Blogs and Blogging

Reviews of blogs, posts about blogging culture, tips on using WordPress — it’s all here.

Screenshot of Woodrate photoblog.

Back in October I started posting poetic epigrams with my photos at Instagram, and every few weeks since then, I’ve re-posted them here. This past week, the turn of the calendar fast approaching with its promise of new beginnings, I made the decision to broaden the scope of my 9-year-old Woodrat photoblog from just haiku, and to start cross-posting my Instagram stuff there as a matter of course. I’ve also back-posted all the photos since mid-December, when I last shared a compendium on Via Negativa. So please go look, and bookmark or subscribe to the photoblog if you like. (You can also, obviously, follow me on Instagram or on Flickr, where the photos are mirrored, and/or look for the auto-posts at Twitter or Facebook. And I’ve added the link to the Links drop-down menu in the Via Negativa header.)

There are some really good photographers on Instagram, and I like feeling a part of a community there, but I also like owning my own content and being a responsible netizen. Instagram is first and foremost a cellphone app built on proprietary software, part of a movement by software developers to replace the town square of the world-wide web with private shopping malls, essentially. Not only can one not post to Instagram from the web interface, but no live web links are permitted in any caption or comment. It also bothers me that there’s no way to edit a published caption, to add alt text to make images accessible to the visually handicapped, or to export and save one’s content from the site.

So my decision to re-purpose the old photoblog into a home for these posts is in part a political decision. But it’s also a practical one: I’d like to continue the epigrammatic series for a while, and I know myself well enough to realize that if I tie it to the growth of a more aesthetically pleasing space, I’m more likely to keep it up, just as having a dedicated blog for my Morning Porch tweets has kept that microblogging project going for years. And whereas Morning Porch posts are based on my daily porch-sitting, Woodrat photoblog posts emerge from daily walks (though not typically on the same day the photo was taken). There’s a pleasing symmetry to that.

Age of blog: 13 years
Posts: 7,698
Archive pages @ 10 posts/page: 775
Words in posts: 2,251,197
Categories: 43
Posts in “Poems and poem like things” category: 4,903
Posts in “Poets and poetry” category: 416
Posts in “Photos” category: 521
Tags: 1,204
Comments: 22,823
Spam comments blocked by the Akismet plugin: 30,462
Blocked malicious login attempts since 2014: 139,584
Years on WordPress: 10
Times it’s moved to a new web host: 3
Active plugins: 17

Authors: 25
Posts by Dave: 5,374
Posts by Luisa: 2,162
Average posts per guest author: 7

Page views since 2008: 1,028,400*
Times most popular post (Viking nicknames) has been viewed: 16,772
Times second most popular post (How to format poetry on the web: an incomplete guide) has been viewed: 15,185
Visitors since 2013: 161,787*
Visitors from the U.S. in 2016: 35,018
Visitors from the U.K. in 2016: 4,173
Visitors from the Philippines in 2016: 2,858
Visitors from Canada in 2016: 1,739
Highest number of views in a day (19 Nov. 2012): 3,919
Email subscribers: 94
Subscribers on Feedly: 103
Followers on WordPress.com: 33
Followers on Twitter: 280

*Sorry I have such crappy, incomplete stats. Obviously, popularity has never been a big concern around here.

Three Via Negativa bloggers in a London pub, 14 December 2015
Three Via Negativa bloggers in a London pub, 14 December 2015 (photo: Ruben Igloria)

My pun of the week: I have been basking in the reflected Igloria of Luisa winning the Resurgence Poetry Prize.* But better even than that was the chance to hang out with two Via Negativa bloggers at the same time when Jean Morris came up from South London to meet Luisa and me and other friends and family for few hours on Tuesday night. It felt like a mini-reunion even thought it was in fact the first time all three of us had gotten together. But that’s the way literary blogger meet-ups always feel, in my experience: we already know each other so well from sharing our truest words online that when we finally meet IRL, it’s possible to bypass the awkward small-talk stage altogether and jump right into the deeper stuff (water, BS, whatever).

Via Negativa is twelve years old today. Thanks to everyone who reads, whether on the site itself, on Feedly or other RSS readers, or via Mailchimp. It’s been a fun ride, and with a little more help from my blogging friends I hope to keep it going for many more years.
__________

*Did you know that BIRGing is a thing? Me neither. Thanks, Wikipedia!

