Upon Reflection: A Month of Unexpected Poems

Random Access Poetry

During April, every day, I woke up, not knowing what I was going to write. As part of my Random Access Poetry activity, my goal was to use a few different tools and sites to find an unexpected image that could spark a poem for the day. So, for 30 mornings, that’s what I would do — grab a cup of coffee, go to one of my image-finding spaces, land on an image and write small poems.

Here are some of the places I went to for random photo inspiration:

  • John Johnston’s Flickr Promptr (which he set up after I asked if anyone had anything that would generate a random image for poetry, and I so deeply appreciate that he took that idea and built something in Github)
  • John Johnston’s Flickr Stampr — which is as Creative Commons search engine
  • John Johnston’s (he’s great, right!) Flickr Blendr site, which randomly grabs two images and blends them together
  • Alan Levine’s Don’t Look At My Photos — designed to surface photographers in Flickr — a new photographer every hour (although I noticed some repeats and not all of the photos were Creative Commons designated — this is not Alan’s fault. By the way, I regularly use Alan’s Flickr Creative Commons attribution tool)
  • Internet Archives Book Images collection on Flickr — I follow a bot of this site, that sends out random images, and I often found neat things to inspire writing
  • Bud Hunt’s mostly-daily posting of images for poetry during April. Bud has been doing this for years, and I appreciate that he takes the time. Sometimes, I feel like he is doing it just for me, since I am often the only poet posting there
  • Big Huge Labs Random Photo Browser — not all of the images are Creative Commons, but there is a good variety and a search engine tool

Looking back over the 30 poems from April, there were some decent writing days, more than a few mediocre days and a couple of blah days with the poems. Some poems just worked and some poems just didn’t. Some poems seemed to write themselves — I would start and the lines would flow, and I’d try to figure out where the poem was going as it was being written. That’s an awfully strange and interesting experience. Other days, I’d get stuck mid-way into the piece, force myself to plow through and get to a good-enough stopping place.

What I found, as I was about to start writing each morning by calling up a photo with one of the tools above, is that I was searching for a hook in the visual image — something that grabbed my attention, a spark of a hidden story, or a character on the edges, or a small moment, or an emotion. I didn’t know what I was looking for as I was looking but I was fairly confident I might find it if I looked close enough with my writing eyes. Only once or twice did I not use the very first image I found and reset the process. Mostly, I let the random nature of my search become the inspiration, and just went with it.

The thing about poems is that they are designed to evoke, and photos can do the same. Evocation is also a tricky business for a writer in a rush — I wrote poems in a short span of time — and that’s why they don’t always work in this format. There was often a tension between what I saw, what I wrote, and what I aimed to accomplish. But I often left the writing with a phrase or line or stanza on the screen that I found worthy of the page, and for that, I was always inspired and confident as a poet.

If you bothered to read any of the poems, thank you. I hope you were writing, too.

Peace (in poems and more),
Kevin

Even More Reasons for Remix

Reasons for Remix: A Remix

Remix Remix by Sheri

I want to thank Sheri for remixing my video about remix that I shared out this week. Her visual interpretation of the video is wonderful, and useful, capturing my points from another angle. Even more, her exploration of remix at her blog is a valuable insight into what we are talking about when we talk about remix as an act of appreciation of another’s work of art.

Peace (still remixable),
Kevin

 

Combining GIFs Together in Digital Alchemy Experiment

Combining Gifs

This morning’s DS106 Daily Create call for “making stuff” was to merge a name with a famous person with the name of something else. Betty White Cake was the example (chuckle).

I wanted to do Edge of Darkness, with the U2 guitarist. And I wanted to merge two animated GIFs — the Edge with a dark scene — but I didn’t know how to do that. So I learned how.

I searched the Net and re-discovered Animated GIF Maker (which I have used before to make a single GIF) and learned that you can upload multiple GIFs at a time and then arrange and re-arrange the frames. It’s not perfect but it worked for what I wanted, a hint of the darkness of The Edge.

Now all I need is a soundtrack for the end of the world …

Peace (in frames),
Kevin

Book Review: The Art of Screen Time

Journalist and mom Anya Kamanetz approaches screens and family with a balanced eye in her book — The Art of Screen Time (How Your Family Can Balance Digital Media & Real Life) — and for that, I want to show appreciation. She doesn’t shy away from the troubling aspects of too much screen time for kids and parents. Nor does she ignore the positive possibilities.

