(Literary Kicks is twenty years old today. This fact has left me speechless, so I asked Jamelah Earle to send some retrospective thoughts. — Levi)
When I was 16, I was on my high school forensics team. This was not in any way related to anything you might see on an episode of CSI, but instead was competitive speech and dramatic performance. That year, I had chosen poetry as my event, and I was looking for a poem to perform. The trick with forensics events, I had learned in a previous season, when I did storytelling with Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, was to come up with something that nobody else would be performing — Alexander was a popular piece, and more than one time I would be in a competition round with another person doing the same story. So, when I switched to poetry, I was determined to come up with something nobody else would do.
My coach gave me a copy of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems to see if anything in it would work for me. I eventually ended up choosing the poem “America” and I had a great season. I think I would’ve made it to the state championships that year, had I not gotten laryngitis so severely that I was rendered essentially mute during regionals. Alas, I’ll never know, so I can just imagine that I would’ve gone all the way. Maybe I could have even won the chance to tell my hometown newspaper how to spell “Allen Ginsberg”.
What I do know is that I read Howl and Other Poems cover to cover several times over the second half of my 11th grade school year. This was both an easy feat — it’s a small book — and a not-so-easy one. I’d never read anything like Howl before. It wasn’t the type of book that came up in my school English classes, and though I was (and still am, to a degree) a voracious reader — basically, put anything that has printed words in front of me, and I will read it, regardless of how interesting or dull it may be or how many times I’ve already read it, which is why I have the ingredients list on the back of my shampoo bottle in the shower memorized. But I’m not sure I would’ve come across Ginsberg on my own had it not been for my coach Amy handing me that book.
I wanted to know more, though, so I fired up my coal-powered modem and looked Ginsberg up on the internet. It was then that I found a site at charm.net called Literary Kicks. It was broken up into different pages about different writers. I read more about Ginsberg, I read about Burroughs and Kerouac. I liked the site; the writer, Levi Asher, was engaging and interesting, and I would check back from time to time and read the updates on the Beat News page, which was essentially a blog, before the word “blog” existed. I never sent Levi an email, because he said he didn’t answer them, but Literary Kicks was a go-to website for me. I learned from it, and I got a lot of reading recommendations.
Not long after, I started my own website at Geocities. The site was mostly links to other sites I liked, but I also had a page where I’d write thoughts about things. This was just a static HTML page that I’d update from time to time with a paragraph or two, and it was the genesis of the site that I run these days. Nothing of it even remotely exists now; I cleared out the last vestiges of it in, I think, 2005, when I was using Blogger to create updates and I decided that since the blog (the word “blog” existed by then) was the only really active part of the site (the other sections were pages of photographs, fiction and poetry), I would convert to having only a blog and get rid of the rest. I used my website to learn how to create things for the internet — I taught myself HTML and CSS and my site was always under construction, because I always had to try out this new thing I just learned. When Litkicks became a blog in 2004, it went live with my design (tweaked, because Levi and I never agreed about colors).
I’m getting ahead of myself.
During my last semester of college, in 2001, I went back to Litkicks for the first time in a long time, and I noticed that the format had changed: there were message boards. I didn’t post anything for awhile, but I did read them from time to time, figuring out the lay of the land, as it were. I think my first post on the boards was in April or May 2001, right around the time I graduated. I posted a little, here and there, but didn’t really get sucked in until later that year. I always wanted to be a writer, whatever it means to be a writer (I’m still not sure, except that it involves writing — beyond that, the particulars are sketchy), and in Litkicks, I found a community of people who also wanted to write, who wrote, who shared. It was in this community that I began creating work and sharing it for comment, an act that had seemed so terrifying when I was a student that I stayed out of all possible creative writing classes in college.
I learned a lot, and I wrote a lot. I’ve never been so prolific since (there was something strangely magical and compelling about that little text box I would type into when writing a Litkicks post — a blank Word document just doesn’t have the same pull). I also met a lot of people, made a lot of friends. I talked to people from all over the world about books and writing and everything else; I still talk to some of those people to this day. (I also got my very first stalker and death threats thanks to Litkicks — it really was a wealth of experience.)
In August 2002, about a year after I started hanging around Litkicks, I traveled to New York to perform at a reading at the Bowery Poetry Club, and I stayed at Levi’s apartment. I had fun that weekend, doing a practice run at the famed Chelsea Hotel, performing at the Bowery Poetry Club, shooting pool at a bar after the show, hanging out with Levi and Caryn. It was during this weekend that I learned that Litkicks was run from a computer in Levi’s kitchen, and not from some magical room full of computers and servers like I’d imagined. It was also during this weekend that I agreed to become part of the Litkicks staff.
Litkicks already had been such an integral part of my life, but after joining the staff, it became even more so. Levi, Caryn and I had regular meetings on AIM (remember AIM?!?) about what we were doing with the site. We did some cool events (The QUEST, 24-Hour Poetry Party, October Earth), we published a book (Action Poetry), we had some ideas that barely made it out of beta into production (Indie Writers’ Marketplace). I remember it as a somewhat frenetic time, though my personal life was also somewhat frenetic in those years so I’m sure that’s related, and we had fun.
Since 2004, when Litkicks switched from message boards to blog, I’ve been around here and there — weekly at the beginning, and much less frequently in recent years. I will say this, though: out of all the places on the Web, there’s still just the one place that feels like home, and that’s Literary Kicks. In the past decade, I’ve worked with another online community, and restructured my personal website too many times to count, but these days, when I barely turn on my computer when I get home from work, if there’s a site that I drop by, this is it.
This is how my own internet history has gone full circle, I suppose.
I’ve been around Litkicks for most of my life. I’ve learned so much here, about writers, about writing, about graphic design and user interfaces and maybe trying the fluorescent green. I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve traveled, I’ve argued about all sorts of things, from CSS to whether jam bands are listenable to if we’ll ever have world peace. I was hanging out with Levi and Caryn a couple of weeks ago, and I thought how funny it was that back when I was a teenager, I looked up Allen Ginsberg on the internet, and then, nearly 20 years later, I was having a beer and talking with the guy who created the website I’d found way back when. Life is funny, and that’s the best thing about it.
Happy birthday, Literary Kicks.