We knew this was an unusually rigid format for a website, but it made a statement we liked at the time. We wanted every word to count, and we wanted to set an example of careful and serious writing that would inspire our contributors to write as well as they could in their responses. For myself as one of the site's three main writers, the interactivity amounted to a challenge that stretched my skills and frequently forced me out of my literary comfort zone, as I tried to keep up with the varied sensibilities represented by all our contributors, and produce pieces worthy of their time.
Over the months I wrote some stuff I am proud of and some stuff I'd be happy to never see again. My personal favorite moment was probably the two-week best poem in the world discussion. I asked a simple question, and I was really surprised by the passion and conviction of the numerous responses, which also made me realize I would have to write a hell of a follow-up response myself. I only hope I lived up to the expectations.
Caryn and Jamelah and I have worked with this format for six months now, living through a presidential election, a tsunami and a few sad deaths. Today, the LitKicks staff is happy to announce that we've now decided to begin loosening up the flow a bit. Instead of a strict three pieces a week, we are tossing the schedule out the window, and we're each just going to write when we feel like it. This will probably lead to more, shorter postings, along with occasional longer pieces. We hope this new approach will also help us include more of the interesting contributions we've been getting.
We think you'll like some of the other changes we're about to roll out, including an increased focus on the news/contemporary-lit front (based on Caryn's excellent Seen and Heard columns) and a new improved design with better navigation and Firefox compatibility, which we're going to premiere any day now (Jamelah's been working very hard on the CSS, and to be honest we're a bit worried about her).
We're also very close to bringing back the long-awaited LitKicks advertising program with an all-new interface that will make it easier to buy space to promote your small press publications, chapbooks, artworks, music, crafts or websites. Finally, we're improving the indexing and retrievability of the archived content, because there's a lot of good stuff buried in these files. This is one of the changes to the site we are most excited about.
The only thing we're not changing is the action poetry board because we like the way that's going.
We'd love to show you all of these changes today, but we're still cooking it all up out back. Stay tuned!
The boards grew and evolved into a massive social experiment, often taking on a life of their own. Last July, 684,000 messages later, Caryn and Jamelah and I decided to shut down the boards and redesign the entire site for a more focused, literary experience. We've been getting hate mail ever since. Take, for instance, this charming missive that recently arrived: "You should know that you have singlehandedly destroyed a great community. I could never have guessed that you would commit such a selfish and domineering act to people who were your friends, by which I include myself."
The truth is, we like getting hate mail because it makes us feel like someone cares what we do. But, in fact, it was a very difficult decision for us to change the site, and I guess it was my own techie pride that prevented me from revealing one major reason we had to make this change. By the summer of last year, the board software was falling apart.
Once healthy and fast, the system was choking on its backlog of data, and it could take two or three minutes to pull up a message more than a few months old. In early 2004, many of us tried to read through the old boards to find the best poems and stories to use in the Action Poetry book, and this was when it became clear how bad the situation had become. Any message over a year old had been lost in a cold oblivion, from which it might be coaxed out if the software felt like it. I had always viewed the boards as a literary experiment, but literature is something that endures through time, and the software wasn't letting this happen.
In fact, I work as a web systems architect, and I know how to build scalable community software that can elegantly handle massive amounts of traffic. But LitKicks wasn't built that way. I had never set up the infrastructure required to handle the level of activity we were getting on this site, and by the summer of 2004 LitKicks was a Titanic waiting to sink. If you ever tried to read a LitKicks page and saw a Java error -- well, yeah, that was the iceberg peeking through the hull.
I liked the old boards a lot. There was a creative anarchy there, and a real spirit of fun. But there was also an overriding mood of underachievement, a sort of prevailing "dumb chic" (no doubt inspired by Charles Bukowski, the epitome of dumb chic), that seemed like a creative dead end. Occasional moments of genius cropped up on one board or another, but there were also long stretches of depressing banality. By the spring of 2004 I wasn't sure if I wanted to rebuild the existing site with a different software package or instead come up with an all new format, a new beginning for LitKicks. I asked Jamelah and Caryn if either of them felt remotely satisfied with the boards, and when they both told me they didn't, the decision seemed clear: shake things up, try something new.
