Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Why is Pixel Poetry better than Page Poetry?

Those unfamiliar with names like D.P. Kristalo, Catherine Rogers, A.M. Juster and those on this list may wish to debate the premise. Don't. Instead, play along and see if the reasons for this disparity argue inductively for its existence. First, some definitions:

  • Pixel Poetry: There has been an online poetry community since 1979, even before the web existed. Since then, the core of this group has been the online workshop & discussion forum. These range from expert-oriented venues like Poetry Free-For-All, Gazebo, Eratosphere, Poets.org and the rec.arts.poems newsgroup down through friendlier mixed venues like Desert Moon Review, TheCriticalPoet.com and The Wild to vanity forums like The Poetry Showcase. By definition, the members of this community are more interested in peer critique than in blurbing or blogging. Pixel poets are as likely to publish in webzines as in books or magazines.
  • Stage Poetry: Slam, performance, dramatic and similar audio-visual formats, live or recorded on video. Think YouTube here.
  • Page Poetry: Poetry written strictly for books and magazines by people who are not contributing members to an online critical forum. These poets range from self-publishing acolytes to Maya Angelou, Charles Bukowski, Mary Oliver and Billy Collins to Don Paterson, Derek Walcott, Dorianne Laux and Seamus Heaney. Their online interaction, if any, begins and ends with the blogosphere, an environment still largely ignored by the pre-existing internet community.
At the very top end there isn't much to choose from between the Michael Ondaatjes and the Robert Maughans. No one cares about the bottom end. The major disparity occurs in the second tier: the poets we read, perhaps out of curiosity, when our faves haven't published recently.

One group spends its time objectively analyzing and critiquing poetry, employing technical terms and skills to improve individual poems. Members of this group know the difference between synthesthesia and anaesthesia. They know whether Blake's "Tyger" is iambic or trochaic. They know whether Eliot's "Prufrock" is free verse or metrical. They know whether or not this is competent verse:

just a lawn, made of grass, but a lawn that's possessed
of a singular, unparalleled beauty

and Eddie Seaward expects
every blade of grass to do its duty

The other group's members spend their time championing their favorite failed aesthetic and describing how "mahvelous" everything and everyone is.

Seriously, from which group would you expect better poetry?

In discussing poems, one group doesn't have to take into account financial considerations. The other is encumbered by concerns about the poet's professional position or aspirations. Scathing reviews [of published works] are rare; negative critiques [before publication] are common. What print poets want prospective publishers or students to find dozens of well-meaning, expert workshoppers documenting the flaws in their work?

From which group would you expect better poetry?

Consider the difference between a 3-on-2 and a breakaway. In either case, sloppy goals will be let in; the issue is frequency. In one system poems arrive vetted by dozens of scrutinizers from around the world in addition to the venue's editors. In the other system gaffes, clunkers and cringefests flow directly from author to editor to reader.

From which system would you expect better poetry?

In one world respect is earned with every good poem. In the other, poets or collections can win even the grandest award without being listed among anyone's favorites, before or after the fact.

Which environment sounds more like a meritocracy to you?

Every day a major print publisher puts out writing that makes experienced onliners wince and wonder. We're not talking about tastes here. We're talking grammar, syntax, spelling and punctuation. Factual errors. We're talking about absolute rudiments. In short, publishers are cranking out work to which serious web poets wouldn't sign their names.

Compare this to a high end webzine. It isn't that online editors, by and large, are more stringent, more qualified or more intelligent than their print counterparts. The difference lies in the submissions. Fewer outright errors. Fewer run-on sentences stitched together by the breath-denying conjunction and the dreaded semicolon. Less discourse dressed up in linebreaks. Paradoxically, more amateurism but less unprofessionalism.


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