Ephemera

A Blog About Writing, Culture, and Technology by Dylan Kinnett, a Writer and Web Developer in Baltimore, Maryland.

Testing Digital Highlighters

Testing Digital Highlighters
2021-12-31

“Make each program do one thing well."
Doug McIlroy, inventor of Unix.

When I’m reading to learn, or when I’m reading for something to write, it helps me to mark key passages. Collected together, the passages give a personalized summary of what I’ve read. They’re immensely useful as quotes and references, for future writing and review.

With analogue reading, this is so easy: grab a pencil, or a highlighter, mark the passages as you go, done. It barely distracts from reading. The only friction comes later, since it isn’t so easy to search across the highlights, or to copy/paste them.

Reading online, it’s a different story for me. Right now, if I see something interesting, I copy it, paste it into a note in a separate application, and then return to what I’m reading to copy a link to the source, return to the note to paste it in, and return finally back to reading again. This process works, but toggling back and forth between apps while copy/pasting distracts from the reading experience. It’s even more cumbersome to do this with the smaller screens and slower processing on a phone or tablet. Is there a better way? I’ve decided to try and see.

Many apps provide a highlighting experience, but which one is right for me? I decided to review them and see what, if anything, meets my criteria:

  1. Highlights. The obvious criteria for a web highlighter is that it should help me highlight multiple key passages while I read online.
  2. Fewest Actions. Highlighting should work with the fewest number of actions possible. The reading is most important. Distractions must be minimal. Setup for a highlighting system should also be minimal, but I’m not opposed to a bit of technomancy, if it gets excellent results.
  3. Portable Highlights. I do not want to have to copy/paste every time I make a highlight, since that’s already what I do now. I’d like my highlights to be portable, especially into plain text files for use with my other notes. I’ll need a link back to the source to come along with whatever I’ve highlighted. This, too, should meet the “fewest actions” requirement. I prefer a synchronized method, but would settle for an easy export.
  4. Capture Anywhere. I read on Windows, Linux and Android systems, running on desktop, phone, and tablet devices. I need to capture highlights while reading on any of those. It doesn’t matter to me whether I’m reading a web page or a PDF, and I don’t want it to matter to my highlighter.
  5. Price. I’ll pay money (once please?) for the right features, if they’re out there, but I’d prefer a free tier at least for testing things.

A Pass/Fail Review

I’m reviewing the options strictly. If an option fails to meet one of the criteria, it fails for me, and I’ll move on, noting any pros and cons that catch my attention.

Gandalf says, YOU SHALL NOT PASS

In other words, this is my own, extremely opinionated, subjective review based on my personal situation. If your needs differ from mine, perhaps my review could help you find a solution that works for you. We all have so many different approaches to this type of experience, and the good news is that there are also many options.

Web Clippers and Digital Highlighters

Options come and go, too. I noticed a few that are no longer developed, which is all the more reason for the “portability” criteria. If my highlights are stored with something that goes out of business, I want my stuff anyway. I focused on options that seemed likely to meet all my criteria, particularly for reading web pages vs. PDFs or electronic books on an e-reader. I tried to find newer options as well as the ones mentioned repeatedly on blogs and forums.

Glasp

glasp.co is billed as “a social highlighter” but then again Twitter does that. (Other people’s highlights are not one of my criteria.) How well does this newer app, still in beta, work for me? I couldn’t find a mobile app for Android so I stopped there. Otherwise, it seems to make good exports for use with plain text note files, so it could have potential for someone else.

grade: fail. no Android support.

Weava

weavatools.com offers a simple and attractive highlighter extension for browsers. Weava’s Android app is “in the pipeline” so I stopped there.

grade: fail. no Android support

Snippet

gosnippet.com is a highlighter app with no extra clutter in the way but it doesn’t offer an android app and exporting is a paid feature, so I didn’t try it out.

grade: fail. no Android support

Evernote

evernote.com offers an easy highlighter as a browser extension and mobile app. Select text, share to Evernote. Done. The trouble comes when you want to get the highlights out of Evernote. Most systems for copying from Evernote are meant for doing it all at once and only once, for when you’re moving away from Evernote. This doesn’t make for very portable notes or a minimal workflow. There are tools for syncing to text files in Dropbox, but that adds more complexity for me since I don’t already use DropBox.

grade: fail. cumbersome export

Liner

getliner.com is the most popular web highlighter for good reason. It’s simple and it works everywhere. To export the text though you have to do a download for every single highlight individually, or else click on a bunch of them. There’s no API or even a “download all” button. Without this, Liner is not for me.

grade: fail. cumbersome export

hypothes.is

hypothes.is is built to facilitate shared, collaborative highlighting and annotation on the web. I could overlook the dated look to the interface, and I have no use for the social/sharing aspects of it, but the experience of using it on my android phone or tablet is unacceptably clunky. It’s 2021 folks. Time for a mobile app. (I tried the app in Google Play Store that’s built to share with hypothes.is but when I tried it either it did nothing or showed an error message.)

grade: fail. no Android support

WorldBrain Memex

memex.garden is a beta product, and might ultimately become one of the more expensive options. It isn’t exclusively a highlighter.

(Memex includes additional functionality for searching across your browser bookmarks, and until recently you could also search your browser history. So often, I remember reading something and then hit a search engine trying to find it again, so I’d love a history search that includes the contents of what I’ve read, but I suppose they killed this feature for privacy reasons.)

I found the highlighting feature to be very easy to use in the browser, the mobile app works as expected, but I don’t see a way to get my highlights out of the system and into my notes. It’s a work in progress so maybe later.

grade: fail. exporting isn’t ready yet.

Pocket

pocket.com is for making bookmarks, particularly of the “read it later” variety. I’m looking for a highlighter though. This fails my “minimal actions” criteria because I’d have to first save a redundant copy of the article, then open it in Pocket, then make any highlights. While it does allow you to highlight a passage while making the initial bookmark, the passage I chose was truncated.

grade: fail. it’s a copy machine with a highlighter tacked on

Pinboard

pinboard.in is also not a highlighter but it can work that way. Pinboard is my favorite system for bookmarking though. Select a passage of text, and with most of the interfaces it’ll be quoted in a bookmark description for that page. This works perfectly for me, and I already paid for it as a bookmarker, but it doesn’t let you create more than one highlight/bookmark for the same URL.

grade: fail. not a highlighter for multiple passages.

Readwise

readwise.io excels at making Kindle highlights easier to use. I already use and enjoy the Readwise plugin for Obsidian, for syncing Kindle highlights with plain text note files. Readwise can integrate with other highlighters, but I feel that adds undue complexity so I’m interested in whatever Readwise can do naively. The plugin for browsers works efficiently. The mobile app has a weird habit of dumping all your notes into a “highlighted from android” note, while all other notes are logically organized by the book or article they came from. You can circumvent the weird “android” note but I don’t want to have to retype the title of the source every time I make a nightlight on my mobile device, so that’s a “soft” deal-breaker for me. I could overlook it if there’s no better option than readwise.

grade: almost. does everything I want with minimal extra actions in the way.

Diigo

diigo.com captures highlight nicely on my various devices. As for getting the highlights out of diigo and into into my notes, though… “Sync Diigo to Folder” is a Node package that will sync all your Diigo bookmarks to a directory as Markdown files. Intended for use with Obsidian. Requires Diigo API Key, a feature of paid subscription. I found it irksome that the exported highlights didn’t link to the original source, but to a copy of it on Diigo. This is done in order display the highlights along with the text, but I prefer text fragment linking for this.

grade: fail. almost passes, but it ommits links to the source of the highlights.

Conclusion: Confusion

When I set out to explore these many options, I expected to find several that work for me, and to pick one based on something subjective like highlighter colors.

Along the way I realized a few “negative criteria,” common features that don’t interest me or get in my way. Again, I’m looking for a highlighter here; not a bookmark, not a read-it-later duplicate copy of what I’m reading, and I’m not interested in making flashcards. Those are all related, useful, and not for me.

This isn’t about making web annotations either; I’m just highlighting. For my purposes right now, other people’s highlights or annotations are, well, beside the point. At worst, they’re more of the same dregs you get from web comments and maybe too similar. At best, they’re an interesting distraction, compounded by an invitation for dialogue, which is another distraction.

I also found barriers between highlighting a web page vs. a PDF vs. e-books of various formats. The experience differs also depending on the type of device you’re using, and of course a web service struggles if you’re working offline. I can imagine a system that transcends these barriers, but haven’t found one yet.

And the Winner Is…

In the end, I found that nothing perfectly meets my admittedly strict set of criteria. Readwise comes extremely close with only one little annoyance. I will live with it for a while and see how it goes.


see also:


A New Scanner for Books

2020-12-21

It’s here. It’s finally here! My book scanner has arrived.

After a 7 month production delay, a slow boat from China, and weeks of customs and quarantine, I finally have it. I’m going to finish the project to digitize my grandmother’s writings with it. Before I do, I’m using some old zines to learn the ropes.

The new CZUR Shine Ultra is a 13 Megapixel camera with its own software. The foot pedal is a nice touch. This thing is super portable and should be great for library visits, paired with a laptop.

This scanner isn’t perfect, I should say. On the friendly and helpful CZUR Users Facebook Group there are several posts about, and workarounds for a few common issues. The light puts glare onto shiny surfaces when scanning magazine or catalogue pages. The images aren’t incredibly high-resolution. The built-in OCR could be better… but for my project, it’s just right. I’ve got hundreds of typewritten pages to scan. They’re not in color, or reflective in any way, and the OCR is much better than what I had a few years ago.

There are even some unintended uses for the device. It doubles as an overhead webcam, a desklamp, and even a headphones stand.

I got this model from indiegogo to back the initial production. That’s why I had to wait for them to be manufactured. There is an older model, the CZUR Aura scanner on Amazon. I thought to spring for the fancy new model, but I placed the order just before the pandemic hit. I’m suprised it ever arrived at all, but now the fun can begin.


Text Adventures that Go Beyond

2019-04-13

This post is the third in a series about interactive stories.
Read the second post.

It’s funny that text-based games are commonly called “interactive fiction,” since that’s a label suitable for most video games. That name is a relic of a time when games were far less commonly thought of as art, and ones that worked with the written word seemed closer to what was thought of as “telling stories.” Now, in an age of dazzling graphical capabilities, it might seem like the opposite is true – that text games are antiquated, and that technology has allowed gaming to move on and fully embrace its potential as an art form.
– Daniel Schindel, More than Zork

Daniel Schindel makes an important point, in his review of “modern text adventures.” Once you’ve enjoyed the intuitable and panoramic explorations in a video game like Halo or Skyrim, it becomes difficult to enjoy an experience that involves typing Go East, open door and go through door over and over again. Once you’ve spoken with Siri, or Cortana, or Alexa, it’s frustrating when a text parser doesn’t understand a typed command like go back to the kitchen.

In my own explorations of contemporary interactive stories, I’m hesitant to include many “text adventures” for those reasons above. I set out to find the best/new/different interactive stories, but seems much of this text-command-parsing genre has aged to the point where it seems too difficult and unattractive, compared to newer options. I will focus on two notable exceptions, though. There are others.

One of these text adventures takes a new approach to the old experience, and another pushes the medium towards a limit that could suggest its future direction.

The House Abandon

If you’ve never played a “text adventure” type of interactive fiction before, The House Abandon would be great to play first. (It doesn’t require any unusual softare to learn how to install, learn how to install install, and then learn how to use with one or many file formats.) It’s available on Steam, a hugely popular source for computer games, as part of a trilogy called Stories Untold

As with any of the original text adventures, the interface is a computer terminal and you control the game with typed, verbal commands, but this occurs within a frame story, where that interface is part of a larger narrative. You play a character whose father has dusted off an old computer game console, so you can play a classic again, and that’s where the fun begins. Play this one with the lights off and the sound on so you can enjoy an innovative text adventure that moves beyond a limited vocabulary to include video and sound effects. Stories Untold include two other marvelous “episodes” as well, but they are less textual and so not my main focus here.

Galatea

Written nearly 20 years ago, Galatea gives readers the experience of a realistic conversation with a fictional character. The character, Galatea, is the name given to a marble statue come to life, a story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. You play an art critic who has a moment alone with her, and a chance to converse.

The game runs on the same software that powers many works in the text adventure genre, but it does away with all the go west and put gun on table because everything happens in a single space. With no need for movement, the author is free to focus more on dialogue than on setting, and Emily Short has authored some compelling dialogue. This game doesn’t involve an AI to power its conversational interface (it might have in a later version that never happened, though). Nevertheless, this game suggests what it might be like to have a conversation with a fictional character, who is an AI. There’s a handcrafted script behind this character, and for once it isn’t a computer or a robot!

Play Galatea

EOF

Comparing the text adventure genre to video game may be unfair. Today’s video games are more like movies, often with giant teams and budgets to fuel their flashy special effects. Text adventures are more like books, a textual experience, more nuanced, typically from a single author. It’s that comparison, with books, that leads me to mention another irksome quality of the genre: its typography. This is changing, and I’ll get to that in a later post, but text adventures hail from a time when there were zero options for text formatting on a screen. It pales in comparison to what you could get from a book, or a magazine, a modern web site, or even a kindle. This is a minor gripe though, since ultimately it’s the story that matters most, and there are some good stories, if you can get to them.

Oh, and here’s a painting of Galatea and Pygmalion, for fun.

Pygmalion and Galatea,ca. 1890
    Jean-Léon Gérôme French
Pygmalion and Galatea, ca. 1890 Jean-Léon Gérôme French

Open the Pod Bay Doors: Conversational Interfaces in an Epistolary Literary Style

2019-03-11

This post is the second in a series about interactive stories.
Read the first post.

In some of the earliest novels, the story unfolds in an epistolary fashion; it’s told through a series of letters. In this way, the reader can see some raw, and personal narratives, such as what they would say to their loved ones, or their immediate impressions of lived experience. Sometimes the text presents letters from one author, but sometimes there are many. They write back and forth, between and among each other, and the story becomes more conversational, more simlultaneous, and arguably more interesting as the subjective accounts coexist, complicate, and contradict. The letter, in these stories, is a technology, although perhaps primitive by today’s standards, that provides an interface for conversation, across distances. That’s an important job for a tool to do, and so many of our newer tools are also approaches to that same job.

In some of today’s hypertexts (I’m including some video games as hypertexts) there are conversational interfaces that tell a story in an epistolary way. Here are some examples.

Event[0]

Event[0] is an award-winning video game that is, by its own description,

“about building a personal relationship with a machine.You type messages into a computer, and Kaizen answers. As in any relationship, you experience gratitude, disappointment, and sometimes jealousy. It is by working through fears and anxieties of your virtual companion that you will find your way back to Earth.”

The setting of the story is one that I’ve encountered a few times, an abandoned space vessel, devoid of crew, with only its computer to converse with. The game is a mix between a first-person exploration of the vessel, some puzzles to solve by interpreting the environment, and conversations with the computer at the computer terminals positioned throughout the place. These conversations are done by typing questions or commands to the computer, which I found to be more tempermental than emotional. (Incidentally, the computer’s name, Kaizen, is the Japanese word for a philosophy of continual improvement.) During these conversations, a story unfolds. What happened to the crew? Which objects did they leave behind and why? What do their logs have to say, about their conversations among each other and with the computer? The Event[0] experience is about 4 hours or conversational reading and setting-exploration, with multiple endings. The initial sequence, where you choose among details for the protagonist does seem a bit out-of-place, and the controls can occasionally make the navigation more tricky than necessary, but overall the gameplay is enjoyable. Does the story have “gravity”? Yes and no. The story is delivered in a compelling way, being a mix of real-time conversation and logbook reading, but the story that’s revealed is not a terribly complex conflict and the characters within it are less-detailed than they could be. Nevertheless, Event[0] won the Independeng Games Festival award for “Excellence in Narrative.”

As an aside, I’m delighted to discover this award for games with excellence in narrative. I look forward to exploring the visual novels, text adventures and all the other stories that were nominated or awarded this distinction, and I’m glad to know that it exists.

Analogue: A Hate Story

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. There’s a ship drifting and abandoned in the outer reaches of space, devoid of its crew, with only the ship’s computer remaining to tell the tale which is told through conversation with that computer. It’s a common premise, and present also in a game called Analogue: A Hate Story.

This game also presents a story through a conversational interface with a computer, who grants access to the crew’s logs and diaries, but in this game there are multiple computers, and they do not always agree or cooperate.

Wikipedia describes the game well,

Analogue: A Hate Story (Korean: 아날로그: 어 헤이트 스토리) is a visual novel created by independent designer and visual novelist Christine Love. It was created with the Ren’Py engine. The game’s themes focus similarly around human/computer interaction, interpersonal relationships, and LGBT issues; but focus primarily on “transhumanism, traditional marriage, loneliness and cosplay.” … Set several thousand years in the future, Analogue revolves around the Mugunghwa (Hangul: 무궁화; RR: Moogoonghwa), a generation ship that lost contact with Earth some 600 years prior to the events of the game. For reasons initially unclear, society aboard the ship had degraded from that of modern, 21st Century South Korea, to the intensely patriarchal culture of the medieval Joseon Dynasty.

The visual experience of this visual novel is more static, like a manga, than that of the video game Event[0]. Some reviewers have said, and I’m inclined to agree, that the cartoon illustrations undermine the otherwise dark and introspective experience of the story. The story shines though anyway. The story is more complex and more precient than that of many visual novels, as it delves into the meaningful social conditions behind the conflicts in the story. I found it to be an enjoyable read.

[EOF]

In these stories, the “interface” isn’t always between faces. Today’s readers are becoming more-or-less accustomed to something like conversation when we write or speak to a command line, a search engine, a smart phone, a television… a microwave? And wherever there’s language, a story’s sure to follow. These stories, while employing similar interfaces as literary devices, are also about interface itself, and the tools we use to do it.

This post is the second in a series about interactive stories.
Read the third post.


Bandersnatch, Hypertext, and the State of Interactive Stories

2019-02-06

Interest in non-linear storytelling is rekindling. Two months ago, the Black Mirror studio released a movie called Bandersnatch on Netflix. The film is interactive, enabling its audience to choose from a menu of two options at the end of each scene. Perhaps the most innovative aspect of the film is that choices aren’t merely about what should happen next, but also about the mood, style, and even the meaning of the story that unfolds. This month, Amazon has launched a skill for its Alexa voice assistant that presents a Choose Your Own Adventure audiobook, where readers can use their voice to navigate the story.

Of course this isn’t a new idea, and the Bandersnatch film alludes to those rudimentary video games and Choose Your Own Adventure books that helped popularize the concept in the 80s. There are tons of other exmamples as well, and I’ve written about them before, under the heading of hypertext literature. Like any good hypertext, the variety of branching narratives has forked into a lush family tree that includes visual novels, interactive fiction, the so-called “walking simulator” video games, interactive stories for voice assistants, hybrid text-adventure video games, and more. The best “interactive literature” has more to offer than mere text on a screen, or simplistic choices.

In light of the rekindled interest, and all these developments to the state of the art, I’ve set out to find the cream of the crop. What else is out there? What’s new? Who’s got the really good stuff?

I’ll devote my next several blog posts to this question, but for the meanwhile I’ll say that if you know of any great examples, please contact me, and until then, here’s the trailer for the aforementioned movie.

This post is the first in a series about interactive stories.
Read the next post.


Aleatory Writing Experiment

2018-11-21

This is an account of an experiment, replicating one of Bernadette Mayer’s writing experiments, “Systematically eliminate the use of certain kinds of words or phrases from a piece of writing.”

First, I had to decide which kinds of words or phrases to remove. Since it’s already a somewhat ordinary exercise, removing adjectives or adverbs, I chose something a bit more distracting to the ordinary meaning of a text. (Besides, I’ve already tried that in the form of a short story that contains only one adjective.) I chose to remove every thing, that is, the nouns, and noun-phrases.

It’s interesting that I chose this first, because my next questions were: which text can I remove nouns from, and what might be the result? I could have arrived upon a text at random, but instead I thought to choose a text that might yield some sort of result, when stripped of its nouns.

What’s a text I might like to systematically derange? Oh, how about the opening paragraphs of Chapter Five of Ayn Rand’s The Romantic Manifesto? The manifesto posits an ostensible object, or purpose of literature, and in many ways I object to that thesis, so I chose to rip out each object. What’s left?

To find the remainder in this equation, I devised the following, computer-assisted procedure:

  1. Copy Rand’s paragraphs into a text file, source.txt.
  2. To make the text easier to manipulate, format the sounce text as a list of its words, using a find/replace function to replace all the spaces with line breaks.
  3. Create another text file, nouns.txt containing a list of most nouns.
  4. Compare the two files, and remove most nouns from the source text.
  5. On the computer command line, step 4 is expressed thusly: tr -s '[:blank:]' '\n' < source.txt | fgrep -vwf nouns.txt > new.txt
  6. The result is a new text file, new.txt composed of the original paragraphs' words, minus the noun words.
  7. In the new text, I returned all the line breaks to spaces, and then I sat down to do some finish work with this new block of text.

While reading over the results, I noticed proper nouns, such as “Aristotle” still remained after the previous steps. They had to go, too. Those are the rules of engagement here, after all. No nouns. But what to do about the arrangement of the other words? Is the resulting text to be a list, a long paragraph, or something else? What about the punctuation? I didn’t make any rules to answer those questions. Instead, I let my poetic instincts take the wheel now. I read through the text a second time, and made some decisions about where I thought line breaks would go. Yes, I even deleted a few non-nouns, because I thought the lines sounded better without those words, or because I thought they were “in the way” somehow.

I swear, though, that couplet in the middle happened “naturally.” I didn’t “write” it. It showed up on its own, after I removed the nouns.

The process felt to me a bit like making a collage. I pre-selected the pieces, made some decisions about how to cut them out and how to arrange them, but then I naturally began to play with those arrangements, to find, if not also to make, meaning among them.

I’ve been thinking about the sound of the texts that result from a subtractive process. Authors read the pieces as they are now, smoothing over the missing words with their tone of voice. I might rather read differently. First I would try recording the original words as naturally as they want to be read. Then I would edit the recording by removing the nouns from the it to get the result. I think the resulting sound would have more in common with a broken radio than it would with the sound we expect of a literary reading.

Here’s the text that happened:

BASIC OF 


The most important of the of was formulated
who said that is of greater philosophical 
than because represents as they are, 
represents them as they be and ought to be. 

This applies to all of and particularly to a 
that did not come into until twenty-three later: 
the A is a fictional about and the of their. 

The four essential of are:
These are, not separable. 

They be isolated conceptually 
for purposes of but must always remember 
that they are interrelated and that a is their. 
(If is a is an indivisible.) 

These four pertain to all of i.e., of with. 

They pertain to , , , , . The exception is . 
A does not have to a 
its basic are and A is the literary to its, 
its inexhaustible , its almost unlimited 

Chapbooks, Zines, and Rare Books from the Early 2000s

Chapbooks, Zines, and Rare Books from the Early 2000s
2018-11-21

Michael Basinski contributed nearly 300 reviews of poetry publications to a webzine called The Hold, from 2000-2005. He was the Associate Curator of The Poetry/Rare Books Collection SUNY at Buffalo.

The reviews describe the works of poets and publishers at a time right before the web became ubiquitous, so they are a useful archive as well as an enjoyable read.

With Michael Basinski’s permission, I’m re-posting those reviews in a format that’s easier to use than a web archive of a defunct website. You can read the reviews on a single, modern web page, or download them as an electronic book. The source material is also available on github.

What’s Included?

On a near-monthly basis Basinski’s early litblog presented reviews of poetry chapbooks, zines, and rare books that were published at that time. Here’s a list. Enjoy!


Spoken Word

2016-09-29

Here is a colelction of information about the literature of spoken word, from oral traditions to slam poetry, and beyond. Know something that should be here? Please share it in the comments.

What is Spoken Word?

Spoken word is a form of literary art or artistic performance in which lyrics, poetry, or stories are spoken rather than sung. Spoken-word is often done with a musical background, but emphasis is kept on the speaker. One of the most common sorts of spoken word performances is performance poetry, where a poet either reads previously-published poems, or reads poems specifically written to be performed aloud. Another kind that has gained popularity in recent years is political and social commentary, done in such a way that it is, while still prose, somewhat more artistic than a typical speech. Spoken word artists are often poets and musicians. Spoken word gained notoriety in the late 1980s and early 1990s through the emergence of “poetry slams,” where spoken word artists would square off in cabaret-style duels. wikipedia

Three basic types of Spoken Word Performances

Lets not get bogged down with taxonomy, but I think it would be fair to acknowledge the various “types” of spoken word poetry. Musicians like to have their genres to describe what the do, and to distinguish themselves from others. Spoken Word performers feel similarly.

Recorded Poetry

What I call “recorded poetry” is recorded works by the so-called “major poets”, or recordings by poets who are primarily poets-in-print. For better or worse, this kind of spoken word usually sounds to an audience like being read to, because that’s what it is.

“Spoken Word”

Contemporary Spoken Word, generally defined, is the term given to this visceral, in-your-face style of contemporary poetry of the nineties was spoken word.

Hip-Hop

Hip-hop is unique among the types of spoken word, for its use of rhythm, abundant rhyming, and for its very inventive use of words: made-up words, recycled words, slang words, etc. Some people, notably one random teenager, seem to think that there is a difference between “hip-hop” and “rap”, the crux of the distinction being the literary merits of the former over the latter. What are the literary merits of hip-hop? Read an essay entitled reverse-gentrification of the literary world, which is the preface of a book byMiles Marshall Lewis.