The new LitKicks is still "finding itself", I think. The public reaction to the board shutdown was more negative than I'd expected, and I think some people are still warming up to the new format, which is designed to move slower and generate more thoughtful writings and conversations. But LitKicks has been around for more than ten years, and the site is designed to change, to evolve, to do surprising things. The current version is our latest attempt at being what we should be, but we're not going to rest or stop here, just as we've never stopped at any of our previous incarnations.
As for the old boards, I'm happy to tell you that I've moved them all to a brand new archive server, designed to be fast and error-free. Here it is, for all posterity: the permanent LitKicks Board Archive.
Looking back at this vast array of human-generated spontaneous content, I have to wonder, what does it all mean? There are over a hundred thousand poems here, for instance ... but what do they all add up to in the larger scheme of things? How can these poems be read? What significance does yesterday's stream of literary ephemera hold today, if any?
I was very proud when the Library of Congress included posts from various LitKicks boards in September and October 2001 in their web archive of that moment in history. But what about the rest of this huge mass of content? I am really not sure what good this archive is, and for that matter I am still not exactly sure what good LitKicks is. I'd like to hear what you think, and I'd like to know whether or not you think these old boards are worth archiving at all, and why.
I also wanted to explain why I left two of the more popular (but less literary) LitKicks boards out of the permanent archive. It was a hard decision not to migrate Mindless Chatter to the new server. But this board had about three times as many messages as any other LitKicks board, and while most of it certainly was mindless, I really didn't find that much of it was timeless. We had laughs on this board, but you probably had to be there, and you can't be there anymore, so Mindless Chatter didn't make it to the archive.
I felt less ambivalent about my decision not to move the Flames board into the archive. This actually felt good to me. During the 42 months of the LitKicks Boards Experience, I often had to remind writers that the point of LitKicks wasn't to help strangers dislike each other, but to help them like each other. Flames was a fun place (some of my own best posts showed up there, I think) ... but I am not going to pay disk charges to store hatred and misunderstanding. Both these commodities are cheap, and readily available elsewhere.
Anyway, I do have text-file backups of these boards, along with the others, so nothing is lost to posterity. I hope you'll go visit the LitKicks Board Archive in its new home, and I think you'll agree with me that there's a hell of a lot of interesting stuff there. Thanks for being part of it, if you were. And whether you were or not ... hang around, and help us figure out what the current version of LitKicks is supposed to evolve into.
"Do you think LitKicks has a flavor? Is post-beat a word? Post-Modern? Transgressive? Modern? Retro daydreamers? Can you label us as a whole and more importantly, do you think that label would stick?"
What do you think? Is there a label or name that fits in this case? If so, what would it be?
As many long-time LitKickers know, earlier this year we invited all site members to nominate a few poems or stories they'd read here for inclusion in the first LitKicks book. We got over a hundred suggestions, which Jamelah and Caryn and I trimmed down to about 25. We also added some selections of our own, and this final mix became one of the three sections of the book.
As one of the three editors of this volume, I have to say that the process was fascinating but probably completely un-scientific. The very concept of selecting a tiny number of poems from the huge collected works of a large online community is highly disconcerting. For every poem or story nominated, a thousand others are overlooked. And how much does "popularity" or personality have to do with the choices made?
Well, I really like the way the book turned out, and in fact I think the nomination process worked surprisingly well. There may have been some "popularity" votes or maybe even some sympathy votes, but I don't think these made it past the final cut. It was also encouraging to see that some of the pieces nominated -- at least a couple of which ended up in the book -- were by writers who showed up once, posted a single piece, commented on nobody else's writing, and never turned up again. Most of our favorite regulars made it into the book too. I think we ended up with a good balance.
