Saturday, February 28, 2009

Why (Some) People HATE Poetry

Today's blog is a text collage comprised of random statements found on the Internet about HATING poetry.

Teachers at a poetry forum group discussing why they or their students hate poetry:

I once overheard a teacher saying to his class, "I don't like this either, but we have to do it so let's just get through it as quickly as possible, okay?" (It was Chaucer, btw.) Why do you think this resistance exists and what can we do to overcome the attitude?"

AAACCCK. How can you not love Chaucer!! … I think the key is to ignore the format as much as possible when you're dealing with poetry-resistant kids and just focus on the content.

Get your rotten tomatoes ready: I'm one of those heretical teachers who hates poetry. Wait! Wait! I don't hate it as a genre. I hate it as an excuse for somebody to put smarmy nonsense down on a page. How many times when we ask students to write poetry do we get "I'm going to kill myself because he doesn't love me" drivel?

Honestly, besides the smarmy nature of teenage poetry, I think what kills my enjoyment of poetry is having to break it down into dactyls and hexameters and troches and objective correlatives. Why can't we appreciate poetry for what the poet says and not for how he or she says it? It's ok to point out the poet's brilliance in being able to write something great according to a preset formula, such as a sonnet. But is all the stuff I mentioned above necessary for high school students to learn? Do we turn them off by making poetry reading a chore instead something pleasurable?

That's sure what happened to me. Here's some smarm for you:

A bird came down the walk
He did not know I saw
He bit an angle worm in half
and ate the fellow raw.

By Emily Dickinson for goodness sake!

By the way, I love Chaucer and Shakespeare. For some reason, they don't count as poetry to me.

Kids don't like poetry because teachers don't teach them that the entire line has to be digested to get the point. All of them read the words on the line as they see it...they don't get that sometimes you have to actually read until you get to a period or a semicolon to get the whole idea. I wouldn't like it either in fragmented bits.

Set it to music, and kids like poetry. That's all songs are...get on their level, and how can they NOT like Beowulf, Chaucer, and Shakespeare?

Wasting a class' time just analyzing the rhyme scheme and meter to the point that they're nodding off and wishing they were having root canal work instead of sitting in your class is very, very sad. It would be the same thing if I assigned "King Lear" and said cite every example of iambic pentameter in the play - there are 182 and you have to find them all!!! AACCCCKKKK!

I'm NOT saying the mechanics aren't important. I am saying that most kids are not going to get hooked on poetry if that is the only approach the teacher uses to teach poetry.

Poetry is meant to be heard. It's great to know the mechanics eventually, but it is the words, the meaning they convey, which are of ultimate importance. Read aloud. This is my best advice. The hunger for language is real; the "fear" of poetry quelled for many when the inhibitions are quieted.

Students don't understand that poetry MUST be read differently than prose, they find poetry difficult to comprehend. In addition, poetry has no set form and can be written in so many different ways. It is much more "open" than prose; therefore, many students have a problem with poetry due to it being so "unstructured" in many ways. I think many students have this mentality: "I don't understand it; therefore, I hate it"

I am a student from the UK studying English Language and Literature. My mother is a high-school English teacher and so I was raised in a fairly literary environment. I can't get enough of novels, short stories, essays; I love reading prose... but I f**king HATE poetry!

I hate its artificiality. I hate the fact that it DEMANDS one's analytical attention and that there is no way of gleaning pleasure from it without picking it apart like some smug cryptic crossword clue. And more than anything I hate the fact that, for others, poetry seems to speak directly to their souls, setting hearts and minds on fire, while it leaves me sitting here, uninspired, empty and alienated. It tortured me because I really do WANT to feel what you feel when you read poetry, but I can't. I think I'm incapable of it. If a person can be tone-deaf, do you think it's possible to be "poetry-blind"?

Try to open your mind and realize that NO ONE "gets" all poetry. Not all poetry must be picked apart and analyzed, either, believe it or not. Some poems are meant to be enjoyed for what is says literally; for example, William Carlos Williams wrote a poem about taking his wife's plum from the refrigerator and eating it. She had to find out it was gone instead of him telling her about it before he found it. It is a very simple poem about nothing more than the narrator offering his apologies for taking his wife's plum out of the refrigerator and eating it without telling her first or asking her if this was "ok."

[Apparently some students still have problems with even this "simple" poem: Click here.]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

From a California girl working full time while attending the University of Iowa:

I Hate Poetry. Here’s why:

1. I hate that with poetry, we are expected to read into it all.

2. With poetry, you’re given basically nothing, and you’re expected to identify facts that you would have absolutely no way of knowing. If you really want me to understand, graph it for me. Or use clear language. But the point isn’t for me to understand; the point is for you to learn something about yourself, or for you to find a way to express something for yourself. Whenever you write a poem, you’re writing it for you.

