I have been a fan of the Displaced Nation Dispatch for awhile now. Their by turns provocative and reassuring regular articles by and for expats have been a rich part of my experience living in the UK. So I am delighted that today they are carrying my “tiara” of poems, “Smoke Ring”, from The Knowledge on their site.
The excellent Poetry Spotlight series cast their beam my way today.
In the interview, I talk about various projects such as Transatlantic Poetry, Poet Tips, and my film-poem collaborations with Valerie.
The poem at the end is brand new, and could only have been written in present circumstances.
The April 21st edition of The Long-Islander newspaper slipped through my mail slot today. In “Walt’s Corner”, a column dedicated to poetry since the paper was founded by Walt Whitman in 1838, appears my poem praising various uses of two fingers.
I have had two poems in The Long-Islander previously, both times listing my location as “Ojai, California”. But this is a poem that could only have been written in the UK.
Previous Poems in The Long-Islander
[Note: George Wallace informs me that, while the newspaper was founded in 1838, he actually started publishing “Walt’s Corner” in 1988]
After a long thaw, I am looking forward to two poetry readings in London in the month of May.
Next, I will find my way to the basement of the Poetry Café in Soho for a Shuffle evening dubbed “A Bottle of Sparkling Pop” (after Kenneth Koch) hosted by Hilda Sheehan. That’s on Saturday, May 28th at 7.30 pm.
Nearly a decade ago, I asked the question, “Wouldn’t it be great if a service like Pandora [or Spotify] existed for poetry?” A variety of experiments in trying to “teach” computers how to analyse individual poems led me to conclude that this approach was a dead end.
Then one day in the shower, I had the idea that if I could instead “pool” the recommendations of real people about which poets (rather than poems) are similar to each other, I might be able to fulfil that same intent — to help people find their next favourite poet using technology — in a completely different way.
So, I put up a simple website and, one month and 20,000 lines of code later, the idea attracted nearly 100 beta testers to a private “rough draft” of the site. Their input has been critical to shaping the interface of the site, as well as clarifying the essential message.
Today, I am pleased to announce that the public beta — that is, an improved version of the site, but still very much a work in progress — is available for anyone to peruse.
Encouragingly, between the beta testers, and a few curious individuals who learned about it from the @poet_tips Twitter account and my Facebook feed, the site has grown in the past month by nearly two thousand recommendations or “tips”.
That said, we still have a long way to go. This site will only be as useful as the tips and recommendations people are willing to contribute to it. So, if you are at all curious, please do visit and bookmark the site, and come back to both find new poets and to contribute your suggestions as often as you like. Like Wikipedia, this site will always be a work in progress, and the more we build it, tip by tip, the better it will get.
This kind of thing is obviously also a bit of a social experiment. There have already been some interesting moments.
For example, someone already figured out how to use the simple recommendation formula (“If you like ___, you might like ___”) for snark. A poet known for showmanship and media antics recently got the tip that if you like them, “you might also like PT Barnum”.
Clearly, the site will need some moderation and upkeep. Hopefully, enough people will contribute useful tips to drown out the inevitable bit of silliness and “noise”.
In response to the Tweets, two people also tried to report a “bug” with the site not recommending enough women. The site was “seeded” with canonical poets from history, which is male-skewed, but has long since outgrown that initial seed base with real tips contributed by real people.
So, at this point, if there is a “bug” in this crowd-sourced data set, it reflects a very real “bug” in our society. I’d like to think Poet Tips, presenting the opportunity for anyone to respond by contributing and voting on tips, could actually become a “bug fix” for inequality and underrepresentation in the poetry world.
With all of this, time will tell.
So far, I have already made some new discoveries, thanks to the influx of recommendations that have included poets I hadn’t heard of before (but should have), as well as votes on various associations that hadn’t occurred to me (but now make sense). In short, it’s starting to work. And all of us, click by click, can help to make it work better.
I leave you with a short screencast outlining the practicalities of using the site. If you have any thoughts, questions, or feedback — or if this has inspired you to want to help out with the building and maintaining of the site and its growing data set — please do get in touch.
The postman dropped my contributor’s copy of Alice: Ekphrasis at the British Library through the mail slot just now.
What a wonderful project they have taken on this time, gathering responses from fine poets throughout the UK to the work of Lewis Carroll. I was delighted to add a political poem to the mix.
Do check it out if you can.
Maddest of hats off to Ekphrasis for another really excellent collaboration.