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

Saturday, November 29, 2014


Sayre's law:  "In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the issues at stake."  See also:  "The politics of the university are so intense because the stakes are so low."  See also Hutchin's Law:  "The reason the politics of poetry are so vicious is that the stakes are so low."

    We laugh when we think of the New England theater critic who allowed that Shakespeare wasn't awful, adding "I doubt we have six of his ilk in all of Boston!"

    We stop laughing when we think that there may have been six poets of Shakespeare's ilk somewhere in the anglophone world who weren't recognized because of their class, gender, ethnicity, religion, color, nationality, location, age, or politics.  Economic elitism, sexism, racism, nationalism, regionalism, cronyism, and ageism are only a few of the extraneous factors ("-isms") standing between merit and hype, between art and fad.

    Optimists, including me, argue that the democratizing Internet will eventually ameliorate, if not eliminate, these -isms.  For now, the septuagenarian son of a coal baron can still get any dreck published, even if it trivializes a tragedy (as all indolent writing does).  Yes, even if it is to prose-qua-poetry what "The Tay Bridge Disaster" was to verse. 

    "Which -ism is operating there?" you ask.

     In this case, a better question might be:  "Which one isn't?"

     In my experience, the "New Yorker" poem marks a point of no return.  That is, I cannot cite one worthwhile poem produced by a poet or editor after abandoning merit as the sole criterion for art.  Instead, there only -isms to choose from.  As for the public, why should readers take poetry seriously if writers and publishers don't?

     Arguably the most insidious and virulent -isms are those relating to geography.  Many who vehemently oppose sexism and racism will rally around a neighbor over any outlander.  This favoritism is easily institutionalised.  Because Nobody Reads Poetry, verse often relies on government funding.  At the civic level, the town's Art Council will ensure that all contracts go to local residents.  National organizations can be downright protectionist.  Flags become blindfolds.  It doesn't help when a well-known Content Regent explicitly endorses this myopia, going so far as to recommend 20 compatriots' poems based entirely on their--you guessed it--subject matter and polemics.

     As an aside, when did confirmation bias become an aesthetic?  How long before England is the only country still teaching Shakespeare to high schoolers?  Or has that boat already sailed?

     Something more basic is at work here.  The three best poets of our time are female but only the American one is recognized.  What gives?  If chauvinism is so pervasive why aren't the other two celebrated in their countries?  Granted, sexism could explain all three, since A.E. Stallings had to use her initials before editors would publish her work, but all three nations have promoted inferior poets of the same gender.  Modesty?  The other two were, indeed, pathologically shy but that doesn't explain why periodicals refused to publish Maz's obituary.  No.  Pare away the distractions.  Only one suspect remains, one that is at the heart of all prejudice.


     Worse yet, we're not talking about the run-of-the-mill idiocy we see on Faux Snooze.  We're talking about the two strains that infest and infect the pseudo-intellectual community:  disingenuousness and wilful¹ ignorance.  It is the blithe non sequitur, "Everyone is writing poetry!", parroted by sycophants when informed of poetry's demise.   It is the insipidity of editors not caring to learn the elements of poetry.  It is the spectacle of an "expert" who didn't know "Beans" was an iambic pentameter acrostic, let alone who it was about, but tells us what poems children should be learning based on, of all things, his interpretive ability.  It is like the inanity of racists and homophobes watching voting rights and marriage equality sweep the United States, oblivious to the fact that the world is changing for the better.

     The good news comes in the irony that, by definition, progress permits no bystanders.  It benefits everyone, including, if not especially, those who opposed it.


¹ - ...similar to the kind that makes some think "wilful" is misspelled.  Incidentally, the etymology of the word "misspelled" dates back to 1645-1655, making it among the first words that could be misspelled.  Before that, without the Gutenberg press (1450) or dictionaries (1604?  1755?), "standard spelling" was an oxymoron.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Rule #1

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #1

      Normally, when Auden's "Musée des Beaux Arts" and Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" are compared it is because of their meters¹, which some seem to find challenging.  As illustrated in "Scansion for Intermediates", "Prufrock" is a nobrainer:  perfect iambic trimeter, tetrameter, pentameter and heptameter after some extra syllables ("anacrusis") at the beginning of some lines.  "Musée des Beaux Arts" is the mirror opposite;  its curginated accentual meter (think "Beowulf" or "The Red Wheelbarrow" here) is far less clear and attempts to scan it as accentual-syllabic meter result in a lot of extra syllables at ("hypercatalexis") or near (late anapestic substitutions) the ends of the lines.

