Category Archives: About Poetry

Reversals Begins

I’ve been working on this series of poems for several years now, almost a decade, and haven’t put any of them online, submitted them to a journal, or really shown them to anyone. Then last Friday, at a meeting, I was talking to another poet and described the concept of this. It is a very cool concept, I think, and he agreed. I also think it is highly publishable. Even a possible crowdfunding project! So when I realized I’d given away the entire concept to a poetry publisher, I thought, “What in blazes am I doing?!”

So that was yesterday, and today I want to commit myself to trying to release this series of poems via the blog over the coming year. I hope to put the first actual poem in the blog here tomorrow. All I’ll say right now is that the series is based around the idea of a deck of cards, with some Tarot symbolism, some mythology, some gaming, some life …. It has a pretty intricate interwoven symbolic structure, if I actually get it right. Fingers crossed! Here’s to the adventure!

Why I Put My Poetry in a Blog

Q: [Nic Sebastian]
Patricia: You wrote in a recent [WOMPO] list email: “What is the goal of publishing poetry in this day? Is this an attempt to validate the poetry in the context of your hope for future jobs in higher education? Or is is about finding an intelligent and informed audience and readership for the poems? The two are very different, and the paths to these two goals seldom intersect.”

I’d be very interested in hearing your thoughts as to why and how these two objectives differ. I consider myself a poet, but earn my living in an absolutely-nothing-to-with-poetry field. After initially having lots of energy and a strong desire to pursue publication over several years, and with some success, I have lately found myself seriously losing momentum in this regard and am wondering to what extent the dichotomy you refer to plays into it. Not an earth-shattering development, but I am curious.

A:
Nice meeting you, Nic, and thank you for question. I’m pondering how to clarify my earlier statement, but basically it’s personal for me. I’ve been in both places and find value in both, and continue to struggle to make sense out of this dichotomy. I’m also really tired (sick kid) so hoping this isn’t rambling too much and makes sense to someone.

My poetry career began in academics. Well, my post K-12 poetry career, I should say. ;) This was back in the 70s and late 80s. Because the poetry publishing field was so highly competitive, and it was so HARD to get published, I was always afraid to show my work to anyone for fear it would be borrowed, cribbed, stolen, abused in some fashion. I have enormous notebooks collecting jealously guarded early works that very few have ever seen. I won awards; was published in most issues of the the school literary magazine; moved onward to small press poetry mags; worked in a library in part as selector for 20th century English language poetry; applied to creative writing programs; was offered a fellowship. I made friends among poets, bought tons of poetry books, went to readings & receptions, and was determined to make poetry my profession.

Sounds like a fairly typical progression, doesn’t it? Well, after I received the offer of a fellowship, I celebrated by going out with my creative writing pals from the local university, and asking what happens once you get your degree? It turned out, for a woman, there was no real future. There was a long pause, as my circle of friends all looked at each other, trying to decide who would be the one to share the unhappy truth. Eventually, the head of the local creative writing program, still a highly respected and frequently published poet, told me, “You will be over qualified for the job you hold now.” A flurry of vehement conversation later came part two, “You have been offered a fellowship. That is your degree. You are a writer, you are a poet. The rest is just politics and the icing on the cake. Even if you do get a job as a writing faculty, you will lose the freedom to write what you really want. You’ll be measured by quantity of published work in the area you’re hired to write in, not your creativity or innovation. If you are hired as a poet and decide to start writing short stories, the stories will not contribute to your tenure efforts. They will be discounted. And visa versa.” Or words to that effect.

I didn’t want to believe this, so I did research. At that time, I was able to locate only ONE tenured woman faculty of poetry on the North American continent. Most women ended up with one or two year temporary appointments, moving from school to school. The looks went around the circle again. I was told, “We are writing faculty because we can’t do anything else. You can. You have options, choices.”

I declined the fellowship and went to library school. I was a single parent. I had a child to support. I didn’t want to raise her as a gypsy, I wanted to give her some stability and safety in life. I wanted health insurance (kid was sick a LOT, in the hospital three times her first month).

Fast forward twenty or so years. I continued to write. A lot! But I didn’t continue to submit my poems to formal publications. Well, occasionally, just a few, but I didn’t work at it. When I did submit works, it was usually to chapbook contests, and they were gently declined. It really does help with later publications to have various journal publications first. I did a little bit in the Chicago slam poetry movement, but again not a lot. I grew up in a university town, and was focused from an early age on academic achievement. I was still protecting my poems, afraid of sharing them except through official formal publication channels. I had a few really trusted readers, but I had to train them myself. The tendency of friends is to simply always say whatever you’ve done is wonderful. That never helped me understand what went wrong at a certain paint, how to make a piece stronger, did I ramble too long, or try to cram too much into too small a space, did I overdo it with alliteration/rhythm/???, were the line breaks too random, etc, etc.