Instead, she gives a nuanced look at research and findings around the impact of screens on kids, and the role of parents in the age of the digital entertainment world, and reminds us that all we can do is our best.

She borrows and remixes Michael Pollan’s phrase about food, with a technological twist: “Enjoy screens. Not too much. Mostly with others.” I think that is good advice, even as I both see the benefits as a teacher and father, and worry about the impact of digital devices on developing brains, including my own children.

I appreciated her findings from surveying other parents about how they approach limiting screen time (something my wife and I grapple with at home with our youngest, a teenaged son) and how our difficulties are not isolated. It seems like many of us as parents are finding this a difficult world to navigate. How much screen time is too much screen time? What are the lasting effects of decisions we are making now? How can we find more balance for us and our kids?

Kamanetz looks not just at how kids use technology, but also how parents are becoming the role models for kids, and not always in good and positive ways. She explores the mommy-blogging world (something I sort of know about but not really, and I am both disheartened to see it commercialized and heartened to see there are places where good advice and caring communities exist).

The most important piece of advice — the one huge researched take-away for all parents that sticks with me — is to protect the sleep patterns of your children. No devices and no screens in bedrooms, and turn off screens an hour before bedtime. The sanctity of sleep is key to the development of a growing brain and emotional self.

In a nod to the world she is writing about, where time seems slippery and tl/dr (too long, didn’t read) is a cultural shortcut, Kamanetz even has a final chapter in which she summarizes her book into a five-minute read (sort of like a bulleted cliff notes version). You could read that, of course, but I suggest reading the entire book, and thinking about technology, our kids, ourselves and the world in a critical and constructive way. It is worth it.

Peace (on this screen and beyond),
Kevin

Remixo Reverso


flower center macro flickr photo by Rob Weiher shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

I took a video haiku by Terry — he calls ’em vaikus — and worked a little reverso magic on it for a remix.

First, his (made in Lumen5):

and then my remix:

Reverso Vaiku by Terry

I remixed Terry’s vaiku in iMovie, using filters, text and image layers, and video playback functions. I was hoping to see the poem still make sense in reverse, given its form and function as haiku, and it sort of does.

Peace (in reverse),
Kevin

 

 

Bent and Adjacent, with an Invitation to Remix

A Remixed Poem in Popcorn

Terry did a fine job of laying out the process for making a small bit of media art, using words and image and gif and video, and then adding another layer by pulling it all into Popcorn Maker (now hosted at the Internet Archives) for a soundtrack.

See Terry’s piece at Popcorn

I wondered how I might take what Terry created, and using his idea of adjacent thinking, remix his piece with Popcorn Maker into something slightly bent, with a poem and new music.

Remixing is easy with Popcorn, even if the platform gets funky and wonky at times. Just click on the remix button (two buttons to the right of the volume knob on the lower corner of the project page).

Popcorn remix button

That button re-opens the entire project in a new space, with all of the original media intact. Now you can remix with new media or re-arrange the existing pieces, or add text and images on top. You don’t need to be logged in to remix but you do need to have an account with Internet Archives to save it and share the remix (and supporting the Internet Archives is good idea, anyway, I think).

Again, Popcorn Maker is a bit wonky at times. A little laggy. You need to wrestle with it. Sometimes it does funny things. But it works, and so I spent some time adding a new poem outside of his project, changing the soundtrack and adding bits of this and that. The idea was to be inspired by Terry’s work and bend it a bit through interpretation.

Here’s what I came up with — this is the link, since sometimes Popcorn doesn’t play nice with embeds here, particularly with the music track, for some reason, and sometimes, the youtube video playback

And you know what? You can remix my piece, too, adding another layer up or down or maybe sideways .. use that little remix button. It’s there for a reason. Wouldn’t it be cool to have a series of these remixes, all riffing off another? What would that look like? Sound like? Would there be common echoes across the pieces?

Let me help you get started (I think this will work and you won’t even need a login to play with the remix — does not really work on mobile devices because it is still flash-based, which is why Mozilla abandoned Popcorn Maker):

Remix in Popcorn

Peace (remixed and appreciated),
Kevin

When You Write Across Platforms

A Poem Jumps (the pieces)I am always intrigued by what happens to a piece of writing when it moves across different platforms. Sometimes, we use the term “transmedia” to describe a piece of media or writing that unfolds in different spaces, all in the service of a larger story. I’ve done different experiments myself with this, and have yet to be completely satisfied with the results.