      Instead, let's examine the voices through the prism of Rule #1:  "Never say anything in a poem that you wouldn't say in a bar."

      The issue is how relaxed or tipsy we would have to be to use that language at that pace to focus on that subject among friends in a lounge.

     We aren't talking about the dreaded "verse voice":  headbanging cadences, often with unusual "promotions" and long endstops, committed by performance newcomers whenever they discern meter.  We aren't talking about niche verse written strictly for those with a narrow interest (e.g. football fans, interpreters, other poets, et cetera).  Nor are we referring to the outliers:  soporific poetry readings¹ that sound like a pot party in an opium den; or, frenetic slams that seem like an Ecstacy bash at a meth lab.

Musée des Beaux Arts

      The moderate tempo and plain language in "Beaux Arts" (Appendix A, below) implies recent arrival at the bar.  Aside from some overmodification by later modernistic standards, the only phrase that raises eyebrows is the initial inversion:

About suffering they were never wrong,

      We bear in mind that a poem may be a part of a conversation at that bar.  Imagine if a friend were to say something like "What did those old masters know about suffering?"  Now imagine a speaker who raises and wags a correcting finger before saying "Suffering?  About suffering they were never wrong."

      The rest of the poem is merely one person trying to make a an impression on a bunch of friends.  As such, we'd consider "Musée des Beaux Arts" a one beer poem, reflecting comradeship² more than inebriation.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

      T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"  is the prototypical hypermodern poem.  "Beaux Arts" (Appendix B, below) could be seen as the best of many attempts to recapture T.S. Eliot's success but the two works are antipodal opposites in speed and egocentricity, if not diction.

      The language is slightly more elevated in "Prufrock", the overmodification not quite so salient.  The main differences, though, are continuity and focus;  "Prufrock" comes in fits and starts of utter self-absorption.  That level of self-centeredness, so common among today's aspirants, suggests the speaker has been at that watering hole for longer than booze has been distilled.

      Unlike any successful poem since, "Prufrock" is a 12-pack poem in the United States, a 6-packer anywhere else.  Were it less coherent, as so much of today's cryptocrap is, the bartender would cut the speaker off and signal for the designated driver.


      Together, these two pieces define the endpoints for successful verse.  Between them, the Suds Spectrum concerns itself with issues of language, tension and focus.  Among the the great poems of our time, verbage ranges from the plainspoken DPK's "Beans" to E.A. Stallings' luscious "Antiblurb".  Tension builds in Maz's "Studying Savonarola", appears suddenly in "Beans", and is released in "Antiblurb".  Not surprisingly, all of the triumphs [before and] after Prufrock have been fancentric.  Millions have tried, but it took the greatest poet of the 20th century to raise navel-gazing to the level of art, shattering the previous 5 Beer Barrier in the process.

     Speaking of the Suds Spectrum and the best poetry of our time:

1. "Beans" by D. P. Kristalo needs its context, perhaps requiring a viewing of the Film "No" beforehand.  Its narrative tone caused one contest judge³ to miss the fact that it was an acrostic in iambic pentameter.  The sudden rise in passion in the second half may require some alertness (read:  sobriety) on the part of a listener.

      In any case, this is a straightforward single steiner.

2. "Studying Savonarola" by Margaret A. Griffiths does not require, nor does it necessarily benefit from, understanding its context.  Some may not know what the term "fasces" means but the vocabulary elsewhere is simple enough.  The use of the second person singular draws the listener in as a participant.  The rising level of excitement and emotion may be enhanced by having a slight buzz on, though.  It's an engaging two beer effort.

3. "Du" by Janet Kenny uses some startling modifiers but what will require at least three mugs of spiritual fortification is its ghost story spookiness.  Oh, sure, you could listen to it sober, as you could eat hot dogs without condiments, but why would you want to?  Some may say a poem like this is too "deep" for a bar but they miss the point:  those nagging questions that survive the hangover may be the whole purpose of the exercise.

