My day job is posting and editing web content so I'm always interested in user experience design and testing. I've read a few books on the topic, like Don't Make Me Think by Steve Krug, The Art and Science of Web Design by Jeffrey Veen and Information Architecture by Morville & Rosenfeld. But to brush up for my new job I've been taking an online class on user testing and reading The Hipper Element's UX Crash Course in 31 days.
What is most fascinating to me is that user experience can be applied to anything, especially writing poems.
The Hipper Elements article #26 on persuasion is particularly interesting for those of us interested in how to speak with authority through a poem.
This list of cognitive biases is also something every poet should read. We all write with these biases and read with them.
Everything involves user experience…even a poem. Think about a poem’s user experience.
Thinking Back to the Book
For my job, I also read the latest edition (with illustration by Maria Kalman) of The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. I thought I had read it before but turns out I get this book confused with On Writing Well by William Zinsser which we read in college composition class. Both of these are great book to re-read and yet Strunk and White's aim toward brevity leaves my Proustian sensibility feeling somewhat chilly. Absolute clarity is sometimes a route devoid of any atmosphere. Colloquialisms have power. And some superfluous words work to add emphasis and personality which a flat Stunk and White sentence lacks.
I took exception with the books distaste for the word offputting as in "That gesture is offputting. I am put off by it." I can visualize it. Personally is another emphatic word I would make an argument for, as in "Personally, I liked it." Yes, it's redundant but it lets the stress sit on the speaker when over-emphasizing the word I sounds silly.
In news related to words and the Internet, father of the Internet Vint Cerf says we may be entering a digital dark age. Read the full BBC News article.
Think about all your poems lost on floppy discs and you will understand his point. At some point in the future we will have devices that can't read our poems in outdated Microsoft Word files from 2007. Aren't you already annoyed by .docx files you can't open from your older computers?
While Cerf and others are working on very smart solutions to keep the world's content (including poetry) accessible, consider this when saving and publishing electronically.
On some level, I feel we might be over thinking a problem we created ourselves. After all, aren't books so far the most sturdy, eternal and accessible technology? Sure, they're burnable in libraries. But it would be pretty hard to destroy every copy of a popular book like the Bible or Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities which is still doing pretty good on the list of best-selling books.
Books consume trees, but technology creates the physical trash of discarded plastic phones, computers and eReaders.
One drawback of the emerging technologies is their very asset: they continually improve. Our current content technologies are never static. Web browsers, software and hardware become outdated and unusable. eReaders will probably suffer the same fate. And the corporations pushing them are always itching to make prior evolutions archaic in order to force consumers to make a repurchase every few years.
Books, being pretty simple, seem to be immune from this dastardly cycle of expiration. It may get smelly, but I can still pick up a book from a hundred years ago and access its content.
Read his New York Times obit.
The first full length poetry collection I ever read in my twenties was They Feed the Lion. Levine was also the first living poet I ever read. He was living proof to me you didn't have to be dead to be a poet. He even wrote about living, modernity and about work.
He was the second poet I saw read live, the first was Tom Lux in St. Louis. The only other writer I ever saw read in St. Louis was Stephen King.
Levine was the first poet to visit Sarah Lawrence College while I was a graduate student there. That night, as he walked through the dark entryway of Slonim house and passed me on his way to the living room and I felt like a celebrity had just walked by! Imagine that? A poet celebrity! I was starstruck. I have always mythologized him and I probably always will.
We've also lost Louis Jordan. I honored him a few weeks ago by watching Gigi again. Gigi is full of great stuff. It’s slightly Proustean in its exuberance, full of Paris location shots, Louis Jordan as fluid as a dancer, Maurice Chevalier, (who is just as charming as Louis Jordan with his amazing smile), and there’s an adorable performance by Leslie Caron. And Eva Gabor is very good in her small part, too. Vincente Minnelli directed it. It’s based on a Colette novel. The score is by Andre Previn. I’ve heard the movie get a lot of flack for winning 1958s best picture and other Oscars but it’s one of my favorite movies. Full of some stunning poetic movie lines like where Aunt Alicia says, "Marriage is not forbidden to us, but instead of getting married at once, it sometimes happens we get married at last."
My favorite scene is when Louis Jordan is in a fluff over Gigi and pacing around a restaurant table where his uncle, Maurice Chevalier, is sitting. Maurice tries to calm him down with the serious suggestion to:
“Have some cheese!”
I use this suggestion all the time as a calm-down phrase to Monsieur Big Bang--spoken very Frenchly:
“Have a piece of cheese!”
My first taste of Nutella was where some was stuffed in a pain au chocolat outside of Notre Dame in Paris.
It was pretty mind blowing.
I haven't honored him yet but I plan to this weekend.
To view a sample: http://leonardnimoypoetry.com/
His poetry book covers look a bit like the "Jack Handey's Deep Thoughts" from SNL, but here they are on Amazon.
If this makes you miss Jack Handey's Deep Thoughts, here is the site for you: http://www.deepthoughtsbyjackhandey.com/
I love to see poem used to illustrate non-literary concepts in academic papers. I blogged about this in 2012, Using Poems for Research Projects.
