Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The last words

My original intention was to have this blog be about poetry and the role technology plays in the evolution of the art form. I wanted to learn more about the forms that poetry takes on now and how the use of technology has changed how it is written. To some extent, I made headway on this topic, but as the class went on, I fell back on my former calling—that is, I turned to my personal blog and saw firsthand how it changed not only my poetry, but my personal writing style.

First and foremost, I noticed that when using a computer, my writing tends to become shorter, more concise and to the point. Short, pithy sentences seem more appropriate when communicating in a high-speed world, even if you supposedly have all the space you could ever want for writing. Even word processing on a computer does not have quite the same sense of urgency as blogging does; this post will probably seem more long-winded than some of my others because I am composing it using a word processor instead of Blogger.

This phenomenon seems to extend to the poetry I found as well. The vast majority of poetry blogs I found consist of short poetry; many are dedicated to haikus, a genre of poetry that is by nature extremely short and focused. Haiku seems to be, if not made for the computer-using generation, then at least well-adapted to it. It has been said that our attention spans are growing shorter and shorter the faster our information sources get. I personally will often skip over longer poems in books because they seem like they will take too long to read, though I have no problem reading ten short poems that in total are longer than the one longer piece of work. We handle both information and art, not in long, watered-down tracts of writing, but in condensed chunks that we try to swallow whole.

I wonder if we are able to absorb as much of the wisdom from this sort of concentrated writing as we do from something longer, but more expository. After all, haikus were once the realm of serious scholars who spent a lot of time studying them. More than a quick read-through is required in order to fully grasp what is being said, but in such a fast-paced universe as the internet, it is likely that a simple surface reading is all that is afforded to such poetry.

The second thing that I’ve noticed, both in internet poetry as well as in regular blog writing, is that the writing tends towards informality. This turned out to be sort of a road block to my project, as the lack of formality extends to the dearth of new poetic forms being used. Writing on the internet does not read the same way that a book does; the tone tends towards the conversational. It is accessible to the reader; the writer does not hide behind a big vocabulary or lofty sentence structure but instead is more concerned with the dissemination of information.

Thus, poetry on the internet rarely follows a form, or if it does, treats the rules of the form as a jumping-off point instead of a law that is set in stone. The aforementioned haikus often lack the syllabic structure of traditional poems in favor of an open-ended form.

As for the other lessons I have learned from blogging, there is one thing I have noticed. It seems that people are less likely to pay attention to social customs and politeness when they are writing on the internet than they do in “real life”. I think this may be because the internet makes a person feel anonymous, and other people seem like abstractions, not real people. This can be both good and bad; it is good in that it is more comfortable for people to speak their minds about certain subjects that they normally wouldn’t broach in regular discussion for fear of insulting others, or conversely, being laughed at themselves. Uncomfortable topics can be discussed and opinions shared when they would be avoided away from the computer.

However, this does lead into the downside: there are people who are not afraid to insult others openly while online. This does not just occur in blogging; there are certainly examples on message boards and in chat rooms as well. This can make online communities seem hostile and unwelcoming, which in my opinion negates the purpose of the internet: to create a way for people to freely share information, ideas, and opinions.

The biggest thing I wish I would have done differently is that I wish I would have combined my project blog and my regular blog. I truly do enjoy blogging, but I had a difficult time finding the sort of information I was looking for to post on my poetry blog. If I would have kept it all on one blog, I could have had far most consistent updates (although they would not have always been on topic). The other reason I regret my choice is that poetry is a very serious, personal thing for me. It is very much a part of who I am, and as such I prefer to post it on my personal blog so that the readers I already have there will see it. But I feel that posting it in both places seems self-absorbed and silly. So it would have made me much happier to combine the two.

