Wednesday, March 16, 2011

In a few weeks, I'm supposed to take part in a panel discussion titled "Poetry and Communication in the Digital Age." The fact that I've been asked to participate in this forum strikes me as slightly comical, though of course on the surface it makes sense. Here I am chattering away to you on this blog. I do all of my writing on a laptop. Given the increasing cost of postage, I appreciate journals' move toward online submissions. I occasionally promote my writing and teaching on group sites such as Poets at Work and SheWrites. Via Facebook and email, I keep in touch with a growing network of writers and teachers, many of them associated with the Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching.

Yet despite all of this activity, I rarely publish in online-only journals (though this is changing now that so many journals have moved their operations to the web). I almost never post unpublished poems or essays on this blog. I don't participate in any of the thousands of Internet poetry-prompt and workshopping sites. The fact is that I like to see my finished work in print, a predilection that is arguably both reactionary and arrogant. But I'm leery as well about releasing online drafts because I don't want to be sucked into quick publication as a way to receive undeserved adulation from readers. I'm hard on myself as a writer: I make myself crawl on thorns: and those travels are solitary business, and slow.

I also work hard to preserve a private personal life. As I wrote to a friend yesterday, this blog has been an interesting experiment in the illusion of transparency. I pick and choose what to reveal about my feelings, my family relations, my professional discomforts. Of course this is what writers always do: we frame and distort, exaggerate and conceal. But the Internet has particular lures and dangers. It simultaneously magnifies our solitude ("Here I am, alone at my desk in my little lonely house in the wild wood") and our instantaneous connections ("But you are there, out there, at this very moment, imagining me at my desk in my little lonely house in the wild wood"). The situation is rather like those tales of people who find themselves unexpectedly creating porn videos for people they've never met. The parallels give me pause, that's for sure.

And then there's the issue of public decorum. For whatever reason, the Internet is a place that encourages people to lose their temper. Even here, on this modest blog outpost, I occasionally get vituperative comments from one-time readers who appear out of nowhere, shouting THIS IS TRUTH, DAMN IT--an opinionated explosion of ire that comes across as jittery, rationalized, vengeful self-defense rather than explanation or curiosity. Certainly there's very little sense of patience for the multiplicities of human vision and experience.

The thing is: people who read what you write believe that they know you . . . you, who barely know yourself; you, who write in order to figure out what you are seeing; to say what only you can say at this single, discrete moment in time; you, who carry the burden of children and lovers, parents and ancestors, gods and devils, forest and sea . . . whatever word or image you find yourself grasping in extremis. Whenever I happen across some Internet dog fight among writers or political adversaries, I get breathless, anxious, distressed in ways that are difficult for me to explain. Cruelty is so easy. Apology is so impossible. Saying nothing is both wise and cowardly.

I could go on at length here, but the animals are clamoring for breakfast. Anyway, if you have any thoughts about "Poetry and Communication in the Digital Age," let me know. I seem to have wandered far away from the subject already.


Maureen said...

Do you know Nic Sebastian who started Whale Sound? She's one of the most savvy people around when it comes to poetry and digital publishing.

I've also featured a number of items about poetry on the Web.

Dawn Potter said...

Yes, I do know Nic. She did a Whale Sound reading of one of my Beloit poems, and I know she has a lot to say about Internet publishing, as do you. My ambivalence about it is possibly indefensible, which is why I'm a bit nerved up about appearing on this discussion panel.