Litkicks Heads For Twenty

Being A Writer Indie Internet Culture La Boheme Litkicks Love Personal Poetry Reading Technology

Sometimes I find it hard to believe that my blog is almost twenty years old. Well, sometimes I also find it hard to believe that my youngest daughter is almost twenty years old. (They were born the same year, and they both grew up so fast.)

Literary Kicks will turn twenty on July 23, 2014. I have no idea how I'm going to celebrate, but I might keep it low key. For the 5th birthday in 1999, I threw a big party at the Bitter End nightclub in Greenwich Village. For the 10th birthday in 2004, I hosted an all-night online poetry jam with Caryn and Jamelah during which I remember falling asleep at least once. For the 20th, I might just stay home and feed the cats.

It's not that I'm not as psyched about Litkicks as I was ten and fifteen years ago -- but over the years I've learned the importance of focus, and I don't welcome the distraction that a big birthday celebration would create. Running a blog or a website for many years is an endurance test, and I've gradually learned that endurance doesn't need a lot of celebration, and that too much celebration can get in the way of endurance.

I'm making a couple of changes to the site -- well, I've never stopped tinkering with the formula, really, so this is nothing new. But there is one major decision I've just made that I'm honestly not happy about. After relaunching a new version of our long-running Action Poetry feature just half a year ago, I've decided to put it on hold.

We began running free-form poetry message boards on this site in 2001, and it's been an absolute joy. But an interactive poetry site is always high maintenance: editorial maintenance, spam filter maintenance, technical maintenance, emotional maintenance. I think it was the emotional maintenance that became a problem for me with the latest version of the website. You see, I've always known that a well-managed social network of collaborative poetry was an amazing idea, and I always felt that it had tremendous potential if it could be done right.

But that's the problem -- the potential has always felt overbearing to me. As both a webmaster and a poet and a techie, I kept trying to perfect the concept for Action Poetry -- first it was a Jive message board, then a Drupal message board, then a Facebook-integrated service. But the more I tried to perfect it, the more I kept realizing that I didn't have the time needed to do it right. Since Action Poetry wasn't my main gig, or even my second gig -- I have a day job as a website developer, and I run Litkicks -- I always felt that the actual Action Poetry site I was running was a failure because it wasn't everything it had the potential to be. Ironically, what it was was damn good: an incredible amount of excellent poems by contributors from around the world -- all ages, all races and religions, all sensibilities.

Anyway, the efficient cause of my decision to shut down Action Poetry is that my day job (building an awesome health-related community website for a federal government agency) has been running me ragged and I've also been kinda knocking myself out writing about philosophy and genocide for the 20th anniversary (lot of that going around) of the Rwanda massacre of April 1994. In the midst of all this, the ActionPoetry.net website just crashed. It's a fairly complex site -- Facebook hooks, the latest Drupal, my first attempt at a responsive design using Bootstrap -- and I can think of a few reasons why it might have crashed, and I don't have time to fix any of them.

I will fix the website soon so that the tens of thousands of really beautiful poems in the Action Poetry database can live on. But I'm not going to reopen the poetry site for new contributions until I feel like I have more time to pay the right amount of attention to running the site as well as it deserves to be run. The truth is, my heart hasn't been in it as much as it should have been. My attention has just been too divided. So there it is again: focus, endurance.

During the nearly twenty years that I've been running Literary Kicks -- and these have not been calm and quiet years -- I have sometimes felt like I was an online-culture trendsetter, and that the rest of the Web was years behind the cool stuff I was doing. For instance: I was into profile-based social community way back when Mark Zuckerberg was still in freshman dorm slugging the cheap stuff and pounding the Perl. I was also ahead of the curve on XML, web video, indie advertising, AJAX, e-books, Twitter, Drupal. I've sometimes flattered myself that I've been helping to pull the Internet in the direction it should go in -- the creative web, the intelligent web, the community web. The moments when I've had this sensation have been the most satisfying for me of the past twenty years.

