Sunday, May 21, 2006


Stay Hungry

Frank Wilson's write-up on internet poetry is now online. Kudos to Wilson for taking it on, and many thanks to him for getting a little wedge in there in the print world.

On a less positive note, I am rather disappointed that the trolls and the glut of poor offerings got a mention, at the expense of more on how the channel of the internet may affect the medium of poetry, itself. Perhaps such considerations are outside the realm of what the average book section reader wants to engage. However, and given that my comments were not used elsewhere, I'm posting my own private response to Frank's call for information here, just in case anyone's interested in knowing what sort of material didn't make the cut (great: he's offering rejected material...whatever next...and people say blogs aren't worth monitoring...).

Hi Gene,
You asked me to get in touch - and so I have. Why don't you fill me on what you think an article about poetry online should touch upon. Bear in mind that I am only going to be able to scratch the surface...

Frank Wilson
Book Review Editor
The Philadelphia Inquirer

Hi, Frank,

I'm really pleased that you've decided to write an article on internet poetry--it's a subject that's been neglected, in my estimation, for some time, probably largely due to the fact that the most visible and vocal among poets tend to be those who troll and criticize (a la and Poetry Snark, the former a 'high profile' case that I can't help thinking could have been executed differently to better effect), and one does face a significant task getting to the good stuff behind a lot of dross. As regards your current project, I was fortunate enough to be made aware of it via a thread started on the Poets and Writers Speakeasy forums by Rus Bowden, who is well known for his work on the Poetry and Poets in Rags newsletter. That newsletter is in turn associated with one of the oldest and best established poetry competitions on the web, the InterBoard Poetry Competition, or IBPC. I know Tara Elliott, co-editor and co-founder of Triplopia, has at least one second place win in that competition to her credit, in September of 2002, for her poem "Crabbing on the Cheasapeake". I think I 'knew' her for about 2 years at that point, and we'd started Triplopia about 2 months previous. We originally met via a much less well known poetry board, where we were fortunate enough to enjoy, at the time, a fairly active membership, and at some point, I proposed putting a zine together, wrote up a mission statement and workshopped that (a single sentence remains of about a page and a half--it's on the front page of Triplopia), and about a year went by until Tara announced that she'd put a team together with the tech chops to get the computer work done, thus calling my bluff. We've come much further than either of us really had any right to expect (Tara calculated 2 years, I was shooting for 3), and suffice it to say, the only problem I would have with a thousand word article would be LIMITING it to that amount. But I can be long-winded, and it's well known.

In the interests of keeping things short, then, I think the response you've received is pretty indicative of the breadth of issues surrounding the publication of poetry via the net. There is, in the first instance, the need to distinguish between forums, listservs, blogs, and zines, though as pertainst to 'publication' of a poem, many journals don't. I have received notification, at times, that my having workshopped a poem on a public forum constitutes 'publication,' and thus makes work inelegible for certain venues. On the other hand, those same journals probably wouldn't look especially highly upon someone who listed forum postings as 'publication'--it's an odd double standard that the folks on the internet are pretty familiar with, to the extent that a lot of poetry forums have gone private to deal with the issue. They're usually meant, in theory, as online workshops, though there are certainly community members who treat them as if they were publishing work. Blogs are a different creature, as well, and zines are edited, though how well is a matter of some concern to anyone who is at all discerning about where their words are seen. The main point behind all this is that these are actually very different senses of the word 'publication,' and it's taken a fair while to get the more traditional poetry community to take any notice of what the net is offering the larger poetry community.