When ‘It Just Works’ Doesn’t Work

2015-10-14

Once upon a time you could be playing Super Mario Bros. within about three minutes of tearing the wrapping paper off your new NES; the interval from then to now never seems longer than when a brand-new game console tells you it must repair its own software for 40 minutes just to get to the part where it checks to see whether you’re allowed to use all of its features.

The Xbox One Is Garbage And The Future Is Bullshit

Don’t you hate it when “it just works” doesn’t work! Downloads, updates, logins, alerts, updates, logins, passwords… when do we ever get to do what we came to do?


How I Made a Repository of my Writings, and Why

2015-05-03

At the request of a friend, I’d like to describe a the system I use to keep track of what I’ve written. My methods are admittedly complex, technological and therefore not for everyone. I enjoyed the challenge of learning to use new tools, and that was the first step. Later, after using the tools for a while, I had to make some revisions. Now that I have a system that works for me, I thought to share what I’ve learned.

Getting Organized

If you have a lifetime of writings, it can get difficult to sort through it all, especially if its all on paper. Even if it isn’t all on paper, it might be in different folders, stored on different computers or hard drives or external drives, in different file formats, named with different conventions, stored in multiple drafts… If you have a collection of digital files of any size or importance, you also have these issues.

All that disorganization and complexity made it difficult for me to work. The final straw came when I heard about a submission opportunity two nights before the deadline. I had something I wanted to submit, but I couldn’t find it, when I did find it I wasn’t sure which copy was the “good” one and by the time I had all that figured out, it was too late to meet the deadline.

I did some cleanup:

  1. Copy all the files into one folder

  2. Make a backup of that folder, because big changes come next

  3. Ensure that there is only one, good copy of each work

  4. Convert all the writings' files into to plain-text files

  5. Name each file consistently. I chose to use the title of the work as the filename, written in slug case.. So, for example the filename for “The Fascination of the Pool” would be fascination-pool.txt

Then I did some organizing:

Sort the files into major categories for each type of work. I find that this helps me to quickly find a retrieve what I need. At present I have a “writing” folder, and inside of that the directory structure looks something like this simplified example:

<code>.
├── _etc
├── _data
├── articles
|   ├── README.txt
|   └── example-article.txt
├── audio
├── blog
├── essay
├── hypertext
├── journal
├── letters
├── lyrics
├── performance
│   └── specific-performance
│       ├── README.txt
│       ├── specific-performance.txt
│       ├── flyer.jpg
│       └── specific-performance.wav
├── poetry
├── scripts
├── stories
└── zine
</code>

Move the “writing” directory into Dropbox or something similar, and now you’ve got a basic backup, and the files are available wherever you’ve got Internet access.

I’ve gone on to do even more elaborate things with my setup (it involves YAML metadata headers and Git), but I’ll cover that in another post.


Composing with Words like John Cage

2015-03-27
"People expect listening to be more than listening. And sometimes they speak of inner listening, or the meaning of sound. When I talk about music, it finally comes to peoples minds that I'm talking about sound that doesn't mean anything. That is not inner, but is just outer. And they say, these people who finally understand that say, you mean it's just sounds? To mean that for something to just be a sound is to be useless. Whereas I love sounds, just as they are, and I have no need for them to be anything more. I don't want sound to be psychological. I don't want a sound to pretend that it's a bucket, or that it's a president, or that it's in love with another sound. I just want it to be a sound. And I'm not so stupid either."

John Cage

When writers read their work in public, it’s usually pretty clear to the audience what’s on the page. The writer reads to the audience from the page, and the words come out in the same order that they appear on the page. If the writer reads that same passage of text again, usually it will be the same words, in the same order again. Performances of written texts don’t vary so much, unless they are slightly revised from time to time or the voices change. It’s rare that a writer would improvise like a jazz musician, appropriate like a DaDa sculptor, or compose the reading, rather than to script it, the way John Cage would with his music.

In about two days, I plan to get on stage to perform a written work in front of a live audience and read, not from a script, but from something more like a score. I’m not the only person engaging in this literary experiment. There are about a dozen of us. What are we doing? We’re performing at an event called States and Drives II. This is the second annual installment of the event, and it is an evening-long performance of new works inspired by John Cage.

I like to think that every experiment has a hypothesis, even a creative one. I hope I say this in harmony with the others, but for me, the hypothesis is this: I propose to arrange words the way John Cage composed sound.

In order to figure out how to write this way, I had to think about two questions. What’s the difference between a script and a score? What is it about the way John Cage composed sounds? For both questions, an important part of the answer is something called chance operation. Generally speaking, a script tells its readers what to say and do and in which order. That’s also generally true of a musical score, but in the hands of a conductor a musical score can be reinterpreted, and indeed much of the musical notation on a score does leave room for interpretation. In cage’s hands, a score can be something quite different. There’s room in the script for an element of chance. That’s not to say that the whole thing is random, but it’s not totally scripted either.

For example with the Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano, the score is an ordinary one in most ways, except that it begins with instructions for how to modify the piano. The placement of screws, bolts, and other found objects between the strings of the piano might have been determined by chance or creative accident, but in the score their arrangement is deliberate.

I’m also fascinated by Cage’s use of found sounds to make music, which resembles the way Duchamp worked with found objects to make sculpture. What’s it like to use found words, found sentences and paragraphs, from the world at large, in a piece that’s composed the way Cage composed? That’s what I hope to find out.


Submission Strategy Review

2015-01-08

A recent post by Becky Tuch on the Review Review has some good advice for writers.

Wouldn't it be nice if, in addition to all the amazing work editors do with reading submissions, contacting writers, designing issues, balancing budgets and so on, they also had x-ray vision and could see through the walls of your home and inside your desk and know at once all the great work that's hidden there? And would then call you up and ask you to submit it? And would even put that submission into the mail for you?

But they don’t. They won’t. It’s up to you to get your work out of the desk (or your computer files, as it were) and into that Submittable database, or whatever other mode of transport required for an editor to see it.

I thought this was interesting for two reasons.

First, it adds credence to the idea that Submittable, the web-based submissions management app, is a ubiquitous part of a writer’s life. Why shouldn’t it be? It rocks! It isn’t perfect, though, and that’s partly because it isn’t in use by every publication out there.

Second, the post got me thinking: I have a submission strategy. Is it working? To find out, I took a look at Submittable for the things it can track and for everything else I dumped some data out of the submissions tracking database that I built for myself.

Here’s a review of my submissions

Submissions by year

YEAR    SUBMISSIONS       PUBLICATONS
-------------------------------------------
2011    03 Submissions   02 Works Published
2012    04 submissions   03 Works Published
2013    20 Submissions   08 Works Published
2014    12 Submissions   06 Works Published

Not surprisingly, the years where I sent more work out were also years that saw more works published, because you have to send submissions in order to get them published, of course.

2013 was the year I began getting my submissions process organized, and it seems to be working. By 2014, I managed to send approximately one submission per month with a 50% acceptance rate.

I’m curious to see whether new tools are helping others to do more, or more quickly. Are tools like Submittable making the whole process faster, or just easier? I’ve been tracking submission and response dates, so let’s take a look at the average response times that I’ve seen since 2011.

YEAR    AVERAGE RESPONSE
------------------------
2011    248 Days
2012    138 Days
2013    41 Days
2014    21 Days

This is all very unscientific of course, but I like to read it as an encouragement. It looks as though I’m able to submit more often and also it looks like the publications are able to respond more quickly.

Where can I take this? With the increasingly rapid turn-around time, I should be able to re-submit works more quickly, if they’ve been declined. Becky Tuch’s post that I mentioned earlier had a bit of advice that I can take to heart for the new year. Occasionally a rejection letter will say something like “this particular piece isn’t right for us, but we like your style and we hope you will send us more work in the future.” I’ve been ignoring that. Tuch says, don’t ignore the suggestion to send more work.

>Believe the editors when they say they want to see more. They mean it. They wouldn't say it if they didn't. You don't need to send them something right away, particularly if you don't have something that's ready to go. (See item #2.) But when you do have something, this venue is certainly one you should keep in mind.

Now, to embark on a new year, full of new writings, submitted to new venues, with the hope of new publications.


Authenticity Versus Expectation

2014-07-22

There are probably some of you who would say that “clichés are clichés for a reason”, and to you I would say “cry me a river!” and I would add that the clichés may be useful, or comfortable, but cliché has no place in poetry, because it isn’t artful. Poetry as a discipline is already suffering from a critical infection of the cliché anyway.

Since my earlier post, Ten Things Not to do at a Literary Reading, I’ve noticed a few things that should probably be added to the list. I’ve seen some discussion lately about similar ideas: what makes an authentic poem, anyway? I’m not sure of an exact recipe, and I wouldn’t want to be, but it does seem that there are an awful lot of stereotypes and clichés about the way poetry should be, the way it should be presented, and so on. These should be avoided at all costs.

For example, a recent article on CityArts commands “Stop Using Poet Voice”. If you’ve ever been to a poetry reading, surely you’ve heard “poet voice” before, which the article describes as “a precious, lilting cadence, to end every other line on a down-note, and to introduce, pauses, within sentences, where pauses, need not go.” This thing called “Poet Voice” does have its place, likes its cousins the announcer voice, the meteorologist voice, the fine print voice, and so on, but that place isn’t every place. (see also: slam poetry voice and the tendency known as “slam poetry all sounds the same”.)

But it isn’t just the performance of the words. Sometimes it’s the words themselves. For a satirical introduction to some “poetical buzzwords” try the list entitled “Words to make your Poetry Legit


The Death of the Novel, Again

2014-05-05

On Friday, novelist Will Self published an essay in a newspaper, abbreviated from a lecture, and summarized in a video interview about the death of the novel. Its title: “The novel is dead (this time it’s for real)

Today, Salon’s Daniel D’Addario asked in response, “Aren’t we tired of discussing this?” and provided a range of quotations, dating back one hundred and twelve years, each one a prophesy of the death of the novel, the death of print, the death of the author, and so on and so forth. I’m inclined to take D’Addario’s side on this one. I wish someone would prophesize the death of “the death of”. While we’re at it, can we inaugurate the era of post-post-ism? I think it’s a cheap trick to say that something is “dead” just because it has changed, or because something else has come along, but examples of that cheap trick are everywhere.

D’Addario stops short of a rebuttal, though. Self provides his own. He says:

"Literary critics – themselves a dying breed, a cause for considerable schadenfreude on the part of novelists – make all sorts of mistakes, but some of the most egregious ones result from an inability to think outside of the papery prison within which they conduct their lives' work."

If the paper codex is going the way of the daguerreotype (or to use Self’s example, the wax cylinder) the appropriate response, in my opinion, isn’t to stage a funeral for it, but to honestly evaluate the situation. What are we losing, here? I’m guessing that there wasn’t much mourning for the blurry photos and noisy recordings because what followed them was considered by most to be a superior medium.

So, with books, what is it that’s superior? Self mentions the uninterrupted experience that books provide. I’m not really sure that particular argument holds up, what with all the paperback, portable and pocket editions that have been so popular for so long, what with all the books you can stack on a nightstand and read simultaneously – Self admits to being guilty of this as well. If it isn’t their (imaginary) imperviousness to interruption, then what else is it about books that makes their form a superior form?

Self conflates “serious writing” with “the codex” but this conflation is predicated upon that first point. He says you have to read “Ulysees” multiple times before you catch all the allusions, and mentions that in a critical edition you can reduce that effort with the help of footnotes. Annotation and reference can be enhanced in an electronic edition, of course. Aside from the potential for distraction, Self doesn’t indicate whether this is much of an improvement. Is it somehow better, as an aesthetic experience, to read a book that doesn’t completely make sense? He might be on to something with this point, I think. A good work of art typically isn’t something that you can fully realize all in one gulp. It takes several servings. It takes an appreciation of the ingredients and the process, and of course, the context. It is possible that the annotated experience of “Ulysses” is a better quality experience, just as it’s possible that museums with curators are more enjoyable. Granted, it takes time to deal with serious ideas, but does it take paper?

Yes, it isn’t a good reading experience to be distracted by an video commercial for galoshes or whatever, but neither is it a good reading experience to have to put the book down for any reason at all. The problem of distraction from reading is not a new one and the printed book does not posess a unique immunity to the problem. But what about the problem of distraction from the text? All those footnotes, cross-references and editorial notes, for example. (Here we go with the “death of the author” bit.) I’m not perfectly comfortable with Self’s aversion to distraction from the text. I can think of another argument that resembles Self’s, in an unsettling way. The argument goes something like this. There’s a book. Everything you need to know is inside that book. Reference to material outside of that book weakens its power, and besides, everything you need to know is inside that book. The book is difficult to understand, but insofar as any attempts to clarify the book are outside the book, well, everything you need to know is inside that book. I’m not going to go so far as to call Self a fundamentalist, but I do want to point out that a book without context leads to a limited understanding. I would argue that increacingly accessible context (if properly mediated) is an enhancement to, not a detraction from, what self calls “serious” writing.

As I said at the outset: I believe the serious novel will continue to be written and read, but it will be an art form on a par with easel painting or classical music: confined to a defined social and demographic group, requiring a degree of subsidy, a subject for historical scholarship rather than public discourse.

It has only been recently, in the grand scheme of history, that literacy itself has moved beyond “a defined social and demographic group” and the history of the printed book itself has been entwined with the history of the people who could read it. I would argue that perhaps the decline of a medium that requires large amounts of uninterrupted leisure time required to read (let alone to write) is an an evolution, not a death, and as literacy continues to spread to more and different people, the people will change but also they will change the nature of what literacy is. It will take time to survey whether or not the ideas expressed in these new ways are “serious” or not, but I don’t think we should discount them just because they’re not written on paper.


Ten Things Not to Do at a Literary Reading

2014-04-13

I’ve attended a lot of literary readings. I’ve noticed that literary events, like any live performance, are bound to have some glitches here and there. I’ve begun to notice some very common glitches, though, in readings by professionals and amateurs alike, and I think they should be avoided.

If you’ve ever been to an open-mic, spoken word or poetry event then you’ll know what I’m talking about, here. If you’ve never been, perhaps you can use this list to explain why you haven’t.

I don’t really love lists, but here goes. If you’re ever behind that open microphone or featured on that stage, please, don’t do any of the following things.

01. Don't Rifle Through Your Papers

If you haven’t decided what to read and in which order, you’re not ready to read, and so you shouldn’t. Have a plan. Stick to it. Small deviations from the plan are probably inevitable at a live event but please don’t make the audience watch you thumb through your ratty notebook while you mutter to yourself about what you might or might not read.

02. Don't Say "I Just Wrote This"

This tip is mostly intended for the performer who wrote something in the moments leading up the performance. At an open mic event, this happens frequently, but it isn’t very polite. Taking notes while someone else is reading is one thing, but don’t completely ignore the other readers, just so you can scratch off something you “just wrote” and then read it immediately, unedited, to a live audience. There’s a way to present new, timely work, but this isn’t it. (an exception to this rule may be required, for example, if yesterday was a major historical event, or if an important life ended or began last night)

03. Don't Mention Your Rehearsal

Whether you did, or did not, remember to rehearse your reading beforehand, just don’t talk about it. Your audience would like to think that you are experienced, or at least competent. If you did rehearse, that’s great but it should be evident by the quality of your reading. If you skipped over a badly-needed rehearsal, then there will be no need to restate the obvious. Maybe you don’t actually need to rehearse. This is unlikely but in any case, just don’t mention rehearsing. Instead, get on with the reading.

04. No Spoilers

Don’t explain each and every piece before you read it. If some initial context is needed, keep it to a minimum, providing only the very essentials. You should let your work speak for itself, as much as possible.

05. Don't Diss Your Own Work

Get this: some writers actually announce to the audience that they don’t care for a work, and then proceed to read it to a live audience! This may seem to the writer like a kind of humility, but it may have a very different effect on the audience. If you don’t even like the work, then, an audience might think, why should anybody else bother to give a damn? Similarly, you shouldn’t mention whether anybody else does or does not like the work, unless it’s a celebrity or a mutually despised tyrant. Just read the work, and allow the audience to make up their own minds in their own way.

06. Don't Speak Too Quickly

Especially where poetry is concerned, it is very important to give the words some room to breathe. If you have a time limit for your reading, it would be better to fill the time well than to fill it completely. Don’t try to cram too much work into your reading. Instead, choose the right number of works and read them slowly.

07. Don't Speak Too Quietly

Before speaking in public, take a deep breath, and imagine that you are speaking to the person who is furthest away from you. That person will appreciate being able to hear you. This rule applies with and without the use of a microphone.

08. Don't Sound Like You're Reading

This one is difficult to define and to avoid, but it is the critical difference between a “reading” and a “performance”. To break this habit, it helps to make some audio recordings. Record yourself speaking naturally, in conversation. Then, record yourself reading a difficult text you have never read before. We’ve all had to suffer through difficult readings like those: at school, political and religious events, meetings at work. It’s not fun,so your performance should not sound like a “difficult” reading. It should sound natural, like conversation.

09. Don't Ignore the Audience

Look up from the page. Look out at the audience. Remember, this is a live event. You may be nervous, and afraid of the audience, but please don’t ignore the audience. They’re people, too, and you just might notice that they’re smiling, thinking about or otherwise responding to your work. It is important to be aware of these things.

10. Don't Forget to Stop Between Pieces

The audience needs some time to move from one idea to the next, and you probably do too. Besides that, if you pause for a moment, you might even get some applause.


This concludes my list of ten things not to do at a literary reading. For some tips on what you should do instead, try Adam Robinson’s article How to Deliver a Poetry Reading. For musicians, there’s a similar list advice for musical performances by Thelonious Monk, in his own handwriting.

If you’ve got anything to add to the list, please post in the comments.


Index of First Lines

2014-02-15

Today, I’ve finished compiling a printed collection of every poem I’ve ever written. I do this every few years, just to have a nice paper copy in case all my digital copies go haywire. With 237 poems, printed double-sided, I now have a stack of paper about an inch thick. I bought a thesis binder for a good price online, so that I can quickly and easily turn the stack of paper into a durable bound volume.

While compiling this collection for myself, I learned a new trick. It’s surprisingly easy to create an index of first lines. I saw an example of such an index in the back of my shiny new copy of Sampson Starkweather’s book The First Books of Sampson Starkweather, which I bought from the author a couple months ago. I wondered: how much work is it to create an index of first lines?

There are two ways to do it. If each of your poems is a separate text file, then a handy command line trick will produce an index of first lines. If you have all your poems in a single Microsoft Word document, you can use the index feature to mark each first line as an index term, and then create an index. An index of first lines is an interesting way to review the collection of poems, and I see that some of the first lines are better than others.

Index of First Lines from Poems by Dylan Kinnett

  • 7, 8, 9, 10
  • A haunted past begins
  • A rendering of a reflection of a s
  • A syringe in room 212
  • A thousand
  • A tough step two
  • Ain't no rain, gonna wash this body
  • All I have is bread
  • Always and For
  • And so I danced
  • And then, and then
  • Angels done broke the bugle
  • Angie, Angie
  • As I watch the dust fall
  • As in church, pray for once
  • At last, people will com
  • Baby boys on their birthdays
  • I'll stand here
  • Be, for a brief moment
  • Blistering haze, wandering days,
  • Burn me brightly
  • but and but or;
  • By the river barefoot in the muck
  • Children can remember
  • Clear eyes, full of light.
  • Cloud patterns shift and kick
  • Cold steel begs my eyes to burn through you
  • Come in close. Pass and go
  • Come one, come all
  • Dad says, "It's time you know.
  • Dance like children on her back did she
  • Devils fall from the sky
  • Did I know your name
  • dim moon rolled along the horizon
  • Dim moon rolled from below the horizon
  • Do I radiate that beauty,
  • Do you know m
  • Dream life in front of a dead thing
  • Ears for to hear
  • Erosion
  • Every few days, a new turn presents itself
  • Every time we took a picture
  • Everything I've not forgotten
  • Farther than the light goes
  • Feels like I'm the static in the air
  • Fluid, Stoic, and Gas like,
  • For every up I find
  • Full moon light snowfall
  • Give me your hand
  • Glowing in the cold
  • Have you, with yo
  • He speaks again of shadow
  • Here you go, eat some life, it's a blue thing
  • Here, and nowhere els
  • Here's one, warts and all.
  • He's downing two of them
  • hoping to be noticed
  • How did I choose the wine?
  • How many hands must fall upon the Earth
  • I am left to count the breaths
  • I am locked in the case of my opinion.
  • I am standing,
  • I awoke this morning to the startling realization
  • I came to get
  • I cannot purge these thoughts
  • I could swear I saw a tear in the mirror.
  • I hear your voice
  • I just wanna roll into a ball
  • I keep a little boat by the doc
  • I know the rule
  • I looked through large bound books
  • I remember being small
  • I remember when I'd call for you
  • I saw Jesus in the Detox
  • I see a splash of light
  • I started a journey long ago
  • I still have a Christmas poinsettia
  • I thought I saw you crying
  • I wait, but it doesn't come.
  • I want to dance across the minds of others
  • I want you
  • I wanted something, once
  • I'd make a list, take nails and pound it on the door
  • If I pound the air
  • If only I had a place with a creek
  • IIIIII
  • I'm here with a candle,
  • I'm not who I am
  • I'm scared because the street
  • In the beginning there was an artist of gravity
  • In winter,
  • Ink pens fit the fist nicely
  • Is your body cold
  • It should have been me
  • It should have been me out there
  • It sleeps, but turns too much to dream
  • It sounds empty, over spoken
  • it was almost as if the voice on paper
  • It's a specific bend.
  • Its raining
  • It's raining in Mecklenburg again
  • I've got a trash bag
  • Kick a ball against the wall.
  • like children we laughed around
  • Live without "I"s
  • Live without eyes,
  • Look up, Woman and Man
  • Look, we'd hear the unheard,
  • Metropolis, won't you wrap your arms around me.
  • Midnight greyhound dreaming
  • Morning exploded
  • Mother and I gaze at the sky
  • Musical comedy, you make us laugh
  • No florescent, linoleum, walkways and row
  • No more words please.
  • Nothing burns from the stone candle
  • O Holy heart
  • Obvious worthlessness is unusual
  • Of all the words in the English language
  • oh hell, here we go again,
  • Oh-boo-dee-Q-la dee-Q-la on-ta-Ko-in-da-wa
  • On a scraggly pat
  • One hand holds, and one hand breaks off
  • Open your eyes
  • Open your eyes and tell me what you see
  • Out with the old
  • Put your face on tonight
  • Rocket ships and escalators,
  • Rows and Racks with spools of yarn
  • Sailing on the wrong side of the sea
  • Say doom, and look at what they do
  • Seems to me, there's usually some thing we're all chasing after:
  • Sewage seeps like a slow blood flow
  • Sewage seeps like a slow blood flow, beneath the street,
  • Shadows grow long
  • She cries
  • She had strong legs, long legs
  • She sees herself in the sea and she fears it
  • Shooting the kitty in a rocket to mars
  • Should have,
  • Should have, could have
  • Shuffled up, tossed and furious
  • Slop seeps down the street
  • So this is the way green summer ends
  • Something important to me
  • sometimes
  • Sometimes I could swear we are moving
  • Somewhere, barely beneath the city, she lies in wait for me.
  • Sound without meaning
  • Sticks and stone
  • Still forest sounds snap
  • Study how the present begins.
  • Stunned
  • Swelling
  • That song is just a sweet silly poem
  • That song is just a sweet silly poem my dear.
  • that's my reflection on the slick stone floor
  • The boy sees snakes of soldier
  • The candy silo unloads
  • the fires nightly
  • The flies have all fattened
  • The hangman. Thinks he
  • The painted faces stay outside,
  • The peephole in the center of the door
  • The perfect waste of a day
  • The rainstorm caught me
  • The roses at night
  • The same hands hold red
  • The sign sez: "farm use
  • The song changes
  • The sun does set on the sunset street
  • The sun was dead
  • The total conversion of matter into energy
  • The train came calling by,
  • The world around me
  • There are certain things
  • There are dead fish in the run
  • There are places where the roads don't go
  • There is fury in this room
  • There is no Jesus as the miles go over by
  • There's a midnight train by my house,
  • There's a moon over you
  • There's a place in the shade for me.
  • there's a song in my head and my head keeps playing i
  • They do. not. eat. who mention, silver and sweet
  • They have their bonds and deals
  • They stand on points
  • They taught us to argue
  • They're all out there dying, baby.
  • They're on a crash-course collision run
  • things arranged, now splayed
  • think of any thing
  • This city is a bird
  • This is how it i
  • This is the nowhere story
  • This is where whole nations lost their prayers
  • This world, my misery
  • Too many christs
  • Too many sets of these crying eyes
  • Too many times
  • Towers of slabs
  • Toys in the hands of God, we are,
  • Train came calling b
  • Two paths, one line that parted:
  • Under a head of human hair
  • walking in the rain., 224
  • We built highways out of the darkness
  • We can't have unflattering, art;
  • We draw a dream in the sand.
  • We have fingerbone trees
  • We live in the bizarre
  • We were waiting for silence to die,
  • We would sing
  • we've got/ are clockwork
  • Whatever words, whatever nouns, whatever verbs
  • What's the bother
  • When love blossoms, it isn't a flower
  • When you're too busy being happy
  • Who's that in that picture
  • Wilt away
  • working forever
  • Would I lie to you
  • You can't just lie here
  • You can't see the angels
  • you sang a song; I found my hell again.
  • You say someday you'll be gone
  • you thoughts on the walls
  • Your arms held sway over whole language,
  • Your garden finally decided to grow

Following Silliman’s Blogroll

2014-01-21

For an overview of literary conversation on the Internet, Ron Silliman’s blog has been for years an excellent place to start. I like it for its regular content but also for its large, curated list of links to many other literary blogs, or litblogs. For me, Silliman’s Blog is a gateway to large, vibrant  conversation.

