April 2009

digital art

digital art


When I moved from Park Slope in Brooklyn to Marine Park, in 1998, I noticed that the bulk of my possessions were books. I crammed as many as I could into my small apartment and stored the remainder in the garage, being careful to elevate the cardboard boxes off the floor so that I would not lose my treasures to dry rot.

The fact that I lacked instant access to all my books did not bother me. My distance from the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library did. Whereas before it was a short walk up the Slope from my apartment on Third Street to the main branch, now I had to walk to the bus stop, wait for the bus, take the bus to Kings Highway, wait for the train, and take the train to the Seventh Avenue station, and walk up the hill to the library.

For a short while I made that half hour journey to Grand Army Plaza to use the stacks, read periodicals and take out books as before. Then I stopped going. There is a small branch library in Marine Park, too small, as it turned out, for my needs. So now, as a writer, I was without a library.

At about that time I discovered the Internet and quickly got online, realizing its huge potential for a writer and as a source of general information and self-advertisement. I purchased a paperback guide to writers’ sites on the Net and set up an account with Lonely Blue Coyote, where I placed poems and summaries of novels and other works online, and waited for the literary world to come to me.

Nothing came of those early efforts. But my view of books and the materials of writing changed. I found a newsstand in Marine Park where I could purchase the Sunday New York Times, as I had done in Park Slope. After I got online, and the Times published an online edition, I began to notice how the newspapers piled up in my apartment and, further, that I didn’t really read all the sections. So I stopped buying the Sunday Times, thereby saving $2 and all that paper to bundle up for the trash. True, I now lacked the full Book Section, but I enjoyed reading the online reviews; and besides, books were all over the Web.

All of which has prepared me for the next big change coming in publishing.

I remember when, about six or seven years ago, a man setting up a digital camera display in a large NYC camera store, leaned my way and said, “Digital is coming.” Although it took me several years to sell off my film camera, I knew he was right.

I regard the New York City bus and subway system as a laboratory of sorts: of people and the things they carry. Believe me, people read plenty of books on the trains and buses. What surprises me is the number of thick, heavy hardcovers people lug around. Nearly everyone has a cell phone or a BlackBerry. You don’t see too many laptops because of the sudden changes in the subway.

For the past year or so I have been looking for electronic book readers, either the Amazon Kindle or the Sony Reader. Very rare last year. Noticeably more this year. So far, Kindle is winning by numbers, especially with the launch of Kindle II.

Digital is coming; book readers are coming.

Recently I held a Kindle II in my hand. It seemed a bit heavy with its leather cover. The LED screen was not illuminated, but then neither is a paper book. Despite that, the text was easy to read, and I think it has a text zoom feature. I was impressed by the close tolerances of the fittings and buttons. It looked professional. I was sold. The only issue with me right now is price.

Obviously these devices will not replace the gorgeous photography and map books one can own today, with stunning color on acid-free stock. They are text devices, and the pros far outweigh the cons.

Book sales remain strong. U.S. publishers had net sales of $24.3 billion in 2008, down from $25.0 billion in 2007, representing a 2.8% decrease. In the last six years the industry had a compound annual growth rate of 1.6%. So people will be reading paper books for years to come. What I am writing about here is the emotional wringing book lovers, especially older folk, will go through as they declare their loyalty to the book as they have known it in the face of growing electronic book sales.

I love books. I always have, and I always will. My parents bought them for me, read them to me, and I became a precocious reader in school; I read two years above my grade level. I own books signed by authors, books that have sentimental value. Mostly, they gather dust on my bookshelves, as I do more and more of my reading online.

In 1977 I began writing a short epistolary novel (as yet unpublished), Dear Cynthia, about an astronaut aboard a starship in mid-21st Century, to his former wife, now a clone like himself, back on Earth. Max reminisces about their literary lives together in the 20th Century. Aboard the starship, he is a low class librarian who prints hardcopy when it is needed, thus anticipating print-on-demand publishing today. I end with this reminiscence from the novel about a lost world.

“I think of them in Morocco, buckram, tortoise shell, velvet, sturdy and solid in a row on walnut shelves, or sprawled open on a table by the window or beneath a tree in summer. I think of cheap paperbacks with lurid covers whose pages yellowed quickly and came unglued from their perfect bindings. I read them by the wagon load. I think of coffee table books on heavy acid-free stock with sewn signatures and wonderful full color illustrations. I think of reference books drier than a dead Pharaoh’s skin, but filled with maps and diagrams and long dense paragraphs. I think of used books I purchased for a dollar with a note tucked between the pages or a name inscribed in graceful calligraphy inside the front cover. I think of library books with angry comments scribbled in the margin, correcting and reproving the author. I think of cook books and baby books, slim volumes of verse and bellowing novels, books to improve the self and body. Books that woke me up and books that put me to sleep. From double-elephant to the size of a nutshell, they ruled the world.”

