Who has time to write, when you can pump out status updates which let your friends and family know exactly what you’re thinking and doing at any moment? And why bother to think through what you’re going to say and express in in a few hundred words, when really all anyone cares about is the pithy headline, the punchy hook. “This blog is 12 years old. The reason it’s still here will surprise you.””—
I’d like to believe that personal/individual blogging is still a popular form of expression, but I certainly appreciate the sentiment of the extract above (and the entire article). Who needs to think their way through a long-form piece of writing when they can reblog1 something that’s popped up on a dashboard (“me too!”) or tap out a 140 character statement of the moment and move on?
I started blogging in the early noughties, inspired by Josh Santangelo of Endquote.com, the first blogger I can remember reading with any regularity. Josh wrote about his hopes and aspirations, loves and losses, and all the messiness of his inner thought and experience. I was a bright-eyed wannabe writer with a penchant for the web, confessional poetry and any other writing that gave me insight into the inner workings of people I didn’t know. But Endquote was less an opportunity to practise voyeurism, more a reminder of the way that emotive writing can show us how different we are from the other people we share the planet with, and yet how un-alone.
Last time I checked, the Endquote.com I knew was gone, replaced by a generic (professional) holding page. Checking again today, I find that Endquote is now a Tumblr property, complete with images of sharply styled young women, selfies, nods to sartorial inspiration and Soundcloud embeds. I miss the old Endquote (though I wonder if the writing as it was would have the same impact on me now) but this new iteration is still Josh. An absolutely contemporary expression of self.
The personal blog, as it existed, isn’t exactly dead, but it’s probably not the dominant form of expression it once was. That said, long live the blog.2 …3
Nothing against reblogging here. Reblogging may as well be the new common intertextuality. ↩
This started out as a much longer piece. Honestly. I’d love to say I edited it down from flabby imperfection, but the truth is I committed the schoolboy error of drafting the original through a web back-end in Safari on an iPad, while switching between tabs, as if taunting the god of all things technological to swallow everything I’d written. Which s/he did. D’oh. ↩
Could be just me, but it looks like Tumblr doesn’t like Markdown footnotes. Grrr. ↩
“Language is the element of definition, the defining and descriptive incantation. It puts the coin between our teeth. It whistles the boat up. It shows us the city of light across the water. Without language there is no poetry, without poetry there’s just talk. Talk is cheap and proves nothing. Poetry is dear and difficult to come by. But it poles us across the river and puts a music in our ears. It moves us to contemplation. And what we contemplate, what we sing our hymns to and offer our prayers to, is what will reincarnate us in the natural world, and what will be our one hope for salvation in the What’sToCome.”—Charles Wright, The Art of Poetry No. 41 (via bostonpoetryslam)
Very true. I’m reworking my “professional” website at the moment, and one of the time-consuming jobs is having to go through my history and decide which projects are appropriate for my portfolio. There’s so much I’ve done that I’ve forgotten, regardless of scale or prestige. And that’s the value of this kind of exercise. I hate updating résumés and CVs, but it’s necessary— not only do these documents serve your own professional efforts, but they’re useful reflections on everything you’ve achieved, challenges for you to think about what you define as important.
I’ve just recently returned from a week out leading an Arvon course. If you’re not familiar, Arvon is a residential creative writing institution founded by Ted Hughes, with a number of different centres in remote locations around the UK. There was a period of time when I used to run Arvon weeks quite regularly, but it’s been a while since I was last there, so a recent burst of Arvon invitations has been welcome. The week I’ve just returned from was different from any other Arvon week I can remember leading. The participant group consisted of foster-children and their carers; an age range spanning from six to mid-sixties, split between three rough bandings— adults, teens and little’uns. It was an intense week (lack of internet and mobile network notwithstanding), but so rewarding.