3. I can understand how dissecting poetry can help us create symbolism, and watch for subtleties in writing. I can also see how poetry can sometimes be fun. I like some poetry, when I make it mean something new to me instead of trying to guess why the author wrote it. I do also enjoy the challenge of creating poems with particular rhythms. I like funny poetry. I think that some poems are kind of like a collage of senses; they can combine smells and imagery and those sorts of things, and that’s kind of interesting and even occasionally powerful.

4. Generally, though, I think poetry tends to be a big game of “Guess what I’m thinking!”

(She goes on to note that "a Google search of “I hate poetry” returned 7,320 results. “I love poetry” returned 9,190 results. "Why I hate poetry" returns 200 results and "why I love poetry" returns 2,130.) [1]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Blogger Paul Dallgas-Frey asks, "How do you become a poet, if not by writing poems, even if they are bad ones? An architect is still an architect, even if he is a bad one." But: "He does have a license. Maybe that's what I need," Paul says. "A License to Practice Poetry, a CPP (Certified Poet Practitioner). "

Here's Paul's poem about why he hates poetry:

I Hate Poetry
by Paul Dallgas-Frey

When I think of poetry,
I think of maidens
in gossamer gowns,
skipping through meadows
with baskets full of flowers.

Can you imagine a poet
going out for a beer with the guys
after a hard day
of writing poems?

I can’t.
Poetry is for wimps.
It’s all about doilies
and butterfly wings,
or stuff so personal
only the writer
could possibly know
what it’s about,
which really
makes me crazy.

