A Means to Open the World: A Conversation Around Blogging, Five Women in Three Acts
with Sarah Busse, Jennifer Morales, Peggy Rozga, Margaret Swedish, and Lisa Vihos
As Wendy and I began brainstorming our “Women and Publishing” issue, it occurred to me that here was an opportunity to explore that most recent form of publishing, the blog. I have never written a blog of my own, but I have thought about it (hasn’t everyone, by now?) and I’ve been curious about bloggers’ experiences. I don’t read any blog entirely regularly, but there have been a few that have been important to me as a learner and thinker. For the purpose of this feature, I wanted to gather a group of women together and for the sake of sanity, I put some limits around my choices: they had to be poets, and they had to be living in Wisconsin. Margaret (Peggy) Rozga, Margaret Swedish, Jennifer Morales, and Lisa Vihos were all kind enough to say Yes, when I asked them. What unfolded over the month of January 2013 was a wide-ranging conversation. Interestingly, we all had to duck out at various times for personal reasons. The flexibility of the project allowed for people to come in and out as they could. I have tried, in what follows, to edit out repetition but retain as much as possible the informal feel of a conversation that happened around a virtual kitchen table.
Margaret: This month is good for me. I should be able to participate without a problem over these next weeks…
Jennifer: I should be around all January. I'm looking forward to the discussion!
Lisa: I hope I will have something to add, because I do not use my blog the way most people do...
Sarah: Lisa, you guest blog for Best American Poetry, don’t you? I hope you'll speak to all of your various activities as poet, publisher, editor and blogger—you wear a lot of hats!
Lisa: Hey, thanks for clarifying and reminding me that it is about "blog-dom" in many different ways, and when you put it that way, yes, I do have many different blogging hats that I wear between my own blog, Stoneboat, and BAP. Okay. I'm done thinking I am not a right woman for the job!
Here are all the various blogs I am involved in:
http://stoneboatwi.blogspot.com (this is the Stoneboat blog. Myself and the other editors variously post something when the mood strikes us or when something interesting happens.)
http://lisapoemoftheweek.blogspot.com (this is my personal blog, of my own poetry. It began in 2008 as Poem of the Week, and I used to post a poem every Sunday. Now, I only post on the first day of the month. I rarely ever write "blog entries" though I occasionally have a short intro...)
And here is an entry from among the 15 or so I have written for BAP over the past couple years:
Peggy: I'm in Mexico now with intermittent web connections. I found out that the city of Merida has free WIFI in many parks, and the signal today is strong. Rather than host my own blog, I blog on the Benu Press website…
Sarah: To start, would you each describe your own work as poets, writers, and bloggers? I’m particularly interested in how long you have been blogging, if you have your own blog and/or guest on someone else’s site, and what got you interested in blogging in the first place? What blogs do you read?
Margaret: Writing has been an aspect of my life’s work for decades. For more than two decades, I was an analyst, news writer, and author of many narratives related to the Central America liberation struggles of the 1980s and 90s, culminating in a book on the US side of the movement, entitled, “Like Grains of Wheat: A Spirituality of Solidarity.” Sometime in the early 2000s, I became overwhelmed by the ecological threat unfolding quickly across the planet and shifted my attention there, writing a second book on the various aspects of the crisis, “Living Beyond the ‘End of the World:’ A Spirituality of Hope.” I was coming out of a very radical Christian perspective, but was ready to move beyond that into the larger cultural context that this crisis requires.
What compelled me to my recent writing was my return to Milwaukee for family reasons, and then, in my explorations of my family roots, and in the remarkable journey of my mother’s death and dying, discovering a multi-generational history that opened up for me the meaning of the Myth of the American Dream in a wholly new way. This discovery, including some pretty remarkable family secrets, offered a new lens through which to view the cultural underpinnings of that Dream and why we are having such a hard time letting it go despite the evidence that it is completely unsustainable and is, in fact, creating the conditions for the collapse of the culture altogether.
I was drawn to what for me was a new adventure with my writing – creative nonfiction, memoir, the telling of personal stories that open windows on the culture.
Now, the poetry came about somewhat indirectly, as a way to work on the writing craft itself. I had never imagined myself a poet, but began writing poetry as a way to hone my own writing style, to work on the creative aspects of the memoir, to begin exploring metaphor and rhythms, efficiency of a phrase, to enrich the“creative” part of creative nonfiction.
Well, poetry has a way of getting a hold of a writer. Pretty soon I found myself not just sitting down to practice the writing of poetry, but poems beginning to write themselves, or appearing. It was as if a well had opened and the water came up when it felt like it. Every now and then I noticed that I had actually written a good poem.
I still feel like a newbie, still trying to develop, or open, this aspect of my work. The memoir has crowded out some of the time needed for the poems to appear, and then to go to work on them. But I think poetry comes out of a similar energy, or desire, as the memoir and some of the essays I’ve been writing – a means to open to the world, to see it, not just out there, but from within where we must allow it to appear to us. For me, no poem is more powerful than one that helps me see differently, see truthfully. There are a million lenses out there and each one can show us something that can wake us from delusion, or open us in a way that helps us feel connected.
I started blogging from that desire for connection. I created “Swedish in Milwaukee,” which title was like an affirmation of my return to my hometown after 25 years living and working in the Washington, DC area. It was a way of stating that this is the ground I’m standing on now, the source of my material, my deep cultural roots right here in Wisconsin. That’s what I’m exploring now.
The blog is about writing and it’s about how I see the culture. I have another one focused on the ecological crisis, called “Spirituality and Ecological Hope.” That’s where I express the concerns that form the basis of the work I do through a little nonprofit that helps pay the bills. The two are connected, but I wanted one“space” where I could just write about writing, explore the craft, the themes that arise for me, and what I see of the world through that lens.
What blogs do I read? I don’t have habits of reading certain blogs, but list some on my homepage that I visit from time to time – a few other writers I know, blogs on ecology and culture, nature things. I look for blogs that share my themes and learn from, or get enriched by them.
Peggy: I starting blogging with a 2011 new year's resolution to try it for a year. I knew other blogging poets, especially my friend Lois Roma-Deeley. Benu Press, publisher of my two books, already hosted two bloggers. But they wrote on miscellaneous topics, and I thought I'd focus on topics closer to those central to the mission of the press: social justice and poetry. And publisher LeRoy Chappell loved the idea of my blogging there.
Turned out my timing was good. When Governor Walker pushed through measures against state employee unions and the demonstrations began, the blog seemed a perfect way to document these tumultuous events. Maybe, I thought, it was a way to write a very rough draft of a book.
If a book is to be born of that blogging, it's having a very long gestation period.
Now that I've been introduced your blogs, Lisa, Jennifer, and Margaret, I've marked them as favorites to I can return to them. I still read Lois Roma-Deeley's CIAO POETRY sometimes; she posts infrequently. I regularly read Andi Cumbo's AndiLit.com because so often it seems she writes with new insights about topics that concern me. I also read Barbara Miner's LESSONS FROM THE HEARTLAND, not a poetry blog but she's brilliant on social issues, especially local educational issues with national implications.
Somewhat off topic, Margaret, your book about the end of the world is now on my "must read" list. In a class I taught a few years ago, I realized all the students assumed the world would end and realized I didn't make that same assumption though I probably used to do so. So now I want to know what you have to say on the topic.
