Saturday, July 24, 2010


Visible Poetry: The First Fifteen Months

[E]verything and anything suddenly seemed material for poetry—or not material, seemed to be poetry, and all the past was illuminated in long shafts here and there, like a long-waited-for-sunrise. If only one could see everything that way all the time! It seems to me it’s the whole purpose of art….     
Elizabeth Bishop to Robert Lowell, about the poems that would become his Life Studies (14 December 1957).  Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, Ed. Thomas Travisano, with Saskia Hamilton. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2008, 246.

When I set out to keep a blog I didn’t really know what I would be doing. --Do we say “keep a blog” as in a diary or journal or “write a blog” as in an article or a book?  What’s the status of this kind of public-personal writing anyway?
I imagined a blog as a log of sorts, an account of activities more public than a diary, but not yet as formal and severed from my hand as a printed book.   It would contain journeys, but also, itself, be a journey of sorts—I’d discover what it was by doing it.  Besides, it seemed like knowing how it worked—how to blog—might be an increasingly necessary skill for any writer or public intellectual these days, as  all around us, traditional print media and venues are collapsing and struggling to reinvent themselves.  How or where in this environment, did one find an audience?
The blog began as a challenge I extended to my students--and some of them extended to me; could I do this thing, regularly or regularly irregularly; could I find enough to say to keep it going, to keep myself—or anyone else-- interested? 
And how was I going to handle the visual component?—After all, one of the significant advantages of this digital medium is its inventio-- its capacity for both invention and inventory--the many ways  text and image and research links and video and sounds can be transposed and interleaved on the same electronic page. I’d been thinking about the relationships between text and image--and working for several years on a long poem built from fragments of both; a blog seemed the perfect place to explore these obsessions more fully.  
It is also, I’ve found, an excellent medium for travelers’ tales—a log is, after all, a pilgrim’s progress carefully dated, secularized and rationalized, and a blog, simply web-hosted, illustrated, a digitized log. Visible Poetry aimed to extend the log form to an expanded notion of poetry—which, it turns out, isn’t really a very large stretch.
For lyric emerges from song, from the rhythms of breath and the pace of walking. It’s a genre of discreet, carefully rendered observations, often punctual, sometimes diaristic.  Photography too sometimes has this quality as camera and eye record daily movements through the world.   (Turns out, happily, that the regular necessity of producing compelling images over the last fifteen months has made me a photographer; I now have a practice that continues to expand elsewhere too.)  
If I began the blog as a way of trying to find or imagine an audience, it was in part because I was often lonely at my desk (desks are lonely places).  Thus I’m very glad for those who walk alongside me, those who speak up, speak out, talk back, send me links, letters, ideas, images.  When I sit at the screen I no longer feel like a solitary wanderer, and that makes an enormous difference.
Why now, a book?  Because sometimes you want to hold the words and images in your hands or be able to flip back and forth between months and moments in a way the screen doesn’t (yet?) permit.  Because a book lets you take stock of a distance traveled; quite literally, you can weigh it; it has heft, dimension, and the turning of the pages mimics the repetitious unfolding of thought across time.  And because you can read a book on the beach and not worry that sand and water will ruin your connection with the world. On the contrary, they are the world! 
Karin Cope
17 July 2010
West Quoddy, Nova Scotia