Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Blogger's Code? (II)

A bit overwhelmed (though in a good way) by the conversation going on in my own comment box. It's the first time I've ever had enough comments here to actually think about the phenomenon. Shanna's right--they are one of the best things about blogs, making conversation possible in a medium that's often thought to be totally solipsistic--but they also weirdly (again, in a good way) make the blog no longer entirely written by you. I mean me.

Also I've been sidelined by some kind of computer meltdown, now fixed. A "shared library error." That will teach me to be generous with my books.

Okay, back to the topic. Excellent thoughts by Jonathan, Nick, and Anne Boyer about praise, criticism, and competition (in poetry and elsewhere in life). I'm still thinking, though, about the oddness of all these "poetry blogs" that are not blogs of poems. What are they then?

I said they're not blogs of poems or of primary "work." But then of course Stephen Vincent reminded me that both his and Nick's blogs have often reproduced journal and notebook entries that, if perhaps not always "poetry" in the strictest sense, are certainly creative work. But here again is an oddity: both Nick and Stephen have posted passages from notebooks already written, sometimes years or even decades in the past. It's my sense (I hope I'm not being presumptuous) that for them the (laborious) process of transcribing and posting that work is a kind of rewriting and rethinking--a pulling back from and examination of the work (and the self) even as it's also a reexperiencing.

Brian Campbell commented that he admires Simon De Deo's blog because "it reviews actual poems, which are the ultimate thing here, eh?" Fair enough--but there's that "actual poems" thing again, which always makes me wonder what "unactual poems" the rest of us are discussing.

My larger question, though: are reviews the "ultimate thing" among the poetry blogs I read? I'd say, frankly, no; if these are not poem blogs, they are also not criticism blogs in the narrowly evaluative sense. I suppose you'd say that on some days Ron Silliman is acting as a reviewer, but (to many people's frustration) he always goes far beyond the up or down judgment to some much more sweeping context.

So what are they? I guess I'd have to say they are poetics blogs, meaning by that discussion about and engaged with poetry in the deepest sense, but operating at some more general, abstract level, less interested in judgment per se then in an ongoing conversation about an unfolding aesthetic. Which means the scope is not limited to the reviewer's horizon: I think the best discussions I've had about individual poems out here have been about Shakespeare and O'Hara.

As soon as I say that I wonder where that places those blogs that blend poetics with the more diaristic aspects of the blog form--which are also some of the most exciting and compulsively readable, like Stephanie's and Jordan's. I actually don't think that's an accident; the blog's blend of formality and casual dailiness seems part and parcel of whatever poetics is being explored here.

But as I've said, I feel very uncertain about these generalizations I'm making; I feel the ground has shifted a lot. In part that's because I've left the physical community (the Bay Area) in which I started blogging; there was a brief period there where real and virtual communities seemed to be reinforcing each other, and things kind of took off and we couldn't blog fast enough. But that was also the root of my sense of this project as part of a supportive (non-competitive) community. Since then I've moved, started a job, and gone dormant for nearly a year, and am still trying to get my bearings again. I'm not sure whether my description is accuracy, or nostalgia.


pam said...

I tend to do most of my reading of poems (and other texts) in a quiet space, in solitude. I have trouble reading slowly on a computer monitor so I tend not to read poetry online so much; if there's something I want to look at more in depth I usually buy the book or print out the poem/story/review.

I view the internet and blogosphere as more of an extended discussion space than a publication space. So I gravitate to poetics sites like this one, because they provide a forum for the kinds of discussions I always used to wish would happen in the breaks in the middle of or after public readings, where people are more likely to be smoking or getting air or catching up socially than actually talking about poetry and poetics in the larger context. I always felt there was a lack of this kind of discussion around readings, also a sort of love-hate relationship towards it...like when someone would actually try to initiate such a topic of conversation in person, others would perk up in interest but some others would look bored and just want to grab another beer or whatever. And still others (like myself) would be interested and want to continue the conversation but just couldn't come up with the words and ideas on the spot to respond right then and there, and would have to respond later in an out-of-context email or just wait until next week's reading, at which point the original thread would have been all but forgotten. So I am grateful to blogland for allowing slow talkers like myself to enter more of a real-time dialogue/discussion with other writers and actually hash out a lot of the larger-context poetics issues that are always peripherally present at live readings but pushed aside or ignored in favor of safer, easier social interactions.

Another thing I liken the blognomenon to is the 1AM after-reading party, where all the schmoozing and gossiping and networking and socializing has pretty much exhausted itself and the people who are left finally feel relaxed and comfortable enough with each other to start spilling more freely of their feelings and ideas. This is when I think the most interesting thoughts surface and get developed. I like that, and even though blogs don't have the physical/social proximity aspect of having everyone sitting on the same carpet, they have the advantage of letting their authors/readers jump directly to the heart of the matter, without having to wait till 1AM or whatnot.

Jonathan said...

Good post. I think you're exactly right about your characterization of poetics bloggery, oriented neither toward poems themselves nor straightforward criticism (reviews).

One of the benefits of blogging--I've been doing it for several years--is that I've gradually been able to meet other bloggers in person.

Jordan Davis, Ron Silliman, David Hess, Katie Degentesh, Drew Gardner, Gary Sullivan, Nick Piombino, Kasey Mohammad, Stephanie Young, Reen Thorson, and others, who I had not met in person when I began my blog in 2002, shortly after Ron himself started the whole poetry blog thing. (There were others before, but that's when the phenomon really took off.)