unlike astrid – who has presented her entire paper in its fineness – i am as always in favour of doing things by halves, or quarters, or less if possible. here’s the first part of what i recently read aloud in canberra (replete with arch-post-delivery edits):
My first encounter with the internet was in 1996 when I began University. Before that such a thing existed, but it was kept safely locked away in the library. Using it meant liaising with the school librarian, and I didn’t like her.
I studied computing at school without the internet. It wasn’t needed. I imagined I would design computer games.
When I began tertiary study (in mathematics) internet traffic (implying thoroughfare) had become a commercial reality. Accordingly, we were given email accounts, web access, and server storage space. I created a ‘Derek Motion’ Homepage, my first virtual identity. Perhaps like a lot of things that you look back on from a present-day viewpoint, it seemed a simple thing to do then; but full of interesting complexities now.
That homepage is lost to the virtual ethers now (one might also conceptualise this space as ‘the cloud’. I wouldn’t. But go ahead…) I do remember some of the content though: my name; my university; a picture of me; there were also ‘personal’ links. At the time this design seemed like the best way one could display a sense of ‘self’ on a website – you shared an image, and some basic details. It was personal; it was you.
My use of the internet has changed now, as has society’s at large. I utilise email more than other forms of communication. Social networking sties too. I keep track of writers and artistic events online. And, one of the main presentations of my ‘self’ to the world is my / this personal weblog: an evolving archive of my writing, and to a lesser extent, my life. It’s why I’ve started thinking (aloud, in text, online) about the different roles blogs can and do take on for writers and readers.
In what ways can a ‘blog community’ be compared to any other literary community: that of readers, writers, critics. After all, networks are things that can serve or impede various groups. As a method I propose to focus on the weblogs of three poets. Stoning the Devil by Adam Fieled (from America), Anne Marie Eldon by Anne Marie Eldon (from England), and Typing Space maintained by myself. I didn’t set out to select blogs from all corners of the globe; this is perhaps just an interesting coincidence. I chose these blogs because of how they function. Fieled’s and Eldon’s blogs are extremely good examples of what I locate as indices, polar forms of the poetry blog. Fieled’s is extensively critical and analytical, and never ‘light’ (while always looking at poetry); Eldon’s blog is entirely composed of new poems, enabling her very particular poetics of identity.
I’ll place mine somewhere in between, with it functioning as a space for poetry, criticism, networking, and bulletin-board. Why not.
I know that I don’t read all blogs in the same way – so let’s draw some more general conclusions from this fact. Would we all read these poetry blogs in similarly different ways? I think maybe yes. And so the idea is that sections of a blogging community can be read, but more importantly usefully read, with some critical assumptions.
And there is reason to think they will keep being read:
Micro-blogging has become very popular recently. Everything new and popular is worth analysing. But, it is finding and sharing that micro-blogging allows, as well as a macrocosmic view of what’s really going on out in the world, what’s ‘trending’. Micro-blog interfaces like Twitter, and the Facebook status field, limit space. The tweet almost functions as a blurb, or a media release, leading you on to the more extensive narrative which will be housed elsewhere – which is very often a blog-post. The size of a micro-blog statement casts it as ephemeral, not too important, but also terrifically popular, like text messaging. And so, the popularity of the blog might decline, but, then like the ‘literary’ novel, or even the long poem, they may continue to be valued by critical readers. Scott Rosenberg, the author of Say Everything – a book on the history and future of blogging – recently said the following in interview (2009):
There have always been two types of blog posts: brief incidental blurts—really short one-line things, quick links—and more substantial statements. Twitter has taken that brief, blurting blogging and put it to rest. That pushes blogs toward a tradition of real writing.
The (my?) ‘literary’ metaphor might be sustained. It means the task of thinking about what the different forms of blog do is important – blogging does enable ‘real writing’, and, writing we might call poetic. Blogs can become noted cultural markers.
