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)  

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  1. Hi, this is a comment.
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  2. Dear intoxicated word person, I love the intro to this blog where you describe paper as “durable slightness [which] suggests something both solid and ghostly.” So many of us love books, yet are excited to be part of the multiverse. As for disappointment… with poetry it is a wild abandon of writing that saturates the genre realm. Poetry is the most democratic opportunity of the arts, for one can sing and recite poetry as well, without tools. After all, one does not need a canvas, brush and messy paint, nor clay, potters wheel, glue, scissors. Creating poetry is like origami! One only needs the furnace of inspiration, a blank space and a tool for writing it. But of course, origami is not as easy or simple as it seems. I look forward to your unfolding the world of poetry for us.

    • Hey Mary.

      Not sure I ever replied to this. Thanks for your thoughts and you are correct about the democracy of poetry in terms of its lack of “start up costs,” though at some point, we still need to sift the wheat from the chaff. Anyway, I’m going to try to do some more posts here soon and maybe even do that whole blogosphere thing to see if I can get people to actually come and read the darn thing.

    • Hear! Hear! But the problem is so many people can’t find the furnace. I think that’s because it’s in the basement, and people don’t like going down there: it’s dark, it’s dusty, and you never know what creatures you might find.

  3. Literary Intoxication Leaves One with a Bad Hangover…

    …At least, for some people (I know of several people who consume copious amounts of alcohol pre-, mid-, and post-reading).

    Now, to the comment: I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on the various ways people enjoy the art of poetry and the degradation, if you would, of the paper and ink which inscribe and seal the soul of the writer in said writer’s work. I do feel that this screen I’m staring in can indeed encapsulate the soul of the writer and the heart of the reader, in similar but different ways than paper and ink would. For example, avid poetry readers–traditional, loyal, ever-inspired by the texture and weightlessness of pages being flipped, and not afraid of the usual paper-cuts issued by a magazine or book–read poetry as an escape from reality, a way to sharpen the mind and keep the spirit within one’s self alive, and to express to the world the power of the vitality words have and bring to readers. Online poetry readers–readers of late–look to poetry for daily inspiration, for consolation in the presence of grief and melancholy, for fellowship among other readers/writers, and for homework assignments and alternatives to purchasing expensive books (I’m just saying it happens; I won’t say whether I have or have not done this. :P). Poetry that is published and in print has gone through an inspection, so to speak, by said publishers prior to publication, whereas poetry online has no limits, no middle-man, no publishers (if not already a famous work), and no chance of rejection (save a lack of comments and inability for the poem to be found online). It can be stated that poetry should, at times, be “inspected” to see if it actually is poetry and not just, say, something that rhymes or that can be made into a Rap song. In other words, it can be seen why certain people would prefer to read professional works of poetry while others would prefer to read amateur works (“professional” and “amateur” refer to publishers and their fame and popularity); in both the real, palpable world of poetry and the digital, pixelated world thereof, one will find poetic gems as well as poetic rubble.

    I do look forward to more blogs by you, Worddrunk, and I expect that our paths will meet soon. 😀

    Not anticipating my “hangover” tomorrow morning,

    • Hi, Jon. Thanks for your thoughts. Yes, people argue that poetry online is “democratic” since there’s no one vetting it. Should we hire tutors that way as well? 😉 Or assemble classical orchestras, or for that matter, rock bands, that way as well? How about the Los Angeles Dodgers–no coaches, no scouts; come as you are, bring a glove and a bat and you can play ball. Of course, I ‘m not against online writing and anarchistic publication, of poetry or anything else, but it’s good to keep in mind that poetry isn’t the same thing as talk radio or your 15 seconds with the mike on Oprah Winfrey, or blogging, it’s a craft and an art (something Americans have a habit of forgetting, but which the rest of the world has no trouble remembering), and like any craft or art, it can be done well or poorly, and it’s good to keep that fact in mind, even as one reads, especially as one reads, through the rubble on the internet, looking for those few gems. By the way, people read books of poetry for “daily inspiration, for consolation in the presence of grief and melancholy, for fellowship among other readers/writers, and for homework assignments” just as much as they read online. (And you can buy several good condition used books of poetry a month for less than the cost of your internet connection; how quickly people forget that the Internet is literally not free.) Also, there is solid scholarly research that indicates that reading on a page leads to better retention–and thus a more engaged experience–of a text than online reading and poetry, in particular, rewards a more sustained and engaged attention. I do read poetry on the Internet–Poetry Daily, among other sources–so I’m not against it, and not against students finding assigned poems on the Internet, for sure. But I do push back against the purveyors of the notion of the internet as some purely utopic, democratic space of freedom and self-expression; the picture is a lot more complicated than that.

      Thanks for responding to my posts. I hope you’re having a good summer!

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