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Facebook & the New Poetry Community

By Annie Finch

I should be packing right now. I’m just about to get on an early plane to NYC with my daughter who, thanks to a great Jetblue deal, I am bringing to the Museum of Natural History and then the Dusie kollektiv reading and performance tonight at ACA Gallery. So, yes, I should be packing. But someone sent me a link to a Facebook events page for the reading—
friend-wheel

.
So this morning I clicked on the link, went to the page, and clicked on “invite friends.” it took me so long to scroll through everyone and locate some NY poets that I decided to play for a few moments and finally start a Friends list for poets.

Twenty minutes later, my list of poets is at 106 and I’ve barely started with the D’s (just got through the Davids). As I click, each little colorful square and name takes me to a different place. These poets are all over the map in every sense. And weirdly, I feel a connection as I click on each name, even the ones I know only by name. Maybe it’s the photos. Maybe it’s the fact that they are in a little box labelled “Friends.” Or maybe it’s the way they juxtapose themselves so disarmingly, charmingly, blatantly, bizarrely, dauntingly, hauntingly, with the poets on either sides of them. It’s as if each one feels to some extent like part of my community.

What does it mean that, for the first time in the history of poetry, a poet can maintain anything like awareness, let alone a sense of connection, to such a gigantic number of other poets? Not only do we have instant access to reading their work online; we can also develop some kind of social awareness of them, whether through meeting them at conferences and readings or simply through browsing facebook updates and youtube clips.

It’s easy to think of all this potential knowledge as at best a handy tool, or a fun if frivolous toy– and at worst, in grumpy moods, as a consumer of time and energy for no particular reason, or even to fear that the tradeoff in lack of depth and intensity of connection, compared to, say, how well Keats knew his small handful of poet-friends, is detrimental to useful interaction and poetic growth.

But I don’t believe it. As I clicked on the names and faces of poets and thought about what I know of each one’s work and life and aesthetic goals, prizewinners and students and even the deceased (hi Craig!), perfpos and langpos and newfos, all merrily juxtaposed by the great equalizer of the alphabet, I was moved. Humbled. Awed. This is something new in the life of poetry, and I’m excited to be part of it and to see where it may take us.

FOOTNOTE:
Back from New York, I see that someone has written about this post on a blog called Generation Bubble, which describes itself this way: “Generation Bubble surveys the psychic landscape of the “bubble generation,” a term we’ve coined to describe the progeny of the great age of deregulation. The ones the Culture Industry so breathlessly panders to. The ones who inform media content. The postliterate. The MySpacers. The FaceBookers. The freak-dancers. The body-obsessed. The overexercisers. The blasé wearers of overpriced slave-sewn garments. The pathologically other-directed. The aggressively lifestyle-oriented. The tunnel-visioned enablers of the status quo. The cohort of History’s end.”

It’s rather satisfying to have my post noted outside the poetry community (those who know me personally, with my herbal-infusion-brewing, bookish ways, would be taken aback to see me labelled, by implication, post-literate, let alone a body-obsessed overexerciser!–but hey, that part is kind of fun!). I’m also amused by the way the new context changes some of the resonances of my words. GB’s response makes me realize that a good part of the exhilaration prompting this post came from a situation that those outside the poetry world might not grok: the fact that Facebook provides such a refreshing, relieving change from the marginalization that I and, I think, many poets feel in the culture at large. Unless we live in a huge city we are likely to be the only poet, or one of a tiny handful of poets, in our town or physical community–but at least online we can be part of a large, thriving, diverse group of people. I think GB’s idea that my sense of the benefits of Facebook to poetry is “tantalizingly vague” is based on their ignorance of this context, and also their ignorance of another bit of historical background implied by my post: relief at a new spirit of curiosity and communication that seems to be moving through the poetry world in marked contrast to the fights and freezes that characterized the “poetry wars” of the last few decades. Addressing those I assumed would probably be, on balance, familiar with this history, my post was also implying that valuable multi-aesthetic discussions, influences, and alliances could well result from the new cross-poetics awareness that Facebook allows and even fosters.

That said, I really appreciate that GB is keeping an eye on the ways people are using new technologies with an eye to how deeper human fare in all this. So what do you think? Does GB have a point that Facebook represents poetry’s facile lapping-up of numbing high-tech substitutes for real thinking and deep engagement with language? What do you Harrietteers think? What are the drawbacks and benefits of the “new poetry community” ?

Comments (13)

  • On May 19, 2009 at 8:56 am Robin Kemp wrote:

    Annie, I, too, have a Poets list on FB—it’s a lot easier when you have a reading or something to get the word out. (On the other hand, if I were reading in a particular geographical area, I would invite whoever lived nearby in case they might be interested.) I avoided FB for as long as possible until old CREWRT-L friend Palmer Hall lured me to that digital Hotel California. Back in the early/mid-90s, when the Internet was still all-text and only a few people had UNIX accounts via their university, I found the WELL and CREWRT-L. My Crew friends are still my friends to this day–in both virtual and real life. One phenomenon was the fun of meeting face-to-face for the first time at AWP in Atlanta. I threw a party/reading and we went to various places together in addition to AWP. FB’s premise is being able to see what people look like, but we lose the neat surprise factor of F2F meetings–and the parsing of how we’d *imagined* each other to look and sound versus our real, three-dimensional selves.

