Poets and Poetry in the Shadowland of Technology and Social Networking

bright flower at nightI believe in the power of poetry; and I believe we can extend that power when we make strategic use of it in that very mixed blessing, the shadow land of technology and social networking.  That is why I spend much of my valued time in these arenas and much effort supporting other writers and activists who are doing profoundly important work. I’m no longer able to storm the gates, but I can still pound the heck out of a keyboard.

After eight years, however, I find I’m losing my tolerance for those who use poetry and social networking – ostensibly to raise the community consciousness with regard to want and inequity – only to proceed to thoughtlessly undermine the care, hard work and long hours invested by others who actually do put the “active” in activism.

It is also one thing to use the tools of social networking to connect with family and friends, to form friendships based on affinity, and to earn our bread or to support those causes in which we believe. It’s quite another thing to do it as a narcissistic indulgence, especially when that indulgence is at the expense of people who need us to be – not self-concerned and histrionic – but measured voices that walk our talk in the daily play of living, working, spending, teaching (in the greater sense all good poets are teachers) and – yes! – social networking.

Poetry can be assertive and should be. If justice poetry, however, isn’t balanced and well-considered, if it isn’t complemented with right action and right living, it is the work of a poet who enjoys the sound of his or her own voice. It is in danger of devolving into an exercise of smug in the service of ego and sanctimony in the service of voyeurism.

If our compassion is all talk and no legs, it isn’t compassion at all. In the same vein, justice poetry needs teeth and its teeth come from actions consistent with values expressed. English poet and scientist, Jemma Borg, writes this in The Poet and the Planet, a feature article in the November 2015 issue of ARTEMISpoetry:

” . . . ‘art prepares us for thought’ and ‘thought prepares us for action’ (as the political activist and poet, Rukeyser wrote). There must be poetry, there must be activism; it is a continuum. So, poets can give society a guilty conscience, they can be legislators. But we also need people camped outside Shell to protest against drilling in the Arctic …”

© 2017, words and photograph, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved


The recommended read for this week for children, Pizza, Pigs and Poetry: How to Write a Poem by  Jack Prelutsky,  named the nation’s first Children’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation.

Pizza, Pigs and Poetry, How to Write a Poem is ideal for children grades 3-6.  He engages by sharing funny stories, light poems and creative technique, not forms. This seems entirely perfect for encouraging – not discouraging – this age group. Fun and funny Pizza, Pigs and Poetry would make great summer reading – and writing – and is perfect for a birthday gift or a gift for some other occasion.


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“Petrichor Rising” and how the Twitterverse birthed friendships that in turn birthed a poetry collection

product_thumbnail-3.php“I always had this notion that you earned your living and that poetry was a grace.” Seamus Heaney (1939-2013), Irish, poet, playwright, translator, educator and Nobel Prize winner

I’m sure my friend, John Anstie, poet and renaissance man, The Bardo Group core team member, and editor of and contributor to Petrichor Rising (eBook and paperback), a 2013 poetry collection of The Grass Roots Poetry Group (GRPG), would prefer that I focused on the poems and the collection. The former feature-writer in me still loves a good story though. (Forgive me, John!) The coming together of this group and the publication of their collection is as good a story as any and better than most … and hence, I break my usual self-imposed word limit on posts. Read on … You may recognize yourself in some of this …

“I do accounting. I am a writer.” an employee corrected me when I introduced him as an accountant.

I spent many years in the employment and training field, serving in sundry positions and writing columns, feature articles and journal pieces ad nauseam about recruiting and job search, chosing careers, assessing post-secondary vocational education programs, structuring community programs for at-risk populations (read the poor and marginalized), as well as writing about labor and job market trends including changes evolving out of advances in technology.

Wherever I worked whether it was counseling, placing executives in career positions or teaching career development and job search to ex-offenders or people transitioning off welfare, I found the same thing. Scratch the surface of almost anyone and you will find an artist.  Several of the poets to this anthology earn or have earned their living doing something other than writing. John Anstie talks about discovering his “inner poet.” At core, we are creators.  This is a great truth about human beings.

