Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Poetry blogging is more productive and smarter than you think

Prior to reading Clive Thompson's book Smarter Than You Think, I had not really put the quantity of my poetry blogging into context, though I was keeping track. I began thinking about things a little more when I came across this passage from Thompson:
Consider these current rough estimates: Each day, we compose 254 billion emails, more than 500 million tweets on Twitter, and over 1 million blog posts and 1.3 million blog comments on WordPress alone. On Facebook, we write about 16 billion words per day. That’s just in the United States: in China, its 100 million updates each day on Sina Weibo, the country’s most popular microblogging tool and more on social networks in other languages worldwide, including Russia’s VK. Text messages are terse, but globally they’re our most frequent piece of writing: 12 billion per day” (46-47).
In a later chapter, Thompson mentioned a blogger who was not aware of just how much she had composed on her blog until someone printed all her blog entries. When printed, those entries were the size of a phone book.

In my case, I thought about the length of my first book, The Black Arts Enterprise (2011). The book is roughly 70,000 words. It turns out that in 2014, I wrote more than 70,000 words about poetry. Each year, since 2011 when I became an active poetry blogger, I've composed enough material to comprise 4 books on African American poetry. Somehow, I wasn't fully aware of how productive I had been.

Sure, blogging about poetry is not the same as writing scholarly articles about poetry. But still, there's all kinds of overlap, and in some cases, my blogging impacts audiences in ways that my conventional writing and publishing do not. 

One benefit of blogging about poetry for an audience on a regular basis relates to honing my ideas. Thompson notes that writing  "can help clarify our thinking," and writing for an audience can "clarify the mind even more." Developing a sense of clarity has been especially important for when it comes to thinking about such a densely populated field like poetry.

I initially thought I was blogging to say something to you, this audience, about poetry. It turns out that the process has also really been a way for me to sharpen and develop my own thinking. In ways big and small, I've found that blogging about African American poetry is more productive and smarter than you'd think.

The many characters in Smarter Than You Think
Reading Smarter Than You Think

Smarter Than You Think -- Chapter 5

[Smarter Than You Think

In Chapter 5 “The Art of Finding” of Smarter Than You Think, Clive Thompson discusses the progressions that were made in how we find information. He begins with Phaedrus’ “PowerPoint” summary to Socrates and concludes with how we depend on Google as a tool for instant recall.

When highlighting the research of Betsy Sparrow, Thompson writes “For Sparrow, this suggests that her theory was right: When we’re surrounded by computer memory, we treat it the same way we treat other people. Google – or your smartphone – becomes like an insanely knowledgeable companion. You trust it enough to rely on as you would a spouse or nearby colleague” (128).

Based on the reading, what new or notable insight did you gain? What made that insight new or notable for you?

On Being Wrong, Chapter 6: Our Minds, Part Three: Evidence

[Being Wrong]

In chapter 6 of Being Wrong, Kathryn Schulz notes at one moment that ""our mistakes are part and parcel of our brilliance, not the regrettable consequences of a separate and deplorable process" (121-122). Of course, Schulz notes, the reasoning that "makes us right is what makes us wrong" as well.

Later, she notes that the many forms "of creatively dodging" counter-evidence "represent a backhanded tribute to its importance. However much we ignore, deny, distort, or misconstrue it, evidence continues to matter to us, enormously. In fact, we ignore, deny, distort, and misconstrue evidence because it matters to us" (130).

Schulz maintains that in order for us to "improve our relationship to evidence" then "we must lean to active combat our inductive biases: to deliberately seek out evidence that challenges our beliefs, and to take seriously such evidence when we come across it" (131).

What issue that she raised in the chapter seemed most helpful to you for attending to counterevidence or to taking into account more seriously those facts that contradict positions that you find favorable?

Saturday, February 28, 2015

What it's like reading just one poem?

Back in 2011, I read an article by David Orr about a "special" poetry issue of Oprah Winfrey's O magazine. Orr documented the fashion, the superstars, the notable poets, and other topics presented in the magazine. Yet, he expressed his longing for something different. Beyond the various things included in the issue, Orr notes:
I wish, though, that they had found space for someone — not a critic, necessarily, just someone willing to be honest — to talk about the actual experience of reading a poem. Not why poems are good at rehabilitating people. Not where poems come from. Not what they can help us do, or forget, or remember. Not what the people who write them are wearing. Just what reading one of them is like to one person.
Orr's comments have usefully haunted me for a few years now. We don't hear enough about the actual experience people have of reading a poem. What I've been working on is trying to chart what it means for groups of students to read a poem. I've been interested in trying to ask about and document some of what people experience and feel and think when they read poetry.