Everyone wrote. Even the adults, those with English as a second language, who may have been forgiven for thinking they were just there to chaperone the kids. And what stories they all had. What poems they wrote. For an afternoon, I sat with the group of adults and spoke with them about life stories— how the children in their care need to document their lives so they have something to look back on. I’d like to think that I gave them a few tools and techniques for compelling writing, but I know they also left me with a reminder of how important our writing practise is.
As a writer— as someone who’s supposed to chase the writing day in, day out— it’s perhaps too easy to lose sight of what the individual poems actually mean; how much they weigh, what place they carve out or impact on beyond the paper or screen they’re written on. But experiences like this serve as a reminder of how powerful and valuable this work with words can be. And how that power doesn’t have to be manifest on a spotlit stage with an audience of thousands. That value doesn’t have to be attached to publication in a journal or anthology. I’m talking about what poetry can do (or be) for everyday people who push (or are pushed!) to write it, nudged to engage with parts of their experience they didn’t think it was possible for them to capture in words. And what happens when they succeed, when they stand back from what they’ve written and see themselves or people they know there, recognisable and yet unfamiliar. Even if they never pick up the pen again.
The way to develop good taste in literature is to read poetry… For, being the supreme form of human locution, poetry is not only the most concise, the most condensed way of conveying the human experience; it also offers the highest possible standards for any linguistic operation — especially one on paper.
The more one reads poetry, the less tolerant one becomes of any sort of verbosity, be that in political or philosophical discourse, be that in history, social studies or the art of fiction.
“Learn how to use e-mail.
Decide why you are on the planet.
Have fewer meetings with fewer people for less time.
Slow down. Do less. Be here now. Achieve more.
Insist on clear, explicit brain-friendly actions.
Have a life beyond work.”—
But experts believe the success at keeping the death toll relatively low– 40 cyclists have died at the hospital in 10 years- is masking a lack of focus on preventing collisions.
They called on the Mayor and Transport for London to help build a comprehensive database of cyclist injuries. This would record factors such as whether the crash involved a HGV, car or pedestrian, the personal details of the cyclist, what happened before the collision, and if helmet and high-visibility clothing were worn.
Ross Lydall, Evening Standard, Thurs 6th Feb
Makes sense, and in a data-driven society, only a matter of time. It may sound morbid, but as a cyclist, whenever I hear news of yet another fatal traffic accident, I find myself wondering what actually happened, and whether there was anything the cyclist could have done to protect themselves.
I’d imagine a database like this could have an impact on cyclist safety, provided people actually took the time to examine the findings and stats. Cue call for sexy data-visualisation. And iPhone app.
“The tablet couldn’t possibly shoulder all the expectations people had for it. Not a replacement for your laptop or phone — but kinda. Something you kick back with in the living room, fire up at work and also carry with you everywhere — sort of. Yes, tablets have sold in large numbers, but rather than being a constant companion, like we envisioned, most tablets today sit idle on coffee tables and nightstands. Simply put, our love for them is dying.”—
Some fair arguments made, but I respectfully disagree. True, I’m can’t put money on the future of tablets in mainstream markets (although it could be argued that as an owner of each major revision of the iPad that’s been released, I already have). Are tablets laptop replacements? No, although so many people I know with tablets set them up with keyboard cases, with the effect of replicating that laptop form factor. However, I’m also not convinced that tablets simply represent a hardware bubble destined to burst as large screen smartphones gain traction.
