Blogosphere blessings

Linda at The Task at Hand — one of my favorite destinations for creative nonfiction — wrote a post last Sunday titled “A Blogosphere Blessing,” in which she compared the welcoming links and comments of readers and fellow bloggers back when she started blogging to the house-warming parties of her youth in the American Midwest. With that in mind, I’d like to take a little time today to welcome some new (or newly returned) bloggers to the virtual neighborhood.

1. Ann E. Michael’s eponymous blog: “Poetry, nature, and speculative philosophical musings”

Pennsylvania poet Ann Michael began blogging back in September, so she’s not quite brand new, but she’s taken to it like the proverbial duck to water with thought-provoking, gracefully written posts on just the sort of topics likely to be of most interest to Via Negativa readers. A typical Ann E. Michael blog post might have her comparing Martin Buber, C. S. Lewis and Emily Dickinson, weighing the benefits of Lawn vs. meadow, and a doe, or musing on the appeal of the Christmas carol “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”:

I’m not a good singer myself, but I can sing this carol. The range works for most of us.

But that wasn’t what struck me this morning as the music surrounded me in my car en route to work. What I noticed—felt, in my marrow—is the sense of yearning in this carol. There is something particularly human in the minor-key longing for release, relief, joy, escape, liberty, union with a beloved other, desire that is both physical and spiritual, the yearning for renewal. Not hope but the desire, the longing for hope.

2. bint batutta: “crossing cultures”

From the About page:

My name is Ayesha, and I’m a translator and writer. I used to blog here. I was born in India and grew up in Britain, and I currently live in Bahrain.

Friends gave me the nickname Bint Battuta (after Ibn Battuta) because I used to travel a lot. These days my journeys take a different form. I love to read, and explore ideas. I’m particularly interested in history, and the spaces where cultures meet.

Since its rebirth on December 1, bint batutta has been a real cabinet of curiosities, with posts on the jalboot, the “Afghan” cameleers of Australia, the use of the Arabic script in Africa for languages other than Arabic, and more.

3. VidPoFilm: “the Poetics of Video and Film Poetry”

I love videopoetry and film-poetry, but I tend to have a hard time explaining why. My own site Moving Poems is therefore mainly a glorified links blog, an embedded video being a fancy kind of link. Brenda Clews goes much more in depth at VidPoFilm. And while my site is set up to focus on the poets, Brenda’s spotlight is square on the films/videos themselves. Here she is for instance on a film called Ground, by Ginnetta Correlli for a haiku series by Scottish artist (and film-poem maker) Alastair Cook:

This is a surreal filmpoem; it has a European art film feel to it. Like when watching an Almodóvar, forget logic, for a rational approach to understanding won’t reveal anything. As you seek to embrace the meaning of the film, you find mindfulness here like a Zen koan.

You can’t quite put it together. Rather, feel the deep angst the film produces. That’s where the film is unfolding in your consciousness as a message, a predicament, a riddler of the paradoxes of life.

VidPoFilm also has monthly group shows for online videopoets to share their favorite creations, theoretical commentary and more.

4. 如 (thus) 是: “¡Ay, quién podrá sanarme!”

Seon Joon is an American Buddhist nun in Korea who has been keeping a photoblog, from this shore, for several years now (and before that, blogged at a now-defunct site called Ditch the Raft). She just graduated from a four-year Buddhist seminary, which meant she’d have a little more time to blog — thus thus, which seems to be more a place for literary writings so far. Her “small stones” for the January river of stones writing challenge rank among the best I’ve seen:

Loud voices mask the night’s quiet. Where the lamplight ends the dark is present, pressing, patient, animal-like, before words.
(Jan. 3)

The sun slips away, like a face disappearing under dark velvet blankets. The temperature falls. I shiver, pull my hat down close.
(Jan. 9)

Winter rain, cold, hard, quiet, steady all day. Inside, behind curtains, I want the rain’s impassive clarity: only fall straight.
(Jan. 19)

Overnight, the world accumulates a white rime. 4 a.m. I float in the faint glow reflected over and over between snow and clouds.
(Jan. 25)

[updated to add] 5. A year of Mt. Tamalpais: “dreaming in the shadows of the Sleeping Maiden”
See my review here.

