Here is my greatest fear about blogging: It will suck up all my creative ideas—topics that really should belong in poems. There has to be some truth to this. I have not been writing many poems during this blogging period. Part of the problem is that I come to the blog in the same way that I come to a poem. I open a blank page and then I wait for a first line—when it comes, I throw myself into the line and hope that by the magic of habit or association of whatever it takes for the next word to come, that a whole entry will take place. I do this with poems. I start with a small idea. The idea does not even exist in my consciousness before I open the blank page. Then I write, quickly, fiercely and with a blind faith in the magic. Sometimes I fall short—things dry up, but most times a peculiar thing happens. I begin to pull from stored memories, conversations during the day, passages I have read in books, television shows, memories that I have stored away, to feed the poem and to determine what the poem is going to be about. For a long time, I have assumed that the sources for my play writing, my fiction writing, my non-fiction writing, etc. was always different—discrete and somehow brilliant organized in my head (more magic). Now, I am beginning to doubt this. The blog is the culprit, really. Take this entry—it could easily be the source of a fascinating poem. To you it may not quite seem that way, but I can tell already that a quite clever and moving poem could emerge out of this first line:


I am blogging too much these days
all my ideas are sucked up into
the machine of the mundane;
my compost brain needs heat
and time to seethe so that the gung
of verse can emerge, but these days
I am spading all the muck
from my brain to feed the blog
You can see where this could go, can’t you? It is rough, but there are moments. I would mention Imus in a beautifully slant way, then I might offer a reference to the storm ranging outside my window at the moment, and my anxiety about death, the news I am waiting for from the doctor who is reading my blogs and waiting for me to mention him before he sends me the news, whether good or bad—the doctor who is doing his own experiment to see how suffering and waiting can affect a poet; and the poem will end with a strangely elliptical reference to the doctor’s office where all the female staff gather around my questionnaire sheet to ooh and ah about how much my writing is like a woman’s and how they adore that because now they can read what is written there. Maybe it won’t end there. Maybe it will end with the compost that we have to start in the backyard where I have been chain-sawing the undergrowth and the glut of trees while it is still cool, and the remains of a rat I found under the leaves so long decomposed that it now smells like rotten leather.
None of those shifts would normally make it into a blog, but I am not talking about that stuff. I am talking about that first idea—that first line, the emotional weight of the declaration that the blogs are killing my art. Some of you would advise that I should just write the poem anyway. “What is wrong with a poem AND a blog coming out of the same material?” You will ask. Well, let me tell you. There is that problem of writing out the idea. Yes, it is possible to talk an idea out of its fertile place of possibility. It is a delicate place. It is a place that demands very little thought, very little calculation and very few conclusions. It is a place that demands that you sustain the emotion until you can actually start to write the thing down. But if you start to talk about it, or write about in a context that is not “poetic” it can die. So this blog/poem dilemma is dead as a poem, even if I have the first few lines of a daft. I am not going to write it. It does not interest me anymore. Nothing is wrong with the idea, but the calculation has been too much. I fear that I am killing too many poems that way. This is not a good thing for National Poetry Month, is it?
The one consolation I can find is rooted in my persistent self-doubt. All of this will make me write less poems and this may be a good thing. I know, instinctively, that this is nonsense. But I say it to myself, anyway. It is my way of being prepared for when someone will say that to me as an insult. Then I can trick myself into treating it as a joke that I have long played on myself so it can hurt me at all. That is the one consolation. Not much of a consolation, really.
As it turns out there are several other consolations, all of which are just as lame. Here are a few: I am actually putting together essays that could make for a good book. These are early drafts of a splendid book idea. At this rate I might have three hundred pages of writing—a book and a half already! Kind people have offered that as an incentive to persist with this blog. I allowed the illusion to settle in me as a kind of truth, but I have always known that it is vanity and nonsense. To turn these blogs into a coherent book I would have to work so hard that I might as well just write a book. The topics are all over the place. The pieces are becoming increasingly about blogging. A book about blogging is just not going to be in the cards. Deeply redundant. Take this entry for example. Perhaps there is a little hint of value in the paragraph about how I make poems. That would mean I have a third of a page of text here that is worth saving. Now I will have to know where it will be used. Taking out of context, it is going to look thin and trite. I would have to write ten more paragraphs to make it into something useful. That is not the deal I would make were I to hope to get a book or two out of these blogs.
The other wonderful upside of the blog is that it will make me famous. Please suppress your giggles out of decency and good manners. Here is the thing. My dose of fame or its benefits happened when the Poetry Foundation folks asked me to do the blog in the first place. I was tempted to ask them how they heard about me. I usually ask this question of people who seem to know me even though I may not know them. Usually, the degrees of separation are less that two. Sometimes there is a relative involved r someone I have bribed who is giving me an extra. So I did not ask, allowing myself to enjoy the illusion of fame. It does not get better than that. Here is how I know that I am not famous. When someone tells me they have read my book, I generally ask them why. I am genuinely startled when they tell me that they had bought the book independent of anyone I know personally telling them to do so. Once I taught a three hundred student class. For the rest of the academic year, complete strangers came up to me and began conversations about jokes I had made in class, and it was the most frustrating and maddening thing for me because I would stand there smiling and trying my best to get a clue of where I know this person from who seems to know so much about my silly jokes. A famous person would be cool about this kind of thing. They would assume that people know them just because they are famous. The blog has not made me famous. I still know who is writing to me most of the time.
The blog will be great practice for when I become a regular columnist for a really famous publication. You will note a trend here. I am listing all the reasons why seventy-one million people blog. There is something absolutely unrealistic about these expectations, and yet one continues to flirt with them even if one does not quite believe them (notice the third person shift).
So the real question I am asking is whether I am killing many great poems by blogging, and whether it will be worth it at the end of the day. At the very least, I can say that this is a splendid idea for people to contemplate during National Poetry Month.
I take one consolation that I do believe has absolute validity. These blogs will offer a lasting record of my thoughts during a specific period in time that should interest, at the very least, my children and my grandchildren (when they come) and perhaps the entire Dawes clan when the family tree really branches out. I am fascinated by how completely engrossed I have been in reading my grandfather diaries of the 1930s which he wrote in a small large account ledger. I was grateful for his wonderful penmanship. His diary was not, strictly speaking, a recording of his thoughts. It was something like a ledger of his activities—a log, if you will. He used it to keep track of his accounts, of the details of his day-to-day work as a headmaster and a teacher and as the head of a family, and of the cricket scores for the Sunday matches he would play. He would list the cost for stamps or a bottle of milk, or the distance he had to drive on an errand, etc. It is a remarkable record of minutiae, and I read it, line by line, studying it in search of clues of his emotional state, his mental state, his views about his children, including my father. In one entry, he writes down the full text of a sermon he is to give. He quotes from Shakespeare and Tennyson, selects a passage from the bible and writes in graceful prose, his homily—dispassionate, wise, and quietly sincere—the language of a Victorian gentleman.
My blogs would not be quite as useful for historians as his are, but I do know that as a record of the thoughts, preoccupations and silliness of their ancestor, my blogs will please my erstwhile descendants. So now I know why I am wrecking such great poetry. It is for my descendants. Here is to descendants! Here’s to the destruction of all nuclear weapons (what would be the point of posterity, after all?)! Here’s to blogs and more blogs!