In an effort to make things tidier for people reading Via Negativa on mobile devices, I’ve combined two navigation bars into one. (It’s way up there at the top on the present theme, which may change soon.) The links to The Morning Porch, Moving Poems, DaveBonta.com and LuisaIgloria.com are all still there, but they’re subsidiary to (logically enough) the Links tab, so mouse-over that for the drop-down list on larger screens. I assume that people who habitually browse the web on their mobiles will by now recognize the three-line icon for expandable menus.

leafhenge

Today is Via Negativa’s tenth birthday. It seems like just yesterday, etc. But the media landscape has changed a lot over the last ten years; blogs are now thoroughly mainstream. The sort of daily writing and self-publishing that Luisa and I do here is still looked at askance in more conservative literary circles, but I think it’s proved very productive for both of us, yielding books and chapbooks, videopoem collaborations, invitations to poetry readings and conferences, and even, for me, a long-term relationship with a fellow blogger.

But let’s keep this in perspective. Five hundred years from now, if a literate civilization still exists, the 21st-century American writers they’ll probably most celebrate are those whose names we now barely recognize. I speak, of course, of the many brilliant writers of screenplays and TV scripts. And why are we just now entering what many are calling a golden age of television? In large part because the power of the publishers and media conglomerates is crumbling. And in general, thanks to the internet and all its disruptions to the traditional media landscape, writers have few restraints and fewer — or no — intermediaries between us and our audiences, who in turn are becoming more independent and creative, with fan fiction, videopoetry and the like.

What we now call remix was always essential to the storytelling and song-generating process, of course. And as it grows in cultural prominence, the (often collaboratively produced) artwork regains its rightful place at the center of creative life, and the Artist or Writer can go back to being a plain old artist or writer, a skilled worker rather than a demigod.

This, as I see it, is the milieu from which collaborative literary blogs such as Via Negativa have emerged as primary outlets for their authors. I’m pleased to have been a participant in this revolution. Back on Via Negativa’s sixth birthday, I wrote a blogging manifesto which I would like to think is still relevant, despite or perhaps because of the exponential growth of corporate, web-gobbling social networks and the meme machines flooding every feed with viral content. Thanks to all Via Negativa’s readers and to my fellow literary and personal bloggers for reading and linking and just generally for keeping us company out here in the open, non-corporate web. Industrial civilization seems more set on self-destruction than ever, but let’s keep this blogging thing going as long as we can!

This month I’ve tried hard to post something else every day in addition to the usual erasure poem, both to liven up the place with a bit of variety, and to return this blog to its roots as a melange of poetry and prose, photos and links, especially with Via Negativa’s tenth birthday coming up in just a couple of weeks. I haven’t done as good a job of linking to other bloggers as I should, but let me try and make up for lost time by reviewing four sites that are among my favorites in the literary/personal genre of blogging. All four are included in the last and longest category on my links page, “Poets, writers, and other uncategorizable personal bloggers.”

Each of these four bloggers is based in Germany, and they share a certain multicultural focus. The first three could just as easily be categorized as photobloggers, were it not for the fact that some of their posts don’t contain photos, and others are more about the writing than the illustrations.

  • I was not born in English
  • Magda Kapa is from Greece, and is a master of the epigram.

    Love: the biggest truths are tunes.

    Love: the unspoken leaves one broken.

    Love: the saddest fates are now graves.

    Love: and yet.

    Last month, she reflected on the turmoil in Greece:

    In the early ’80s, when we were still confident that historical awareness would prevail and have a cathartic effect on the Greek society, I interviewed as part of a school project people in my village who had been at enmity ever since the Civil War, when they’d lost family members in the fighting and atrocities between Communist and right-wing forces. I was in the first year of Gymnasium (middle school), and I remember how shocked I was to face indomitable hatred for the first time in my life. I wish I’d kept my transcripts of those interview tapes so I could reread and use them now. Unfortunately, the good years that followed lulled all of us into a sense of complacency, and I was no exception.

    There’s so much I want to write about all this…. I also visited one of the most beautiful Cyclades island, Sifnos, after a long time of not having done so. It was a real homecoming for me, for body and spirit. A superb feeling.

    On November 13, she posted a photo travelogue from that homecoming.

  • life as a journey
  • Dorothee Lang is the editor of BluePrintReview, a long-running webzine that pairs poetry and prose submissions with photos. In her personal blog, she writes about “roads, moments, encounters, etc.” Currently, she’s blogging from Lanzarote, in the Canary Islands.

    After all the work, this journey still feels slightly unreal. The way a shift of place changes the own view of things. The way that something that seemed so important now can wait another day. The way memories pop up, in unexpected places. Like in the island supermarket, when I picked a pot of Cup Noodles, and the memory of my first Cup Noodles flashed with it: Ireland that was. English summer school in Cork. Which also was my first trip by plane. And my first trip alone to another country.