A few years ago I become the UM Emerging Technologies Librarian, with a significant focus on the impact of social media on academic activities such as teaching, learning, research, publication. I work closely with the unit focusing on open educational resources, and actively promote Creative Commons licensing on campus. This is part of my job, but has snuck over into almost every aspect of my life. After a few years, and after routinely posting short poems (micropoetry) on Twitter and Facebook and Identi.ca, I was asked to contribute to the blog OpenMicro. This grew into collaborations, and other invitations. I started reading online poetry magazines in addition to print. I attended poetry readings & workshops in Second Life, and joined in as a reader, and challenged myself with improv poetry. Eventually I started a poetry blog for the National Poetry Writing Month challenges, which I’ve done a few years now. It gives me quite a rush when people end up in a flurry of conversation around my daily poems during April, people telling me they are eagerly waiting for the next one, guessing what I’ll do. Unfortunately, I simply don’t have the stamina to keep it up all year. I wish I did. Online social media, being open and sharing my poetry has resulted in a readership many magnitudes larger than any I could ever have through print media, much more engagement and activity. It is so much more rewarding than anything else I had done with my poetry, I cannot begin to express it.

Now, I am not seeking academic tenure for my poetry, so I am not risking my professional reputation. Actually, I am ENHANCING and enriching and expanding my reputation. But, as a writer and a poet, I am having massively more fun with my poetry and other folks poetry working in this more open and social environment than I ever did working off in my own little cubby with fewer readers than fingers and protecting my poems so much than I’ve lost copies of most of them. Just my experience, but it illustrates a bit of the dichotomy.

For the record, I’ve observed similar shifts in research and science. There is a huge focus coming out of the government to try to facilitate more rapid growth of science through transparency & collaboration. The whole concept of translational science (one of my own research interests) is based on this, as are the movements on open science / open notebook science / open data / data sharing / citizen science / etc. This is part of the conversation that will be happening at the HASTAC conference December 2-3 on Digital Scholarly Communication in the humanities. In my honest opinion, this is the wave of the future. I could go into detail about why for hours. I feel heartbroken and sad for my poet friends who don’t understand this and linger in the “I must protect my content by not sharing it” mode. Sharing it is HOW you protect your content in the modern online environment. That is how you build reputation, how you prove the date of authorship, how you expand your audience, how you maximise your sales. There is quite a bit of research to substantiate these claims. My favorite new article came out last week in PLoS showing how research publications that share data tend not only to be more cited but also more accurate and better quality!

Jelte M. Wicherts, Marjan Bakker, Dylan Molenaar. Willingness to Share Research Data Is Related to the Strength of the Evidence and the Quality of Reporting of Statistical Results. PLoS ONE: Research Article, published 02 Nov 2011. 10.1371/journal.pone.0026828
http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0026828

Obviously, I’m biased. :) Which was why in the original statement, I tried to focus on the goals and not my bias. Sigh, failed, again. ;)

Slow Poetry

I was searching for videos to use in my emerging technologies talk this week, and somehow stumbled over this series of videos from the University of Warwickshire about “Slow Poetry” and placing poetry in the context of the natural environment. I am thinking of it a little like guerilla gardening, and in my mind it is stealth poetry. I know this blog has mostly been just housing my own poems, but I thought it is about time for me to also share some of the works that interest, intrigue and inspire me, provoking questions, serving as poetry prompts and concepts to explore in the future, etcetera. So this is the first post of that kind.

In these videos, David Morley introduces a nature walk in a local park where poems and word explorations are engraved on posts, carved into rocks, visible only from certain places along the paths, mounted on tiny huts, posted on trees, and so forth. I’ve always said poems are all around us, just waiting to be plucked, but he makes this concept physical and literal.

An Introduction to Slow Poetry, by David Morley

Placing Poems in the Natural Environment

More:

Word Worms:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BLbEduerU0

Slow Poetry:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EhW3Ty5SKM

Slow Poetry, a Conclusion:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5eiSiAiaDmg

Pondering NaPoWriMo

The first year here, I was struggling just to do a poem a day for NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month). The second year, I was scared. A neighbor gave me a copy of a book of photography meditating on the creation and Genesis. I loved the photos and thought if I got stuck I could always just open the book and look for visual inspiration. That was how the Creation series was born. That worked pretty well for me, so this year (2011) I was pondering again taking a theme and working through it. I thought about this for a while, talked with a couple friends, and ended up with the Erosion poem series.

I wanted something that kind of opposed creation but which was not so unsubtle as destruction. I also have been sad a lot this year and was particularly sad when NaPoWriMo was starting. Erosion seemed to fit the bill. However, erosion is so opposed as a concept to form that I felt compelled to struggle again the theme by placing all the poems written in some sort of formal context. Thus you find an exceptional number of sonnets, a few villanelles, a dash of ‘haiku’, and so forth. As I lost energy towards the end of the month, I settled for syllabic patterns, but some with rhymes. None of the Erosion poems is without an externally imposed form.

Now that I’ve completely my third NaPoWriMo, I’m already thinking about next year, what I might do. I thought it would be handy next year to have a list of themes I’ve been considering, and invite suggestions in the comments. If I feel brave enough, I may create a poll from the suggestions in March of next year and allow the readership to determine the theme. Scary idea, eh?

So here are some I’ve been pondering so far.

– Metamorphoses
– Miracles
– Mysteries
– Naming

Feel free to make suggestions, and the ones I think my brain could deal with will be added to the list above. (I do reserve the right to exclude any topics I don’t feel I could deal with well.) Then next year, we’ll see what happens.