iPod, therefore iAM?

The author of A Word In Your Ear caught my attention with iME. It’s basically a link to an article by Andrew Sullivan in The Times titled “Society is dead, we have retreated into the iWorld” about the iPod infection.

“I’m one of them. I witnessed the glazed New York looks through my own glazed pupils, my white wires peeping out of my ears. I joined the cult a few years ago: the sect of the little white box worshippers.

Every now and again I go to church — those huge, luminous Apple stores, pews in the rear, the clerics in their monastic uniforms all bustling around or sitting behind the “Genius Bars”, like priests waiting to hear confessions.

Others began, as I did, with a Walkman — and then a kind of clunkier MP3 player. But the sleekness of the iPod won me over. Unlike other models it gave me my entire music collection to rearrange as I saw fit — on the fly, in my pocket.

What was once an occasional musical diversion became a compulsive obsession. Now I have my iTunes in my iMac for my iPod in my iWorld. It’s Narcissus heaven: we’ve finally put the “i” into Me.”

I am not one of the 22 million “little white box worshippers.” Not that I’m opposed to the idea. In many ways it seems practical for those radio surfers that switch to the next FM station when they don’t like a certain song, commercial or idea.

Back in high school I used to dub my own cassette tapes with all my favorite music. I’d have one cassette with mixes of Motley Crue, Whitesnake and Def Leppard. Another cassette might have songs by Paul Simmon, U2 and Michael W. Smith. And yet another would have samplings of The Oak Ridge Boys, The Statler Brothers and Johnny Cash. I had a plastic grocery bag with a half dozen 90 minute dubbed cassettes representing my soundtrack. My music tastes have matured somewhat since those high school days.

As technology advances I can now listen to online radio stations like listener supported Radio Wazee: Modern Alternative Rock or my local favorite 88.7 WNCW where I can hear everything from Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be The Day” to REM’s “Final Straw” to Pete Yorn’s “Just Another” to Townes Van Zandt’s “Black Widow Spider.” The reason why I enjoy iTuning these internet radio stations is because I hear new artists that I normally wouldn’t hear outside my scope of friends and influences.

Andrew Sullivan goes on to write:

“Walk through any airport in the United States these days and you will see person after person gliding through the social ether as if on autopilot… You get your news from your favourite blogs, the ones that won’t challenge your view of the world. You tune into a satellite radio service that also aims directly at a small market — for new age fanatics, liberal talk or Christian rock. Television is all cable. Culture is all subculture… Technology has given us a universe entirely for ourselves — where the serendipity of meeting a new stranger, hearing a piece of music we would never choose for ourselves or an opinion that might force us to change our mind about something are all effectively banished.”

The serendipitous meeting of strangers on the bus fills me with a greater awareness of others around me. I begin to understand the neighborhood. The fact that I am an Anglo, professional, with a young family makes some of my neighbors feel threatened. So, I take the bus and listen to conversations. I learn that I talk funny (according to one of the neighbor boys) and that Usher is not a person who helps you find your seat at theater but is actually a popular musician.

I guess this means I’m one of the uncool Americans who doesn’t have those white pods budding from my earlobes. I’m one of those unhip people who enjoy listening to the bark of the neighbor’s German Shepherd who warns a trespassing squirrel or knowing that it’s 4 P.M. because the bus just passed en route to the transit station. If missing out on iPod, iShuffle or iLife makes me uncool, then I’m okay with that. I’m content to listen and observe the world around me in all its grit and glory.

Positioning Poetry: part two

A few days ago, I mentioned that I had called the publisher of my first book. He reminded me that most poets seem to be elated that they have their words captured between covers and they don’t market or sell their books. I am not naive in thinking I’ve arrived because I’ve published a book of poetry. I knew distributing a collection of poems would be a difficult activity and it has. So, after careful research, I released the book quietly with the intention of putting copies of Late Night Writing into the right hands.

I sent copies to a few editors I knew (and some I didn’t) and to a few magazines that review small press poetry. A very nice review was written out of that effort (see The Indie’s review). The next phase in promotions was to send copies of the book to writers and poets whom I respect. Another kind review was written by an author/editor.

Part of the reason for directly and indirectly soliciting reviews is because publishers think in genres. Publishers know (or think they know) where the audience is who will buy their books. So, the publisher reviews a manuscript and labels it “beat poet” or “slam poet” or “activist poet” and then packages it in a manner that attracts that specific audience. By including reviews or endorsements, a publisher is assisted in targeting the correct market (i.e. audience by association).

At times, I am almost embarrassed to show people Late Night Writing because its dated. Well, dated for me anyway. Many haven’t read it. So, it would be considered new material. A couple of those poems I’ve been crafting for over ten years. I’m done with it. I want to move on and have. Most of the poems included in Late Night Writing were completed before the fall of 2002. So, I’m itching to publish the next collection. Originally scheduled for this March, it has been delayed for various reasons.

Positioning Poetry

A few days ago I talked with my publisher about the state of affairs with my first book. Needless to say, sales are dismal for poetry books (especially for an unknown writer like myself). However, that first book was devised to be a quiet release.

The intent of the book was to collect some published and previously unpublished poems to give to gatekeepers and other influential people. It was dedicated to family and friends and tended to represent more of my personal verse poetry (i.e. autobiographical). But I also added a few free verse poems, which incorporated universal themes. This was to position my poetry the way a cover letter and resume position a prospective employee. More on that later.

RE: Open Letter to POETRY Magazine

Sunday evening I came across this Open Letter to POETRY magazine from Charles Ries.

A few years ago I felt it was my duty to subscribe to POETRY. I was curious. I wanted to see the top of the mountain. I wanted to see what the best writers wrote. And for two years I read most or all of the issues you sent me. I looked into their pages and asked, “What makes this poem great?” “What makes this writer unique–exquisite?”

That said; I struggle to feel engaged with most of the work you publish.

I have mixed thoughts and emotions about what he wrote in his open letter. My initial thought was kinship in regards to feeling engaged with some of the content POETRY publishes. However, after reading the October 2004 issue (which I purchased from a local retailer), I decided it was time to subscribe to one of the flaghips of academic poetry. Frank Bidart’s poem “The Third Hour of the Night” captured my attention (and my few remaining dollars). I guess I agree with Mr. Ries in that POETRY is a journal for the academic writers and their readers. But isn’t that the point? If you were looking for well written non-academic poetry there are plenty of small press poetry magazines you can find and enjoy.

I suspect the real issue is high art versus subculture. By no means is poetry considered part of the American mainstream. However, it’s more likely the subculture of small press poetry will be less than a footnote in American literature. Whereas the subculture of POETRY magazine will provide notable poets like Hecht and Gluck. The reason the American consciousness remembers Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg is because they devoted most of their life to the high art of letters. Equally passionate are the small press poets who bleed their life into their noteable yet mostly unrecognized works.

For better or worse, I am part of the second category. Yet I struggle to be challenged by the work of most small press poets. That’s why I decided to subscribe to POETRY. I consider it part of my ongoing education in crafting poetry. That’s why I read the academic writings of American poets like the late Anthony Hecht. In his last published book The Darkness and The Light, he wrote:

Nothing designed by Italian artisans
Would match this evening’s perfection.
The puddled oil was a miracle of colors.
“The Onslaught of Love,” pg 4