I’ve never blogged before. That sounds like an air-clearing confession, and in some ways, it is. Although I enjoy blogs, I have always done so covertly – which means I’ve been the sort of person who responds to a blog by E-mailing its author privately instead of posting a response publicly. One’s most intimate E-mail is always, of course, just a forward away and, therefore, hardly private. Blog posts, however, are so much more public and un-take-back-able. One used to be able to incinerate embarrassing mail and juvenilia with confidence – with a good old fireplace or steel waste bin. Not so with these words.

But it’s not that I’m simply a Luddite who still dials-in to the Web (although I am this); indeed, I’ve rarely been one to post letters to the editors of print magazines, let alone virtual ones. In fact, if I could take back the one letter I published in Poetry, a couple of years ago, I would. I still stand by the letter’s comments. But I now think the letter was a little shrill, was less about communicating those comments than hearing my voice speak them – hearing my voice multiplied and amplified by some very large integer: say, Poetry’s circulation.
And that’s the catch with great forums like this, and the reason why I haven’t, until now, fully embraced them: they offer the more impassioned types – hotheads like me, who really do need to take time to think through their positions – a wide, instant, and all-too-tempting platform for opinions. Now, if one can be witty and civil in an off-the-cuff, on-the-run way – which is, more and more, what the Web seems to demand of us – then an electronic conch shell, punted from Piggy to Piggy, is going to be a great thing. Pass it along, I say! But the Web isn’t always a witty, civil place. In a recent and provocative piece for Poetry, Adam Kirsch wondered if “the best strategy for writers in the age of the Internet [is] to ignore the Internet and look down on it,” to leave it for the “non-writers” to rule since it’s a “Hobbesian” world anyway, where the lack of editorial mediation has lowered the bar and produced warring, Road Warrior-like conditions (Mad Max metaphor mine). While Kirsch’s suggestion to abandon the Web may be extreme, I wonder if his point can’t be revised just a bit. Perhaps the best strategy for writers in the age of the Internet – especially for writers like me, who are prone to blunders and benefit from rigorous editorial intervention – is to navigate the Web, and especially blogs, with a kind of self-imposed, print-era prudence. This may entail drafting blog posts (at least the initial ones) longhand, typing them up only when they’re just right, and then withholding them until every one of their words has been weighed. After all, although the reduced presence of editors in the DIY-world of the Web is surely good for some version of democracy, it isn’t necessarily going to be good for the quality of that democracy’s cultural products. More and more, as the 21st-century rolls out, writers – blurring with (and into) bloggers – will to need to be their own most ruthless editors.
Then again, many feared the printing press would yield a deluge of homemade texts – handbills, leaflets, manifestos, proclamations, proto-zines, and other forms of Ur-spam, all the more pesky for being physical, soot-like. It did, of course, but we did okay. Perhaps the blog is merely the electronic embodiment of a process that began long ago, and I need to get over myself and get blogging already.
Still, if anything has changed since the days when an Alexander Pope, kicking against mass mediocrity, composed The Dunciad, it’s got to be the speed at which we dash off and upload our own Dunciads. I recently spent three days agonizing over a silly, one-page letter to Harper’s, protesting a piece in the magazine. Will I earmark the same amount of time to agonize over the drafting of these blog entries? And will I hesitate to post my entries as I hesitated to send that letter? They say hockey players tussle with one another more often than other athletes because their bodies operate at such high speeds, reducing their ability to reflect on the appropriate responses to body-checks and other affronts. Does the same apply to bloggers? Does the increased tempo of the Web increase our tempers, resulting in rapid-fire retorts that would’ve left Virginia Woolf shell-shocked? And have any of you – especially those of you who are old hands at this – regretted a blog posting, an E-mail, or even a letter to an editor? This may sound silly coming from someone who is essentially contracted to post blogs for the next few months, but does anyone else out there feel the need to just slow down?
Anyway, my apologies for this overly long and anxious post, which I probably needed to air more than you needed to read. You're witnessing someone cross a threshold which you’ve likely already crossed. This may be a lot like watching a child perform some basic, fine-motor-skill-ish feat for the first time; the feat’s a big deal, but mainly for the child.
As for myself, I live in Toronto, and I read, Harriet regularly, so I feel like I already know some of you, which, I realize, sounds creepy and stalker-like, but which, in the spirit of the un-take-back-able blog entry, I’ll leave in. And I look forward to getting to know you further, to discussing some poems, and to taking body-checks when warranted (which I suspect will be often). Actually, perhaps it’s not so much about body-checks as good old checks-and-balances. Perhaps in happy experiments like Harriet, we get to be one another’s editors, which is just another word for collaborators.

