Monday’s blog began with my connection to the confluence of synchronicity as a means to the muse and poetry. Throughout the week I have tried to open further conversation in regards to how technology is creating its own kismet through form and reach. Today, I am hoping to both bring the conversation back to the visceral roots of Monday and send our dialogue into a new trajectory, to offer another place of intersection among technology, the sensory, the social and the "random" coincidence.
On Tuesday I explored poems that incorporate technology as an arc. Today, I offer this question: do you remember your first encounter with digital terminology or reference in a poem? This may not be something that immediately comes to mind, but perhaps my experience here will further illuminate why I raise the question. The first time I remembered seeing technology used as an integral force in creative writing was not in poetry. It was in a Johnathan Ames short fiction piece called “A Young Girl,” published in the premiere issue of Swink (2004). In the story, the protagonist/writer, Leon David, receives an e-mail from Hallie a fan/grad student. E-mail quickly progresses to instant message which escalates to a face-to-face meeting and sexual encounter. From anonymity to physical and sexual presence (and still a type of anonymity) in the space of three pages. I remember being struck by the story mainly for its use of creating an intersection through technology. Had Ames written the story before the advent of digital immediacy, its way of resonating on a variety of levels simply would not have been the same, or arguably, possible. The unexpected e-mail—David even says “these correspondences keep me alive,”---the exchange of words over the screen before the voice, before in person, before sex, all contribute to the pace and tension of the story. Something about it felt utterly irrevocable and fresh.
Fast forward to the present where digital reference and creative writing are not just components but are encouraging a very specific, and perhaps totally new, conversation. Earlier this week I referred to OCHO’s issue #24, an issue dedicated to poets who Twitter.* And, while I cited one piece from the journal, I think it is important to note that a majority of the poems also offer a conversation around tech language, poetry, form and the digital world: Two examples: In “Village, Batanta Island,” Scott Edward Anderson creates a world where children interact because they can see themselves in a digital camera. Samuel Peralta, in “Sonnets B4 the Blaze,” plays in the language of technology, using end rhymes like “dot-com,” and “eBay.” Both are works that could not exist without knowledge of and experience in a digital world.
But what happens when we go one step further? When we center entire journal issues, chapbooks or anthologies around technology or a component of it? Iron Horse Literary Review is a notable instance: Issue 12:4 is a compelling array of poems and prose that orbit around planet Facebook. It is a hotbed of social media inspiration, including poems that deconstruct, lament, explore and champion FB’s swerve and spectacle. Jennifer A. Luebbers (“Ms. Barnhill is Back: A Poem in Found Facebook Status Updates”) and Tamiko Beyer (“September Update: Friend X”) create found poems from status updates culled from the FB newsfeed; Robert Fanning and Laura McCullough navigate the boundaries of F2F (face-to-face) interaction with family members versus FB lurking, poking, unfriending, etc. (And in the process, they also cause us to ponder the layers of language and technojargon in FB). Fanning and Juliana Gray also play with form and rhyme in their poems as well—Fanning with rhyming couplets, Gray with the ghazal (end word: Facebook). Dinty W. Moore offers his piece—“Why I Trained My Dog to Post: One Writer’s Facebook Journey,”-- with this introductory question: “Can a chronological string of Facebook wall postings create a narrative?” and later shares an edited stream of his FB wall posts with this codicil: “Though I’ve edited away much of the repetition and detritus, what you read below represents an accurate, purely chronological and possibly embarrassing chronicle of the time I’ve wasted. Let it be a cautionary tale.” In essence, Moore causes us to wonder how to define, or if we can define, this particular genre. And Steve Langan in “Ugly Kids,” goes back to the idea of kismet, of what it means when technology enables us to find the unfound, when we can “friend” a person from our past, a person often characterized more by our memory of the person than the flesh-and-blood person:
“Twenty-five years later, many of these people
start to come back into your life.
Blame technology. Consider yourself warned.
All but the one who truly fascinated us,
over whose whereabouts, opinion and future
we speculated endlessly, back when
there was nothing else to do but think.”
On Valentine’s Day, 2012—definitely not a random day, considering-- Jasper Magazine and Muddy Ford Press took social media/social networking poetry a step further: the chapbook. Jasper Reads, Download is an entire collaboration that revolves around poetry and prose of the digital world. The bent is decidedly erotic; almost every poem in the chapbook plays with the nuances and multiple entendres of technospeak. In Nicola Waldron’s “Face Time” we experience contradictory intimacy of the sexual over video chat: “I slide down on my back/and press my fingers to the screen,/the thermal image app,/its thick curtain, then stroke it open,/touch the place that takes you,/the camera’s feral eye.” In “Smart Phone,” Lauren Wiggins makes a heady list of jargon, causing the reader to stop and consider the language on multiple levels: “I’m not talking about/vibrate setting, call waiting,/nor voice-activated dialing,/not even 4G networking or hot spot detection.” Often the results have a sense of humor, turning the language back on itself: Barbara G.S. Hagerty’s “The Kids Don’t Know Everything: “To our kids, we are so yesterday, so over it,/so you know, analogue...”
