Wednesday, May 16, 2007

wait softly brother/but do not expect it to happen

The Literatus complains in an e-mail to some of his friends about the state of English Canadian poetry:

By "supporting" Canadian poetry, they mean that the writing of it should be underwritten, that its practitioners should be revered and inducted into the civil service, that books and other media containing it should be produced on an industrial scale, no matter the waste; they mean that its stupidest and most nonsensical iterations should go unchallenged, because Canadian poets are a marginalized, even oppressed, minority; they mean that the manufacturing of poets is an end in itself, because every poet is a voice and every voice must speak (every voice must be heard, too, it's believed, though the project of enforced listening is a bit stalled); by "supporting" Canadian poetry, in other words, they mean everything and anything, except that it should be done well, and read.

The Pithlord, being a prosaic type, tries to be constructive:

It's interesting to think about the functions poetry filled in our culture in the past, and why it isn't doing that anymore. When my grandparents were young, poetry was Tennyson, Kipling and Longfellow, and it was a pretty fundamental form of entertainment for anyone with any cultural aspirations at all. Everybody person memorized a number of poems from the canon, and it was perfectly middle brow stuff. The modernist intelligentsia reacted against this, but the reaction made sense because everyone could recite "If." For the earliest of the baby boomers, poetry signified bohemian sophistication. But for every subsequent cohort, it seems as dated as existentialism and New Wave cinema.

What the present moment allows for is the proliferation of text-based subcultures. This ought to allow for a revival. But the critical thing is to network network network. It strikes me that, providing you have no illusions about making a living, it is now trivially easy to publish anything, especially short poems. Getting readers is harder. But for any given quality of writing, I'm sure you could get more readers than with dead trees. I have a badly-proofread blog about esoteric Canadian legal points. I've had a little over 14,000 visits since I started. About half of them are probably from the same dozen people, and another quarter are from confused seekers after pr0n. But that's still a few thousand readers. If I could write lyric poetry that moves the soul, I suspect I'd get more.

I realize that dead trees -- precisely because they are more expensive -- have more status-enhancing properties. But I'd argue that's purely a matter of inertia. A high Google ranking is ultimately just as scarce. And there is a political benefit. Poetry on the web can be read by the overeducated and underemployed while pretending to commit acts of wage slavery, thus fulfilling some of poetry's anti-capitalist and subversive ambitions.

Of course, since even time stolen from the employer has an opportunity cost, there will always be gatekeepers. From what I can tell, a consistently-updated site doesn't exist, so somebody could become a big fish in this pond quickly.

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