As part of a continued conversation about digital writing and digital making with a bunch of online friends, I wanted to try to make a poem “jump” from space to space, allowing it to unfold in pieces. I used my own blog as the starting point and ended up over in Mastodon as my ending point, and in between, the poem moves from Flickr, to  Twitter, to Vimeo, to another writing blog space.

Here is the poem:

A poem jumps … (blog)
… leaps into the unknown … (twitter)
… words as anchors to thought … (flickr)
… as thought gives anchors to words … (youtube)
… where one ends is where one begins … (blog)
… a poem jumps. (mastodon)

Sometimes, the links to move forward to the next line of the poem are in the comment bin. Sometimes, they are part of the post. I was not trying to be tricky with it. I wanted the path to be clear to anyone bothering to try to read the piece.

The most difficult part was coordinating the links to become live at nearly the same time, and it was sort of like setting up dominoes. If one piece with links wasn’t live, I could not have the link to connect with the previous and the next one. I worked backwards, and then sideways, re-posting some of the pieces a few times to ensure it all worked.

At one point in the poem’s construction, my plan was to have the path go through the comment bin of either Anna or Sheri’s blogs, but when I tried, I think they either have comments on moderation (which is understandable) or maybe my posts got sent to moderation (due to embedded links) and they were not visible, so I could not get the link I needed to keep the poem moving. I became impatient, not knowing if Sheri or Anna might even be around to see and release the comments. This become an invisible logjam.

I eventually went an alternative route (and reached out Sheri and Anna to let them know to ignore anything I had left behind), although I feel as I missed an opportunity to use another person’s comment area as part of the poem’s architecture. The poem would have been stronger by moving through other people’s posts, I think. This was a missed connection, so to speak.

What I wasn’t so successful at here, I think, is really harnessing more of the possibility of each platform in some way. I did make the Flickr jump visual and the Video is a video of word animation, but maybe I should have added an audio component, for example, and the Twitter jump might have been better with additional tags, spreading the poem further. The two blog jumps — here, at this blog, and at another, where I write poems — are just places with links (although I did add a visual to the first jump), and maybe finding a way to add an interactive element (of some sort) would have been interesting. Landing on Mastodon made sense for me, as I write small poems there every day with a few others, but you would not know that by the landing point.

Small projects like these are learning adventures, though. As a writer, I wonder how a piece can make that leap, in ways that allows platforms to inform and deepen the meaning of the words. As a teacher, I wonder how this might be taught in the classroom with young writers, and maybe .. why.

Here’s what I think as I mull on that last point — the why would one even bother to do this?  It becomes clear that in the process of doing this, you are forces to learn more about each platform as you consider its use as a jump point, that the considerations about possibilities make visible the limitations and the advantages of each platform space — and maybe open the door to unknown workarounds — that only surface when you see the collection of platforms as one larger compositional space, like an artist sees a canvas.

Peace (where poems surface),
Kevin

 

Taking Lines for a Walk into Writing

For SheriInside a post the other day, Sheri shared a previous project of hers, in which she used a sketchbook to draw a line into a story of art. I was intrigued by her call at the end of her story (which is part of the Sketchbook Project) for others to join her. Even though the call was from five years ago, I tried to answer it with words via Storybird and its poem creation tool.

Last night, I was still thinking of Sheri’s work in her sketchbook and mulling on the idea of lines as connectors. So I went back into Storybird and decided to use it to create a longer piece — a picture book this time — of how lines connect to writing, connect to people, connect to us. I started the book with the same image/artist as tapped for the above “magnet” poem, and built out from there.

Read the story:

A Story for Sheri

Process Notes:

Storybird is interesting because of the way it upends the traditional writing — where words often inspire image. In Storybird, image and art inspires words. You choose a keyword or a specific artist (as I did here, with Flapperdoodle as artist) and Storybird generates art for you. In the case of its poetry section, you choose an image and then are given a bank of words. This is something Anna noticed when she did a poem there.

Constraints both hem us in — we can’t do what we wanted to do — and force us to edit or revamp or find a workaround, and sometimes, this is what gives a piece a different feel. Constraints force us out of our comfort zone. That’s not always a bad thing. Anna’s poem is beautiful, despite her narrow options for expression.

from Anna

 

I admit that I did not have much of a plan when I started Where the Writing Comes From, other than finding art with lines and being inspired by Sheri. Still, the story emerged as I imagined a narrator wondering about her writing, and then she shifts from herself as the center of her story to another as a larger narrative, seeing how worlds intersect with each other, and ending the piece with her writing the story I have been writing about her.