Lisa: I have been a writer, and in particular a poet, ever since I was a child, but I did not really own any of this until age 48. I was lucky enough to have Nancy Willard as my poetry teacher at Vassar College in the early 1980s, and for a brief moment, I felt my poet-self emerge under her guidance as a young adult. This "poet-self" evaporated quickly, though, after I graduated and was without a support circle of other writers. I convinced myself I was really not very good (compared to other people) and I really had nothing to say. For the next two decades, I took many creative writing classes, dabbled in writing children's books, and wrote extensively about art for a wide audience of readers as part of my work as an art museum educator. But, poetry was tucked deep, deep into my closet and I did not know how to dig it out for many years.
I started writing poetry in earnest (after a 28-year hiatus) in January of 2008, after meeting and being inspired by the poet Philip Dacey at the Great Lakes Writers Festival at Lakeland College, where I had just started a new job as an alumni director. It was at that moment that I decided to start a project, "Poem of the Week." My plan was to write a poem and circulate it to friends every Sunday, via email. I started to do this with 23 people on my distribution list. Keep in mind this was an email, not a blog. I did this because I finally had come to the realization that in order to write, I needed a deadline, and I needed to know that some other consciousness was going to look at my words. So, I invited a small group of friends to be the recipients of my weekly email (mom, dad, neighbors, friends). Within a short amount of time, friends began to hear about this and wanted to be added to the list. They also wanted to see what poems I had sent out so far, and that was hard to do as the weeks piled up. So, it was at that point that I created my blog, "Lisa's Poem of the Week." This was really begun as a repository, or archive, of all the poems. I rarely ever actually "blogged" here. I simply posted the poem after I had sent it out to the email distribution list. The blog was like my "document of record."
In March of 2011, after never missing a Sunday in three years and three months, my friend and mentor, Karl Elder, suggested that I ought to consider cutting back, so that I could give myself some room to actually do some "crafting" as opposed to "journaling" poems out into the world. He suggested going to an "every other week" approach. I decided that the best thing would be to send out a poem to the email list and to the blog on the first day of each new month. So, that is what I do now, though the blog still bears the name, Poem of the Week.
“Do you read blogs?” Someone must read them, right? Otherwise, why are we writing them???
I don't follow any blogs. I should. But, I don't. It is too much reading and I am lazy, I sheepishly will admit this to you. I have too much to read just keeping up with the in-box at Stoneboat. As one of the associate editors of this little upstart journal, I sometimes will write a post on our blog about what we are up to in "Stoneboat-land." I hope someone reads these little essays. Sometimes, it feels like it is just a record of our process, myself and the other three editors. We support each other there. We keep our Facebook group informed, but I'm not sure if people actually read much of what we say. Blogging there makes me feel like we (Stoneboat) are real. That we are giving writers a forum and that we have something to offer and share.
The most "true" blogging I have done is when I have been a guest blogger for The Best American Poetry. The invitation to do that came from meeting the BAP digital editor, Stacey Harwood, at the Great Lakes Writers Festival in 2009. (Boy, that GLWF sure has changed my life as a writer!) We communicated for over a year just as friends via email and Facebook, and then one day, she invited me to take on a week of blogging. I was honored, but totally intimidated. I could not imagine what anyone would want to hear from me. I (still, at that point) felt like I had nothing to say, just like when I was a recent college graduate. She said she just wanted to know what poets think about when they are not writing poetry. She said, "you write good sentences, so don't worry and just do it." I took on the project and found that during those intense stints (I blogged for her twice, each time for one week) when I had to post something to the blog every day, that the whole world suddenly became "blog-worthy." That experience was amazing for me and I learned a lot about myself as a writer. That was the first time I actually had people I did not know respond to my prose musings and share their reactions with me. It helped me recognize my voice. It was a very important awareness for me and I am so grateful to Stacey for giving me that opportunity as a writer.
Jennifer: I began blogging in 2007 by invitation from the staff of OnMilwaukee.com, a very popular website covering Milwaukee entertainment, arts, food, and lifestyle. Although they don’t do “hard news,” they asked me to write a blog about whatever I wanted, which at the time was largely on political topics. I knew I had been asked to blog based on my particular mix of personal identities. I had come out as a lesbian a half year before; I was an elected official, one of few Latinos ever elected to public office in Wisconsin; I was an artsy and political mom of a multiracial gaggle of teens in one of the country’s most segregated cities. To wit, the editors knew I had a lot of material to draw from!
The OnMilwaukee blog ran for about a year and the results were a series of reflections on life and the news, viewed through a political lens and colored with liberal doses of snarkiness or tenderheartedness, sometimes a mix of both.
So, my first blog was written by my political avatar. Politics was something that found me; I wasn’t looking for it, but I care deeply and speak well, so I got dragged in. I’ve spent the five years since that first blog struggling to get to my true self as a writer. It’s been a painful fight and I’ve lost a lot of things: a partner, a business, another electoral campaign, money, time. My current blog, at www.moraleswrites.com, is about that struggle: How do I accept that I’m a writer and an artist—not a politician, not a businessperson, not a public figure—and make a life of that? I started it in the summer of 2012, after an excruciatingly bitter electoral loss, as part of a refocusing of my life.
I read mainly (sigh) political blogs, including Urban Milwaukee locally, and many LGBT and Christian blogs nationally. You know, the reading list you’d expect from a queer Sunday School teacher with an interest in urban planning.
Sarah: How does writing for your blog posts interact with other writing you do? Does it give you new ideas? Does it tap into the same well that poetry does, or some different energy?
Margaret: Often when I start a post, I have no idea where it will go, how it will end. So, yes it does sometimes give birth to new ideas. It is also a way of testing them, to see what they sound like, how the words come together, if any insight arises. It is also another way of working on the craft, not just for its own sake, but for the sake of the reason I write, which is stated on the cover page.
This is one space where I try to let the creative energy run a bit freely. I suppose for that reason, poems sometimes surface from these posts. I write about ecological threat a lot as part of my other work, along with the looming end of the “American Dream,” so many of the poems that surface reflect those themes. A recent example, “2012: At the End of the World.”
Did you think it would last forever?
This clever life?
Your beautiful life?
Not a happy poem, reflecting on how we are:
unable to hold what we know
and choose not to know
The Newton massacre is in there, too.
Shorter answer to this question – yes, it taps into the same well as the poetry.
Peggy: Very different answer on this point from me. At this last turn of the year to 2013, I felt fatigued, asked if the prose were absorbing energy I'd otherwise have for poetry, wondered if I should continue. I haven't settled into an answer on that point. On the one hand, the blog keeps me writing. It gives me space to write about topics that I wouldn't write on in poetry, but sometimes after concentrating on the blog, I fear I don't remember how to write a poem.