  • On May 19, 2009 at 11:18 am Jason Mashak wrote:

    Thanks, Annie. You’re right on so many levels here, and I would add that, for someone living in a foreign country, the tool aspect of facebook is priceless — not only as a primary method of communication with family, friends, old classmates/students, etc., but also as a way to connect with likeminded peers I would never have the opportunity to “meet” otherwise.

  • On May 19, 2009 at 4:04 pm Cathy Halley wrote:

    The Poetry Foundation has a Facebook fan page. I invite you all to become our friends. We’re going to be posting a make your own poetry video call soon. We’ve got 953 fans. Be our 954th…

    http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/pages/Poetry-Foundation-Poetry-Magazine/33796084659?ref=ts

  • On May 20, 2009 at 3:58 pm Cathy Halley wrote:

    Speaking of Facebook, those of you who like to make little videos are encouraged to make your own video of a public domain poem. We call it Poetry Without Pity.

    More here:

    http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poetryfilmcontest.html

  • On May 21, 2009 at 10:21 am Ananda Leeke wrote:

    Wonderful insights.

  • On May 21, 2009 at 12:22 pm Cara wrote:

    I love your open and embracing spirit, Annie. Refreshing.

    And I, too, am glad that we have media/tech/Culture watchers, even if they are, as you point out, perhaps ingnorant of this particular outlier community.

    Provocative topic!

    Where would the Orange Revolution be without internet?

    Where would the Dusie Kollektiv be?

    Small Press Distribution?

    Micropress publishing?

    My partner thinks that Facebook can be objectifying even when its powers are used for “good” – eg. connectivity between like-minded readers. Yes, absolutely, this is a flattened experience of a person. And there is great temptation to hyper-ize thought, speech, experience. In fact, I have found myself away from the machine thinking of my activity in terms of what would I say about it as a FB status update. Rather than bemoan this, I try to just notice it. Like other mind clutter. Is this clutter aggravated by the speed and intensity of net? Likely. A con with any pro, no?

    Nothing is a substitute for face to face contact, of course. But as we saw Tuesday night at the Dusie performance, we all had that very human amazing experience because the internet brought us there.

    And ditto ditto on the flux in the best sense of energy through the world wide web vs. the “freezes” (perfect!) of the us / them divides in poetry. Now through blogs, etc. we can all duke it out more frequently! This keeps us talking at least…

    For silence, I turn off the machine. But as Cage has always noted, no such thing anyway. So today, I go hiking. I’ve told you about it. I’ll resist updating my “page”!

  • On May 21, 2009 at 2:51 pm Generation Bubble wrote:

    Dear Ms. Finch:

    We at Generation Bubble were delighted to see that you graciously took the time to consider our remarks on your earlier post and to comment on them. Ours is a young site, just getting its feet under it, so such attention is both flattering and useful.

    We read with dismay, however, your “footnote” that addresses our remarks on you original post. We regard it as an unfortunate misrepresentation of our site and its content, conflating as it does our “About” page with the entry concerning your post. You reproduce the “About” page verbatim and in its entirety. The post devoted to your original remarks, on the other hand, goes virtually uncited, a few scattered words and your own paraphrasing being about the only gestures to it.

    To our minds, articulating a theoretical position is quite distinct from mounting an ad hominem attack. This, we believe, your footnote fails take into account. You’ll notice that in our post we take great pains to quote you exhaustively, and that we limit ourselves the content of your post. In it you’ll find no belittling conjecture. It’s a shame you don’t show us the same courtesy.

    Instead you dismiss us as profane ignoramuses uninitiated into — or, indeed, even unacquainted with — the freemasonry of contemporary poets. Such insulting surmises do little to encourage constructive debate, and do quite a bit to stifle it.

    Respectfully,
    Generation Bubble

  • On May 21, 2009 at 3:48 pm AMJC wrote:

    community shmoonity
    there is only viral
    vectoring
    & re-vectoring.

    eg.

    go here:
    THE NEW AMERICAN POEM

    http://www.blazevox.org/bk-ac.htm

    dare u.

  • On May 21, 2009 at 7:03 pm Annie FInch wrote:

    Dear Generation Bubble,

    I’m delighted to hear from you on Harriet! Please don’t think I didn’t notice that you quoted my piece with great care and accuracy. You did. I provide a hot link to Generation Bubble in my own post, and my remarks were built on the assumption that most readers will check over there to see what you actually said; that’s why I didn’t quote or paraphrase your words as fully as I might have.

