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Poetry — from pen and ink to bits and bytes

I recently discovered the blog Via Negativa. The author, Dave Bonta, wrote an interesting piece yesterday about using technology in the writing of poems. Specifically, Bonta talks about moving from pen and paper to a typewriter to a computer, and the effect this has had on his system of revisions. Here’s an excerpt:

I almost never print anything out anymore, which I regret every time the power goes out and I realize that virtually my entire corpus of poetry is inaccessible to me. But it does save enormously on paper, not to mention file cabinet space. I confess that I almost never save different versions (does it still make sense to call them drafts?) as I go along. My friend Todd Davis once told me that he learned the hard way never to over-write old versions with new ones, after an incident in which he only realized after he’d mailed a poem off to a magazine that the previous draft had in fact been superior. Fortunately, he had happened to email that version to his father, so he was able to recover it, but ever since, he said, he’s been very disciplined about saving each significant version as a separate file. I could definitely stand to become more organized about a great many things, but since I’ve never shared his experience of missing an earlier, discarded draft, I doubt I’ll be adopting this particular practice.

This resonated with me. I carry a little notebook with me when I’m out and about so that I can jot down ideas or write poems. The poems written in this notebook have a clear trail of revisions, crossouts and word insertions. But just like Bonta, I don’t save different versions of poems when I write them on the computer. And I think I probably should. I’ve already had the experience of wanting to go back to an earlier version of a poem, and I’ve only been able to do that when it was a piece I originally wrote in a notebook. I think I’ll start saving separate versions. Of course, that means coming up with some sort of naming and filing convention.

My initial idea is to save each poem in a folder with the same name as the poem, and then to use a YYMMDD_poem_title naming convention.

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Published in Poetry


  1. It’s interesting to hear how other poets organize their computer files. (Maybe I should post a survey?) I’m terribly disorganized, myself. Since virtually everything I write starts life as a blog post, that’s how it gets saved: by title in a big, yearly folder of Via Negativa posts. In other words, I don’t even separate poems from prose! On rare occasions when I feel moved to submit something for publication elsewhere, I go back through the “poems and poem-like things” category at the blog. It’s a really dumb system, actually.

  2. I hear you, man. I go back and forth between a ridiculous level of categorization and none at all. I’m trying to find some middle ground these days.

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