Sunday, January 08, 2006

Ken Rumble posted the following note to yesterday’s comment stream, but it deserves to be read by everyone, so I’ve bumped it up here. I agree with Ken’s assertion that the success of Lucifer Poetics is “directly related to the fact that the original members of the group and many of the people that have since joined all live in fairly close proximity to one another.”

Hey Ron,

Thanks for the kind words about Lucipo – we have some really smart and committed folks on the list.

As the list administrator and the creator of the list (though not the creator of the group it serves), I have a keen interest in the evolutions you describe in your post. I joined the
Buffalo list in 2000 and have witnessed what you describe.

At any rate, your brief mention here of lucipo just a few hours ago now has already had a significant impact: 4 subscription requests already. With a current membership of about 120, 4 in a couple hours feels like a rush of folks (and, admittedly, the thought that these first few are the tip of the iceberg.)

Over the last year and a half that the list has existed, I and others have had anxiety about the changing nature of the list, its mission and membership. What happened to Buffpo (is happening) has been lurking in the back of my mind since the beginning. I really personally enjoy and benefit from the discussions on Lucipo and the people I communicate with there, so the thought that some of the good spirit might be lost is worrisome.

In almost equal proportion though – I worry greatly that any attempt on my part to fix, render stable/static, something as dynamic and mutable as a community (let alone a poetry community) will cause the thing I enjoy so much to evaporate all the faster.

And how sustainable are these literary communities that you (and I) are so (justifiably) enamored of? Should something like Buffpo, lucipo, or your blog continue to exist indefinitely? At what point do they become institutions that seek (in whatever ways an abstract concept like "institution" seeks) their own survival rather than serving the needs of the individuals within the community?

So I carry around a lot of questions about the workings and value of communities generally and my own particularly.

Certainly, though, I think part of Lucipo's success at sustaining a thoughtful and largely good natured dialogue, that part of that success is due to its small size.

Hence my wonder when I open my email account to find so many subscription requests and then my ceasing to scratch my chin whiskers when I see your blog post.

(And certainly, we have not made ourselves a secret or even hard to find, having given several reading tours under the name and putting out two chapbooks.)

So I appreciate the kind words and attention – I think the people in the community deserve it frankly – even while the attention gives me pause.

A little history of Lucipo: I set up the list in May of 2004 because of the convergence of several things. One was my access to, a wonderful group located here in
North Carolina. They gave me web space to use for the poetry series I run and access to many other internet tools like the pipermail listserve program. The other was that I met – all in the space of a couple months – a fairly large group of poets of roughly similar experience and interest. Among them Chris Vitiello, Joseph Donahue, Tessa Joseph, Tony Tost, Marcus Slease, Evie Shockley, Patrick Herron, Amy Sara Carrol, Todd Sandvik, Eden Osucha, Brian Howe, Maura High, Rob Sikorski, Andrea Selch, and Randall Williams (forgive me if I've forgotten anyone.)

Chris V. brought up the idea one day – probably in March of '04 (?) – of organizing a meeting of the local folks, and I was interested in trying to arrange a recurring sort of thing. We organized the first meeting via email (hosted by Tessa with she, myself, CV, and Rob S in attendance) and continued to organize over email. Not too long after I got the idea to set up a listserve with which to make organizing these events easier (they tended to be set up on the fly each month – no regular time, day, or place.)

So I set the list up and asked the folks involved to come up with some names. Among the almost-weres are the Adz Murderers, Boomslang, Fat-head Sillyface, Workshop for 'Liscious Poetry (WoLiPo), Party Pitch Poetics.

Fortunately, Joe D. remembered a line from the Pisan Cantos: "Lucifer fell in
N. Carolina", and the Lucifer Poetics Group was so dubbed.

Very soon after, Partick Herron put on the first Carrboro Poetry Festival, and the rest of the history can be read here:

So I tell this story for at least one reason: I think that the quality of the discussion on Lucipo is directly related to the fact that the original members of the group and many of the people that have since joined all live in fairly close proximity to one another. Our meetings are sporadic (as they've always been), but whether it is at readings, meetings, or just the bar, we see each other around. There is a flesh avatar for the virtual personalities we experience via the list.

Pretty much since the list was created though (starting with the 1st C'bo Po' Fest) there have been members from far and wide. Standard Schaefer has been on the list from nearly the beginning and has been a thoughtful and valuable presence all along. But even with Standard, his involvement started because many of us met and enjoyed him during the festival.

So a few things that happened at the very beginning also instilled the idea of local group activities (and identity) into the mix. I put together a little chapbook of work by members to distribute at the festival and organized a videotaping of some of us reading some poems to send down to the (An)othered South event in Atlanta in April or May (unfortunately our video ended up being un-playable, but we had fun making it.)

A few months later, we had a Lucipo reading at a local coffee shop, then in February of '05 a bunch of us went up to give Lucipo readings in DC and then in Philly.

So there's always been what Tony – in a recent discussion of group dynamics that we had on the list – dubbed the "embodied lucipo." Then there's this virtual lucipo too which includes people on the list that I've never met in person (though many of them I do know their work) and some who rarely, if ever, post.

For some that have not been a part of the local scene, I think the chattiness and tendency towards idle banter that goes along with the in-depth discussion, that chattiness can be off-putting. But I think it is that chattiness – and the comraderie it represents – that makes the depth of the discussion possible. In a medium that is well known for its inability to communicate humor and sarcasm effectively, we joke around good naturedly quite a bit. (Of course, people have, at times, gotten upset and had disagreements, but of course, right? I don't intend to create a picture of the list as paradise.)

So part of my anxiety is that the increasing number of non-locals will shift the dynamic of the group, erode some of the sense of comfort that allows folks on lucipo to disagree without having to resort to flaming.

Again, though, I am not interested in changing Lucipo's membership policy, which is that anyone can join. I shoot out a form note to anyone who requests a subscription so that I can get a little info on who they are, but so long as I hear back from the person and they express interest – I'll add her/him.

But back to the question of growth/change/development/evolution that is frequently in my thoughts these days. Can the devolution of the Buffpo list be thought of really as a "failure"? If it is so ineffectual now, why not kill it? Should we expect longevity from convergences of events that are – often – anti-institutional? that risk becoming institutions of their own?

Certainly there are scenes that have some serious longevity – NYC, SF, Philly, DC to name a couple. But I would argue that – like lucipo – some of the health and longevity of those scenes is due to their actual (as opposed to virtual) geography.

So while the embodied lucipo may continue to thrive and serve its members' interests, the virtual lucipo – losing a shared geography among far-flung members – may lose some of its vitality.

I believe, though, that keeping the list and community open, encouraging thoughtful discussion among people who often disagree, that the existence of those things for a few months or years is worth the grief of seeing its eventual demise.

So I don't say all this to discourage people from joining and checking us out. I will say though that the list archives are publicly and easily accessible (the link in your post will take one to them.) Non-members can't post to the list, but it is open for reading.

So some thoughts about communities and such.

January 07, 2006