Blogs and Blogging

Three weeks ago I blogged about a great review of Odes to Tools at Verse Wisconsin Online, but I’ve failed to make note of any of the other reviews and mentions the book has received over the past nine months. I started counting them up today, with the help of Google, and rediscovered a couple I’d completely forgotten about, so I think it’s high time I attempt a round-up.

  • My friend Todd Davis, author most recently of The Least of These, supplied a blurb after publication — which makes it almost like a review, right? — to help us promote the book. Read it here.
  • The first true review, on February 6, was from Dale Favier at mole. Dale is one of my oldest friends in the blogosphere, so this meant a lot. And I loved what he had to say: “How can you get lost, in a thirty page book? But I did. All these poems have edges, teeth. It’s a brilliant collection.” Read the rest.
  • The second review, in March, was from John Miedema, author of Slow Reading. I am all about reaching non-poets, so I was tickled to be reviewed by someone who loves reading and tools in equal measure, on a blog with a readership of librarians and geeks. John’s was a very bloggy review, meaning that he related it to his own experience, and he drew a design lesson about single-purpose versus multi-purpose tools that helped me see the book in a new light. Here’s his review.
  • A couple days later, poet and novelist James Brush published an equally bloggy and generous response at Coyote Mercury. The book led him to “imagine a world in which we didn’t throw things out the moment they broke.” Here’s what he wrote.
  • Also in March, the obviously very discriminating Daily s-Press, a blog about small press publications, took note.
  • In June, Verse Daily published a poem from the collection, “Ode to a Wire Brush.” I don’t know anyone there, so that definitely comes under the “kindness of strangers” heading. As a bonus, I got a chuckle out of their typo in the original title (subsequently corrected): “Odd to a Wire Brush.”
  • In July, poet and blogger Sherry Chandler compared me favorably with Emerson, and called my work “quiet and grounded.” It took days for my head to return to normal size. Here’s her review.
  • As mentioned previously, I didn’t know the reviewer at Verse Wisconsin Online from Adam’s off ox, and was impressed by the perceptiveness of his criticisms. I was also pleased with the venue. Judging by how many Wisconsin poets have made the cut at qarrtsiluni over the past five years, it’s a great place for poetry.
  • Most recently, my friend Rachel Barenblat, guest-blogging this week at The Best American Poetry, devoted a post to a review of the Odes. “What makes these poems work,” Rachel writes, “is their juxtaposition of mundane objects with breathtaking leaps of imagery.” Well, gosh. “Breathtaking” seems a little over-the-top, but who am I to argue with a soon-to-be-ordained rabbi?

Thanks to everyone who’s reviewed or linked to the book so far, and if I’ve left anyone off the list, please let me know. This is a really gratifying number of reviews and mentions, especially for a poetry chapbook. Hundreds of equally deserving chapbooks are published each year to far less notice. But probably their authors don’t blog, or if they do, aren’t active participants in blogging communities.

Lorianne DiSabato
left: in San Diego; right: in Dharma teacher robes (photos by Jim Gargani)

Lorianne DiSabato is a writer, photographer, naturalist, college instructor, and Zen teacher who’s been blogging at Hoarded Ordinaries for nearly seven years. We’ve been friends for almost that long, and first met in person in March 2005, but I realized there were still some questions I’d never asked her. I got her talking about how she got into nature, how or whether she would categorize Hoarded Ordinaries, journaling versus blogging, getting married at the zoo, nature writing as a pilgrimage, the myth of the literary hermit, blogging and Buddhism, the danger of Zen books, and more.

Theme music: “Le grand sequoia,” by Innvivo (Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike licence)

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Newsweek magazine recently celebrated Arianna Huffington as the savior of online journalism, so I thought a Huffington Post piece on “17 Literary Journals that Might Survive the Internet” might offer some unique insights into how magazines like qarrtsiluni could better leverage the ever-evolving technologies of web distribution. No such luck.