Then there is the matter of anonymity (which I think largely an illusion, anyway), the matter of design, issues surrounding multi-media, questions surrounding how the online experience actually encroaches upon the poetry writing process as well--that little response field frames more than some writers are aware of, I think, starting with the fact that we can so easily cut and paste where our not so distant predecessors might have been a little less hasty on the keyboard, and moving forward from there. I think, in the interests of keeping it somewhat succinct, I'd point in the direction of how design and content help or hinder each other. At Triplopia, we have been very fortunate in that our web designer has provided very high quality work--work that usually fetches him a fair paycheck--on a pro bono basis, because he happens to enjoy both designing and literature. That's not all we've been fortunate about, but the fact is, the site takes up a very large proportion of the time I don't spend earning a crust, and in real life, I pretty much steer anyone who will engage the subject of poetry with me to the site. There are a fair number of those people who are not at all interested in literary content, but they consistently comment on how the site looks, so all credit to our web designer. Thing is, design shouldn't carry the day if it's the words that matter, but I don't think it should be neglected, and I think in some quarters it is. And I think it's especially important when trying to convince poetry readers--many of whom do have traditional streaks--to stick around long enough to read some of our articles. It has to be easy on the eye. So where I could easily comment on forum behavior, on technology's effect on the writing process, on the potential offered by new media features such as hyperlinks, audio files, video feeds, really, on any number of issues, I'd just like to offer a couple of comments on the reasons why our undertaking has made some of the decisions it has, and beyond that, just say that I'm open to any questions you might have.

In my own opinion, the greatest peril a poet faces in approaching the internet as a possible venue for either publication or workshopping is distraction--and I think that level of distraction is, if anything, greater than it has been in the past. There's just so much on offer out there that's easier, and the fact that one can be 'published,' and their off-the-cuff opinion disseminated so widely via a forum posting or a blog comment is one of the greatest distractions of all. I suspect there's a lot of writing--some of my own, included--that would have benefitted greatly by being allowed time to age a bit, and in terms of a full body of work, that's not necessarily a good development. So when it comes time to create a zine, I share a commitment with Tara, my co-editor and co-founder, to keep those distractions as minimal as possible, while still closely engaging the channel of the internet. There is, for instance, no advertising done on Triplopia: there are reviews, certainly, and there are links to places where one may buy books, but we don't even subscribe to the affiliates program, so none of those links provide a source of revenue for us. This is possible because Internet publication is about as free of overhead as it is possible for publication to be. We do receive donations: our current contest is the result of one such donation, and we don't have to pay for a service provider because of another, so basically we're looking at domain registration (which goes at about 50 USD per year for two domains, .com and .org) and a whole lot of time both fielding and soliciting writing. We don't even have to pay postage--though I have had to foot the bill for a long-distance phone call from time to time. Time, however, is by far the greater investment. We also don't include pictures of our contributors, even though some of them are well known indeed. Steve Kowit was our first brush with fame, followed by Bob Holman (a personal hero of mine for his work on the United States of Poetry series on PBS back in the 90's), Joy Harjo, and Lindsey Collen (who has twice won the Commonwealth Prize for Africa)--and those are just the better known among our contributors. We also provide links, within the contributor bios, to other journals where our contributors' work can be found, but rather than linking the bios to the individual contributor's work, we link to the journal's homepage. These decisions are followed because I think we share a common aesthetic, in the Triplopia editing 'offices,' of keeping the focus on the words. On the other hand, we do make extensive use of hyperlinks: if an interview subject references a writer, we can provide a link by which the reader can follow up on that information, and learn more. Additionally, if it isn't glaringly obvious, the section entitled Yawp is my own undertaking, usually penned in the mad period between nailing down the last of the interview questions and going live, and essentially serves as an unquiet editorial on the issue at hand. It, too, can get quite link heavy, as it's just too sweet a temptation to go ahead and link to Aristotle's Poetics if it happens to come up during the course of that rant. It's online, it's free to access, and it probably provides greater insight into the discipline than anything I've ever written, so why not? So there's a balancing act being attempted here--to greater and lesser success--between trying to create a quiet space on the 'net where the words can do what they're meant to do, but still make a real effort to engage the realities of the Internet as a whole. Personally, I'd love to provide sound files--that's the performance poet in me, no doubt--but we haven't reached that point as yet. Maybe someday.