But there's a flip side to this. There have also been times when I felt like I was an online-culture trendmisser. There have been times when I didn't feel like I was pulling the creative web along, but rather I was dragging my feet and the web was pulling me along. The most comical example is the emergence of the literary blogosphere between 2002 and 2005. I was one of the last literary webmasters to get the ditto.

This is why, even though I was certifiably one of the first literary webmasters in the world (along with Jason Snell, Mark Amerika, Joseph Squier, Ron Hogan, Carl Steadman, Christian Crumlish, Frederick Barthelme, Stacy Horn, Marisa Bowe, Kyle Shannon, Janan Platt, Josh Harris and countless others), I can't claim to be one of the first literary bloggers. I totally missed the boat on blogging, and had to run to catch up.

Today, in 2014 as I evaluate the state of the site as it approaches the beginning of its third decade, I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about where it stands today. Sometimes feel like I'm still pulling the creative web along, that I'm still an active force for good. Other times, I feel like I don't know what the hell direction everything is going in, and I'm not leading the trends and I'm barely even following them, and really I'm just trying to cling on and not fall off the track completely.

It's a steep mountain trail, this literary websphere. It's a long, long slog. I've seen many of my fellow travelers drop off the side of this mountain trail, usually in bleak silence.

I feel honored that I haven't fallen off myself yet -- even though I'm not quite sure what purpose I'm serving by clinging on.

18 Responses to "Litkicks Heads For Twenty"

by angus on

Wow. Flooded with memory and emotion while reading this post. I feel like a lot of us could write a pretty weighty retrospective on what the various versions of Action Poetry have meant to our lives, even those of us who haven't been around in the last decade. Instead, I'll just say this: you're a real fucking prince, you know that Levi?

in_ex

by Levi Asher on

Thanks Angus/In Ex. You're a prince too.

by David Broussard on

Hey Levi! Congratulations on 20 years! I know it has been a real challenge at times. I dont know if you remember me. I. was tantricslide way back in the day and if you do remember me I'm sure I'm not on your list of favorite people. Went a little nuts back when I was a litkicks member back in the day. Had a lot on my mind at the time and was having major growing pains and litkicks gave me an outlet to express myself probably most of which I should of kept to myself but at the time I felt like I was going to explode if I didnt get it out of me. Why I did it in a public place I'll never really know for sure. At the time I felt like I was being moved by power beyond me. I know that is no excuss for some of my actions but like T.S. Eliot once said 'sometimes you have to go to far to know how far you can go.' And Ido apologize for any inconvenience I caused you and litkicks as a whole. Like the good book says there is a season for all things and this is the season to pay my respects. I wish you luck and offer my good tidings to you and yours as you work through your next 20 years on litkicks, the net, and life in general.

P.s.
Lick lick lick!

by Sam Jones on

What a coincidence: I'm getting ready to celebrate 20 years of *reading* Litkicks, this coming October.

Your readers should be throwing *you* a party. (If anyone feels the organizing impulse, please know that @samgrj is in.) I'm sure, like me, most of your readers have never had the chance to thank you in person for all the great reading you've created or inspired.

I still remember discovering Litkicks back in 1994, not long after getting my first dial-up account. I remember thinking: Now *this* is what the web is for.

Your list of early literary web masters is great too. Whatever happened to Steadman, I wonder. I still owe him half a pack of Du Mauriers, which is what he smoked back in the day.

Anyhow, I trust the good work you do on LItkicks will continue, despite the ebbs and flows of interest, free time, and energy. Congrats on reaching 20.

Sam

by Milton on

Levi,

I don't comment particularly often, but just wanted to drop a note to say that I've been reading Litkicks for more than a decade now, starting when I was a fairly internet-agnostic college student, and continuing to the present day, when I find myself a full-time online journalist. (I'm not 100% sure that this was the first blog I ever read regularly, but I can't imagine what else it would have been.) There were times when I would check in here several times a week, and there were times when I'd stop by maybe once every month or two, but I've always been interested in what you and the other contributors have had to say. I have no idea how many writers I first heard about through this site that I went on to read and enjoy, but it's a substantial number. Back when you were still reviewing the NYTBR, I would wait until your piece was up before I would bother cracking the section itself, relying on you to identify the worthwhile pieces for me. I loved your memoir.