It used to be that most evidence of creativity ended in storage somewhere: dresser drawers, file cabinets, attics or garages … until the accessibility of social networking and self-publishing via blogs, videos, blog radio and other venues. Now  creatives have easy means to deliver their work independently and to find their own audiences, modest but genuine. No longer unknown, these poets and artists join the ranks of lesser-knows. They also have a wider opportunity to meet others with the same interests and values.  Put the mix together – a wonderous serendipity – and the birth of productive collaborations …

Freinds in the Forest (eCollage by Anu) (c) all rights reserved

Friends in the Forest (eCollage by Anu) (c) all rights reserved

“As far as I recall, it all started with freshly-baked lemon drizzle cake . . . ‘@peterwilkin1: Good Morning. Coffee & lemon drizzle cake, anyone?’ …. One may be forgiven for thinking the GRPG is an international social network-based association for the deep appreciation and virtual consumption of cyber cake and other comestibles. Indeed this is what they do, but they also do something else remarkable – they write poetry – delightful, delicious, scrumptious, tasty, and delectable at that, poetry.” Introduction, Craig Morris

And thus it began, with friendly – often quick-witted – Twitter chat and an affinity evolved. Two years later Petrichor Rising was born and featured artwork by one, the Introduction by another, and the poetry of the rest.  How did they pull it all together?

Interview with John Anstie

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JAMIE: Expanding on your piece about editing Petrichor Rising (posted this evening on The Bardo Group): Learning to use language gracefully and words accurately is a lifelong challenge (and a pleasure); but editing English when the works are from such diverse regions of the world throws extra spice into the mix. There are many variations on the themes of grammar, spelling, and on syllable accent and speech inflection, how did you approach that particular challenge?

JOHN: Your first question is not a question, it is several questions, which, as you imply, could take me a lifetime (and possibly a few pages) to answer! But the simplest way I can answer this is to be entirely honest. By and large, I took each piece as it was presented and interpreted it as it was written. Grammar and spelling was not really a problem, since I left the words spelled as they were presented; my two North American friends, Jackie and Joe, if they used American English spelling, that’s how it stayed, of course. There were few issues in the grammar department. As for syllable stress and speech inflection, I had little issue with the effects of these on scansion, since almost all of the poems, except some of my own, were pretty much in the ‘free verse’ form. But you certainly have raised a valid issue for editors of international poetry collections.
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JAMIE: How did you work out the collaboration? The book is admirably unified and surely there must have been some back-and-forth about which poems to use from each poet and how to organize the sequence.

