Sometimes I find it hard to believe that my blog is almost twenty years old. Well, sometimes I also find it hard to believe that my youngest daughter is almost twenty years old. (They were born the same year, and they both grew up so fast.)
Literary Kicks will turn twenty on July 23, 2014. I have no idea how I’m going to celebrate, but I might keep it low key. For the 5th birthday in 1999, I threw a big party at the Bitter End nightclub in Greenwich Village. For the 10th birthday in 2004, I hosted an all-night online poetry jam with Caryn and Jamelah during which I remember falling asleep at least once. For the 20th, I might just stay home and feed the cats.
It’s not that I’m not as psyched about Litkicks as I was ten and fifteen years ago — but over the years I’ve learned the importance of focus, and I don’t welcome the distraction that a big birthday celebration would create. Running a blog or a website for many years is an endurance test, and I’ve gradually learned that endurance doesn’t need a lot of celebration, and that too much celebration can get in the way of endurance.
I’m making a couple of changes to the site — well, I’ve never stopped tinkering with the formula, really, so this is nothing new. But there is one major decision I’ve just made that I’m honestly not happy about. After relaunching a new version of our long-running Action Poetry feature just half a year ago, I’ve decided to put it on hold.
We began running free-form poetry message boards on this site in 2001, and it’s been an absolute joy. But an interactive poetry site is always high maintenance: editorial maintenance, spam filter maintenance, technical maintenance, emotional maintenance. I think it was the emotional maintenance that became a problem for me with the latest version of the website. You see, I’ve always known that a well-managed social network of collaborative poetry was an amazing idea, and I always felt that it had tremendous potential if it could be done right.
But that’s the problem — the potential has always felt overbearing to me. As both a webmaster and a poet and a techie, I kept trying to perfect the concept for Action Poetry — first it was a Jive message board, then a Drupal message board, then a Facebook-integrated service. But the more I tried to perfect it, the more I kept realizing that I didn’t have the time needed to do it right. Since Action Poetry wasn’t my main gig, or even my second gig — I have a day job as a website developer, and I run Litkicks — I always felt that the actual Action Poetry site I was running was a failure because it wasn’t everything it had the potential to be. Ironically, what it was was damn good: an incredible amount of excellent poems by contributors from around the world — all ages, all races and religions, all sensibilities.
Anyway, the efficient cause of my decision to shut down Action Poetry is that my day job (building an awesome health-related community website for a federal government agency) has been running me ragged and I’ve also been kinda knocking myself out writing about philosophy and genocide for the 20th anniversary (lot of that going around) of the Rwanda massacre of April 1994. In the midst of all this, the ActionPoetry.net website just crashed. It’s a fairly complex site — Facebook hooks, the latest Drupal, my first attempt at a responsive design using Bootstrap — and I can think of a few reasons why it might have crashed, and I don’t have time to fix any of them.
I will fix the website soon so that the tens of thousands of really beautiful poems in the Action Poetry database can live on. But I’m not going to reopen the poetry site for new contributions until I feel like I have more time to pay the right amount of attention to running the site as well as it deserves to be run. The truth is, my heart hasn’t been in it as much as it should have been. My attention has just been too divided. So there it is again: focus, endurance.
During the nearly twenty years that I’ve been running Literary Kicks — and these have not been calm and quiet years — I have sometimes felt like I was an online-culture trendsetter, and that the rest of the Web was years behind the cool stuff I was doing. For instance: I was into profile-based social community way back when Mark Zuckerberg was still in freshman dorm slugging the cheap stuff and pounding the Perl. I was also ahead of the curve on XML, web video, indie advertising, AJAX, e-books, Twitter, Drupal. I’ve sometimes flattered myself that I’ve been helping to pull the Internet in the direction it should go in — the creative web, the intelligent web, the community web. The moments when I’ve had this sensation have been the most satisfying for me of the past twenty years.
But there’s a flip side to this. There have also been times when I felt like I was an online-culture trendmisser. There have been times when I didn’t feel like I was pulling the creative web along, but rather I was dragging my feet and the web was pulling me along. The most comical example is the emergence of the literary blogosphere between 2002 and 2005. I was one of the last literary webmasters to get the ditto.
This is why, even though I was certifiably one of the first literary webmasters in the world (along with Jason Snell, Mark Amerika, Joseph Squier, Ron Hogan, Carl Steadman, Christian Crumlish, Frederick Barthelme, Stacy Horn, Marisa Bowe, Kyle Shannon, Janan Platt, Josh Harris and countless others), I can’t claim to be one of the first literary bloggers. I totally missed the boat on blogging, and had to run to catch up.
Today, in 2014 as I evaluate the state of the site as it approaches the beginning of its third decade, I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about where it stands today. Sometimes feel like I’m still pulling the creative web along, that I’m still an active force for good. Other times, I feel like I don’t know what the hell direction everything is going in, and I’m not leading the trends and I’m barely even following them, and really I’m just trying to cling on and not fall off the track completely.
It’s a steep mountain trail, this literary websphere. It’s a long, long slog. I’ve seen many of my fellow travelers drop off the side of this mountain trail, usually in bleak silence.
I feel honored that I haven’t fallen off myself yet — even though I’m not quite sure what purpose I’m serving by clinging on.