Lisa: The daily/weekly discipline of the Poem of the Week blog helped me take ownership of being a poet. The opportunity to write for BAP and Stoneboat have helped me find my prose voice as well, and I have been working for about a year now on a memoir. It is very free-wheeling at this point, and I don't have any particular goal, other than, once again, for the writing to serve as some kind of record of my experience, which might then bring forward some sort of universally "helpful" awarenesses for other women, mothers, struggling artists...anyone who is stuck in that place of self-doubt that does not allow a person (a woman) to move forward with her expression. When I sit down to write a poem, it is much more as though I am opening a gift that has been given to me. I tune in, and I try to get the lid off the box in one piece so I can show the gift to everyone else. Margaret, I could really relate to what you said when you wrote this: "but poems beginning to write themselves, or appearing. It was as if a well had opened and the water came up when it felt like it." I know this feeling very well.
With blogging, I think it is more like "I know (more or less) what I want to share" and I'm going to sit down and share this little tidbit with my mythical reader. I get into the mindset of when I write an email to a dear friend, I write the post TO someone, albeit a hypothetical someone. I have learned over the years that with my prose, I do my best writing if I imagine I am communicating with ONE person. SomeONE. As that process unfolds, even though I thought I knew what I wanted to share at the beginning of the communication, I can't tell you how many times I have started out in one direction and found myself taking a surprising turn. I have come to feel the same as Margaret on this, when she said, "Often when I start a post, I have no idea where it will go, how it will end."
I think it is a matter of being open to one's own mind and thought process and taking a stroll with the reader.
Poems, I don't know. They seem different to me. I want to think about this some more. Making a poem is like making a very eloquent and poignant photograph or sculpture. You have to craft it. A blog post is like talking on the telephone. You say what you want to say and you might say a bunch of things you didn't know you were going to say, and then, you are done.
Jennifer: Generally speaking, I post once a week on Monday mornings. I aim for about 500 words and the topic can be anything that’s consuming me right now, often the first thing I think of when I wake up. I do it as a writer’s discipline, a commitment to start the workweek with writing, regardless of what else is on my to-do list for the week. Writing quite literally comes first.
My obsessions are my obsessions; I’m exploring them no matter what I’m doing — cooking dinner, walking around the neighborhood, teaching. The blog has become a way to use the particular liberties of prose to explore those obsessions and, yes, they do often emerge in poetry soon after.
Sarah: Do you find that blogging puts you in direct touch with an audience of specific readers, or is it another way of casting words out into the universe?
Margaret: The latter. I still need to construct more of that specific audience. Every blog is sent out into the universe with literally hundreds of millions of others. It isn’t enough to set one up and post some words. Some labor-intensive work is required to draw an audience. It takes time to create the community. I look forward to finding some of that time this year.
Peggy: Because I blog on the Benu Press website, I don't have access to the number of readers of a posting or to information about where they come from. Le Roy Chappell (Benu publisher) told me once I have 93 regular followers, but I have little sense of that. Two or three people have contacted me separately from the blog, so I know there are at least a few.
But most of the time I feel like I'm writing to and for myself. So sometimes I find things pop into a draft of a blog that I wonder about: do I really believe that, and do I believe it to the extent I seem to as I've written it? But I go ahead and post it anyway, having this feeling that I'm just talking to myself anyway.
I let the self-censor go to work a little more when I'm doing a blog exchange with other bloggers or when I know I'll share a link to that blog post on Facebook where I have more sense of audience.
Lisa: At this point, it is more of the "casting into the universe" approach. I write as though there is someone reading, but I don't have much proof of that, nor does it exactly matter. It just helps me write "better" and more clearly when I remember that I want someone to comprehend, gestalt, and god forbid, be moved by what have I say.
Jennifer: The only promotion of my blog that I currently do is to post the link on Facebook as soon as I’m done. Sometimes I’ll send an email to a particular person if I think the topic is of deep interest to them. I have some regular readers who send me comments and share the posts, but I don’t think my readership is very large right now. I’d like it to be larger and will be working with a consultant this spring to make my blog more accessible and prominent. This will be especially important as a way to have a conversation with readers once my books are published.
For now, I know that my mom and my big sister are my most devoted readers. It’s an opportunity for them to get inside my hard, introvert's skull!
By the way, Margaret's responses made me think of this poem I wrote this summer, what felt like a cataclysmic season as I observed the effects of climate change and my relationship was also falling apart:
I spoke of the end of the world, and
you didn’t say “No.”
You said, “When,” and, “What do we need.”
You knew why.
I was thinking you wouldn’t want to discuss
that the lakes will boil and the corn will fall to dust
from still-earnest stalks.
That the loon in his dark robe will prosecute us, judge,
while deerfly jurists bite our heads
pressed down on the rock-riddled shore,
forcing us to confess, “Yes.”
If you can stand the accusation,
the oaks’ diatribe,
condemnation of both hawk and moth,
I will sit with you
and hold your shackled hand.
I was meant to be there,
by you, awaiting forgiveness.
Lisa: Wow, powerful poem, Jennifer. Thank you!
Peggy: Powerful poem, Jennifer! In the blog posting I read, you talked about some of these same things, especially the break-up with your partner, also in a powerful way. I can see your topics in the two forms overlap. Still I wonder about how you shift or glide into the more metaphoric approach.
Jennifer: Thanks for the praise for the poem, all. I think about the end of the world a lot these days. I'm sure the subject will reemerge many times.
I have given myself explicit permission to enter any register I want on my blog. My previous blogging (at OnMilwaukee.com and occasionally a guest post elsewhere) used language that was passionate, descriptive, playful, and sometimes funny, but almost never metaphoric or poetic. I knew that, coming off a life of politics and amidst whatever expectations readers would have that my blog cover political topics, I would have to make a conscious decision to keep this blog centered around writing and art. I knew also that I would have to pointedly tell Jennifer the public speaker to shut up. Although in my blog I am speaking to the public, I'm doing it in my poet-performer's voice, not my activist-elected-official voice.
The post you refer to, Peggy, about my breakup, is a good example of the free range I've given myself here. I start out talking about the end of the relationship but then move into a metaphorical examination of what went wrong by telling a story about an audience member at my most recent performance art show. I didn't try to knock the reader over the head and say, "Hey, now I'm going to make a connection between Map Store Guy and how things went bad with my ex. Are you following me?" the way I might have if I were strictly committed to staying in a typical blog-prose register. I'm allowing myself to experiment. That's one of the few posts so far where I've gotten no comments via any means, by the way, so I'm not sure how well the experiment went!
Peggy: Now that I see none of you try to post every day, that gives me a clue as to why blogging sometimes seems to exhaust me. I've been trying to make it a part of my every day writing practice, and while sometimes three or four days pass without my blogging, more often than not, I do post every day, sometimes just a couple of sentences, sometimes more.
About length of postings, Jennifer, you mentioned thinking in terms of 500 words. What about length for yours, Margaret? And Lisa, do you try to keep the poems you post fairly short?
I like what you say, Margaret, about learning from or getting enriched by the blogs you read. I find that in some ways reading other blogs is like going to a conference without the travel expense
Lisa, please talk a little about the Stoneboat blog. Do you think the blog is at least part of the reason your Stoneboat in-box overflows with submissions?
Lisa: I think the reason the Stoneboat inbox is overflowing with submissions is because we are on Duotrope. As soon as we joined that, we were inundated by submissions. I do think some of our contributors look at the blog, though. We also send new posts to the Facebook page to remind our group that a new post is up. Here is the SB blog address: http://stoneboatwi.blogspot.com/.