Please stop by these sites today or this weekend and join me in welcoming them to the blogosphere.


Via Negativa and its sister sites are also on the receiving end of some serious blessings from information technology architect, blogger and slow-reading expert John Miedema. John just released a major new version of his popular OpenBook WordPress plugin, which provides a convenient way for book reviewers to pull in a book-cover image, author, and other book data from Open Library (a site which I’ve used extensively during my April poetry-book-a-day marathons, due to its wealth of links and the ease with which one can add books not already in its database). Openbook 3.2 includes a number of new features, among them a donate button on the settings page of one’s WordPress dashboard. Many authors of free plugins include such buttons, as well they should. But John decided to have his button support something other than his own efforts.

If you click the new button on the settings page it will take you to a new page on the OpenBook support wiki, “Pay it Forward for Literacy.” On that page I recommend supporting the literary website, Via Negativa. Dave Bonta is a poet and editor from Pennsylvania. He maintains four excellent sites that I have followed for years. He is also a writer and editor of Qarrtsiluni, a literary magazine. Countless volunteer hours have generated an enthusiastic following. You can support hosting and domain registration costs and keep these great literary sites going.

To say I’m honored by this wouldn’t begin to describe it. Flabbergasted is more like it. I mean, wow. As the son of an academic reference librarian (who continues to read and believe in my work — thanks, Dad!) I am especially pleased to have the support of such a progressive, cutting-edge thinker in the world of library science. I feel — what’s the word? — blessed.

Do poetry videos reach larger audiences than poems on the page?

In her most recent Friday Video/Filmpoem post at Rubies in Crystal, featuring Glenn-emlyn Richards’ animation of a poem by Eleanor Rees called “Saltwater,” Brenda Clews describes a recent attempt to turn an audience on to videopoetry:

I treated a group to a series of video/film poems, only a few, because they tired very quickly — poetry is demanding enough on the page, let alone strung at you in a video where you can’t slow down, re-read, consider before moving on – but someone said, the one with the woman, the drawing, the ocean, that one was my favourite. In unison, they all agreed.

I commented that I was struck by her claim that video/filmpoems are actually more demanding than poems on the page. So many people make the opposite claim, especially about animated poems. Here, for example, is how the folks at Motion Poems promote their efforts to potential donors at

Contemporary poetry is a mystery to most casual readers: they rarely read it, and would have a hard time discovering great new poetry on their own. We think that’s a shame! So…

MOTIONPOEMS subverts that paradigm by giving casual readers a new way to discover poetry … as short films! That way, they can be distributed virally and on YouTube, in social networks, in classrooms, and in broadcast and film media. [ellipses original]

In close to three years of sharing videos, animated and otherwise, at Moving Poems, I’ve seen steady traffic but nothing to suggest I’m reaching very far beyond the existing fan base for poetry. The most popular videos tend to be those for Latin American poets, in particular Vicente Huidobro and Julia de Burgos. This makes sense: poetry is actually fairly popular in the Spanish-speaking world.

Of course, I do suck at promotion. With the names of poets included in the post titles at Moving Poems, and a reasonably good PageRank, the site is practically guaranteed to land in the first page of Google results for most poets I include. So O.K., I’m drawing in people who are already interested in poetry. But since I don’t use tags to describe the contents of the poems — something I’m reluctant to do on the grounds that it reduces a poem to the sum of its ostensible subjects — it’s very unlikely that, for example, someone interested in the Liverpudlian waterfront would land on my post of “Saltwater” (or Brenda’s, or Glenn-emlyn’s original upload at Vimeo), unless they did some very creative Google video search.

So yeah, doing things like using more descriptive tags could bring more traffic… but would that really enlarge the audience for poetry, or just disappoint more people looking for, you know, information? The question remains: Is mere conversion to the film or video medium enough to overcome the general reluctance of English-language readers to challenge themselves?