So what I'm trying to say is that this site has had incredible value to me over the years. I'm incredibly grateful that it still exists, and you should be extremely proud of it.

by Wo on

Big time congrats, Levi!

Sad news about Action Poetry

Keep up the good work, cheers!

I owe a great debt to LitKicks. I have wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember, but sometime in the 1990s, Literary Kicks inspired me to do it! I still remember the Saturday I discovered LitKicks. When I think of all the permutations and projects, what an amazing site!

by WIREMAN on

I remember coming across Litkicks in 2001 while making a google search for Gary Snyder. It was a hive of writing activity that was unique and stimulating. Over the years I've continued to post poems and have thoroughly enjoyed the poetry forums in particular. It's been a good long run Levi, both with the live shows and the online action. Thanks and congratulations on your 20th anniversary, hope to see you at Nola poetry night sometime my friend.

by Steve Plonk on

Levi, I've been with Litkicks.com & Action Poetry since 2004--half the time.

However, I think I first read your site back in 2000... I'm really fond of "Action Poetry" & I will miss it. Hopefully, someday soon you will get it up & running again.

If not, I will continue to comment occasionally on this site. Hope things run swimmingly at work & that Litkicks keeps on keeping on. So long to "Action Poetry". :(

by Mari K on

Congratulations, Levi! I've been visiting litkicks since 96, when I got to college and found out about this whole internet thing, and was really happy to quickly find.bits of it about Beats and Bob Dylan...along with the college's proper library that had more than Large Print trashy romances...I learned and discovered a lot through litkicks then and now. Thank you!

by judih on

clearly litkicks was a vortex of creative energy never before seen on the net. action poetry along with the other amazing boards that thrived on fast response were generators of thought and epiphany for me and countless others.
so thanks for offering the opportunity to participate and grow.
and happy 20th, levi.
May the health website kickstart some good living practices.
And know that those of us who were actionites, are healthier for it
- judih

20 years?! How has it been 20 years since I've been a teenager?? I was just a teenager when I discovered LitKicks in '96. I had just started reading the Beats and had no other friends who had even heard of Kerouac so LitKicks was this amazing source of community and inspiration for me, a place where I felt connected with others who "understood." And as I grew up, so did the website, introducing me to new ideas and challenging me to think from a larger perspective. Thank you, Levi, for all that you've done! And thanks to everyone else who is a part of this community, as it's rare to find people so consistent in commenting and also so respectful and insightful.

by knip on

Happy birthday! I remember that night 20 years ago.

I haven't contributed much to Action Poetry the last bunch of years; it takes some work to improve. But it was always that place I knew I could go to when the mood struck. So I'm sad, a bit, but change happens, right?

by knip on

10 years ago...apparently i didn't remember it all that well :)

by Michael.Norris on

You've done a good thing here, Levi, from the time you were just writing about the beats, to the Internet Memoir, and now the Philosophy thing. A really good thing.

by Steve Plonk on

Levi, when you have time, will you be restoring the poems that were posted through the years in some sort of archives like you did last time? I've kept copies of my poetry through the years, on Action Poetry, but some folks have not.

Let us know when you know something & have the time involved. In the meantime, I hope things go well at work. I am pleased with what you've done with Litkicks during the past ten years. Thanks again.

by Levi Asher on

Thanks to everybody for these very touching comments …

Steve Plonk, yes, all the poems are currently online and should be indexed on Google - the archive is split into a couple of different formats since the software has changed over the years, but I think it's all still available online, one way or another.

by Eamon on

Litkicks is and always will be my favorite lit blog. It's simply the smartest, most self-conscious and endearing of them all. I've learned a lot here.

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