Sarah: Thank you for sharing your poem, Jennifer, and also, Margaret, you shared excerpts of poetry. I'd like to encourage everyone to feel free to include poems in the conversation as they fit.
I'm interested in how you all see blogging in relation to the traditional writer's practice of journaling. I keep a journal—it feels these days like the true heart of my own writing practice, with poems being a lucky and occasional by-product. I try to write three pages a day, in the mornings, as a way of keeping faith with my writer-self, however many directions I may feel pulled in. I know Margaret referenced the open-ended nature of her blog as a way to explore, and Lisa you mentioned that your blog entries feel like a casual phone call—but that the BAP practice of blogging daily for a wider audience also helped you find your voice (an important function of the journal practice). Margaret, you talked about your blog in terms that remind me of journaling, "letting energy run freely" and Jennifer mentions writing first thing on Mondays as a way of checking in... So how about it? Is a blog another sort of journal? Is there a benefit to blogging OVER journaling? Do any of you also (more privately) journal?
And that brings in the idea of privacy. While it seems you all have as yet small and mostly unknown readerships, a blog is not private. Is there something about the public nature of a blog that taps into your writing, or shapes it, differently from a private piece? I know my poems need long gestation before I allow anyone to see or hear them—and my journal entries are what they are, fragmented, repetitive, mostly boring and occasionally small scraps of interest, because I know they are private. So what do you see as the benefit of a public platform?
As you think about that, I would be interested also about how your blog interacts (Jennifer hinted at this already) with other social media. Are you on Facebook? Twitter? Tumblr or Pintrest? I don't even know exactly what all of these are (I admit I am a slow adapter)—but I wonder how you all use social media, email (Lisa do you still send to your email list, or do you only maintain the blog now?) and other ways of building virtual community.
All of you are engaged in so many different ways, both in writing various kinds of things but also just volunteer and professional work of various kinds. Do you see a blog as a way to focus? As a way to reflect multiple interests? Does a blog provide any sort of mirror to the multi-faceted self, or are you careful to keep only one face turned to the scrolling words? Margaret, you have two blogs—do they bleed together for you or is it easy to keep them separate?
What about in the non-virtual world—it sounds like you all have support in writing communities and family/friendship circles for your lives as writers. How does the "real" world interact with the virtual world for you, as a writer?
It's interesting to me that in this response you separate the "poet-performer" from the "activist" Jennifer—this seems very different from Peggy's work as poet and her vision for what poetry might do and be, as she's written about it for VW: http://www.versewisconsin.org/Issue110/prose/rozga.html
Which parts of ourselves do we put into these blogs, and which sides do we keep out...and why?
Jennifer: Good question, Sarah. I'm an activist by nature, but I'm taking some time now to reconsider if writing and performing can form the bulk of my activism. Here's a snippet of my inaugural post on this new blog ("On Becoming Practical," 30 Jul 2012):
I’ve been resisting being a writer for 30 years, because it always seemed such an impractical enterprise. Words? You’re going to change the world with words? I have fought a lot of fights—ran for office, barricaded doors, given lectures, organized marches, outwitted corporate lawyers, advised minor neighborhood insurrections—all trying to change the world in ways I wasn’t best-suited for. The work I’m cut out for is writing, performing, and teaching.
It’s not that those fights aren’t critical, it’s just that I’ve been coming to the fights with the wrong tools in hand. It’s time for me to radically change my approach. I hope my writing and performing advance the work of my com(p)adres organizing for a sustainable, just society. And believe me, I’ll still show up when the antibiotic-laced factory-farm slurry hits the fan. I often joke with a longtime friend of mine—a friend I’ve butted heads and hearts with more’n a little bit over the years—that we may disagree in the short term about when to take action and what to do, but when the revolution comes, she knows she’ll see me there on the front lines.
This has been a year of big self-discovery for me. I’ve come to realize I probably shouldn’t be serving on your organization’s board. I shouldn’t be volunteering to help you galvanize support for your issue. I don’t have the emotional or financial resources to attend your political party banquet. I definitely shouldn’t be spending time organizing any rallies. So I won’t. I should be writing. It’s impractical for me to try to do anything else.
I’m going to be writing for now, as much as I can. Let me know when they come for the kids or the water, though, give me a sec to grab a rock or something, and I’ll see you on the ramparts.
In this sense, the blog is actually a form of weekly reinforcement of my commitment to find out what it's like to live as a writer, rather than an activist.
Lisa: The conversation is getting really interesting. I thought this comment of Jennifer's was fascinating, that she felt held back from her true nature because of the impracticality of writing:
I’ve been resisting being a writer for 30 years, because it always seemed such an impractical enterprise. Words? You’re going to change the world with words?
I guess I would say, in answer, what else but words? I mean, we need actions too, of course. However, education, inspiration, persuasion, and the art of raising consciousness all begin with words. I guess it is how we use them, what form we choose, and who we think is our audience. The difference between making an argument as a lawyer or writing a manifesto as an activist or writing a poem as an artist...well, they could all take you to the same place eventually. Just by a very different road.
Maybe the art of the blog is that it can be so free-wheeling. It can make a point, it can draw on metaphor, it can be a random musing. It does not have to have a beginning, middle and end necessarily. It does not have to follow any certain form. It is a ramble. But, it is different (for me) than journaling. I do keep an intermittent journal and my journal is so boring. I mostly say the same thing over and over about what is bothering me at that moment (usually it has something to do with relationships, just like when I was in 7th grade). Blogging is personal, but the good blog posts seem always to expand to the universal. This is similar to the way a poignant poem takes something small, personal, and intimate and shows how it fits into a grander scheme that others can also feel and relate to.
In answer to a few other specific questions that came up: Yes, I still send each "Poem of the Month" out to my mailing list first and then I post it on the blog "for the record." I have maybe 8 followers and I don't know who they are. That blog is really not a blog at all. It is a repository of my poems!
When I have blogged for Stoneboat or for BAP, yes, I have then shared the posts on Facebook. But, I don't do a lot with social media. Like you, Sarah, I am a "slow adapter."
I think when I did the BAP blog, it helped me find my "public-personal voice" because I knew I was talking to readers out there who would expect something interesting, quirky, and personal (yet universal). I wanted to appear intelligent and thoughtful. So, if a person is trying to work on their writer's voice, then I would say that blogging is definitely "better" than journaling. In a journal, it is too easy to just devolve into complaining. For me. When I first started writing a journal as a young girl, I imagined that someday, my journals would be published, like Anaïs Nin. I think as long as you assume a reader, the writing is always better. Whether that reader ever shows up or not is another question entirely!
In answer to Peggy's question: my poems just tend to be "short" anyway, so I don't aim to be short with them for the blog. But, when I wrote for BAP and when I write for Stoneboat, I try to be short. Shorter is better than too long because people have too much to read as it is. I like Jennifer's word count of 500. That seems about right. Long enough to develop an idea, but not too long.
Margaret: The comparison to journaling. I have journaled off and on most of my life, have piles of them. During the writing of the memoir, that has fallen off, which I find interesting. The difference between journaling and blogging is absolutely about the privacy factor. I journal to explore and give expression to the deepest "innards" of my life. That is not for public consumption, but it sure gave birth to some of the best material in the memoir.