Originally Published: April 15th, 2007

Born in Ghana in 1962, Kwame Dawes spent most of his childhood in Jamaica. As a poet, he is profoundly influenced by the rhythms and textures of the country, citing in a recent interview his “spiritual, intellectual, and emotional engagement with reggae music.” His book Bob Marley: Lyrical Genius (2007)...

  1. April 16, 2007
     Rachel Zucker

    Kwame, I loved this post. I've been struggling with some of the same questions -- the blog sucking my time, diverting poetry energy, making me wonder what the point of it, of poetry, of all writing is. Here's something so obvious: you might not be famous now because of this blog, but you certainly have new readers (including me) who are so glad to be introduced to your writing.
    Thanks for asking tough questions, RZ

  2. April 16, 2007
     Kenneth Goldsmith

    Kwame, It's clear to me why you feel the way you do: you're getting paid to blog here. As Brian Eno says, "Art is everything we don’t need to do." Blogging here is something you must do (at least for three months), hence it ain't art. -- Kenneth

  3. April 17, 2007
     Sena Marie

    this was quite hilarious to read. I never though you of all peopll would get sucked into the world of blogging. Tut tut tut. But still, quite entertaining. Keep up the good work *wink*.
    p.s. can we go driving...pleeeeease!? 0-:

  4. April 17, 2007
     Kwame Dawes

    Dear Rachel, that is quite a nice thought, and you are right.
    Kenneth, you have to be wrong, I think. The day getting paid for art someone disqualified art is the day we will have to dismiss most of the great works of art of western civilization. Anyway, I am not blogging for the money--let's not forget, the amount can't come even close to the word count of my obsessive output. Not sure about you, but I NEED to do art.
    Eno is wrong, even if he is clever and even if his work on Paul Simon's new album was a touch of brilliance that has given Simon yet another life. He is wrong about art if that is what he really thinks about art. After all, by that definition, spitting on the sidewalk or pissing in public would be art. You see the problem?
    And you, my daughter Sena Marie, yes we will go driving, but what do you think about my writing? (15 year olds with e-mail: yeesh!)