Poet Robert Frost died 50 years ago yesterday, and Poets & Writers magazine offered the challenge of writing a poem using Frost’s “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” as a model.

Robert Frost

Frost was born in 1874, some time after Robert Anderson (a suspected relation to this author) invented a crude electric carriage in Scotland, and some 39 years after Thomas Davenport of Brandon, Vermont, built his own small-scale electric car. Davenport also invented the first American-built DC electric motor.

Robert Anderson’s Electric Carriage, circa 1832

Perhaps because I was working on some electric vehicle materials in my day-job yesterday, I couldn’t resist penning this over lunch, with apologies to the poet: 
“Stopping by the Roadside on a Snowy Evening” 
Whose car this is I think I know; 

No keys I need to make it go. 

You may not hear me driving by 

‘Cause electric cars are soft as snow. 
My finger on the button here 

Will make the engine start and gear 

And waken not the woods and lake 

–the quietest engine of the year. 
I give the foot-pedal a tiny tap 

And feel the seat belt on my lap. 

The only other sound’s the hush 

Of lofty wind and goosewing flap. 
The road is lively, quick, and steep. 

But I have batteries to keep, 

And miles to drive before I sleep, 

And miles to drive before I sleep. 
–Scott Edward Anderson 

Davenport’s Electric Car, 1835
Children on Batanta Island, Indonesia. Photo by the author

Children on Batanta Island, Indonesia. Photo by SE

There’s a difference between experiencing the world as a tourist and a traveler.

In my work with organizations like The Nature Conservancy and Ashoka, I’ve had occasion to do both and to notice the differences.

As a traveler, you become part of the landscape, access the culture in a way that changes your own perspective on the world, and if you can’t quite become native to the place, you at least get to know real people and have deeper experiences.

As a tourist, you are more an observer and your experiences are from outside rather than within. It feels more superficial and distant, like you are collecting experience rather than living it, if that makes sense.

A donor trip to Indonesia in February 2005 was more of a tourist experience than other trips I’d taken where I stayed with locals and worked with colleagues and partners on strategy over longer periods of time.

Not to say that traveling as a tourist isn’t valid. Sometimes you can observe things more clearly as an outsider rather than as an insider living in a place. During this particular donor trip, I wrote a poem about a visit to a small island in the Raja Ampat region of far eastern part of the country.

The poem appeared in OCHO #24, which was edited by Collin Kelly and included poets who were active on Twitter (you can find me there @greenskeptic).

Writing about poetry and technology in The Best American Poetry Blog, poet Julie Bloemeke, writes, “In ‘Village, Batanta Island,’ Scott Edward Anderson creates a world where children interact because they can see themselves in a digital camera.”

I’m not sure how often tourists visited that island or how frequently its children interacted with the likes of us. The exchange we had was genuine and fun, but like the picture I took in the moment (see above), there was definitely a fence between us, both real and imaginary.

Here is my poem, “Village, Batanta Island”:

To the young girl staring at me,

in a village on the island

of Batanta, I have an amusing,

open face; my big eyes,

skin paler than her experience.

I catch her looking at me.

She turns, giggles, whispers

to her friend. Funny gringo

in Ex Officio.

About twenty, twenty-five kids,

crowd around us; all under the age

of ten, most under five.

They pose for pictures

with our digital cameras.

Their scrubbed faces and hand-washed

clothes make neat subjects.

They giggle at the pictures

captured on the viewing screens;

tuck in a stray hair or shirt,

teasing each other.

A long, driftwood fence

lines each side of the one path

through the village. Whitewashed

church, houses with careful,

ornate carvings on the facades.

Neat rows of houses with neat

rows of cassava planted out back,

mango trees and papaya; sand

as white as those houses.

The villagers eat fresh-caught fish

from the sea behind their houses.

One of the men says they must now

go further out each day to find a good catch.

How many people can such a village

support before reaching its limit?

One of my companions,

a businessman from Jakarta,

quickly answers, “One thousand.”

–One thousand. What happens then?

He does not answer; I too am silenced.

Now he turns to the children,

speaks in bahasa Indonesian,

steadies to take another picture.

Ten yards away,

by a thatch-roofed house,

stands another girl,

not more than sixteen,

laundry tub at her hip:

already she is pregnant.

–Scott Edward Anderson, OCHO #24

Craig Newmark via Paper Camera

Today is Internet Freedom Day and Craig Newmark asks “How does the Internet give you a voice?”

When Craig asks something, I feel compelled to respond. Not because he is the founder of Craigslist or because he posts some awesome photos of birds or because Leonard Cohen is his Rabbi.

Rather, it’s because he is a champion of causes like veteran’s issues and Internet Freedom. (Well, maybe his bird photos do have a special appeal.)

The Internet gave me a voice — actually two voices. One for my skepticism and another for my poetry.

First, the poetry. It was the late 1990s when I first realized the power of the Internet to give voice to my poetry or, more to the point, gave me an audience.

My poems had recently won the Nebraska Review Award and Aldrich Emerging Poets Award, but you couldn’t find the winning poems anywhere. The Nebraska Review had to scrap the initial printing of the issue with my winning poems because of a printing error.

Then I got an email from an undergraduate student at a small liberal arts college in Cupertino, California. She had found some of my poetry on the Internet and wanted to write about my work for her assignment. (You can read her essay here: Essay on the Poetry of Scott Edward Anderson)

A total stranger all the way across country found my writing on the Internet.

And now, all these years later, many more have read my work through online magazines and journals and my poetry blog:  Seapoetry

More readers have read my poetry on the Internet than ever could read it in the Nebraska Review or almost any other print publication.

And since 2004 my blog, The Green Skeptic, provided a platform to question the assumptions we make about how we conserve the earth’s resources and invest in green technology.

The Internet is many things. At its best, it is a community of voices where there was formerly silence.

Like any community, to paraphrase Parker Palmer, it is where the some of the writers you least want to read do their blogging. But the community of the Internet is richer for the diversity of its voices.

Visit Craig’s call to action here: Craig Connects

How does the Internet give you a voice?