On April 1st, US Poet Laureate Kay Ryan held a video discussion with a handful of community colleges to kick off National Poetry Month, known on Twitter as #napomo — or #napowrimo to those celebrating the month by writing poetry.
I kept an ear on the conference while doing some busy-work. Here are a few partial quotes and paraphrases I managed to capture:
“In order to write well, you must write a lot.”
It’s important to have a defended space in which to write: people walk through a garden without fences, even if they didn’t mean to.
“We’re not hearing from you. Have you answered?” (She was addressing technical difficulties with the link to one of the colleges, but I heard something deeper in it.)
You need to read — read a lot — the entire spectrum: “It’s useful to read things that irritate you as well as what you like…It’s important to read outside your taste.”
Think of your brain as a fish tank, and the fish are ideas and thoughts. For those fish to be well, the water has to be aerated all the time. Reading everything and anything plunges oxygenated language into the tank of your brain.
“Our brain tissue is stained by really powerful voices like Emily Dickinson.”
“Are you hungry to speak?”
Don’t be impatient to know too much about your voice — have a lot of tolerance for yourself and your experiments.
Eventually, one is kind of reduced to one’s voice: “Sandblasted enough, the shape of you starts coming out.”
When you sit down to write, don’t worry about inspiration — “it’s a dirty trick to think you have to wait for inspiration.”
You have to start, and inspiration may find you, or it may not at all.
“I always find disagreement particularly provocative, to take exception to something.”
Editing and Revision
She read her poem The Other Shoe:
Oh if it were
only the other
in space before
joining its mate.
If the undropped
with the undropped.
But nothing can
stop the midair
collusion of the
unpaired above us
and weight. We
feel it accumulate.
“A short poem, but it took a lot of work to get to it…”
Unless you are Rimbaud, you better figure that you are going to be doing a lot of re-writing.
The Other Shoe had nine or more previous versions. (She flipped through them quickly; one included an illustration.)
“In order to make a poem look unworked, I have to work at it a lot.”
“I don’t find necessarily that my first thought is my best thought at all. Just a first thought…out of which a good thought might grow.”
She immediately forgets what she writes, which allows her to re-read as a stranger: “I have a bad memory, and have always thought of it as a great advantage.”
“This is a patient art, in order to gain some excellence in it.”
Student question: “What role do other readers play in your revision process?” Kay Ryan: “Excellent question! None!”
She keeps her own counsel.
Her partner, who died recently, had been the only one to read pre-publication versions of Ryan’s poems: “If she didn’t tell me the bad things, I couldn’t trust her when she said something was beautiful.”
It’s dangerous to listen to other people and their feedback.
Working through errors yourself can take you in the direction you need to go.
On workshop poems — “good in some sense that is incredibly boring.”
Don’t court obscurity, don’t be consciously intentionally obscure.
“We have plenty of confusion and ambiguity in this world…Try to get something important across…Try to make clear points.”
“Publishing is an act of communication…to make someone else feel or think very much as I do.”
When writing a poem, make sure the substance is in the poem, and not stuck in your mind.
“Is everything you need to understand the poem available in the poem?”
Poetry — the most exciting, exacting, demanding work she’s ever found to do with her mind.
“Every sort of experiment can be a useful experiment.”
Note: If it’s in quotes, I’m 99% sure it’s something Kay Ryan actually said. The rest is stitched together from my short- and mid-term memory.
Note #2: I know, I know: bullet points. Sorry! I’m just trying to get this published quickly, and crafting it into a better format will just delay that.
Video footage of musician and artist Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s installation of electric guitars and zebra finches at London’s Barbican Curve gallery, 23 February – 23 May 2010
I’d like to hear a longer version of this, without the camera crew chasing the finches from guitar to guitar.
A proposed sequel: finches in a room full of lid-less grand pianos, with cement blocks on the damper pedals to let the strings sound. Why didn’t Henry Cowell ever get animals involved? Other than human animals, that is.
(All quotes are 99% accurate, though I have re-ordered them a little bit.)
UbuWeb can be construed as the “Robin Hood” of the Avant Garde. Only a handful of artists have given explicit consent to be featured.
“If we had to ask permission, UbuWeb wouldn’t exist.”
“We don’t really fuck with economies — because there’s no economy for this stuff.” (This stuff meaning, the music of Marcel Duchamp or Jean Dubuffet, for example.)
“We respect legitimate economies.”
UbuWeb features five terabytes of work from 5,000+ artists.
When he was working on his collection of Warhol interviews, Goldsmith went to the offices of the Warhol foundation to get permission, and they “laughed him out of the office.” In their view, Warhol’s words are valueless.
“Download everything you possibly can from UbuWeb — it won’t last forever.”
“The outsider stuff is becoming the inside.”
“There’s so much stuff on UbuWeb that I don’t know what’s there.” (Editors help him by managing different sections.)
UbuWeb is not a democracy: The collection is “highly curated, highly selective.” Most submissions don’t make it on the site.
UbuWeb has a Facebook page, created by his students, but Kenneth Goldsmith was unequivocal: “I hate Facebook.”
“I have problems with the idea of quality in Web 2.0.” And donation buttons make him sick.