As long as the above paragraph is, it's the briefest glimpse into some of the issues surrounding poetry on the net as a whole, as it only focuses on the design decisions of a single e-zine, and there's quite fertile ground to be explored in forums and blogs, as well. I will say, in closing, that I don't frequent forums any more, as I find they're really not that helpful to me, personally, as a writer. That said, Triplopia started because of my participation on one such forum, and the first issue, for which we had to solicit every single piece of work included (and which strikes me as woefully amateurish in retrospect), is entirely made up of contributors from that single forum. I have to say, there were those who imagined the undertaking to be pretty much focused on that forum, and probably no few who were disappointed that we elected not to go in that direction. That's a decision I think any zine that proposes to make any difference whatsoever has to make, and it's not as easy as some might imagine. For me, though, that sense of community is something that I highly value in internet poetry: I've been put in contact with people I would never have imagined myself exchanging words with when this project started, and I find, for the most part, that the exchanges that result are nothing short of exhilarating. There's a whole other can of worms in those exchanges, because the fact that there are so many people out there not just reading, but writing, and editing, is far from a bad thing in my estimation. Whether the product is top shelf or not, the fact that those people are engaging the written word enough to create such spaces is one of my greatest sources for hope. When you find out what's behind the production of even the simplest such zine, you earn a greater respect for those who have had to go much further, and spend much more, in the past. That has to be a good thing.

I've definitely broached the 1,000 word mark in this e-mail, so, although I could certainly go on, or elaborate on the above, I'd probably be better off closing at this point. I did want to alert you to a couple of resources that you may or may not have been told of, however. First, the go-to blog is Silliman's Blog. He's consistently entertaining, and often right on the money. I don't particularly like L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry, but I think his blog a great resource. That's on your blogroll, though, I think. There are also links to UBUweb and PENNsound on his blog, if you haven't checked them out already, they certainly deserve a mention. Finally, a newer one, not a zine or a blog, but a database of journals with some very interesting features, over at Duotrope--at present, this bills itself as a "Digest of Fiction Fields," and there's no option for poetry in the drop-down menu under 'Genre,' but there are a fair few publications in its database that do take poetry, and it provides some very relevant information regarding the publication, and does so in an easily navigable fashion. You might find it of some interest.

Frank, I hope some of the above is of use to you: I'm excited to see what you end up writing. I'll be following the link carnival closely. On a side note, as prompted by your linking to us on the blog proper: you might be interested to know that, although our zine is named after a vision problem that Tara suffers from, the editors regularly refer to it as "the Trip" in private correspondences.

Hoping yours continues to be a pleasant one--


For what it's worth. And, as I'm currently working my way through the next mountain of subs (the submission period just ended today for Trip), I'm off to labor in obscurity once again. Before I do, though, these words for Marc, who last night had a brief exchange with me over dinner re: the definition of poetry (my primary response being that I'd like to know for what purposes it's being defined...), I include something that hasn't yet forced itself on me enough to become a poem, but seems like it might one day. This was, initially, my first response to one of those ubiquitous posts, pretty much a standard for any internet poetry forum, entitled "What is poetry?":

All definitions are dangerous. It is

words sculpted into a shape so tense a mere whisper might well shatter it.

rocket fuel to prose's gasoline, white lightning to beer.

the whole being concentrated on saying the one thing words won't hold.

dialogue with creation, pragmatic inquiry into the mind of the creator, and the relationship between creator and created.

less statement than opening.

the expression of the mind's receptiveness when wonder at the simple, miraculous fact of awareness gives way to an unconditional commitment to being.

what you feel when you fall deeply enough in love with a complete stranger to place your very life at risk to consummate that love.

holy surrender in spite of the good likelihood that what you are worshiping does not exist.

Go over and give the resulting article a read, and keep an eye on the sidebar of Frank's blog: it's an evolving thing.


Hi Gene,
One of the problems working for a paper these days is the lack of space. The first draft of my piece was about twice as long as what appeared the paper. That wouldn't do (top permitted length is 40 column inches and is rare). So when I had finished hacking away much that I had originally included was on the cutting room floor. But I may well revisit this story from time to time. We certainly havent done with it yet.

The piece is much appreciated, and thanks for visiting this blog o' mine. Main thing being I hate seeing those trolls get any air time. That's just me.

I understand about space limitations. I once went in for book reviews at an expat rag in Munich, they asked for 150 words--stingy enough, until they halved even that. What can you say about a book in 75 words?

Oddly, this is one of the joys of online work: you can make room for longer--and hopefully more substantive--pieces. Course, the flip side of that is that it may be harder to hold people long enough to actually read them. But if the space is there, I'm one to use it. And it's not just my long-windedness: I've had a number of poetry book reviewers express gratitude at having the space to flesh out a proper thesis.

Anyway, again, thanks for the piece. It's good to see such things happening.
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