On YouTube and Vimeo, the most popular poetry videos in English tend to be either those for poets who are already popular (relatively speaking), such as Billy Collins and Rumi, or for videos that make a simple point extremely well and go viral as a result, such as a kinetic text animation for a spoken-word piece by Taylor Mali about people’s reluctance to express firm opinions, or Tanya Davis and Andrea Dorfman’s powerful statement on “How to Be Alone.”

I do think there’s an extent to which online poems in whatever form are helping to create a larger audience for poetry among those who have always kind of liked poems and/or enjoy an intellectual challenge, but may not be in the habit of sitting down to read poetry books and journals. That’s been my experience over the years with a number of sites, most notably this one, where I think one key to success has been my pattern of interspersing poems with other, more popular kinds of content (photos, personal or nature essays, brief polemics, etc.). This is the kind of thing blogs are good at: People come for the other stuff, develop an interest in the author, and eventually start reading the poems, too.

But if I ever thought that making and posting videopoems would enlarge the fan base for poetry here, I lost that illusion a long time ago. My videopoems usually average around 100 views — one quarter of what a poem in text form gets. That’s not as skewed as it sounds, since Vimeo only logs views from people who watch all the way to the end, and I don’t of course have comparable statistics for people who read a poem all the way through. The actual number of thorough readers may not be much more than 100 per poem. But the evidence so far does not suggest that Via Negativa visitors are more likely to take in a poem just because I’ve envideoed it.

So while I fervently hope that the animators at Motion Poems and similar projects are successful in bringing new audiences to poetry, I do tend to agree with Brenda that more elliptical or experimental film/videopoets will have to work at least as hard as traditional page-poets to reach an audience in the Anglophone world.

Festival of the Trees returns to Via Negativa on July 1

The world’s longest-running — and probably only — blog carnival devoted to all things arboreal, the Festival of the Trees, turns five next month. Its very first edition appeared on July 1, 2006 right here at Via Negativa, so it seemed fitting to bring it back for edition #61. The theme is open, but I’m especially interested in new discoveries about trees and forests, either of a scientific or personal nature.

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of a blog carnival, think of it as a homeless links blog which crashes on a different blog-couch every month. Or as my FOTT co-conspirator Jade Blackwater puts it (see What’s a Blog Carnival?):

A blog carnival is a recurring, theme-driven publication which congregates content from many sources in one place online.

A single issue of a blog carnival reads just like a great big blog post filled with links to many other blog posts (or photo galleries, or videos, etc.) that talk about the same subject.

The purpose of a blog carnival is to engage with the world wide community to celebrate subjects of common interest (in our case, trees and forests).

So contributors post material on their own blogs or websites and send the links to the host of the upcoming edition. For FOTT #61, email your article permalinks to me: bontasaurus (at) yahoo (dot) com, and be sure to put “Festival of the Trees” in the subject line so I’ll know it’s not spam. The deadline is June 30.

We have much more information about the Festival at our coordinating site, but I think the easiest way to grasp the concept is to browse some of the past editions, started with the most recent edition at Rubies in Crystal. This was Brenda Clews’ first time hosting, and she did something very ambitious: ask participants “to record an engagement with a tree or trees, preferably in video, but any form. To talk to the trees and bring back what transpired.” The response was impressive, and included 12 videos. (Note that video embedding is really just a fancy form of linking, and is therefore encouraged in blog carnivals.) Check it out.

I didn’t get around to making a video in time for Brenda’s edition, I’m sorry to say, but I was so impressed by a poem she reprinted from Dick Jones’ blog, I decided to ask Dick if I could make a video for it. He not only agreed, but recorded a reading for me to incorporate. I’ll be sharing this on Moving Poems next week, but here it is for those who can’t wait. (Note that HD is off by default; click on “HD” in the lower right corner if your internet speed supports it.) To read the text of the poem, refer to Brenda’s post.

Watch at Vimeo.