In closing, I feel that I did learn a lot of things about my own writing style from this class, as well as learning about online communities and poetry. I was able to share my own writing, some of which I am very proud of. And finally, I discovered more about my own abilities and talents by looking through previous postings, both from the class and from before, and saw how my writing has changed in the past year. My learning was very much about self-discovery, and I find that knowledge to be invaluable.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Something of mine

The difficulty with posting poetry on a blog is the lack of formatting capability. No tabs, for example. That bugs me. In any case, here's something I came up with today:


With my mother
There are no dark feminine secrets,
No moon-goddess myths,
No womens' knowledge passed down.
She shares only her hands:

Digging in dark earth
planting impatiens,
Stirring the pot
of soup on the stove,
Brushing my hair
from tangles to silk--
Everything she touches

Made beautiful,
and when I see
what she has done
I hope only
to inherit
her hands.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Poets Against the War

I admit it: I'm a book freak. I can't get enough of them. I can wander around a bookstore for hours and never be bored. This weekend, that's exactly what I was doing, at the local B. Daltons (this is small-town Minnesota; heaven forbid we build an actual bookstore anywhere within a 100-mile radius). The poetry section of this particular store consists of the bottom two shelves at the veeeeery end of the fiction section. Most people probably wouldn't even notice it was there. But poetry is one of my favorite things and, as such, I take a little extra time to risk back pain, crouch down, and actually take a look at the titles.

I left with two books that day, both of which I plan to talk about here. The first is called Poets Against the War, edited by Sam Hamill. The summary on the back of the book intrigued me; Laura Bush had invited Mr. Hamill to a White House Symposium on "Poety and the American Voice". But Mr. Hamill had recently read about Bush's "Shock and Awe" plan for Iraq, and he was disgusted by the thought. So he sent out an open letter to the poetry community, calling for them to submit anti-war poetry to the "Poets Against the War" website (bet you were wondering when I'd get the internet to fit into all of this). All 13,000 of the poems that were collected were presented to the US Congress. The book is a collection of some of the best of these poems.

Luckily for me, all of the submissions--including the ones that were printed in the book--are available at the website, so here is a list of a few of my favorites:

  • I Do Not Want You, Petroleum, by Majid Naficy: The first stanza is perfect, and I love the last two lines--
    I thought you gave me blood.
    Now I see, you made me bleed.

  • Peace On The Land We Live On, by Wilden McIntosh-Round: I love how simply stated this is. You wouldn't guess that a 7-year-old could write something like that. At least, I wouldn't.

  • The Olive Wood Fire by Galway Kinnell: Nice to see a name I know. This poem sends chills down my spine.

    And lest you think that the United States has a monopoly on peace-loving poets, the website provides a list of similar projects from around the world. This one from Austrailia is pretty good.

    I suppose you can probably guess that this post is at least partially inspired by that whole election thingie we did this year. I was talking with another poetically-inclined friend of mine, and she said that this war, this unrest, is the sort of thing that inspired great poetry in times past, and we're due for another generation of poets and writers to speak out. It happened to some extent in World War II (check out A. E. Housman if you don't believe me), it happened in Vietnam, and it will likely happen again here, and it will use the internet as the newest medium of expression.
  • Monday, October 25, 2004

    Two Painterly Forms

    Inspiration can come from all sorts of places; nature, life, love, art. For two new poetic forms, art is the primary inspiration.

    First, we consider the Rothko. Mark Rothko is a painter whose work consists of overlaid, solid-color rectangles. So it's no surprise that poetry based off his work would have the same elements of color and shape. The rules for a Rothko are these:

    1. A Rothko must be written while standing in front of a Rothko painting.
    2. The poem consists of three lines, three words each (similiar to haiku, no?)
    3. The poem must include three color words, arranged so that their positions in the poem will make a "tic-tac-toe".

    An example I wrote (while sitting in front of an image of a Rothko painting on my computer screen):
    In dreams red
    poppies white clouds
    green grass float

    The simplicity is what makes this work so well for me. It's a lot of fun to try and say volumes in nine short words.