Sometimes, lines bend.

Peace (following it),
Kevin

 

 

 

The Only Reliable Tech is Pen and Paper

This is becoming a regular story of mine, and probably yours. An app that I really liked using for writing and making digitally, and on which I relied upon regularly, seems to have gone dead on me. Its name is Legend, and it was an animated text app that Terry Elliott turned me on to long ago.

And I loved it on my iPad, for its simplicity and its design and the way you could easily find Creative Common images via its Flickr connection and then layer short text on top of the image. I used Legend for poetry and for quotes, and for merging words with motion and image. It was my go-to app for many things.

And now Legend is gone from the App Store. Vanished without a trace.

I was having some troubles with Legend on my iPad the other day, and I deleted the app in hopes of re-installing and re-booting it, and soon discovered that the app itself was nowhere to be found in the iTunes App Store. It’s not even a mention anymore in my “bought” apps file bin in iTunes. It’s like it never even existed, and its loss saddens me.

But, of course, I should know better.

In this world of digital writing and composition (and art, and whatever else we want to call it) the only technology that really stands the test of time with any consistency is a piece of paper and a pencil or pen. All else is mostly temporary, so be sure to back your stuff up and keep an eye on the horizon for alternatives.

In my mourning for Legend, I have been trying out a few different animated text apps. I grabbed a quote from Dave Cormier’s recent piece on Rhizomatic Learning.

This is HypeText app:

Experimenting with Animated Text Apps (w/Dave Cormier quote)

and this is TypiVideo app:

Experimenting with Animated Text Apps (w/Dave Cormier quote)

And this is TypoTastic app:

Experimenting with Animated Text Apps (w/Dave Cormier quote)

None do what I want it to do. None feel quite right. Some have limits on loop time (either going too fast or too slow). Some don’t give you much access to images beyond your own files (which has value but requires deeper planning than I am usually doing for this kind of work.)

I’ll keep exploring. I am checking out Legend on my Android phone … hmmm … seems like it now has an entirely new name now (Animated Text), and has advertisements within it … and no longer has access to Creative Commons images. Dang.

This exploration is another reminder to myself, and maybe to you, that nothing lasts forever in this shifting environment of operating system updates, app development, and that our own means and venues of digital writing is always in flux and motion.

Peace (animated with image),
Kevin

PS — I’d also like to say that I could probably do what I want with animated text via Keynote or Powerpoint (and I have) but I appreciated the ease of making animated texts with Legend and other apps. Maybe another post for another day is about what we give up as writers — creative control, freedom to make change, a vision from start to finish — when we allow our tools to guide our writing process.

Process Notes: The Sound Collage Cacophony

Silent Talk of Digital Writing: Filter Filter Filter Art

The image above seeks to represent a complicated idea — the merging of digital writing … through image. As part of a new push to explore Digital Writing (via the hashtag #MoDigiWriMo), I asked folks to share a wordless image to capture their view on digital writing. I know, strange, right? I then used the shared images from Terry, Wendy, Anna and Sheri to craft small poems, and then short musical interpretations of the image.

The final photo here is an attempt to merge all of the image/poems together, with a message of wonder and listening. I am happy with how the image came out, complicated as it was to create, and, as part of the MoDigiWriMo philosophy of sharing process notes of making art, this is how I went about it (mostly on my iPad):

1. Image to poem via Pablo extension

2. Poems merged as collage via Photogrid App

3. Collage texture and color via Prisma App

4. Collage broken into pieces via Fragment App

5. Shadow silhouette layers via Fused App

6. Paired silhouette via Photogrid App

7. Shared via Flickr

I also began wondering if I could (but never wondered if I should) remix the four musical interpretations into one single composition, knowing the juxtaposition of sounds would be strange, weird, and challenging. I did it anyway, using Soundtrap as my mixing tool, creating this layered cake of sounds.

The result is odd and disjointing, yet I find it intriguing (more so with headphones, where the shared landscapes are more likely to emerge). The one track that initially seemed out of sync was Sheri’s, so I ended up dividing it into smaller pieces, shifting it around as layers, finding the nooks and crannies for it.

There are moments of confusion in the track. But there are also moments of melodic and harmonic symmetry, where each piece seems to fall into the others. Sort of like how we write sometimes, digitally.

Peace (sounds strange),
Kevin