It’s a kickin’ fast machine, with a CPU that hums like a twin-turbo straight-six engine. I’ve got sixteen—COUNT ‘EM!— sixteen Gb of high-speed RAM. That’s enough real-time memory to keep a galloping herd of applications open and happy. It’s got ports to connect my big-ass monitor, ports for all sorts of peripherals, and of course it has wired and wireless access ports for high-speed internet connections. It’s got a capacious solid-state hard drive, filled with endless files that include screenplays, scripts, plays, essays, books, movies, music, photos, and more.
It does not make coffee.
It…has…ALSO…done more than any other physical thing in my life to inhibit my ability to write poems.
(“WHAAAAT? YOU CARE ABOUT POETRY?!?”)
I used to write poetry all the time. Was it sophomoric? Yes, often. Silly love songs, sentimental doggerel, pretentious over-reaching lines of saturated images: my poems were mostly not ready for prime time. But poetry is almost never ready for prime time, even the best stuff! Nobody writes poems to be “hits”. We write poems because we feel blood in our veins. We write poems because we see beautiful people in the world and feel our hearts beat. We write poems to convince us that we’re actually able to take the wrongs of the world and solve them by speaking truths to power. We write poems to touch those wisps of cloud that left misty droplets on the window in the mountain cabin where we spent a weekend.
I used to write poetry all the time. I wrestled with it, played with it. But now, it’s a rare thing requiring a conscious effort to focus myself over a pad of paper with a pen in hand.
Did you catch it? That was the big clue, the “tell”. My anachronistic pen and paper could not stand up to the speed and power of my machine. The inability to save works in progress with a keyclick, to revise and make sub-versions effortlessly, constantly pulled my attention back to my glowing screen. Prose, like what you’re reading now, and the many other literal expressions of language, come faster and more efficiently at a keyboard. Plus, my computer (in an earlier incarnation, at least) arrived in my life just as my career began to accelerate, with growing responsibilities, increasing abilities, and the rise of the internet. A flood of information and shiny pictures and hyperlinks successfully conspired to pull me toward new, more modern enterprise. The power for speed and connection seduced me even more than a perfectly constructed metaphor about life.
Is there a crime here? Should there be an APB out on my MacBook? The crime is one of complicity; the punishment is in the admission of my own human frailty. In poems we connect to other people because we’re forced to make observations about the world. The poet always lives in direct engagement with the senses, and to live through the senses requires engagement. In the high tech world where I spend most of my days, it’s possible to create shiny objects that pretend to relate to the real world, but with a click, click, click, we’re on to the next thing, eternally. The senses require more time to absorb ideas intimately, just like a rain takes time to sink deeply into the soil. Poems are about a sensual life. Other things do not necessarily function without the senses being involved, but in an intimate, ephemeral art form, faster does not mean better.
I’ve consciously been forcing myself to write with a pen more often these days. It’s foolish and unrealistic to pretend that I’m going to make a wholesale change back to handwriting, that my computer and I are Splitsville. But when I recall the satisfaction of tuning a line word by word until it glowed on the page, with nothing more than a pen in my hand and a green tinted sheet of notebook paper beneath, I remember that my computer and others like it will only have power if the people grant it power. The crime is not so much that my computer killed my poem, but instead that I turned my back on poetry and let the crime go unchallenged.
The revolution begins with a few words scribbled on a piece of paper.