By Hudson Owen. All Rights Reserved.

Born of a boom in booming times
After a booming war,
The enormous children popped out,
And their first word was “More!”

Their parents, like all good winners,
Went out and bought the store.
The enormous children jumped for joy
And cried for more and more.

They got Lincoln Logs, Erector Sets,
Little League and TV too,
And TV dinners and heartland food;
So they grew and grew and grew.

Then one day their parents said,
“It’s time to fight your war.”
The enormous children jumped up
And down and really swore.

“Why?” their parents sternly asked.
“Doesn’t everyone have a war?”
“No!” the enormous children shouted,
And they up and rocked the store.

They took toys off their Christmas list
And gave up apple pie.
They knocked the nuclear family
And sang while they were high.

As the enormous children said –
And children are always right –
It was not business as usual,
When you saw things in their light.

Well, debaters will ever debate
The Beatles and their songs,
If Sally, Dick and Spot were right,
If the rights outweighed the wrongs.

The enormous children grew and grew.
And they do so to this day.
Yes, some have turned into grownups;
Some are merely touched with grey.

From Selected Poems 1967 -2007
by Hudson Owen. All Rights Reserved.

In May, the snows melted,
yielding fresh cream.
And the Dyer bird flew back
to the Bok Chok tree;

Where it fanned its feathers
and sang. Sang, so that
musicians broke their bows
and wept. And the prince awoke.

“Oh, where is love?” he cried.

“Where? Each year I come
to the Bok Chok tree, wait
and hear the beautiful song:

“And return alone come fall
to my empty realm. Speak,
bird, tell me your secret
that I might find my love.”

Whereupon the Dyre bird
fanned its feathers and spoke:
“I have no secret,” it said.
And flew far, far away.

The prince picked up a feather
dropped from the bird, stuck it
in his cap, unfurled his cloak,
and sang for all the maids to hear.

From Selected Poems – 1967 -2007,
by Hudson Owen. All Rights Reserved.

April, as you might know, is National Poetry Month in these here States. Such was decreed by the Academy of American Poets, in 1996. You might think of this as a holiday from everything other than poetry. For poets, it’s a time to be active.

So, where are you in your poetic journey?

I began as a listener and reader. In kindergarten I remember the teacher reading “The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins,” by Dr. Seuss. In the first grade I read these lines of verse in a book in the Wilmington, Delaware public library:

Respect the grass on which you tread.
T’will bloom above you when you’re dead.

Besides Dr. Seuss, I read Mother Goose and countless books and stories. In school, I wrote long verse poems, a practice I carried into adulthood. I don’t know what good writing poems has done for me. I count my poems among my finest writings. They have garnered some critical praise. I like the rush of poetry. I have written 300 or more lines of verse in a sitting on two occasions. Prose is good, as far as it goes.

April is a vital month. The forsythia are in bloom here in Brooklyn. I read a figure that some 2,000 books of poems were published in the U.S. last year or the year before—you could check with Poets House—and that’s not counting self-published books, which must number in the thousands annually. How many of these books are read by more than ten people? I read some of it, a tiny fraction of what’s out there. Poetry might not have much influence in society, but you certainly can’t say that poetry is dying. I sometimes describe American culture as the absence of poets. We listen to everyone else, practically: jocks, pols, comedians, talk show hosts, beauty contestants. Are poets dull?

Why do you write poems? Wallace Stevens said: “Because we have to.”

The money is in performing: readings at a high level, and performance poetry, slam poetry and hip hop. On YouTube you will find some of these poets of the mic with several hundred thousand hits. Not much of this poetry holds up on the page, but that’s not the point. I will be adding more sound to the poems on this blog.

Of the comments posted herein, all have been on essays about poetry, none on any of the poems. I’m not quite certain how to interpret this. Maybe people are more comfortable expressing opinions about opinions. Or they feel more compelled to do so.

In any event, I like to hear your stories about your adventures in poetry: poems you’ve written, poems you’ve read; poems that have done you good, won you love, made a difference to someone else. I leave you with a few lines of poesy.

Here’s to William Butler Yeats,
Of Ireland and fairy states;
Who, poet, statesman, carried myth,
As though a case to hold things with.

By Hudson Owen. All Rights Reserved.

16 X 20 inch poster

16 X 20 inch poster