Friday, December 02, 2005

On Blogs

With the recent explosion of blogs, I thought it would be interesting to post this short interview I did with Bryan Douey from the Calgary Journal (based out of Mount Royal College) on the topic of blogs as an artistic medium. I'm posting it here because I think this should be a site for dialogue and not just event posting. (no, this doesn't mean you should stop posting events)

The questions are Bryan's, the answers are mine


1. What are your general thoughts on blogs as a medium for artistic expression?

Blogs are interesting because they occupy a liminal space between the private space of the notebook and the public space of a reading or talk. This gives the blog a kind of tension that lends itself to the ways a blog can be used creatively. Add to that the temporal and ephemeral nature of blogging itself (new material appears at the top of the page pushing older work down only to disappear into the archive) and you get a space perfectly attuned to a public display of process. My own blog process documents ( presents my poetry as I compose it; every draft, misstep, and inspired moment are presented to my "audience" as part of my on going process toward bigger projects. Other writers use their blogs for ongoing serial projects: a poet living in New York, Jordan Davis uses his blog ( to write toward a goal of composing one million poems, serializing one poem after another in a (seemingly) endless stream and openly encouraging his audience to suggest content for poems to help him reach his goal. Many other poets choose to use their blogs as asides or companions ot their creative work, writing short critical bursts about poetics or casual comments about their lives.

2. What advantages do you feel blogs have over more traditional written mediums, such as books?

Books are fixed entities. Once a book is published, it is difficult to make changes which have to wait for new editions or second printings (if a book is lucky enough to get reprinted at all). Blogs have the advantage of easy revision comparative to books (this is true of any web publishing). The problematic wtih blogs compared to books is that pieces can be seen as ephemeral rather than permanent. Web publishing has a similar (undeserved) reputation to self-publication or vanity publication.

Blogs also have a problem of finding audience. While blogs are theoretically available to anyone with access to the internet, there is so much information out there that it is easy to get lost in the shuffle without either a gimmick or a personality. When I first started process documents, I received about 10 hits a day. Almost 3 years later I get between 40 and 50*. It takes time to build an audience. Being published in a book or magazine is often more desirable because certain presses and mags have pre-existing repuations that draw readers to your work in much more conventional ways. Ultimately, blogging should be done in conjunction with more conventional ways of publishing work.

3. How has being in a blog collective such as the Calgary Blow-Out affected your career as a writer?

Two things to remember about the Calgary Blow-Out blog are that it is fairly new (only started this past August) and that it acts as an electronic community hub that is meant to be open to any literary groups in Calgary (but has been centered mostly around filling Station and dANDelion magazines to date). Unlike angela rawlings' late collaborative review site Commutiny, which gathered reviews from writers across the country, CB-O is specifically interested in the local, making it an extension of things that are already happening at the local level (ie. magazine/small press publishing, readings/events). So while the Blow-Out blog may not help my "career" outside of Calgary, it certainly makes the work that my community more accessible and visible to those outside it. One of the reasons that I helped start the blog was because of criticisms that the literary community in Calgary was insular and uninterested in new people when the opposite of that is true.

4. What are your thoughts on the internet as a censor-free environment? In other words, do you believe in the potential of the internet for complete free speech, or do you believe that censors will eventually creep in?

I'm actually a little frightened of "complete free speech" much in the same way I'm afraid of a dictatorial fascism. "Free Speech" is one of the central tenets of democratic practice and is one that must be balanced by a healthy respect for others. Without a corresponding "responsible speech", "free speech" becomes dangerously erratic and dysfunctional. Profit-based media is one space where speech becomes worrisome, because capital is only interested in responsibility as long as it is profitable. One only has to look at how many more porn sites or hate sites there are than poetry blogs to see how much profitablity is preferred to responsibility. I'm more interested in the internet's capability for unencumbered and responsible dialogue than in the internet's capability for free speech.

5. What is different, if anything, between the way you consider your audience during the writing process in blogs vs. other mediums?

For me, audience is a consideration that I make during the editing process, so blogging tends to be as insular and personal as notebooking for me. process documents embraces this insularity by giving the reader a window into my writing process rather than allowing the reader to determine where my process will lead me. So while writing poetry continues to be a method through which I try to answer questions about language and the world, blogging forces me to write toward an audience rather than for an audience.

That said, the audience for poetry blogs is probably not looking for finished/polished product, instead finding drafts, exercises, thoughts on other peoples' work, etc. Generally, texts that appear on blogs tend to be more casual or ephemeral in nature, though they are often as insightful or thought-provoking than work in more conventional formats.

But to answer your question (something I've been sidestepping throughout the interview ;), I don't really consider my audience any differently for my blog than any other type of publication (book, magazine, public reading), but my blog does allow me a larger audience in terms of geography, something that can be difficult because of the local orientation of poetry. A blog's audience can be as invisible as that of a magazine or as present as that of a reading.


* Recently, I've been getting between 70-100 hits a day. And while I think some of them are due to the increased exposure because of Shift and Switch (maybe about 10 hits a day), the rest are because I'm caught in some weird identity crisis thing with the Ryan Fitzpatrick who plays for the St. Louis Rams. That bastard.


Blogger Jonathan Ball said...

some (perhaps) related comments (in early draft form) concerning the Internet and which touch upon the blog, from an essay I'm writing at the moment:

In contemporary life, the external character of all things exists online. Even the notion of the private diary has been replaced by the public domain blog, in seeming fulfillment of the tribal reversion predicted by McLuhan (the essential quality of which McLuhan posits as the disintegration of notions of privacy and individualism) [...] Now, all things are outside the body, online, in an infinite space capable of storing any and all data for instant retrieval in perfect, uncorrupted form; in the case of many artworks, such as film, these digital copies are actually of a higher quality than the existing originals, which degrade over time. McLuhan could not fully appreciate the accuracy of his claim that “the world itself [has become] a sort of museum of objects that have been encountered before in some other medium” (Understanding Media 178) without living to see the extent to which the Internet has subsumed other media in these early days of the 21st century.

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a very erudite interview and post. makes us (bloggers) feel that we have power at last not previously granted to us.

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