When they first appeared serially in the magazine Reedy’s Mirror in 1915, the poems that make up Spoon River Anthology were a scandal and a sensation. A poet named Webster Ford, visiting the cemetery in his fictional hometown of Spoon River, Illinois, hears the testimony of the local dead. Each individual poem is one person’s epitaph. Some of them have attained wisdom in their passing. Some cling to the grudges of their living days. Some cry for justice. Some ask for forgiveness. Many relate their part in the culture war between liberals and conservatives that split their town in two. Most, but not all, are unquiet. Each individual testimony reveals more detail about the larger stories occurring in the town, with people augmenting or contradicting their neighbors. Rather than using ornate and high-flown poetic language, Masters used plain and blunt language to describe their inner, secret lives, touching on topics such as abortion, murder, infidelity and atheism, and ripping the veneer off the image of idyllic small town life. When the poems were assembled, augmented and reordered in book form in 1916, it became the second best-selling volume of American poetry of all-time. Today it is a standard text in many high school English classes and acting schools, and its stage adaptations are regularly performed.
“The Spoon River Metblog” updates this complex narrative while returning to the original serial form of distribution. In this version, the town is a different Spoon River, a microcosm of our shrinking America. Here too, a culture war raged, secrets were kept, people loved and betrayed and murdered. We hear the departed bear witness to the meaning, or lack of meaning, of their lives. Our guide here is not a poet; instead, a writer named George Dillon Davidson records the epitaphs of the dead in a kind of syllabic prose. And in his writings, there may be hidden meaning to discover which reveal even more about the history of Spoon River. The story is told in the form of a Metblog. Metroblogging is a worldwide network of city-specific blogs, where groups of authors write stories about life in their city from a personal, hyper-local perspective. Bode Media, the publishers of Metroblogging, have built a fictional Metblog site for Spoon River, and the epitaphs as relayed by Davidson are published as individual blog posts. Readers are free to comment on the individual epitaphs, and draw connections between the different characters.
I am indebted to several people for helping in the creation of this project: Sean Bonner and Jason DeFillippo at Metroblogging for giving it a home; Mack Reed and the Creative Thinkers for invaluable support and counsel; Andrea Phillips for understanding better than anyone; Shannon Ramsay for her usual graphic design brilliance; John Hallwas and Kathy Nichols from Western Indiana University, and Kenneth Kitchin in St. Louis for crucial research help; the WTF team at Shadow Unit for constant inspiration; the seething mass of awesomeness that makes up the BarCampLA community; and B, for putting up with it all.
The Spoon River Metblog was published in cooperation with the Metroblogging Network and Bode Media.
The Good Captain is an adaptation of Herman Melville’s novella “Benito Cereno.” Melville’s original story relies upon the main character’s first-person perceptions of the events that unfold in front of him. This reliance on P.O.V. is why I chose to distribute the story using the web service Twitter. Twitter limits updates to 140 characters of text, and so this story is broken up into small, 2-3 line paragraphs.
The temporal nature of this storytelling method required that the story include frequent reminders of previous events, to help keep readers aware of the context of the events. This was especially important given that the time span of the bulk of the events is about twelve hours, and the length of time that the story ran for was four months.
The Good Captain began broadcasting over Twitter on November 3, 2007. It concluded on February 29, 2008. The original page can be viewed at www.twitter.com/goodcaptain. It is also available in multiple formats:
A paperback book edition is available at Lulu
There is a downloadable version available for the Kindle