Postal Poetry back online, and a facelift for Moving Poems

Ezra Pound famously advised poets to “make it new.” Poetry websites, too, can benefit from regular revamping. For the past several days, I’ve been playing around working to re-create a couple of websites. I found out last week from Marja-Leena Rathje that a site I helped publish two years ago, Postal Poetry, was no longer online, so I set to work rebuilding it from the Google Reader feed. There were only 69 posts and one page to worry about, so that part of it was actually less time-consuming than figuring out the optimal design for a static, image-heavy site and finding a free WordPress theme to provide it. Our former theme-choice worked pretty well, but it was designed for an earlier version of the WordPress software, and I didn’t think it would be worth the trouble to update it.

At first I was seduced by a beautiful design, but it didn’t really do what I wanted as far as the index and category pages were concerned, and it was practically impossible to tweak because it was one of those theme framework child themes where one isn’t supposed to make alterations except to the stylesheet and the functions.php file, and every time I tried to edit the latter, I got the infamous WordPress white screen of death and had to use FTP to restore the site. It turns out that functions files are hyper-sensitive to the wrong kind of spacing, or something. I think theme frameworks are designed solely for the convenience of professional web developers with lots of clients who don’t want to ever touch a line of code. They’re a lousy fit for hobbyists like me, who actually enjoy doing our own maintenance as long as it doesn’t involve the equivalent of dropping in a new engine.

So anyway, I ended up using a theme designed for aggregator sites. Although it’s hardly an unsophisticated theme, and works great out of the box, its designers also anticipate that users will hack the files to fit their needs. That’s what I like to see! I found a serviceable header logo in my files that Dana had designed for the original site, but that we never used, I don’t think.

It might seem crazy to spend so much time re-creating a short-lived site whose original domain name had been scavenged by someone else, but I just hate to see discontinued periodicals vanish without a trace. I got all kinds of creative inspiration from the pieces we published there — I did my Postcards from a Conquistador series that winter — and some of the best cards on the site still take my breath away.

In the process of contacting contributors to Postal Poetry to let them know that their work was back online, I was surprised to hear that one of them, Emma Passmore, had just taken the Public Jury Prize for Best Film at the 2010 ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival in Berlin. ZEBRA is like the Academy Awards for poetry films, except that it’s truly international, with more than 900 entries this year. I can’t link to a full version of Emma’s film, Breathe, because apparently some of the festivals where it’s been shown embargo web publication for up to a year. (Who knew that film festivals were even more jealous about content than literary magazines?) She did upload the French version, so I suppose I can share that at Moving Poems, at least. Since I’ve been making a lot of low-tech one-minute videopoems lately, it’s great to see a professional director and poet win top honors for a one-minute film!

Speaking about Moving Poems, that’s been the other focus of my website-building mania of the past few days. I wanted something that made a little better use of screen real estate, while remaining fairly minimalist and easy to use. A new theme called Blogum caught my eye, and again, it proved easy to mess around with. I swapped in the fonts from the previous theme, in part to provide some stylistic continuity and in part because I preferred them to Helvetica and Arial. (The front-page tag cloud just looked terrible in Helvetica, for some reason. Verdana isn’t nearly as bad for things like that.) After a lot of puttering, I think I’ve got it pretty much the way I want it, with one exception: it could use a simpler logo in the upper left corner. Any artists or designers want to give it a shot? I can’t afford to pay, but you’d get a permanent link and credit in the footer.

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