24 October 1999

History of Newspoetry

I coined the term Newspoetry in December 1995 when I made it my New Years Resolution to write a poem a day about events in the news in 1996. I was mostly successful, although real life pressures caused me to take off the months of July, October, and December. For those other nine months, though, I managed to write a poem a day. I almost never shared these poems with friends, in fact I didn't tell very many people what I was up to. Instead, I would print out three copies of the poem on any given day and tape them anonymously to walls at Illinois State University, tape them inside men's room stalls (despite my concern with gender bias, I chose not to tape them up inside women's restrooms), or slip them into copies of the News-Gazette in newspaper machines. I thought that if someone who would ordinarily steer clear of anything called political or poetry found a political poem in their newspaper or in a public library or restroom, they might be confused enough to read it and think about it. After all, they weren't being put on the spot: in fact there was no way they could respond to the poem except by taking it down and complaining about it to other people.

I wanted a writing project that was focused on readers rather than on the writer. Newspoetry was a solution to that problem for a few reasons. The writing was anonymous (it is illegal, after all, to put poems inside the News-Gazette, and it would have been imprudent to sign them; furthermore, to put my name on it would shift focus back from reader to writer, to the extent that any signed artwork is an advertisement for the artist who created it). It was also furiously anachronistic and unpublishable. In addition to breaking the rules of poetry and being, in general, hastily-written, they were in no way timeless classics. They were, in fact, instantly dated and their relevance was, for the most part, limited to the week in which they were written. Finally, most of the poems were not about me or my experiences. The ones written in the first person were still about my observations of other people and events. They were not lyrical. Another consideration was complaints from friends on the left who are concerned with events in the news, but can't stand the newspaper. Was there a way of saving the news from the style in which it was written?

After 1996, while I had for the most part stopped writing Newspoems, the momentum of the process continued and was given focus by my old show on WEFT - Eclectic Seizure. Eclectic Seizure was, at that time, in a state of political instability, and so Danielle Chynoweth and I rose up and seized the first fifteen minutes of Eclectic Seizure in a bloodless coup and we created a news program called "All the News that Fits to Sing" in which we would perform art based on the weeks political events, locally, nationally, and internationally. We had wanted to, and still want to, have our own newspoetry show on WEFT, but over the 90's WEFT has become resistant to new programming ideas.

In 1998, Danielle went to New York and a new generation of friends moved into Eclectic Seizure. I went back to writing Newspoetry to be distributed anonymously, this time at the University of Illinois, and I created a one-page newspaper called "The Daily Poem." This time I shared the Daily Poem with friends and colleagues and received a fair amount of encouragement. The Octopus, even though they have never responded to any of the writing I've submitted to them over the years using my real name, actually printed one of these poems under the pseudonym "Q. Synopsis."

This was the year that Scott and Dirk and I began work on the Unknown, and also the year that Sigfried Gold began On The Job Consulting. I began to learn how to build websites and realized their potential as an artistic medium. Specifically, websites aren't yet regulated by effective laws against plagiarism and slander, they can be easily updated daily, and, as a distribution medium, the internet is unrivaled. The only thing that reaches a larger audience than the Internet is the Moon.

So, for 1999, I decided I would retry my new years resolution for 1996, and write a poem a day about events in the news, and post them on the Internet. This way I felt I could succeed, because if I missed a single day, I imagined, the whole world would know. I spent Christmas break coding fiercely, building the architecture of the site I would, over the coming year, populate with poems.

At the time, I solicited participation from friends but had underestimated what kind of response I'd get. Already, by New Years day, I received a poem over email from Dirk Stratton.

By the end of the first week of January I had received two poems from Dirk, two from Joe Futrelle, and Scott Rettberg even wrote a sonnet. Newspoetry was out of the starting gate and the momentum continued to accumulate. The number of people participating or interested in the project continues to grow, as does the quality of the writing and the technical sophistication of the poems - forays into CGI scripting, collage, music, animation, concrete poetry, and various forms of hypertext have all been attempted. It's been a ton of work and two tons of joy.

So, to conclude, here is the official Newspoetry mission statement:

Newspoetry is

1. an alternative online news source where credible journalism is secondary to interesting writing,
2. a documentary record of the turn of the American millennium,
3. a fun collaborative hypertext writing project
4. an elaborate attempt to get myself to read the newspaper.


Newspoetry at Spineless Books