Blogs and Blogging

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…)

Most poetry chapbooks are lucky to get any reviews, let alone one as kind as this, from long-time blogger Jonah at Love During Wartime in response to Twelve Simple Songs:

Song Two, “My parachute knapsack,” is another example of the dialogue between photo and poem. The poem closes with the lines “That’s what it was like / being alone.” The photograph is of a pair of boots on a red porch, a white wall behind them and white snow bordering the left of the porch. This is possibly the most “illustrative” pairing in the collection, yet I don’t see this as cloyingly obvious. There’s no self-pity on either the verso or recto: both speak of being alone, rather than being lonely. Each offer images devoid of sentimentality.

Do read the whole review… and of course check out the collection if you haven’t already. (And note that I still have some 20%-off coupons available for the print-on-demand version.)

Last weekend, Jonah blogged another review, this one for a collection I haven’t even bothered to publish aside from the series at Via Negativa and accompanying audio recordings: Manual. He wrote, in part:

I read through this brief collection in a few hours. But each poem deserves its own hour. Many of us think of poetry as some code that must be deciphered. These poems are a fine antidote to that fear: they are approachable, friendly (in their imperious way), tender, often whimsical, and sly.

It’s always gratifying when one’s work garners these kinds of close reads (especially of course when the reader has such a favorable reaction!). Both these projects have also sparked unsolicited artistic responses — close readings of a sort — from the Dutch filmmaker Swoon (Marc Neys): a single, seven-and-a-half-minute-long film for Twelve Simple Songs as read by Nic S., and a series of five films for poems in Manual. What a gift.

I now have a number of cycles of poems like Manual that feel complete and could be made into books. The question is always: Would the effort to design and produce a book be worth it? How does one measure such things if you’re giving your work away? How many downloads and purchases are enough? Or should I submit these collections to other publishers on the chance that they may be able to do a better job reaching readers, even though it means in most cases giving up control over design and the chance to have digital versions? Right now I’m putting most of my effort into an anthology of newly revised work which I may also self-publish; it’s clear to me that this book will offer value to readers simply as an act of curation from my too-voluminous online corpus. And I’m thinking I’d also like to pursue an idea suggested by Jean Morris in a recent comment here: an illustrated version of Bear Medicine.

So here’s the proposal: I’m looking for an artist or artists with an affinity for bears to collaborate on a small book incorporating my Bear Medicine prose poems. I’m thinking woodblock prints, but paintings or other media might work, too. Publication would be digital and print-on-demand under the Via Negativa Press imprint. I can’t afford to pay much. Contact me if you’re interested.

iBook screenshotThanks entirely to Rachel, for all you iPad, iPhone and iPod touch users, Twelve Simple Songs is now available as an iBook! I’ve only seen PDF versions of it, since I don’t own any iGadgets, but I’m told there are clickable audio players with my readings on each double-page spread, and the videopoem by Swoon with readings by Nic S. is included at the end.

Like the other versions, it’s free. But it did cost Rachel a certain amount of aggravation, including many hours of work, frustration at poor support docs, and a spilled beverage on her keyboard and adjacent electronic devices. So if you can, please check it out and give it a rating. Thanks.

UPDATE: Rachel has blogged about the making of the iBook.

the cassandra pages:

Some people seem to feel that online friendships aren’t real, or can’t be as deep as face-to-face relationships, but that just isn’t my experience at all. Reading one another’s blogs and communicating by email for a whole decade makes me feel that I know friends like Pica better than many people I see much more often. And on the rare occasions when we meet up in person, it’s just a confirmation that, yes, these are very real friendships based on trust, honesty, intimacy, shared interests, love, and commitment over the long haul.

I’m honored to join the chorus of appreciative readers and fellow bloggers celebrating the 10th anniversary of the cassandra pages — in many ways, the most indispensable site in the loose network of literary, artistic and spiritual blogs to which Via Negativa more or less belongs (we’re not big on belonging to networks, any of us). Yesterday, we head from Language Hat, Maria Benet, and the Velveteen Rabbi, and Lorianne DiSabato shared some trenchant observations on blogging at her own site. Today, I’m joined by Teju Cole and Jean Morris in reminiscing and expressing gratitude for Beth’s ten years of blogging. Here’s a quote from Teju:

It wasn’t a great year, 2003. It was a sad year. In February and March, we were all helplessly counting down to the mass murder about to begin in Iraq, watching with horror as the men in charge made up their minds to reshape the world, and to reshape the evidence to suit that purpose. Then the war began, and the terrible news began to pour in. It pours in still.

In the midst of all that, I think we all looked for those things and those people that could speak in a thoughtful, subtle, and prophetic voice to our predicament. We didn’t need more news. We needed presence of mind. I know that this is why I read so much poetry in the past decade, and it’s also why I came to value Cassandra Pages, not long after you began writing here. You used words, images, and experience in ways that set the darkness echoing. Whether thinking about civil rights, a bowl of figs, a journey to Iceland, or a painting by Duccio, you were never lazy or glib or unkind. Through your writing here (and later, through our friendship in the real world), I learned to be more thoughtful. And through you and the way things branch out on the Internet, I found many other like-minded friends, like Dave Bonta at Via Negativa, Natalie D’Arbeloff at Blaugustine, and so many precious others.

Read the rest.

the cassandra pages:

On the other hand, though, what emerges is a body of work. It isn’t conventional, or even graspable, and perhaps will be impermanent, but I know that it is, in fact, THE body of artistic work accomplished in my lifetime which most closely represents me. It’s also taught me the most. Once upon a time I wasn’t satisfied with that. Now, I am.

For as much as I sometimes have wished to be otherwise, I am not first and foremost a novelist or a painter, a writer of non-fiction books or a photographer or printmaker. I’m a reader, and observer, and an integrator, whose chosen form is the informal essay, illustrated with my own photographs or artwork, and whose perfect medium of expression is the blog. Being a blogger became an intrinsic part of my identity: like someone who works in watercolors or oils, I see the world and my daily life through an intimacy with this medium. It used to feel a bit weird, like constant translating; now it’s so normal I don’t even think about it, even though I’ve become a lot more choosy about what to base my posts upon. The change from pure writing to a greater focus on art has simply mirrored what’s going on in my own life, too.