And half the time
it doesn’t even rhyme anyway.

~~~~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~ --

Random Comments from here and there:

--"Not to intentionally bash an entire medium of art, but I find poetry obnoxious and ridiculously pretentious."

--"I realize some people think it beautiful and moving; some find it to be a great release for stress and tension, etc. The symbols, the imagery, blah blah blah. I think if people are going to be writers, I want to read something with a bit more substance to it."

--"Good poetry is demanding of the reader - much of what is communicated occurs in what is not said, left out, or alluded to through allegory and metaphor. For the lazy reader who wants to be more passively entertained, good poetry is often too demanding."

--"The ratio of bad poetry to good poetry is about 3 billion to one, if you count lovesick things scribbled by adolescents during Calculus class.
Lit classes tend to suck the joy out of experiencing poetry by sneering at 18-year-olds who aren't already steeped in the historical and social context that produced Leaves of Grass and The Wasteland and Prufrock. Some poetry is intensely personal; bad personal poetry tends to come off as either self-pitying wankery or self-aggrandizing wankery. And like it or not, Shakespeare IS very, very difficult for most people with an "average" IQ and education to understand. The language is archaic and becoming more so."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~~~~ ~ ~ ~

And, finally, from a published poet:

I Hate Poetry
by Adrian Potter

I hate poetry.
It doesn’t pioneer unexplored territory
or stand upon dangerous ground.
I hate poetry
because it’s crafted with shoddy quality,
like a t-shirt sold at a swap meet
that falls apart after only a second or third wearing.
I hate poetry.
It’s all foreplay, no passion.
It speaks of romance without defining anything new,
ignoring how the mention of sex
clings like sweet mango to the roof of your mouth,
how a kiss can push whiskey breath
onto unsuspecting lips,
how regret glistens like sweat beads
on a sleeping lover’s body.
I hate poetry.
It believes it can crawl
through the broken glass of the past
without bleeding and still somehow
manufacture timeless literature.
Remember: advice is just advice,
but never let words stand in the way of writing.
Instead, twist the words – as if they are nipples
and your ideas are the index and thumb,
applying torque until the words
become what you desire,
or what you fear,
or both.
Show me what I do not know,
sins and shortcomings,
how to cheat to survive,
why hope hovers in the chest of men
despite the bell-shaped curve of misfortune
that governs our existence.
Show me these things instead.
Show me these things so I can love poetry again. [1]


So there you have it. A few random examples of why some people HATE poetry.

I grew up in a small town in the mountains where the only music carried by the few radio stations we could receive was country, pop or polkas. I adopted, like a sponge, the prevailing attitude that classical music was "longhair stuff" and opera the tedious, boring dronings of fat, screeching women singing in languages I couldn't understand. It took the dogged persistence of a fellow student to trick me into actually listening to certain arias, and only after multiple listenings (first in Russian--that was how he tricked me; then in Italian) did I finally come to understand and appreciate what I was hearing.

Perhaps poetry is that way for some people. It's not so much that they seek to consciously resist it--it may simply be that it just doesn't seem all that relevant to them--yet.

Relevancy and relation--Let's face it, if you can't relate to a thing, it's not going to be high on the list of things you think about, especially seek out or pay too much attention to. Maybe it's like music. They say about jazz that you either love it or hate it. But nothing is all black and white and we don't really live in an Either/Or universe. There're so many big gray areas. (I like SOME jazz, for instance. But not all, and I don't collect it, the way I collect certain books or poems.)

That's neither here nor there, though. What was the purpose of this lengthy word-collage? Beats me, ha ha. Seriously, it wasn't just mere curiosity on my part. I guess I wanted to understand the urge behind the desire to say something relevant creatively with words (as in a poem)--to resonate with at least one reader poetically the way certain poems have resonated with me. One of the poetry haters said poets are just writing for themselves but I disagree. Sure, poets write to express themselves and maybe, like some writers, they simply can't NOT write. But itching inner compulsion and/or proliferation alone do not a poet make.

But how come so many people find even the IDEA of poetry so worthy of disdain? Some people become attuned to poetry--and some don't. (I hate that word, "attuned". As if we've got some kind of inner antenna that goes "ka-ZAP-Ching!" when we connect to something.) The word "choice" comes to mind. You pretty much choose which TV channel to watch; it's a process of selection. That someone chooses to tune out Poetry is a choice. We should respect that. How extraordinarily fortunate, though, that for many it is indeed relevant... and positively loved. Some of the loudest critics of poetry I sometimes think are actually not people who "hate" poetry so much as poets themselves who spend more energy ranting about other poets' words or methods or perceived affiliation or affronts than they do in writing poetry themselves.

Really though, words matter. (Thank you Joseph Brodsky, for drumming that into my head!) Especially if you're a writer. The words you choose, the ones you omit. It is particularly disheartening when what one considers one's "best" poems are misunderstood, rejected, or blatantly ignored. (And like with the hair, you can have a really "bad poem day" I know you know what I mean here.)

For me personally, the magic, the insight, the passon and the beauty of what poetry's supposed to be about I think sometimes gets forgotten in the endless petty intellectual squabbles; blah-blah-blahing about the process, method, or performance; the sheer amount of attention devoted to contests and prizes; and the gnawing quest for feedback giving validaton. These all help us become more aware, and possibly better poets. But in the end, it's the words, man. It's the WORDS.