4. "Hookers" by Marco Morales employs simple vocabulary and constructs.  Its emotion is not explicit.  The issue is its subject matter.  No one needs to connect the dots between drinking and seeking companionship, including prostitution.  Still, a few stiff drinks may help reduce inhibitions when talking about the oldest profession.

5. "Antiblurb" by Alicia E. Stallings uses slightly more formal language and involves more philosophy than reporting.  More "tell", less "show" than our audience may be used to.  As such, we'd likely save this one for later in the evening, after we've had about five drinks under our belts.  Indeed, this may be about as far as the envelope can be pushed before we encounter resistance from latecomers who are a few drinks behind us.


¹ - Given that poetry predated literacy by millennia and is designed to be memorized and performed, "poetry reading" is an oxymoron.

² - This was not meant as a reference to Auden's politics but the philosophical differences between the two poems and their creators may be interesting to some.

³ - Whom we with discuss in a forthcoming entry.

Appendix A

Musée des Beaux Arts by W. H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong, |
The Old Masters; how well they understood |
Its human position; how it takes place |
While someone else is eating or opening | a window or just walking dully along; |
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting |
For the miraculous birth, there always must be |
Children who did not specially want it to happen, | skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood: |
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must | run its course.
Anyhow in a corner, | some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their | doggy life and the torturer's horse |
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree. |
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns | away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may |
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry, |
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone |
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green |
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that | must have seen
Something amazing, | a boy falling out of the sky, |
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Appendix B

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot

    S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
    A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
    Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
    Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
    Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
    Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question. . .                    
Oh, do not ask, "What is it?"
Let us go and make our visit.

  In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

  The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,                     
And seeing that it was a soft October night
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

  And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;                    
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions
And for a hundred visions and revisions
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

  In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

  And indeed there will be time
To wonder, "Do I dare?" and, "Do I dare?"
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair--                      
[They will say: "How his hair is growing thin!"]
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin--
[They will say: "But how his arms and legs are thin!"]
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

  For I have known them all already, known them all;
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,                  
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
  So how should I presume?

  And I have known the eyes already, known them all--
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?              
  And how should I presume?

  And I have known the arms already, known them all--
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
[But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!]
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
  And should I then presume?
  And how should I begin?

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets         
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? . . .

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep . . . tired . . . or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?            
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet--and here's no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

  And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,                                         
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: "I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all"
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
  Should say, "That is not what I meant at all.
  That is not it, at all."

  And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,                                         
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor--
And this, and so much more?--
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
  "That is not it at all,
  That is not what I meant, at all."                                     

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous--
Almost, at times, the Fool.

  I grow old . . . I grow old . . .                                           
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

  Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

  I do not think they will sing to me.

  I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

  We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown             
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

No More Stars

Rose Kelleher
     In response to the "Nobody Reads Poetry" post Rose Kelleher wrote:

     "Yup. All good points. But. I think the current state of things is in some ways a necessary reaction to the old state of things. Sometimes you have to tear down before you can rebuild. The old system was deeply flawed, and worse, it was believed to be purely merit-based, which was an insult to all who couldn't succeed in it. Race, class and gender were much bigger factors than most people realize(d). The arbiters who decided whose work was worth reading/teaching/preserving for posterity were nearly always rich, white, and male. They made stars of a handful of people, based on their own highly subjective criteria, and everyone else was screwed. Now there are no stars. This bothers some people.  It doesn't bother the ones who know for a certainty that they would never have been selected for stardom under the old system."

     There is no question that white males have dominated the ranks of both the choosers and chosen (i.e. publishers and poets).  The first part of the 20th century did see Emily Pauline Johnson (1861-1913), Sara Teasdale (1884-1933), and Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) but the focus was on Robert Service and, later, T.S. Eliot.

     In the middle of the century Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979), Anne Sexton (1928-1974), and Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) received less attention than Robert Frost and, later, Allen Ginsberg.

     The latter part of the 20th century brought with it a final indignity, as the works of Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000), Maya Angelou (1928-2014), Margaret Atwood (1939-) were obscured by the successes of Dr. Seuss and the cringeworthy Charles Bukowski.

A.E. Stallings
     Only in the Internet era--roughly, this century--has the hegemony of wealth been circumvented.  We witness a parallel decline in poets reflecting their editors' gender, background, race and nationality¹.  The causal links are obvious:  printing and mailing costs require backers with deep pockets, especially when Nobody Reads Poetry.  Their interest is often cultural, not aesthetic (and certainly not financial).  E-zines require no such outlay. 