    The second form we'll look at is the Pollock. No, this has nothing to do with Poland. Instead, as you may have guessed, it is named after the painter Jackson Pollock. The first line of such a poem is a quotation, and the rest of the poem consists only of the words and punctuation found in the quotation. Not a terribly difficult premise, but the results can be quite deep. For example:

    830 Fireplace Road (2)
    by John Yau

    "When I am in my painting, I'm not aware of what I'm doing."
    When aware of what I am in my painting, I'm not aware
    When I am my painting, I'm not aware of what I am
    When what, what when, what of, when in, I'm not painting my I
    When painting, I am in what I'm doing, not doing what I am
    When doing what I am, I'm not in my painting
    When I am of my painting, I'm not aware of when, of what
    Of what I'm doing, I am not aware, I'm painting
    Of what, when, my, I, painting, in painting
    When of, of what, in when, in what, painting
    Not aware, not in, not of, not doing, I'm in my I
    In my am, not am in my, not of when I am, of what
    Painting "what" when I am, of when I am, doing, painting.
    When painting, I'm not doing. I am in my doing. I am painting.

    (taken from here.)

    More information on both of these forms can be found at

    Friday, October 15, 2004

    A poem and an apology

    In keeping with the last two posts, I have decided that this week's sample of my poetry will be a haiku. I call it "Ducks":

    Blue lake, seven ducks;
    Three happy pairs, one alone--
    I know the feeling.

    And now for the apology: I am sincerely sorry that I have been lax in the upkeep of this blog. The past couple of weeks have been pretty crazy. However, I have this entire weekend free and therefore vow to catch up as much as possible, and promise not to fall so far behind EVER, EVER again, if not for the sake of my grade, then at least for the sake of my own sanity.

    So... look for more updates to come, post haste!

    Haiku: Part 2 (hey, that rhymes!)

    There are thousands examples of haiku on the internet, in blogs and other places. Here's a quick look of some of the best and most interesting sites:

  • news in haiku
    In this little gem of a site, the author reports one important news story per day in haiku form. Though he does not follow the constraints for subject, he does adhere to the form rules (syllables and line length). Not only do his poems give a succinct (if not terribly artistic) description of a news story, but he also offers links to articles and other information on the story in question. For a good example, check out this post about Wal-Mart's newest building site.

    Also, in one post, he links to a contest run by The Guardian (a UK news service) that basically encourages people to do the exact same thing, express headline news in haiku form. Looks to me like the idea is spreading.

  • Ben Guaraldi | Haiku
    This is another daily haiku blog, but more artistic than journalistic. Though occasionally there is some mention of current events (see Red Sox 2), the bulk of the entries are made up of the traditional "scene snapshot" type poems that follow the 5-7-5 syllables/line mandate.

    In my mind, these particular haikus bring up an interesting idea. Traditionally, haikus were supposed to be centered around nature. The idea was at least in part to bring about awareness of one's surroundings. In modern times, however, peoples' surroundings are becoming constantly less "natural", and more manmade, with cars and buildings and streetlights and sidewalks replacing trees and rivers and mountainscapes. In light of these changing conditions, might a change in the focus of haiku be justified? For example, look at this poem. There is a clear sense of place and time here. All the "haiku rules" are followed, yet this poem has nothing to do with nature. Still, it is a snapshot of a scene in city life, one that is familiar to people, and looking at the event (in this case, a truck rumbling through the streets in the early morning) through the eye of a haiku necessarily makes us aware of this particular sort of event. I believe that this is the goal of haiku; not just to say pretty words, but to call attention to the minutae of life in order to allow people to appreciate it more fully.

  • Conscious-Living Poetry
    Admittedly, this blog is not solely focused on haiku. But a fair number of entries are written as haikus, so I think it's perfectly valid to include mention of it here. Unlike the previous blogs, Don (the author) does not seem to feel beholden to the 5-7-5 syllables rule. Most of the pieces that he calls "Haiku Moments" seem to pay no attention to traditional rules of haiku, and yet in my mind it is doubtless that they are truly haikus. For some beautiful examples, look here or here.

    I will argue that some of the poems he calls haiku might not qualify. For example, this poem, though it is well-put and wise, breaks a lot of the rules of haiku. How many of these rules can you ignore before a poem ceases to be a haiku and becomes something else? It's a question I can't answer.