From time to time, he gets offers — up to US$50,000 — for the domain ubu.com, from companies who want to sell products that “help you be you!” etc. And he takes great pleasure in replying: “Fuck you: This is reserved for poetry.” (I instantly pictured an orange traffic cone with this response, embossed on a metal plate, sticking out of the top. And the entrepreneurial part of my brain thinks it would make a great embroidered fishing hat…or maybe stickers that could be placed wherever logos lurk?)
UbuWeb may look institutional, but “it’s made of toothpicks and tissue paper.”
“I’m not an art historian…there are holes…it’s a horribly-flawed fanzine…the taxonomy is atrocious…it’s an art historian’s nightmare!”
“We’re in the Summer of Love for the web right now, and it’s not going to last…We’re in the midst of a revolution that’s so large we don’t even recognize it.”
“Old hippies are the worst in the world” in terms of copyright, control, permissions and sharing. “It’s generational.”
A few gleanings from a look around the site this morning:
The BBC goes behind the scenes of Brian Eno’s 77 Million Paintings project as it was projected on the surface of the Sydney Opera House:
There is also a profile of the project, with some technical details about how it was put together, on Apple’s website:
“77 Million Paintings” continues to evolve. “We’ve been discussing the idea of using natural selection in the next project,” says Taylor. “When users see a combination of images they like, they’ll be able to hit a button and the computer will remember it. Likewise, the user will be able to kill certain combinations. At the end of a very long period of time, you’ll have a handful of images that have survived the selection process. Then the program will stop. Everyone’s choices will be different.”
…an unconference for creative industries professionals. It is an ad-hoc gathering for participants to learn, network and share in an open environment with discussions, demos and interaction all led by the attendees.
Note: Sorry, I didn’t catch everyone’s name, so where I haven’t given credit to a specific person, I’ll give joint credit to the people on this list.
The Final Grid (photo by @stevek on Flickr)
In the vote to determine the day’s schedule, I was amused that the “Productivity” session received zero votes. Are we just all GTD’d out?
The challenge of explaining that this not limited to arts groups. Museums and symphonies are a subset of the cluster.
SXSW brought $110 million to the Austin area in 2008? Yoinks.
Marketing and Self-Promotion
Market to behaviors, not demographic slices.
Check out the social media, but don’t stay at the big sites like Facebook. Follow through to where the real communities are having conversations.
The importance of self-awareness: Have a complete and well-formed sense of your own identity before presenting it to the world, where it will be diluted by perception, context, etc.
Make a piece of art, and give it away.
Bram Pitoyo: Break the work down into categories and properties, e.g. light or dark. Focus on overlooked facets.
Ask people to describe a sample or a prototype, which will highlight the specific attributes that they like or don’t like.
The first round of edits and drafts is not a time to be thinking of words like “failure” — that’s too early.
The idea of transmedia storytelling: How can new devices and media give us the ability to pick up the narrative on one device where we left it on the last one? For example, the Kindle knows the last page you read on your iPhone. Can this reduce the overhead of managing all these different gadgets and systems and channels in a significant way?
John Hartman: All online social activity tends to lead back to face to face meetings.
Whether it’s a website or Twitter, there are many ways to use each tool. When proposing communication projects, present examples not just in the same subject area, but also in the style that fits the situation.
Unanswered question: Should devices sense and behave differently based upon the physical and social context? At what point does that become social engineering? And if overdone, does it preclude interesting accidental “misuses” of new gadgets?
Social media as an opportunity to “reify the corporate entity”: what is the role of personality in the social media presence of large organizations? (sisoma deserves an award for the most casual and unpretentious use of reify I’ve heard in a long time.)
I got a little grumbly in the “Emerging Trends” session about the dark side of electronic medical records. Anyone who has completed a patient information form for the xth time knows how silly our system is, and the statistics show the astonishing share of healthcare spending that we waste on paperwork and bureaucracy.
On further reflection, the root of my concern is that using technology and better information management to make a dysfunctional system more ‘efficient’ won’t make it more effective. When the boat is already leaking and listing and not able to properly accommodate all its passengers, the answer is not “all ahead, full.”
As Larry Lessig discovered in his attempts to make IP law reflect the realities of the 21st century, it is difficult if not impossible for a broken policy-making apparatus to make good decisions. Of course, we did just have an election, Lessig is trying to change congress, Tim O’Reilly just announced the gov2.0 summit, and there are lots of other smart people like PDF and MAPLight working on it, too.
As part of the Getting Unstuck discussion, Chad Mortensen suggested that when you hit a wall, come up with other ways of looking at the wall, or go around it.
Thinking on this later, it reminded me of that old Schoenberg/Cage story: Arnold Schoenberg told John Cage he was terrible at harmony, and if he continued in music, we would constantly come up against that wall. Cage replied that he would dedicate the rest of his life towards banging his head against it.
That sense of persistence and determination reminds me of yet another John Cage story, which I’ll paraphrase as briefly as I can: Cage was playing a recording of Buddhist chant to a group of students, who found it boring. And he said: “If it’s boring after two minutes, listen to it for four. After four, listen to it for eight…” After a few more iterations, he said: “And suddenly, you will find that what you thought was boring had been beautiful all along.”
In other words, keeping banging your head against the wall until it is beautiful. (Figuratively speaking!)
Hmm, new project idea: A John Cage story for every occasion…
Watch out “Chicken Soup for the _____’s Soul” people!