Friday, April 01, 2005

A list of our own? (II)

As both Pam Lu and Roger Pao have (very gently) reminded me, I've sort of dropped the ball on the whole Asian American poetics list thing. Besides general busyness, I can offer two pleas: format anxiety and technical ignorance.

There's been some debate, both here and on Roger's blog, about whether a listserv is the best way to generate the kind of discussion and community I'm interested in. One commenter chez Roger ("Nick," who I'm assuming is Nick Carbo), suggested that the era of listservs is over and "blogs are where it's at." I'm sympathetic to that, obviously. But I still wonder if a listserv might be good at reaching the broad community of Asian American writers and readers I'm hoping to engage--a community that would not only include younger poets but critics and scholars who have an interest in the field (and who, in my experience, are relatively clueless about the world of blogs).

The group blog and the discussion board have also been suggested as models. I'm nominally a part of several group blogs, and I think they can be fantastic for a few people who are pursuing a group project; I'm less convinced that they are great forums for discussion amongst a fairly large, diffuse group. I've never really been happy with any of the few discussion boards I've stumbled across; they seem to encourage anonymity and sniping more often than community, but perhaps I'm wrong. If people have models in either of these realms that they think would be promising, I'm all ears.

I think listservs, old-fashioned as they are, can work well for groups of moderate size that already have some sense of community--a sense of shared interests and relations that keeps discussion civil and focused. Not necessarily "among friends," but perhaps among colleagues. My fantasy is that there exists such a group around Asian American poetry and a listserv would just need to activate it. I will confess, though, that I have no idea if this is true. My friend Dorothy Wang and I often lament that we seem to be the only people around in academia who care about Asian American poetry; I'd hope that the list would prove us wrong.

I don't see why we couldn't try several things at once; a group blog, a discussion board, and a listserv aren't mutually exclusive and might even reinforce each other.

Finally, to technical issues. My only experience in creating lists is on academic networks; nearly all of them still use antiquated LISTSERV software, offering limited features. I have been looking into the idea of hosting the list through the University of Toronto's system, but they do not even seem to offer archiving, much less any kind of web interface. I've been on several Yahoo groups, and I see Google groups as well; can anyone tell me if these seem like better ways to manage a list, or if there are other options that I should consider?


Ivy said...

Hi Tim,

Some suggestions: you might like to look into Topica []. It's not perfect, but quite useable, I think.

Another one is SmartGroups []. While I do not manage a group using SG, I am a member of The Asia and Pacific Writers Network, which uses it. It appears to be okay.

Hope that's of some help.


Jerrold Shiroma said...


If you're really interested in setting something like this up...whether a board, or a list...let me know. I can do both via the site, & would be more than happy to set it all up.



Roger Pao said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Roger Pao said...

Hey Tim,
You haven't dropped the ball -- busyness, format anxiety, and technical reasons are all good reasons. I like your defense of the Listserv idea. I'll have more to say on my blog about the possibility of an Asian American Poetics Listserv and in response to your post in general.

pam said...

I’m totally on board with the idea of making the forum as accessible as possible to interested people. I like it when the scholars and critics jump in; they offer a breadth of knowledge and critical perspective that always gets me thinking. I tend to agree with Roger that the forum should stick with one format at first, to guard against too much diffusion of discussion. I also tend to gravitate between the formats of the group blog and the listserv, with my current preference being for the listserv. Some thoughts:

Lately I’ve been interested in blogs more than email lists, mostly because blogs seem more author-controlled and offer (in general) more opportunities for focused, in-depth discussions. The formality of posting to a blog, with its instant visual feedback, seems to invite posts that are more prepared, more thought-through, than just firing off an email to a list. But maybe this is more a function of how discussions have declined on the lists I’m involved in, rather than a commentary on the listserv format itself.

The idea of a team blog appeals to me, for the reasons of focus that I just mentioned. But I have worries about how many people will be on the team: If there are too many, will it stretch the capabilities of the Blogger server, and will posts start to become too random and disorganized, and start to resemble the nightmarish jumble of a discussion board? Or, if there are too few members, will discussion become too limited, with just the active public involvement of a few, and occasional contributions from commenters, creating a kind of hierarchy of discussion?

Also, there’s the issue of people who don’t sit in front of a net-connected computer all day (like me, at my desk job), who are unaccustomed to opening a browser to visit blogs, or who have ancient computers that don’t have the system requirements to support easy browsing. I don’t think this last issue is such a factor anymore, but I’m concerned about people who might be turned off by the hassle of having to 1) go online, 2) check their email (since I assume this is what most people who go online do at first), then 3) open a browser to go to a blog, and finally 4) comment and/or post to the blog, using blogger software. I imagine that many people’s technical comfort zones rarely go past #2. So the team blog, though great for team members, might just be adding more layers of technology that deter people from accessing the discussion more immediately.

So I currently have warm feelings again toward the listserv, with its lateral hierarchy, its immediacy, its ease of access.

Tim said...

Re the team blog: This could be a great way for a small group of poets/critics to have a focused conversation, one that would take place in public and that others could read and comment upon. Pam, I think you're quite right that blog posts are often more formal and thought out than email screeds; but for that reason they also require a somewhat more serious commitment. But I doubt that such a blog would work well for a group of more than four or five people.

So: back to the listserv, which has the advantage, at least, of being able to run with very little management while reaching an audience that may not yet inhabit blogland.

Jerrold--thanks very much for your generous offer to host whatever forum we decide to set up. I think the Duration Press website would be an excellent place for something like this to live. I'll get in touch with you to discuss it.

Greg Delisle said...

Hello Tim,

I'd like to offer something that I've been working on for a while and it might work in both categories here. It's a group blog called PoetrySpace that has blogging and board/list functions plus a bunch of other things.

It's in beta test right now, but if you drop me a line I'd be glad to give you a member account. We're really in need of experienced bloggers who are serious about poetry and we could definitely help each other out.

(PS this goes for your readers too!)

Greg Delisle said...

Hmm, Blogger doesn't seem to want to display my contact info in my profile, so just write me at

tweedledeetweedledum said...

This blog is awesome! If you get a chance you may want to visit this free software downloads site, it's pretty awesome too!