But maybe I'm too close to it to see clearly. If you have a copy of this book, I'd like to know what you think of it. If you don't have a copy, I'd like you to buy one, but whether you do or not, I'd also like to know if you have any thoughts about the general concept of online-based or community-generated literature.
These are just a few reasons why we hope you will write us a poem about what you are doing or thinking about today.
Check out our pictures from the event and follow the links for more eyewitness accounts...
Gallery Neptune Artist/Owner, Elyse Harrison
Caryn warms up the crowd and introduces the first act...
Andrew Lundwall then shares some great poetry against a surreal playground backdrop.
Jamelah recounts a childhood memory and entrances the audience with her cool intensity.
Elyse & Levi concentrating on poetry
John Lawson tells a clever tale of a literary mystery that spans all genres, ages and intersections.
firecracker looks on
WIREMAN, blasts out "Kid Stuff"
Levi shares his childhood literary secret... as well as a few moving poems.
The Audience, Amazed.
Star Jewel Smith and The Giving Tree
Doreen prepares to connect us with words.
Michael Boettcher shares a clever villanelle and reads a few of his pieces from "The Furnace"
Lightning Rod... lost in a literary fantasy.
Andrew & Star
Taking a break
Doreen, Wireman & Lenny
L-Rod offers a home remedy
Doreen & Lightning Rod perform their collaborative piece, "You Make"
A Happy Crowd
Jamelah acts out the children's book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Vorst Coming out from behind the camera One last glimpse of Gallery Neptune See more pictures here
Read more about the evening here and here.
Jamelah acts out the children's book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Vorst
Coming out from behind the camera
One last glimpse of Gallery Neptune
See more pictures here
"So you better get this party started"
P!nk at a poetry reading? You better believe it. As the evening kicked off with the words "I'm Comin' Up" blasting through the Bowery Poetry Club, there was no doubt that this would be a night of raw energy and talent. At just a few minutes past 7, the club was already filled with people and the performers were ready to roll. Levi Asher of our very own LitKicks and Janan Platt of AlienFlower took the stage to welcome everyone and gave a brief overview of what would be taking place. Janan and Levi immediately set the tone for the evening by reading their collaborative piece, "What You're Looking For", a steady stream of seemingly unconnected phrases and thoughts read together simultaneously. As the piece ended, Lorraine Dechter gave a short follow-up to the poem, explaining that the words and phrases were culled from internet search keywords used to find Alienflower. Lorraine also read an interesting cut-up piece based on her and Janan's observations of New York City.
Lorraine introduced the first of the LitKicks Action Poets, the ever-talented Jamelah. As each poet took the stage, they were handed a flower to add to a vase placed in front of the microphone. Jamelah read her very poignant piece, "September 11th Birthday Girl" and immediately had the crowd hooked. She then read two selections from her new chapbook "Sketches of a Return Journey". The first, "underneath the audio", was a slice of reality taken from a father-daughter relationship. The choice of words and descriptive language in this piece brought it to life for the audience and you felt as if you were there witnessing the scene. "the water was moving too fast" was a haunting narrative of an inevitable goodbye. Jamelah's writing is simply beautiful and her performance kicked off the Action Poets series with a lyrical intensity I've yet to see matched.
As Levi introduced Litnrod11, the LitKicks faction who had attended the previous night's rehearsal knew they were in for a treat, as they had already witnessed his cool delivery of the poems "The Last Time I Was in New York" and "Circus of Dreams" as well as his devilishly humorous, "The Perfect Taco". I'm sure I wasn't the only one who found myself repeating the unforgettable refrain "On to Chicago" taken from the first piece that he read. The crowd in the club was no less impressed with his performance and sat perfectly still as he read "The Poet's Dirty Socks". As he finished up with "The Ballad of Dori Danger", he then introduced her, our own Doreen Peri.
Doreen took the stage and read the reply to "The Poet's Dirty Socks", which was a perfect response, perfectly presented with her rich voice and fluid movements. Next was "Installation of a Deadbolt" a chilling and passionate piece that she read with a wide range of emotion. These emotions were further heightened by Litnrod's flute accompaniment. Doreen closed with "Guess Who I Slept With Last Night", the tale of a nighttime visitor that had the audience giggling with the realization that it was in fact "that damned mosquito".
