raising poetry to the level of internet culture

the 2011 poet laureate poncho peligroso recently posted about the equal validity of words. his manifesto was originally part of a long email to me outlining the potential for a major resurgence in poetry of a certain kind (an idea also explored by becky lang at the tangential)

poncho says people are reading more than ever, just not reading as many printed books. there are a lot of people online doing short-form creative writing and reading now, especially on tumblr and twitter. many of them don’t consider their writing "poetry" (or didn't start that way; read poncho's story), but the writing is often (to me) satisfying in the same ways as my favorite poetry

poncho's main emphasis is “words are words” / “language is language” / “poetry is words" / "run wild." one idea behind “words are words” is that we can humble ("lower") poetry by including common speech in it. this has been an idea in western poetry since at least william wordsworth, although it rarely comes out in its full form, and it’s slow to adapt to new aspects of the common language, such as emoticons :). most contemporary poetry borrows from common language while maintaining a lot of other standards and conventions specific to poetry. the appearance of shorthand like "lol" would be read as a joke in almost any poem

for people who have been disappointed by a lot of poetry, “words are words” allows poetry to become something more fun and useful than it has been in the past. it allows us to "raise" poetry to a different level. “words are words” means that we don't need to retain any of the things we have disliked about poetry. we can start with whatever interests us, and then do whatever interests us. we don't need to be limited by others' ideas of what “poetry" is, if “poetry journals” will accept it, if looks like "poetry," or if the main audience is poets. by ignoring most of what "poetry" has meant, i think we can start to write some really good poetry ;). in particular i am interested in looking to internet culture for ideas of where to start and where to go with poetry

aspects of internet culture poetry could benefit from adopting mayb

some of these have already been taken up by some poets, but none of them seem really common in contemporary poetry yet

80% or more free content, 20% or less paid /// the current structure is for poems to be scattered in literary journals, some free and some paid, then collected into paid print books. i advocate making everything free as a baseline, with printed versions, possibly extended versions, or pdf downloads as sources for income/donations. making your content free allows it to spread much faster. it's also the most fun, as you get to share your work with everyone immediately. and because of the current standard against this, it makes you seem generous and friendly compared to others :)

periodically + consistently releasing content in the same place /// usually poets write on their own for a year or more, send out individual poems to various literary journals, and then collect 50-120 poems together and release a book all at once. in contrast to this, the blogging, webcomic, and viral-website model is to consistently release content (weekly, biweekly, daily) on the same website and build a subscriber base for that content. after a subscriber base and a large body of content is built up, a book can be released that collects some or all of it. (youtube accounts often do the same with dvds collecting their videos.) you can keep a free-content ideal while allowing readers to support you with money if they choose. my next book-length project will be released in this manner, periodically rather than all-at-once

crowdsourcing /// internet poetry is a push in this direction, and any literary journal is at a basic level, but i think much more involved, open collaborative projects are possible. poetry tumblelogs with tighter themes could arise (i'm thinking the tightness of something like LOLcats). i'll soon be announcing a collaborative poetry project that i hope will involve at least 100+ contributors. crowdsourcing might also include encouraging a group of people to help promote and google bomb a poetry site

being rly rly funny /// i have written about the social/political values poetry can have for me, but i also think humor and enjoyment in themselves are really valuable now. i think a lot of poets, artists, and activists are burned out… and yet most humor in our culture is kind of insensitive and reflects unhealthy values, so i avoid a lot of sources of humor. i think making funny poetry that is inclusive and not offensive is really valuable. i also think it is one of the ways poetry will manage to get spread online, as funny content gets shared a lot

image and video, not only text by itself /// literary journals usually present poems by themselves on a page, for 100+ pages in a row, and it's kind of boring. if i really like the writing, i'll still enjoy the journal, but it could be a more engaging format. image and video can either accompany poems or be poems in themselves. (this helps with sharing and free distribution too. do viral texts even exist? the closest i can think of is an email forward, or maybe a short spoken form or something broad like a rumor.) of course if a magazine editor chooses an accompanying image or layout for a poem, the poet's vision might be skewed. so i think the best solution is for poets to become responsible for making their own poems look exciting, either working closely with a designer or learning basic design themselves

increased prominence of the writer as a person /// pictures, blog design, status updates, comments, and "about" pages allow internet writers to establish themselves as people with personalities. this seems like more fun, and it also strengthens the tie between poetry and how to live because it depicts a person who is actually living in the world. (i try to live my values and i like if my readers know i am vegan and buddhist.) pop serial has advanced an understanding of writers as people in a community of friends by posting pictures with each of the tumblr updates, and by including author pictures in the contributor listing of the first issue

value determined by readers as much as by editors /// i think this change will naturally occur as full texts are released online. blogs grow largely as a result of readers sharing the content/links on social media. of course this includes links from big blogs and online journalists, but importantly it also includes individual readers sharing links with their friends. this model shifts power, somewhat, from the few (editors, reviewers) to the many (all readers). putting full texts online in itself allows any reader to link from their social media. adding share buttons to the site further encourages reader sharing. [on the power shift away from editors/publishers see also internet poetry and self-publishing]

there may be many other aspects. these are the ones that most immediately stuck out to me. i love you, have a great day


related posts /

+ doctrine on internet poetry
+ break free from the shackles of word documents
+ publishing literature into the public domain
+ content models for spreading poetry on the internet