Tag Archives: poetry

this is a world of imagination & digitisation

On Thursday October 9th, National Poetry Day in the UK, 2008 if:book london is launching an exciting experiment in reading and writing, supported by Arts Council England. Over the next six months I will be working with artist and web designer Toni Lebusque, project manager and film maker Sasha Hoare and a team of inspired people to create an illuminated book online, containing the poetry of William Blake, new writing, art and song inspired by Blake’s work, and the voices of many readers as they debate some of Blake’s key concerns and their relevance in the digital age.
Why Blake? Well, just imagine what William Blake’s blog would look like. Think what this radical, visionary maker and publisher of multimedia books would have made of the web.
I came across Songs of Innocence & Experience as a teenager, before teachers could convince me he was difficult. My great grandfather was a Blake scholar, and I found reproductions of the illuminated books on my grandmother’s shelves; they soon inspired me to churn out epic poems of mythical worlds, to write them out neat in an exercise book and embellish them with crayons and felt tip pens. ‘This is a world of Imagination & Vision’ he wrote, which I took to mean, ‘Go for it!’
Blake has been an inspiration to generations of real artists too, from Allen Ginsberg to Jah Wobble, a source of Imagination and Vision to all kinds of readers, yet he’s also been colonized by the academics, judged obscure on one hand, nuts on the other.
Blake railed against the treatment of Chimney Sweepers and working Londoners locked in the mind forg’d manacles of man; he conjured up vivid images of nature enhanced by symbolism and transformed by imagination; he celebrated the importance of freedom in play for children. How would he react to London now, to the digital printshop, the sweatshop and call centre, the lack of spaces for kids to roam except online? What would Blake build in Second Life’s green and pleasant land? And what digital tools might he use to make what kind of books?
Bob Stein has talked of a new kind of curatorial role involved in the publishing of tomorrow; in his Unified Theory of Publishing he writes:

“far from becoming obsolete, publishers and editors in the networked era have a crucial role to play. The editor of the future is increasingly a producer, a role that includes signing up projects and overseeing all elements of production and distribution, and that of course includes building and nurturing communities of various demographics, size, and shape. Successful publishers will build brands around curatorial and community building know-how AND be really good at designing and developing the robust technical infrastructures that underlie a complex range of user experiences.”

I agree completely, but I’m not convinced that traditional publishing companies are best placed to take on this role. I’ve spent many years working with literature organisations like the Poetry Society and Booktrust, alongside professional workers with reader development projects in libraries and the community; our trade is the creation and execution of projects which bring writers and readers together, commissioning new work for specific settings. A good arts festival sparks conversations around the themes it explores and the events it makes happen.
The Poetry Places scheme we ran at the Poetry Society in the 1990s involved residencies, workshops, performances in all kinds of venues, and the creation of poems to be engraved into a public space, proclaimed at an event, used as signage in parks, zoos and estates…
People usually classified as ‘arts administrators’ are orchestrating interactions that are much more akin to Bob’s concept of the curator of the networked book than publishers who seem to find it hard to see much beyond a downloadable replica of their traditional product.
Songs of Imagination & Digitisation will involve working with a range of those people, commissioning new writing and art, providing incentives for new voices to submit work and for readers to give us their ideas. We will mingle film, text and image, reader response and author interviews – and once we’ve gathered enough ingredients on our blog we hope to transmute them into something that feels like a proper, substantial, networked book.
So many web projects go encyclopaedic and neverending. The book of the future will be linked to a community, open to revision and extension, but also bounded in a meaningful way, a satisfying artistic entity, porous but not pointless.
if:book kicks off this project on National Poetry Day. In the morning some of us will wander round Covent Garden and Soho, where Blake was born, and talk to people about their working lives. We’ll film them reading lines from Blake, then go and drink tea while actor Toby Jones reads us Blake poems and we respond to them in doodles, written words and conversation.
And that day the inspirational Bill Thompson will release into the wild a laptop loaded up with Blake’s work. For the next five months it will be passed from person to person, each one recording their responses, and emailing them to the Songsofimaginationanddigitisation.net blog
Over the next six month’s we’ll take a psychogeographical walk to Blake’s house in South Molton Street to discuss the city, gather at the Museum of Gardening near Hercules Buildings in Lambeth where Mr & Mrs Blake naked played Adam and Eve – allegedly. We’ll go to the Sassoon Gallery near Peckham Rye where young William saw angels in the branches of trees, and discuss the innocence and experiences of childhood then and now. We will be commissioning some writers, artists and musicians, offering eReaders and iTouches to others who contribute. We hope to build an international community of readers around our blog of the project’s progress, www.songsofimaginationanddigitisation.net, including students at all levels who have Blake as a set text. We want the Songs to be a springboard into all kinds of reading.
So – Tell us what you think of this Idea; Bookmark, RSS and Del.icio.us us; Send us your Blake related Poems, Stories, Photographs and Drawings; Together Let Us Sing Songs of Imagination & Digitisation!

