Posted by: jeannineatkins | May 28, 2010

Poetry and Computers

Confession: I like writing poetry on my laptop.

Poetry has a history of being written with quills and inkpots, then perhaps ballpoints and notebooks small enough to stash at the sound of an opening door. I like to think of Emily Dickinson off in her bedroom, perhaps nibbling gingerbread or looking into the garden. Or Wordsworth striding among daffodils, then slipping out a quiet piece of paper. Here’s Robert Louis Stevenson perhaps penning A Child’s Garden of Verses.

Computers come with a little tapping noise, which I like as company with my free verse, but might bother those who work with clashing rhythms or rhyme. The type of poetry I most like to read can sound intimate, a whisper from one person to another. This is easier to imagine coming from a pen or notebook which can be prettier than computers, which have an aura of an office or classroom, a steely and efficient sheen.

I do find uses for pens. I often begin with window seat musing, jotting down words and phrases, but it’s after I type them in that the long work of revising begins. My computer makes changing words and their order kind of fun. I don’t have to draw so many lines through words, but zap them into invisibility. I don’t have to scribble squiggly lines and arrows, or rip paper and clip or tape it in new ways. I just hit the cut and paste buttons.

I know a poet doesn’t need to wear a white dress or a black turtleneck and beret. I know there are all kinds of writing tools, all kinds of office chairs, rocks, or pumpkins a poet might sit on. Still, even though writing drafts of poems on a computer works for me, I squirm as I admit it. And am curious about other poets: how do you compose in 2010?

For more Poetry Friday posts please visit: http://missrumphiuseffect.blogspot.com/2010/05/poetry-friday-is-here.html

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Responses

  1. I never thought about this but you poets probably do feel a greater pressure to create in a certain manner. I’m a firm believer in “whatever works,” and some of my projects are more handwritten than others and some rely more heavily on word processing. If you’re happy (and productive) being a computer poet, than that’s great. Especially since I doubt you’ve ever looked as menacing as RLS in that pic. Yikes.

  2. Actually, I’m also a member of the “whatever works” club, but just realized I had this bit of self consciousness re poetry. So thanks for the affirmation!
    My husband just read this blog and your comment and offered to take a photo of me in menacing pose. But you know it’s kind of warm to get out the black cape…

  3. I had a poetry professor who was adamant that he didn’t put poetry on his computer until it was done. His philosophy was that typing it in gave one the impression it was done when it probably wasn’t. However, I’m with you. I usually begin with pen and paper– words, ideas, thoughts–but as soon as it begins to take shape, I’m off to the keyboard. I, too, like the kind of intimate poetry that feels like a whispered secret. Whatever works to achieve that goal is admissible, despite what the prof says.

  4. I sometimes wonder why we don’t topple under the weight of our own mythologies. Seriously, it’s so great to hear that you’re doing what feels right for *you* — in each moment — and that you’re not one of those who yields her personal preferences to external expectations.

  5. You had me giggling at the thought of a poet sitting on a pumpkin! I guess those poets of yore might have used a computer if they had one too. 😉

  6. I sometimes write first drafts in a notebook, but most often I start, work, and finish on the computer. The space there feels endless–I write the poem, copy and paste it above, rewrite, copy and paste again, rewrite, etc. It’s a great record of process, I don’t lose anything, and I feel happy I’m not using up reams of paper!
    Later, I print out the sort of final version and tinker on paper. No berets, ever. But I occasionally write scraps of poetry on the backs of envelopes while waiting for the light to change. If I don’t, I’ll forget.

  7. Yes, I’m totally with you. I can see how if you looked at type and it looks “done,” that would be a problem. For me, going from print to type makes one change, but then there are still so many more possibilities. I’m glad you moved beyond what you were told — and thanks for stopping by!

  8. Thanks, Melodye! You are sweet.
    And I’m going to pull together a few more thoughts about writing slim, in response to your question, soon.

  9. Poetry was the least of Louisa May Alcott’s work, but I’m certain she would have loved computers, and her output would have more than doubled.
    Lorraine, wishing the best for a weekend with sun and a few good words.

  10. I love your point about the endless space on a computer, and also that it’s a pretty green way to work. Backs of envelopes in cars: yes, I have some of those, and then work at deciphering my handwriting. And even when a bit gets blurred or lost, the writing-it helps my memory.
    Thank you for coming by and commenting!

  11. You are not alone!
    Given the look on Robert Louis Stevenson’s face, I think he was penning a note to a rival that reads something along the lines of “I’m going to kill you, you bastard!”
    I used to write all my poems by hand. Nowadays, I write at least 75% of them on the computer. Because I can type faster (and more neatly) than I can write. And I do a lot of editing as I go, which is far easier on a computer, too.

  12. Re: You are not alone!
    Yeah, I guess I won’t be ordering that RLS t-shirt. I sure hope he wasn’t writing, “Oh how does it feel to go up in a swing, up to the sky so blue.” Honestly I put poet and writing desk into google and this was the first image I hit and used it, rather than losing myself, or my morning, in image hunting.
    I feel very affirmed to hear you often use a computer. It was at your workshop I took mine out, glad to see a few others around me, but kind of nervous. I do love its legibility as well as the swift editing!

  13. “I can see how if you looked at type and it looks “done,” that would be a problem. For me, going from print to type makes one change, but then there are still so many more possibilities.”
    I wonder what it would be like if you wrote your poetry on the computer, but while doing so used a font which looked like your own best handwriting.
    Want me to try to make one for you? — Pete

  14. No cloak necessary! Just glower at the camera. 🙂

  15. I always carry 3″ x 5″ index cards with me in my purse. So if a poem or line comes to me, I am able to write it down right away.
    I cut into quarters or halves my paper that I usually would discard. Including announcements from my son’s school. I just recycle them. Nearly every room in our house has a pack of recycled paper. If something occurs to me I can just grab a scrap of paper no matter where I am.
    Once in a while I’ll write directly onto the computer. Intellectually, I hold this as an ideal. I wish I would have more time to write on the computer. But in reality, I usually don’t compose at the computer as much as I wish I would.
    Yet, I’m with the “do whatever works” folks, too.
    Laura Evans
    all things poetry

  16. It totally sounds like you’re with the whatever-works contingent! It’s interesting to me that for you a computer is ideal, while I felt kind of furtive about it. I think if I didn’t have a laptop, I’d spend more time with the early stages of pen, but having a laptop on the porch in good weather, and on the couch in the evening, has edged me into typing earlier into a draft.
    And I’d like to see your rooms with those little piles of recycled paper about more than RLS glowering over his table. Family photos and books, yes; but stacks of inviting paper sounds like a place where I’d like to be.

  17. I love reading about process.
    I used to write everything in longhand (it was the only way I could get a first draft out of my head), and then typing it all up became the first round of revision. But, I must say, my laptop changed my life in so many ways. I love to muse and compose at the keyboard.

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