Blogging, Harriet, and Me

Hi, I’m Barbara, just some girl with a little blog. Yeah, back in the day, it was easy to be just some girl with a little blog, saying whatever I wanted to say, with no one lurking, no one except my two BFF’s reading. There were no consequences, no responsibility, no one to disagree and argue with me, certainly no one to cite me and hold me to my words.

That said, I’m not surprised at various e-reactions to Poetry Foundation’s Harriet blog. As you probably all know by now, they have changed their format from the contentious, embattled blogging space to the newsfeed of links to elsewhere in poetry e-world. You’ve read Oscar’s take on the recent change. I’ve kind of blogged about it as well.

Here are some other links:

This is all so interesting to me, how impassioned people are out there; after all, Harriet is/was a major source of content about poetry and literary industry discussion. As a former Harriet blogger, I appreciated their reaching out to those of us in different poetry communities, subcultures, and even countercultures. I wasn’t always certain that my being there did any good, whether anyone really cared about the poets and poetries I thought were important. If anything, blogging there took my energy away from my core communities. Blogging there also raised my anxiety levels. Not only was the forum larger than what I was accustomed to, with readers who were not like-minded or sympathetic to any of my poetic causes, the existence of trolls and generally unkind people caused me to self-censor.

I’d come back to my blog and try to do my thing here, though I’ve had e-unpleasantness in the past, starting with the fracas that was Silliman’s review of Poeta en San Francisco a few years back. So even here, my internal editor is always switched on as I continue to voice my professional and political opinions and beliefs, which I have found is a good practice when I’m conducting myself in public. And still, real world drama, hurt feelings, broken friendships and all have resulted from what I have blogged here in the past. Such is the power of the written word and someone with a strong opinion. (“Cuz it be that way,” –Michael Jackson, “Human Nature.”)

Here, I have control over trolls and assholes. I don’t know that I’ve ever posted an official comment policy, but my general guidelines have been as follows: this blog is something like an open extension of my dinner table. People who sit at it know how to conduct themselves properly. We can have disagreements and voice conflicting opinions here. We can even do so pointedly, so long as the discussion remains relevant, directed, and civil, as befitting grown-up’s and professionals (as this is a poetics and culture blog). Anyone who willfully behaves otherwise is uninvited from my table and can get out of my house. Keywords here are not just “civil,” but “relevant” and “directed,” and “professional.”

Ultimately, I am wondering how the above can be done in open mega e-poetry-spaces such as Harriet. To what extent do any of us have to tolerate interactions with those whose behavior is bullying and abusive, and those who insist upon detracting from the discussion at hand for their own purposes. If the latter, then I say, get your own blog and forward your agendas there. I still believe blog is democratic this way; anyone with access to a computer and internet connection can forward and grow his/her words and ideas into open e-space.

I am not saying it is at all easy to rein in commenters and continue forwarding the discussion at hand, dissenters and all. I know that any e-space which includes comment streams is like the Wild West if not diligently regulated. I don’t know why I’m surprised by what people out there actually say in comment streams, but I do know that people are hella brave when they don’t have to use their real names, say something directly to another person’s face (then again…), and when they are not the principal content generators and discussants.

Must the only alternative be to recoil from open e-space, and shut off the discussion? I still believe it’s important to have open, discursive e-spaces and dissent. If the Poetry Foundation prefers to be an e-traffic director, then as Dan Brady says in his Barrelhouse article, perhaps another major American Poetry organization can “steal this idea,” take the original Harriet idea/concept, and fine tune it, try different ways of keeping the discussion civil.

Here is my disclaimer: I am one of the (I don’t know how many or how few) people feeding links to Harriet, which means I get to forward my p0etics concerns in that mega e-space. As with my blogging there, I try my best to keep it diverse and politicized. It’s something of an expansion of what I do at the PAWA blog; I’ve told my fellow board members that sometimes I have misgivings,  dictating to people, “This is what’s important; this is what I think you should be paying attention to,” to which they have responded that I should not be having misgivings. If people are looking to me for all of this information, then I am providing them with what they’re asking for. Still, what will continue to trouble me is that one way relationship with the reader, the near impossibility of meaningful exchange.

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Barbara Jane Reyes

Author of Gravities of Center, Poeta en San Francisco, and Diwata. Adjunct professor in Philippine Studies at University of San Francisco.

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