But Jasper Reads, Download also offers a new window (dare I point out the word choice here) into the realm of connection and confluence. The poems and prose therein are a glimpse into the tech electric—perhaps the tech erotic?-- as an exploration of the suggestiveness of communication when we are both connected and disconnected in the realm of computers and iPhones. There is a definite sense of play, tease and flirt, as in Dustin Brookshire’s found poem on Grindr: “For Midtown on Grindr,” “Message me…/if your passport has been/worked as much as your body” or in Ed Madden’s** “Sometimes its all I think about, too:” “The dog-day cicadas are dialing up--/horny little modems buzzing in the oaks.”
Which brings us back to this idea of how poems are becoming more of a direct sensory experience. I think of Dickey writing about how books “call” us (again the word choice) from the shelves. But what happens when the lines or the poems choose us more directly, flash to us—here we have to ask, randomly?—as a text message? For instance, if you enable your cellphone to receive messages from Cellpoems, a link to a poem can buzz to you at any time. Unlike PoemFlow, which requires its users to open the app to see the poem for the day, Cellpoems arrive directly to you on their time. Suddenly the poem becomes not just about the experience on the page, but a multi-sensory and very personal, well, encounter? Perhaps the poem (and the body?) electric? As the poem buzzes into your hand, it is not only visual and auditory but also tactile. The poem, as text message, not only lends that first vibration (again, the language rife with possibilities), but also presents a text that can be immediately manipulated: the poem can be touched on the screen, enlarged, photographed, shared. Endless possibilities for confluence.
As a young mom, I remembered, especially on days where poetry seemed a distant universe, waiting for the morning hour to strike 10:55 so that I might shush the baby for just a few minutes to catch Garrison Keillor on the Writer’s Almanac. In the throes of no sleep and making a slow progression out of postpartum depression, it was these few daily moments that were often my grace. It was here that I learned about the poetry of Barbara Crooker, Brad Sachs, Matt Cook, Wendy Cope, Michael Chitwood and was reminded of my love for other poets I may have been neglecting: Blake. Kumin. May Sarton.
The experience offered poetry on so many levels that resonated with me. There was the sense of randomness, of not knowing which poem I would experience that day. There was intrigue of hearing a poem though Keillor’s voice, the feeling of being taken outside of my life for the moment. The poem was not on paper, not visual or tactile, but it was more in my body, reminding me often of that heady cocktail of mental and physical that I mentioned on Monday. And the poem was always a surprise, an enticement, a journey. And sometimes even, just for a moment, an impetus to return to my own writing.
But could there be more? Something further sensory? Even more direct? I think there just may be. I offer this as a point of muse. Recently a fellow poet e-mailed to ask if I had a few uninterrupted minutes. Sure. He asked if I had my phone. I did. He began to text me a poem he was working on, breaking each line by hitting “send.” So, my first experience of the poem went like this: flash of phone light up/buzz, read line. Pause. Light up/buzz, read next line. The entire poem arrived this way: Visual. Auditory. Tactile. It demanded my attention, leaving the lingering sense of vibration in my hand. This was not reading on the page. It was intimate. Direct. Curious with possibility. The poem touching me. Visceral. Rife with kismet.
Dickey said the poem called to us from the shelves. Maybe the reverse is true. Maybe the poem calls us from the shelves, into the body, back into words. The connection, or reconnection of the two.
In my case it was a calling. I was called by name, like a song I could finally hear, like a something I—and maybe the rest of us—are only beginning to know the beginning of.
----Julie E. Bloemeke
It is with great thanks that I sign off this week. Much gratitude to David Lehman and Stacy Harwood for this fantastic forum.
Thank you, dear reader, for sharing your stories and intersections, for raising questions and continuing the conversation. Let’s keep talking.
And thank you to the following kind souls—and kismet energies!-- who were incredibly helpful in offering insight, support, discussion, enthusiasm and a keen editing eye. Thank you for bearing with the poet of me who does not usually call prose “home”:
And one last note of gratitude to the haven that is VCCA. The gift of a residency granted me the time and creative space needed to compose, edit and muse properly on the words. Oh, yes, and a lake to swim in for when the words confounded me.
Please keep, as we say, in touch:
On Twitter: @jebloemeke
*I regret to share this news. After publishing Tuesday’s blog I learned that JS VanBuskirk died a few years ago. My apologies for the oversight.
** Ed Madden has also compiled an arrangement of found poems on Craigslist, all gleaned from ads placed in January and February 2012. “Missed Connections: Craigslist Found Poems” was inspired by Alan Feuer’s “Inebriated Love” (New York Times, 22 January 2012)