So I'm thrilled to be in a CNM course on Mindfulness where our teacher, Beth Giebus-Chavez, opens each class with a poem that describes a concept where learning that week. It's awesome! The poems get at the topic from another angle, or a substrata that the academic papers, videos and mp3s, discussions and journalings can't reach. The poems are not only examples of mindfulness but they are the very practice of mindfulness.
Here are the poems we've covered so far:
In one of the live lectures on Mindfulness, we also covered this poem, "Autobiography in Five Short Chapters" By Portia Nelson.
You always hear laments about how people don't respect poetry, how entertainers steal focus from literature, how poetry is meaningless in our society. This is why I love to see celebrities talking about poems on television.
Poets can be bitter butter balls. Their hearts can't see when their heart are closed. And this includes noticing all the good television programs out there.
For years I've been enjoying Oprah's Master Class series. I have about eleven of them banked up on my DVR. I finally watched the episode with Berry Gordy, Jr. I only know about Gordy Jr. from reading histories of Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Michael Jackson and I've always pictured him as a kind of stern record mogul who created the unlikely but inspiring success of Motown in Detroit. Hearing him talk about his own process was fascinating. He was much more charming and self-deprecating than I anticipated. He also attributes the success in his life to a poem, specifically the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
Gordy Jr. said he was under great pressure, as his father's namesake, to learn how to be a man in a big, physical sense. He said this poem taught him that there were ways to be a man mentally and it changed his life.
I've had these games for year and sometimes I take them to small, informal writing groups.
Roger von Oech’s "Creative Wack Pack" are great cards to stimulate creative thinking. There are blue Exporer cards (a man with binoculars) that cover aspects of how we go looking for inspiration. The orange Artist cards (a head with its hair exploding) cover idea generation. The green Judge cards (an old man with a gavel) deal with evaluating our ideas. And finally, the red warrior cards (a warrior helmet) give tips for inventive ways to implement ideas.
Included is a book of ideas on how to use the cards, either as individual exercises, in group workshops, or as an oracle.
Each card tells a story with a final lesson learned.
Here’s a sample of one from each group:
Explorer card, Get out of Your Box: the story is about cutting across disciplinary boundaries and borrowing for ideas.
Artist card, Reverse: reverse how you look at something to dislodge assumptions, the example being when everyone else looks one way at a sunset, look behind you into the darkness. How can you reverse the way you look at an idea?
Judge card, Conform: the story is about St. Augustine being told "When in Rome…," the question being to what standards should you be conforming?
Warrior card, Do the Unexpected: the story is from 1334. Hochosterwitz castle was being besieged and a commander did the opposite of what was expected by the enemy, the lesson being use a surprising tactic to reach your objective.
I also have a game called Stones from the Muse, Runes for the Creative Journey. There are 10 double-sided rune stones in a bag and a book. You can draw one stone a day. Yesterday, I drew the Tool rune (a crude pick axe) which is about taking action. Or you can draw three or four stone configurations. I drew two more to do a reading called "immediate picture, big picture, action required." My second rune looked like a tadpole (the transformation rune) and the third looked like a swirl (the seed rune) which dealt with idea composting and fertility. The booklet has long descriptions of each rune and ideas for action steps.
The first creative oracle I purchased in college were these phoenix cards. The idea behind them is that you will draw the card that most represents your past life culture and its influences on your current life. For years, I have always been drawn immediately to the Zen Buddhist card. For years I researched Zen to figure out what that meant.
The cards each have radically different cultural aesthetics and most people only gravitate toward one or two of them. Strangely, when I used the cards to read everyone in my Bronxville, NY writing group years ago, the writers did claim the readings were pretty good. One friend said her reading was more like her than any of us could ever know.
I’ve ever only gravitated to the Zen card. Eliminating that card today, I picked the Medieval Illumination. And I have to say, its description of me wasn’t too far off either.
Anyway, fun games for creative types.
I'm a big believer that you don't need to fork over money to an eBook designer to create an eBook version of your poems. That is, beyond what you will spend to design your physical book. There are many poets out there insisting poetry can't be designed for electronic book reading. But I've been reading books of poems on my Kindle for years now. And if they're priced right, I buy books of poems on my Kindle I normally wouldn't buy in print. This usually happens when I want to test out a new poet or when I want to read a book but not necessarily "collect" it on my bookshelf.
There are special formatting issues for poems on eBook. Some special indenting creates problems, but over the last few years these issues have been overcome by some lit-minded, html-savy people who are generous enough to share their tricks with us.
Your Poetry eBook, Quick and Easy Formatting for Kindle by D.L. Lang is a great start for newbies. It's cheap and quick and informative for any poet who wants to stay up-to-date on how their books are made.
Looking to Read
Publishing by Gail Godwin was recently reviewed in Entertainment Weekly, whose review tells us the book “explores the writer’s shifting place in the publishing industry’s disheartening transformation—from a place where tweedy editors spent years nurturing gifted young writers to a marketing machine where authors must now come with ready-made personal brands.”