Originally Published: January 14th, 2009

Jason Guriel is a poet and critic whose work has appeared in such influential publications as Poetry, Slate, Reader's Digest, The Walrus, Parnassus, Canadian Notes & Queries, The New Criterion, and PN Review. His poetry has been anthologized in The Best Canadian Poetry in English, and in 2007, he was...

  1. January 15, 2009
     unreliable narrator

    As it happens, I already regret THIS VERY COMMENT.
    And yes, I do think on a daily basis about pulling the plug. I've closely scrutinized what's happened to my writing since I opened my first email account in 1992 (oh Pine!) and the results are inconclusive. Though inconclusive in such a way that I nonetheless can't open my web browser without thinking about deleting my online self. And remembering the silent month I spent at an off-the-grid art colony, and the hundred-page manuscript I wrote there, on a manual typewriter where I had to rewind the ribbon by hand.
    Warm welcome, albeit to the island of misfit toys–

  2. January 16, 2009
     Jason Guriel

    Thanks for the comment, Unreliable Narrator! I'm glad to be here.

  3. January 16, 2009
     Mary Meriam

    Hi, Jason. Among the POETRY essayists, my favorites are you, Clive James, and Kay Ryan. I really enjoy your kitchen criticism. I am also a slow, non-blogger. So I have to spend at least half an hour persuading myself to post a message: No one will read my message. Maybe someone will read it, but they’ll forget it instantly. So what if my message winds up on google, who’s googling me anyhow. Someday the entire blogosphere will be washed away. Life on the planet is ending anyhow. So, you see, there’s nothing to worry about.

  4. January 17, 2009
     Jason Guriel

    Mary, thanks for the generous words. And thanks for overcoming your posting paralysis. James and Ryan are among my favorite Poetry essayists. (Michael Hofmann and Carmine Starnino, too.)

  5. January 17, 2009
     Zachariah Wells

    Jason, to expand on something Mary Meriam says, I think blogging and other web content, far from being un-take-backable, is perilously perishable. I have an "archive" of some thousands of emails, growing more ungainly by the day, and I live between a state of anxiety that they will instantly disappear and the paralyzing awareness of what a Herculean labour it would be to render them less vulnerable to annihilation.
    As far as blogging goes, I haven't regretted much of anything I've put online--including drafts of dubious poems-in-progress--but that likely has more to do with my disposition being more devil-may-carethan most people's--my blog, after all, is called "Career Limiting Moves"--than because of the worthiness of the content itself. Ultimately, anyone who would permanently hold against me something said in passing isn't someone whose good opinion is going to mean much to me. As a former co-worker in a less-than-literary workplace used to say, "fuck 'em if they can't take a joke."

  6. January 18, 2009
     Jason Guriel

    Great points, Zach. Thanks for them. And for the "perilously perishable" record, I'm not afraid of some career limiting moves. Weirdly enough, I've rarely second-guessed the decision to publish a tough review of someone's book in a magazine. But a casual post online, even one of affirmation, has often led to paralyzing, Hamlet-grade indecision. But this may be a "disposition" thing, as you suggest. I'm not a devil-may-care kind of guy. Or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, a guy with a real reason to be indecisive. Like Hamlet.
    Speaking of whom, I remember once reading, in DFW's Hamlet-esque novel Infinite Jest, some useful words, which may be from somewhere else, and which, since I can't find the page they're on, I'll paraphrase: "You'll care a lot less what people think of you, when you realize how little they do." That's a mantra I'll be mumbling under my breath for the next few months and, hopefully, beyond, as I venture forth, albeit wobbly. (And by the way, Zach, I enjoyed the far from "dubious" poem-in-progress you recently posted. Next time, I'll post the praise on your blog.)

  7. January 18, 2009
     unreliable narrator

    @Jason: Wallace's phrase is also a time-tested AA bromide. Similarly: "The ones who care don't matter, and the ones who matter don't care."
    And...slow blogging! (Which is really just, er, writing; but, well, someone had to come up with it.)

  8. January 20, 2009
     Manoel Cartola

    This is very interesting, but I don't know if I totally agree with the attitude of this piece.
    Blogging is in fact as valid as any other "form" of writing, yet with different rules: driving on the Autobahn instead of Mulberry street (or Michigan Avenue).
    Blogging, to me, is an ugly word. "Blog" itself just sounds a little uncouth... grotesque: fecal.
    In most cases it is.
    However, there is something to be said of this:
    Writing without editing can itself be an art, impromptu-- (improvisation).
    And in my very humble opinion, I think the blogosphere is also writing without a net-- a practice that is risky but also takes its own brand of skill:
    Some dishes are best served raw.
    Some music is best heard live.
    We (us lowly peons of the non-establishment literary world) don't always need gloves here in the savage wilderness:
    (yet let it be known that I don't have a blog, and that most bloggers are very boring-- almost as boring as the university literary magazines are... or as Adam Kirsch's poem's are: Waking" by Adam Kirsch.)
    If one wants to keep one's poems/writings polished and enthroned-porcelain then by all means stay seated. I think social climbing is what Kirsch wishes these lowly bloggers were up to, however most of these bloggers don't use their real names so how does that gel with his argument?
    -Manoel Cartola

  9. January 20, 2009

    Most bloggers use their real names.

