1. When I started blogging in 2005, I had only vague notions of how that space would relate to my poetry writing. I thought that I would use it as a space to think out loud, to think and write publicly about broad categories that occupied my thinking: translation, money, memory, the origin of writing, baseball, etc. As years went by, the dialectical relationship between the writing I could do and did on the blog and the writing that more or less constituted my “poetry” was always in flux. Often the research or reading practice that provoked the poetry was more or less elaborated in spontaneous, improvised posts on the blog.
I note the dialectic between these two kinds of writing I found myself doing because they always felt like they existed in different “spaces”. My understanding of this space in 2005 was that writing on the Internet no matter how smart or exciting was marked by provisionality, improvisation, play, and perhaps ultimately fantasy. Call me naïve in retrospect if you want. At least for the writing I did, I always felt like it could be taken back, that my readership or thinkership approached these sometimes frail propositions with an understanding of their tentativeness. And that no matter what we could all meet in that other “space,” that is, the non-Internet space of traditional venues (be that a journal or reading or be that the bar) to “really” deal with problems of poetics or of the social.
And I’m belaboring all of this to situate what is by no means a radical statement or epiphany, just one that feels unresolved in contemporary poetics: whatever traditional space there might have been for elaborating community and deliberation about poetics no longer exists free from the hypersaturation of the Internet.
I’m not trying to claim that “poetics” and “community” are mutually or even possibly exclusive tropes, but to stay with the social for a moment: I’ve noticed the relative disappearance in my experience of the thing where someone disclaims or voices disapproval of a conversation because it takes the internet as its subject. Like this, “Oh my god, are we talking about something that happened on Facebook right now?” or “Oh my god, can we please not talk about so-and-so’s blog comment box and talk about something real?” I don’t know about ya’ll, but I’ve been involved in and voyeur to a thousand of those conversations. But it turns out that the social spaces (networking sites, blogs) were not virtual reality machines in which nothing “real” could be articulated or elaborated at all—in fact, they are where we live. And that includes people (poets can be “people” too) who don’t spend vast amounts of their time doing it, though almost everyone does.
In 2005, one could still talk about “poetry bloggers” as a relatively small if incoherent (aesthetically) group. In 2009, Barrett Watten delivers his judgment of poetic manifestoes via Facebook status update. I say this, obviously, not as a way of devaluing or decrying such a gesture—this is absolutely the most appropriate venue for our moment. To publish a long review in a journal sponsored by the academy would be awfully old fashioned and perhaps semi-readable.
There are other senses besides the strictly social in which there is no non-Internet space. Kenneth Goldsmith has recently asked the question “What does it mean to be a poet in the Internet age?” This blog post asks the same question—it does not attempt a definitive answer except to insist that there is no such thing as a bifurcation between poets in the Internet age and poets not in the Internet age (and let’s just narrow this to American poetry and acknowledge the world out there as the subject of a whole other blog). Now, there are obviously contemporary poetic practices that use the Internet specifically, as a tool, to generate content. Some of those are well known and some of those are less well known. I would say unscientifically that most of my contemporaries use the Internet to generate content for their work. And most of those contemporaries are not aligned in strategically-minded aesthetic groups.
There are likewise poetic practices, nodes and modes, that eschew using the Internet in this direct way and instead valorize or preserve “authentic” writing, and these practices run the gamut in terms of strategies and tactics—and finally some of it is enormously good, but it is simply a lie that this work is not determined by the psychosomatic alterations performed on our bodies by living on the Internet.
In other words, using the Internet to generate CONTENT is only one of very many tactics to answer this question, “What does it mean to be a poet in the Internet age?” I want to relate this to prosody. If prosody is relative to human physiology, what are the modifications to that physiology that the Internet provokes? Surely the pace of our writing has changed, the tempo with which we absorb content and produce kinds of content. Surely our posture has changed, the physical aptitude with which we encounter the social, the political, the poetic (things which are not separate). Surely the notion of “speech”, hate it or love it, has been forever changed, not only in terms of the vast invention of neological discourse but in that discourse’s vital and viral movement and residue.