Over the years, the blogroll on Ron Silliman’s Blog has grown to such an extent that it is now its own blog, with more than 1,300 links to literary blogs.

How to Follow Lots of Literary Blogs

Even in the midst of some technological turbulence (see also: “blogging is dead,” “Google Reader is gone") there remains a vibrant and enjoyable literary blogosphere. You can still subscribe to a huge number of blogs and join the conversation. I’ve created a tool to help make it easy to do this, so you can get back to reading and posting.

Using Silliman’s Blogroll as a starting point, I’ve created an OPML file. This file is a big list of all the RSS feeds of all the blogs on Silliman’s list. The file is designed to be imported into your blog reader of choice. Since Google Reader isn’t around anymore, I recommend Feedly (my current favorite) or Digg Reader (also very good).

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Download the OPML file or copy its contents into a file named litblogs.opml

  2. Import the OPML file into your reader application.
    * import instructions for Feedly reader
    * import instructions for Digg reader * note: The file from step 1 is quite large. If the import fails, try to import this collection of smaller files, one at a time.

  3. Enjoy more than 1300 literary blogs.

Credits

I was able to accomplish this small technical victory and to share it with you, thanks to some help from others. First, I’d like to thank Ron Silliman, for amassing the collection of litblogs in the first place and for his permission to publish this. I’d like to thank Kevin Carmody for creating the PHP script that I used to convert the list into OPML. I’d also like to thank Michael Young for his prompt and helpful tips and fixes for Digg Reader.

Updates and Next Steps

In 2014, it’s inaccurate to think that blogs are the end-all-and-be-all of the conversation on the Internet. Once upon a time, you could subscribe to almost any blog’s RSS feed and add it to your reader to follow it. It was that easy. It didn’t matter whether the blog was on Blogger, or Wordpress or whatever other system. If it was a blog, you could probably subscribe to it. Now, things are a bit different. You can only subscribe to Facebook via Facebook, Twitter via Twitter and Tumblr via Tumblr. It’s no longer possible to get such an easy overview of the entire conversation.

So, in addition, it’ll help to have a Twitter Group of lots of good Twitter sources, A Facebook list, as well as a list of Tumblr sites and… What else?

If you have any suggestions, for additions to the list, or other tricks that might help to keep track of the literary blogosphere, please let me know in the comments. Also, for the code-inclined among you, I’ve created a GitHub repository out of the code I used to build this. I call it “LitKit.”


Leaving Microsoft Word Behind

2013-09-11

Update: since writing this post, I have collected a few useful scripts on github, in a project I’ve named Palabra, an alternative to Word.

Over the past several days I have read lots and lots and lots and lots of blog posts from writers who say, basically: “I’m going to quit using a word processor and start using text files instead.” It seems that most of these writers have chosen to use Markdown as a way to apply formatting to their text documents, without ever moving their fingers from the keys. How nice! These writers all extoll the virtues of the plain text file type: it’s future-proof, it can be opened by any computer, it saves file space, it’ll help my experiments with version control for writers – so I’m sold! From now on, for me, I’ll save my writings as some sort of text file.

But what about everything I’ve already written?

I’ve been writing in Microsoft Word since at least 1995 and in that time I have amassed quite the collection of files: .doc files, .docx files, .rtf files, .html files, you name it, but not one of these is a plain text file.

How do I Convert Many Microsoft Word files Into Plain Text

note: I should start by saying that this process is not as easy as it should be, for the average writer. I’m sharing what (barely) worked for me, in the hopes of finding a better solution. I’m just learning, here.

If you’re going to try this at home, back everything up. If you’re like me, and you’ve got a lifetime of writings to convert from one file format to another, you do not want to risk losing anything because you screwed something up, so make a backup copy. Hell, make three.

So, how do I convert so many files? Should I just open each one up and do “save as” over and over and over again? Well, I could do that, but that would take forever! I decided, instead, to try a different method, one that might be able to be repeated by others and improved upon.

Tools to do the Work

Pandoc is a powerful command-line tool for converting many types of written documents, from one file format to another. (Pandoc is for Windows, Mac or Linux.) So I’ll just use Pandoc for this, right? There’s a catch. Pandoc doesn’t work very well with .doc files and I still have many .doc files. Before I can use Pandoc to convert all my files into a text-based format, I’ll need to use something first, to convert everything to a format that Pandoc can read.

Textutil is a command line utility baked into OS X. (Windows users, please chime in with any tools for windows that might help!) Textutil is similar to Pandoc, in that it can convert written documents from several formats into other formats, but although it can convert to .txt, it doesn’t understand the Markdown formatting syntax, so I can’t use Textutil to create the final product, unless I want to lose all my formatting. I don’t have much formatting to lose, but still, that’s not an option.

The trick, then, is to use Textutil to convert .doc files into .html files, and then to use Pandoc to convert .html files into .txt files with Markdown.

I saw some forum posts that suggest that the following Terminal command might work (on OS X) as a way to combine Textutil with Pandoc:

find . -name ‘.doc’ -print0 | xargs -0 sh -c ‘textutil -convert html “$0” -stdout | pandoc -f html -t markdown -o “${0%.}.md”'

…but I couldn’t get that to work for one file, let alone for dozens. I saw another post that said that bash loops might do the trick, and they did, but the examples weren’t written for Pandoc so I wrote some code…

Text Conversion Workflow

  1. Install Pandoc
  2. Grab the two shell scripts that I wrote. I’ve posted them to Github and cleverly named them “Palabra”.
  3. Install the two files convert1.sh and convert2.sh into a directory full of .doc files that you would like to convert into Markdown-flavoured .txt files.
  4. Point your terminal to that directory and from the terminal type “sh convert1.sh” This will convert all the .doc files in the directory into html files. (edit the file to say .doc if that’s the kind you want to change)
  5. then type “sh convert2.sh”. This will convert all the html files you just made in step 2 into Markdown-flavoured .txt files.
  6. Done!

… well, almost done. At this point, you’ve converted all your .doc files into Markdown-flavoured .txt files. To handle the .docx files, just edit line 2 of convert1.sh to read .docx instead of .doc and repeat the steps. (You should be able to do the same thing with .rtf but I haven’t tried it yet.)

One Word Document, Many Texts

One of my word .docx files was special in that it contains a copy of every one of my poems (a couple hundred, maybe?). That has gotten to be cumbersome after a few years, so I’ve decided to convert it into a set of text files. For extra credit, I wanted to name each file according to the first line of text, which in my case happened to be the title of the poem. I’ve lost the order that the poems were in, for now, but that wasn’t so important to me anyway.

Here are some tips and tricks that helped me along the way

useful links


Scrivener, Git and Version Control for Writers

2013-08-06

Scrivener is a writing application geared toward structuring and editing novel- and thesis-sized works. It is mainly used by writers and academics to organize works that would otherwise be unwieldy in a linear editor.

Scrivener projects are laid out as application bundles with the .scriv extension, and, as it turns out, are amenable to Git version control for writers: That is to say, Scrivener stores internal textual assets as separate files in ASCII-encoded RTF format. If you would like to use Git to track Scrivener changes, you are welcome to bootstrap off of the included starter.scriv project. It has the benefit of strategically placed .gitignore files to prevent transient metadata from cluttering your git status view and being incorporated into revision history.


Apps For Writers with Version Control

2013-08-03

The way I see it, there are two ways to add Version Control abilities to your writing workflow. One would be to use a word processor specifically built for the task. The other would be to use the word processor you already have, and to use a separate app to handle the version control features.

Specialized Applications

I’m not sure that every of these applications and methods would give you the ability to use all of the features of a version control that a writer would want, but they are built on Git, which is a very powerful version control system.

…Of course, one option is to use Git itself to manage your documents, but using Git from the command line can be a challenge for some writers. There are several applications you can use for version control without the command line, although they were mostly designed with programmers in mind, not writers, so there may be a learning curve.

Does anyone know of any other writings apps that use Git? If so, I’d like to add them to my list, especially if they’re open source or multi-platform applications.

Everyone’s Favorite Word Processor

Most writers use Microsoft Word. I think it’s safe to say that it’s a fact. Most editors and publishers prefer to work in this format as well. Wouldn’t it be nice if a powerful version control system like Git could work with Microsoft Word documents? According to the book Pro Git, it can.


Useful Features of Version Control Software

2013-08-02

This is a follow-up to my earlier post entitled Version Control for Writers.

An article called “ Git Foundations ” has done a lot for me, to help explain the concept of version control, from the point of view of a writer. I’m testing out some different ways to use version control for my writing, but first I’d like to describe some of the basic concepts. (For a description of the basic commands, for a common form of version control, take a look at Git for the Lazy .)

I’m writing this for two audiences. First, for writers who might want an explanation of the value they might get from using version control software. Second, for programmers, who might want to understand the contexts in which a writer might use the tools they’ve built.

I’m new to this so, please, if anyone notices any mistakes or confusing bits, please point them out. My hope is that once I properly understand the features, I can apply them wisely.

Features

I’ve learned that these are the basic features of most version control systems. I’ll describe each in terms of how I think it would be helpful for writers. In some cases, this might differ a bit from the original purpose of the functionality.

Repository
For a writer, it might be easier to think of this as your "project." It's basically a group of files and directories related to a thing that you're working on. As you work, you might add to your files, add new files, delete files, rename them and so on. Version control can help you to keep track of the history of these changes as you go. Your repository will also contain the archived, previous versions of your project, along with information about the changes you made over time. It can also help you to undo changes, or to merge things from one version of a file to another.
Commit
You may also hear this called "snapshot." To commit is to store the current contents of the project, along with a log message from the user describing the changes. I think that for a writer there's a difference between "hitting save" and "taking a snapshot." Many of us hit save all the time, but that doesn't mean we've hit an important milestone. The nice thing about a commit's log message is that, when we're ready to commit, we can also make a note of what it is we were working on. Example messages might be: "I fixed all the verb tense agreements" or "I changed a character's name from Darby to Darcy" or "responded to editors comments from an e-mail I got yesterday." These log messages can go a long way to help explain the archive, for later use.
Working Files
These are the files you're currently working on, as opposed to some previous or alternate version of the files. Those are saved elsewhere in your repository.
Branch
Any copy of your project is called a "branch." Your working copy of a project is a branch. Let's say you want to start working on a second edition of your book: that's a "branch" of your book. Your old first draft: that's a branch, too. Your editor's marked-up copy of your text is a branch. Version Control can enable you to move from branch to branch, like the smart monkey that you are.
Tag
Any copy of your project is called a branch, but a "tag" is a special "version." In the computer world a tag is named with a version number like 1.0 or 2.2.5. For a writer, it might help to think of this as a "milestone" for an unpublished work or even an "edition" for a published work. For example, perhaps you sent a manuscript off to an editor to be considered for publication. That copy is a special version, or tag . Nevertheless, it may not get published and you may want to keep working on a new copy or branch of it, while it is being considered.
Diff
Remember in English class when your teacher gave you two poems, asked you to read them and to write an essay to compare and contrast the two? Perhaps in a more advanced class, you were given two drafts, editions or translations of the same text and asked to do the same? In those later cases, the differences can be quite granular sometimes. Lucky for us, the programmers have already devised tools that make it easy to do the compare/contrast, without having to re-read both versions and without writing a whole essay about it. The differences can be clearly marked for your consideration. Some word processors already know how to compare one document to another but Diff can also compare groups of files to each other.
Merge
You've given out six copies of your draft to your writer's group. Each member of the group made different marks on a different copy (or branch ). Now you have to combine the edits, or not combine some of them, into the working copy of your project. With the help of diff this can be done more efficiently: when there's a change you want to adopt, you can merge it into your working copy.

Limitations

Both word processors and version control systems have some limitations.

Track Changes and “Save As"There’s a lot more information online about the limitations of Microsoft Word and the limitations of word processors in general , but for now, suffice it to say that they only have very simple version control abilities: you can track (linear) changes, and you can “save as” and you can compare up to two different versions, but without much information about the relationship between them.Text-OnlyThe version control functionality described above works best on files that are text only. (There are exceptions to this, but I don’t understand them yet.) The files your word processor saves by default, although they contain text, are not stored in a text-only format. I venture to guess that 99% of writers aren’t willing to give up their word processor and its format, which is often required of them by their editors and publishers. For more about this limitation, read The Limitations of GitHub for Writers.

Next Steps

My goal is to find a workable, user-friendly way to use these powerful tools as part of my writing process.

This week I’ve been experimenting with different tools designed for version control. I’ve tried two of them, Flashbake and Git-Annex Assistant. I’d like to describe my experience with these, from a writer’s point of view.

Once I understand the basic features, then I’ll post about the different types of users who work with electronic documents, including writers, editors, publishers and archivists. Then, I can try to measure: how well can the features work for these users?


Version Control for Writers

2013-07-30

update: I’ve added some links to related ideas, applications, etc. I also have a follow-up post, with more details about the features of version control software, from a writer’s point of view.

Every so often, when I’m between projects, I start thinking less about what I write and I think more about how I write. One of my ongoing projects is to digitize a lifetime worth of my grandmother’s writing, so I’m also thinking a about how she wrote.

Multiple Drafts

For each of her short stories, for example, I have inherited multiple versions: each one typed out (often in duplicate) and many with dates. This makes it very easy for me, in posterity, to follow the development of her work, find the most recent versions and so on. I wonder: how might I organize my work in a similar, computerized way? It seems to me that the old “save as” trick is not very much more efficient than my grandmother’s habit of using carbon paper. In 2013, surely there are some more sophisticated tools for storing and comparing multiple drafts, or versions, of a written document. Might I use those tools, to study her work, or to keep track of my own? Wouldn’t others want tools like these? Authors, editors, literary scholars, archivists: all eventually have to do work with multiple versions of a text.

It’s called “Version Control.”

A recent introduction to version control says:

What is version control, and why should you care? Version control is a system that records changes to a file or set of files over time so that you can recall specific versions later. Even though the examples show software source code as the files under version control, in reality any type of file on a computer can be placed under version control.

Not every writer does care about version control. English fantasy writer Terry Pratchett said, “I save about twenty drafts — that’s ten meg of disc space — and the last one contains all the final alterations. Once it has been printed out and received by the publishers, there’s a cry here of ‘Tough shit, literary researchers of the future, try getting a proper job!’ and the rest are wiped.” I believe, to the contrary that some writers, such as lawyers for example, should not be so inclined to say “tough shit” to the readers of the future who might wish to know how some documents may have evolved, but I digress. (I could digress further with: Leaves of Grass or Piers Plowman or William Blake.) My point is that if it became easier to manage and store the drafts, then perhaps more writers would be inclined to do so, and there would be less “tough shit” later on, for anyone interested in the writer’s process.

If you’re completely new to the idea of version control, you may benefit from reading Tom Preson-Werner’s fable/introduction to Git, which is a popular kind of version control.

Flashbake

I am absolutely not the first writer to think about computerized version control. (In coming days, I’ll add to this post with links to similar conversations.) In fact, I owe a lot of my thinking on the subject to Cory Doctorow (whose blog’s comments provided the above Pratchett quote) and to Thomas “cmdln” Gideon (host of the fabulously nerdy Command Line podcast). Together, they are the authors of a piece of software called “Flashbake”. Doctorow’s post on Boing Boing about Flashbake provides an excellent introduction to the software, its strengths and weaknesses and the motivations behind its creation.

I was prompted to do this after discussions with several digital archivists who complained that, prior to the computerized era, writers produced a series complete drafts on the way to publications, complete with erasures, annotations, and so on. These are archival gold, since they illuminate the creative process in a way that often reveals the hidden stories behind the books we care about. By contrast, many writers produce only a single (or a few) digital files that are modified right up to publication time, without any real systematic records of the interim states between the first bit of composition and the final draft.

In another article, Doctorow elaborated on the many other benefits he enjoys while writing with version control.

Now, this may be of use to some notional scholar who wants to study my work in a hundred years, but I’m more interested in the immediate uses I’ll be able to put it to — for example, summarizing all the typos I’ve caught and corrected between printings of my books. Flashbake also means that I’m extremely backed up (Git is designed to replicate its database to other servers, in order to allow multiple programmers to work on the same file). And more importantly, I’m keen to see what insights this brings to light for me about my own process. I know that there are days when the prose really flows, and there are days when I have to squeeze out each word. What I don’t know is what external factors may bear on this.

In a year, or two, or three, I’ll be able to use the Flashbake to generate some really interesting charts and stats about how I write: does the weather matter? Do I write more when I’m blogging more? Do “fast” writing days come in a cycle? Do I write faster on the road or at home? I know myself well enough to understand that if I don’t write down these observations and become an empiricist of my own life that all I’ll get are impressionistic memories that are more apt to reflect back my own conclusions to me than to inform me of things I haven’t noticed.

So, why don’t I just install this “flashbake” software and simply move on with my writing and my projects? Well, that’s a fair question. The trouble is that, well, this version control stuff is pretty complex stuff, compared to the average word processor. As a writer whose day job is managing websites, I’m up to the challenge, but while I’m at it, I wonder whether I can do anything to make this easier for others. The Lifehacker article about Flashbake gives a “nerd alert” before listing some substantial knowledge prerequisites:

Flashbake is a command-line system for advanced users, and requires a Linux-like shell like Cygwin for Windows or Mac OS X's built-in Terminal. It is most definitely not for folks looking for something like Microsoft Word's versioning. It is, however, for people who make heavy use of plain text files, don't mind firing up the terminal and running a script or two, and know what cron is. Since Flashbake is an interface to Git written in Python, you'll need all three installed to get this party started.

Why don’t I use one of the many workarounds available out there? Because most of them are for linear workflows, or they don’t store enough versions, or they’re 100% cloud-based and I’m afraid they’ll go offline and take my work with them when they go.

Surely there’s a middle way that balances power, usability and (long-term) access to the documents.


I’ve posted this idea in a few other places as well…

Useful links I found along the way…


My Grandmother’s Writings Part Two: File Cabinets and Beer Boxes

2013-01-21

I mentioned that my dad had given me some boxes filled with my grandmother’s writings. They were old beer boxes. It’s always been his way of storing and hauling things, in beer boxes, a trick I supposed he learned in college. Beer boxes are free, after all. Go to any liquor store and they’re bound to have at least a few cardboard boxes they’re willing to give you. Beer boxes are sturdy enough, built for holding bottles or cans, and they have handles. Go to the liquor store on the right day, and you’ll hit a jackpot of dozens of boxes, perfect for moving day. It was one of those moving days, when my grandmother moved from the house where she spent most of her life, where she raised her children, in Hampton Virginia. She moved to Hagerstown, Maryland, to be closer to the rest of our family. She was in her mid to late sixties then, I think. Dad did most of the moving himself. Over the course of several trips, he packed, loaded and hauled most of my grandmother’s belongings. Her new, but smaller apartment wouldn’t hold everything, so the writings were carefully removed from their original file cabinet and transferred into a set of brown cardboard boxes emblazoned with the irrelevant phrases “Bud Ice” and “Corona” where they remained, stored in the basement, for about 20 years.

Now, here’s a difficult riddle! Say you loaded up some very similar boxes, 20 years ago, while loading dozens of other similar boxes, and someone asks you, 20 years later to recall the specifics: what order were these papers in before you loaded them into these boxes? I didn’t bother asking dad that one.

It’s an important question, though. The wiki at the library at UNC gives a great overview of some first principles to consider, during an archival project:

When you survey your collection, pay special attention to the order of the materials. A basic archival principle is "respect pour l'ordre primitif," which is French for "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." Maintaining the original order established by the creator of a collection preserves contextual information that may be important to researchers. The original order itself may also make an important statement about its creator. Using the original arrangement scheme, moreover, may save the processing staff valuable time and energy. Retaining the basic arrangement as received, when possible, is part of the archivist's responsibility to preserve historical documents in as close to original form as possible. Keep in mind that _respect pour l'ordre primitif_ does not preclude tidying up the materials or adding a supporting superstructure to aid in description and cataloging.

I can only assume that unloading a file cabinet would proceed from the front to the back, which wold put things that were at the front of one drawer at the bottom of one box. Luckily, at the bottom of one box was an envelope, which contained the manuscript labeled “First Best Poems”. I decided to start with that, assuming that it would have been the thing most readily at-hand within the original arrangement. The other things were generally grouped according to type: poems were together, novel and novel drafts were together, plays and play drafts were together, short stories, essays and miscellaneous notes were grouped and then there was the correspondence, which is somewhat tricky because it also contains drafts from all of the aforementioned groups, but nearly all of it is inside of its original, post-marked envelope. It is all, all of it, remarkably well organized.

It turns out that my grandmother’s mother, Bessie Lynn Hufford (1882-1975) had worked as a librarian and was also a published writer. (I found at least one newspaper article written by my great-grandmother, published in the Indianapolis Star on June 27 1929 June 27). My dad tells me that, as a young girl, my grandmother had devised her very own card catalogue system for her books, as a way of emulating and learning from her mother.

I can’t keep the beer boxes, though. I’m worried that the cheap cardboard may have chemicals in it which might contribute to the yellowing and decay of the papers inside. Already, many of the paperclips around those papers have rusted, causing stains around the margins of some of the pages.

So, in summary, this is what I’m doing to protect and organize the collection:

  1. remove the files from the old beer boxes and use library-quality document storage boxes instead
  2. remove all metal clips, rubber bands, fastners, etc.
  3. replace envelopes (many are very yellow already and contain metal clips) with good folders. (I prefer folders with the tabs that go all the way across).
  4. be certain to document/store envelopes that are labeled, post-marked, etc. so that the new folders retain all the information provided by the original folders.

Some of this good equipment is expensive, compared to ordinary office supplies, so it will take me some time to get all the ideal materials, but this is the eventual plan. In the interim, I’m using ordinary folders and a banker’s box.


My Grandmother’s Writings Part One: “Look at all this paper!”

2013-01-06

In October of 2012, I visited my parents and my dad said to me “ I’ve got some boxes for you.” He gave me three boxes, all of them filled with the entire collected writings by my Grandmother, Elizabeth Kinnett. She wrote essays, poems, short stories, stage-plays  a novel; she kept a journal from the time she was a 12-year-old girl throughout her life; she kept a regular correspondence from the time she was in college throughout her life, with friends, fellow writers, editors, publishers. My dad handed all of it over to me. My initial response was, “Wow, look at all this paper!”

I’m going to catalog, annotate and digitize these writings. Along the way, I’ll blog about the work I do, share what I’ve learned and what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, etc. I hope to have a conversation along the way, about the experience of reading her work, about the technical aspects of taking care of the documents, and of course about her writings themselves.

When I was very young, I would visit Grandma’s house, and inside her coffee table, which is now my coffee table, two small drawers contained an assortment of chapbooks and literary journals where her work had been published. She would show them to me. I never once heard her read her work, though. One of her poems, “The Fields are All Alight” was featured as part of my parents’ wedding ceremony  When my grandmother died, I was still in junior high school, struggling not to forget my first locker combination, and her writings have waited in boxes since then. I’ll write another entire post about my memories of her. This post is just an introduction.

Of all the people in my family to inherit her writings, I suppose it makes sense for it to be me. I am also a writer, with an undergraduate degree in Writing and Communications, so my dad thought that I might be better able to find an answer to my dad’s question: “What do we have here, anyway? Is it good?”

Beyond that, as a writer myself, I might be able to deduce some things about grandma’s process, her personality, feelings and motivations, her aesthetics.. her self, and to help bring that understanding to bear on her work. Although we’re a generation apart, and I only knew my grandma when I was very young, it stands to reason that we might have a few things in common, her and I. It might be worthwhile to explore those things.

There’s also the matter of my day job, which also helps in some ways to equip me for working with her writings. I’m the web developer for a museum, which means that I can have coffee or lunch with archivists, curators, imaging specialists, library scientists and scholars, and I can ask their advice about some of the finer points of the work. I began with so many questions, and I am so grateful to my friends at the museum for their input. I’m also grateful to the great community at Meta Filter for their help with some of the technology-related aspects of this project.

(stupid disclaimer: On that point, I do want to make a disclaimer. I’m going to blog about the work I do with these writings, share what I’ve learned and what I’m doing, but I don’t want this to sound like a professional opinion. Although I do work in a museum, I am not a conservator or an archivist, and although a few of my friends gave me some casual advice, that’s all it was. If you follow along with what I’ve learned, and apply it to any project you might have, with writings or documents from your family or history, I hope you have a wonderful experience. But if you go off and destroy something valuable on my advice, well, let me just say I’m no expert, so be careful! )

Once I got the boxes home and made a careful list of their contents, I decided right away that I wanted to make a new copy of the poems, bound as a book, to give to my Dad for Christmas. This would give me a deadline and a goal to meet, so that I could begin to get through this big stack of writings.

