Unga-bunga! From the dawn of civilization, people have been writing poems. It all started when Ug the Cave Man and Uga the Cave Woman used their prehensile fingers to share tanka pictographs with each other by carving poems in the dirt. Since then, we've gone through many stages in terms of writing utensils for poetry -- paint made of berries for cave walls, the use of papyrus, quill pen and paper by romantic candlelight, etc.
Now we have computers. Computers scare a lot of poets. You have to understand that knowledge of poetry and knowledge of computers do not go hand in hand. I can sympathize. Computers scare me as well. Things happen so fast. E-mails and blog posts seldom allow for enough contemplation. You're on a first date and then, boom, before you know it, you're married with three kids, a two door garage, and a mortgage the size of Premonitions: The Kaya Anthology of New Asian North American Poetry
. But, like it or not, I'm here to say that the computer is here to stay, just as the Internet and blogs are more likely than not here to stay.
That leads to one initial question: In the future, will poets generally write poems on paper/in notebooks or type them out on computers? My guess is that we are heading towards the latter. That is, I can envision a future, maybe twenty and thirty years down the line, in which only a distinct minority of poets will use paper to write initial or subsequent drafts of poems, and all writing and revising of poems will occur on computers.
You might be scoffing. You might be one of those poets who writes everything initially by hand and shuns the idea of typing out poems on the computer. Well, scoff, if you must. I can't stop you. We (still) live in a country with no federal prohibitions on scoffing.
But I think that those of us over the age of 21 should wake up and take a look around. Over the past decade, I've witnessed the world of computers and the Internet infililtrate the world of young people. I didn't use a computer much when I was a kid. Kids are using computers regularly now. When I was a teaching assistant for a summer school class of first graders a few years back, they were already typing away on the computer. I didn't use e-mail on a regular basis till I was in my junior or senior year of high school. For many teenagers nowadays, e-mail, IM, and blogs are a regular part of their lives and have been their whole lives. That is, they have never known any differently. To draw a parallel here, it is like trying to imagine a world without television sets, which is very difficult to do.
I'm not sure whether this phenomenon is good or bad. At least a few of my friends have lamented at the costs of the new technological age -- less face-to-face contact with people, fewer phone conversations, greater alienation, etc. At the same time, there are benefits as well -- easy communication via e-mail, the nonintrusiveness of such communication, it is a plus for people who like to write, etc. More relevant to the point of this post, a lot of younger people actually don't know how to write substantively or stylistically well on paper, especially in cursive in terms of style. It may come as a surprise to you, but it shouldn't. With more time spent on computer instruction and regular use of computers, writing on paper naturally seems more unnatural. At the same time, the computer skills of younger people are well-developed, and in general, will be more well-developed than those of a previous generation.
My guess is that most poets under the age of 21 have already given up pen and paper for keyboard and computer monitor. Go to xanga.com -- where there are many Asian-American poets under the age of 21 -- to check out the phenomenon for yourself. This is the year 2006. We are at the cusp of the computer/Internet age, and I think that more poets should more seriously consider the different ways in which this change may drastically affect "how" we write poems.