When I blog, I am always aware that there is a "public," small though it may be. I am actually addressing that world "out there." I am desiring to communicate. What I find helpful in doing this exercise is that it helps me focus on exactly that longing of any writer—to be able to communicate what I am feeling, thinking, "angst-ing" about with others. And I want anyone who reads it to know how seriously I take writing!
I am on Facebook—a lot—and have a "community" there. It keeps growing (like my new connections with the Kaleka brothers from the Sikh temple in Oak Creek). I always post links to the blog posts and sometimes "friends" share them out to their friends. That is probably my largest "reach", though I have no way of knowing what that means.
I don't think my two blogs "bleed" together as I am very conscious of what separates them. That said, my writers blog is bound to address some of the same cultural questions I am asking on the ecology blog. But I imagine different audiences, even though I am aware that they intersect. In both "realms," however," I am preoccupied with this sense that the culture is reaching a critical tipping point, facing an abyss, outcome uncertain. What do writers have to contribute to the articulation of that tipping point? How do we express it?
Because I believe our human predicament to be unprecedented and often beyond our rational longings for solution, creative writing is for me a crucial aspect of our cultural work, and poetry especially crucial—because it is not logical or rational, because it can bring impasse to the rational mind, open wells, or trapdoors, or visions. It can bring us back to awareness, snap us out of the mesmerizing delusions of a consumer culture, an economic growth culture on its way to collapse.
For me the virtual world is not separate from the real world. I know that separation happens for a lot of people. But I always believe, whether I am on Facebook or LinkedIn or blogging, that there are real human beings on the other end of these essays and I want so much to connect with them. What has surprised me is that on Facebook that has sometimes actually happened. I have actually expanded my "community," found real people searching and struggling along a common path, people I have never seen in person with whom I am able to share these deeper cultural searches and questions.
The blogging world and Facebook world is not as "virtual" as I once thought it to be. There are real flesh and blood people out there seeking connection.
Jennifer, in response to this particular post, I don't think I would bother writing if I didn't think it could contribute to changing the world. Because writers have changed me, have actually altered how I view the world, I know what this can mean. Just one example, Alicia Ostriker's "Volcano Sequence." Haven't been the same since.
I know friends of her, and because of that, I have met her, talked poetry with her, and marched with her in the streets of DC against the war in Iraq. When a writer makes a commitment like that, to a way of being in the world, the impact can be quite extraordinary.
I, too, was deeply engaged in more activist work for many years. Even then, I remember how important writers were to the work of activism, what it meant to have a poet show up, for example (like Alicia Partnoy, an amazing human being and poet, and a friend who taught me so much). I am also aware of the debate in the poetry world about this very thing—whether poetry ought to remain detached and "pure" from these things. I believe in writing for its own sake. That's fine. But given the times... I think of Arundati Roy who gave up writing fiction because of the urgency of the times.
I think of Wendall Berry, of Whitman, Elliot, Ostriker—how they take our world apart and make us see things in a new way.
What blogging does for me is give me a "space" to vent and explore, test what I'm thinking, how I see this world, and what it means to be a writer in it.
Words can change the world. There are too many of them in the background noise of our culture, and maybe that's why poetry is making such comeback and impact right now.
Lisa: Margaret, you talked about how amazing it is to realize that friends you have connected with on Facebook, who start out as seemingly "virtual" become "real." I just had that experience recently when I got to meet my FB friends, Michael Rothenberg and Terri Carrion, who are the founders of 100 Thousand Poets for Change. (By the way, this is a group that I would like you all to know about, as they are dedicated to the power of words, and poetry in particular, to change the world.) Anyway, they left their home in Santa Rosa, CA earlier this fall and along the way, they were meeting up with poets in their communities who were part of the movement and who were all working on bringing forth change. I met up with them by coincidence down in Florida about a week ago. They were visiting Terri's mom and I was helping my dad who is very sick and is now with me in Sheboygan. I digress. Check out the blog post I wrote for them, and scroll down to read about many other poets they met and adventures they had along the way. Especially moving: the entry about Damali, the woman from Jamaica (her post is on Jan. 1)
Please check it out to see how the rapidly the virtual is becoming the real...
Jennifer: Good morning and thanks for the great conversation.
I absolutely believe that words can change the world. But because I was raised by a bookkeeper and an autobody worker, I was raised to believe that writing as a career was foolhardy, irresponsible even. Electoral politics gave me a way to turn my activism into a "responsible" career, but I did it in order to bury my writer self, to use up all the time I had in trying to change the world through meetings and organizing and protest. That's the struggle I was talking about in my blog excerpt above. It's a variation on the common one for writers: Do I take the job at XYZ Corporation to pay the bills, or do I claim myself as a poet and accept the consequences?
In my case, I was able to finally notice that I was intentionally using my activism and my paid work to smother my writer self. There just wasn't any time left to do the work of a writer after I got done barricading the doors at the state capitol or attending meetings. And the world reinforces that imbalance. I've gotten a lot of props for my political/activist work. It's highly visible and seems useful. It looks like it's changing things in concrete ways—the cops didn't get through the door; the school board resolution got passed; we have a new funding stream for arts education, etc. Poetry may be changing things, but one rarely gets a moment where I see it and I know everyone else sees it.
My blog sometimes has a defiant tone because of this. I'm using it to carve out space and say, "I'm accepting this role. Give me credit for the work I'm doing, even if it's quiet and nearly invisible. What I'm doing is important." It's a terrifying thing to say, so I have to say it in "print" in "public" to make myself live it out.
Sarah: Jennifer, thanks for sharing a little more of your story and background. I think I have a better understanding of where you're coming from and what you mean when you talk about "activism" and "writing" as different—and needing to clear space quite actively for yourself to live into your writing life. On some level, I think most (women) writers feel a need to almost violently clear space and defend it—family, community, household chores...everyone wants a piece of our time and to claim that we need an empty hour or three takes a lot of spine. Do others feel this, or is it only me? And does blogging make it easier to define yourself as a writer? Does it help to have some clear, finished outcome to point to, on a weekly or daily basis?
I want to push this idea of virtual and real a little more. Granted, Margaret, that there are real people on the other end of every social media interaction—reading our blogs, posting, re-posting on Facebook. I too have made some very good friends on Facebook, real connections... but I'm struck that some of you started blogging because you had met people at conferences, or knew people in your community.
Maybe that's the word I'm looking for, to tease these issues out: community. What role does blogging play in building or supporting community—Lisa, I think of your Stoneboat experience here—and what needs might blogging meet for writers, who so desperately need community (as much as we need self-time to write, we surely need a like-minded group to support, critique, and push us forward). Do any of you feel a need to have face time as well as screen time with others? Does one take the place of the other? Are they blending together, as Margaret suggested? Do we still need physical locations to gather? An important question as bookstores disappear and libraries are under tremendous pressure and lack of funds.
Peggy: Sarah, with your question, "does blogging make it easier to define yourself as a writer?" a light bulb went on for me. A major spotlight, in fact.
Yes, it does. That is exactly why I think I decided to continue blogging at least one more year. When I retired as a professor a year ago, I found I needed to say, "I didn't retire. I got a new job. I get up every morning and go to work, and my work is writing." That helps me deal with the loss of professional identity and fend off requests for my time that I've so longed for, time to write. (And, yes, I think most writers, especially perhaps women, feel starved for time whatever the other factors in their lives.)