The Frank O’Hara Project
I just finished my first big experiment in reading someone’s collected works at the same time I read the biography. This idea started when I finished Edna St. Vincent Millay’s biography and then started her selected poems having forgot all the anecdotal stories from the biography.
I decided to slowly go through Donald Allen’s collected tome of O’Hara while reading City Poet by Brad Gooch, or as Monsieur Big Bang like to call it, that big book by The Gooch.
I started at the end of 2013 and finished just before Christmas in 2014! It took a year of bedtime reading!
I loved the biography and how its stories and poets overlapped with my studies on local Santa Fe poets over the same time-period. For instance, one line of the biography declares how O’Hara despised Vachel Lindsay.
The collected poems were a bit of a slog, containing over 400 pages of small printed verse. Many of his experiments were interesting at first but tedious after many incarnations; but I felt by the end of it I had my own personal little selected list of gems.
In any case, his famous poems are famous for a reason.
A tale of two Iranian poets: "Iran has long been one of the few countries where poetry enjoys mass popularity. So, it came as no surprise that the death earlier this week of the poet Moshfeq Kashani was treated as a major event with a special message from Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei paying tribute to the poet and miles of coverage in the official media. Kashani collapsed and died during a ceremony honoring another poet in Tehran...At the same time, however, the same authorities that heaped praise on the 89-year-old Kashani were determined to prevent any attempt at marking the first anniversary of the execution of another poet, the much younger Hashem Shaabani, who was sentenced to death by hanging on a charge of “waging war on God”.
In local news...
I've added new quotes on writing strategies and narcissism to my book page for Writing in the Age of Narcissism.
We haven't done these in a while. These are all by poet Mark Nepo and these quotes can help guide us all through ways of seeing and intellectualizing what we write about:
"Live loud enough in your heart
and there is no need to speak."
"Birds don’t need ornithologists to fly."
"If you can’t see what you’re looking for, see what’s there."
"Before fixing what you’re looking at, check what you’re looking through."
"No amount of thinking can stop thinking."
The Art of Daring
"In August of last year Graywolf Press released the tenth volume in their acclaimed "Art of" series, this time authored by poet and four-time National Book Award finalist Carl Phillips." (The Huffington Post)
“The Triumph of Bullshit" by T.S. Eliot
"TS Eliot, once a subversive outsider, became the most celebrated poet of the 20th century – a world poet, who changed the way we think. Yet, fifty years after his death, we are still making new discoveries about him." (The Guardian)
"Fifty years later, “difficult” remains the word most people attach to his verse. Yet we quote him: “Not with a bang but a whimper”, the last line of Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men” is among the best-known lines of modern poetry. “April is the cruellest month” begins The Waste Land with unsettling memorability; no reader forgets the strangeness of the “patient etherised upon a table” at the start of “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock”."
"Through allusion, quotation, echo and resonance, modern life is presented as a repeated ritual, one we can hear more deeply than we see it. To a greater or lesser degree, this is still how poetry works. It’s not so much that knottily difficult poets including Geoffrey Hill and Jorie Graham embed one resonance within another as they write, as that even poets very different from Eliot inherit an acute self-consciousness in their language. Poetry manifests an awareness that language – in its play of sound as much as in its denotation, its meaning – spools and unspools the self."
The Web Poet's Society: Can an online course revive interest in the classics?
This is an article on the University of Pennsylvannia Modern Poetry MOOC course (The Atlantic)
"Skeptics of online education still question if academic subjects, let alone poetry, can be taught on the web. They stress that true scholarship takes patience and time—values that aren’t inherent to online education. Even though many MOOCs offer certificates of completion, only 5 percent of of those who enroll actually stick to it. And, despite their popularity, both UPenn and Harvard’s poetry classes have experienced high dropout rates as well.
But Filreis suggests that the courses’ objectives are more important than their measurable outcomes. ModPo, he said, isn’t about the number of people who complete it—and it certainly isn’t designed to replace a traditional college seminar. After all, data indicates that most of the students who sign up already have some formal higher education under their belt. Rather, ModPo—and Poetry in America—are about reaching more minds and opening more people to the possibilities of language. They're about finding Whitman not only under boot soles but on smartphones, too."
Arkansas poet and father of singer Lucinda Williams, Miller Williams died on New Year's Day this year at the age of 84. Longtime fan of Lucinda Williams, I was lucky to see them perform together in song and poetry at Royce Hall at UCLA years ago.
I think I picked up his book, Making a Poem: Some Thoughts About Poetry And the People Who Write It, at that show.
Here are some prominent obituaries. As you may recall, Miller Williams read the inaugural poem for second term of President Bill Clinton.
The narcissism epidemic has spread around the world and has tainted the attitudes and impulses of writers and all artists. This situation affects our futures and our fortunes. In my new eBook, Writing in the Age of Narcissism, I talk about strategies of literary criticism as they enable narcissism, as well as possible solutions to counter-act destructive tactics in writing and reviewing.
Or sign up for my quarterly newsletter and receive a free copy. Just provide a valid email when you sign up.
Poets with Sexy Hair