Billectric was up next, and kept everyone laughing with his tale of "How I Found LitKicks". His wry delivery and honest smile added such a personality to this performance, there was no one in the place that could help but have a good time watching him. He clutched a bizarre looking flower as he read. It was truly reminiscent of a "Laugh-In" dream sequence. He followed up by performing his own arrangement of Shakespeare's 18th Sonnet, which he dedicated to Doreen and Litnrod. As Bill sang and strummed the guitar, we got to see what a truly versatile performer he really was. As Bill left the stage, an enthusiastic table of LitKicks poets, all amazed at what they had just seen, greeted him wide smiles.
It was then turn for me to get up on stage and close the "Action Poets" segment of the show. I took the stage and warned the audience that someday their random words and conversation bits may one day end up as a part of one of my twisted poetry series. To demonstrate, I read a few short poems including "edit me". To illustrate the Action Poetry-style of poetic collaboration, I then read the call-and answer-pair of "I Sold my Summer" (written by jota) and my subsequent response to that poem, "I Stole My Summer". I then had a mild panic attack set to words with "Frenzy", which I followed with a poem to my father, "Inheritance". I then called Levi onstage to accompany my final two pieces with quietly played guitar. "Floor" was a short descriptive piece that had recently started a lengthy Action Poetry thread. I then ended with a dual language poem, "Together". Backed by the faint strumming of guitar, I hope the feeling of unabashed love in this piece was apparent, no translation needed.
The California poets then took the show in a new direction as Lorraine Dechter read several inspiring and lyrical pieces. Her heartfelt delivery of these well-written lines showed the skill of a true performer. Her cut-up piece "The Beginning of a Childhood Fairy Tale" was a bittersweet account of a young child who loses his father and was read with the tenderness only a mother could give. Two selections, "Woman" and "Orion , were sung a capella and Lorraine held the attention of everyone with the strength of her voice.
Janan Platt, co-host of the evening and creator of AlienFlower, read a few of her pieces, including "Flowa" (the New York city pronunciation of "Flower", she explained) and "Woman with the Lawn Ornaments." Janan's subtle interpretation of these works allowed the words to speak for themselves, especially the fabulous wordplay of "Flowa" in which fantastic descriptions create an dream-like image.
One of the highlights of the evening was when Levi came back to the stage to read three excerpts from his novel The Summer of the Mets (which will be available in paperback later this year). Although I had read the novel last summer, hearing Levi's voice retell the story was like nothing else. As Levi read, Litnrod played gentle melodies on his flute and Lorraine provided accompaniment on guitar; the quiet music set the perfect backdrop for the many moods of the story. The first passage introduced the main character, Chris, and was told in an innocent and honest fashion. As he recounted the summer vacation boredom of a teenage boy, heads nodded in recognition. In the second excerpt, we got an even deeper sense of Chris's internal feelings as he finds his first love. Mr. Asher's description of the excitement and amazement of new love was instantly familiar. The dialogue in each section was superbly read and the mellow sound of Levi's voice only made the story more lifelike. As he finished with a vivid account of a single inning during the 1986 World Series, you could feel the anticipation in the room as everyone waited to hear which way the game would go -- even those who already knew the outcome. Each piece worked very well alone, but together they really made for a powerful presentation and I'm sure The Summer of the Mets already has quite a following.
John S. Hall then took the stage quietly and timidly ... but as is often the case, looks were deceiving. He read many hilarious and high-energy poems like "Nickels for Ned", and he shared an alternate take on the "Mean People Suck" bumper sticker. His stage presence and demeanor only heightened the humor of the writing. After getting the green light to read two more pieces, John read "The President" (formerly titled, "The Mayor") and "The Miracle of Childbirth", prefacing them by saying "These next two pieces are made up almost entirely of curses". These last two were impressive on shock value alone, however even beneath all of the profanity; the audience felt a sense of awe at his ability to express so much in the use of just a few repeated words. As John S. Hall left the stage, we all felt as if we'd just witnessed a hurricane and lived to tell about it.