    Another memory that returned today: while driving across the island, I listened to the battered CD I brought, “The Human Condition” by Richard Ashcroft. Bought in India. Played there, on a road through Rajasthan. Which didn’t look that different, seen like that: dusty fields. A white sun above. All this road, going.

  • Parmanu
  • Unlike many sites (including Via Negativa these days), Parmanu actually has a helpful and descriptive About page:

    This site is a growing collection of memories dating back to 2003. Its author is an Indian living in Germany.

    And he follows that with a selection of links to some of his best posts, arranged by topic (Living in Germany, Visits to India, Train journeys, Visiting places, Books and movies, Rare experiments with fiction, Art and photography). As this list suggests, Parmanu is unusual among the personal bloggers I read in the care and selectivity he brings to the presentation of his material — sort of the way I fantasize about blogging, were I a different and more organized person. His travel essays are as good as any you’ll ever find. His most recent posts are about a trip to Istanbul.

    We picked up, after a few days, some rhythms of the street. In the mornings, at the intersection where Mis Sokak meets Istiklal Caddesi, an elderly shoe-shine man set up his equipment and sat down to wait for customers. I saw him polishing shoes only once through that week, but he had other tricks up his sleeve. On a rainy morning when umbrella vendors sprung up here and there (offering transparent plastic umbrellas for 5 Turkish Liras), this old man went up to one of them, borrowed a few umbrellas, and stood in a corner selling them to passersby. Then there was the father-son pair that stood at different parts of the street on each day, playing the accordion and collecting money. They were a happy pair, always smiling at each other or at people walking past. P. was enchanted (charmed by father or son I still do not know), and clicked pictures sufficient to fill an album. I also had fleeting but recurrent glimpses of a budding romance between two security guards stationed a few meters apart at the entrance to a mall. The dark-haired young woman at one end appeared to send silent messages (I’d forgotten how much can be conveyed without saying a word) to the shy young man opposite her, who responded with smiles and blushes. Except one afternoon, when he looked distracted; the reason became clear when I looked to the other side: in place of the woman was a man, staring blankly at the shoppers crossing into and out of the mall.

  • the rain in my purse
  • Sarah Sloat is an American journalist who writes kick-ass poetry in her spare time. And though she’s widely published in paper and online journals, she still shares plenty of poems on her personal blog as well, along with book reviews, amusing lists, and other evidence of a fierce intellect and sharp wit. Back on October 29, she blogged about Voices of Chernobyl: The Oral History of the Nuclear Disaster simply by compiling all the author’s parenthetical inserts from the book’s monologues, creating a kind of found poem, “Red, not orange.” It begins like this:

    [Silence.] [A week later the village was evacuated.] [She starts crying.] [She is silent.] [Silent.] [Silent.] [Long silence.] [She is silent for a long time.] [She is silent.] [She becomes incomprehensible.] [She has trouble breathing.] [She is silent for a long time.] [She stands up, goes over to the window.]

    [Starts crying.] [Cheers up suddenly.] [Starts crying.] [Starts crying.]

    Sloat’s latest post is a more straightforward poem, “In Late November,” which contains these lines:

    Seven winds delivered in one gust
    on the afternoon cut short by dark.

    Isn’t the lack of distinction sometimes too much?
    And then the craze for being grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving! Though I did spend plenty of time with the family today, I tend to feel that holidays are a good time to make major changes to a website. That’s because I’m too lazy to set up a separate testing environment and instead do all the tinkering live on the site while people might be trying to read, so I feel it’s best to do it when the majority of the readership isn’t online. (Sorry if anyone was discombobulated. I hope you can recombobulate without too much trouble.)

This is a new WordPress theme, Stargazer, and it’s by one of the most tech-savvy themers out there, Justin Tadlock. He modestly calls Stargazer

the most advanced theme ever created for WordPress without compromising standards. This is the only theme in the world that you’ll find that extends WordPress’ built-in theme features so robustly but naturally. The theme is built on the rock-solid Hybrid Core theme framework.

It’s built with search-engine optimization (SEO) in mind by utilizing the most current HTML5 conventions and Schema.org microdata.

It did almost everything I wanted out of the box, but I have had to make a few changes (via the approved method, creating a child theme), such as including full content rather than excerpts on most pages and doing away with the garish blockquote styling. There are a couple more things I intend to tweak if I can figure out how. But the point is that I can make changes if y’all have criticisms or suggestions.