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JOHN: Over the two years of its gestation, there were a few changes of poems. Some of the original poems submitted were withdrawn, because of submissions elsewhere and a handful were edited and resubmitted for inclusion. The sequence was the greatest challenge for me. Initially, I asked each poet to attach key words or tags to each of their own poems, from which I intended to attempt dividing the whole body of work into sections. That didn’t work, simply because I inevitably ended up with too many key words. In the end, after we’d decided on the title, I felt it important that any themed sections should reflect the theme of the title in some way. So I worked through the whole collection of sixty-five or so poems and categorised them myself. The three sections were the end result of that part of my work on the book.
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JAMIE: Have you had the opportunity to speak by phone or meet in person with any of the members of the Group? If so, what was that experience like.
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JOHN: Five of us live in the UK. It was Louise, who bravely blazed a trail to Yorkshire to stay with Peter and his wife for a week. I guess she judged him to be trustworthy enough (and not the mad axe murderer he might have been!). I  journeyed up to meet them both on neutral ground. We spent a fruitful and enjoyable day in each other’s company. Shan and Abi were the next to visit Yorkshire. I’ve lost count of how many times we met after that, including a couple of poetry readings at Ally Wilkin’s shop “Crystal Space” (one of the locations in Peter’s and Marsha’s joint publication, “Brianca and The Crystal Dragons”). All of this was capped in a confluence in May 2012, when the five of us from the UK, along with Joe and Quirina, who flew in from Albany, New York and Germany, came together in London – photos of this are in my Facebook album of that day HERE.
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It was a very happy day, but one that wasn’t long enough for us all. Finally, last June, Marsha came to the UK for a conference in Leeds. She lodged with Peter and Ally for the first part of her stay and with me for the last part. It was very special to meet her too. So, in answer to your question, I’ve met nearly all of them; only Jackie in New York and Craig in South Africa have yet to meet us. Quite incredible, considering we only met on Twitter two and a half years ago! One final twist to this tale, to cut a long story short, is that Abigail turns out to be the daughter of an old school friend of mine, whom I had very recently met up with again along with another friend! It’s a very small world!
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JAMIE: What made you choose print-on-demand over ebook? Does the GRPG plan to offer the book in ebook format? It a lovely volume, and I think would make a fine addition to anyone’s poetry library. These days, though, many appreciate ebooks for their portability as well as the saving grace of saving shelf-space.
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JOHN: Print on demand, in the end, seems like a very sensible choice. Self publishing would have been difficult, deciding how big a print run dramatically affects the cost-per-unit economies. However, it was the publisher, Aquillrelle, who determined the route to print and we chose them, because they had published Marsha’s collection, “Spinning”, and she was very impressed with their service and attention to detail. It proved to be a good choice for me, as their Chief Editor, did have a keen eye for detail. As for the ebook, Amazon should have produced one by now, but it’s not happened yet. I suspected it might be a demand thing; I’m not sure. Even though I own an iPad Mini, which is, of course, a perfect ebook reader, it has to be said that I prefer to have a real book in my hands.
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Note: I see that Lulu has an eBook available since we did this interview. The link is above in the opening paragraph. Jamie
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JAMIE: Would you do it all again and if so, why?
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JOHN: I think the answer is yes, probably, but not in the same way. What would I do differently? I couldn’t answer that until I saw the material I was working with. However, there are two more projects on my horizon before another anthology comes along. The first is going to be some kind of account of the story of an historic house, gardens and estate, for which my wife and I are members of the volunteer teams. The second may be my own first full collection. Then, for the sake of my family history, maybe I ought to complete my own autobiography.
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Book Review in Brief
 Petrichor – from the Greek pɛtrɨkər, the scent of rain on the dry earth.
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I dislike using the word “accessible.” There have been times when I’ve wondered if that is code for a lack of intricacy or profundity. The work here is comprehensible but still complex. The poems move from nostalgia to appreciation, from the beauty of nature to the frailties of humanity, from sorrow to hope. From Craig Morris’ Introduction, which sets the mood, to Joe Hesch’s theme poem Petrichor, which closes the book, it’s a joy. Well organized with the weather metaphor as the through line, the sections are The Drought, Gathering Storm, and The Rain. Its hallmark is the show of humanity at its best.
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This morning I will cast open the curtains, chasing the fear away
and hold this crystal up to the sunlight, releasing my soul to fly

– Prism, Abigal Baker

…. and at its worst

Haunted by
proper thoughts
of his wife at home
he wryly recollects
how he told her
before friends and family
on their silver anniversary
“I love every wrinkle,
every scar I celebrate,
such wonderous depths
are etched upon your body
a cartography of our marriage
I love the silver in the gold
of our hair”
then renewed
his marriage vows
his fingers crossed,
avoiding his own reflection
in the mirror

– Cracks of Angst: A Portrait of an Unhappy Man, Marsha Berry

Both my thumbs up on this one. There’s still time to order Petrichor Rising for the holidays and profits go to UNICEF, making it a definite win-win.

© 2013, feature article, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved
Artwork and poetry quotes are the property of their creators