We were all then treated to some music by Lauren Agnelli, a talented and accomplished musician. Lauren started the evening most respectfully with a tribute to Elvis (who had died on this date, August 16, 25 years earlier), "A Fool Such as I". Lauren also performed "Sand Castle Song," and the raucous "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad,". She then sang a beautiful selection, "She's Gonna Change", joined by her friend Ken Anderson on vocals and tambourine. She closed by sharing her short poem "Spring Girl with a Song", a piece from the voice of Persephone.
Tom Goodkind of the Washington Squares joined Lauren on the stage, along with Billy Ficca of the seminal 70's punk band Television, to cap off the night with a long awaited Washington Squares reunion. The Squares were an excellent closer for the show, singing "Charcoal", "Greenback Dollar", "You Can't Kill Me", and the Civil War themed ballad, "Two Brothers". The chemistry of this group was apparent and they played with such heartfelt intensity that no one could resist moving along to the music. They closed with "Goodnight Irene", inviting anyone from the audience to come onstage and be a part of the action.
Before we knew it, the show was over and the bouquet on stage was finally complete, just as it wouldn't have been the same without each individual flower, the show wouldn't have been the same without each individual performer who contributed. It was a great night filled with a wide variety of styles and voices, all coming together to make for an intriguing and entertaining display of talent.
Jamelah, Litnrod, Doreen and Billectric
Litnrod on stage
Firecracker and Jamelah
Firecracker and Levi on stage
Litnrod and Doreen
Billectric and Levi's Dad
See the Poster.
Read another review.
Pictures from the Rehearsal.
More Pictures from NY and Rehearsal.
While LitKicks is devoted to free expression, we also like to suggest a few stylistic guidelines that will help your article "fit in" at LitKicks:
- Keep your articles short and interesting, and avoid dull academic language. Don't hesitate to write something personal, or funny, or deeply unusual. Just don't be boring.
- Readers like facts. If you are writing an author biography, it is a good idea to start with birth and end with death (or with the author's latest novels, which is sometimes not much different). Whether you are are covering a person, a book, a place, or a concept, try to allow hard facts to form the structure of your piece as much as possible, so that your own personal opinions or ideas will emerge naturally and subtly from the bedrock of information. With that said, please *do* let your writing express your own personality as much as possible. It is by writing about something other than yourself or your opinions that you can most effectively tell us about yourself and your opinions.
- LitKicks does not believe in cluttering up texts with endless footnotes, citations, bibliographies, etc. We're here to have fun; the people who work at the Library of Congress get paid and have to be fastidious, but we don't. NOTE: if footnotes are absolutely essential to your postmodern Nicholson-Baker/Dave Eggers-like style, fine -- but no bibliographies, still.
- We hate pompous, pseudo-authoritative statements like "Thomas Pynchon is one of the five most important writers of the second half of the twentieth century". Or "Robert Pirsig is the greatest prose stylist since John Dos Passos". How can we believe any statements like these to be valid? We all like making lists, and we all have our own lists, none more valid than any other. And why is it necessary to put down Tom Robbins in order to praise Robert Pirsig? There's plenty of room on the pantheon -- just tell us which writers you do like, and why, instead of obsessing over who gets to stand in which order.
With all that said, the truth is that any of the above rules can be broken, if the results justify this. Just try not to break all of them at once.
- The Beat Generation Postage Stamp Series
- Beat News, wherein Levi pontificated freely about whatever bizarre ideas were possessing him at the moment
- Sherri Hoye's extensive Beat Bibliography
- Levi's interview with John Cassady
- Levi auditions for a starring
role in the film version of 'On The Road'
- Andrew Burnett's Cassady-esque travelogue, 'Neal's Denver'
- April 97 Tribute to Allen Ginsberg
- August 97 Tribute to William S. Burroughs