Connection: Starting with the Obvious

Flight 447Serendipity.

With so many things on my mind about personal control over public presentation, I happened to have two poems appear online yesterday, in a wonderful, small, committed journal called Scintilla.  The poems are formal experiments, and if you are generous enough to spend  one second with them, you’ll see what I mean.

Here they are:

Black Box | Scintilla Magazine

SAT Sestina | Scintilla Magazine

As a poet, I’ve disabused myself of any notion of “fame” or “visibility” resulting from my writing. I don’t find such notions valuable to begin with, but still, it’s a discovery worth making. But what writing poetry has done for me is introduce me to a community–my life today in the state of Wisconsin runs deep with poetry’s denizens–and my work, when published in digital venues, contributes to my digital identity. Even ten years ago, not one packet of poems I sent out for consideration was digital–they were literal “packets,” with three to six poems, a cover letter, a SASE, a stamp, and an envelope. I miss their heft. Their heft challenged the folds.

Now, almost all submissions are digital. And while I have given much thought to how that has changed the submission process, the nature of “the biz,” etc, I have given almost no thought to how this digital artscape has changed my identity, my relationships as they connect to my writing. Heck, how they’ve even changed my writing.

This is obvious, but I guess I’m slow. Say hello to the prototypical turtle of progress… connection is different. Literally and figuratively. I value the meaningful connections of my digital identity (should I just be deleting the word digital at this point?), even though such connections are increasingly difficult to locate in the overwhelming quantity that is exponential presence.

So here is a little story that connects back to the poems of mine that “appeared” yesterday…

When I was an undergraduate student at SUNY Buffalo, I was friends and classmates with Amit Ray, who I have always deeply admired. Amit is now a professor at the University of Rochester, and I’m a professor at UW-Green Bay. (Amazing!) We lost human touch for a long time, but then humanly reconnected at MLA a few years back. Our relationship is so pre-digital as to feel antediluvian.

Amit read the poems in their digital form, and he has a preference for “Black Box.” He shared them on both Facebook and Twitter, specifically tagging one Frank Pasquale, who wrote The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms that Control Money and Information. Though the book is only available for pre-release, this is a topic I think about a lot, and is one of the reasons I wrote “Black Box”–after following the plane crash in the news and reading an excellent New York Times Magazine piece about the search for the wreckage, I found that my grief had a strange new level to it–I was sad that humans could disappear into an afterlife that was entirely data…in a box…on the bottom of the ocean.

Black BoxI do not know Frank, and he hasn’t posted anything to me through Amit’s post (I’m happy about this–he is still an idea with no data that I can access); still, I look forward to his book, his ideas, and how what they might help me learn, and teach, and learn again.

Then there is the fact that the poems have been published in Scintilla, whose editor/creator is Tim Lepczyk. I have never met Tim in person, but he’s one of those digital connections I cherish. Yes, we interact on Twitter, but in a way that has led us to share and critique each other’s poems over email, to have conversations about digital humanities and teaching, and Tim’s new baby photos are pretty spectacular as well.

Tim, Amit, Frank: one digital, one pre- and post-digital, and one unknown with his book sitting in my “shopping cart.”

How does this work? How should I talk about something like this with my students when it feels both so obvious and mystical?

At the moment, I feel in control of my contribution. I’m inhabiting the interaction and am invested. I’m not just “liking” or “favoriting.” No ads are appearing in the margin of my life because of this interaction.

Yet my recommendations from Amazon are shuffling as I type, purely as a result of my book order.