In his set-up, Anis Shivani asks how literary magazines are surviving and thriving amidst the rise of the Internet, but all the examples are of one particular kind of literary magazine: those existing primarily or entirely in print. It’s a classic bait-and-switch. And there’s a pretty amusing dissonance between the medium and the message here: a procession of brief, punchy quotes from lit mag editors decrying the shallowness of our culture, each accompanied by a poll to let readers vote on whether their particular magazine is dead or thriving, on a scale of 1 to 10. Still, unlike Shivani’s mean-spirited compendium of over-rated writers from last week, this new piece of HuffPo literary link-bait is invaluable for its insights into the thinking of the American literary print-magazine establishment. I think the editor of Pleiades, Wayne Miller, best encapsulates the scarcity-thinking that seems to afflict most of these editors:

As more people put out literary publications — and the Internet makes this even easier, since online magazines don’t need to secure distribution — it becomes increasingly difficult to capture the attention of an audience that’s naturally limited in size. I don’t think the Internet shrinks or grows that audience significantly, it just spreads it even thinner.

I strongly disagree that the audience for quality poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction is fixed; that hasn’t been my experience at all. This is just anecdotal evidence, of course, but I’ve been told more times than I can count that publications like qarrtsiluni and even Via Negativa have turned people on to poetry for the first time since they were in college. My hunch is that online literary magazines and blogs and their various hybrids are reaching a vast number of people who never read print literary magazines, whether through poverty (that’s been my excuse) or sheer ignorance of their existence. Not everyone lives near a large bookstore or university library, but anyone with a good dial-up connection can read literature for free online — and then have a conversation with other readers, and even with the author. The internet is not only bringing serious writing into people’s homes, it’s making it more down-home at the same time. And I believe it’s selling books. (It’s selling mine, at any rate.)

Curious, I click through to the Pleiades website, and experience the usual bafflement I feel with such magazines: like, where is it? I click on “Current Issue,” and there’s nothing but a photo of the cover and a list of the contents, no clickable links to any sample content, no links to authors’ websites, not even a goddamn link to order the issue online! What is the point of the webpage, then? My only option, apparently, is to subscribe to the journal. There’s a “Back Issues” page, but it too provides no clue about how to obtain the magazines displayed there. I feel like I’m peering into the window display of a closed bookstore, or perhaps a museum diorama.

Not all the literary magazines on show at the HuffPo are quite this clueless, though. I really hope the Pleiades editors read the comments from The Southern Review editor Jeann Leiby:

[O]ver the last two years, our subscription base has grown — not decreased. In large part, this is because of the internet and social networking websites. With the internet, it is easier — and less expensive — to advertise, to broaden our audience, and to entice people to The Southern Review’s printed pages. I’m not saying that I think online literary journals don’t have a place or are in any way lesser than print journals — only that the two things need not be mutually exclusive. I think there is audience enough for all of us.

Yes. Thank you!

Some of the points these editors make about the distracted nature of online reading strike me as quite valid, too, though there are various ways to get around that. They all seem pretty poorly informed about the variety of electronic, podcasting, and print-on-demand options available to them.

Take Richard Burgon of Boulevard magazine: “Literary journals (and books) offer the subtle pleasures of touch, portability and visibility — that strange delight their writers, and readers too, feel in seeing books physically exist in a bookstore or other public place — that the internet can’t yet duplicate” — as if “the internet” presented a monolithic reading experience, and were the only alternative to traditional print publication. What about the Kindle, for example, which Jeff Bezos insists will remain a reading-only device, one free of distractions from email and the web? I gather from those who own one that the reading experience is really quite comparable to a paperback book, with very little eye-strain. John Miedema — he of Slow Reading fame, as strong a critic of online reading habits as anyone you’ll find — has given it pretty good reviews:

For the most part, I felt like I was reading a book, only a bit slower. I suspect my base reading skills are being rewired just slightly, like the experience of seeing through a new pair of glasses. Sometimes I scan pages when I read, but on the Kindle I was forced to click ahead one page at a time, and could not easily jump back and forth over multiple pages. I would hate to cram a textbook this way. […] After reading on the Kindle, I also read a print book and again found it a richer reading experience, but only marginally. In the future, I will make a point of distinguishing ebooks from ereaders. The Kindle and its competitors are not interesting because they mix digital technology with book content, i.e., ebooks; the computer did that. Ereaders are compelling because they merge digital technology with an acceptable physical interface for long-form reading.

The Huffington Post may or may not have the keys to the future of online journalism (and I know quite a few science bloggers who would choke at the suggestion), but if you’re looking for insights into the future of literary publishing, you’re better off reading real book bloggers like John.