And the perplexing reality is ... that some people simply just hate the words.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Embedded Poet

[See updated note at bottom.]

Canada has embedded a poet in the war zone of Afghanistan.

Canadian poet Suzanne Steele is one of five artists nationwide to participate as a "war artist" in the 2008-2009 Canadian Forces Artist Program (CFAP). She is the first poet to be chosen for the program, which examines and records, through text, audio, images, video and contributions by Canada’s military personnel, the contemporary Canadian war experience. She will be going on exercise with the infantry several times in the next year.[1]

A reader writing in to her War Poet blog asks how a poet embed differs from reporting, "like press war correspondents would do."

"War Poetry? Does it give some positiveness, some beauty, to the war that wouldn’t exist otherwise? Or can Poetry exist on the 'dark' side and be used to sub[limate] the nightmare?"

Suzanne Steele replies:

Poets have always lived amongst us, they have at different times been our collective memory, our futurists, our seers, our record of what it means to be human, and sometimes, they speculate on what it means to be godly.

As for war as a subject of poetry… the historian Will Durant calculated that “in the last 3,421 years of recorded history only 268 have seen no war”… and since recorded history, we have had songs, poems, visual art, sculpture, dance, that describe war. Some incites, some glorifies, some records, some rewrites, some has been public, other, private, some commissioned, some propaganda etc…

Here is a short list of poets* (eurocentric, predominantly English, male) who have taken war as their subject: the ancient ones who wrote the old and new testament; Homer; Virgil; Horace; Aneirin (6th c); Rihaku (8th c Chinese); the Norse sagas; Chaucer; Donne; Milton; Dryden; Defoe; Coleridge; Wordsworth; Hugo; Hardy; Byron; Tennyson; Emerson; Whitman; Melville; Dickinson; Rilke; Rimbaud; Kipling; MacDiarmid; Frost; Apollinaire; Yeats; Graves; Hughes; Larkin; Orwell; Pound; Auden… and some of the great WWI war poets… Sassoon; Owen; Thomas; MacRae; Rosenberg; West…

I would say that there are as many visions of what poetry might bring/take to and from war as a subject, as there are poets… each has an individual set of lenses through which they view war… personally, I look for the humanity, the light, in the darkest of places… does this give a false impression of the gravity, the inhumanity of war? I’m not the one to say… all I know is that I’ve been yelled at for even attempting this task… [2]

I’m trying to imagine being embedded somewhere, in an unfamiliar place, under harsh physical conditions, in a war zone, with the task of – writing poems about it. Not just daily diary entries describing the situation and my personal reaction to it—but "poems".

As a guest at the inner sanctum of the Officers’ Mess Dinner, this woman war poet feels humbled. What’s a poet doing on this military mission? she seems to be wondering: "Certainly I am nothing, as a writer, a poet. "

I cringed when I read that. That’s like an orange walking into a huge warehouse full of crates and crates of apples. The mighty Apples stare down from their ranks at the out-of-place newcomer. “I’m just an … an orange,” the little orange says. Okay, in the REAL world, oranges don’t “walk”—nor are apples exactly intimidating. Poets are not sent to the front to fight. Soldiers are not trained to write verses. Why should one party feel as “nothing” compared to the other? One's an apple, one's an orange. They come from different fruit bins. What does that have to do with one's worth as an orange? :)

She writes that she’s here to witness, “to record, not judge. I am not the story. I am the conduit…”

The idea of writing as a conduit--I've felt that to be more the case with fiction, than poetry. Poets as conduits--to say, in poems, what a journalist might want to write but can’t (because he or she is not authorized to speak). Not just to self-express then, but to convey through the eyes of another. Her quest for the project: “That at least a few of my writings will have a shelf-life of more than a few minutes (all writers want this), and that maybe I’ll give a voice to the speechless.” Witnessing, and voicing what others can't--or won't say. Creating awareness poetically. That's a real challenge.

Doing poetry as part of a selected program, structured assignment or scheduled exposition--I find myself less interested in the project aspect of it than with its eventual product, though. Nowadays it seems, it’s all about the Process; so much attention is given to the Process, the How, Where, and Why of a poem, and the Who of the poet. Criticism of the Process, analysis of the Process, endless discussions arguing to which school or movement or niche the poetry belongs—in Ms. Steele’s case, she’s been described as "the" Canadian War Poet, a title she disputes.

Where do you fall in the label department? Are you a Post-Modernist poet? Avant garde poet? Neo-formalist poet? A Black poet? Gay poet? Elderly female poet? Street poet? Hi, my name is X, I’m a War Poet. What exactly is a War Poet? Does one have to physically embed with the troops or be associated with writing about war to be considered a war poet? If you happen to hate war, and write some poems about it, will you be labeled an "activist" or your writings "anti-war" poetry? Just curious: Do we read—or avoid reading—certain poets primarily because of their perceived identifying label? Or refrain from looking at poems written in a particular style because we don't care much for the style?

I used to feel intimidated submitting poems to some journals after reading the mini-bios of the chosen contributors: MFA at this university, attended Iowa Workshop, published in X, Y and Z magazines, recipient of this or that prize, nominated 11 times for the Pushcart, now teaches creative writing at X college …. but some of the poems were ... undigestible. Subjectivity chips aside, I once read a truly wonderful poem--absolutely the best in the entire collection of this particular publication of otherwise very pedestrian spoutings—from a poet whose bio simply said: “Janitor at the college.” Now if someone were to approach you and ask if you’d like to read a poem written by a janitor, what prejudgments might already be in place as to its probable worth? Be honest.