Every morning when I'm home, I first do my journal entries. I've devised a journaling practice I call 13 Ways, picking up on the title of the Wendy Bishop book (13 Ways of Looking for a Poem) that I used when teaching poetry writing, and that Wendy Bishop got from Wallace Stevens, "13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird." It is really an observation practice.
Writers are seers, and I mean that in a very literal, down-to-earth sort of way. So I don't record the ups and downs of my emotional life; I don't introspect. I look outward—the woman walking her dog (kind of dog, kind of walk), the children waiting for their school bus, the color of the sky and shape of the clouds, the passion in the voice of the speaker at last night's rally, the wording on a picket sign, all the words I can think of with long A vowel sounds.....whatever is around me.
As soon as I'm done with one observation, I write down a new number for a new item or a new aspect of the item I was looking at. No length requirement for any one item, not even a requirement to write a whole sentence, but overall I go for filling up at least one page.
Sometimes what happens is that by the time I get to observation six or seven, I see a poem or blog idea beginning. ("Butterfly Song," a poem published in Verse Wisconsin online this fall began this way). Or sometimes I feel I've noticed everything out there but I still have the 13th item to do, and then when I finally see some 13th thing, it unfolds and I can't stop writing. (but I always make myself take a break every hour or so, sometimes setting the timer on my stove).
At any rate, I'm not frustrated if these entries don't turn into poems. Not every day is game day, but I want to be ready for game day. So it's my journal that's random and all over the place. And usually this writing takes about a half hour.
If the journaling hasn't suggested a poem, then the next item in my in-box on this new job is my blog. The blog ideas often define themselves as I do the 13 ways journal.
I try to keep blog postings to three paragraphs or less. Some are only a couple of sentences. If I hit on a topic that keeps expanding, I divide the blog up into multiple entries. Most of the time I work ahead on blog entries. I like to develop threads in my blogging. For example, I once had a series of 4 or 5 consecutive entries on revising.
Working ahead also give me a chance to re-read before posting. As I said before, I sometimes post entries without softening or re-thinking an opinion, but I often rearrange and reword so that the posting has a catchier beginning and overall livelier tone. Yes, I want to do what I can to interest readers.
Sometimes poets I've met at conferences will suggest we post each others' blogs, and having done a little of that has helped me get some sense of audience, and a sense of community.
Jennifer: Peggy ... Minus your greeting and closing, you just broke your observations about your writing into 13 segments. Funny. That number must be seared on your brain!
Peggy: LOL! I didn’t even notice!
I see where you're coming from, Jennifer, in what you say above. I find I like to write about blocking the door or the flow or blockage of discussion at a meeting, but I very much identify especially with what you say in your last paragraph above. So beautifully said.
And I wonder if your having been identified as a Latina lesbian political figure is/was a factor in your thinking through these questions.
Margaret: Yes, using blogging to establish who one is as a writer—I think I do this as much for myself as for the world "out there." I have only a moment now, have to go out, but just wanted to share today's post. Racism is a theme running through much of my thought and feelings these days. In Barbara Miner's op-ed in Crossroads on Sunday, she used the term "hypersegregation," which really stuck with me, and then kept me awake in the early hours of the morning. So I sat in the dark with my coffee trying to wrestle with it, and then with what surfaced. http://milwaukeereflections.blogspot.com/2013/01/racism-on-my-mind.html
Poetry is not all I write about on my blog. I write about writing, and how the writing comes to me happens in many different ways.
Jennifer: I remember when my children were little and I was a stay-at-home mom, I insisted after a couple of years that my then-husband pay for the kids to go to daycare for two mornings a week so I could write. At the time, sticking to this demand until he gave in was one of the boldest things I'd ever done on behalf of my writing. My kids are nearly out of the house now (the last one's a senior in high school), so carving time out from them is less of an issue than from everything else (paid work, church, social life, housework, etc.). I was raised to keep a house extremely clean and I've let up considerably on the standards my mother set in order to make room for my creative life. I'm good now at allowing myself to write even if there's a stack of dirty dishes in the kitchen. It helps that I don't ever write in the kitchen!
The blog itself doesn't help me define myself as a writer, except in the vague sense that it's a sample of my writing that potential writing or editing clients could read. In many ways, I think that the blog is a better introduction to me as a person and to my particular voice than to the kinds of work I can do for my clients. The blog is getting up into that metaphorical register pretty often these days and I have to hope my potential clients know I can still write starchy business copy with the best of them.
Blogs are a great way for me to keep up with my fellow writers from the Antioch MFA program. Several members of my graduating cohort have blogs and the virtual network helps me stay in touch with their work, what topics they're mulling over, and what they've had published. Our cohort—the Carnelians (all the Antioch MFA cohorts are named after stones or colors or birds, that's how you know you're attending school in California)—is rather tight-knit and we use Facebook and blogs to celebrate each other's work all the time. We promote each other's books and other publications, publicize each other's performances, and share links to each other's websites. All that said, I still need to see my "Carnies" in person. A bunch of us met up at AWP last year, for example. And I have a local, in-person writing group that I rely on heavily for feedback and moral support as a writer.
Peggy: Now that we are in touch with each other and know about each other's blogs, I wonder if we could do some sharing? I'd love to have each of you to be a guest blogger on my blog for-words, perhaps writing on a topic you've already addressed in these emails. And, Lisa, I'd welcome the chance to post one of your poems, since that is what you usually do. What I usually do when I have a guest blogger is use the day before to introduce the upcoming guest, naming the guest as "Poet of the Day."
Or we could do the sharing on a larger scale. That is, on a given day, we could all post the same piece from, say, Margaret. Then on another day, all post the same piece by Jennifer, and so on. We all seem to have expressed the desire to increase our blogging audience. Maybe this would help.
Margaret: One answer to the issue of time is to really strip life down to the basics, and to change expectations—a lot. Last year I really got down to the memoir-writing—at the sacrifice of my project that is sponsored by a non-profit which requires me to do fundraising, as well as speaking and workshops. All of that suffered for the sake of the first draft.
So my balance needs revolve around the energy required to move in both of these directions, one that with a lot of work and initiative pays the bills, the other that requires a lot of work but, well, doesn't pay the bills (yet). There's no regular rhythm to life, everything must be created out of my initiative. And then to live as simply as possible while I do this. That more than anything is what frees up the time. It also makes things interesting.
Now the thing about doing a blog is that it provides a space for me to explore ideas as well as to share what concerns me, what I'm thinking about, as a writer. And it gives me a space to practice writing about those things. And then it gives me space to practice writing, to work on the craft itself. It's a form of thinking out loud, but with care for the expression, the way the thinking is communicated.
I desperately need a physical writing community, for all sorts of reasons. For feedback, critique, moral support, affirmation, connections, actual conversation, to feel less isolated, as writing can make one feel from time to time. It is such a solitary work yet one in search of connection.
I connect with the RedBird-RedOak writers community and participate in a wonderful critique group. That little circle means a lot to me! And those relationships open other doors to other communities and publications and events that support writers. I don't think of the blog as a replacement in any way for the real human contact.