  10. January 20, 2009
     Manoel Cartola

    None I know or have read. But you may be correct. The statistics will be hard to find but they will probably prove you right.
    I think this is relevant:

  11. January 20, 2009
     Jason Guriel

    Thanks for the comments, Manoel. But if blogging is a "valid...'form' of writing" - a point with which I agree - then why use language like "us lowly peons of the non-establishment literary world" to describe bloggers? This language and the repetition of "lowly" sound bitter, and passive-aggressive bitterness would only confirm Kirsch's points - points which I'm not entirely sold on, as my initial post suggests.
    And while I'm all for improvisation, awkward grammar ("'Blog' itself just sounds a little uncouth... grotesque: fecal. In most cases it is. "), knee-jerk generalizations ("most of these bloggers don't use their real names"), and knee-jerk shifts in position ("The statistics will be hard to find but they will probably prove you right") don't strike me as compelling examples of improvisation. In other words, I think blog posts benefit from careful revision - which was my original point.

  12. January 21, 2009
     Manoel Cartola

    Hi Jason,
    Well, this is all too simple: what you are referring (quoting me) to isn't "blogging" in the sense I was referring to. You were quoting my "comments" upon an "original blog" (I was referring to "original blog posts"... not "comments" upon them). I'm not revising this comment right now, I am writing it as if I were speaking it. Awkward grammar it may be, but you understand don't you? And, the awkward grammar was a conscious decision because it illustrated the analogy the way I intended. (Though please parse the sentence to show me how it is grammatically "incorrect.")
    I don't think you get sarcasm of "lowly peons." Sadly, intonation and pitch may be one of the limitations of internet communication. No bitterness: I think you may have been superimposing your wishes of what I feel upon the text I wrote to validate your own position. Like I said, I don't have a blog and I was merely showing the other side of the argument (if there is one). I think we should avoid false-elitism regarding blogging and the spontaneous discussion blogs create. I do not think bloggers are attempting to climb the social ladder up to literary stardom (if such a thing exists nowadays). The ladders are largely academic and aren't found on the internet. In my experience, the climbers have usually been the academes and workshoppers. The bloggers who I am familiar with are the ones who don't care about the ladders and ar more comfortable on the ground.
    Most of the blogs I've read don't use their real names. Then again, they might be of a different demographic (and blogs themselves often have a title other than the author's name, which was my point).
    Most bloggers I know are young "writers" who do it for fun, enjoyment, and not for some kind of rats on rats form of social advancement that Mr. Kirsch would convey.

  13. January 22, 2009
     Mary Meriam

    Hi, Jason. I thought blogs involved a certain cavalier word-slinging over pots of coffee. Why carefully revise? I've been asking myself. But if you say so.... here's my reading of Michael Robbins' "Alien vs. Predator." I'm not sure where to post it, so I'm going with the careful critic's blog.
    The poem is a weird amalgam of langpo and formalism, with its impenetrable surface, stabs at rhyme, and cinquains. “Aliens” are the avants (inhuman, impossible to understand) in opposition to the “Predators,” the formalists (“preying” on received forms). The poem is like a Darth Vader mask: hard, plastic, aggressive. The word “lonely” is a light sword pointed at humans and their ridiculous feelings. The poem carries on like a crazy street preacher whose pain has overwhelmed any hope of pleasure.

  14. January 22, 2009

    Mary, I disagree. The poem has almost no langpo or formalism in it, but is instead a gleeful pastiche of Muldoon and Seidel. I like it a lot. Give it time, you might too. Might not.

  15. January 22, 2009
     Jason Guriel

    Mary, many thanks for the comment and review. As already stated, "I need to get over myself and get blogging already." As for the "careful critic" bit, I try to take care, when I can, but that's only because I'm well aware of my capacity for error, which isn't small!
    And as for Michael Robbins' New Yorker poem, I like it, actually. Great title, great first line, nice internal rhyme, etc. I dig the "point being" repetition, too.
    But I also enjoy your fun reading of it, particularly the "Darth Vader mask" bit. I would like to see more critical writing like that, actually, as my other thread suggests. Thanks for posting your review of the poem here!