Steele claims to be a “hands-on rather than an intellectual poet,” needing to taste, feel and smell the environment. That is not to say that "intellectual" poets can’t imagine the taste, feel or smell of a particular environment—in this case, Afghanistan--or is it? Does one actually have to be physically present somewhere to write a meaningful poem about it? It helps, of course, to have experienced--or at least observed--something similar, I suppose, to pull a memory out of your head rather than have to create one from scratch.

Two things struck me about the War Poet project mentioned above. One: That out of five artists selected, a poet gets chosen first. And second: The Canadian Government actually allowing a poet to embed with the troops to write poems, uncensored, about its military presence in Afghanistan.

Here's a poem begun in 2006 by Suzanne Steele for an elegy at the funeral of a fallen soldier:

August Widow

from across the road, with church and soldiers in their scope,
story is veins and arteries, soft tissue to these black coats

this murder of shiny microphones, video cams
they beak, they claw, they pick at mourner carrion;

gray day, gray day, a brother buried half a world away
from bullet and pomegranate, on this his prairie

where wild flax blues and blooms,
and yellow canola swathed,

where love uncorked longing, the plate of grapes, the bottle of wine,
where love listened all night to thunder calling,

where love knows more than ever - as brothers right left right
down his country lane, hearse wheels on wet road, the march

to foot him to his grave, just one week out from Panjwaii-
that grasshoppers will hiss at skins of summer

that a kiss will last forever, that she leans into him
her hair falls fragrant, fills him one last time

while cameras' shutters the shudder of his world
click open, close, the rain breaking August's umbrella

and the bugler nails notes to grimaced stone
and the brothers shoulder, kneel to lay him gentle home.

-- smsteele

[Vancouver Sun, Nov. 11, 2008]

Hear an audio podcast of the poet reading "August Widow" here.

Update: March 1, 2009

I stand corrected. smsteele contacted me yesterday to correct a misperception regarding one of her quotes, namely: "I am certainly nothing, as a writer, a poet."
What she meant by that was that: "I am a nobody in CanLit. I am nothing. an unknown. published modestly and totally amazed to be chosen for such an opportunity." I had mis-read it as a self-denigration based on a comparison of roles (poet vs. warfighter) when in fact she was referring to a status among CanLit writing peers. [Note to self: Pay attention when you post something. Do your research first!!]

She has kindly asked me to correct the formatting of "August Widow", which was published incorrectly and without permission by the newspaper chain where I first saw her poem. It was originally written in couplets, "meant to reflect the slow two-step of the soldiers carrying his coffin down the road" and their casual disregard for spacing, seemed equivalent to "hang[ing] a painting upside down." (I myself lapsed in not first asking permission to repost her poem on my blog, something I normally always do. ) As to my little apple/orange analogy--"The apples actually never look down on me," she told me. "If anything, I have to remind them not to put me on a pedestal, not to elevate me." I stand corrected. :)

An amusing juxtapose suddenly sweeps across my imaginary visual landscape: a group of swarthy ancient mariners spitting and cursing at a woman on board as the ultimate bad luck; a military base full of modern warriers appreciative of the presence of someone who reminds them of the world 'back home'. [And yes, for the word police out there, I KNOW juxtapose is a verb and not a noun, ha ha. Its incorrect usage was intentional. ]

I include this updated note to again acknowledge that the words that writers write ... are extremely important. Sometimes, in blogging, one gets wrapped up in one's own writerly coccoon and makes assumptions based on first impressions that may not exactly gell with the facts. I also wrote that I was struck by the Canadian government allowing a poet to embed with the troops. I've since discovered that some readers find this an appalling practice, and there's a certain amount of "yelling" about it. But I for one am interested in hearing more about "the guys who surive, walk shadowy the rest of their lives, the long slow insurgent step into brainfold when an RPG evaporates the guy up front" ... because they are everywhere among us, these soldiers who come back from Iraq and Afghanistan, the invisible walking dead who cannot--because it's still too close, too painful, too ingrained--tell us what war does to them. And if a poet can convey that, embedded or otherwise, so much the better. We need to hear their voices.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Naomi K's Shock Doctrine

Congratulations to Naomi Klein on winning the $90,000 Warwick Prize for Writing.

"Around the world in Britain, the United States, Asia and the Middle East, there are people with power who are cashing in on chaos; exploiting bloodshed and catastrophe to brutally remake our world in their image. They are the shock doctors... Exposing these global profiteers, Naomi Klein discovered information and connections that shocked even her about how comprehensively the shock doctors' beliefs now dominate our world - and how this domination has been achieved. Raking in billions out of the tsunami, plundering Russia, exploiting Iraq - this is the chilling tale of how a few are making a killing while more are getting killed. "[1]

"In Iraq I saw this interplay between three distinct forms of shock, the shock and awe invasion, the economic shock therapy imposed by Paul Bremer and the shock of torture which was used to get the country in line when it began rebelling.

"[Corruption allegations were] just a parade of seemingly unconnected scandals that are forever written off as incompetence, maybe greed, and that's one of the main goals of the book, to take this serial scandal culture and put it in a stronger analytical framework." [2]

Congrats, Naomi. Thanks for calling attention to these matters.


And for the others:

