Okay, so it’s not the Man Blooker prize … it’s just the Blooker Prize, a new annual award for blog-based books, and LitKicks’ Action Poetry: Literary Tribes for the Internet Age is in the running.
In fact, through the happy accident of alphabetism, our book is at the very top of the list, and we like the way that feels. We believe we should win this award, and in a vain attempt to drum up a huge groundswell of popular support I’d like to talk about what this book is and how it came about.
Let’s start at the beginning … and as you know, for LitKicks, that means we’re going way back. We’ve been on the internet longer than *anybody*. It’s hard to even describe how long we’ve been at this game. Back when Al Gore couldn’t get his Linux device drivers to compile, who do you think answered his USENET posts? (Good politician, lousy coder.) Yeah, LitKicks is that old. Oh, we also invented the litblog (thanks to Golden Rule Jones for remembering) and that ain’t no joke.
But by the summer of 2003, your friendly hardworking LitKicks staff was discouraged. The site’s numerous freeform message boards were hopping with activity, but there seemed to be no shape to it all. Just words, words, words, as Hamlet would say. We knew there were talented writers on the site, but their contributions were often lost in the chaos. Caryn and Jamelah and I put our heads together and came up with the idea for The QUEST, a month-long writing tournament, open to anybody in the world. We needed to offer a good prize, and so we announced that the tournament would culminate in the publication of a book. Thus was Action Poetry: Literary Tribes for the Internet Age born.
We were very happy with the results of The QUEST, but the hard work of putting together this book only began when the tournament ended. Now we had a few good original stories and poems to build our book around, and to add more heft we began digging through the archives of the various creative writing message boards on the site, where professional and amateur writers all over the world were regularly posting poems and stories and responding to each other’s work.
Combing through these archives was a gargantuan undertaking, and we asked LitKicks members to help nominate their favorite pieces. Caryn and Jamelah and I then spent months sifting through the results trying to puzzle out the structure that would make the whole thing stand up as a book. There was plenty of good raw material; the challenge was to make it all work together as a coherent whole.
I can’t even describe how hard the three of us worked at this, how many emails went back and forth, how many drafts we threw away, how many months we spent struggling with it all. We hoped the book would come out in early 2004, and then we pushed it back, and then back again. Finally we came to two conclusions:
First, if it was this hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, then there had to be something wrong with the basic structure of the whole site. The process of putting together the book led to the decision to shut down and completely reinvent LitKicks. We combined the various creative writing boards into one (retaining the name we like best, Action Poetry, even though both poetry and short prose pieces are welcome). We also ditched the open-board idea and instead began reviewing all writings before publishing them online. This was a difficult decision, but we think it’s paid off in terms of literary quality.
Second, we put together an event called the 24 Hour Poetry Party in order to provide us with a single big poem to complete the book. We had a lot of little poems and stories, but we needed a huge ten-ton exclamation point to punctuate the whole thing. The 24 Hour Poetry Party was a marathon group-writing session, and I dare say it was the most ambitious and successful collaborative writing experiment ever carried out on the internet. Many online communities have attempted group-writing exercises like this, but they invariably dissolve into dumb jokiness or anarchic shapelessness (anarchic shapelessness can be fun, but it’s not really poetry).
Our innovation in creating the 24 Hour Poetry Poem was simply this: we took the project seriously, and tried as hard as we could to inspire the contributors to do the same. We “seeded” contributions on desired themes by asking provoking questions about emotional experience, memory, ideology. We asked a few notable poets like Michael McClure and Bob Holman to contribute seed poems in advance (and in so doing solicited a very touching original poem by our late friend Robert Creeley in the last year of his life). We presented these poems at strategic moments during the marathon to inspire synchronicity between the writers. The final result is a sprawling poem that is supposed to read like a coherent narrative: a day in the life of some sort of “mega-soul” who sits bored at a desk at work, struggling with various thoughts, then goes home and prepares to go out for an evening of society and intimacy. The late hours of the night dissolve into turbulent sleep and a restless, uneasy morning as the mega-soul emerges to face a new day. We clipped each section together in real-time from contributions that poured in all over the world, and we think this poem emerges as a thing of some depth and beauty and can be the subject of fruitful analytical exploration.
Thus completed, Action Poetry: Literary Tribes of the Internet Age shipped off to the printer the day after the 24 Hour Poetry Party ended (after your tired LitKicks editors got some much-needed sleep). The first copy rolled off the press about three months later. If you haven’t checked this book out, please consider doing so. It’s far from a perfect book, but hundreds of online writers and three exhausted editors truly put their hearts into it. We hope the result speaks for itself. Whether we win the Blooker Prize or not (and, let’s be honest, nobody’s exactly sure what the Blooker Prize is), we can at least assure you of this: we tried as hard as we could to perform an act of true alchemy in creating it. The book may or may not stand the test of time, but we’re sure the process we explored will play a bigger role in future online writing experiments, here and elsewhere.
NOTE TO OUR READERS: we’ll probably be taking a break until the beginning of the new year, but we’re going to keep our current Action Poetry board flowing — check it out if you haven’t yet, and write us a poem if you feel like it. Have a very literary holiday, everybody!