This is no. 101 in a series of craft essays exploring the finer points of writing. Check back each week for a new Craft Capsule.
Three months into 2017 I realized we were entering a period of cultural monotony. Daily doom, constant outrage, and the media and tech giants both cashing in on exactly the thing they were (supposedly) outraged about. Click here. Sign this. Keep tweeting. Don’t go offline. Forget about pleasure. Resign yourself to your phone, your laptop, your screen—everyone was exhausted. The cycle itself produced a kind of hysteria. And I don’t trust hysteria. One of the reasons being how unsustainable and uninspiring it is. Another being that historically it has ushered in sloppy thinking.
Logging onto social media became the most depressing part of my day. It was closer to advertising and propaganda than any real rhetoric or news. I’m not sure why but right around then I began to wonder what the role of the artist even is. And a year later, when nothing had changed, when the media enabled Washington and Washington enabled the media, when the tech giants surveilled us and we began to surveil one another—I wondered again. I wanted to offer something in place of hysteria and the didactic landscape of Twitter.
I once heard Marina Abramović give a talk at the Guggenheim in which she said that one role of the artist is to elevate the public spirit. I’ve always loved her work. Two things we share in common, other than being immigrants from the same part of the world, is that we’re both interested in duration and endurance in our creative work. I wanted to make something that returned people to their inner lives. I wanted to remind them about pleasure and the sensual mind. And I knew it would be difficult since online culture had become a place for the opposite. A place where we’re endlessly bombarded with opportunism and lack of nuance. What I had to do, I told myself, was find a container for something that occurred daily and was endless in form, like the internet itself.
The first line I wrote for what became the title poem of my book Love and Other Poems was, “I love opening a window in a room.” I decided that was the feeling I wanted the poem to evoke. I wanted possibility without abstraction. I wanted the poem to be a space where you could throw everything in, and not feel hopeless about that everything when you were done reading. I was also listening to a lot of The Doors. In one interview I read with Jim Morrison (Sagittarius), he says: “I’d like to do a song or a piece of music that’s just a pure expression of joy, like a celebration of existence, like the coming of spring or the sun rising, just pure unbounded joy. I don’t think we’ve really done that yet.” And so I began my poem with that in mind. It would be a list. A list of things I loved about the world. And maybe, as crazy as it sounded, I wouldn’t stop writing it. Maybe the poem could go on forever (“I am thinking that a poem could go on forever,” Jack Spicer wrote in “Psychoanalysis: An Elegy”). Although I did need to finish, as poems in physical books have to end, I decided I’d continue the poem on Twitter—the place I loathed—one tweet a day, every day, for as long as I was alive.
It was while writing the poem that I began to understand what Abramović meant by “elevating the public spirit.” That became my mantra and my aim. I kept the form and the language accessible because it was important to me that any person, even one who didn’t read or like poetry, might enjoy and understand the poem, should they encounter it online. And I wanted the poem to be encountered. That’s the main reason I brought it to Twitter and didn’t keep it solely in print. I hoped people could see themselves in some line or some future line I hadn’t yet written. But I’d made the commitment to write. There was no going back really. You see, I’m still writing the poem today.
Alex Dimitrov is the author of three books of poems, including Love and Other Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2021), as well as the chapbook American Boys (Floating Wolf Quarterly, 2012). His work has been published in the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Paris Review, and Poetry. He was previously the senior content editor at the Academy of American Poets, where he edited the Poem-a-Day series and American Poets. He has taught creative writing at Princeton University, Columbia University, and New York University, among other institutions. With Dorothea Lasky, he is the coauthor of Astro Poets: Your Guides to the Zodiac (Flatiron Books, 2019). Dimitrov lives in New York City.