A few fleeting thoughts on ephemerality, technologies, and poetry
Sometimes poets obtain a sort of immortality. Anonymous has written so many poems over the centuries, for instance. Okay, that’s not the best of examples. However, you probably know what I mean. How long ago did Sappho live? Shakespeare? Blake? Let me start again.
I’m not sure that I want to believe in an immortality of a writer of words, yet words live on. The songs of holy books, even if the (human) authors’ names faded to invisibility, continue to be sung. Ancient poems, usually translated into modern languages, continue to find readers. The words live. They live now in print. They used to be more ephemeral, perhaps, sung, recited, remembered, recited again.
Some years ago, I found three books at a used bookstore in Minneapolis, where I lived most of my life. Not at the bookstore, that is, I lived most of my adult life in Minneapolis. I found them scattered among several shelves, in the same general area, something to do with Judaism, Israel, and the Middle East.
To me, the titles of the three books, their subjects, tell a story. They are by different authors and different publishers, so I don’t think my “reading” of these three titles reflects the intention of the publishers. I simply found them at a bookstore, bought them, and still own them.
The opening section of the story is the book Judaism in Stone. It has photos and descriptions of archaeological sites, buildings, mosaics, all from the ancient period of the Jews. The next part of the story is Judaism in Art. While some of the art was sculptural and stone, much of the included artworks were paintings, and thus, more ephemeral than the stone remnants of Judaism described in the other book.
The story ends, in this three-part book title game, with the third book, Judaism on the Web. I haven’t checked, but I imagine that most of the sites in that book don’t exist. And those that do, well, they don’t look anything like the Web 1.0 sites the author saw when compiling the book. Our electronic culture is the most ephemeral of the three addressed by these books.
Ship, large smokey
a distant ghost
From the first, I have displayed these books as decorations, in the order I just presented them, wondering how many people would notice. They are displayed that way now in my writing studio, not that many people go there besides me. Until I point it out, if it fits a conversation (I don’t go around hinting or starting such conversations), no one has yet to notice. That is also part of the story.
This all comes up for me at the moment for two reasons. My work has increasingly come out in online journals. As I was recently revising my CV, I noticed that I had mostly print journals with only a couple of online publications in the 1990s, but now, in the 2010s (20 years later…wow), there are only one or two print publications. And some of the online venues don’t exist anymore. Most of those don’t have archives. Yes, this happened with print journals all of the time as well—some of the print journals I published in don’t exist. But I have hard copies. Others have hard copies. Libraries have hard copies.
There are some efforts at archiving online material, cultural and otherwise, in the broad field of digital humanities and among digital libraries. Yet, how much is lost? How much poetry is ephemeral? If something goes viral online, perhaps it has a life of its own and will appear on enough sites to live past its original expiration date. How many poems do you know that have gone viral?
I’ve also been thinking about this because an online journal that published my work very recently, and that I will continue to submit to, does not archive its past issues. While it continues to publish, due to technical issues with the format and web site, the publication has not yet established archives with permalinks (permanent links that work even when new material is in the main framework of the current issue).
I should say, there is not a public archive. The editor does have the material, and is working on the issue. I liked the journal, its content, its look, and what I have been asked to do for them, so I will continue to send them work.
Fast, the speedboat
splashes its way
along the restless
waves while escaping.
Also, I moved my blog from MySpace a while ago. MySpace does not provide an easy way to export one’s blog. I have to go into each post, copy it, and paste it. Then edit format, redo links which are bizarre non-standard MySpace links, and spend long amounts of time trying to regain the old posts.
Okay, there is no reason that I have to do this, especially with life updates or comments on current events, that sort of thing. But what about the poems I posted there? The fiction experiment I was doing with installments, illustrated with my digital art? Painstaking to move it.
It may continue to exist, but for how long I don’t know. Yet, I’ve lost control of it, given that MySpace re-designed its format and interface, re-doing the look I had worked on for my blog, and causing many of the images to disappear from the blog posts.
With all of this in my thoughts for the past few weeks, my mind had locked onto the term “ephemeral poetry.” Deliberately ephemeral. Put it up, let it come down. Move it onto sites where others could edit it, revise it, delete it.
I’ve been thinking about an app to let readers create their own environment for reading poems, order the poems they choose to read, but also to have poems come and go within the app–added as surprises, moved from one page to another.
I’m not sure what I have in mind, exactly–perhaps it would be that different poems appeared when the user opened the app, that the user could choose key words (tags) and poems or just lines even would manifest. Maybe I’m dissolving into magnetic poetry.
lake in two.
And thinking like this, playing a bit with learning an app design interface, I took my young toddler to the park. For weeks now, maybe months, Moshe (pronounced MO Shay, the Hebrew name of that guy who led the Jews out of Egypt, Moses) thinks the park is a canvas for sidewalk chalk, which shows up rather nicely on the black rubber squares that provide protective matting against falls. He’s seen other kids draw, and now wants to do his own scribbling (he’s only just turned two). He has now even converted bath time to drawing time with water-soluble bath crayons.
For both activities, he also requests that I draw for him. Usually three things for the bath: a sailboat, a speedboat and Thomas the Tank Engine. All have blue in common—water for the boats, and Thomas’ main color (for those who don’t know).
For the park, it’s usually: the sailboat, the speedboat, and also a canoe. Thomas has been optional. Once I drew a unicorn. Well, it looked a bit like a dog with a horn in the middle of its head, and a bit like a unicorn.
Today, I drew the sailboat. Then I sketched a canoe, with a rather humorous attempt at paddlers. Next came the speedboat. Then he wanted another boat, which turned out to be some sort of ship. Chalk art on sidewalks, or park padding, is also ephemeral. And as I looked at it, I decided to add ephemeral poetry.
Forget technology, I was going to take a bit of soft stone (chalk), colored by pigment (paint), and write some words to go with the sketches, such as they were. The sketches, I mean. And, okay, I brought in a bit of technology: I typed the words (revising some) into the Notes of my iPhone and took photos. And now I’m posting them on a blog on the web.
So, stone, art, ephemeral words (web).
Sails take wing
to fly by
That surely has to be the longest introduction to a few pictures from the park, complete with short poems. The poem under each photo is the revised version–the original ephemeral poetry is in the photo. For those who made it this far, I hope that you enjoyed them.
By now, you’ve noticed no doubt that I added them to the blog. Now, perhaps, you have a glimmering idea of why. Please let me hear why in your comments. Or why not. Or, at least, let me hear your thoughts about ephemerality.