If your exposure to e-poetry is limited to a few webzines and the blogosphere you probably think of "online poetry" as...well, poetry that is online: ditties on Facebook, collections on vanity pages or the blogosphere, or quality works on e-zines (e.g. TheHyperTexts, The Pedestal, etc.) and e-versions of magazines (e.g. Rattle, Poetry, etc.).
Those who have been part of the online poetry community for more than a few years use the expression to describe someone whose aesthetics were, in whole or in part, developed in online workshops.
If this group were to have a motto it might be: "Be teachable. We can work with the clueless but not the clueproof." More succinct is Scavella's Mantra: "You aren't as good as you think you are."
The core difference between the print and pixel mindset is the immutable versus the improvable. This is reflected in the media themselves. When a number of critics and advisors pointed out errors in Annie Finch's latest text, "A Poet's Craft", she had to do a reprint--an awkward process in a hardcover listed at $95.00! When we bloggers or e-zine editors make mistakes we thank the reader, make the correction without much cost or bother, and move on. By definition, onliners invite critique; criticism of printed work is rare and not always welcome.
Other poets of their calibre, some of whom may be familiar to you, do present their works-in-progress for constructive critique. Theirs is an equally simple motivation: they believe in improvement of poems and poets.
The preamble to this article hints at the significance of this tiny community. We might wonder: how did it come into being and what else has it contributed to the whole?
Implemented in 1980, Usenet is an online bulletin board service (BBS), divided into "newsgroups". One of the first of these was rec.arts.poems, joined much later by its echo chamber, alt.arts.poetry.comments. For 13 years before the World Wide Web a thriving poetry community discussed and analyzed poems online. Terms describing people and behavior, including "crosspost", "flaming", "kill file", "plonk", "lurk", "postcount", "CABAL" (technically, the group that started Usenet but, more commonly and metaphorically, a term used to aggravate egomaniacal paranoids), "spam", "sockpuppet", and "troll", were popularized on Usenet. For better or worse, what we now call "chat-speak" began there, highlighting "acronyms" such as "LMAO", "BTW", "AFAIK", "FWIW", "IIRC" and "IMHO". Before Usenet, "LOL" meant "Little Old Lady". Because rec.arts.poems habitues were among the most literate and vociferous Usenetters many, if not most, of these expressions can be attributed directly to them.
|Peter John Ross|
World Wide Web:
The World Wide Web started in 1993 but it wasn't until the mid-to-late 1990s that browsers and public interest developed. Among the first critical sites was Bela Selendy's "Poetry Free-For-All" or "PFFA", which grew directly out of the need for Usenetters to find a moderated forum, sans trolls. People who complain about how sharp some of the PFFA critics and moderators can be need do no more than Google "rec.arts.poems" to understand why. Today, when you see the guidelines of an online workshop you are reading the "don't-crit-the-crit" ethos developed by Usenetters.
What were the lessons we could draw from from the egoless experiment? Nothing onliners didn't already know, really:
- Hannah Craig ranks among the greatest and most selfless critiquers of our time;
- very few poets are interested in a careful, objective evaluation of their work, even if rendered and received anonymously; and,
- the social aspect of a workshop is important.
Which of these venues would I recommend to those eager to improve their technique? Such individuals should join and lurk on all of them, really, but if new to the study of the craft--regardless of how many decades they've been writing or teaching poetry--I'd encourage them to start at Poets.org. Those who know that Edna St. Vincent Millay's "Moriturus" is neither iambic nor free verse should consider Eratosphere.
|Margaret Ann Griffiths|
Let me leave you with one final touchstone. It doesn't matter if you edit or have been published in a hundred webzines, have run a popular blog for years and have the world's largest poetry newslist. If you don't know who Margaret Ann Griffiths is you are not an onliner. Period. It follows that if you want to understand this community you will find no better starting point.