First Best Poems by Elizabeth Kinnett This is the cover of the book I made out of a manuscript, “First Best Poems” by Elizabeth Kinnett

Now that Christmas is over, I can blog about this, without spoiling the surprise for him. He loved the book! It contained 83 poems, which I had digitized from their original draft, which she had tentatively titled “First Best Poems”. I used a scanner to create digital images of each page, OCR software to create digital text from the images, a word processor to make minor corrections, and layout software to design the book. Then I had 3 copies of the book printed, by a print-on-demand online service. Now, the family can easily read her poems! Here’s the introduction I wrote for the book.

The poems collected here were written by Elizabeth “Betty” Kinnett, primarily between 1962-1972 and assembled into a collection. In 1972, according to her notes, these poems were retyped and placed into a manila envelope. It was labeled “Carbons of 50 first best poems”. In 1973, a poem was added to the collection, along with a note on the envelope: “ written 1973”. Between 1973 and 1976, a total of 19 more poems were added. On each, in handwriting, she included a specific date. Those dates are included in the notes at the end of this collection. I have also provided a few notes on key terms, forms and themes.

I have made every effort to present these poems in their original sequence, with only three exceptions. Two of the longer poems were moved once forward in the sequence, to allow them to appear in this book, spanning a spread. The poem was first in a nearly identical collection of poems, which the author used for sending out to publishers. There are still more poems, organized into separate folders. These poems may be incomplete or from other years.

This is not a complete collection of my grandmother’s poems, but it is, in her words, a collection of the “first best poems”. I don’t remember much about her, except that she was always surrounded by music. When she wasn’t playing music on the radio or the television, she was humming it softly to herself. I hope that her song can continue humming, with the creation of this volume.

Dylan Kinnett Baltimore, Maryland Autumn, 2012

As I continue working with my grandmother’s writings, I’ll blog about all of this in more detail, but I’d like to close this introduction by inviting conversation. What do you want to know? Do you have anything similar to share?


There are No Categories for Music Genre

2012-12-01

I know it’s becoming unfashionable to actually own a digital copy of music anymore, but that doesn’t change the fact that I have several thousand songs that I have collected over the years. Lately I’ve become interested in cleaning up the information about my music library, the metadata tags that describe the music’s genre, in particular. I’d like to be able to kick back with my iphone or whatever and quickly scroll through a list of genres. I’d like for that list to help me easily answer the question “what kind of music do I want to listen to right now”. Sadly, nearly all the music in my collection has a genre tag that is way too general “alternative” or way too specific “pre-punk indie rock” to be very good.

The Problem

So, the next question seems to be: where can I get a good, reliable list of music genres? That’s a very tricky question, because “genre” is such a subjective concept. It’s so obtuse that many people simply don’t pay attention to the ‘genre’ information in their collections. Likewise, lots of the music software either ignores it, or, as iTunes does, takes a very general approach (they hope you’ll just use “genius” to get around the issue).

Different Lists of Genres

There are so many different ways to categorize the genres of music! It’s safe to conclude, then, that really… there are no categories! With so many different options, it’s easy to wonder: is it even possible for software to automatically add good genre tags to music files?

A Solution that Works for Me

The answer is yes, it is possible. It isn’t easy or perfect, but with so many options out there, there’s bound to be a solution that works for you. Here’s what worked for me: I used an obscure, older application called QMP to run an automated cleanup overnight of my MP3 library’s tags. It was quick, efficient, and not very prone to mistakes. iTunes caught right up with the changes, the next time I told it to re-import my library. My ratings and playcounts were left in tact. Granted, this solution favors the very specific genres over the very general, so I sill have some work to do to re-generalize. (personally, I’m not so sure how many different versions of “rock” that I want to list, but when it comes to “electronic” music, I like to keep my Goa Trance apart from my Chiptune, thank you very much) When I’m done, the general genre tags will be the ones I want to generalize, and I’ll have the specific groups that I want. I’m not sure how to handle sub-genres yet, but I’ll get there.

I should mention that my main computer runs windows 8, my portable device of choice is an iPhone and iTunes is my computer-based media player of choice, and I use both Apple TV and XBMC for my couch surfing. I like a media library that works with all this stuff.

p.s. a list of MP3 tagging software that I tried, but didn’t use.

TagScanner fail. too slow. clunky interface. crashes.

Magix Music Manager 2007 fail. paid app. really built for burning CDs. Doesn’t recognize enough music. doesn’t work well with Windows 8.

MP3Tag A great app, but mostly built for manually tagging.It will search for metadata @ many popular online sources but it’s not very fast, efficient at album-level lookups. Runs a bit slow.

MusicBrainz Picard Pretty good. Not so customizable. Bit of a learning curve. Requires a free login to do some lookups via API key. Doesn’t always provide Genre information.

Roxio Creator 2012 Pro Definately not worth the money. itunes can do everything for music that it can do, for free.

Spotify Apparently Spotify once had a feature to edit MP3 metadata tags to fill them with Spotify data (which is good data) but that feature seems to have been removed, or I couldn’t find it.

TidySongs This one is good. Even if you don’t pay for it, it is very useful for cleaning/merging the genre information in your library. I think of this is a “second-step” tool, for use after the tags have been entered/cleaned.

**WinAmp ** No thanks. It does have MP3 tagging abilities, but it is clunky and slow. Not great for use on a large library.

XBMC has excellent abilities to lookup metadata, fan art, lyrics, etc. but doesn’t edit the tags of your files to contain that stuff, so the lookup data isn’t available elsewhere (i.e. iTunes, etc.)

Windows Media Player very reliable lookup and tagging abilities, but very slow.

dBpoweramp great for editing MP3 tags manually while browsing through their windows folders, but that’s about it.

Ember Media Manager great for movies and tv shows. wish it worked for music, too.

Media Info Plus it’s ok. it also scrapes info about movies and tv shows, but it’s a little bit unstable and doesn’t work so well with Windows 8. Not sure how often it gets updated. a bit slow. crashes occasionally. worth a look anyway.

Media Companion it’s ok. also works with movies and tv shows, but I can’t get it to run at all on windows 8.

MediaMonkey
pretty good. still, a bit tedious for large libraries.

**tag&rename; ** didn’t try this one.

The GodFather One of the best. not the most user-friendly interface, but it’s learnable. best for manual editing. its online lookup abilities are a bit clunky. still, a bit tedious for large libraries.

p.p.s. mood tagging? ha! not yet.


Generative Writing Cut-Up Tools

2012-10-30

I’m tinkering with generative writing, and searching for some tools to help me automate a cut-up method, starting from a variety of source texts. Along the way, I discovered a bit of software called dadadodo. Trouble with that is, it is a command line tool for Unix, and I’m not so skilled in that department. Enigmarelle Development did make a freeware version of it for the mac, but that was back in 2006? The app no longer works on newer macs. I’m posting it here for safe keeping, and in the hopes that somebody can help me to update this to a usable point.

update: a day later, the app has been updated to run on newer macs.


Dadadodomax 1.0 Download

dadadodomax is a Mac OS X application, built around Jamie Zawinski’s dadadodo command line tool. In the words of its creator,

"DadaDodo is a program that analyses texts for word probabilities, and then generates random sentences based on that. Sometimes these sentences are nonsense; but sometimes they cut right through to the heart of the matter, and reveal hidden meanings."

Adding files Add files to your project by dragging them into the list view. You can also use the ‘Add Files’ button or menu item (under the File menu.) Acceptable file types are text or HTML files. Unix .mbox files should also work, but haven’t been tested.

Generating text Generate text from your source files by clicking your mouse on the ‘Generate’ button in the project window, or use the ‘Generate’ item in the File menu. With the ‘Output HTML’ checkbox checked, text will be output and saved in HTML format; with it unchecked output will be in plain-text format.

see also: discussion of a windows port

see also: user manual for DadaDodo


Gearing up for Sound

2012-08-27

Having declared creative bankruptcy, and having paused the idea of the play until I can find a way to stage a play without really staging it, I’ve decided to tinker with audio some more. Maybe I’ll do some more spoken word recordings, and see where that goes.

Batteries not included

I’ve put together a surprisingly functional setup over the last few days. Here are some details about what gear I chose, in case anybody else out there is interested in the setup. (I’ve noticed a ton of youtube videos showing off various studio spaces, but I’m not much of a YouTuber and besides, mine is more modest than these.)

Shure SM58 Microphone

The centerpiece, of course, is a microphone, my trusty Shure SM58.

That microphone has served me well for years now, but I had never been able to connect it to a computer. I didn’t have the adaptor, and besides, I haven’t had much experience with audio software, since college.

Olympus Digital Voice Recorder VN-5200PC

Since I had no audio input on my computer, I had to improvise. In the days before smart phones, I used the Olympus Digital Voice Recorder VN-5200PC. This is an easy-to-use and inexpensive handheld, digital recorder. It’s perfect for capturing the voice, or for gathering samples of found-sound. The only complaint I’ve ever had about it is that it records to the windows media format, and not to something more ubiquitous like the .wav format, but with some simple file conversions, I’ve been able to get around that.

If you have a smart phone, it may not make sense to own another, dedicated device for capturing sounds, if you can use your phone for that. On the iPhone, for example, there’s an app called FiRe, which does a good job of recording audio, in a variety of common formats, and it will even upload your recordings to sound-cloud for you! Since installing this app, I have no more need for my trusty old Olympus.

Of course, neither of these methods will record the best audio possible, but they’re cheap and easy, so I love them. Even so, since I have a nice microphone, I needed a way to use it with my computer, to record digital audio.

M-Audio Fast Track Pro

To do this, I went to Ebay to score an M-Audio Fast Track Pro. I’m proud to say that I got it used, at a decent price and that it works great! Basically, you plug your microphone’s 1/4" cable into this thing, and it sends the audio to your computer, via USB. It also has MIDI in, in case you have a MIDI device, and another port in the front for a cable for another microphone, a guitar, etc.

I thought, now what can I do with the other port? My two portable devices, I can connect them to the Fast Track, but I need an adapter and a cable. (I happened to have these already, but they’re both cheap.) This thing has a sexy name: the 1/4" to 1/8" female to male adapter. With this, you can change the front port of the Fast Track into something that will accept audio from smaller devices, anything at all with a standard headphones port, such as an iphone, a voice recorder, or even my trusty old short wave radio. You could also get a single cable for that, but use this adapter to connect ordinary headphones to the Fast Track, rather than to buy studio headphones.

audio cable

I needed a cable like this, as well, which I happened to have lying around.

For a nice and cheap desktop microphone stand, try the “Quiklok A188 Quiklok A188 Desktop Tripod Microphone Stand” You may be able to find one used for less than $10.

I thought it was important to buy used equipment at rock-bottom prices, for two reasons. First, It’s not like I’m going to devote my whole life to being a musician; I’m a writer, after all. Second, you have to pay money out the ass for most of the audio editing software out there. (You may be able to guess which of those reasons is the most compelling to me.)

I’m trying out demo versions of the software for editing audio. I learned that the term for such an application is DAW, short for “digital audio workstation”. Which one is best for me? I’m not sure, and I’ll post about that later, but for now I’m leaning toward Adobe Audition. I’m using a PC, so Garage Band is unavailable to me, unfortunately. Audition is a great second choice though. I’ve used it before, I’m familiar with other Adobe Software, and of all the applications I installed, it was the only one that I could figure out how to use, right out of the box.


How I Do My Word Processing

2012-07-15

Yesterday, I opened the Microsoft Word application on my computer, for the first time in weeks. It wasn’t because I have been on vacation, too busy, or not writing. It’s because I rarely want to use it anymore. I still do a lot of writing, in long form on my laptop and in note form on my phone, but I just don’t prefer to use Microsoft Word to do most of that stuff anymore.

I think this change is an interesting one, since one of my very first blog posts was on the subject of Microsoft Word, and my hope that new features would allow me to use it more easily for blogging. Those new features were added to Microsoft Word, long ago. Since blogging has become popular, Word just hasn’t kept up with the other changes in the way that people do electronic writing.

Here are some examples.

1. Collaborative writing.

Recently, for a project at work, I needed to work with my counterpart to write a document, while I was in San Diego and she was still in Baltimore. Within a few minutes, we could setup an online, collaborative writing space, using Google Docs, and it was much easier to work together, in real time, to write the document, than it would have been by using Microsoft Word. We could watch each other type, make corrections, and have threaded conversations in the margins.

2. Distraction Free Writing

There are dozens of very popular new applications, not just for mac users, to enable a clean and simple user interface for writing, one that removes all distracting elements from the screen, so that the computer acts like a typewriter. (Word Processing is NOT typewriting but that’s a subject for another day.)

I can say from recent experience that my writing has benefited immensely from a distraction free interface. I use an app called ByWord these days. Yes, Microsoft Word does have a full screen  feature, but not right off the bat, and it isn’t customizable the way I want. I want to be able to open up an application and, bang, seconds later, start typing. When I’m in a hurry to get an idea written down, I don’t want any crap in my way, I just want to get down to it.

Also, I’ve discovered through practice that I’m pretty picky about what my favorite writing interface settings should be. I prefer a monospace typeface, in a fairly large size, at about 65 characters per line, rendered in a near-white color against a near-black background. Microsoft Word still acts like black ink on white paper, and doesn’t give me the ability to write with the settings that I’ve learned to prefer.

3. Cloud Storage

Blogging was just part of the early days of writing “in the cloud” or in other words, to store the writing in a secure location on the internet, for backup or display. Lately, applications like Dropbox, Google Drive and others make it easy to store files from your computer in this way. I can’t really fault Microsoft Word for not adding a built-in feature to do this, since all you have to do is to save your document to a special folder, and it will be synced up with your cloud storage.

Nevertheless, one of the other writing tools that I use, Evernote, has the ability to automatically store an online copy of everything I write in it, as soon as I write it. I love this. It means I can take a note while I’m out on an adventure. Then, as soon as my laptop battery is recharged, I can refine the note into something more coherent. Then, when I get home I can use my home computer to really finish it so that when I get to work I can copy/paste/print it into something final. All of this happens without very much re-saving, burning to disk, USB drives, etc. I don’t have to worry about the brand of my phone, computer or operating system. My writing is just there, where I need it, wherever I am. Because of this, Evernote is very often a preferable way to take notes than Microsoft Word, and because of Evernote’s wonderful phone app, I prefer it to Microsoft’s own note-taking thingie, which is nice, but not as flexible.

4. Version Control

Version control allows you to keep track of each version, or state, of a work in progress, so that changes can be reversed later, or so that the versions can be compared. For a writer, it would also be a very powerful tool. Think about it: how much literary scholarship has been devoted to the various versions of works by Shakespeare, Whitman and others? Writers and posterity alike stand to benefit from easy version control. Computer version control, at present, is still something that is pretty much only available to nerdy programmer types because, sadly, Microsoft Word has recently reconfigured its version control abilities into oblivion, at present the best version control for writers is still too complicated for someone like me, who prefers distraction free writing.

Although it isn’t as robust as full-blown version control, Dropbox does have the ability to keep track of different versions of a file, which is useful. It’s what I’ll use for now.

An Imperfect Fix

At first I used a single, huge application with tons of features I don’t use to do all of my writing. Now, I use several, small and dedicated applications to do a variety of different kinds of writing: I use note-taking applications for note-taking; distraction-free applications for composing; blogging applications for blogging; I do still use Microsoft Word for refining final versions, especially for print; now that I have a smartphone I take a whole lot of quick notes with that. Overall, I have a setup that works very well for me, but it is an imperfect fix, because it is still a bit on the nerdy side. I doubt that very many of my writer friends would want to build this setup for themselves. They would rather wait for one app that does it all. In the hopes of shortening that wait, here’s a quick list of the most important features that a word processor should have. If anybody (Microsoft or otherwise) wants to build the application that everybody will always use to write with, then it’s going to need these features, in my opinion:

  1. Immediate distraction-free writing, with easy, simple configuration.
  2. Cloud storage, compatible with most major cloud storage services.
  3. Version control made simple!
  4. Markdown should be optional, not required. Some of us prefer keyboard shortcuts or menu drop-downs. (I’m fond of control-K to do “insert hyperlink” myself)
  5. Ability to post document to any major type of blog service. Bonus points for integration with social media e.g. posting notes to Facebook, etc.
  6. Save documents to major formats: .rtf, .doc, .docx, .pdf, .txt, .html…
  7. Mac or PC? Who cares! You might need to work either way on occasion.
  8. A compatible smart phone app, and it shouldn’t matter whether you have an iphone or an android.
  9. Advanced features could include: commenting and tracked-changes  features (like the very good ones that microsoft word has) and collaborative writing features (like google docs or Etherpad).

… or maybe there just really isn’t the need for one writing application that does everything. Word has features for writing legal documents and dissertations, and although I write a lot, I don’t write too many of those things. Perhaps this move toward lots of tools is just the new way. I’ve described how I do it, anyway.

How do you do your word-processing?


When to Abandon a Creative Project

2012-07-07

In my post a few days ago I mentioned that I hope to begin working on “one thing at a time” for a while, to gain more focus. My list of ongoing creative projects is too complicated. I’m declaring creative bankruptcy, so to speak. I’ve had too many irons in the fire for too long. Why so many? It seems I have trouble bringing an end to some projects.

I can see two reasons why some of my projects seem to hang around forever.

Mission: Impossible

First, some ideas just don’t seem to be designed so that I can reasonably finish them. For example, last year I was hard at work on a play, revising the script and blogging some related notes. Before I can finish that project, as designed, I’m going to need actors who are very skilled at improvisation, a director, a choreographer, an elaborate set featuring electronics and plenty of vintage furniture, and of course a stage. The material aspects alone are prohibitive, especially now that I no longer live in a warehouse loft, where I could store junk and create a stage. In light of all that, perhaps I should either redesign the idea so that I can actually make it happen, or give up on it.

Abort, Retry, Ignore?

Second, some ideas just don’t work out. This might actually be true of most ideas, but for example my first play, and my book of poems, those ideas both became boring to me. I haven’t been inclined to admit that, but it’s true. The first play, “Street Preacher” was a college project which I always thought I would one day “finish” but I never have done that. Now, I think perhaps it is best to let it rest where it did, as a college project, and to move on. A few years ago, I tried to create a book of poems. It fizzled, partly because I lost my sense of where it was going and partly because I lost interest. I was able to recycle the project, though, and it became the foundation of a finished spoken word album. Sometimes, giving up is useful.

If some projects are impossible, and others have died, what’s the solution? I’m not certain yet, but I think, for now the solution is to revise the list, and the projects so that I have smaller, simpler projects, designed to be actually accomplished somewhat quickly. The projects that can’t be revised that way, I guess I’ll retire them.


Delurking My Life

2012-07-02

The blog has been on hiatus. My life, for the most part, has been on hiatus because of work.

I don’t normally mention the day job on this blog, but it has been a wild and exciting ride, for the past year or so: launching a major website with more than 10,000 pages, reaching the million visitors mark for that same website, watching it earn an honorable mention for a webby award, working to contribute to a massive upload to wikimedia, collaborating to create a crowd-sourced museum exhibition… what a rush!

Is it July already? Almost my birthday? Time sure does fly when you’re working your ass off. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, but I’m glad it’s over. I need a vacation, and then to rekindle my social life. I can’t keep up that pace of work forever; I would die, but it sure was fun while it lasted. Now that life seems to be returning toward normal (whatever that is), I wonder: what’s next? Yes, vacation is definately the first order of business, but what do I do now?

I’ve started to reflect on what I’ve learned from this intense period of work. It will take some time until that reflection results in any concrete understanding. I’ll contribute to at least one paper to describe some of the work. That will help. At first glance though, one thing seems clear: focus helps. Recently, a colleague at work reminded me of that pop psychology concept, “flow” which is probably just another word for focus. Well, whatever you call it, it can be very helpful, and somewhat refreshing, to go through life for a while with a “one thing at a time” approach. Life can’t always be solely devoted to one thing, of course, but focus is useful.

Before this intense period of work, I was already quite busy with: a small publication, the website for that small publication, my own website, freelance clients, a full time job, various social circles, a habit of regularly attending literary events in Baltimore, and a writing practice that included work towards a play and a new set of spoken word pieces and on and on and on. Then, work took over, and I put every bit of that stuff “on pause” for a while. Now I’m back, and I have a moment to survey it all and I think “wow, what a mess”.

Perhaps it’s best not to choose “what’s next” just now. Perhaps the best course of action, for the rest of the summer, is to take some time to relax, to take stock of it all, to prioritize and then, eventually, to find some new focus.


Blogging Changes Quickly

2012-03-12

I just finished reading an article on Mashable called “A Look Back at the Last 5 Years in Blogging”. For the most part, I think this post  gives a solid overview of these past and very formative years for the Internet. If you’ve just excaped from life under a rock, you might give it a read. Toward the end of the post, you can find the understatement, “tumblelogs have become extremely popular due to their ease of use.” The author  interviewed some guy who is a digital strategist and he said “Blogging tools have made it easier for people to focus on content production rather than the often tedious process of content formatting. If anything is responsible for the popularity of blogging the steady improvement of the tools over the years has to be it,”

It’s that “ease of use” that will probably define the next five years of blogging. Twitter is easy to use. Tumblr is easy to use. Pinterest is easy to use. Facebook is easy to use. (All of these are blog-like, in one way or another.)

In a way, I love it all. There are all these new, fun, easy-to-use ways for pretty much anybody to share what they’ve got. They can share it with their friends, with an audience of millions, and also with the corporations who own these platforms! It’s that last bit that troubles me. Other people’s websites can get crappy or they can die. The aforementioned post about the last five years of blogging history begins with a mention of Technorati, which was once a huge part of blogging, but now Technorati is largely irrelevant to the blogosphere. Will twitter still be here in five years? Probably. Will it be bought out by CNN? God knows, CNN can’t seem to shut the hell up about what’s on Twitter, these days. Whether it’s CNN, Twitter, or not, the question is: will a company buy it and make it crappy? Yahoo bought Delicious and damn near ruined it. Just recently, Twitter bought Posterous. Will the average blogger care which company owns their blogging platform of choice, or whether it dies off? Does it really matter?

Well, I care, not super passionately, but I’m aware of it, anyway. Mostly, I like to have my stuff where I have a larger measure of control over it, which is why I have my own domain. I realize that, in order to have your own domain, you need to have a bit more technical know-how than the average internet user. And that brings me to two more things:

  1. tumblr and the others  are easier and more fun to use than wordpress.

  2. Shouldn’t my own domain be able to better connect to all that other stuff out there?

These two complaints are mostly based on my own preferences, but I’m sharing them, in case there might be something out there that I’m missing.

First, it just doesn’t seem fair that so many other, closed platforms should be so much faster to innovate and so much more fun/easy to use. Although I have gone to the trouble of hosting my own site, and yes, I can and do spend lots of time tinkering with it, there are times when I want all the fuss to go away and to just rock out some new stuff on the web, you know? Many of the easier, non-hosted options I’m thinking of, they start with a simple question like “what’s on your mind” and/or some very simple buttons that say things like “video” “audio” “link” and so on. Wordpress, which is my blogging software of choice, it hasn’t, until recently, offered options like that, and now they’re only half-baked. Can’t I have easy and simple posting options in addition to all the other power that Wordpress offers me?

(I should mention that, yes, I am aware of, and I’m excited about, the new post formats for wordpress and I’ve seen the feature begin to creep its way into wordpress and I know about  the WooTumblog plugin (I reluctantly use it despite its faults). These are all things that strive toward something like that simple set of buttons that let you choose things like “audio,” video" or “link” and to quickly and easily post them. I worry a little bit that this functionality will be implemented in much the way that tags were added to wordpress: everybody builds a million ways to do it and eventually the best one wins, which is fine, except that afterwards your data ends us scarred by leftover cruft from previous attempts at getting it right. This is because Wordpress plugins are notoriously terrible at uninstalling themselves, in my experience. Remember “ultimate tag warrior” and all its bretheren? Then, there was tagging. Then, nothing had tags. Then, there were hashtags, instead. I digress.)

Second, if there’s so much fun to be had on so many other networks out there, and if there isn’t any sign of that fun stopping any time soon, then shouldn’t I be able to connect my self-hosted website, in an easy and fun manner to all the fun that’s out there? Well, actually, that’s a hell of a lot more easily said than done. At last count, there were something like <a href=“http://readwrite.com/2008/02/29/35_lifestreamin_apps/"">35 ways to stream your life, some of which are easier to use than others and some of which are self-hosted. Many of these rely on yet another website to use out there somewhere, which kinda defeats the purpose. Then again, maybe the idea that you can have “all your stuff all in one place” on the internet simply isn’t realistic, even if that “one place” is your very own domain.

In conclusion, I should say, simply, that it has been an incredible five years for blogging and the history of the internet. I only hope that the self-hosted website doesn’t lose out during the next five, and I think that ease-of-use and widespread compatibility are the two best ways to ensure that it doesn’t lose out.


The Death of Hypertext?

2012-02-23

Hypertext.” When I was a college student, I was obsessed with the idea that, some day, we would all be creating and consuming information—not just information, but literature—via portable devices like cell phones, when the hyperlink might become as central to reading and writing as the sentence. Since then, that day has come and gone. There are millions of people out there sporting an iPhone, an Android, a Kindle, an iPad, a netbook, a tablet, what-have-you. This year alone, there has been a doubling of the number of people who e-readers and tablet computers. Since then, nearly everyone I know can communicate with nearly everyone else I know, simply by pasting a hyperlink, sometimes without adding any additional information at all. By all accounts, this seems to be the moment I was waiting for.

On the other hand, I’ve just encountered two accounts that wonder about “why the book’s future never happened” and “the problem of how hypertext poems composed in the late 1990s have aged” by Paul Laforge and Benjamin Paloff, respectively.

