Sunday, June 25, 2006

Real Spaces That Aren't There

What has happened to the day? Already it's late—far later than I suspected it was. Yet my wife is still awake for some peculiar reason. And she's cleaning. Perhaps someone has laced Cincinnati's water supply with a mind-altering substance of some sort. If this were so, the streets outside would be brimming with panic-stricken zombies, would it not?

Outside, instead, the Ohio streets are quiet. The crickets chirrup rhythmic intonations into the night. Our air conditioner whirls away, its slightly off-center fan rattling with each revolution. A jet, from departure point unknown, passes overhead on its way to the sprawling international airport in Northern Kentucky that my wife sometimes vanishes to for three or four days.

I'm really not sure what became of the day. My wife, at one point, managed to convince me to embrace procrastination for the sake of a little nostalgia in the shape of the first Harry Potter film. Business remains undone and a handful of chores—like mowing the lawn, changing the oil in our car, and scaling a small mountain of dishes—seem as though they might sprout arms, legs, and a baseball bat and threaten to smash my kneecaps up if I don't straighten out my act.

I did, however, spend an inordinate amount of time on If you've never visited, it is an interesting site that offers a workshop-like environment where you can critique poems, stories, screen plays, and myriad other artistic works and peruse comments on your own work. The range of talent and experience is very, very impressive. You'll find, on occasion, professional writers looking to hone this or that side project. Indeed, I believe several published novelists are active on the site. In addition, you'll find numerous people who have not had the opportunity to study the craft—either through their own reading or through a writing program.

Like an academic workshop, one of the best things about such a site (and there are myriad others out there if you look) is the practice of reading and commenting. You have the opportunity to develop your own critical skills while, hopefully, helping someone else do the same. For me, I tend to find the critiques I offer others far more helpful than any advice I receive on a particular submission because, well, not every comment proves useful. You might, for example, read comments from a reviewer who doesn't know what a zinnia is, and inexplicably, doesn't decide to look it up. More, such sites do not rely on people who will be graded for their ability to comment on your work. Unlike a class at a local college or a community-based workshop, no one on the site is actually obliged to comment on your poems. Consequently, you end up with a mere handful of reviews—of varying quality.

The worst thing about such sites, however, is the potential for procrastination that they represent. Chatting on discussion boards or flipping through a variety of poems and stories (that aren't yet polished enough to be published) can whittle away at writing time almost as fast as an evening with DVDs and a large bucket of popcorn.

All in all, however, there may be better sites out there (feel free to leave suggestions), but I like Zoetrope. I keep my expectations in check and try to limit the amount of time spent on such a site (i.e., not writing). I think, with such an approach, it's a valuable tool, as long as I remember that my name, not reviewer X, will travel with any poem I write.

After all, if I agreed with everything some poet or poetry student told me, my brain would be muddled mush by now—nothing more than a breakfast for Ohio-based zombies.


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