     Magazines are compartmentalized by subscribership;  e-zines can be read by anyone.  Largely due to [taxpayer?] funding, magazines tend to be regional/national in scope;  webzines are often international.  We can't create a Facebook link to a poem in a print periodical.  Convenience is not the Internet's only advantage.  There is greater economy, availability and expertise.  Most geeks are onliners:  Usenetters, PFFAers, Gazebans or Eratosphereans.  Why pay for the poetry or opinions of those who don't know whether "Prufrock" and "The Red Wheelbarrow" are metrical or free verse when more informed writing is free?

     Thus, the Internet has reversed the flight from quality we've seen since music supplanted poetry in the 1920s.  The print world continues to focus on personalities while e-poets create something we haven't seen in half a century:  iconic verse.  All Newsgroupers--which is to say all poets online before the 1990s--know the rest of this poem:

Missing you again,
I embrace shallow graves.

     What web poet doesn't recognize the following lines?

you pass from here to there, with your marigold
eyes, the garden darker for lack of one golden flower,
would bees mourn, would crickets keen, drawing long
blue chords on their thighs like cellists?

Margaret Ann Griffiths
     This march to excellence doesn't have time for the sexism², racism or economic elitism of the past.  Progress continues and accelerates not because people care but because they don't.  Now that expensive distribution models are obsoleted the question becomes:  "Why would any happy reader be concerned that 52% of the best work will be authored by women?"

     True, most of these advances have been all too recent.  Parenthetically, I wouldn't tie these gains to the death of poetry's audience, which happened 3 to 7 decades earlier.  Still, it is a fascinating hypothesis that the loss of readership served as some sort of cocoon, under the cover of which a structural metamorphosis occurred, bringing new dimensions in color, equality, access and harmony.

 Now there are no stars.
Derek Walcott

     There isn't even a sky.

     Nevertheless, stars may be the perfect analogy.  It takes many years for their light to reach us.  We could hope that the four great poets of today, none of whom are white males, might be noticed at some point in the future.  Otherwise, canonical historians will have a 50-year gap in their poetry timelines.

     Color me skeptical, though.

  This bothers some people.

     Democracy usually does.


¹ - To wit, the majority of ezine editors may still be white and male but they're rarely wealthy.  I perceived no reluctance whatsoever in John Amen of the Pedestal, Michael Burch of TheHyperTexts.com or the late Paul Stevens of SCR to publish works regardless of any extraneous factors (including politics, in the case of Stevens, at least).

Hedy Lamarr

² - Did you know that WWII U.S. Army artillery trajectory charts--far superior to any other nation's--were designed by a group of female mathematicians?  That the Principle of Restricted Choice was discovered by a female mathematician in India half a century before computers could confirm it?  That a female cryptographer cracked the Imperial Japanese JN-25 Naval code, leading directly to the first major U.S. victory at Midway Island?  That Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr, with the help of composer George Antheil, invented frequency-hopping for unjammable WWII radio-controlled torpedoes--technology that is found today in your cell phone, GPS and WIFI?  That the U.S. Navy rejected this discovery until it was "re-invented" by [male] scientists in the 1960s? 

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Earl Gray, Esquirrel

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Is Poetry Relevant?

     No, because Nobody Reads [Contemporary] Poetry.

     There, that was easy.

     It is one thing to state that contemporary poetry isn't relevant and doesn't matter to today's audiences (tana¹).  It is quite another to assert that the verse of the past has had no impact on readers or listeners, past and present.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #140
     In "The Writing Class - On privilege, the AWP-industrial complex, and why poetry doesn’t seem to matter" by Jaswinder Bolina we encounter a variation on Convenient Poetics Tenet #10:  "People never really liked poetry.

Mr. Bolina writes:    "Can poetry ever regain its relevancy?" Even if I ignore their frame of reference--I’m not sure when poetry ever was "relevant" or ever did "matter"...

     Really?  You're asking if one of only two modes of speech "was relevant or ever did matter"?  How about the Bible, Koran, and Bhagavad Gita?  All are poetry by any definition, written in verses, memorized, maintained and quoted (or chanted, in the case of the Guru Granth Sahib) verbatim throughout history.

