San Diego Poetry Guild

notes on guild, poetry, and San Diego


Field Report #4: {Lime Tree}

I like limes as much as I like curly brackets. I like lime juice on my tortillas and in my Tecate. I like curly brackets around my blogs. So first off: a shared affinity for citrus and punctuation marks that look like handlebar mustaches. And for the color green (my favorite), and for mostly longish well-seasoned entries that go somewhere and generally succeed and look like they've been edited (typos rare).

Lest this report so far strike the astute reader as an attempt by the author to move up a notch or two on Lime Tree's notoriously fickle links list, it's not. Still, the listing/ranking phenomenon is perhaps a good place to start. Though the architect -- sorry, arborist -- of Lime Tree has made it clear that lists are more about navigation than selection, the fun of the guise of hierarchy (and really, it's just that) lies in the tease of popularity and belonging. We all want to be loved, or at least offered a place to sit down.

But there are much more important things to note -- like the thorough and gratifying review-work of such notables as Rodrigo Toscano, and the steadily-accruing argument w.r.t. blogging and the adjudication of "scene" in 21st century N. Amer.

With regard to the latter, I take my lead from Jack Kimball's remarks re "blogging as an instrument of developmental processes, social, for sure, and aesthetic, too." In the fruit of the lime tree we find the pulp of just this kind of "developmental process." Social AND aesthetic -- or let's graft our categories experimentally and state for the record that, for blogging, the social IS the aesthetic.

The lead for that I take from KSM himself: "Just being, or feeling like I’m being, under a constant communal scrutiny has forced me to think about how my work, both creative and critical, functions in the world: how other poets perceive it, how non-poets in the blogosphere perceive it, whether it participates productively on any extant plane of cultural economy, etc. Maybe more importantly, I feel tuned in to other people’s writing in ways that help me to break down claustrophobic concepts of poetic 'movements,' 'schools,' 'camps,' and so on. Having Ron Silliman, Jim Behrle, Aimee Nezhukumathil, David Hess, Cat Meng, Mike Snider, Taylor Kelley, and others all talking in the same virtual room makes for a sometimes noisy but always interestingly diverse 'conversation.'"

Diverse conversation -- communal scrutiny -- perception, participation, production, and function: The "virtual room" of blogging is obviously reminiscent of other rooms, virtual and beyond, that over the years/decades/centuries have housed wayward creatives in search of diverse conversation and the opportunity to grow under the gaze of "communal scrutiny."

But Kasey's right. The blogosphere seems to be (that "seems" should be read as the cowardly wedge between faith and doubt that it always is) one of the more surprising community-building prosthetics that we've seen since the phone line became a conduit for personal mail. It sure beats the discussion list, for example, and while it doesn't have the game-like appeal of the MUD/MOO or the in-your-face-2-face immediacy of chat, it outshines all, imho, for what it gives us by way of noisy and interesting "diverse conversation."

Statements like these therefore must be given their due scrutiny: "I'm convinced that the blogging phenomenon has helped to add a new level of dynamic cohesiveness to the poetry scene, and that last night was, among other things, a visible social marker of its effect. It was a just-uncomfortably hot evening, which added to the feeling that a bunch of people were all gathered together, stoutly enduring the elements in the service of a common Joy" (7/14/03, 11:33am).

I wasn't there last night, but I can feel the heat, if not the common Joy. And I'm willing to take the heat for not being there, for being obsessively scene-conscious as much as I've never (really) been part of one or wanted to be, and for taking the time here to venture too far into the realm of gut reaction in a report trying desperately to keep its critical distance. At heart, though, I'm just plain curious about this "dynamic cohesiveness" and how from an instant archiving device we can grow opportunities for "visible social markers" of blogging's effect. I also wonder how a blog-based (virtual) poetry scene might cohere around certain pre-established poetry communities, and how blogging might not "add a new level" of cohesiveness but might simply adhere to preexisting social systems such as those within which the "bunch" convened last night.

I read as an outsider, to put it bluntly, which is hardly the fault of those on the inside. Still, in blogland, the writer/reader dynamic cross-pollinates the insider/outsider dynamic all the time, and where are we w.r.t. "communal scrutiny" if we don't treat those dynamics seriously? In the final analysis, though, excellent questions re "scene" and "cohesion" prevail, and KSM is bold enough to mix them into the drink of critical blogging, tartness be damned.

Moving on, I have always believed that aesthetics takes care of itself, but in each of the four "ion" words I have coyly left unglossed above, note that at least three of them -- participation, production, and function -- might make for great building blocks (lime stones?) for an aesthetics of blogging in the sphere of poetic activity. As Kimball notes, "the varieties of blog approaches show a gazillion strategies for posting and concatenating sets of posts." A blog approach, I think, is just that one term we need for talking about the many ways in which bloggers participate, produce, and function in the blogosphere. Lime Tree, far-reaching from root to stem, is pure concatenation, as linked conversation: quintessential blog.

Now, "What were we talking about?"

Utopia, I think. I have faith (dropping the "seems" from above) that blogging is a form of "production as reception" in the manner put forth by Bruce Andrews in "Making Social Sense." There's a stretch implicit to this claim that I don't have time to contend with, but when I think about "participation" in blogland I really do think of something like "hostessing a public readabilityship -- as encyclopedia, as uncontainable plenitude" (Andrews). The utopian model of "participatory, carnal democracy" may need some tweaking (perhaps taming) to fit in this case, but it's true and fitting nonetheless that getting there "demands more critique, more disrespect, more disruption" (Andrews).

Lime Tree is one of those good ones -- at turns noisy, disruptive, entertaining in its plenitude -- that is definitely getting there, wherever there, in the end, might be.

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Read Stephanie Young's well-nourished response to this report.


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