    On the other hand, perhaps you are feeling a similar feeling to how I felt, when I first found myself mentioned on your blog. It was startling (especially since that post is very likely the first time I have EVER published a word about technology– in fact, one of the most consistent criticism reviewers make of my poetry is that it avoids to an unusual extent any mention of the kind of contemporary, technological “real world” you are, wisely I think, trying to keep in check).

    The reason I suggest that you may have had the same kind of being-attacked feeling I reveal in my footnote is that, if you look back over my post, you’ll see that I am careful to say it was only “by implication” that I am associated with the charges summarized on your homepage. And the only description I give of how I am treated in your post is to say that your site’s “context changes some of the resonances of my words.” That seems hard to dispute.

    My footnote makes three other statements about GB. One is that you are “outside the poetry world” (which I assume because I didn’t see any other post specifically about poetry on your site). The others are that you are “ignorant” of how marginalized poets tend to feel, and the last is that you are also ignorant of some particular internecine politics that have been preoccupying poets the last decade or so. The last two statements follow from the first; this may be a slight stretch, but they are not unreasonable implications and certainly weren’t meant as any kind of insult to you, but if anything, as the reverse, mild self-deprecation on the part of poetry (if you look back at former Harriet posts by myself and others lately, you’ll see quite a few that have mused over poetry’s apparent isolation and marginality nowadays). The fact that you were cared enough to be insulted by being called ignorant of the poetry world is very flattering to all of us, so thank you, in a weird way, for that. . .

    and also for the renewed lesson in one of the most intriguing things I’ve been learning lately: that self-deprecation often ends up hurting others instead of ourselves, and that it really is wisest to avoid it at all costs. I wish I had.

    Finally, I would never imply that you were ignoramuses. In fact, I considered, when first posting, mentioning three things: your writerly care in paraphrasing and responding to my post, your apt quoting of Quentin Tarantino (to the effect, as I recall, that “poetry can’t be written on the computer”) and your intriguing use of Ibsen on your homepage. I now might wish I had mentioned those things; at least I”m mentioning them here.

    I’m about to head out soon for a long weekend (you may appreciate that I’ll be going to a cabin with no electricity or telephone where i spend as much of my time as I can), so I won’t be around for a few days after tomorrow morning. But if you still feel, on balance, that something in my original post is inaccurate and should be adjusted, please let me know here or, perhaps better, by email, and, thanks to the internet, I will be able seriously to consider it.

    chers,
    Annie Finch

    Annie

  • On May 21, 2009 at 7:05 pm Annie FInch wrote:

    Cara and Robin, That’s exactly it. It’s the skillful mix between the techno and the real that seems to yield the best results… Thanks for commenting–

    And thanks, Amanda!

  • On May 23, 2009 at 1:02 pm melissa wrote:

    apparently the avant garde still uses myspace:

    http://www.myspace.com/142100043

    http://www.myspace.com/104185547

  • On May 23, 2009 at 8:07 pm Robert wrote:

    The Internet has always been a remarkable means to unite special interest groups irrespective of location. “Social networking” is a natural extension of the same principles as early bulletin-board systems (BBSes) and Internet relay chat (IRC). The difference is that the web is now ubiquitous, fast and easy to use. And sites like Facebook only make it easier, having reached a tipping point of popularity such that one can now actually find like-minded and sympatico “friends.” It’s great, especially for those living in remote locations, with a low count of poets-per-square-inch. As the popularity of contemporary poetry continues to wane, and poetry increasingly becomes a niche interest, social networks connect those of us who still care about poetry, giving us a virtual community as vibrant as any major metropolitan center in the days before pop music and television nudged poetry out of the limelight for good. Perhaps we can therefore stop fretting about poetry’s popularity overall, and enjoy the fact that we can connect with poetry, poets, and poetry-lovers as never before.

  • On May 25, 2009 at 12:19 am Ellen Moody wrote:

    Dear Annie,

    I’ll address this a bit, from partly outside a poetry perspective. I too am ambivalent about facebook and other venues (goodreads, livejournal — which I’ve begun to blog on). Am I scratching on a wall others have scratched on and this has no meaning? There is the real problem of fake identities and such people hurting others. But a little time and common sense can alleviate or prevent that. Lastly, the multi-relationships of these sites are superficial, but they are a beginning.

    It seems to me those who protest against this have in their heads some ideal of deep real friends they have otherwise and scorn or dismiss this as inferior. But what if you’ve got no one anyway else? The Net has given hope and friends (for these relationships can be deepened, especially through blogs and listservs) and even partners/spouses, worlds for people to belong to and communicate with. What we write often enables us to know people in ways we can’t face-to-face too.

    So I find the complaints against these large vast sites while having some merit are at a fundamental level heartless.

    I know you and would not but for this Net.
    Ellen


Posted in Uncategorized on Tuesday, May 19th, 2009 by Annie Finch.