activist writers
entering the Jungle
armed with a pen
take note.
You'll be criticized
dubbed a "ranter"
and in some countries
imprisoned or
permanently stopped.

To all those
for whom there is no recognition
no prize

thank you

thank you for your words
sent forth as verbal emissaries
equivalent to the banging of pots and pans
wake up, people

sometimes someone notices...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Just Be ...

If a man does not keep pace with his companions,
perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.
Let him step to the music
which he hears,
however measured
or far away.

-- Henry David Thoreau


Be who you are
and say what you feel,
because those who mind don't matter,
and those who matter
don't mind.

-- Dr. Seuss

[Photo of wooden fisherman, by awyn]

Friday, February 6, 2009

DataMineUs Expandamundo

Thousands losing their jobs, the housing market collapsing, schools losing funding, funds drying up for medical research, families going hungry ... but for the data gatherer-collector-cruncher-storers, times are a 'boomin'.

No longer able to store all the intercepted phone calls and e-mail in its secret city, the agency has now built a new data warehouse in San Antonio, Texas,” writes author James Bamford in the Shadow Factory, his third book about the NSA. Costing, with renovations, upwards of $130 million, the 470,000-square-foot facility will be almost the size of the Alamodome. Considering how much data can now be squeezed onto a small flash drive, the new NSA building may eventually be able to hold all the information in the world.

So just what will be going on inside the NSA’s new San Antonio facility? Bamford describes former NSA Director Mike Hayden’s goals for the data-mining center as knowing “exactly what Americans were doing day by day, hour by hour, and second by second. He wanted to know where they shopped, what they bought, what movies they saw, what books they read, the toll booths they went through, the plane tickets they purchased, the hotels they stayed in… In other words, Total Information Awareness, the same Orwellian concept that John Poindexter had tried to develop while working for the Pentagon’s [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency].


Bamford suggests that “it seemed the NSA wanted assurance Microsoft would be here, too, before making a final commitment” to locate its new facility in San Antonio. The reason would obviously have to do with “the advantages of having their miners virtually next door to the mother lode of data centers”. This way, “under current law, NSA could gain access to Microsoft’s stored data without even a warrant, but merely a fiber-optic cable.”[2]

Not to be outdone, a huge, 60-acre, $35 million data center linked to is under construction at a secluded site along the Columbia River near Boardman, Oregon. (Another data center is already there in the Columbia basin--Google's--"with 200 staff and contract workers at its massive computer complex in The Dalles. Google refused to comment on its project during construction and still provides little information about its operation in The Dalles." Computer equipment alone is estimated to cost $100 million.[3]

The exact number of Google-Server-Farms is a well-kept secret. Some experts believe that there are seven, others are convinced that the company maintains twenty-five. Christoph Pichler, an internet-marketing expert at CPC-Consulting, has found a map of all of Google’s data centers on Pingdom. It shows a world-map with publicized locations of the individual server farms. Overall, there appear to be 36, of which 12 are in Europe. [see map][4]

It strikes me as ironic that affordable healthcare and housing, funds to provide quality education, money for infrastructure repair, and jobs are steadily disappearing, while these megacomplex datafarms continue to proliferate.

Massive amounts of energy are needed to ensure that these "farms" can continue to cultivate and harvest data, to feed all those hungry customers clamoring for more, more, more, more and yet MORE information. Information gathering, sorting, analysing, compacting, packaging, and processing to be archived and/or sold. More! More! Bigger bins of info! We need bigger bins, we need more processors! More centers! Bigger Warehouses!

Kinda makes yer head spin. I had never heard the term "datafarm" before today. (The word "farm" to me conjures up pictures of small, sustainable plots of land tilled by farmers with calouses on their hands from working the earth to feed the family. The farms have gotten bigger, -- enormous in fact--and a farm subsidy industry thrives, millions going to the largest and wealthiest while the small, independent farmers struggle to keep afloat. Imagine now a series of large farms strategically situating themselves near and extracting massive amounts of energy from the nation's dwindling energy resources,to produce, not food for consumption, but Data.

--According to data from the 2007 Census of Agriculture just released, "Oregon is reporting a smaller number of farms and a slight decrease in the size of those farms."

--On Dec. 13, 2007, Oregon announced it consolidated 11 power-hungry data centers into the Oregon State Data Center (SDC), an energy-efficient facility located in Salem.

Bye bye little farms. Hello megadata centers.

Hey, perhaps Monsanto could jump on the bandwagon and partner with these datafarms to produce genetically modified biodata seeds to grow edible plants (also available in pill form from BigBigPharma), that when ingested, allow one to get back lost memories, or--when the country's colleges and universities start going bankupt and have to close their doors, provide immediately accessible blocks of condensed knowledge (4 years of college, in a handy digestible zip-chip) for instant academic apprehension.

Think about it--everything you ever wanted to know about--EVERYTHING!--available in an edible house plant or chewable tablet (for a steep price, of course--you didn't think this would actually be free, did you?--and only as a rental--you could never actually "own" it, so forget about looking into franchising). And it would only be available from a certified Master Data Plant Seed Distributor or Data Pill Supplier with whose organization you must be a member (only if your application is approved, though, after consulting the NDACD--National Datatorium on All Citizens Database). (Did I mention the effects are short-lasting? This is to ensure your return business, again and again and again.).