What happened?

These two accounts differ in their approaches to that question, but they both agree pretty closely on the problem.

"hypertext fiction is in a tough place now. Born into a world that wasn’t quite ready for it, and encumbered with lousy technology and user-hostile interface design, it got a bad reputation, at least outside of specialized reading circles. At the same time, it’s impossibly hard to create, one of the only modes of fiction I know of which is more demanding than the novel. (And then add to that the need to create a user interface, and maybe a content-management system, and is it going to be an app? Suddenly your antidepressants aren’t nearly strong enough to get you out of bed.)" — Paul Laforge
"The paradox of this proliferation of online information is that, while by no means immune to decay, the information is quickly superseded by new dispatches, which in turn accelerates its aging. As we have seen, a book of poems published on acid-free paper in 1997 can easily look like a book published in 2011; in the United States, it is not uncommon for a book to go through multiple printings with little or no change in design. But a hypertext poem coded in 1997 shows its age almost immediately, whether because its design elements reflect earlier stages of a rapidly changing programming environment, or perhaps because the coding requires now-obsolete software." Benjamin Paloff

If the world doesn’t yet have a strong, ongoing body of hypertext literature, could it be because the idea was born before the widespread popularity of web standards? Are the early hypertexts akin to the early attempts at bookmaking, and so will hypertext literature require an element of conservation science in order to survive? Will it be transcribed or upgraded, the way the ancient writing was transcribed from scroll, to manuscript, to book, to database? (Would cloud-based bookstores prove to be the dawn of a new dark age once the power goes out?)

I’m asking many questions here. I don’t propose to answer any of them here, merely to invite conversation.

Is hypertext literature dead? I don’t think so, but I do think it is ready for its “web 2.0” moment, wherein it becomes something easier to do, something everyone can enjoy. I think it might also help to consider the idea broadly, because in many ways it has caught on, and it isn’t aging, if the idea is allowed to include: video games, blogs, net art… the socially-networked/narrated identities of millions of people. I suppose it is possible that the Web 2.0 moment IS the hypertext literature moment. If that’s the case, then there’s just one troubling thing, as Laforge points out:

"And then … nothing happened. The Wikipedia entry for hypertext fiction lists no works published after 2001, and although Wikipedia isn’t the final word on anything, you have to think, if someone had written a hypertext fiction, this is where they’d want to tell you about it. The form’s seeming demise is puzzling..."

(Update: as it turns out, the authors of hypertext fiction don’t seem to use Wikipedia “to tell you about it”. Instead, these authors use things like conferences of the Modern Language Association, a large and growing database of electronic literature sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and a series of anthologies published by the Electronic Literature Organization at MIT. So, the work is out there, if you know where to look.)

Maybe it’s just that “hypertext fiction” is the wrong search query. Let’s try another one, which yields some very familiar-looking results. Let’s try “conceptual literature” instead:

"With the rise of the Web, writing has met its photography. By that, I mean that writing has encountered a situation similar to that of painting upon the invention of photography, a technology so much better at doing what the art form had been trying to do that, to survive, the field had to alter its course radically." — Kenneth Goldsmith

The time might be right, after all. I agree with Laforge’s conclusion, “I believe that the promise of hypertext fiction is worth pursuing, even now, or maybe especially now.”

That pursuit: what should it look like, now?


Scriptwriting Software

2011-05-21

I’m (slowly) writing the script for a stage play. During my first draft, I sampled the various software apps that are designed to help a writer to produce a stage play, screen play, comic book script, etc. I thought I would blog some of my thoughts, in case anybody else out there finds them interesting.

Ideal Screenwriting Software Features

When I’m writing, I want a comfortable, intuitive interface. I don’t want to fuss around with a bunch of complicated interface controls. I don’t want to spend my time on the formatting of the script; that’s the software’s job. This is very important to me, because I want to be comfortable when I write. It’s worth noting too, that in an age when I can buy a beautifully designed and intuitive app for $1 on my phone, I’m really not impressed by a $300 program that looks like it was designed when I was in High School (i.e. Windows 95). Design is a small point in this case, I know, but it matters to me. Perhaps the price is more to the point.

I also want to be sure that whatever I’m writing in this special software is “portable” so that I can export it to an industry standard file type, change the margins and typesetting, or edit the document in another software application altogether. More technically speaking, I need my software to import/export file formats like Final Draft, Microsoft Word, Movie Magic Screenwriter, PDF, TXT or RTF. Why? Because I’m just now drafting my script, and I’m unsure what I’ll need to do with it later. I want my options open. (an interesting new markup standard for screnplays, called fountain, may someday become the standard for all the software to use. That would be nice.)

Overview of Screenwriting Apps

I tried out a lot of different apps, with help from demo versions and from friends. Here is a list.

Final Draft

Final Draft is one of the “industry standard” script writing apps. It’s also very expensive. For your money, you get a word processor with minimal features to make it unique for writing scripts. The features that are there are very powerful. For example, the large number of formatting templates, the character names database, and collaboration mode. You’ll be able to dive right in here and get the work done. It’s also worth noting that this app’s native file type is a very popular one. Most of the apps on this list can export your script into the format that was invented for Final Draft. That’s why Final Draft is on this list: you’ll need to know about it, even if you don’t use it.

Trelby

My current favorite is Trelby, a strong, multi-platform option that offers compatibility with most of the major file formats. The best part: it’s free. This would be a great option for someone who just wants to get started right away. You can switch formats and use something more advanced later on.

Any Plain-Text Editor

Many writers prefer to write in a text-only environment, at least for early drafts, to avoid distracting buttons that change margins, font size, color, or conjure up animated dancing paper clip cartoons. For those plain text writers, there’s a very simple syntax called Fountain that lets you make all the structural and semantic indications needed in a script, without your hands ever leaving the keys. That sounds complicated, but it only took me about an hour to get the hang of it. There are plugins available for text editors like Sublime Text and Atom to help make it even easier to write using Fountain. Many apps understand the format, and can convert it to other formats like PDF or Final Draft XML (.fdx).

Fade In Professional

Fade In is not free but this one has all the basic features you could want. It runs on nearly any platform. You should definitely consider this one. It may not have all of the advanced features like some of the others, but you may not miss them anyway.

Scrivener

I have a lot of fun using this application for a variety of writing projects. It’s available for Windows and Mac, although the mac version has more features. In addition to “word processor” mode, Scrivener also has tools to help you organize your notes, scenes and even the other documents you might be using as source material, etc. I found those extra features to be very helpful with my first draft. The price is nicely affordable, too. You will want to go through the tutorial on this one, to learn all the useful features, but then you can get right down to writing with a nice interface. Scrivener is a wonderful app for gathering notes and drafts, but you may switch from it, after your first draft, to a dedicated script writing application.

Adobe Story

This is more like a web app. It supports standard formats. Adobe Story is easy to use. It works online and offline. It’s definitely worth a try. It’s free, for now, I guess? There was once a way to download an app for this onto your computer for offline work, but this seems to have gone away. Call me old fashioned, but I don’t want to be required to be connected to the Internet in order to write.

Microsoft Word

If you’re a writer with a computer, you may already have Microsoft Word. Of course, you can use a word processor to write anything, but with Word it may help to have a formatting template to get you started. This one has built-in styles, for the various elements of a properly formatted script. Save your script as an .rtf file and you should be able to open it in any script writing app, later on. Word is also great for getting started, but over time you may way to have some of the features unique to script writing apps, such as the keyboard shortcuts that make it easier to switch from writing one character’s dialogue to another.

Celtx

This one topped my list of favorites for a while, but they’ve changed from a free software model to a paid web app. Celtx is designed to help you write a variety of scripts. The basic package is free with the ability to add extra features for a monthly fee. In addition to basic script writing, Celtx also has features for storing notes, visualization, formatting templates. They also have an iPhone app, but I don’t want to write on my phone, thanks.

MovieMagic Screenwriter

Despite the “screenwriter” name of this app, I liked it for writing for the stage as well. The word processing features are easy to use. The support for file formats is good. MovieMagic Screenwriter handles notes and scenes fairly well. It also integrates with Dramatica, so you can start there to hash out a rough outline. I found that this app, of all of them, gave me the best ability to write dialog quickly, while preserving format. Unfortunately, it costs $245.95, but if you’re going to spend hundreds of dollars on script writing software, I think this is the best investment.

MovieDraft

I recently discovered this application, from a list of artisanal software for writers. I haven’t tried it out yet but it does look very promising. It is available for both Mac and Windows and it only costs $30. Here’s a review written by someone who has used MovieDraft.

Dramatica Pro

Dramatica Pro deserves mention on this list. It isn’t going to help you write dialog, etc. but it is a nice brainstorming tool. It’s user interface is in very bad need of a complete and total overhaul, but once you get the hang of it, it might be useful. The software walks you through a sort of plot philosophy that seems to be designed to help you write a Hollywood blockbuster, but I found it to provide useful prompts for thinking about character interactions and plot complexity. It ain’t cheap, though.

Other Screenwriting Apps…

These were listed on Wikipedia but I haven’t tried them out yet. Your results may vary, so I’ll simply list them here.

If anybody knows of any others, or has reviews to share, please do post them in the comments.


Writing with Audio

2011-02-26

I’m adding audio equipment to my writing toolbox. So, I think I need some gear. I’m posting this to solicit any advice from musicians, technicians and writers: what works and what doesn’t? How can I do these things sufficiently well, on the smallest possible budget?

  • I have a decent XLR microphone. I have a computer with a decent sound card. What is the best way to connect the two?
  • I want to manipulate voices. Is that done with a vocoder? Do I need hardware or software for that?
  • I want to be able to edit recordings. I've used Garage Band, and it's nice, but I don't have a mac. Is there something that is comparably user-friendly for the PC?
  • With all of these things, I don't want to get overwhelmed by tinkering with equipment. The point, for me, is to get down to creative work.

I’ve been working up to this for a while, now. When I interview people for articles, I always bring along my handheld MP3 audio recorder. I just love that thing. Sometimes, I also use it to record spoken word performances. The spoken word album, of course that required the use of some (more advanced) audio equipment. Recently, while working on the script for a play, some friends of mine used an iPhone to record a cold reading of the script, which will allow me to “hear” the characters for the first time. Also for that play, I’ve been listening to a lot of strange music, to give myself a sense of setting.

About four years ago, I lived in a “live-in studio space” a warehouse loft in a Baltimore building they call The Copycat. I had so much space! I actually had several spaces while living there, but the last one was about 800 square feet and I devoted most of it to a writing studio. Now, I live in a very different space, and I am not so interested in the space itself as I am with tools that are available to me. In particular, I’m interested in adding audio tools to my writing toolbox. Even so, I think it will be fun to figure out how to set up a more audio-friendly writing space.

I got the idea for “writing with audio” during my visit to New York a couple weeks ago, I learned something interesting about The Wooster Group. I have a friend who works with them. They’re an experimental theater group who incorporates video into many aspects of their lives: they take direction in some sense from video of all kinds, they video blog during creative retreats, their vlog has all kinds of stuff in it, the performances are recorded by video and in some sense the performances are also a response to all this video. So, for these guys, video opens up a lot of creative possibilities. I think audio would be the thing for me to open up creative possibilities.


Ten Reasons Why I (don’t really) Love Lists.

2010-08-30

The reasons to love a list are innumerable. Aside from all that, though:

  1. With a list, you can quickly fill up the page without having to actually write very much. It's kind of like using a really big typeface to get out of writing a long book report.
  2. Similarly, when a list is all you write, who needs to revise! Publishing a list is like publishing an outline. It's so easy; anyone can be a writer now!
  3. A series of lists invites the reader to scan the page, skipping around, picking and choosing, getting disoriented and finally arriving at an incomplete idea.
  4. Lists often suggest a false priority of ideas. This is actually the most important point on my list, but I put it third because these are listed in the order that they came to mind.
  5. Lists often suggest a priority of ideas when in fact there is none. In such cases, a paragraph would do nicely, if it weren't for point 1 above.
  6. Nested lists! Why bother to explain a complex relationship?
    1. They're also fun to read.
    2. They make it so much easier to understand what's going on.
      1. The fun never stops.
      2. I could do this all day:
        1. Nested-nested-nested lists
        2. Oh yeah.
  7. Lists invite little design arguments over whether to use bullets, boxes, circles, numbers or, my personal favorite, hiragana characters. Should we indent the lists?
  8. Lists of paragraphs are better than a regular old series of paragraphs, because with a list of paragraphs you get to have more fun with the design (see #7 above). But what is a list of paragraphs, really? If you like, you could read any document with multiple paragraphs as a list: one paragraph, another, and so on... Could it be that all writing is list-making? Is a poem a list of lines? Should we go back and number all the lists in all the documents? Or, would they be bullets? Which bullets? There's a whole list of typographical characters you could use to mark the items in a list. How far down the nested list would you have to go before you could use the Double Dagger? Look how cool it is: ‡. I digress.
  9. Finally, lists are easy to tack onto later. Nothing seems out of place that way.
  10. A list just begs you to come up with ten items. It gets you cool points when you do it.
  11. This list goes up to 11. Sorry about that.

Altered Text

2010-07-13

These are some notes I shared with a friend, a while ago, about some ideas that interest me lately. Feel free to make additions, corrections, etc.

I’ll call it altered text, although for the thing I have in mind there are actually many things, many names, from many times and places. My notion of “destroyed text” is somewhat unique, but not really. I’ll show you some examples of a family ideas I think the idea is descended from. I’ll try to give you explanations, citations and examples for each.

Conceptual Literature

This term basically describes everything else on the list. It’s the broad category for all sorts of “altered texts”. The term is often confused, or used interchangeably with “conceptual writing” which also happens to be the name that academics use for any sort of writing about ideas: criticism, science, philosophy, etc. That’s not what we’re talking about here. Here, we’re talking about writing that is like conceptual art. What is conceptual art? Conceptual art is any art where the idea of the art is more important than the object created. With conceptual literature, this notion has been simply applied to literature, just as it had been to painting, performance, etc.

Examples
The Ubuweb Anthology of Conceptual Writing http://ubu.com/concept/
Sources
Paragraphs on Conceptual Writing

http://epc.buffalo.edu/authors/goldsmith/conceptual_paragraphs.html

july/august 2009 issue of Poetry Magazine

Visual Poetry

Also known as “concrete poetry”, these texts are altered in such a way that their typography has an effect on their meaning. In some cases, the typography is the meaning. Concrete poetry is often associated with poems whose text is shaped like their subject. For (a boring) example, a poem about a bottle of wine whose text is shaped like a bottle of wine. Visual poetry is a term used for more abstract uses of the idea. In general, the name of the game here is to consider the presentation of the words on the page in new ways. You won’t find very much conventional typography here, although I think that the best examples are informed by all those centuries of typographic discipline.

Examples

The Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry http://www.rediscov.com/sacknerarchives/browsecollections.aspxRefrences Willard Bohn: The Aesthetics of Visual Poetry, 1914-1928. University Of Chicago Press, 1993

Approaches to Teaching Concrete Poetry: An Annotated Bibliography

http://www.ubu.com/papers/swiss_bibliography.html

Concrete Poetry I (1965) Max Bense, Germany http://www.ubu.com/papers/bense01.html

Concrete Poetry II (1965) Max Bense, Germany http://www.ubu.com/papers/bense02.html

Dick Higgins: Synesthesia and Intersenses: Intermedia. 1965, Originally published in Something Else Newsletter 1, No. 1 (Something Else Press, 1966). Also published as a chapter in Dick Higgins, Horizons, the Poetics and Theory of the Intermedia (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois Univ. Press, 1984).

Litsa Spathi: Rail Track. 2008, Originally published by Fluxus Heidelberg Center, 2008

Asemic Writing

If you’ve ever tested a pen out to see whether it worked, and assuming it worked, you’ve created an asemic letter or two. Asemic writing is “writing” that looks like writing, but it isn’t writing. Handwriting can take on asemic qualities, during a bumpy ride, for example. Here, the lines are still very much a narration of the experience, in the sense that the lines that make up the letters are transcribing some of the movement that occured during their composition, but if the ride was too bumpy, then the only meaning that remains for the lines on the page is an asemic, wordless meaning.

Examples

http://issuu.com/dylan_k/docs/luigi.serafini.-.codex.seraphinianus

asemic.net

http://thenewpostliterate.blogspot.com/

Refrences

Michael Jacobson, The Giant’s Fence. Barbarian Interior Books, 2006. ISBN 1-4116-6208-3

Michael Jacobson, Action Figures. Barbarian Interior Books, 2009.

Tim Gaze, Writing. xPress(ed), 2004. ISBN 951-9198-86-5

Tim Gaze, Noology. Arrum Press, 2008.

Rosaire Appel, Morpheme Pages. Press Rappel, 2008. ISBN 978-0-557-03591-5

Rosaire Appel, Wordless (Poems). Press Rappel, 2009. ISBN 978-1441482587

Carlos Martinez Luis, Nomadic and Archeological Scriptures. LUNA BISONTE PRODS, 2009. ISBN 978-1-892280-76-3

Flarf

Nada Gordon posted a particularly good definition of Flarf. I’ll track down the articles mentioned here, when I get the chance.

Flarf is an international avant-garde poetry movement of the late 20th century / early 21st century whose 30+ practitioners explore "the inappropriate" in all of its guises. Their method is to mine the Internet with odd search terms then distill the results into often hilarious and sometimes disturbing poems, plays, and other texts. Recently profiled on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, the flarf collective create hilarious, shocking, and sometimes downright offensive works. Heated discussions about flarf have been broadcast by the BBC and National Public Radio, and published in The Village Voice, The Nation, Poetry, Poets & Writers, and The Wall Street Journal. "Flarf is a hip, digital reaction to... boring, genteel poetry," writes poet and critic Marjorie Perloff. Whatever flarf is––whatever you think flarf is––it is most definitely the 21st century's first poetry movement.
Examples

“Issue 1”

my notes about this: /algorhythmic-avant-garde/

References

july/august 2009 issue of Poetry Magazine. Notably, this guest editorial http://www.poetryfoundation.org/journal/article.html?id=237176

Ethnopoetics

Western traditions have made a science out of literature. It's been quantified; qualified and dissected so much that, some say, there just isn't any life left in it. Ethnopoetics offers some writers a way to think outside of that box. Writing haiku in English is one example of ethnopoetics. Here you write in the idiom of another culture, or language, to produce something that you may not have conceived of from the point of view of your own idiom, language or culture. The regionalism of Mark Twain's era has some elements in common with ethnopoetics.

I don’t really know much about it, but these folks do:

http://www.ubu.com/ethno/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethnopoetics#Ethnopoetics_as_an_aesthetic_movement


A Piano Made of Telephones

2009-07-01

This is a Fluxus score. Fluxus is a type of performance art. A Fluxus score, like a musical score, is a sort of recipe for a performance. For more information, read The Fluxus Performance Workbook.

This performance requires several telephones, preferably telephones of as many different types as possible. Ideally, each should produce a unique sound through its microphone, which can either be original to the telephone or added. The phones should be amplified, for the benefit of the audience. A mixer or an effects petal may be used to augment the sound from each phone. It might be nice to paint the telephones black and white, to recall the color of keys on a piano.

The telephones need not be connected to a telephone line, although for an other performance they were connected to a Tele-Q device, modified so that it could serve as a switchboard to make the many telephones ring as needed..

A Piano Made of Telephones

[ 1 or 2 performers]

There are two scripts. The first script is composed of the sort of stuff that someone would say on the telephone The second is a series of responses, like “What’s the catch?” or “I can’t talk now, I’m busy” or “he isn’t here right now. Can I take a message?”

  • Pick up a telephone. Read part of the first script.
  • Hang up the telephone.
  • Pick up a different telephone. Read part of the second script.
  • Hang up the telephone, or put one down and pick up another while the first is on "hold".
  • Repeat as desired.

Second Land at Pyramid Atlantic

2009-01-29

This is a recording from Sunday’s experimental music performance by Second Land. Second Land is an audio/visual collaborative effort between Luke Hazard, Curt Seiss and Dani Seiss. They use a vast array of vintage tape machines, acoustic instruments and electronic devices to perform an improvisational live set. I was honored to join them for this set. My musical instrument was a short wave radio, and I performed spoken word through a delay petal at low volume.

Second Land’s first, eponymous album is scheduled for release this winter.


Des Imagistes: Some Imagist Poems

Des Imagistes: Some Imagist Poems
2008-12-07

update: This book is available in EPUB and Kindle format. Although the book has been auto-converted, it is still mostly legible, on an e-reader, ipad, etc. It probably won’t be long before someone (me?) uses the HTML version of the text to make a copy that reads well in those formats. Until then, this PDF is still the best version.

Download ‘Des imagistes, an anthology’ (1914)

Des Imagistes was the first anthology of imagist poems, created by the Imagism movement. Imagism was conceived by Ezra Pound, H.D., and Richard Aldington in 1912. Pound explains the tenets of imagism as the following:

  1. Direct treatment of the ‘thing’ whether subjective or objective.
  2. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.
  3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in the sequence of a metronome.

Though a relatively short-lived poetic movement, imagism was central in defining English–language modernist poetry.

Des Imagistes: An Anthology Des Imagistes: Imagist Poems

Des Imagistes was published in 1914 by the Poetry Bookshop in London. In America it was issued both in book form and simultaneously in the literary periodical The Glebe for February 1914. This book contains poems by Richard Aldington, H. D., F. S. Flint, Amy Lowell, William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound.

Finally, this very rare book has been published online, for all to read at desimagistes.com . You can also download a PDF of the original book.

If you like vivid, precise poetry, Des Imagistes is a book you’ll enjoy.

source: Grand Text Auto

This PDF of Des Imagistes by CMS10 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. You are free to share it, as long as you credit its author, “CMS10” and allow others to share-alike, with this license.


Algorithmic Avant-Garde

Algorithmic Avant-Garde
2008-11-10

There’s this new, controversial anthology of nearly 4,000 poems, entitled Issue 1. It is large enough to defy the limits of traditional bookbinding, with its 3,785 pages. It defies another assumption about books, too. This anthology was compiled by editors Stephen McLaughlin, Gregory Laynor & Vladimir and Aleksandrovich Zykov, but its contents weren’t exactly “written”. An article in Poetry Magazine’s blog describes exactly how the text was compiled. Suffice it to say that the book was generated, not written.

Issue 1 features the names of several thousand people, living and dead, poets and not. With each name is a poem, or at least what looks like a poem. These texts were not written by the people whose names accompany the texts. Instead, some of the texts appear to have been algorithmically generated by a computer program named Erica T. Carter.

It’s worth noting that the purpose of this computer program, aside from the linguistic parsing of patterns in English poetry, is to “disrupt the Academy’s mission of exclusion, its selfishness and greed, its supercilious arrogance. It does so by composing texts that democratize both the processes of reading and writing. It’s obvious that many of Erica’s poems are as good as most of what emerges as academic verse. But more important, absent an author, any reader’s reading is a valid reading.”

Many of the people whose names appear in the Issue 1 publication are angry, because their names appear in the anthology, without permission, and alongside texts that they did not write. A good overview of the controversy was titled “How to Make a Poet Cry on the Interweb Using Search Technologies

The people at forgodot.com announced early last week that they would release an anthology called "Issue 1″ with new poetry from […] around 4000 names, most of which belong to contemporary poets who might be considered "avant-garde" and dead ones. […] if you were […] one of the other living poets they claimed they would publish, you would […] go to their site and realize that you had neither submitted any poetry to them nor had given permission to use anything previously published. This would leave you with three options. You could get irate or elated that someone actually bothered to list your name with contemporaries and icons, or you could keep a wary eye on their site to see what would happen next. One way of doing that would be doing what I did: leave a comment and ask to be notified when others did the same. Your inbox would then flood with hundreds of comments.

I blogged about it, other poets blogged about it, it became an instant internet meme. Everyone in the poetry world knew about it.

One of the most popular blogs about poetry is maintained by Ron Silliman, whose name was also used in Issue 1. He is one that might fall into the “irate” category, and he does have a point. After briefly reviewing what’s interesting about Issue 1, he concluded, Issue 1 is what I would call an act of anarcho-flarf vandalism. (You may be wondering: what is Flarf, anyway?) Silliman and others have mentioned the possibility of legal action.

The PDF file that contains Issue 1 disappeared from the internet shortly after its publication – perhaps in response to the controversy – but it resurfaced. Along with it came a “polite clarification” from the editors. This kind of clarification is important to consider, before deciding whether to condemn or censor a work of art.

Indulge me in an obscure analogy. Let's say I sit down and write the most vile, nasty, over-the-line-type-of-toxic-racist missive I can think of. Better yet, rearrange some Google vomit into an original composition and save myself a few minutes. If I were to distribute this speech, it would be considered a hate crime. I could, however, shape this text into letterforms -- say, large 120pt letters composed of 10pt type. If I were to spell something like "racism is bollocks" out of such illegal text, the mode of reading would be altered. The formerly despicable statement would be neutralized.

This is an approximation of my original expectations regarding the reception of this magazine. I expected its size, format, and (to my eye) clearly algorithmically generated content to make our intentions clear. I wholeheartedly support the world of small press publishing and small press writing. Following the distribution of Issue 1, I would consider myself to be a member of that community on some small scale.