There are a few differences from the previous theme (Twenty Ten). The site should seamlessly adapt to whatever device you’re viewing it on, and there’s a lot more hyphenating as a result. Individual posts now have a breadcrumb navigation at the top, obviating the need for a redundant Home link on the navigation bar opposite the blog title. The comments link is now after the date at the top of the post, and the category and tag links are at the bottom after the sharing buttons. I’ve left the extra search button in the very top right corner for now — that’s the default, crappy search function provided by WordPress. The Google Custom Search button near the top of the sidebar should work better most of the time, presuming Google has correctly indexed the site.

For WordPress geeks, there’s a lot more about the Stargazer theme at WordPress Tavern. I especially liked this part:

With Stargazer, Tadlock is aiming to keep the barrier for entry low so that DIY users/future theme developers are encouraged to experiment. All of the complex aspects of the theme are kept out of site in sub-folders of the parent theme. You don’t have to know a ton of PHP code to get started.

Very true. The complexity of the code of many contemporary WordPress themes is discouraging to a hobbyist like me. Tinkering with Stargazer is actually fun — the way all WordPress tinkering used to be.

Over at her own website, Luisa Igloria mentions that today is a special day for her — and for Via Negativa. After describing her thinking behind the recently completed series Chance: A Poetic Tarot, she adds:

Three years ago (on November 20, 2010) I began writing at least a poem a day and posting these on Dave Bonta’s Via Negativa website.

Without initially intending to do so, I have since become fully engaged in and by the daily practice of writing poems. Not only has “running with my muse” daily made me more limber and given me much valuable biofeedback about my writing; it has also taught me many lessons about fear and anxiety, my habits (both good and bad), the many little (and big) excuses that the self seems to conveniently find when confronted with things it is afraid of and/or that must get done…

Three years later, I realize with so much gratefulness: not only have I written many poems which I can return to in order to revise and gather up into books— I have also “met” and made so many new friends thanks to the collaborative spirit of electronic communication.

This leads to the next part of my idea

To commemorate my three years of daily poems, I thought of making a chapbook
of the Tarot poems with illustrations, which will be produced as POD (print on demand) copy perhaps via a service like Peecho–

Furthermore, Pennsylvania-based poet and publisher Dave Bonta and UK-based writer Rachel Rawlins have kindly offered to produce PDF/iBook templates of the book and publish the chapbook under the Via Negativa Press imprint.

There are 78 “Tarot” poems in all, and if they are laid out 6 to a page, Dave and Rachel suggested that we could have 13 illustrations in the chapbook.

Dear artist friends, this is where you come in

I would like to invite you to (1) choose one of the sets of 6 Tarot poems, and to (2) submit for consideration, original art work inspired by one or all of the six you chose together, to fill one facing page that will go with the poems.

(Please also send to luisa dot igloria61 at gmail dot com a 3-6 sentence artist’s bio, along with your name, postal mailing and e-mail address, and phone number.)

Deadline to submit original art work for consideration is DECEMBER 31, 2013: submit clear resolution digital copies in 300 dpi or better; we will make our final selections of art work before January 15, 2014.

She goes on to explain that all profits from the sale of the chapbook will go to support Typhoon Haiyan relief. Do click through and read the rest of her post if you’re interested in contributing, or know an artist who might be. But please join me regardless in congratulating Luisa on this remarkable achievement of writing (at least) one poem every day for three years. Wow! To say that I am honored to be hosting the fruits of this practice would be a huge understatement.

Singular – a poem and comments“:

Natural disasters (and I don’t discount the possibility that human actions in terms of climate change might have been a contributing factor) are different from war. In war there are sides. There are no sides in natural disasters. We are all on the same side. It is not this or that human action we are looking to enter, but the great familiar yet unknown: our sense of being in a world that is not comprehensible to our consciousness.

[…]

The question of evanescence. Why bother with a medium [Twitter] that eats itself as soon as arrived. Why insert these texts (poems, anecdotes, enigmas, proverbs, incidents) into the fabric of general conversation? This perhaps is the most pertinent question in respect of literature. I would argue that evanescence is our human lot and that even literature takes its place among the other activities of life. I can save the texts of course, but their very nature is to be born out of immediate obsolescence. It is not so much a question of what it is like to be within that immediate obsolescence but what it is to have been within it then moved out. I don’t really know the answer to that.

  1. It’s superficial. Surfaces are beautiful and necessary, especially to us primates with our extreme reliance on vision.
  2. Chaucer Doth Tweet.

  3. Enforced concision has a way of sorting the sheep from the goats where writers and humorists are concerned.
  4. (more…)