Story writer gets carried away with ideas dropping down from the Possibilities Unlimited Cloud.

Harvesters of words
come see the Data Repository
words written, words referenced
words accidently blurted out
or spoken in confidence
secret words, code words, forbidden words
words mixed with numbers
number codes, number sequences,
telephone numbers
threads, parameters, algorythms
images, pixels, pomengranates
addresses, medical records
credit reports
financial disclosures
For Your Eyes Only
Confidential, Do not publish
threads and wires and tunes
personal reflections
unguarded interjections
from brilliant to buffoon

Information overload!!!
Gluttanubius Profitabilius
more data harvesters needed
apply now, hurry up, become a
Master of Information
Cloud Manager
(or join the Security Patrol)
help us bring data
to the hungry
the merely curious
the Yes-We-Need-To-Know-Now people
one for all and all for us
Call NOW
(paranoidals need not apply)

Often overlooked in the excitement about ever more advanced data centers is that their energy requirements are enormous.

Hey, I didn't know before that the Lone State has its own power grid. (Only three big electrical grids in the U.S.: The "Eastern" one, the "Western" one, and the "Texas" one. The Texas one is exempt from most regulation by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.[6] Might explain the choice of that state for the big new NSA datafarm. Cheaper, lots of land, less regulation. Yes. Makes sense.

Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and the NSA aren't the only megagroup entities heading cloudward:

IBM Wednesday opened four new cloud computing centers in emerging markets. They’re in Sao Paulo, Brazil; Bangalore, India; Seoul, Korea; and Hanoi, Vietnam. That brings the number of IBM cloud centers worldwide to 13. The company brags that it’s got “the world’s largest network of expertise on cloud computing....IBM has dedicated more than 200 full-time researchers and announced a $100 million investment in cloud computing...Earlier this year it established Europe’s first Cloud Computing Center in Dublin; a center in Beijing; one in Johannesburg; one in Tokyo; and one in Raleigh, North Carolina.[7]

And this just in from the Virtualization News Desk: The Department of Defense has also developed its own cloud.) Hmmm.

As admitted in a previous blogpost, cloud computing is a whole new terminology for me. Perhaps I should try to go to the Cloud Computing Expo this March in New York City (the "Second International" one) where I can learn how to "Triumph over the Recession: Connect yourself to the Cloud!" or discover how to go "Deploying into the Clouds", "On the Path to Cloud Nirvana" to connect up with "The Worldwide Cloud" and understand "Cloud Storage" so that I will begin "Trusting the Cloud". (These are some of the actual titled topics of conferences to be offered at the Expo, by the way; I didn't just make them up.)

Or maybe I could attend the Cloud Computing Bootcamp.

My head is in the clouds today, sorry, Readers (all two of you!). It never ceases to amaze me how abysmally Little I know about so many, many things. Cloud computing happens to be one of them. Until a few days ago if you had mentioned "cloud computing" or "data farm" to me, I'd have had no clue what you were talking about. But thanks to Google (whom I don't entirely trust) I now know at least to what these terms refer.

Actually, my concern lies not so much with mega corporations becoming super-super-Super megacorps (although that's unnerving in its own right) as it is with the seemingly systematic elbowing out of small sustainable farms while valuable energy resources are increasingly being monopolized, scooped up and controlled by corporate entities whose primary motive is essentially power and profit. It is not inconceivable that one day in the not-too-distant future, we might all be issued shiny new SmartWaterCards, to swipe at public water vending machines (you would have to supply your own jug or bucket, of course) because water will no longer be "free").

[Stop already. Put it in a sci fi story.] ha ha.

[Blogablonkitis Interruptus. Exit the Cloud. This. Does. Not. Com. Pute.]

[First two graphics thanks to They ask that I mention them.]

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

For Jillian

Little one
with the wild hair
and piercing eyes

I see you
I know you hear me

Beyond the noise
the craziness
the everything
you reach out for
your star

it'll find you

[Artwork: "Moon Mermaid" by Tamina, an artist living in Phoenix, Arizona, reproduced here with her kind permission.]

Monday, February 2, 2009

The "What If" game

People in Zimbabwe are selling their meagre household furnishings to buy food. California is sending out I.O.U's instead of income tax refunds because it's going broke. Hundreds of thousands worldwide are losing their jobs. Is it maybe time to get into survivalist thinking mode?

As anyone knows who ever lost electricity for a few days, it's damn inconvenient. All the stuff in the freezer turns mushy. The milk goes bad. You can't log into your email. The house is COLD and you rummage around, wearing five layers of clothing, looking for gloves. Flashlight, candles, check. Oh my Gawd, no TV!!

You can snuggle together with your mate all bundled up into an easychair and read by candlelight and maybe even make it through till next morning. But then you remember: Arrrrrrrrrrgggg, no hot coffee!! Okay, enough. We're talking serious deprivation here.

I sometimes play the "What If?" game. What if the country's entire electrical grid were to be disabled for a month? You are to find a way to live for one month, without electricity. Let's make this interesting: It is the middle of winter, with four feet of snow outside. The telephone lines are down so you can't make or receive calls. Your cell phone's making blippy, cackly sounds and you can't get a connection. It's 4 below zero out, your car won't start and there's a blizzard in progress so nobody with a lick of sense is venturing outside their home.

Oops. Your flashlight batteries are dead and you remember you forgot to stock candles. It's getting dark and your stomach is rumbling. Not only that, three toes on your left foot have just gone numb.