     This is before we get to every song ever written.  

     Seriously, dude.  Relevant?


¹ - (tana) = there is no audience.

      This is an old Usenet tradition:  "tin-" ("there is no") and "tan-" ("there are no"), followed by the first letter of the previous word, reminds readers that we aren't talking about something that actually exists.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Future of Poetry - Part III - Funding and Repêchage

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #72

     How do you make money by giving something away for free?

     This has become the question of the Internet Era but, in truth, it has been around at least as long as radio¹.  Facebook has made Mark Zukerberg wealthy enough through advertising (like radio and television) and data mining, but that requires bringing in people by the millions.  We're talking poetry here.  What little commercial success poetry has had came in literary glossies (e.g. The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker) that relegated poetry to an afterthought.

     To begin, then, the site has a byline such as:  "We like stories, jokes and perspectives.  Poetry is often the best way of relating these."  Period.  Nothing committal or controversial.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #52

     Currently, many poetry publishers are institutional, sponsored by universities or organizations.  These cater exclusively to poets, but not necessarily in proportion.  The editor-in-chief may feel an obligation to give equal time to anything that passes for an aesthetic.  This recreates Aesop's "Donkey" fable.

     By contrast, a fancentric editor has to please broader demographics.  This will be reflected in both form and genre, guesstimated here to mark the chasm between what some like to write and what others like to read:

Form          Institutional         Fancentric

Metrical           7%                   70%
Free Verse         1%                    2%
Prose Poetry       1%                    1%
Prose Poetry      90%                    0%
Rhetoric           1%                   28%

Genre         Institutional         Fancentric

Romance            0%                   30%
Drama              0%                   20%
Comedy             0%                   35%
Elegy              1%                    1%
Rant               4%                   14%
Droning           80%                    0%
Cryptology        15%                    0%

     No one will want our product unless we value it ourselves.  Most publications make the mistake of diluting their 'zine with mediocre submissions.  Better to have 2 good pieces than a dozen lesser ones, even if the pair are reprints from other sources.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #138

     Once the editor has some seed poems, videos and performances it is time to concentrate on finding visitors and advertisers.  A typical approach, along with ads, will be to have a vendor award Purchasing Plan Points to successful poets, performers, videographers and the judges (i.e. the geeks, critics and teachers who vote).  Another form of income for the publishers and poets is "copysite":  people are free to use the text to make videos for that site, but not elsewhere.  Management helps promote the works for other purposes (promos, commercials, movies, documentaries, etc.) and may collect an agent's fee.

     Songwriters will be invited to set the published verse to music and post the sound files or videos.  There will be a companion venue for original songs.  The site will promote any albums or appearances stemming from such efforts.  Poetry books--those things with ink and paper--and DVDs can be purchased from the venue (or elsewhere).


Earl the Squirrel's Rule #123
     Friending is funding.  Even if none of them spend a cent, the more visitors a site has the more financially viable it will be. Think advertising and data mining here.

     Now think about the typical poetry magazine's business model.  It relies on contributors--Nobody Reads Poetry--but it only accepts a tiny number of submissions.  How can you succeed by excluding/pissing off 99% of your customers?     

     At the far extreme is the "showcase" venue, which publishes everything it receives.  In between, we have those who practice the politics of inclusion, lowering standards by accepting too many poems.  To put this in perspective, if 2014 is like every other year since Shakespeare lived it will produce at most three poems that stand the test of time.

     The venue of the future employs both extremes along with a system of repêchage.  All submissions are made online, one per member per month.  They are accepted immediately, entered into the database and will have their own page.  The catch is that this is an "alternate" venue, accessible from the main one.  The beauty of this system is that if one of the "alternate" (a euphemism for "rejected") pieces attracts sufficient positive mention from the expert² members ("EMbers") it is fished out, included in the main publication³, and accorded the same honors and recompense as those poems the editors accepted originally.  In this way no rejection is final and resentment is reduced.


¹ - ...which, parenthetically, is what killed poetry.

² - Getting one's friends and family to vote for them won't help the cause.

³ - It's like Poetry Free-For-All (a rather exclusive critical forum) and The Pink Palace of Poetitude (an associated vanity site, now defunct), but with a method in place to rescue work from the latter to the former.  All submissions are evaluated upon receipt.  A 9 or 10 out of 10 will be accepted but a near-miss 7 or 8 might have been undervalued.


