The Democratization of Poetry

The Magna Carta

One of my poems, “Recipe for the Broken“, is a finalist for inclusion in the Goodreads July newsletter. The newsletter is sent by email to over two million members of this social networking website for book lovers. As far as I know, that is a far greater circulation than even the most popular literary journals in print can boast. Apart from the exciting opportunity to reach a wider audience, I also decided to submit a poem as a kind of participant-observer in my ongoing informal research into alternative modes of publishing.

The contest goes like this: poets submit a single poem on the website, and from scores of submissions an editorial team picks six finalists to go on to a round of open voting. You can read the finalist poems for this month here and vote here. You need to be a member of Goodreads and also the ¡POETRY! group on Goodreads in order to vote. Voting ends, in this case, at midnight on July 2nd. Only the first-place poem is published in the email newsletter.

This is one example of the ongoing democratization of poetry — not only because it involves voting, but because it involves more generally the dissolution of intermediaries between author and reader. Laura Miller has a compelling argument for why similar trends, like the rise of self-publishing, are not necessarily such a good thing. As the intermediary “gatekeepers” — editors and publishers — are increasingly circumvented, the burden of discovering good writing shifts to the already overwhelmed and distracted reader.
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Social Networking Curmudgeon

After a brief experiment with Twitter, I concluded that the trend toward quantity over quality being perpetuated by social network status updates wasn’t for me. In fact, it seemed downright unpoetic. Then, thanks to Jeanine’s site, I discovered Goodreads. Finally, a niche network with a purpose I could get behind: discussing books. The only other specialized social network I had signed up for in the past was LinkedIn. But that was about work. This is about books. Delicious books!

I even went so far as to set up a private group for other students, faculty and alumni in the Pacific University MFA program. I figure this could help provide an outlet that is missing from the low-residency format — the opportunity to chat throughout the semester with other students about what we are reading. The results of that experiment remain to be seen.

Shortly after that, however, softened by my recent joinerism, I caved in and signed up for Facebook. It seems I am of a certain generation such that if I want to keep up with some of my friends, I need to be on Facebook. So, there I am — to the chagrin and relief of my wife, who has been reconnecting with friends overseas for some time through Facebook and and attempting to impress its wonders upon me (“Look! I gave someone a garden gnome!”), and a number of friends who have invited me to join up at various times. OK, OK, I’m on — happily reviewing books, posting photos, and turning friends into zombies. How did I ever live without this? Curmudgeon no more.

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