I’d like to believe that there’s room for the tablet as third device pitched somewhere between the smartphone and desktop/laptop computer, in much the same way as prosumer cameras exist as a niche between affordable point-and-shoots and high end professional equipment. The fact that tablets severely dented sales of netbooks surely indicates that there’s a market for reasonably powerful computing devices that are bigger than phones and yet small and light enough for easy transport. And can we really discount the pervasive nature of a large touchscreen? When you think about the number of children being raised with tablets as pacifiers, there’s definitely room to imagine how tablet computing might have a firm grip on the future…
“Nhất Hạnh teaches that you can wash your bowl with the objective of having a clean bowl, or you can wash your bowl with the objective of washing the bowl. If you are only concerned with the end project — a clean bowl — then what becomes of the time you spent washing it? The time seems to disappear, as if a snippet of your life was not even really lived. On the other hand, if your mind, body, and sense of presence are honed in on the washing itself, every part of you comes alive to the vibrancy and sensation of the moment. Therefore, instructs Nhất Hạnh, the most important thing to think about while washing the bowl is washing the bowl.”—
Beautiful reminder of presence, of appreciating the moment for what it is. Lots of thoughts about time and how my time is used, recently. And the thought that mindfulness, like this, surely serves (creative?) writing well.
“Today brings some sad news: Editorially is closing its doors. The application will remain available until May 30, at which point the site will go offline. We encourage all users to export their data.”—
Speaking of collaborative writing apps, sad news that Editorially has fallen.
I drafted a post elsewhere about the alarmingly short-lifespan of some of these tools. I say alarmingly as no slight to any of the developers or forward-thinkers involved— it must be a tough thing to have to write an apologetic letter to your existing loyal userbase on the basis that it simply isn’t big enough to keep the lights on. But I’m certainly more wary about the tools I recommend these days, having spent a month convincing an entire community of young poets to abandon our Facebook group in favour of an alternative solution that promptly posted a death notice a few weeks later. I’ve since gone on to roll my own solution, using Wordpress— it’s open source (read: free), albeit carrying a higher price tag in terms of an investment of my development time, but at least my new solution sits on a platform I own, and I can tweak it to my heart’s content, rather than firing off feature requests to an already beleaguered developer.
Hate to be one of those guys, but if the shiny new tool you’re looking at doesn’t seem to have some solid way of generating revenue for its owners/developers, experience suggests thinking twice before betting the farm on it.
“The brilliant stories that make use of the possibilities of digital technology will fall victim to the obsolescence of that technology. And that’s okay; lots of what I experience here – online – is ephemeral, just as all the comics I’ve given away and traded in or sold have been lost to me. But I keep the issues of comics I think will matter to me, that I love. I need to get better at doing the same for the things I love online.”—
Popular thinking suggests that whatever exists online stays online forever. That depends on what the value of forever is, really. Forever could be just long enough for that inappropriate Facebook photo to tank your chance at a new job or relationship. But with the rate at which networks, platforms, standards and even the very devices we use to access the web change, forever may not be as long as it used to be. Something to think about when producing work for the web.
“The post-postcolonial character is open to exploring influences outside expected norms, and he demands the freedom to stitch those influences together as he sees fit. He embraces the multiple: “Do you see my colours, my dazzling terror?” the poet challenges. Yet, at the same time, he realizes that his brash experimentations—particularly those requiring a move away from the Caribbean landscape—inspire a problematic kind of performativity. “Watch my style, my chalkface charade, rude / work harvesting hymns. Break way. Look good,” he boasts (48). These lines suggest that, if the tristesse of the postcolonial character lies in his unintended mimicry, the tristesse of the post-postcolonial character lies in his self-conscious masquerade. What prevents his masquerade from becoming wholly disingenuous, however, is his understanding that he is permitted to wear multiple masks, just as he is permitted to speak in multiple tongues. Identity need not involve identification with one nation.”—
Also: “In the post-postcolonial framework, a relationship to a single place is often rendered impractical due to social, cultural, or family dynamics. Campbell’s post-postcolonial characters are comfortable, therefore, with citizenship in a suspended space, an experimental state of heterogeneity, ambiguity, and uncertainty—a self-conscious process of constant becoming.”