the really modern reader

Readers of this blog will probably find much of interest in Sucking on Words, a new documentary on conceptual poet Kenneth Goldsmith. Goldsmith, as I’ve noted before, is the wizard behind the curtain at ubu.com; this documentary, by Simon Morris, focuses on his work as a conceptual poet. Like much conceptual art, Goldsmith’s work tends to make many sputteringly angry; as he himself readily admits in the film, the idea of reading it can be superior to the act of reading it, and the exploration of his work in this documentary might be the best introduction to it that’s available.
A typical Goldsmith piece is to take all the text of a day’s edition of The New York Times – all of it, from the first ad to the last – and to put it into a standard book format: viewed this way, the daily paper has the heft of a typical novel. It becomes apparent from this that when we talk about “reading” a day’s New York Times, we really only mean reading a tiny subsection of the actual text in the paper. Our act of reading the paper is as much an act of ignoring. (Nor is this limited to print media; taking a typical page on the online Times, one notes that of the 963 words on the page, only 589 are the article proper: our reading of an article online entails ignoring 2/5 of the words. This quick count pays no attention to words in images, which would send the ignored quotient higher.)
Goldsmith starts from the proposition that there’s enough language in the world already. Like many in the digital age, he’s trying to find ways to make sense of it all; in a sense, he’s creating visualizations.

poetry in motion

I’m not sure why we didn’t note QuickMuse last year when it debuted. No matter: the concept isn’t dated and the passing year has allowed it to accrue an archive worth visiting. On the backend, QuickMuse is a project built on software by Fletcher Moore that tracks what a writer does over time; when played back, the visitor with a Javascript-enabled browser sees how the composition was written over time, sped up if desired. On the front, editor Ken Gordon has invited a number of poets to compose a poem in fifteen minutes, based, usually, on some found text. The poetry thus created isn’t necessarily the best, but that’s immaterial: it’s interesting to see how people write. (If you’d like to try this yourself, you can use Dlog.)
Composition speeds vary. Rick Moody starts writing early, making mistakes and minor corrections, but ceaselessly moving forward at a formidable clip until his fifteen minutes are up; you get the impression he could happily keep writing at the same pace for hours. The sentence “Every year South American disappears” hangs alone in Mary Jo Salter’s composition for thirty seconds; you imagine the poet turning the phrase over in her mind to find the next sentence. Lines are added, slowly, always with time passing.
What this underscores in my mind is how writing is a weirdly private act. In a sense, the reader of QuickMuse is very close to the writer, watching the poem as it unfolds; the letters appear at the exact speed at which the writer’s fingers type them in. There’s a sense of intimacy that comes with the shared time. But the thought behind the action of typing is conspicuously absent. Is the pause a pregnant moment of decision? or simply the writer not paying attention? It’s impossible to say.

how people read online

There’s a series of recent posts (1, 2, 3, 4) up at Ron Silliman’s blog where he analyzes a recent study (by Simmons B. Buntin of terrain.org) of how people read and write poetry online. This is of interest even to those uninterested in poetry: Silliman is doing some very careful work in scrutinizing how and why people read online. In doing so, he’s touching on a number of things we’re interested in here, not least the roles of reputation, legitimization, and distribution in electronic reading and writing.

The study Silliman’s looking at was mostly answered by those who write as well as read poetry, so there’s a certain amount of bias in the responses he’s looking at. But this selective skew provides a useful look at cutting edge attitudes. While respondents read a wide variety on online poetry and criticism, word of mouth remains a primary method of finding new things to read: social interaction seems to be critical. Of particular interest is the different roles he sees assigned to print and online publication: most respondents found no difference in quality between print and online work, although there was the perception that online work took more risks and was generally more experimental (there seem to be broader extremes in online publication).

What do people like about publishing online? First (by a wide margin) the accessibility that it affords; second, the possibility of real-time interaction. Cost comes in third: it’s interesting that again the perception of the need for social interaction shows itself. It’s also interesting (and not tremendously surprising) that the efforts on which the most money has been spent (Poetry, which recently received an enormous bequest, has sunk $100 million into their website) don’t seem to be the most influential – blogs and forums, which are more interaction-based, come out ahead.

What doesn’t work about online publishing? The look & feel of online work, as well as poorly-designed websites, was the most frequent complaint. The ephemerality of the web is another issue: many websites seem to disappear as soon as they spring up, and Silliman suggests the need for archiving online work is a problem that needs to be resolved. A number of respondents complained about devices, arguing that it’s not as pleasant to read on a screen than on a page – which Silliman, who’s done a fair amount of reading on a Palm Pilot, qualifies by arguing that this seems to be more a software problem than a hardware problem.