I think writers have to be the foremost defenders of the "spaces" where we gather. We have to put some energy into this by supporting the spaces that exist. RBRO is part of that for me, as is attending events where my fellow writers read. I feel the need to do more of this, to show coffee houses, bookstores, etc., that there is a community base for these things.
Finally, I think the idea of sharing space on our blogs intriguing. I would want to think about how to make that purposeful, part of the mission of the blog itself (which in my case is written across the top of the page). It would be a creative way of supporting one another, and maybe getting other writers to think about blogging—into a blogging community.
But the caution is that this also takes time. I have often invited others to write for my project blog, and it's like pulling teeth.
Time—always that issue of time. I think our busy lives are killing us. Sometimes cultural work feels like pushing against the great weight of that. I don't know how to overcome it except by becoming less busy—which requires changing other aspects of our lives. And that returns me to the question of stripping down lifestyle and expectations, to simplicity, and to the need for community. It also means not believing we can do everything anymore. Anyway, I'm getting way too old for that belief.
Lisa: Since I don't have much of a readership on my poetry blog-that-is-not-really-a-blog, I could see if 1. Stoneboat blog would like to entertain some guest bloggers at some point or 2. query Stacey Harwood and ask if she would be interested in posting an entry from Sarah that mirrors what you are going to write for VW (kind of a "reprint" of what you are working on for VW, Sarah.) Stacey has done this in the past where I sent her an isolated idea and she posted it.
Sarah: We’re all ducking in and out of the conversation as we need to, and that’s fine. One of the benefits of holding a conversation virtually (as opposed to, say, meeting for coffee every Tuesday at 10 or something) is that we can come out and in as and when it works for us. Much greater flexibility. And flexibility is a keyword for so many of us.
We have a lot of issues and questions on the table, but I'd like to add in a couple more and take us back (since this is going to be published in our "Women and Publishing" issue) to specifically focus on questions of gender. Realizing that none of us can, or should try, to speak for "women," yet each of us can speak out of her own experience as a woman, here are some questions to ponder—
We've mentioned a lot of bloggers, many, almost all, of them women. In your experience, is there something about a personal blog that is attractive to women, specifically? Are we more likely to blog than to, say, start an online zine on our own? Do we as women use blogs in particular ways? What sort of virtual "space" does a blog create and does it feel like space that we are familiar with?
We've all heard, I'm sure, the complaints from editors that women don't submit as much, or as frequently, as men. The follow up is almost always to chastise women and say that we should be more like the men...a conclusion that has always sounded a little "off" to me. Perhaps that's another conversation entirely... But—is a blog a "safe" space? Does it offer an intimacy of sorts?
Is there anything to say about this topic that is relevant to gender, or is that stretching it too far or falsely? I have to say, reading over what I've written here, that even the need for "flexibility" and the quest for "balance" that Margaret mentioned before—these are issues that women are very concerned with, it seems to me. So maybe my questions are worth asking.
Peggy: Most of the men who blog that I can think of, blog on a much higher profile—for Slate or the Huffington Post or NY TImes. One of the other bloggers on my publisher's website is a man, but he's much younger, and our interests seem at least partially age-related. Then, too, I wonder if I gravitate toward blogs of people I'm friends with or those I meet at conferences, and those are women.
On a different note, congratulations to Jennifer on the success of her poetry students' opening night event at the Gallery@Large in Milwaukee. These young students took on some serious topics, the Holocaust and civil rights, and seemed to zero right in the emotional heart of their topics.
Jennifer: Thanks for the kind words about the students, Peggy. I wrote a blog post (!) this morning about the experience: http://www.moraleswrites.com/blog.php?s=the-writer-and-the-bullies
In answer to Sarah’s questions: my current blog feels mostly like a space for conversation with people I know. Like today, I wrote about teaching writing and so a teacher friend and a freelance writer friend were the first to comment, via Facebook. The comments function on my current blog is not very robust and also requires my approval before any messages appear on the page, so it's common for my readers to comment on my blog in other ways. In that sense, my blog is very much a safe space—and gendered, too. It seems like most of my readers are women.
My experience blogging on more popular sites—such as my time at OnMilwaukee.com—did not feel particularly "safe." That's not the fault of the host; I think it's just the nature of the internet beast. I was subject to hostile comments, as many bloggers are, with much of the hostility targeting me as an out gay woman, a Latina, and as a progressive elected official. The internet gives bullies an anonymity that allows them to vent their animosity as they please. I think women in general are raised to be more sensitive to personal criticism and more fearful of public rebuke, and the blogosphere dishes out both in spades. It feels risky and it is risky. When I agreed to write that guest blog, I had to consciously acknowledge that I was going to be attacked and I had to choose to be OK with it. Electoral politics was really good training for blogging in this way—it thickened up my skin.
Margaret: Just these additional thoughts on blogging. I started my project blog (ecologicalhope.org) to communicate that work out into the community, to help define the project, its intentions and priorities. It's something I can point people to who want to know what that work is. It is also a "writing" project, helps me collect and disseminate some of the crucial info and thoughts on our ecological crisis and how we can respond to it from the core of our beings, what gives shape to meaning and ethics.
I started the writing blog because I wanted to have a place to share what I'm writing about, what matters to me, what shapes the personal universe, if you will, out of which I write. I am a woman, I am gay, I have been an activist much of my life, I have written as part of my work all my life, and now I am overwhelmed by the socio/cultural/ecological realities that threaten to swallow us all—and I write out of that being-overwhelmed, being deeply troubled by a culture that does not want to SEE how much trouble it's in. The whole point is to connect and communicate. The writers blog is not where I intend to connect with the whole big world "out there," but in a smaller space, a kind of virtual "salon," where I can share my concerns as a writer within that space.
I don't really have an answer to the question of whether women and men blog differently, or with different motivations. I do know that I appreciate the small community around my blog where I can share thoughts and reflections on my writing. I'm thinking out loud there, letting ideas develop. I continue to write out of my own journey of self-discovery, a journey that I imagine never ends, because life would be boring if it did. The blog helps me develop my thoughts and ideas, and the ways to express them, to connect the writing to what concerns me about my world, my culture and society.
Lisa: Regarding men, women, and blogging: I'm not sure there would be any distinction to be made along gender lines. I think a blogger, male or female, is one who truly wants to express their musings on whatever topic to this unnamed audience that is out there. The interesting thing about blogging is that the writer can receive the gift of immediate and heartfelt feedback through a comment that would not be the case if one simply wrote a letter to the editor, for example. Paradoxically, the online nature of the endeavor has the potential to make the conversation oddly intimate. Two people who would otherwise never meet or discuss something can have an exchange. Facebook offers this as well, but in a more abbreviated manner, I think.
Jennifer: A final thought from me about the value of the poet's blog that we haven't touched on yet:
Although I haven't posted any of my own poems on my blog, the relative security of it is one reason why I started the blog. Our discussion here for Verse Wisconsin has inspired me to take the leap and use my blog to share my poetry.