“I think memory is the most important asset of human beings. It’s a kind of fuel; it burns and it warms you. My memory is like a chest: There are so many drawers in that chest, and when I want to be a fifteen-year-old boy, I open up a certain drawer and I find the scenery I saw when I was a boy in Kobe. I can smell the air, and I can touch the ground, and I can see the green of the trees. That’s why I want to write a book.”—
“The vast accumulations of knowledge—or at least of information—deposited by the nineteenth century have been responsible for an equally vast ignorance. When there is so much to be known, when there are so many fields of knowledge in which the same words are used with different meanings, when every one knows a little about a great many things, it becomes increasingly difficult for anyone to know whether he knows what he is talking about or not. And when we do not know, or when we do not know enough, we tend always to substitute emotions for thoughts.”—T. S. Eliot, “The Perfect Critic" (via grandhotelabyss)
“This juxtaposition of space and text—each poem in the cycle adheres to the same format—creates multiple effects. First of all, and by far the simplest of all possible explanations in my mind, would be that open space creates a field for the reader to imagine the absent, roughly two-dimensional, visual surface that triggers the writing. But a far more interesting explanation, made possible by Bleakney’s aesthetic choices, is that the field created by the space allows the speaker to create a three-dimensional absence which she may fill with her own internal weather, a process in which the speaker becomes the painting’s ego, and eventually even a superimposed alter-ego for the painter herself, who remains mostly absent, in terms of fact. Throughout the cycle—other than a reference to her birthplace, we get very little information about the painter herself—but she remains ever-present through the speaker’s entreaties. The speaker evokes Owens directly, or more particularly, the Owens she is in the business of creating”—
“To me that’s not the problem with what books are doing. I don’t think people are trying to convey a message. I think people are just showing off. Writers are trying to show their skill. They’re trying to show off—“I’m a great writer”—and they’re not trying enough to communicate.”—Sheila Heti
“Skryf is the mobile writing machine that uses sand to write out the words of poems. The machine was adapted from an old CNC milling machine, controlled via laptop, with software that van Bon developed himself. While the device made its debut during Dutch Design Week, van Bon has used it in multiple countries to present the works of famous poets – eternal words present only for a moment, before being swept away by the crowd or the wind.”—Poetry Made Of Lines Of Sand [That] Disappear Without A Trace [Video] - PSFK
“Just last month, I attended a number of poetry readings. One stands out more than the others, but not for the reasons you might think. It was at the university where I work. The poet gave some staggering statistics, claiming that in 1950, there were only 100 or so poets publishing in the English language, and today there are over 20,000. This left me wondering, with so many poets out there, why is it so hard to find one that tells me something about my life? Of course, it only took a few minutes to answer the question when this esteemed, award-winning poet delivered his poems. As one of my colleagues would later say, “It was like he ripped down the middle of the newspaper and just read it to us.” I suddenly felt excluded from an elite (or elitist) club. For the next twenty minutes I sat there listening to him wishing I had been closer to the exit. The poet made it a point to tell us one of the poems he read was part of a longer poem he’d been working on since 1975 or something like that. All those years and not one goddamned thing to tell me about my life. In his defense, he gave the disclaimer that only he could understand some of the references because they were personal. Which left me wondering, how much was the college paying this guy? And what were all these young people in the audience supposed to get out of this?”—» PANIC ON THE STREETS OF POETRY by Clint Margrave Rattle: Poetry for the 21st Century
“I don’t care how shy poets are; I’m sick of their introversion being inflicted on me via their bad readings. The second you stand up in front of an audience, you owe that audience a well articulated reading–not a performance, but most certainly a presence. Of course this would affect how poetry is written as well. Eloquence and the use of good rhetorical devices instead of syntactical sloppiness and an over reliance on images might start to prevail.”—
“It seems that in the past, there were large parts of your identity you were forced to leave behind when you traveled, and in the absence of those things, not only did other people forget you, but you forgot yourself. And rather than being a[n] entirely negative thing, maybe this had the effect of softening that identity, of making you define yourself less from the books you’d read or the connections you’d had with others. Maybe one of the side effects of travel, and for some the main objective, was and still is to peel back some of those layers of identity, so that you can see that the whole notion isn’t built on anything solid or fixed to begin with. And maybe if you see your identity as less fixed, then you’re more open to change, to reinvention, more open to the world as it crashes down on the shore at your feet.”—Out to Sea But Not, via Jack Cheng
Truth be told, I’m still trying to get my head around being back (in London; at work, etc). I haven’t settled back into a routine yet, and there’s a part of me that values the looseness of thought, the different relationship with time…
Part of the routine that hasn’t yet settled is the social media presence. My Twitter account’s been unloved recently. I’m only just coming back to Tumblr. Facebook… well, I’m not really an ardent Facebook user at the best of times. It’s been good to take a step back and take a breath from it all, to allow for some silence.
“Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like. That’s what leads people to try to write novels, for example. They like reading novels. They notice that people who write them win Nobel prizes. What could be more wonderful, they think, than to be a novelist? But liking the idea of being a novelist is not enough; you have to like the actual work of novel-writing if you’re going to be good at it; you have to like making up elaborate lies. Prestige is just fossilized inspiration. If you do anything well enough, you’ll make it prestigious. Plenty of things we now consider prestigious were anything but at first. Jazz comes to mind—though almost any established art form would do. So just do what you like, and let prestige take care of itself. Prestige is especially dangerous to the ambitious. If you want to make ambitious people waste their time on errands, the way to do it is to bait the hook with prestige. That’s the recipe for getting people to give talks, write forewords, serve on committees, be department heads, and so on. It might be a good rule simply to avoid any prestigious task. If it didn’t suck, they wouldn’t have had to make it prestigious.”—
“HOW TO AVOID WRITING A POEM.
Decide that the poet you think yourself to be should determine the poems you write.
At times I’ve avoided pursuing lines of poetic inquiry in order to perform a kind of irrepressible proliferation of new ideas. I am Innovative™, yes? Yet how many times can I quit pursuit before a so-called innovation is just a gesture? Just a special effect?
I find myself on a Q&A. Another writer asks about how to stop writer’s block. One of my answers: there’s a poem demanding you write it. For whatever reason, you refuse. Thus, that poem is clogging the way for others. Write that poem.
I believe that. But I resist it. Sure, I tend to know precisely what poem is clamoring for attention. But as if to somehow muzzle it, I imagine I have it worked out already. Writing it is a formality. I know how it must go because I know the poet I am.
The tricky thing is, if I tell myself I know how it’s going to be, what I’m certainly going to write, I don’t have to write it because I’ll learn nothing from it.”—POEM : Douglas Kearney : Harriet the Blog : The Poetry Foundation
I am in the habit of saying: “Every poem is an opportunity to destroy my career.”
When I say it, I imagine completely new work. Maybe I abandon the typographic experiments of The Black Automaton in exchange for a more traditional sonnet crown. Or I leave behind my investigations into manhood for poems about birds. I mean to surprise readers who have come to expect a particular kind of poem from me. I mean to surprise myself as well.
I want it to mean that I am not afraid of trying something different, that I am not privileging my previous gestures, hiding behind what I know.
But what it doesn’t mean, necessarily, is that I write the poem that demands to be written. You can spend a lot of time not writing such a poem.”—POEM : Douglas Kearney : Harriet the Blog : The Poetry Foundation
“Writing is work. It’s also gambling. Technique alone is never enough. Be without fear. Too much fear and all you’ll get is silence. You have to have passion. To hell with facts! It doesn’t matter how “real” your story is, or how “made up”: what matters is its necessity. We tell stories in order to live. The thing that’s important to me is that you never know. You’re always sort of feeling your way. There is no truth. There is only perception. Stare. It is the only way to educate your eye. And if there are no jobs at the end of it, that’s not necessarily a reason not to do it.”—
Found text from Howie Good’s editor’s note for issue 70 of Right Hand Pointing.