Thanks to the Southbank Centre Poetry Library’s ongoing digitization project, funded by the Arts Council England, three of my poems published in Iota less than eight months ago are now available as part of this excellent website.
The first poem, “The Language of Birds” is a kind of love poem to my wife; the second, “To Friends Not Knowing What to Say“, is dedicated to the memory of our son; and the third poem, “Yellow“, explores the subterranean, and can also be heard read aloud on this website.
Besides my delight that these poems can now reach a wider audience through the web, this project to round up the disparate poetry journals of the past two centuries and archive their contents for posterity seems, beyond noble, absolutely necessary. Twenty-first century publishing is a fragmentary mess. Who needs barbarian hordes to burn your libraries to the ground? These days, a single mis-click of the mouse can obliterate whole swathes of our literary heritage.
Given all this, surely the U.S., with a GDP of over five times that of the UK, must have five times as many government-sponsored poetry digitization projects in progress, right? Not according to the online Registry of U.S. Government Publication Digitization Projects. Search results for poetry: zero. [Oops! As someone kindly pointed out, I got this wrong. This is a site for government-sponsored texts. Still, a more broad search turns up largely projects by or about the British. If the U.S. Government is archiving contemporary poetry journals, it remains top secret.]
Here’s one area where I have to say our friends across the pond have simply got it right. Poetry is not best served by a laissez-faire marketplace–especially a fragmented one–but must be championed, like any minority. If “We, The People,” do not protect and preserve American literature in its latest, digital incarnation, it is all too likely to be lost. In the absence of greater support, we Americans may well end up being repaid by a written tradition that meticulously archives news clips and statistics at the expense of the great humanizing tradition of poetry.