2011 was an extraordinary year for me and for this blog. This year more than any other since I started blogging, I really felt the love from readers, fellow bloggers, and fellow poets and artists whose kindness and generosity opened new doors and helped me close others.
First and most obviously, I guess, 2011 was the year that Luisa Igloria clearly became Via Negativa’s most regular guest blogger — more like a co-author, really — with her extraordinary and so far unbroken string of daily poems in response to updates at VN’s sister blog The Morning Porch. This represented a major shift for a site that had always been pretty closely identified with its main author — one that perhaps a few long-time readers found disconcerting. But for me, Luisa’s contributions are a tremendous gift and represent a way forward, a broadening of focus for the site in a time of dwindling public interest in anything that forces people to leave the amniotic embrace of Facebook or Twitter, and a reminder to myself not to grow complacent, to keep challenging myself creatively.
Another collaboration beginning just after the New Year resulted in some of my strongest poems to date: a series of spring wildflower poems in response to macro photos by blogger and naturalist Jennifer Schlick. This proposal came completely out of the blue, and again I suppose owes as much to The Morning Porch as to Via Negativa, since I believe it was her regular reading of the former than led Jennifer to think I might be the one for the job. The poems were incorporated into placards at an exhibition of Jennifer’s photographs in Jamestown, New York, which I wasn’t able to attend due to a conflict with another reading and exhibition where my poems were also featured (see below). Despite the costs and difficulty of printing a full-color book, I hope we’re able to make the collection available this year (ideally in time for wildflower season). Regardless, I remain deeply grateful to Jennifer for suggesting the collaboration.
For the second year in a row, I spent April reading and reviewing a poetry book a day, and was joined by another blogger and poet, Kristin Berkey-Abbott, in reading four of those books and interviewing the authors by phone for the podcast. Poets were generous in donating their books for the effort, which is frankly one of the main reasons I do it. (And it’s not too early to send books or chapbooks for next April.)
In May, I travelled abroad for the first time in many years, thanks to the generosity of an anonymous benefactor who bought my plane ticket, and thanks to blogging in general: the occasion was a group poetry reading in Wales for the release of The Book of Ystwyth: Six poets on the art of Clive Hicks-Jenkins, which includes my Temptations of Solitude poems first published here in 2009. Highlights of that trip included getting to meet Clive Hicks-Jenkins and see his 60th birthday retrospective exhibition, and hanging out with other blogger-friends in Wales, Birmingham and London: Kaspalita Thompson and Fiona Robyn, Will Buckingham, Jean Morris, Dick Jones, Natalie d’Arbeloff, and the enigmatic Hg and RR. And naturally the trip spawned plenty of new blog posts as well, including videos, podcast episodes, and a whole series of poems sparked by a visit to a Victorian cemetery.
Speaking of series, I was flabbergasted to have a manuscript of my banjo poems, which I continued to blog sporadically this year, selected for publication by my favorite poetry chapbook publisher, Seven Kitchens Press, in their Keystone Chapbook series. (Here’s the announcement.) This was the first time I’d entered a poetry manuscript contest since 1999, and here’s the fun part: the fellow who won the last contest I entered, Sascha Feinstein, was the judge who selected Breakdown: Banjo Poems.
My rudimentary filmmaking skills became slightly less rudimentary this year, I think, as I continued to make videopoems to share here. Unlike last year, though, my focus was more on envideoing other people’s poems, helped along by Nic S.‘s generosity with the audio recordings she has created for several online projects, most notably Whale Sound and Pizzicati of Hosanna.
The big downer of the year, I guess, was the deterioration of Via Negativa’s web hosting situation, which led to a significant decline in page views (though not necessarily in actual readership). My web account was suspended six times for excessive CPU usage, and while the geeks at my old web host were friendly enough, they weren’t interested in helping me trouble-shoot. We also saw frequent downtime that had nothing to do with me; I think it was a typical case of a cheap shared web host trying to pack too many sites onto too few servers, and penalizing the rare sites that actually get some traffic. I meanwhile didn’t understand that the constant barrage of spam comments coming into the site was probably a big part of why it was using so much CPU, even though 99% of those comments went straight into the trash. And I made the all-too-common mistake of assuming that because a web hosting company touts “unlimited” subdomains and add-ons, it was O.K. to take that literally and piggy-back all my other sites onto Via Negativa. Bad idea.
They finally lost patience and terminated my account in mid-October, which was not altogether a bad thing, since it forced me to find better hosts and divide my sites up between them in a more intelligent fashion. I’ve now closed comments on all posts older than a month (which I hated to do), and so far, resource usage at the new host seems fine. I also ported all my content to a brand-new database rather than re-installing the old one, so that probably helped a lot too.
My sites are now scattered across three different web hosts, more than doubling my blog-related expenditures. So for the first time I set up a Via Negativa store, featuring mainly t-shirts and mugs with old Words on the Street cartoons, and I also began to beg for money with a Donate button in the sidebar. Thanks to several generous donations from readers, plus a well-compensated poetry reading at Penn State Altoona in October, I’ve been able to cover expenses for this year. Another reader donated a very large external hard drive, which should be a big help with storing and retrieving video files especially.
Long-term, I suppose I will have to gird my loins and do some sort of low-key annual fund-raising drive, because I suspect that the mere presence of a donate button won’t be enough. Another project that might raise a little bit of money, but is more just a fun thing that I should’ve done years ago: a Words on the Street anthology, which should be available in paper, ePub and Kindle form in another week or two (we ran into some unexpected problems with bleed-through on the paper, so weren’t able to release it in time for Christmas). Given my new-found willingness to beg, it kind of makes sense to bring back my fictional, urban alter-ego, Diogenes the bum.
I blog for love and not for money, and that’s unlikely ever to change. But the gift economy is a wondrous thing. As Ecclesiastes put it: “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you shall find it after many days.” (Mmm, soggy bread!) This year I really learned the truth of that saying. Thanks to everyone who links, comments, or simply reads.
If you’d like the re-acquaint yourself with some of the best posts of the year, check out the Greatest Hits category, which may be accessed any time from the navigation bar under the header. Luisa and I have just brought it up to date with our personal favorites from the past twelve months. For a complete, clickable table of contents to all the posts from the past year, visit the Archives page. And if you’d like to surf around and sample some of the best posts from Via Negativa’s entire eight years of existence, click the Random link.