Continuing that -- asking and documenting what it's like for people to read a poem -- is a major objective moving forward.

Scholars are usually inclined to focus on the poets themselves. We read various volumes and reviews. We research and write articles. We trace biographies; we do interviews; we assign books to read. Yes. Good. Very necessary. 

But what about the readers out there? What's it been like for just one person or a group of people to read a poem?

Reflections for Poetry Project
Reading The Big Smoke with Collegiate Black Men  
Toward a Sociology of African American Readers & Their Relationships to Poetry 

The Black Book exhibit

February 26, I coordinated an exhibit based on some of our Lit. Genius annotations of The Black Book. I usually produce projects related to African American literature and then transfer those projects to Genius. This time, I began on the crowd-sourced annotation site and then transformed that to a physical exhibit.

It was cool to start with what we had done online and bring that to the physical space of a library. Or really, the process was more extensive than that. We began by reading The Black Book, then we indexed and annotated aspects of the publication online, and then we developed an exhibit.

This first Genius-to-exhibit event was low-key. I was drawing more on my experiences organizing previous exhibits. Moving forward, I'll try to highlight more of the features of the actual Genius site into the design of the exhibits.


Middleton A. Harris, Toni Morrison, and The Black Book

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Reflections for Poetry Project

Last semester, a group of us covered Adrian Matejka's The Big Smoke. This semester, we're continuing our coverage of volumes of poetry by taking a look at works by Langston Hughes, Tyehimba Jess, Matejka, Jason McCall, Tony Medina, Frank X. Walker, and Kevin Young. What follows are reflections by some of the participants on what they've noticed about their approaches to reading and thinking while reading:

As I read and responded to the poetry, I realized that I never gave poetry enough of a chance in order to be able to understand its symbolism and power. When I read the poems of Langston Hughes and I was able to relate so much to his emotions towards societal and personal issues, it really opened my eyes to the beauty and power of poetry. --John H.

As a reader, I enjoy things that are not clear cut, but things that are multilevel and symbolic. I have learned that when I read things I try to think of a way to explain it so that it makes sense to me. By doing this, I can provide a new perspective on any topic and it is easier to remember because it is my original thought. --Isaiah B.

Something interesting that I learned about myself as a reader while reading the poems is that each time I re-read a poem my perception of the poem changes. There were many times that I have over-looked poems just because at first glance it seemed either confusing or boring. It takes a few times to pick up on all the little details that make a poem a masterpiece. --John K.

Something interesting and unusual that I’ve learned about myself is that not only do I enjoy reading poems, but I also enjoy writing and talking about them. Especially if they hold some relevance to my life like one of the volumes I had. But I also like the poems that have no relevance to me, but open my eyes to stuff that I hadn’t previously thought about, such as the struggles of the homeless. --Trion T.

One notable thing that I found myself doing while reading these poems is that when I read the poems slowly and multiple times, I really started to analyze the poems line by line and interpret what I think they mean. Even though I may be wrong trying to get what the author wrote, it was still kind of enjoyable thinking of what the author could possibly mean. -Xavier M.

Through the last reading responses I have learned that I enjoyed poems/writing that really connects with me, my interest, and shows me ways that can impact my everyday life. Although there can be many rough readings, there are indeed diamonds within them, diamonds definitely worth pursuing. --Joey N.

I have further enhanced my ability to think critically, after providing blurbs for two volumes of poetry that we have covered. When I say "think critically,” I am referring to the ability to make reasoned judgments that are well thought out. Thinking clearly and systematically can improve the way we express our ideas. --Nick M.

Reading T. Jess, J. McCall, T. Medina, F. X. Walker & K. Young in 2015

On Being Wrong, Chapter 5: Our Minds, Part Two: Belief

[Being Wrong]

According to Kathryn Schulz, her book Being Wrong is "about what happens when our beliefs, including our most fundamental, convincing, and important ones fail us" (91). She then goes into defining what belief is, and it turns out that Schulz's coverage of belief and how it works assists in illuminating why beliefs have consequences and carry weight.

Later, Schulz notes that "every one of us confuses our models of the world with the world itself--not occasionally or accidentally but necessarily" (107). That confusion and our assumptions about those who believe differently than we do explains why conflicts arise and become increasingly problematic.

Of the three assumptions that she mentioned (Ignorance, Idiocy, and Evil), which one was most compelling to you and why?