A lot has been written about Issue 1 and not all of it is negative. In addition to this clarification, and the post on Poetry’s blog,a recent radio interview from Ceptuetics gives an account of the motivations and methods behind the creation of Issue 1. It has been pointed out that the appropriation here is nothing new, in the art world. Marcel Duchamp comes to mind for creating things similar to Issue 1. The difference, I suppose, is that DaVinci was long dead, and couldn’t be bothered when Duchamp added facial hair to the Mona Lisa. Rauschenberg erased a work of art by de Kooning, and de Kooning approved, reluctantly. So you see, something like Issue 1 is not without precedent.

For my part, I’m intrigued to see that my name made it on a list that is largely comprised of living, “post-avant” poets. Some of the other poets who were included have chosen to go ahead and “claim” the poetry that appears with their name. In closing, here’s “my” poem.

Improved existence and second habiliments

A habiliment of fore-ends
A habiliment of invasions
A habiliment of surgeons
A habiliment of banquets

A leverrier
A leverrier
A leverrier
A leverrier

Wrapping oxygen

Dissolving past
Dissolving existence
Dissolving plucking

Implored
Implored

— Dylan Kinnett


Meaning and Experience

2008-09-30

A man encounters a work of art. It is a mobile, with steel arms and flat sails that catch the currents in the air, warm and cold. Across and back it turns, arcing slowly through space, like a clockwork of metal clouds. The man says, “That’s not art, that pile of metal parts there. That’s not art. Why, I could have made that!”

Right! You could have made that! A human being made that. That’s the point. Then, it’s up to the other humans to come by and see the thing, wonder about it, and maybe make some sense out of it.

How is that sense made?

There are two types of sense that a work of art can make. It can have meaning. It can also be experienced. Of course, it has both qualities and they blend. It is important to be aware of both senses, and to be able to tell them apart, because we make these different senses in different ways.

Philosopher Robert Stecker’s essay “Depiction as Seeing-In” sheds some light on one way we experience a work of art. We see the object itself, but then we see-in the object. There is often something else that the object depicts.

[Seeing-in stands in contrast with ordinary seeing](http://books.google.com/books?pg=PA152&lpg=PA152&dq=%22Seeing-in+stands+in+contrast+with+ordinary+seeing%22&sig=5SIjSsiiGx0YYn-JWmsl_6uE8dM&ct=result&id=2DnnhnQr2YsC&ots=1cnHzPmmWd&output=html). Of course, when I look at a painting I do see it in the ordinary sense. I see a canvas covered by paint that has certain properties: a rectangular shape, a colored surface, and a visible design on that surface. If I truly see all of these things then it follows that there exists a painting that has the various properties mentioned so far, just as if I see a brown cow, there is a brown cow that I see. ... Further, while I am seeing-in the painting these various things, I am typically still aware that I am looking at a painting with certain surface design features.

Now, if the image depicted on the object were a religious icon, for example, then perhaps there is another level of seeing-in. In a symbolic image, the symbol is seen-in the image, which is similar to the way that an image is seen-in an object.

Of course, not all meaning is pictorial or symbolic. Instead of seeing-in, there are a variety of questions we can ask to see-around the art, to give it context, which is another kind of meaning. We could ask: Who made the thing? Was that person male or female, rich or poor?  With what intention was it made? Out of which materials? Where and when was it made? Who was it made for? Can I do anything with it?

Seeing-in and seeing-around are both intellectual pursuits. For the most part, questions of depiction, symbolic intent and context can all be answered in concrete ways. These questions generally arrive at objective answers.

Some critics would infer from these objective, intellectual qualities that the meaning of art is universal. T.S. Eliot says, for example, that the greatness of a work of art, or literature, stems from that work’s universal meaning. More recently, Noel Carroll echoes that idea by adding that “if anything is to count as a necessary condition of art status, then it must be a property had by every artwork.” But is universality even possible? If it is not possible, is it relevant? Are the objective qualities the only relevant qualities?

Even if we could know that something held the same meaning for everyone who encountered it, how would we know that they all held that meaning to the same degree, or for the same reasons? Experience, as we all know, is a subjective thing. It is rarely apprehended by everyone in the same way. How can it be universal? How is experience related to meaning?

There have already been several frustrated rebellions against universality in art. These rebellions emphasized more subjective qualities such as abstraction, experimentation for its own sake, intentional meaninglessness, and expressionism. These qualities are all related to experience.

Experience is not objective. It is more felt than known, more shown than described. Experience is incompatible with the idea of universal meaning.

Beauty is the chief victim of this incompatibility. Beauty is the most subjective quality, and therefore the least democratic, the least saleable. Our culture does not prefer to ask: why make this thing? How does the thing make me feel? What ideas, sensations, feelings, memories, or notions does the thing evoke in me? Is it a beautiful thing? Our culture does not emphasize these questions because, necessarily, the answers would not be concrete or consistent. Many of us are uncomfortable with the subjective qualities in art, and possibly also with those qualities within ourselves.

A man encounters a mobile sculpture, with steel arms and flat sails. There is nothing depicted for him to see-in it. It symbolizes nothing to him. He has no context for it. His experience of the thing has been that the thing is meaningless. He gives up. This is an unfortunate result, because understanding isn’t everything, when it comes to art. Art is not science.

Art can, in many cases, leave us confronted by a thing that defies the ability to see in it, any meaning.  In addition, there are unfortunate circumstances where the context needed to _see-around _it is unclear or missing. What, then, are we left to do in order to make any sense out of the art?

We are left to experience it.


Learning to Write Art Criticism

2008-09-30

Ever since I met with Physicalism, I’ve been curious about what its like to be an art critic. Physicalism is somewhat antagonistic towards art criticism, for its tendency towards “bullshit”, but it can’t all be bullshit, can it? What if it is? Can it be fixed?

I decided to try being an art critic first hand. Of course, I’ve got no formal training in the field. I don’t have an art degree of any sort. Although my Dad’s an art professor, and I grew up surrounded by art, artists, and talk about art, that hardly qualifies me as a competent critic. I have studied philosophy though. There’s a lot of crossover, I’m discovering, between the field of philosophy and that of art theory. I have a writing degree, so I should be able to write about anything, even art, right?

I put together a sample of my writing and submitted it so that I could be considered for the 23rd Annual Critics’ Residency Program at the Maryland Art Place. I figured it was a long shot, but what the hell. It seems like an interesting program. Here’s how they describe it.

Taking place throughout the course of a year, the program will include studio visits and writers’ workshops led by critic Vincent Katz and will culminate with an exhibition, a catalogue containing critical essays and images of selected artwork, and a public forum.

I wasn’t quite sure what to submit for a writing sample. It’s not like I’m an established art critic or anything. I haven’t even freelanced an art review for the newspaper (although, that’s an ulterior motive of mine). I thought about, maybe, including the editorial from the first issue if Infinity’s Kitchen. Then, I thought against it. Still, it’s a good read, if you haven’t read it already. I finally settled on it. I gave them an excerpt from the undergraduate thesis I wrote. The second chapter of the thesis, titled Aesthetics in a Hypertext Age had a good bit of content that passes for art criticism in it.

Then, I dug through a bunch of notes I took during college philosophy classes. I was looking for something else I could cannibalize for the writing sample. I ended up stumbling on an interesting question: “How do we make meaning of things?” I applied the question to a new essay, which ended up being too long to include in the writing sample. That essay is called Meaning and Experience. (At least, that’s the first part. There’s more to say.)

I’m happy to say that I’ve been accepted to that writing program. It starts next Saturday. I’m very excited. Until then, I’m burying my nose in a book titled The Basis of Criticism in the Arts.


Generative Writing Exercises

2008-09-18

At the California Institute of the Arts, there’s a class you could take about Generative Art.

“Generative art refers to any art practice where the artist uses a system, such as a set of natural language rules, <a href="/work/dadadodomax/“a computer program, a machine, or other procedural invention, which is set into motion with some degree of autonomy contributing to or resulting in a completed work of art.”

Philip Galanter, What is Generative Art? Complexity Theory as a Context for Art Theory

Thanks to the class’ companion website, you can have some fun at home with the list of generative writing exercises, even without being a student. Most of the exercises stem from Bernadette Mayer’s List of Journal Ideas.

Generative Writing Exercises

  1. Pick a story from the newspaper (or a magazine, whatever-usually something from a business or science text is good; the Tuesday Science Times section of The NY Times is particularly useful). Choose 20 words from the story that you have never used in a poem before: try to pick the most interesting words you can, the ones that seem to leap out at you for some reason. Write those words down on a separate sheet of paper (so you’re not looking at the original text anymore””if you want you can burn the original text, using proper fire safety procedures). Write a poem that is 20 lines long. Each line must use one of the words you wrote down from the article, and they must be used in the order in which they appeared in the article.
  2. Select a particular time of day when you know you won’t be disturbed for a few minutes: early morning, lunch time, before going to sleep, etc. At that time each day, in a notebook begin writing down whatever happens to be going through your mind. Once you begin writing, don’t stop to think, fix your language, etc. This isn’t a poem, just write about ten lines or more, then put the notebook away. Do this for five days. It’s important not to do this on a computer, but handwritten in a notebook and you should keep the notebook with you, because you probably will find after the first day or so that you feel like doing this more than once a day, when you see something interesting or just have time to kill. On a day when you have a chunk of time to work on a poem, take the notebook and write a poem using only the lines (or parts of them) that you’ve written during these sessions.
  3. Think of 50 titles, all of them for poems or short pieces of writing that you have no intention of writing. It’s a good idea to carry a notebook everywhere with you when you do this. Give the list to someone else in the class. Choose a title from the list you’ve received and write a poem.
  4. Homolinguistic translation: Take a poem (someone else’s than your own) and translate it “English to English”&#157; by substituting word for word, phrase for phrase, line for line, or “free”&#157; translation as response to each phrase or sentence.
  5. Homophonic translation: Take a text or poem in a foreign language that you can pronounce but not necessarily understand and translate the sound of the poem into English (Ex: French “˜blanc’ to blank or “˜toute’ to toot).
  6. Lexical translation: Take a poem in a foreign language that you can pronounce but not necessarily understand and translate it word for word with the help of a bilingual dictionary.
  7. Acrostic Chance. Pick a book at random and use the title as an acrostic key phrase. For each letter of the key phrase go to the page number in the book that corresponds (a=1, z=26) and copy as the first line of a poem form the first word that begins with that letter to the end of the line or sentence. Continue through all key letters, leaving stanza breaks to mark each new key word. Variations include using author’s name as code for reading through her or his work, using your own or a friend’s name, devise alternative acrostic procedures.
  8. Tzara’s hat. Everyone in a group writes down a word (phrase or line) and puts it in a hat. The text is composed according to the order it is randomly pulled from the hat. (On your own, pick words or lines from books, newspapers, magazines, your own work.)
  9. Burrough’s Fold-in: Take two different pages from a newspaper or magazine, article or book, and cut the pages in half or thirds vertically. Paste the mismatched pages together.
  10. Write a text with words cut somewhere in the middle and recombined with the beginning parts following the ending parts.
  11. General cut-ups: Write a text composed entirely of phrases lifted from other sources. Use one source for a poem or other text and then many; try different types of sources: literary, historical, magazines, advertisements, manuals, dictionaries, instructions, travelogues, etc.
  12. Cento: write a collage made up of full-lines of selected source poems, or texts.
  13. Substitution (1): “Mad libs”&#157;. Take a poem (or other source text) and put blanks in place of three or four words in each line, noting the part of speech under the blank. Fill in the blanks being sure not to recall the original context.
  14. Substitution (2): “7 up or down”&#157;. Take a poem or other, possibly well-known, text and substitute another word for every noun, adjective, adverb, and verb; determine the substitute word by looking up the index work in a dictionary and going 7 up or down, or one more, until you get a syntactically suitable replacement.
  15. Substitution (3): “Find and replace”&#157;. Systematically replace one word in a source text with another word or string of words. Perform this operation serially with the same source text, increasing the number of words in the replace string.
  16. Serial sentences: Select one sentence from a variety of different books or other sources. Add sentences of your own composition. Combine into one paragraph, reordering to produce the most interesting results.
  17. Alphabet poems: make up a poem of 26 words so that each word begins with the next letter of the alphabet. Write another alphabet poem but scramble the letter order.
  18. Alliteration (assonance): Write a poem in which all the words in each line begin with the same letter.
  19. Doubling: Starting with one sentence, write a series of paragraphs each doubling the number of sentences in the previous paragraph and including all the words used previously.
  20. Collaboration: Write a piece with one or more other people: alternating lines (chaining or renga), writing simultaneously and collaging, rewriting, editing, supplementing the previous version. This can be done in person or otherwise.
  21. Group sonnet: 14 people each write one ten-word line (or alternate-Write a text trying to transcribe as accurately as you can your thoughts while you are writing. Don’t edit anything out. Write as fast as you can without planning what you are going to say)
  22. Dream work: Write down your dreams as the first thing you do every morning for 30 days. Apply translation and aleatoric processes to this material. Double the length of the dream. Weave them together into one poem, adding or changing or reordering the material. Negate or reverse all statements (I went down the hill to I went up the hill, I didn’t to I did). Borrow a friend’s dreams and apply these techniques to them.
  23. Write a text made up entirely of neologism or nonsense words or fragments of words.
  24. Write a text with each line filling in the blanks of “I used to be —, but now I am —."&#157; (I used to write poems, but now I just do experiments; I used to make sense, but now I just make poems.)
  25. Write a text consisting entirely of things you’d like to say, but never would, to a parent, lover, sibling, child, teacher, roommate, best friend, mayor, president, corporate CEO, etc.
  26. Write a text consisting entirely of overheard conversation.
  27. Nonliterary forms: Write a text in the form of an index, a table of contents, a resume, an advertisement for an imaginary or real product, an instruction manual, a travel guide, a quiz or examination, etc.
  28. Imitation: Write a text in the style of each of a dozen poets or writers who you like and dislike: try to make it as close to a forgery of an “unknown”&#157; work of the author as possible.
  29. Write a text without mentioning any objects.
  30. Backwards: Reverse or alter the line sequence of a poem of your own or someone else’s. Reverse the word order. Rather than reverse, scramble.
  31. Write an autobiographical poem without using any pronouns.
  32. Attention: Write down everything you hear for one hour.
  33. Brainerd’s Memory: Write a text all of whose lines start “I remember “¦”&#157;
  34. “Pits”&#157;: Write the worst possible poem you can imagine.
  35. Counting: Write poems that conform to various numeric patterns for number of words in a line or sentence, number of lines in a stanza or paragraph, number of stanzas or paragraphs in a work. Alternately, count letters or syllables. Use complex numeric series or simpler fixed-number patterns.
  36. Write a text just when you are on the verge of falling asleep. Write a line a day as you are falling asleep or waking up.
  37. List poem: Write a text consisting of favorite words or phrases collected over a period of time; pick your favorite words from a particular book.
  38. List poem 2: Write a text consisting entirely of a list of “things”&#157;, either homogenous or heterogeneous (common lists include shopping lists, things to do, lists of flowers or rocks, lists of colors, inventory lists, lists of events, lists of names, “¦).
  39. Chronology: make up a list of dates with associated events, real or imagined.
  40. Transcription: Tape a phone or live conversation between yourself and a friend. Make a poem composed entirely of transcribed parts.
  41. Canceling: Write a series of lines or rhymes such that every other one cancels the one before (“I come before you / to stand behind you”&#157;).
  42. Erasure: Take a poem of your own or someone else’s and cross out most of the words on each poem, retype what remains as your poem.
  43. Write a series of ten poems going from one to ten words in each poem. Reorder.
  44. Write a text composed entirely of questions.
  45. Write a text made up entirely of directions.
  46. Write a text consisting only of opening lines (improvise your own lines, then use source texts).
  47. Write poems consisting of one-word lines; of two-word lines; of three-word lines.
  48. Synchronicity: Write a text in which all the events occur simultaneously.
  49. Diachronicity: Write a text in which all the events occur in different places and at different times.
  50. Visual poetry: write poems with strong visual or “concrete”&#157; elements-including combination of lexical and nonlexical (pictorial) elements. Play with alphabets and typography, placement of words on the page, etc.
  51. Write a series of poems or stanzas while listening to music; change type of music for each stanza or poem.
  52. Elimination: cut out the second half of sentences.
  53. Excuses list poem: Write a text made up entirely of excuses.
  54. Sprung diary: write a diary tracking and intercutting multiple levels of thoughts, experiences, anticipations, expectations, from minute to major.
  55. Make up more writing experiments

Combine any two of these experiments. Rewrite and recombine, collage, splice together the material generated from these experiments into one long ongoing text.

http://generative.blogspot.com/2008/09/writing-exercises.html

Bernadette Mayer’s List of Journal Ideas:

Journals of:

  • dreams
  • food
  • finances
  • writing ideas
  • love
  • ideas for architects
  • city design ideas
  • beautiful and/or ugly sights
  • a history of one’s own writing life, written daily
  • reading/music/art, etc. encountered each day
  • rooms
  • elaborations on weather
  • people one sees-description
  • subway, bus, car or other trips (e.g., the same bus trip written about every day)
  • pleasures and/or pain
  • life’s everyday machinery: phones, stoves, computers, etc.
  • answering machine messages
  • round or rectangular things, other shapes
  • color
  • light
  • daily changes, e.g., a journal of one’s desk, table, etc.
  • the body and its parts
  • clocks/time-keeping
  • tenant-landlord situations
  • telephone calls (taped?)
  • skies
  • dangers
  • mail
  • sounds
  • coincidences & connections
  • times of solitude

Other journal ideas:

  • Write once a day in minute detail about one thing
  • Write every day at the same time, e.g. lunch poems, waking ideas, etc.
  • Write minimally: one line or sentence per day
  • Create a collaborative journal: musical notation and poetry; two writers alternating days; two writing about the same subject each day, etc.
  • Instead of using a book, write on paper and put it up on the wall (public journal).
  • and so on …

Bernadette Mayer’s Writing Experiments

  • Pick a word or phrase at random, let mind play freely around it until a few ideas have come up, then seize on one and begin to write. Try this with a non- connotative word, like “so” etc.
  • Systematically eliminate the use of certain kinds of words or phrases from a piece of writing: eliminate all adjectives from a poem of your own, or take out all words beginning with ’s' in Shakespeare’s sonnets.
  • Rewrite someone else’s writing. Experiment with theft and plagiarism.
  • Systematically derange the language: write a work consisting only of prepositional phrases, or, add a gerund to every line of an already existing work.
  • Get a group of words, either randomly selected or thought up, then form these words (only) into a piece of writing-whatever the words allow. Let them demand their own form, or, use some words in a predetermined way. Design words.
  • Eliminate material systematically from a piece of your own writing until it is “ultimately” reduced, or, read or write it backwards, line by line or word by word. Read a novel backwards.
  • Using phrases relating to one subject or idea, write about another, pushing metaphor and simile as far as you can. For example, use science terms to write about childhood or philosophic language to describe a shirt.
  • Take an idea, anything that interests you, or an object, then spend a few days looking and noticing, perhaps making notes on what comes up about that idea, or, try to create a situation or surrounding where everything that happens is in relation.
  • Construct a poem as if the words were three-dimensional objects to be handled in space. Print them on large cards or bricks if necessary.
  • Write as you think, as close as you can come to this, that is, put pen to paper and don’t stop. Experiment writing fast and writing slow.
  • Attempt tape recorder work, that is, recording without a text, perhaps at specific times.
  • Make notes on what happens or occurs to you for a limited amount of time, then make something of it in writing.
  • Get someone to write for you, pretending they are you.
  • Write in a strict form, or, transform prose into a poetic form.
  • Write a poem that reflects another poem, as in a mirror.
  • Read or write a story or myth, then put it aside and, trying to remember it, write it five or ten times at intervals from memory. Or, make a work out of continuously saying, in a column or list, one sentence or line, over and over in different ways, until you get it “right.”
  • Make a pattern of repetitions.
  • Take an already written work of your own and insert, at random or by choice, a paragraph or section from, for example, a psychology book or a seed catalogue. Then study the possibilities of rearranging this work or rewriting the “source.”
  • Experiment with writing in every person and tense every day.
  • Explore the possibilities of lists, puzzles, riddles, dictionaries, almanacs, etc. Consult the thesaurus where categories for the word “word” include: word as news, word as message, word as information, word as story, word as order or command, word as vocable, word as instruction, promise, vow, contract.
  • Write what cannot be written; for example, compose an index.
  • The possibilities of synesthesia in relation to language and words: the word and the letter as sensations, colors evoked by letters, sensations caused by the sound of a word as apart from its meaning, etc. And the effect of this phenomenon on you; for example, write in the water, on a moving vehicle.
  • Attempt writing in a state of mind that seems least congenial.
  • Consider word and letter as forms-the concretistic distortion of a text, a mutiplicity of o’s or ea’s, or a pleasing visual arrangement: “the mill pond of chill doubt.”
  • Do experiments with sensory memory: record all sense images that remain from breakfast, study which senses engage you, escape you.
  • Write, taking off from visual projections, whether mental or mechanical, without thought to the word in the ordinary sense, no craft.
  • Make writing experiments over a long period of time. For example, plan how much you will write for a particular work each day, perhaps one word or one page.
  • Write on a piece of paper where something is already printed or written.
  • Attempt to eliminate all connotation from a piece of writing and vice versa.
  • Experiment with writing in a group, collaborative work: a group writing individually off of each other’s work over a long period of time in the same room; a group contributing to the same work, sentence by sentence or line by line; one writer being fed information and ideas while the other writes; writing, leaving instructions for another writer to fill in what you can’t describe; compiling a book or work structured by your own language around the writings of others; or a group working and writing off of each other’s dream writing.
  • Dream work: record dreams daily, experiment with translation or transcription of dream thought, attempt to approach the tense and incongruity appropriate to the dream, work with the dream until a poem or song emerges from it, use the dream as an alert form of the mind’s activity or consciousness, consider the dream a problem-solving device, change dream characters into fictional characters, accept dream’s language as a gift.
  • Structure a poem or prose writing according to city streets, miles, walks, drives. For example: Take a fourteen-block walk, writing one line per block to create a sonnet; choose a city street familiar to you, walk it, make notes and use them to create a work; take a long walk with a group of writers, observe, make notes and create works, then compare them; take a long walk or drive-write one line or sentence per mile. Variations on this.
  • The uses of journals. Keep a journal that is restricted to one set of ideas, for instance, a food or dream journal, a journal that is only written in when it is raining, a journal of ideas about writing, a weather journal. Remember that journals do not have to involve “good” writing-they are to be made use of. Simple one-line entries like “No snow today” can be inspiring later. Have 3 or 4 journals going at once, each with a different purpose. Create a journal that is meant to be shared and commented on by another writer–leave half of each page blank for the comments of the other.
  • Type out a Shakespeare sonnet or other poem you would like to learn about/imitate double-spaced on a page. Rewrite it in between the lines.
  • Find the poems you think are the worst poems ever written, either by your own self or other poets. Study them, then write a bad poem.
  • Choose a subject you would like to write “about.” Then attempt to write a piece that absolutely avoids any relationship to that subject. Get someone to grade you.
  • Write a series of titles for as yet unwritten poems or proses.
  • Work with a number of objects, moving them around on a field or surface-describe their shifting relationships, resonances, associations. Or, write a series of poems that have only to do with what you see in the place where you most often write. Or, write a poem in each room of your house or apartment. Experiment with doing this in the home you grew up in, if possible.
  • Write a bestiary (a poem about real and mythical animals).
  • Write five short expressions of the most adamant anger; make a work out of them.
  • Write a work gazing into a mirror without using the pronoun I.
  • A shocking experiment: Rip pages out of books at random (I guess you could xerox them) and study them as if they were a collection of poetic/literary material. Use this method on your old high school or college notebooks, if possible, then create an epistemological work based on the randomly chosen notebook pages.
  • Meditate on a word, sound or list of ideas before beginning to write.
  • Take a book of poetry you love and make a list, going through it poem by poem, of the experiments, innovations, methods, intentions, etc. involved in the creation of the works in the book.
  • Write what is secret. Then write what is shared. Experiment with writing each in two different ways: veiled language, direct language.
  • Write a soothing novel in twelve short paragraphs.
  • Write a work that attempts to include the names of all the physical contents of the terrestrial world that you know.
  • Take a piece of prose writing and turn it into poetic lines. Then, without remembering that you were planning to do this, make a poem of the first and last words of each line to see what happens. For instance, the lines (from Einstein)
  • When at the reception
  • Of sense-impressions, memory pictures
  • Emerge this is not yet thinking
  • And when. . .
  • Would become:
  • When reception
  • Of pictures
  • Emerge thinking
  • And when
  • And so on. Form the original prose, poetic lines, and first-and-last word poem into three columns on a page. Study their relationships.
  • If you have an answering machine, record all messages received for one month, then turn them into a best-selling novella.
  • Write a macaronic poem (making use of as many languages as you are conversant with).
  • Attempt to speak for a day only in questions; write only in questions.
  • Attempt to become in a state where the mind is flooded with ideas; attempt to keep as many thoughts in mind simultaneously as possible. Then write without looking at the page, typescript or computer screen (This is “called” invisible writing).
  • Choose a period of time, perhaps five or nine months. Every day, write a letter that will never be sent to a person who does or does not exist, or to a number of people who do or do not exist. Create a title for each letter and don’t send them. Pile them up as a book.
  • Etymological work. Experiment with investigating the etymologies of all words that interest you, including your own name(s). Approaches to etymologies: Take a work you’ve already written, preferably something short, look up the etymological meanings of every word in that work including words like “the” and “a”. Study the histories of the words used, then rewrite the work on the basis of the etymological information found out. Another approach: Build poems and writings form the etymological families based on the Indo-European language constructs, for instance, the BHEL family: bulge, bowl, belly, boulder, billow, ball, balloon; or the OINO family: one, alone, lonely, unique, unite, unison, union; not to speak of one of the GEN families: kin, king, kindergarten, genteel, gender, generous, genius, genital, gingerly, pregnant, cognate, renaissance, and innate!
  • Write a brief bibliography of the science and philosophy texts that interest you. Create a file of newspaper articles that seem to relate to the chances of writing poetry.
  • Write the poem: Ways of Making Love. List them.
  • Diagram a sentence in the old-fashioned way. If you don’t know how, I’ll be happy to show you; if you do know how, try a really long sentence, for instance from Melville.
  • Turn a list of the objects that have something to do with a person who has died into a poem or poem form, in homage to that person.
  • Write the same poem over and over again, in different forms, until you are weary. Another experiment: Set yourself the task of writing for four hours at a time, perhaps once, twice or seven times a week. Don’t stop until hunger and/or fatigue take over. At the very least, always set aside a four-hour period once a month in which to write. This is always possible and will result in one book of poems or prose writing for each year. Then we begin to know something.
  • Attempt as a writer to win the Nobel Prize in Science by finding out how thought becomes language, or does not.
  • Take a traditional text like the pledge of allegiance to the flag. For every noun, replace it with one that is seventh or ninth down from the original one in the dictionary. For instance, the word “honesty” would be replaced by “honey dew melon.” Investigate what happens; different dictionaries will produce different results.
  • Attempt to write a poem or series of poems that will change the world. Does everything written or dreamed of do this?
  • Write occasional poems for weddings, for rivers, for birthdays, for other poets' beauty, for movie stars maybe, for the anniversaries of all kinds of loving meetings, for births, for moments of knowledge, for deaths. Writing for the “occasion” is part of our purpose as poets in being-this is our work in the community wherein we belong and work as speakers for others.
  • Experiment with every traditional form, so as to know it.
  • Write poems and proses in which you set yourself the task of using particular words, chosen at random like the spelling exercises of children: intelligence, amazing, weigh, weight, camel, camel’s, foresight, through, threw, never, now, snow, rein, rain. Make a story of that!
  • Plan, structure, and write a long work. Consider what is the work now needed by the culture to cure and exact even if by accident the great exorcism of its 1998 sort-of- seeming-not-being. What do we need? What is the poem of the future?
  • What is communicable now? What more is communicable?
  • Compose a list of familiar phrases, or phrases that have stayed in your mind for a long time–from songs, from poems, from conversation:
  • What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
  • By any other name would smell as sweet
  • (Romeo and Juliet)
  • A rose is a rose is a rose
  • (Gertrude Stein)
  • A raisin in the sun
  • (Langston Hughes)
  • The king was in the counting house
  • Counting out his money. . .
  • (Nursery rhyme)
  • I sing the body electric. . .
  • These United States. . .
  • (Walt Whitman)
  • A thing of beauty is a joy forever
  • (Keats)
  • (I summon up) remembrance of things past
  • (WS)
  • Ask not for whom the bell tolls
  • It tolls for thee
  • (Donne)
  • Look homeward, Angel
  • (Milton)
  • For fools rush in where angels fear to tread
  • (Pope)
  • All’s well that ends well
  • (WS)
  • I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness
  • (Allen Ginsberg)
  • I think therefore I am
  • (Descartes)
  • It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,. . .
  • (Dickens)
  • brave new world has such people in it
  • (Shakespeare, The Tempest, later Huxley)
  • Odi et amo (I hate and I love)
  • (Catullus)
  • Water water everywhere
  • Nor any drop to drink
  • (Coleridge)
  • Curiouser and curiouser
  • (Alice in Wonderland)
  • Don’t worry be happy. Here’s a little song I wrote. . .
  • Write the longest most beautiful sentence you can imagine-make it be a whole page.
  • Set yourself the task of writing in a way you’ve never written before, no matter who you are.
  • What is the value of autobiography?
  • Attempt to write in a way that’s never been written before.
  • Invent a new form.
  • Write a perfect poem.
  • Write a work that intersperses love with landlords.
  • In a poem, list what you know.
  • Address the poem to the reader.
  • Write household poems-about cooking, shopping, eating and sleeping.
  • Write dream collabortations in the lune form.
  • Write poems that only make use of the words included in Basic English.
  • Attempt to write about jobs and how they affect the writing of poetry.
  • Write while being read to from science texts, or, write while being read to by one’s lover from any text.
  • Trade poems with others and do not consider them your own.
  • Exercises in style: Write twenty-five or more different versions of one event.
  • Review the statement: “What is happening to me, allowing for lies and exaggerations which I try to avoid, goes into my poems.”