  16. January 22, 2009
     Mary Meriam

    hmm, Jordan, how do you know I don't like Michael's poem? I'm not even sure if I do or don't. I have read it a number of times, quite closely, and I did read the Voice article, so.....
    Jason, I just read your visual poetry post. I'm a fledgling critical writer, so I was happy to hear what you said about enthusiasm - of that, I've got plenty. Show me the poem - I'll do the close reading! Critical writing interests me much more than the blog-response sort of thing, though, of course, it is fun getting to know Harriet and her denizens.

  17. January 23, 2009

    Mary - I stand corrected.

  18. March 5, 2009
     michael robbins

    Am just finding this discussion (have not haunted Harriet for a while): many thanks for taking the time to think about my poem, Mary, Jordan, & Jason. I particularly like the idea of the poem as a Darth Vader mask, though I'd have to back up Jordan & say that it has no langpo in it & isn't about meta-poetical concerns (except insofar as any poem is). But that's cool: I'm really flattered that you read & thought about it, Mary.

  19. March 6, 2009
     Jason Guriel

    Thanks, Michael. I'm not sure if Jordan and Mary are still following this thread, but I enjoyed your poem. And speaking of very cool critical language - a la the Darth Vader mask - I really admired your recent reviews in the print magazine and the suggestion that "Bidart is one of those rare artists, like Sonic Youth or John Ashbery, whose every new work is worth buying the day it appears on the shelves." I'm not a huge Ashbery fan, but it's still an apt, nicely put point. I love, too, the line "when the world is weird and reverberating, before thesauruses have been consulted."

  20. March 6, 2009
     Mary Meriam

    Michael, thanks, but please tell me then, are alien and predator referring to movies? Because the last movie I saw, just about, was Star Trek, hence.
    Jason, thanks to you, too. I'm just about beside myself that you think what I said is cool. True cool would have to be your latest - Going Negative - just marvelous. More, more!

  21. March 6, 2009
     Mary Meriam

    Did I say Star Trek? I meant STAR WARS, which I saw when it first came out, and that was my last movie.

  22. March 6, 2009
     Former Berkeley Girl

    Hi Mary,
    If I recall correctly, "Alien vs. Predator" *is* a movie that brings together two franchises. Either that, or I'm confusing it with "Freddy vs. Jason."

  23. March 6, 2009
     Jason Guriel

    Mary, thanks for the generous words. I plan on doing more readings of poems I like, on Harriet, so feel free to add your much-appreciated readings of things you appreciate to my threads.
    And yes, Michael's poem's title refers to a movie, Alien Vs. Predator, which draws from two movie franchises. (The first installment of the Alien franchise, starring Sigourney Weaver, came out circa the first Star Wars trilogy, so you may remember it.)
    I gather the movie to which Michael's title refers is a bad one, so you're probably not missing too much; I haven't seen the movie, though, so maybe I'm missing something (and maybe it's a good flick, after all). But I still enjoy Michael's poem in the Eliotic sense: it's a thing communicating (and entertaining) before it's understood, etc.

  24. March 6, 2009
     Mary Meriam

    Jason, I do remember the Alien, with Weaver - not that I saw it - just from general awareness of pop culture. And thanks for inviting me to your threads - if I had time, sir, time! However, I wanted to tell you that my first three book reviews (which were actually written for a different readership) are forthcoming in RATTLE (3/25, 4/10, 4/30) here: http://www.rattle.com/blog/ So I'm pretty excited about that. Possibly more Darth Vader mask weirdness in store from the fledgling critic.

  25. March 6, 2009
     michael robbins

    Yeah, I haven't seen the movie either, but that's where the title comes from. It's not so difficult to find metaphorical analogues for the titular creatures. I was struck by the resonance each term has for us now, living in our gated communities at the end of capitalism (to be reductive about it, something permissible in a comment stream I should think). But it's also funny, I think, & I'm especially tickled that the poem is now in the top 20 Google results for "alien vs. predator."
    Jason, thanks so much for yr kind words! I admire yr reviews very much as well, & I'm not just saying that to be reciprocal.

  26. March 6, 2009
     Jason Guriel

    Thanks, Michael. And that is funny, the high hit rating in Google; I wonder what the creators of AVP would think about the poem...
    And congrats, Mary, about the reviews. Just great. I'm looking forward to them.

  27. April 5, 2009
     Rick Ramdeen

    Jason, blogging, on the interweb - brave new world indeed. Just when I was losing interest in the internet. I don't get the whole YouTube phenomenon - watching poor quality America's Funniest Videos. Although I do appreciate someone taking the time to put up Style Council videos. Now I actually have something worthwhile to read, when I don't feel like working (Facebook is blocked at work, so is my personal email - arrgh). \r
    I did not however, take too long to think, or write this comment (mostly due the Chardonnay I've been enjoying tonight). But this is what it's all about it isn't it - you take your time posting, and I quick-draw a comment.\r
    Looking forward to reading a great deal more!