Lisa: Jennifer's email reminds me of something:
Remember the moment nearly three years ago now, when there was a question about VW accepting one of my poems because I had put it on my blog previous to submitting it to the journal? To me, my posting of my own poem did not constitute publication. To me, this was standing in the town square reading my poem to the few passersby who happened to be listening. At first, you and Wendy had thought you could not accept the particular poem, but after some very good discussion between us, you guys came up with a great solution. When the poem was published in VW, I removed it from my blog and linked to the poem in VW. Not like I have so many readers, but the idea being that the linking could potentially bring more readers to both sites...
I just wanted to remind you of that moment and how pleased I was that you found a really logical and mutually beneficial solution to that particular dilemma.
I have always wondered if other writers later made use of this same system? Surely I am not the only poet who has had occasion to utilize this option?
Sarah: Yes, I do remember that conversation, Lisa. Many poets have used this same option very gratefully, and they are all happy that we have a clearly thought-out policy on the issue. Plus, as you say, we all feel like we’re (potentially) connecting with new communities. So, thank you for giving us the opportunity to think it through.
Jennifer: That's a good outcome, Lisa, and a great metaphor ("standing in the town square reading my poem to the few passersby ..."). I'm on the board of the Council for Wisconsin Writers and we debate all the time about what "publication" really means in the internet age. As poetry journals and contests adapt to the new forms and meanings of publication, I hope they'll take the question of poet's personal blogs into consideration, too.
Peggy: I like your metaphor, too, Lisa. And about the sharing, just let me know if and when you'd like me to post on my blog a poem you're also going to be posting on yours. If I have a couple days notice, I'll post introductory comments beforehand to prepare for your appearance as POET OF THE DAY!
By the way, in case you didn't see it, Barbara Miner raised a question about why JSOnline has only one woman among their seven bloggers: http://www.jsonline.com/blogs/purple-wisconsin/189017481.html
Here's the question I raised in my Facebook response to Barbara Miner's taking the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to task for having only one woman among their seven bloggers:
How invisible do women blogging about poetry and/or politics feel they are?
In some ways, I feel like I've just begun to think about this question and that our emails have been a sort of "consciousness raising" time.
Lisa: I want to let you all know that the editors at Stoneboat would be pleased to host guest bloggers. I am copying my co-editors here to pull them into the conversation so they know what's up. Tomorrow, I will be writing a (brief) Stoneboat blog post that introduces all four of you (Peggy, Margaret, Jennifer, and Sarah) to let our readership know that sometime in the next several weeks, they may be hearing from each of you on a topic having to do with writing, community, change, daily life, WHATEVER.... To give this enterprise a context, I will also explain that the five of us have been in a conversation the past month under Sarah's guidance, and that Sarah is writing an article for VW on the topic of Women Poets, Publishing, and Blogging.
This segues into Peggy's request for a poem of mine to post on her blog. Peggy, if you are able to do this on short notice, here is the poem that will appear tomorrow on Lisa's Poem of the Week. It is in honor of all of us.
Some Facts about Poets
Poets do not grow on trees,
but they do tend to inhabit gardens.
Poets are not above the law,
but the law is of no concern to them.
Poets have a mission, which is,
They run like any other human, but
are known to sprout antlers and wings
when least expected. All poets began
as children, back before the dinosaurs.
They grew aware of sun and moon,
flying saucers, mud, and old age.
They never forget an ancient touch, taste,
or smell, but can’t tell you what was for lunch
yesterday. They are Einstein’s theory
of relativity in the flesh. They don’t
split infinitives, except under duress.
Their shirts are clean, unpressed.
When awake, they dream.
When asleep, they work.
Poets are just as rowdy or quiet
as the next guy. They love the world
and will tell you in every rhythm imaginable,
and ask no wage for their tinkering.
If you want to include a bio, Peggy, here you go:
The poems of Lisa Vihos have appeared in Big Muddy, The Camel Saloon, Red Cedar, Red Fez, Seems, Verse Wisconsin, and Wisconsin People and Ideas. Her most recent chapbook is The Accidental Present, published by Finishing Line Press. She is an associate editor for Stoneboat and an occasional guest blogger for The Best American Poetry. You can visit her poetry blog at http://lisapoemoftheweek.blogspot.com
Jennifer: Lisa, I love this poem—so many great lines but the one I love the best is "They never forget an ancient touch, taste,/or smell, but can’t tell you what was for lunch/yesterday."
It makes me think of a blog topic (and a poem to post or include a link to, if appropriate). I think I'd like to write about the value of MFA in Creative Writing programs, particularly low-residency ones. The poem is one I wrote in honor of my Antioch MFA cohort on our graduation and it's about how our hunt for the muse doesn't stop because we got the paper that says "master." We still have to look for her every day.
Here's a bio for me. Let me know if you want it cut down:
Jennifer Morales is a multi-genre writer, editor, and performance artist in Milwaukee, WI. Jennifer’s poem “Pillow / Book” is forthcoming in pixel and sound at KenningJournal.com. Earlier poetry has been published in Between the Heart and the Land/Entre el corazón y la tierra: Latina Poets in the Midwest and at Poetic Milwaukee. "Cross Reference," her poem about the bombing of Hiroshima, won an honorable mention in the 2010 National War Poetry Contest. She serves as a board member for the Council for Wisconsin Writers.
Peggy: I love your poem, too, Lisa, and I'll be happy to post it on my blog tomorrow, cross-reference your blog, and proclaim you POET OF THE DAY. And thank you for the bio. That'll be on my blog tomorrow as well. I'll follow up the next day(s) with more about you and about this project.
About your poem, I have to say I've so been feeling this lately—
"When awake, they dream.
When asleep, they work."
You requested a bio from each of us. Here's mine:
Margaret (Peggy) Rozga has published two books:Two Hundred Nights and One Day and Though I Haven’t Been to Baghdad. Her poems have appeared recently in Stoneboat, Verse Wisconsin, the Kerf, Nimrod, and as a Split This Rock poem of the Week. Her essay “Community Inclusive: A Poetics to Move Us Forward” was published in the Fall 2012 issue ofVerse Wisconsin and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
Margaret: I am surfacing from my book revisions to revisit all of you. This is all very inspiring! Lisa, I rewrote a bio for you. It may be too long, so edit at will:
Margaret Swedish is a writer/speaker, currently working on a project called, Spirituality and Ecological Hope. She has written two books, Like Grains of Wheat: A Spirituality of Solidarity, about the impact of the Central American solidarity movement on U.S. people of faith, and Living Beyond the ‘End of the World:’ A Spirituality of Hope, which describes the ecological crises unfolding in our times. She is currently working on a multi-generational memoir connecting her deep ancestral/immigrant roots in Wisconsin to the myth of the unsustainable American Dream. Relatively new to poetry, her first published poems appeared in Verse Wisconsin, Vol 110, October 2012. She also blogs about writing at, Swedish in Milwaukee: My Life as a Writer.
I have thoroughly enjoyed this exchange. If you have visited my writers blog, you have an idea of what I do—I write about writing in the context of social critique. I would be happy to have contributions from any of you. When this memoir is done, I will have more time to devote to the blog—and a whole host of other things.
Sarah: So we’re ending this conversation by agreeing to appear on each other’s blogs and sites, sharing poems, and opening up the conversation to further questions and, as Peggy says, consciousness raising. Well, as Rilke said, we must “live the questions.” And this conversation has certainly helped me to do that!
Thank you, all. I look forward to future conversations, whether in person or online!