How Graceguts Got Started

First published on the Graceguts page on Facebook on 12 October 2019, on the tenth anniversary of the start of my Graceguts website. I’ve made a few minor updates to this text since then, such as adding the Hemingway quotation, and have added two new postscripts at the end.       +

Over the years I’d been writing and publishing hundreds of essays and book reviews relating to haiku poetry. It occurred to me—and I no longer remember when—that it would be useful to make them publicly available on a website, so that more people around the world might benefit from them. This was partly motivated by people, both friends and strangers, asking me for my thoughts on various haiku-related subjects. So Id prep an essay to send them, or write a long email, a process that was increasingly time-consuming. So at some point I thought it would be more efficient to send them a website link. I was not sure what to name the site until I reencountered an untitled poem by E. E. Cummings that starts with the line “let’s start a magazine.” Well, yes, I wanted to start something, and my new website could be an online magazine of sorts. I found my website’s attitude and its name in these lines from the poem:

                let’s make it serious

                something authentic and delirious

                you know something genuine like a mark

                in a toilet

                graced with guts and gutted

                with grace

And so, on 12 October 2009, I created a website using Google Sites. I named it Graceguts, and soon bought the domain name. I no longer remember which content I added first, but I had many essays, reviews, and poems to choose from. The site grew as I reviewed work I had saved to my computer, or upon reviewing publications where my work had appeared (in some cases I no longer had electronic versions and had to recreate them). I still have a great deal of old content I could add, and any work newly published often finds its way to my website.

        It was a pleasure to add new sections to the site over time, such as the Appearances page that listed my upcoming readings and workshops, my Books and Quotations pages, and pages for Rengay, Stories, and Photographs, for my press, Press Here, and an online anthology of Poems About Haiku. I had a lot of fun adding Nothing too. The FAQ and Digressions pages were also amusing to add. The Essays page soon grew too large—and really, it still is, even after I split off pages for Interviews, Introductions, Reports, Reviews, Speeches, and Further Reading. And of course I continually added to the Haiku and Senryu, Haibun, Collaborations, Poems, Sequences, and other poetry pages.

        In all, the site has vastly exceeded my expectations, both in terms of content I thought I might add and in how its various parts have been informative or entertaining to readers around the world. I’ve been using Google Analytics since the beginning and have had site visitors from almost every country or region on earth. Still waiting for North Korea and Spitsbergen, though, plus Burkina Faso, Niger, Equatorial Guinea, Western Sahara, Eritrea, and the Central African Republic, and probably a few really tiny countries that most people have never heard of. I’ve had two site visits from Martinique and Madagascar, and exactly one from Greenland.

        About a year after I started my site, I had a revelation. It seems altogether obvious now, but it was eye-opening when social media was relatively new. I had joined Facebook in the summer of 2007, and on 18 October 2010, on an E. E. Cummings page on Facebook, I announced an essay I had written about Cummings. Suddenly I had a spike of new site visitors, more than 500 percent more than usual. The power of social media was immediately clear to me, and yet I was mystified when other promotional posts produced only slight bumps of reaction. Sometimes you get lucky, or sometimes content you post happens to pique interest in ways that might not always be predictable. Although I do check the stats regularly, I’ve learned that they can be fickle. What’s more important is whether one person visits a page and finds it helpful or interesting. Thank you for reading.

        I enjoy the endless pressure of adding content to this website. More recently, too, I’ve learned that Ernest Hemingway is reported to have said, “By ‘guts’ I mean, grace under pressure.” So maybe that’s also an overtone to the Graceguts name, and grace is something I aspire to but too often find elusive. My gratitude to everyone who has visited the Graceguts site over its first ten years. Here’s to another ten years of helpful and interesting content.

Postscript 1

As of 19 May 2022, Graceguts has been visited by people in 220 countries and territories from around the world, even from the Falkland Islands, Vanuatu, San Marino, Guernsey, Timor-Leste, Eswatini, Cape Verde, the Isle of Man, Andorra, St. Barthélemy, and Gibraltar—and a few other places I’ve not heard of, or barely. But I’ve now had one visit from Burkina Faso and five from Western Sahara, and Greenland has bumped up from one visit to five. Still waiting for North Korea and Spitsbergen, as well as Niger, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, and the Central African Republic. I’m not going to hold my breath for North Korea, but will maintain high hopes for the middle of Africa. As of this date, the United States accounts for about 55.2 percent of site users, with the United Kingdom and Canada making up the next 12.3 percent, followed in order by India, Philippines, Australia, China, Japan, Germany, and Indonesia. If you’re ever in Spitsbergen, please visit Graceguts!

—19 May 2022

Postscript 2

At the end of August 2021, the entire Graceguts website was frozen for four months, in anticipation of a forced migration to a new host system. Unfortunately, the automatic conversion process declared that this site was “too large” to convert, so I was faced with the daunting task of having to rebuild the entire site from scratch. Before even starting that chore, I also had to figure out how to save all the content (more than 2,700 separate pages, plus all the uploaded images and associated files). I also had to convert numerous other sites I run, such as the NaHaiWriMo, Tanka Society of America, and Haiku Northwest sites, among others, but they were fortunately small enough to convert. Though smaller, it still took much of September and October and beyond to rehabilitate all of those converted sites. But the clock was ticking on Graceguts. It was going to need urgent attention and I risked losing the entire site—more than a dozen years of work. But then, in early October, I happened to try converting the site once more and miraculously it converted, most likely because people had complained that size limitations in the new system were too small. The conversion took hours, and I was breathless in awaiting confirmation that it had converted safely. But it did! This saved a huge amount of work, and also made sure the content was all preserved. However, every single one of the converted pages had layout and formatting problems and some images did not convert at all if the file format was unsupported. I had to go through each page to reformat each headline and paragraph, fix many layout errors left over from the conversion process (for example, the order of paragraphs and images was sometimes scrambled), and redo some of the links—among many other tasks throughout the site. It was a huge amount of work. Based on a census I took of all the pages on all my websites, I initially estimated that it would take more than 700 hours to process all the pages. As it turned out, I became much more efficient at making all the fixes, but the job still took at least 400 hours, and was an extra full-time job for me in the autumn of 2021. I rewrote some content, too—and wrote new contentto reflect new organizational structures. And, in an early attempt to reduce the site’s number of pages, I decided to spin off all my rengay content into a new Rengay site, with its own domain name. This was worthwhile to do even though the automatic conversion process ended up working and not requiring a reduction in page count. But I did have to create most of the new Rengay site from scratch, moving hundreds of pages from the old site’s “Rengay” page to the new domain. And I managed to finish it all by the end of December, after four months of frenzied focus, a deadline I was determined to meet because the old site was going to be taken down on January 1st.

        A major benefit to this conversion was that all sites were now secure, and optimized for phones and tablets, as well as PCs, and system updates made other visual and layout options more modern-looking. It was a challenge to learn the new software system, but I now think it’s more robust and easier to use. Although a few features from the previous system were discontinued, such as blogging, many other new features and refinements were added. It was a pleasure to launch Graceguts 2.0 on December 31, 2021, the day before the old site was going to be forced offline. I would not have lost anything, but this was just in time to make the transition seamless. Since then, I’ve been refining Graceguts and my other websites in various ways and have returned to the practice of regularly adding new content. I’ve documented these updates in monthly reports available in Graceguts News. Thanks to all site visitors for exploring, enjoying, and sharing this content.

—16 January 2023