When every poet lives on the Internet, as well as a non-Internet (neither are wholly not the other and I imagine “us” as being on the threshold of the two worlds), the description of all contemporary works should reckon that relation. That’s not to say that the Internet as a subject has to be introduced into every critical discourse—it’s already there anyway, that’s my point. Possibly the larger point of these paragraphs is to wonder if perhaps this is the defining feature of contemporary poetics: to be a poet in the nascent age of the Internet is to be in a nascent, inchoate state, unresolved and more often provisional than propositional (that is not to say irrelevant or irreal). A poetics emerging out of the liminal space between two worlds that are not in agonistic relation but totally immersed in each other. Writing out of those new bodies.
Oh, as one last note, and I sort of want to resolve to be super strict about this: I want to stop saying, “Oh, so and so is ‘bad’ or ‘good’ “on the Internet” but in real life is ‘the opposite’ or ‘nuance x’”. If someone I’ve met a few times and found totally approachable and nice and generous turns out to undertake reigns of terror and/or hatred and/or idiocy in comment boxes or something—why is this less relevant to an appraisal of one’s character than the so-called “real life” experience?
2. Speaking of prosody, I read or reread Alice Notley’s provisional definition, “Prosody is a real subject, how you or your thought becomes articulate in a precise time that won’t ever go away.” I like to read “time” in this sentence in at least two senses: the “time” of the musical composition, that is, the material and space of phonetics and its pause that’s the fuel for conversion into timelessness, as well as the “time” as the contemporary in which all writing is done.
3. It was another pretty great weekend for poetry in the Bay Area and there’s some more coming up! Last Friday, at the Artifact reading series, Michael Cross, Erika Staiti, and Matvei Yankelevich read to a happy and big and tipsy audience. Michael’s work seemed, at least, reliant on a lot of citationality, reference, an abyss of syntax and sentence function, a music clogged with the clang of prosodized battle. Erika’s piece was a long, syncopated, ambient poem about the negative or neutral body (and read this in numerous ways: the neutral or negative female body, queer body, classed body, etc.) which was then folded back on itself and read as palindrome-by-the-line. Which of course had the effect of neutralizing anything like propositionality in the first half. Matvei read from his translation of Kharms to much hooting and glee, damn. And then out of a composition book he read an excerpt, I think, of a long poem in progress called, um, “Composition Book.” I would really like to read that work on the page, but it had a lot of lyric ferocity and pathos—simultaneously smirky and tender in a way that Matvei and just a few others really pull off.
The afterparty was awesome, too.
4. It has been a terrific honor to guest blog for the Poetry Project Dot Org this month! Thanks you all!
5. Let me finish here with an exhortation in the world of jams. Actually, the cultural item for your appreciation is less of a jam and more than a tune. It’s “Party in the U.S.A.” by Miley Cyrus.
“Party” from one perspective is a song about the power of song to transform somatic symptoms of distress into absorptive rhythmic expressions of pleasure. The narrative of the tune is actually pretty strange. Miley “gets off the plane at LAX”, presumably straight from Nashville, and then enters two social scenes: a cab from which she gazes out upon Los Angeles, and then straight from the cab into the club, where she becomes the object of the gaze. If I wanted to be really annoying, I would say it’s like “Welcome To The Jungle” meets an episode of “Saved By The Bell” with the cast performed by members of Abba. God. That WAS annoying.
In both of these social scenes, Miley feels upset (“my tummy’s turning / and I’m feeling kind of homesick”) until a song comes on the radio which by virtue of the sheer familiarity of pop music, redeems her from the unfamiliar/uncanny and suddenly everything is going to be “okay.”
In line with the themes of contemporaneity I’ve been thinking about recently, “Party” does use tactics of citation, both in terms of its reference to a real world and the texture of some of its gestures. That is, the pop songs that come on the radio aren’t just any songs, they’re “the Jay-Z song” and “the Britney” song. And even though I don’t think I’ve convinced anyone of this, the “yeah” that Miley sings in this song is just straight up the Kelly Clarkson “yeah” of “Since You Been Gone,” which was written in part by the same evil genius Swede behind “Party” and which is also, like, my favorite song…maybe…ever.
Finally, though, I admit that the message of “Party” is disturbing (the problems the text suggests are really legible in the video, actually). I identify with the nausea of the rustic clown going to the big city, but the establishment of a national identity based on the narcosis of our pop music is too irresponsible to be taken as an injunction no matter how appealing that might be. Speaking of appealing, that chorus. oh my GOD.