Erik Wilde wrote in The Online Information Review (2007 (you’ll need some kind of university-endowed research access to see this article, which seems strange, given the title…)) that ‘When blogging started in the mid-1990s, it was the ﬁrst movement where producing content became a possibility for average web users…’ This development set an ideal stage for creative writers to enter – the web itself is built out of text, but with the advent of Web 2.0 applications (participatory models, of which blogging is one of the first) that textual knowledge need not be technical. The web is effectively now a venue for publication.
And blogs have taken off. Technorati has indexed 133 million blogs in the past few years. The figures aren’t reliable, but it does seem likely there are many more than this out there, and perhaps two times as many people who are not bloggers but read blogs. In 2008 Technorati was recording over a million blog posts each day. There is a phenomenal volume of content available, even when you start to sift through the content and find your niche, such as poetry. One needs only to look at Ron Silliman’s blogroll to see this.
Blogs allow us to create publically but also seem to demand that we create often. Wilde (2007) posits that this ‘act of creating often’ creates a blog’s context, and isolates them as ‘tools of information diffusion.’ I think traditional modes of publication have diffusion as an aim too: we (me) write and submit the writing for publication, hoping our writing will be read, will become known. With the agglomeration of numbers (hits?), readers may become familiar with our style, or character, and they might then be supportive of our future ventures. When comparing blogging to paper-based publication then, in terms of diffusion what should be analysed are the different modes of delivery, and the relative effectiveness. Is the pressure to ‘create often’, but moreover to create often publicly, in any way justified? Stephanie Trigg, writing in HEAT (2007), feels one of the ways blogging can be opposed to other forms of writing, particularly academic writing, is its temporality. She writes that blogging ‘…offers the hit and rush of putting words together, without the compulsion to go back and qualify every stage of the argument…’ Erik Ringmar, author of A Blogger’s Manifesto also comments on this freedom from self-censorship and academic authority – he called his first blog Forget the Footnotes to celebrate the mode, the freedom from academic style. And the language both of these writers use when talking about blogging suggests its addictiveness. Even if this form of writing is somewhat conditioned by ‘generic restriction and conventions’, the freedom is different, has the feel of otherness. It is appealing.
But I don’t churn out the blog entries without thought. People will read them; people will comment. This is a recent comment on my blog responding to a poem. It reads: ‘I don’t understand this poem at all’ (you know who you are…) You cannot court a readership and simultaneously post swathes of nonsense. There is a balance to be found between writing well, writing regularly, and writing publicly. The temporality of blogging (the time-spans of regular conception and delivery associated with this form) is a consideration, as is the underlying process of diffusion. For me, someone who often presents as a poet, and a poetry-blogger, these issues must be examined with reference to poetry.
Even within the sub-genre of poetry-blogging there are a number of modes to apprehend. Fieled begins Stoning the Devil in 2006 with a post entitled ‘Adam Fieled cuts loose’; it consists of only the words ‘Welcome aboard. Get ready to ride.’ Eldon begins her blogging two years earlier by posting a whole raft of poems, and she begins with a poem called ‘post-modern pandora’s queasy turn’ which – depending on how you read the poem – might also be seen as some sort of introduction to what will follow (2004). I begin my blogging in late 2005 (around the same time as Fieled) with a post somewhat prosaically titled ‘a first posting’ (2005). Within this posting I write ‘…just created a blog. On blogs you can share stuff with the world…’ I think you can already read some intentionality in these first posts: one assured, one opaque, one uncertain. With a blog what’s written today is the beginning in this reverse-chronological mode. Despite the way I begin by looking at the initial entries on the respective blogs, the past is behind us. You can plumb the depths of a blog, and trace the narrative of a person, a poet. It’s almost reality: we present the most recent and attractive version of our selves, our work. The earlier self is buried by layers, but nevertheless, the intrepid may endeavour to peel back the layers, to excavate and unearth a theory of who you are. So let’s do this.
tomorrow maybe. my linking finger tires.