The Poetry Blog

Poetry has become a much larger presence on the web in the last few years thanks in part to the vast sum of money left to _Poetry_ Magazine by the heiress to the Reader’s Digest fortune at her death. This is, all in all, a very good thing.  It is wonderful to listen to recordings of Billy Collins or Galway Kinnell read their work on the Poetry Foundation website, or to hear Robert Pinsky recite George Herbert. It is also fun to check out the daily poem on “Poetry Daily,” even though most of the time I’m disappointed.  IN fact, this sense of disappointment, which often occurs even with favorite poets,  raises an important question that threatens to deconstruct this blog even at its outset:  Is there something about a web format that undermines poetry?

Is poetry fastened to the book, the page, the manuscript in subtly important ways that are not contingent but integral to the full experience of it?  A poem set in an otherwise blank white field, like a meadow of snow, whose edges are material and yet almost invisible, suggests something both incarnated and ghostly. The edge of the page implies the space around it, but is not coterminous with it.  The page is a metaphor for the air that flows over and beyond it–the writing upon it, the voice that speaks into that air, that makes an air of the air, so to speak, that makes a song.  And then there is the weight of a book in one’s hand, opened to a random page, a discovery made there in black and white–the poem conversant with the eye, depending on nothing but light itself, no battery, no LED display, no plug in–and no waiting for it to “load.” The poem is “always, already” there–a challenge, a disappointment (too often), a solace, a delight, a means to “change your life,” as Rilke insisted. Is all that still there when the poem floats on the computer screen, amidst the sidebars and competing links–and sometimes even flashing ads (the dancing mortgage rate man)–is it there when no printer’s ink and type die has kissed the page awake from nothingness? Is it there when what we hold in the hand is a bulky laptop (have you ever tried to pass your laptop to a friend to say “here, you must read this!”–if so, you’ve discovered the superior portability of that 15th century technology, the book) or even a Kindle. (The Kindle is as portable as a book, but when I hand you a Kindle you are stuck with the page I have chosen; you have no opportunity to “address yourself” to the text–to flip to the cover, to look at the author’s lying photo (at least a decade old), to prepare yourself for the page I’ve presented–you’re stuck with what I’ve given, unless your ready to learn to navigate all those buttons at the bottom–and again, that won’t be as convenient or as quick as a book. In any John Henryesque page-turning contest(flip from the title page to page 67 and back to the first paragraph; ready, set, go!), the winner is likely to be the man with the book and he won’t even be tired, while the Kindle surfer is acquiring arthritis of the thumbjoints. The point being here that the book is a technology that more immediately manifests the intents of the reader and, even more importantly, the whims, which are like half-conscious intents and, therefore, may let the spirit speak while the ego drowses.

OK, so my prejudices are evident.  Then, why this blog? Because the universe of reading–heretofore “Gutenberg’s Galaxy” as Sven Birkerts dubbed it–is now becoming a multiverse and there’s nothing wrong with that.  (Reports of the death of the book are greatly exaggerated, but electronic reading is obviously also here to stay.) And because poetry reviews, poetry interviews, poetry “gossip” even, have a natural home on the web. Poetry needs press too and the point of this blog will be to do just that: to offer informed reviews of new, and newish, books of poetry, essays about issues in contemporary verse, appreciations of the great masters (including the consideration of their faults), occasional snarky gossip about current poetry wars, links to poems and poetry related stuff, discussions, and, hopefully, as time goes on, interviews with poets and critics by someone who knows a bit more about the craft than the average NPR journalist and so won’t be reduced to asking “where do you get your ideas” and “why bother with poetry in this day and age?”

We may also have poems proper, but not until I can figure out a way to make them not seem squeezed between the formatting and the distracting links and the presumptuous blocks of prose.

So, poetry-lovers, let me know what you think!

Published in: on November 12, 2009 at 5:11 am  Comments (6)