Okay, that's a bit extreme. But a variation of it COULD happen, and at the very least it's a wake-up call to stock up on flashlight batteries, candles and warm blankets. But seriously, what if you had to live somewhere without electricity for not one, but say, FIVE months, 30 miles from the nearest neighbor (or store)? Could you do it?

What are your plans for when the canned food runs out? Do you have a washboard and bucket for washing your clothes (and a rope to make a clothesline)? (Oh right, that little wooden thingie you bought last summer for $200 at some antique shoppe and use to enhance the folksiness of your kitchen--you mean actually USE it?)

What if there's no water? Oh dear. No showers. No clean clothes. We'll begin to smell like.... the homeless! Five months is a long time. Some of us could maybe hack it for a week or two, maybe even a month. But FIVE months? Forget it.

It's an interesting little mental exercise, you gotta admit. But planning and making little lists of items is one thing--dealing with the actual circumstances is quite another. Life, for 5 months in isolation, without electricity, hot water, the Internet, TV, "creature comforts", companionship--news! Some people would literally go mad. I can name at least five of them right off the top of my head right now. A lot would lose weight, I imagine--after a lifetime of trying and not succeeding, this might actually be a good thing.

It is even more interesting to note what happens when you "return". Do you jump right back into your old routine, happy that your harsh exile is now over? And in one week, whoa, it's like it never happened. Or do you take something from the experience with you that forever changes your perspective or radically alters the way you think and do things from now on? Maybe it's a combination of the two (some lifelong habits are hard to break). Of course you won't know 'till you've actually gone and done it, though. And bear in mind: Not all games are really games. (I wasn't supposed to tell you that.)

At any rate, I'd like to try it; maybe not for five whole months, but at least a month, and preferably somewhere where the only people I come in contact with speak a language that is totally unintelligible to me. (Join the Peace Corps! ha ha. Yes, well I'd considered that once. Why didn't I ever follow up on it when I had the chance? That's neither here nor there. The point is, it should be HARD. And it must be voluntary. Otherwise, what's the point of the What-If?)

My old colleague Norman, like dozens of people worldwide, every year, takes a weekend (or a full week whenpossible) and goes to live in a monastery, like a monk. Ostensibly for spiritual reasons or personal enrichment, who cares. And they come back smiling.

I admit, the idea of occasional lengthy retreats of Absolute Silence and complete isolation is enticing. (A psychic once told me that in my former life I was a monk, in France, during the 14th century; I left the monastery and later died of the plague. Figures, ha ha. That, apparently wasn't my only reincarnation. I next popped up, according to him, in England where I married a well-to-do widower and helped raise his five children. Hmmm. Well at least he didn't say I was once Cleopatra or Emily Dickinson or Christopher Columbus or some other famous historical person. I digress. Subject for another day's blog entry....

While visiting a friend's farmhouse in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont six years ago I came upon a Buddhist center and had lunch there one afternoon. They have several little cabinettes on the mountainside where you can go and be by yourself for a week (they'll climb up the mountain and bring food up to you, if you want) but apparently part of the application process is that you must prove that you can handle a week's isolation from human contact (i.e., have you passed and can show certification from a course on meditation, or something to that effect). Apparently some people like the idea of it but when confronted with the reality, freak out or go bonkers. (Otherwise why would they even ask? Non-meditators need not apply, I guess.)

Well, you don't have to shell out big bucks to fly halfway round the country to rise at 5 AM and sit with the monks. Pick a day when no one's at home and just go into your closet. You don't even have to shut the door. Or sneak off to the garden shed and cover the windows, find an empty corner, and be alone. Any place that doesn't experience high traffic and has a minimum of noise will work. Be creative. My kids' former playmate once was able, in a room full of screaming, rambunctious 4-year-olds, to completely block everything out while reading her storybook. Her name was Kai-chi and she spoke three languages. Okay, maybe she's an exception. But it CAN be done--the blocking out of noise part of it. It just takes concentration--and practice.

Playing the "What If? game helps prepare you for the unexpected. You learn to hone new skills. Like for instance, how many people do you know who bake their own bread--I'm not talking Christmas holidays, but Every. Single. Day. I happened on a blog yesterday of a young woman who had gone to Kazakhstan to teach English. She wrote that she was ecstatic that she had actually figured out how to make "homemade soup." Only because she HAD to, but it seemed the highlight of her week--that and discovering that the watercloset had a "flush" chain.

Frankly, I think in general, people are way too unprepared for drastic, upheavally change. Take away the TV or the Internet for long periods of time or put them in an unexpected crisis situation and they don't know what to do. Eventually they climb out of it but what if you know you can't go "back" for a long, long time--or not ever?

I'm not saying we all should go back to living like our great great grandparents did before the convenience of 24-hour markets and Instant Everything. But just in case--some catastrophic "What-If" suddenly occurs, it might be a good thing to know how to get along without the amenities we always take for granted, if need be. Who knows, we might be capable of far more than we give ourselves credit for, and discover a part of ourselves we never even knew existed.

Hard times are 'a comin', folks.

Think about it.

This .... could be any one of us one day. ------------------------>