  • Other Haiku Blogs: FiveSevenFive and Haiku the Blog

    If any of this has given you the inspiration to try writing your own haikus, there are a couple ways you can go about it. Jane Reichhold's article on haiku techniques is worth a read if you are interested in constructing your own haikus. This article may also be helpful (and is much shorter). If you don't want to go through all that study, you could try the interactive Create Your Own Haiku toy. Or if you're REALLY lazy, just let The Genuine Haiku Generator create a random haiku for you.

    Final thought (courtesy of the Genuine Haiku Generator):

    homicidal loose
    eternal illusion sings
    lustfully, drunk bronze
  • Sunday, October 10, 2004

    Haiku: Part 1

    Haiku seems to be a very popular form for poetry on the internet. This is not surprising; it's a simple form, easy to use, deep, yet accessible. Also, it is short, in keeping with the current collective attention span of the people, which is approximately the same as that of a goldfish.

    For the uninitiated, a quick definition: Haiku is a Japanese form of poetry. Traditionally the rules are thus:
    1. The haiku is composed of 17 syllables in three lines.
    2. The first line has 5 syllables, the second has 7, and the third has 5.
    3. The haiku is about something in nature
    4. There is one word or image that gives the poem a "season" (sets it in summer, autumn, winter, or spring); for example, "snow" denotes winter, "leaves" denotes autumn, etc.
    5. Similies are not used; the idea is to give a snapshot of a particular image, not to compare it to something else.

    There are various other rules that you can write by as well; see Haiku Rules That Have Come and Gone for a list. Traditionally, these rules had to be followed in order for a poem to be considered a haiku. However, in recent times, the haiku has been adopted by non-traditionalists, and many of the rules have gone out of favor. For example, since traditional haiku was written in the Japanese language, some people say that the rules about syllables do not apply to poems written in English or other languages. Also, it seems that more often, current haikus are written about subjects other than nature. I'm sure that a lot of people have seen the Haiku Error Messages that have been floating around the internet and sent hundreds of times as e-mail forwards. No longer are haiku poems the realm of only Zen masters and the like; they are very much a part of popular culture.

    To be continued

    Wednesday, October 06, 2004

    Poetry Place #1: g r a p e z

    Can poetry be compared to fine wine? It takes high-quality elements in order to produce a good wine, and a good poem. The great ones get better with age. The best never get old, but only grow more and more mature, and are not only usable, but at their most delectable, centuries after their creation.

    You might be able to say that g r a p e z is a bit of an extended metaphor. To be sure, not all of Greg's entries have to do with poetry; as I write this, there is a post up about music, and more than one on the recent presidential debates. But many do, and what he does with them is... well, pretty darn interesting, to say the least.

    I can't even remember how long I've been following g r a p e z (probably close to 6 months? Or longer?). It was my inspiration for this project, so I figured it was only fitting to start by looking at it. The first thing you need to know is, this isn't simply someone's personal poetry page. He does put his own writing up (it's really good: look at "Bridge Construction Down to One Lane" or my favorite, "Disbanding Number One", which is much less recent, but one that stuck in my memory), and occasionally even gives us a glimpse into his own revision process, but he spends more time commenting on and analyzing other peoples' poetry. Sometimes, he'll just comment on it (see Gary Snyder's Zen Confessions), and sometimes, he'll actually pick it apart (see R S Gwynn Aces Rhyme or Something Gold Can Stay). He's able to get down to the technical grit of a poem, look at rhyme and meter and all those things that I feel aren't taught very much anymore, nor studied individually.

    He will also link occasionally to articles or other blogs that talk about the craft of writing poetry. These are so useful to me, because I feel that I know very little about technique. My own education has included a lot of focus on words, but not on how to shape a poem. So something like this post about an article on tone can be really helpful.

    In all, g r a p e z is a great source for intelligent analysis of poetry and the craft of creating it. I only hope I can do so well with this project.