Submission Tracking for Writers

2008-01-14

One of the most important business skills a writer needs is the ability to manage the submission process. There’s a maxim out there, variously attributed, which says: “serious writers should keep their work in circulation until it either sells or the ink wears off”. It can be tricky to keep that circulation going, especially if you’re trying to get a variety of things published. There are some important things to remember and, below, I’ve listed a number of software options to help keep track of it all. To record all this information, there are many different manuscript tracking apps for writers to choose from, but none of them seemed to be just right. So, I built my own database. I call it “bestrew.” (It’s an unusual word that means “to scatter around.") I built it for myself to use and for me it works pretty well, but there is definitely room to grow. I’m sharing it in the hopes of attracting a community around the idea. Perhaps we can devise an open source application to help writers track stay organized? Download from GitHub

What to track?

Here’s a thorough overview of the information you might want to record about your submissions. In summary, you want to track three things, along with several details about them:

  1. What have you created? (“works”)
  2. Where have you sent your work or where might you send it? (“venues”)
  3. Which works have you sent to which venues and what happened? (“submissions”)

My list was originally inspired by a guide on the subject during a conversation on a forum about software for writers, and it has been refined over the years according to my own needs and experience. Your needs and experience may vary, so I would love to hear about that.

Manuscript Submission Tracking Applications

There are many different software applications designed for writers who want to track their submissions. I decided to build my own, but many of these might be useful to you.

Web Applications

The (Submission) Grinder is a web-based submission tracker that aims to take over for Duotrope, which now charges $50 per year for its service. The (Submission) Grinder even accepts an imported .csv file from Duotrope’s export function, to make the transition easier. The site is still very new, but it is promising and the site administrator is eager to hear from users. If you need to track a market that isn’t currently listed in the application, you can submit one to be added. Submittable deserves some mention here. This submission manager by is used by magazines, journals, book publishers, and agents to receive submissions, but as a contributor you can use it to monitor any submissions you’ve sent via the application, at any of the venues that use Submittable. I wouldn’t be surprised if, someday, they add a way to track other submissions with this. Until then, like Duotrope, it’s only useful if you happen to be submitting to a publication that’s already on their list. Writer’s Market provides a secure online service for Submission Tracking. You can purchase this service by the month, to try it out. The Writer’s Market software is easy to use, and it is integrated with the Writer’s Market directory of publications, which is quite useful. On the other hand, you cannot store information about a publisher who is not listed in the directory. Writer’s Market intends to add this feature, someday. Meanwhile, you might run into some trouble if, like me, you publish in obscure or non-paying publications. One-year access to this service is free when you buy a copy of the Writer’s Market Book. With an annual subscription fee, you would think this service would offer at least as many features as its competitors, but it does two things well – it helps you track submissions to the publications listed in Writer’s Market . It also helps you keep a list of those publications for yourself. The Luminary Writer’s Database is a web-based service for submission and publication tracking. It is free to use, and you can share information about publishers, with listings and comments. This isn’t a very popular website, judging from the number of user-submitted publisher entries. A few “coming soon” announcements littered throughout the website indicate that good things might be in the works for The Writer’s Database, so you may want to keep an eye on this one. (The writer’s database gets honorable technical mention for the use of VCARDs and RSS feeds. Its free, too.) Literarium is a web application under development that looks promising.

I worry a little that the development time for Literarium may be too slow. My hope is that Duotrope’s move to a paid model might spur some more rapid development for these kinds of apps, and if that happens, the most rapid developers will win the race. Duotope is a wonderful way to discover new markets for your writing, with its huge and growing directory of publications, but it doesn’t let you track submissions to anything that isn’t already listed in its databse, which renders it useless for anybody working with obscure or very new markets. It’s free, but charges a fee to get some of the more detailed information about the markets listed in its very detailed library. Duotrope is no longer free, much to the consternation of many. There is a growing number of alternatives to Duotrope, though. QueryTracker.net is specifically designed to track submissions to publishers and agents, and includes access to a contacts database. Subscription to the database appears to be a paid feature. Critique Circle Submissions Tracker offers a free web-based submissions tracking service. A log-in account is required. Apparently designed specifically for genre fiction writers and only contains two fields: “title” and “notes.” This is not more useful than a spreadsheet and therefore not worth the effort of creating a login. Assignmint is a silicon valley startup company in its early stages. Its proposed website would connect publishers and writers.

Windows Software

Sonar is a manuscript submission tracking program that does pretty much everything that the Writer’s Market web service does, for free. Sonar isn’t integrated with a publisher’s database, so you’ll have to enter that information in yourself, but that won’t kill you. This is the software that I eventually chose for tracking manuscripts in Windows.

Writer’s Database for windows is one I just heard about but haven’t tried.

InkLink is quite old now and kinda pricey but for some time it was one of the more popular Windows programs for Submission Tracking. It’s easy to see why. This thing is loaded with features. The interface was easy and simple, and so was the user’s manual. In addition to listing manuscripts and publishers, InkLink would help you catalog things like travel expenses, too. The “reminder” feature was good, letting you know that its time for a submission’s second inquiry, etc., but it wouldn’t send you an e-mail. (The idea of a mobile alert is too new for this thing). Inklink would also help you create a writer’s resume, using the data you had already entered. Inklink charged $90, which seems steep, at first, but it is a one-time fee, unlike Writers Market.

SubTract is free to use and keeps track of things you have written, as well as any submissions you have made to publishers, magazines etc.

Power Tracker is windows software that is now more than 10 years old but may be useful for users of older machines.

Mac Software

StoryTracker is manuscript tracking software for iphones and the like but, for my part, I don’t enjoy doing that much typing, copying and pasting from an iOS device. Luckily, there is a version of StoryTracker for the Mac (and one coming soon for PC). I have high hopes for StoryTracker. There’s a demo version that you can use to try it out. When used in tandem, these two applications should prove to be both powerful and portable. With these, a database of publications or contacts can be exported or shared, which could lead to some interesting, sharable collections of lists, or perhaps even some compatibility with the directory web apps mentioned above? “Published!" by Ritsah Software and is pretty good not as simple and pretty as Manuscript Tracker was, and definitely more expensive. Mariner Software makes some great apps for writers, and their Montage and StoryMill apps both have built-in submissions tracking, but that functionality is only available inside of programs that do a lot of other things. Whether you use Montage or Storymill, you probably already have a dedicated writing application, and you might prefer to do your submissions tracking elsewhere.


The Ed Schrader Show

2007-06-19

Not long ago, Wham City exploded onto the front page of the Baltimore City Paper, branding it the WHAM City Paper. The cover story was titled Crazy Diamonds: Wham City Doesn’t Want To Take Over The World–But It Just Might Anyway. Read the article for a slice of life in my neighborhood. Suffice it to say that Wham City is a collective of creative types, whose work ranges from music to philosophy.

Ed Schrader Show 4

That’s not enough! Also in the neighborhood, the new Metro Gallery opened this month, and hosted Wham City’s favorite talk show: The Ed Schrader Show. Recorded live before a captive audience, the show vaguely resembles the late-night talk-and-variety shows, the kind you see on TV, but this one is broadcast on the internet, occasionally. Unlike the watered down crap on the networks, Ed Schrader’s shenanigans include occasional profanity and startling interview questions like “Would you rather see me destroy the human race, or ruin myself?”. Anything goes, at the Ed Schrader show. Cheap beer, too. Needless to say, a good time was had by all.

Episode 4 featured the Charm City Roller Girls, Baltimore’s all girl roller derby league. They boast of their ranking of 18th in the nation!

Next up was an interview with Simeon Walunas from “Shut Up, I’m on the Radio”. As its name suggests, “Shut up…” is a radio show in Baltimore, on the Loyola College AM Radio station. The show features music from Baltimore that you probably can’t hear anywhere else. The radio show is available online, but only via a stream that you must tune into at the proper time (every Monday, 9 to 11pm, which happens to conflict with the Baltimore Poetry Slam). I would much rather the show had a podcast, but oh well.

Finally, in true late-show fashion, we got to see a musical performance by WZT Hearts.

Episode 4 of the Ed Schrader Show isn’t available for your online viewing pleasure just yet, but check with Wham City TV for an update. Meanwhile, previous episodes are available. Here’s a promo, so you know what you’re in for.


Book Companion Websites

2007-02-27

Everybody knows that the internet is a powerful tool for marketing and for distributing information. It should be no surprise then, that amazon.com, a bookseller, is top on the list of internet moneymakers. Amazon markets books, which distribute information, so Amazon naturally has some ideal internet content. Still, there isn’t much difference between a listing on Amazon and a space on a bookstore shelf. There are other ways for online content to supplement the publication of a book, in addition to marketing.

I’ve conducted an informal survey of the “book companion websites” out there. These websites are growing in number, but they’re still comparatively rare. (I think that will change. As more information goes online, there will be more companies to try their hand at branding literature.)

Here’s what I think are the salient features of a worthwhile book companion website: useful information, and simple presentation.

Useful Information

The idea behind a book companion website is that it accompanies the book. A significant portion of the website’s users will have the book itself, in their lap, as they type the web address into their browser. This is particularly true with the websites for technical books or textbooks. These websites must also consider that the audience may not already own the book, so the website should function as effective advertising for the book, without frustrating the other half of the audience. Links to amazon are typically included, because most internet users recognize Amazon, and they trust it. Frequently, another link is provided, to buy the book form the publisher. This is probably a contractual obligation. Any link will do, so long as it is prominent, and it works easily.

I think the critical elements of a good book companion website are as follows:

  • Prominent link(s) to way(s) to purchase the book.
  • An Introduction to the book
    • The table of contents
    • Sample Content(s
    • Press about the book?
    • About the author
  • Is the author touring / speaking / publishing other things?
  • Companion Materials
    • Multimedia Supplements to the text, with relevant chapter indicated.
    • Educational Resources
    • Links to related information: websites, books, etc.

Simple Presentation

The most effective book companion websites are just that, companions, they don’t overwhelm or distract the user. They do function as effective advertising, and as an informational resource they are direct, and generally allow the book to be the ultimate authority on the subject.

I’ll draw most of my examples from publishers who write books about web design. It makes sense, doesn’t it, that a book about web design would have a well designed website to accompany it? These are excellent examples for websites to accompany any kind of book.

Keep it simple

This is a very simple website, consisting of three pdf files, three web pages, and several links to buy the book. Lets not forget the prominent picture of a well designed bookjacket!

Additional Information

This website also includes a nice biography of the author (included, in this example, on every page) and a links page, where the links are arranged to accompany each chapter of the book.

Educational Resources

Here’s a good example of how technical, or educational books, often include a set of downloadable resources. In this example, the downloads are the examples used in the book, so that the reader can learn to write code. Each chapter heading is a link to an archive that contains all the files for that chapter. Alternately, each resource is available on its own. The only thing really lacking in this example is some sort of contextual description – but perhaps the book does that.

This book’s website also does a good job of presenting an introduction to the book.

Interactive Content

Books cant display images, sound, and video as well as the internet can. Its also difficult to describe an interactive interface in print. For that reason, a link comes in handy, like this one, a link to a fictitious online shop bookstore featured on a book companion website.

Books and Blogs

Some authors use blogging as a testing ground for their books' content. It can be difficult to tell whether these books are supplementary to their websites, or vice versa. Other book’s websites feature smaller blogs, with less content. These may be about a book tour, or a journal written during the composition of the book.


Building a Writing Studio

2006-06-30

I’ve written this entry to outline the ideas I have for a new writing studio. Along the way I found photos of famous writing studios, some feng shui tips for a workspace, and some ideas for how to organize a writing studio.

What is a writing studio anyway?

I looked at the workspaces used by other writers, to see if I could find any inspiration for what to do with my new space.

Mark Twain and his desk Mark Twain appeared to keep a messy desk. He also enjoyed having a billiards table nearby. He would drink and play pool with his friends, and probaby sneak by his desk from time to time to write down an amusing bit of ribald commentary.

Ray Bradbury also kept a messy workspace, filled with lots of things to stimulate the senses and to inspire the imagination.

Hemingway’s studio Hemingway’s Studio, as it appeared after his death. The desk faces away from the window, presumably to avoid distraction.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing room F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing room

The space I have is more like The Beat Hotel than any of these places, and I didn’t find very many of these famous writing spaces to be that inspiring.

The 21st Century Home Office

This new space of mine is not just a writing and living space, but it will also be where I conduct my freelance business, so I decided to take a tip or two from the wealth of online materials about how to setup a “home office” “” not the most human approach, but useful nonetheless.

Layout the room

I don’t need any fancy room design software, or any life-size paper models of furniture. I’m just going to sketch out a simple floor plan, with scaled down paper models of things. I can easily arrange and rearrange my two-dimensional paper dollhouse, until I’ve settled on a layout I like.

Commanding position

I’ve picked up quite a few of the feng shui notions that seem to be creeping into our culture. One that comes especially well recommended (by Steve) is the notion that a workspace should be in a “commanding position”

This is the position where you feel supported from behind (and optionally on the sides too) and open in the front. For example if your house has a mountain or hill behind it, then your home would be in the commanding position, much like a highly defensible castle. In workspace terms, the commanding position ideally means that you work facing the entrance to your work area and have a wall right behind you.

The commanding position creates a feeling of security. It makes it easier to relax when you work. When you are cornered and you face the entrance to your workspace, your focus is forward, and a forward focus contributes to high productivity. You never have to concern yourself with someone approaching you from behind. If part of your focus is on what’s happening behind you, you’ll be more distracted, and your productivity will suffer.

If you think of the layout of a top executive’s office, it’s almost invariably in the commanding position. The person sits facing the entrance to the room. You don’t walk into an executive’s office and see their back.

Creating Centers

The smart folks at Lifehacker suggest that a space can benefit from having “centers”, or areas where things are organized by task.

Organizing by task lets you group objects by the tasks you need to perform. Create “centers”: a personal hygiene center, a computer repair center, a lunch prep center, a gift-wrapping center, and so forth. “¦ Centers ensure that all the items you need to get a task done are always at-hand when you need them. It also keeps the question of “How will I use this?” foremost in your mind. If you own something but it’s not used to help you reach any particular goal, then maybe it’s time to find it another home.

Lifehacker also provided tips for a usable home:

Create space for incoming stuff Put items you need to remember in your path Stow away stuff you don’t use; put stuff you do within easy reach Strategically place items to make tasks easy Make task-based centers Leave writing material everywhere Set up an inbox Tame stray wires with zip strips

Supplies

That ubiquitous book about keeping things organized entitled “Getting Things Done” suggests that I should have this list of things handy when organizing a workspace.

  • Trays, for your Inbox
  • Paper, to make your notes
  • Pen/Pencil
  • Post-Its
  • Paper/Binder clips
  • Stapler with staples
  • Tape and rubber bands
  • Automatic Labler
  • File Folders
  • Calendar
  • Trash can

Gentlemanly Lecturer

2006-06-26

The following excerpt is from the book I’ve been reading entitled On the Road with a Circus (written in 1903 by W.C. Thompson). This section documents the “bally” I’ve been hoping to emulate with my ongoing writing / spoken-word project. In the authors words, It is interesting as a truthful reproduction of a style of unique oratory which prevails nowhere else.

The whole energies of a slender man with a trim figure are devoted to entertaining the side-show visitors. He talks almost unceasingly from morning until night in brief but lucid descriptions of the assembly of oddities. His addresses are delivered with great ostentation and search after effect. He is a man of easy wit and repartee, and of tact and practical intelligence; qualifications necessary to the successful conduct of his vocal calling. Each "freak," barring the "wild man," has for sale personal photographs, the receipts for which the management lays no claim to. This is an important part of their incomes, and the lecturer's failure to call attention to the offering brings upon him reproach and censure. I attach one of his harangues, exactly as he delivered it one afternoon before an audience of grinning Connecticut countrymen. It is interesting as a truthful reproduction of a style of unique oratory which prevails nowhere else.

“Now in about five minutes we will start our regular show in here and have it all over forty-five minutes before the circus commences. (The band blows hard for five minutes.) Everybody pay your attention this way. We commence our show here first. I call your attention to Signor Arcaris and sister. They will entertain you with a wonderful performance known as the impalement act, better known as knife-throwing, without a doubt the best act of its kind in the world. (The act and music.) Now down this way next. I take great pleasure in introducing Princess Ani, the wonder worker and mind reader. We will have what is known as spirit calculations on the blackboard. We will have a number of gentlemen place some figures on the board. The minute you place a figure on the board she knows what figure you place there, although she is blindfolded. She can describe anything and tell you while blindfolded what you are thinking about.

“Now, ladies and gentlemen, I am going to tell you how this lady tells fortunes. She reads the lines of your hand. Every line denotes some peculiar trait in your character. Tells you what you ought to do for your own benefit; tells you what talent you possess; tells you when you are going to get married; tells you how many children you are going to have, if any. The line is there in your own hand, you can’t get away from it. Tells your lucky day, lucky number, family affairs, love affairs. Tells how long you ought to live by the life line of your hand! Now, it is all private. She don’t tell it out loud. First she explains about the large lines. She whispers so that no one can hear but yourself. And for the small lines you get what is known as the number. The rest your hand-reading calls for is all printed on this slip of paper. No two alike. Every one’s fortune is different. Just show her your left hand. The price fifteen cents all the way through. Walk right up and show her your left hand.

“Now to the stage. I call your attention to the smallest lady ever placed on exhibition, Miss Bertha Carnihan, twenty-nine years of age, stands thirty-nine inches in height and weighs thirty-eight pounds. The most perfectly formed little lady on exhibition. She is well educated; has been all over the world. Step up and have a talk with her. She will answer all questions in regard to herself. She also has her photographs for sale.

Now direct your attention to the large stage in the centre. You will be entertained by Professor Lowry’s Nashville students. (When the negro concert is finished, the “big song book, words and music, fifty songs, five cents a copy,” are sold.) Now, fix your interest this way, please. I call your attention to Miss Millie Taylor, better known as the Queen of Long-haired Ladies. This lady has without a doubt the longest hair of any lady before the public. The length of the lady’s hair is seven feet four inches. Step up and examine it for yourselves. She also has her photos. Now we come to Miss Julien, the world’s greatest snake hypnotist. The lady will entertain you with her large den of living monster reptiles, introducing anacondas, boa constrictors, pythons and the turtle-head snake of Florida. (The performer coils snake after snake around her form.) The lady now has one hundred and sixty-eight pounds of snake around her body, neck and arms. You will find her entertaining to converse with. She will tell you all about snakes, etc. She also has her photographs for sale.

“Over this way next. I call your attention to the crowning feature of our side-show. The tallest man in human history, Hassan Ali, better known as the Egyptian giant. Born in Cairo, Egypt, twenty-six years of age, stands eight feet two inches in height and weighs three hundred and twelve pounds. To give you a better idea in regard to his height and reach we will allow the tallest man in the audience to stand on this high chair. The giant will stand on the ground. If the man reaches up and touches the photograph Hassan Ali holds up between his fingers, we will make him a present of a ticket, taking him all the way through the big show. There (pointing) is a tall man. Would you be kind enough to stand on this chair and reach with him. All right, you see (turning to the audience) he comes about six inches from it. This gives you an idea in regard to the size of the giant’s hand. Here is a good-sized water pail. See how far you can span it. Goes about half way. The giant spans it. His fingers go two inches over the rim. Now, he has no thick soles on his shoes, no high heels. There’s his foot, No. 18. He also has his photographs for sale.

“Now pay your attention over that way. That’s Neola, the electric lady. By shaking hands with her, you will receive a slight current of electricity, the same as you would from a battery. Don’t be backward, walk right up and shake hands with her. She won’t harm you. She also has photos.

“Now, the wild man! Down this way for the wild man! Now, stop that crowding there! Take your time, remember there are ladies and children in the crowd. (He pulls the curtain aside and pokes at the inmate with an iron bar.) There he is, with flat head and low forehead, showing he has very little brain. You notice the maniac look of the eyes, just the same as a beast. He has teeth just like a lion, arms four inches longer than our arms and walks on all fours. Captured in the everglades of Florida, a little over four and a half years ago. Handcuffed and shackled ever since he was caught. Now if you stop to think, you know there is a cause for a monstrosity of that kind. Just before he was born his mother was frightened by a beast. It left the mark on that freak of nature, just as you see for yourselves. Half Indian, half negro, don’t understand a word, don’t talk, growls like a beast, eats nothing but raw meat. (He draws the curtain.)

“Now pay your attention there. You will be entertained by musical Swarts. (A man gets melody from bells and various instruments.) Over this way next. The old-time funny Punch and Judy. (He enters a booth, gives the familiar show and reappears.) Now, I will show you how I change my voice. It is done with a reed, made of silver and silk. All you have to do is place it on your tongue and talk right. The sound of the words goes through the reed just like this. (He illustrates.) That’s the way to do it. There are full directions how to use it. Ten cents, three for a quarter. If they don’t blow as I represent, hand them back and I will give you back your money. (When the sales are finished he concludes in loud tones:) The big show commences in five minutes. All over in here."

