The Decline of Goodness in Poetry

“You do not have to be good.”

-Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”

What kind of poetry will people be reading 100 years from now? It is impossible to predict for sure. Yet certain quantifiable trends in the poems published over the past hundred years give a definite indication of where poetry has been, and may give us some clues as to where it is going.

Methodology

As I have said before, aesthetic matters must be confronted on aesthetic terms. In 1968 a team of researchers asked people to rate different words in the English language on various numerical scales, such as the age the person first learned the meaning of this word and whether the word denotes something masculine or feminine. In 2004, another team extended this research, giving us the Clark and Paivio (2004) Norms — a set of 32 different scores for 925 special words (hereafter “Clark-Paivio words”).

Poetry magazine may be considered a bellwether of taste in American poetry, and conveniently has made nearly 3,000 poems stretching from its inception in 1912 to the present day all available online.

I trained computer software to analyse each one of these poems, counting how often a Clark-Paivio word appeared, which happened nearly 23,000 times in the available online corpus of poems. Armed with this large collection data, I then used a strategy similar to that of Michael Coleman Dalvean, creator of Poetry Assessor. I took the averages of the Clark-Paivio word scores across all 32 variables, rolling these up into an overall score for each poem. For example, the Clark-Paivio word with the lowest age of acquisition is “toy” at 1.5, whereas “bivouac” gets a score of 6.7. If a poem used both words, the poem itself would then get a score of (1.5 + 6.7) / 2 = 4.1 for the “age” variable.
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London Poems in The Knowledge

I am currently on the other side of the world from London, flying from Sydney to Hong Kong.

Yet London has been my residence and preoccupation for the past several years, culminating in my forthcoming debut full-length collection of poetry, The Knowledge.

Many of the poems are set in a specific place in London. So, as supplement to a more traditional table of contents, what follows is an interactive Google map of poem titles, including links to online version of the poems where applicable.

<a href="https://mapsengine.google.com/map/viewer?mid=zFGf_lwPvijI.knpShiwKF_I8"><img src="http://cdn5.peakepro.com/files/2015/01/london-poems.png" alt="London Map" class="alignnone" style="width: 100%; max-width: 800px; min-width: 320px; border: 0;"/><br/>Click here to view the map</a>

Five British Poets to Watch in 2015 (Plus a Bonus)

2015

Though I am currently in Australia, British poetry is never far from my mind.

I have once again compiled a list of five British poets who I think out to be more widely known on both sides of the Atlantic. I also couldn’t resist supplementing this list with a bonus poet who is becoming an increasingly important part of the UK scene, despite not being exactly British herself.

Discover the five (plus bonus) on Huffington Post.


2014 Roundup Year-in-Review

It has been a year full of poetry and personal revelation. Here are a few highlights.

January: Das Achte Jahr

I take solace in new and simple ways of sharing my love.


February: Andrew Philip Reviews The Silence Teacher

Friend, fine poet, and fellow bereaved father Andrew Philip gives my pamphlet a very personally meaningful review.


March: Reading at the Royal Academy

It was a great pleasure to take part in this innovative poetry reading, responding to architectural spaces in situ.


April: Two Views of Despot’s Progress

My poem “Despot’s Progress” gets two very different film-poem interpretations, thanks to the Poetry Storehouse project.


May: Jellied Eels

My poem “Jellied Eels” wins third place in the Southbank Magazine Poetry Competition, and I release a film-poem version in collaboration with Valerie Kampmeier.


June: Filmpoem 2014, Antwerp

The excellent Filmpoem festival in beautiful Antwerp once again inspires me to want to be a better poet and filmmaker.


July: “Buttons”

Our film-poem “Buttons” wins the judges’ prize at the inaugural Southbank Centre Poetry Film Competition and screens in the Purcell Room.


September: On Becoming British

I acknowledge what has become my second homeland by taking up British citizenship.


October: Swindon Festival of Poetry

Honoured and delighted to read at Hilda Sheehan’s Swindon Festival of Poetry.


November: The Space it Might Take

Pleased to have several poems in the biennial anthology of the Highgate Poets.


December: What Can Computers Teach Us About Poetry?

In which I explain how an analytical approach to poetry might yield new insights.

Wishing you and yours a splendid, poetry-filled year ahead.


Two New Poems Online (Plus Audio)

Rattle #44I just came back from a week-long spiritual retreat wherein I was completely off the grid to discover that two new poems of mine are now available online.

“Historic Spring” appears in the Fall/Winter issue of PoetryBay, an online literary journal edited by George Wallace. Do check out the full issue as it is consistently teeming with interesting poems. I am also grateful to George for inviting me to give a workshop and reading at Walt Whitman’s birthplace in May. I will be reading from my collection The Knowledge, which comes out in late April, and which includes this poem.

La Campagna, London, Friday Nightappeared in Rattle #44 this summer and is now available on the Rattle website with an accompanying audio recording. As it happens, I also recently created a WordPress plugin to support the Rattle website by making their “random poem” capability more durable in its popularity. Personally, I could spend the better part of the day clicking that random button and reading their excellent poems.

Enjoy.


What Can Computers Teach Us About Poetry?

Colossus ComputerThe idea that analysing poetry with computers could teach us anything about the art is controversial. A recent survey I conducted of more than 300 tech-savvy poets confirmed that — while they generally agree that technology has been good for poetry in terms of fostering community, creating networking opportunities, and providing remote learning — they would rather computer scientists keep the ones and zeroes away from their iambs and spondees.

Intuitively, this makes sense — after all, we write poems for people, not machines. Poetry is one of the most intimately human of activities. Yet analytical methods, properly interpreted, can reveal new aspects of poetry that we readers and writers might miss. Blind spots can be corrected, what we sense intuitively can be confirmed scientifically, and computers may indeed help us to see old words with new eyes.
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“School Trip” Read by Phil Abrams (Video)

The Public Poetry Series, sponsored by Fjords Review, aims to foster a person-to-person experience of poetry through video. The actor Phil Abrams has done a remarkable job reading my poem “School Trip” to camera.

<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=binga5XpTmU"><img src="http://cdn5.peakepro.com/files/2014/11/Screen-Shot-2014-11-19-at-21.08.45.png" alt="Phil Abrams reads &quot;School Trip&quot;" class="alignnone" style="width: 100%; max-width: 560px;"/><br/>Click here to watch the video</a>

He seems to feel and then say, unfolding his nuanced emotional range line-by-line in extreme close-up, embodying a kind of haggard, Giamatti-like anti-hero that is the perfect speaker for this poem.

Be sure to check out all the videos in the Public Poetry Series here.