The lusty-lunged orators on the outside make a great clamor as the crowd passes out, and one of them shouts : “The gentlemanly lecturer will now pass around again, explaining the curiosities, monstrosities and freaks of nature. Come on! Come on!” The heartless band lures with brazen notes and the scene is repeated without variation.


Spoken Word, Recorded Poetry, and Hip-Hop

2005-12-11

I’m gearing up to make an audio recording of poems read aloud, and along the way I found some very interesting stuff.

When searching for recorded poetry on the internet, it is difficult to decide which keywords to search with. It seems that the recorded poems out there in the world get classified differently, and since I firmly believe that “There are no categories”, the creative challenge here is to find a way to take my favorite elements of each of these groups, and go my own way with them.

It seems, in general, that recorded poetry can take one of three forms: cultural, sub-cultural, or pop-cultural.

Recorded Poetry

I’ll call “recorded poetry” the works of the so-called “major poets”, for lack of a better term. These are works that are typically published in print first, and later read aloud by the authors, who typically have some amount of literary notoriety.

Poetry Archive is an excellent primary source for this material. Poetry Archive an internet collection of, in their words, “the voices of contemporary English-language poets and of poets from the past.” The archive allows its audience to encounter the contents in a variety of interesting ways: poems organized by poetic form, for example, or poems organized by theme, in addition to the traditional organization by title or by author. Unfortunately, there is no chronological arrangement, yet. The Poetry Archive project is still in its youth.

Amardeep Singh, Assistant Professor of English at Lehigh University recently blogged an introduction to the archive: " If you’ve never heard Yeats or Tennyson reading in their own voices (on wax cylinder recordings), now you can for free."

Andrew Motion, the Poet Lauriate of England, is involved with the Poetry Archive project, and has written about it in “Hearing the Masters' Voices” for London’s Times.

I thought it was a pity that no one had thought to record poets in a systematic way, from the time that the technology first became available in the late 19th century.

That way, some of the lamentable gaps in our sound heritage would have been filled…. “The living part of a poem,” [Robert] Frost says, “**is the intonation entangled somehow in the syntax, idiom and meaning of a sentence. It is only there for those who have heard it previously in conversation . . . **It goes and the language becomes a dead language, the poetry dead poetry. With it go the accents, the stresses, the delays that are not the property of vowels and syllables but that are shifted at will with the sense. Vowels have length, there is no denying. But the accent of sense supercedes all other accent, overrides and sweeps it away.”

These convictions lie close to the heart of the Poetry Archive, which at the time of launching contains almost 100 voices: the great majority being new recordings that we have made ourselves, alongside a good many “historic” ones. (By “historic”, we mean recordings made before we began our project, ranging from the late 19th century to more recent times.) We intend to record many more contemporary poets and also to track down and add all the significant historic recordings we can find. If anyone has Hardy’s voice in their attic, please tell us.

Spoken Word

In an informative article that interviews major players in The Spoken Word Movement of the 1990’s, Mark Miazga takes a stab at the diffficult task of defining the spoken word movement.

It was a renewed fascination with the Beats in the 1990’s that was an important catalyst for an oral poetry movement that swept through the United States youth culture scene. … This has a number of similarities with the 1990’s oral poetry movement, … The term given to this visceral, in-your-face style of contemporary poetry of the nineties was spoken word. Up until then, the term only described non-music sections in music stores that contained non-music comedy, plays, or famous speeches. In fact, there have been a number of issues with the breadth of the term spoken word, which The New York Times has called “pointlessly stiff,” and the relationship of the term with poetry. For example, all poetry read aloud is spoken word, but not all spoken word is poetry. Sometimes, it is difficult to discern where spoken word ends and poetry begins. … This issue of defining and classifying spoken word, and how much of spoken word can actually be termed as poetry, is a problem even for the artists themselves. … that spoken word is, “a blanket term that cover(s) monologues, poems, stories, rap, etc. I like the term precisely because it is so ambiguous and broad.”

Maggie Estep is one of the important names to remember in the spoken word scene. Maggie has recorded two spoken word CDs, NO MORE MR. NICE GIRL (Nuyo Records 1994) and LOVE IS A DOG FROM HELL (Mercury Records 1997). She has given readings of her work at cafes, clubs, and colleges throughout the US and Europe and has also performed her work on The Charlie Rose Show, MTV, PBS, and most recently, HBO’s “Def Poetry Jam”. (There is an interview with Maggie Estep published at Suicide Girls.)

Speaking of Def Poetry Jam, it seems to be the last basion of major media coverage for spoken word preformance, after the demise of MTV’s Poetry Unplugged in the late 90’s. NPR also created one of their patented miniseries on the subject, entitled “The United States of Poetry

While it may not be media-friendly enough to remain in the rankings of pop culture, Spoken Word performances are still supported globally by audiences of the poetry slams, and in places like The Nuyorican Poets Cafe

One of the major fascets of spoken word poetry that’s touted around is the fact that it is decidedly not as literary as the published variety of poetry. Caryn James wrote a New York Times review of the aforementioned MTV Poetry Unplugged show. The review posits Spoken Word as a bridge over the gap between Rap and Poetry, (a relationship I’ve borrowed here) and says:

But most of this is disposable, evanescent poetry. The special is called "Spoken Word," not "Written Word," for a good reason. Most of the poems won't endure for decades, and why should they? Their purpose is different. "Unplugged" assumes that rap is street poetry and that street poetry is a vocal, visceral expression of contemporary life.

“Spoken Word” is just one manifestation f the renewed interest in poetry. In John Singleton’s current film, Poetic Justice, Janet Jackson plays a young woman from South-Central Los Angeles whose poetry expresses her emotional isolation and heartsick response to the death of everyone she has loved. As Mr. Singleton has written in “Poetic Justice: Film Making South-Central Style,” a new book about the making of the film: “Most of the girls I knew growing up, their main creative outlet was writing poetry. Whether they were good at it or not.”

Justice is obviously supposed to be good at it. Her poetry was written by Maya Angelou, now known as the Inaugural Poet."

So there you have it, Maya Angelou can write, has written, some of this stuff. Do you suppose it will stay “disposable” forever?

Hip-Hop

I’ve said this before, in my thesis:

The realm of aesthetics is one of the playing fields for the ongoing question of meaning in the modern world. For example, the new modern generation uses hip-hop as a form of discourse, often as an expression of anger. By comparison, The Iliad is a similar expression of anger. Both are long and lyrical. Both use death, violence and the possession of women as central themes. Now, bring both forms of discourse to your typical literary pundit and he or she will call one of them art, extolling its universal themes and virtues. The other item will be largely ignored, except perhaps to be passed onto a sociologist. The Iliad, being an immaculately crafted example of the oral tradition epic formula at its best, does deserve its reputation as a beautiful work of art. Any given hip-hop song might even deserve to be dismissed, on the grounds that it doesn't say anything that every other song in the rather formulaic genre hasn't already said. However, it should be noted that the genre is new, still formulaic, and while the formula may have some serious problems, **there is an undeniable potential there for unrivaled lyrical beauty**. Nevertheless, the genre gets largely ignored by the critical eye.

If I were to turn my critical eye toward Hip-Hop, to examine its literary merits, it might help with the task at hand, which is to look for anything helpful for my upcoming poetry recording, but I’m afraid the task would be a daunting one. I’m largely ignorant of the genre.

I found a clue to where those merits might lie in an essay entitled reverse-gentrification of the literary world, which is the preface of a book by Miles Marshall Lewis

Hiphop as a culture and art form graduated from subculture status during the early 1990s, significantly figuring in the lives of worldwide youth and ending its standing as an underground phenomenon. With its mainstream success came more radio-friendly beats and rhymes, and certain characteristics that appealed to its wider audience were forefronted: crass bling-bling materialism; violent rap rivalries that extended beyond records into real-life shootings, stabbings, and murders; the objectification and denigration of women in videos and song lyrics. Furthermore, most modern rap music aficionados had no appreciation for aerosol art, deejaying, or breaking--sidelined aspects of hiphop culture whose former prominence I remembered fondly from the seventies and early eighties. I began to embrace more of a post-hiphop aesthetic, as if a new youth subculture was right around the corner and hiphop was on its deathbed.

Conclusion

My intent was to discover the best elements from a selection of recorded poetry styles, but I’ve only begun to understand the styles themselves. The next step would logically be to find examples of each, and learn to tell what I like from what I don’t like. I welcome any comments that might help with this.


The Legend of Alexandre The Savage Gnome

2004-12-10

Step this way folks, into a carnival atmosphere of human oddity and depravity, inexplicable beauty in the strangest places, ironic affections, and betrayal. Thrill to to sight of some of the world’s most exquisite dolls. Chills to the very bone!

The world is full of unlikely monsters and unbelievable saints, and stories, like this one, that are as hard to hear as they are to believe, but worth telling anyway.


Evaluating Hypertexts

2004-11-30

A site whose author is “teaching a small course in media aesthetics next term, “Jerz’s Literacy Weblog has posted a link to an article by George Landow,, a key thinker in the field of hypertext theory.

What is quality in hypertext? How, in other words, do we judge a hypertext collection of documents (or web) to be successful or unsuccessful, to be good or bad as hypertext? How can we judge if a particular hypertext achieves elegance or just mediocrity? Those questions lead to another: what in particular is good about hypertext? What qualities does hypertext have in addition to those possessed by non-hypertextual forms of writing, which at their best can boast clarity, energy, rhythm, force, complexity, and nuance? What qualities, in other words, derive from a form of writing that is defined to a large extent by electronic linking. What good things, what desirable qualities, come with linking, since the link is the defining characteristic of hypertext?

[Is this hypertext any good? Evaluating quality in hypermedia](http://www.dichtung-digital.org/2004/3/Landow/index)

An Apocalypse, and Goats

2004-11-22
The flow of the river is ceaseless, Its waters never the same. That is, the only constant is change.

Someone hung a rope from one of the trees along the river. One afternoon, last summer I took hold of that rope and swung from it, screaming as the rope moaned. My body must have been a comic display as it slapped the water, back first. I was only in the water for an instant, before clambering back on land. I sat in the sun to dry for a while, and watched the river move.

This river has seen all kinds of theater. A hundred years upstream from here and eight miles away, John Brown mounted the abolitionist assault that left his body a moulderin' in the grave. A man claimed to invent the steamboat, years before Fulton, right where my rope-swing was. Thomas Jefferson stood on a nearby rock and said that the view in front of me was the most beautiful he had ever seen. (Ah, if he could only smell the water now.)

I was startled to find an old man in camouflage, fishing from a nearby log. He had been watching me disturb his fish.

“You’re done with that now, aren’t you son,” he spoke to me, without shifting his eyes from the river. “Don’t think I didn’t hear you scream the way you did. I can tell by the look of you that you’re not the type for jumpin' out of trees.” I wondered how long he had been looking at me, and the ghosts of the army of the Potomac marched out of my mind. The man motioned me over to him with his free hand, still without looking. He moved over on the log and growled “If you’re just gonna sit, you might as well make up for the damage you’ve done. You fish?”

As I stood to walk toward the man, he laughed briefly and said. “Well, you do now. There’s an extra pole by your feet somewhere. Pick it up and do like I do.”

His fishing line flicked out over the water. The reel made sounds like singing. The man stretched toward the water a little. I watched him, and it was then that I noticed that he only had one leg. Next to him, glistening in the late afternoon sun, was a silvery wheelchair. Zeke must have wheeled himself all the way from the boat ramp and along the sand toward his log. I quit gawking and tried to cast my line. It flew, and landed on the water more gracefully than I did.

The man said “You, call me Mister Zeke Stephens. What do I call you?”

I introduced myself. Zeke cocked his head slightly and grunted. “Do you see that Cambodian man over there, the man in that canoe? He’s here every day at dawn, catching fish for his family. He only stays all day on weekends, but when I see him, every time I see him, he catches more fish than me. He’s gonna do it again, too. Thanks to you. Your little circus act spooked the fish over to his side of the river.” Zeke brought his line out of the water, empty. He cast again.

“What do you do with the fish?” I inquired. Zeke stared at the water and mumbled “I fish for fish. Hardly catch any these days. But if I did I reckon I wouldn’t feed them to my family!” He made a face, as if he’d just eaten something nasty. I couldn’t help but notice the stub where his leg had been. It was moving as if to dismiss the fish. “Besides,” he continued, “I have plenty of food stored up: canned goods, vegetables, dried fruit, a surplus of beer – a heap of munitions, shotguns… You know, contingencies for the millennium.”

“What?” I wondered what kind of man I was talking to. Having read about the people that stockpile for the coming apocalypse, I braced myself for a fire and brimstone sermon. Zeke cackled at himself.

“Well, you know. You can never be too careful. They say that computer glitch is going to throw everything off. The banks could go bad. Foodstuffs might run short, riots in the street, all hell could break loose. So I bought myself a few extra things. Did you know that you can get nearly everything you need from goats? They’re good to have around. They mow your grass for you, eat your garbage, and their milk is good. You can even make cheese from goats' milk.”

My fishing line hadn’t moved in a while. I brought it in. Zeke kept talking.

“I’ve got all that stuff now, so that I won’t have to fight for it later, and in case I do, I’ve got shotguns. No telling who’s gonna get jealous because I saved up and they didn’t. Did you ever hear the one about the grasshopper and the ant when you were little?”

“Yeah,” I snapped. “For some reason, the ant thought this winter would be worse than any other winter, so he over-prepared for it. The grasshopper called the ant crazy.” I toyed with the bait on my line a little, to make sure it was still on the hook. “Luckily for the ant,” Zeke cackled “the winter was harsh.”

Zeke sighed, “It might matter someday, who’s a grasshopper and who’s an ant. After all, the millennium is coming. The times they are a' changin'.”

I flung my line back at the river, while Zeke let the slack out of his own line. Silence settled down between us. A myriad of eddies and swirls lived their entire lifetimes in the current. A fish gulped at the surface of the water somewhere.

I thought about time. Every day is the turn of a century. The millennium begins today, and tomorrow, and every day after that. Every day begins a period that will end in a thousand years, just as each day is the end of an age that began that long ago. Why make distinctions? Time is not against us, it is only our perception of its impending end that fills us with dread. It is only an inaccurate conception of time that has sickened our machines.

Zeke was still intent on the water. I asked him, “won’t you feel let down? I mean, what if there isn’t any chaos, pandemonium, or any of that. What are you going to do with a surplus of guns – protect a bunch of canned goods and goats that nobody wants?”

Zeke looked at me and said “I’ll drink the beer, and shoot the goats!”


Ergodic Literature

2004-09-07

jill/txt mentions the frustrating part(s) about trying to work with what she calls_ books in boxes_ The LitCrits often call the books in boxes by other names, _ergodic literature_ or, my favorite, _artifactual hypertext_. But its true, its alot easier to spin out funny names for these things than it is to actually read them.

Its odd, there’s a way to mass-produce something like a toy castle, complete with catapult, court and cavelier – but they won’t make books in boxes.

Just as it is difficult to find the works themselves that fit in this category, it is similarly diffficult to find information about them. So, difficult, in fact, that an attempt on my part to write a paper about them was thwarted by the lack of sufficient reading material. I did manage to find a sufficient list of vaious works of ergodic literature, and in that book, Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature, I also foud this: “for an exhaustive historical inventory of ergodic literature see: “Vuilllemin, Alain. Informatique et literature 1950-1990/ Paris: Champion-Slatkine”

I wish I could get my hands on some of this stuff.


I’m going to be on TV!

2004-06-08

It was one week, to the hour, since my arrival in boston. I had just completed a poetry reading. It was the third reading I have attended this week. You wouldn’t believe the lunacy I’ve seen, passed off as poetry, or maybe you would, in which case you have my sympathy. This reading was not so fraught with lunacy, and so I decided to read some poems.

I started with “Housekeeping” and the poem was well received. I was nervous, because one of the previous poets actually made a few people cry, and one of the other poets illustrated his work with sculptures. I read: The House in the Yard", I also read three works in progress.

Afterwards, there was a man discreetly making his rounds to congratulate his favorite poets. i stepped outside for some air, and when I came back inside to get my things, the man called my name from across the room, which was now essentially empty. I was shocked. Being a stranger in this city, I am entirely unaccustomed to the sound of my own name, and also to the idea that someone might remember it. He said that so-and-so has had to call in sick and there’s a spot available for a poet on television this week. He asked me if I would like to take his place and be one of the featured artists on Boston’s cable channel. I accepted the offer, of course, and promptly made my way to an Irish pub for a celebratory drink.

Tomorrow at four PM I’ll show up for my first ever television appearance, my fifteen minutes of fame might just be about to begin, who knows? And to think, I’ve only been in Boston for a week!


Meaning and Being-in-the-(Modern)-World: a Response to Heidegger

2003-11-20

Sports cars in full glory, triple-X-electric sex, automatic coffee pots with built-in alarm clocks, rocket ships and escalators, bent metal, graven images in chrome, and the human world modified, amplified, bigger, harder, faster, more than the tin-can can hold: these are the things I own; This is the world into which I was thrown. This is the world in which I am to find meaning.

Over the course of some time spent in that world, at a time when it, as we know it now, was in development, a variety of thinkers like T.S. Eliot have approached the developing situation known as modernity. They have asked, what does it mean? Their conclusions are diverse, and all of them are partial, but in general they lament the coming of modernity, for fear that it will supplant all of culture thus far. Their ideas may have been complete for their time, but modernity is no longer in development. It is here.

My reply to those ideas is informed particularly by the idea posited by Heidegger that we are thrust into the world, and it is there that we must find the tools to make meaning out of the chaos. Heidegger explains our being as a being-in-the-world, which means there is a relationship between the world we are in and our being. The meaning we make out of the world depends upon the world from which we make it. Wouldn’t it be better to look, as Heidegger, at the world into which we are thrown as potentially useful?

I was born in 1980. I spent my adolescence with the Internet. I don’t remember a time before television, space walks, fax machines, urban sprawl, MTV or any of the other accouterments of modernity, or their accompanying ideas. There is a pre-established assumption in this world that meaning/end/purpose is to be found in profit, as it once indicated favor from God. This assumption is one of the things we’re thrust upon and forced to deal with. It’s a big one. Yes, all these things that surround us: materialism, social structures, and work ethics. They all exist for profit, which, if no longer regarded as a valid meaning, lends nothing to the meaning of the world around us. Thus, we are thrown into this world full of meaningless things. Our job is to make meaning of them. It would be a huge mistake to ignore our very tools for meaning. Lets look at the realm of art for example.

My generation uses hip-hop as a form of discourse, primarily as an expression of anger. For example, The Iliad is a similar expression of anger. Both are long and lyrical. Both use death, violence and the possession of women as central themes. Now, present both forms of discourse to your typical literary pundit and they will call one of them art, extolling its universal themes and virtues. The other one will be largely ignored, except perhaps to be passed onto a sociologist. The Iliad, being an immaculately crafted example of oral tradition at its best, does deserve its reputation as a beautiful work of art. Any given hip-hop song might even deserve to be dismissed, on the grounds that it doesn’t say anything that every other song in the genre hasn’t already said. However, it should be noted that the genre is new, still formulaic, and while the formula may have some serious problems, there is an undeniable potential there for unrivaled lyrical beauty. Nevertheless, the genre gets entirely ignored by the critical eye.

Thinking like this in situations like these results in real artists and thinkers, discouraged or excluded from any realm of discourse that is a product of the modern age. (The only exception to this rule is in the visual arts, where the commercial success, and upper-class acceptance of pop art opened the eyes of the associated thinkers to the potential for meaning in the imagery in the modern world.) Any idea that says to me that I should avoid modernity, with its lack of culture, is an idea that denies me the freedom to move about in the world into which I have been unwittingly thrown. If I am only relegated to what gets called culture/meaningful by those in the know when it comes to culture/meaning, then I’m resigned not to communicate with the majority of my generation. Deny me the world in which I live, and there goes my chance to make meaning from it. I’d prefer to make meaning with it.

As a result of prevalent intellectual attitudes we’ve got speakers denied proven tools for speaking. How many people listen to hip-hop on a daily basis, in this world I’ve been thrown into? And how many people read traditional poetry? The masses aren’t right by number, but when faced with the question of meaning in the world we’re in, my response is to communicate. This is probably a common response. Look at the vast realm of communication (if not expression) that has grown out of the modern world. Communication cannot exist without an audience. The larger the audience, the more the communication, the more people I can share my meaning with, the more I can contribute to the dialectic of history. Therefore, the more potential a medium has for reaching an audience, the more potential it has for expressing meaning. Why then must I relegate my expression of meaning to methods with a shrinking audience in order for my methods to be regarded as having any validity?

Furthermore, the continued critical assumption, held by thinkers like T.S. Eliot, that the modern world and its products are void of meaning and therefore to be ignored is perhaps the most dangerous idea a thinker could have. So long as this idea is propagated, it is true. If the thinkers of the world dismiss as meaningless the growing realm of modern communication, then so long as they are ignoring it they are denying it the addition of their thoughts, their meaning – and so while it grows, it grows thoughtlessly and wanting meaning.

This critical dismissal exists for noble purposes though. It cries out against the meaninglessness of our modern surroundings. Maybe it will go away. If all of us go to the theater instead of the television, perhaps the television will wither and die. But why should television die? Even if all the paintings ever made were hideous, it would be awful to throw out the paints and brushes because of the beauty that could be made with them. However, if everyone listens to hip-hop, and not to epic poetry, then epic poetry is not communicating, so it expresses nothing; it is rendered meaningless. Then, when it comes to epic poetry, the fear that modernity will supplant previous culture has been realized.

The lament: there is art, which is a lot of work, and then there is television for example, which is wasted work, for it is not art, and it is not art because it does not express a universal truth, they say, so they urge us to ignore it, precisely because the majority of us don’t. Ideas of objectivity and universality are still pervasive in the aesthetic discourse, more than they should be in light of what Heidegger had to say.

What is this assumption that in order to be real art, there must be some objective truth expressed? Art is experienced, as life is experienced. Heidegger has to say about the experience of life; (and perhaps vicariously on the subject of art) that it is not built upon universals.

There is no objective truth for us to glean from the experience of life. We’re supposed to get what we can from it, and we can no longer go around calling what it is that we do get a universal. Change is too much of a universal for that to be true, especially in the modern world in which we find our being. Universality isn’t what makes validity.

The problem, with art though, is that it is communicative as much as it is experiential. I think that the emphasis on objective universals exists as part of that larger desire to communicate a thing to humanity. Even if this is successful, though, even if something is communicated such that it is objective and everyone can see the thing in the message, every single member of the audience will interpret that single thing differently. With this in mind, I think its safe to assume that the thing being communicated could validly be “just a situation.”

By this I am not proposing aesthetics of spectacle. I mean that art, like life as Heidegger describes it, has the power to thrust human beings into a situation, who are left to make what they can of it. So I don’t see why, then, the artist needs to act like god, and plant a trees of objective universal knowledge within the creation. It might be nicer to have a fruitful garden with a plethora of delicacies, ripe for the choosing. That seems more true to life to me.

I think there is a better distinction to make. There’s no point searching for the objective universal in a situation like the experience of art, which won’t work any more than Heidegger has shown it to fail with the experience of life (certainly not if art is to last in a millennium begun in the midst of rapid and complete change). Instead of a distinction between objective truth and meaninglessness, there should be a distinction between communication and expression, and these should be the new criteria for meaning, when it comes to the products of our being-in-the-world.

The mere communication is actually a fertile ground for new expression. After all, expression doesn’t work without communication. The foundation already exists for expression on a colossal scale. We already have communication on such a scale.

As we enter the new millennium, we no longer have the luxury of denying our being-in-the-(modern)world. Television, etc.– these aren’t coming. It’s all here. The fears are now realities.

The time is now that, in my opinion, the modern-artist’s spirit of experimentation could be taken more seriously, and further. What if they had experimented with these new things, instead of blasting them as a cultural wasteland? Of COURSE they were a cultural wasteland. They were brand-new, and those in control of the flow of culture we too busy lamenting these new things to contribute any legitimate expression to them. What if Picasso had drawn Saturday morning cartoons? What if a comic book deserved the Pulitzer? What if the poet laureate rapped with eloquence? What if Eliot had listened to Heidegger? If Eliot had made his point that we should have genuine expression and thought-provocation, while at the same time accepting his being-in-the-world, a world too colossal to stop and not all of it bad, perhaps we wouldn’t be in the predicament we’re in now. Then, perhaps the cultural wasteland we’re thrown into wouldn’t be as bad, if the nature of its mediums had been defined by something other than a creative power vacuum. We can fix the bad; we can even use most of it as tools. We can keep the good. There’s no need to ignore it all.

I want to see everyone who would be creative, expressing in addition to the communicative foundation. I want to see turntable-DJs in the orchestra pit. (After all, these instruments function by the same essential principal: friction on a surface). I want poetry on the airwaves, paintings on the billboards. I want to see every critic examine the dichotomies among art and entertainment: meaning and statement: expression and communication: culture and situation. I want them to come to those dichotomies with less arrogance and more hope, more sense of possibility. I want meaning where previously there had been none, and I think we should make it out of the meaningless void into which we’re thrown, even if that void isn’t the culture we once had, which was also built from a void. I disagree with rejection of the meaningless. A blank canvas is meaningless. Reject it, and it never gets painted.