The Future of Poetry - Part I - Venues

The Future of Poetry - Part II - Discussions

The Future of Poetry - Part III - Funding and Repêchage

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Future of Poetry - Part II - Discussions

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #72
     As long as we identify what we do primarily as "poetry" it will be ignored by everyone except, perhaps, poets.  For the most part, people are Content Regents, minus the delusion that this is an aesthetic.  They seek drama, comedy and romance.  Why make the mistake of concentrating on mode of speech when genre is what matters to our audience?  When was the last time you heard authors identify themselves as "prosers"?  (Hell, some may have to doublecheck just to be certain "prosers" is a word!)

     Once we stop fixating on form [without compromising on quality] we notice the participants expand to include everyone, from geniuses to Fox News viewers.  As we saw with "Harriet¹", the challenge is to design a conversation model that works for all relevant demographics without a lot of moderating.  These groups might include, in ascending order of egregiousness:

      Joining is free.  All registered participants from geeks down to teachers are considered "Expert Members" ("EMbers") and are able to vote on the status of anyone further down the list.  Those from "Poets" down to "Pseudointellectuals" are "Members in Good Standing" ("MiGS").  Like EMbers, MiGS can present videos (as via a YouTube "embedded" link) based on the poems provided.  Trolls, Psychos, Spammers and Plagiarists are "Bozos", which means that their posts are visible only to the individual posters themselves.  Similarly, newcomers are bozoed until their intentions are clarified. 

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #124
     By default, then, everyone, including lurkers, will find reasonably pertinent, rational discussions.  Anyone can fillfile ("plonk") a member or category of member to avoid seeing their posts.  For example, Anti- or Pseudointellectuals can protect their ignorance by plonking one or all of the Teachers.  This doesn't affect anyone else's access.

     Poems, performances and videos can be evaluated numerically, with scores ranging from 1 to 10, or via a simple Thumbs Up or Down, to determine a rating for each poet, performer or videographer, respectively.  Similarly, members can Like, Dislike, Flag, Agree or Disagree with comments.  This feedback not only helps us appreciate each contribution;  it can be useful in determining the status of a member.  With some attention to technique, today's Content Regent could be tomorrow's Geek.

     These features are already included in some commercial packages.


The Future of Poetry - Part I - Venues

The Future of Poetry - Part II - Discussions

The Future of Poetry - Part III - Funding and Repêchage


¹ - New to the Internet discussion and critical forum ethos, The Poetry Foundation proved unable to handle the intersection of so many different perspectives.  Before readership responses were closed down in April, 2010, "Harriet" was among the three most informative, entertaining and insightful sources on the Internet.  No, really.

² - My guess is that sites will find appropriate euphemisms here.

The Future of Poetry - Part I - Venues

     The challenges facing poetry's revival seem overwhelming:  funding, aesthetics, technique, popularity, criticism, filtering, education, et cetera.  Nevertheless, in the next decade publishers will solve all of these problems by solving one of them:  participation.

     In our current model the only ones who derive recognition from a poem are the poet, the publisher and, where applicable, the subject (e.g. Girolamo Savonaro, Salvador Allende, etc.).  If this were to remain the case the future for poetry would be as grim as the present.  Many of us listen to songs or watch television, plays and movies without knowing or caring who wrote them.  We know what we see:  the performers.  Indeed, we are at least as likely to know the producer/director than the author.  For better or worse, the same will be true of poetry.

     In our current model the only form of feedback is the letter to the editor.  These are published, if at all, in the next issue, which may be a month or more.  Each subsequent round of discussion would involve the same wait.  Not since the time of sailing ships has communication been so inefficient.

     Obviously, the future of poetry lies on the Internet.  How will that work, though?

     The successful publisher will have to attract and serve everyone from the cognoscenti, seeking artistic merit, to the average Joe or Jane, who may be more concerned with the storyline¹.  This will involve a venue, a discussion model, and sponsors.  In this installment, we'll concentrate on the web site itself.

     The header will be the usual masthead and a menu line including a FAQ, a How-To, and Submission Guidelines.  Given my meager design skills and the limitations of blogger software, I can render only the crudest facsimile of how the individual poems are presented:

"Beans"   AuthorD.P. Kristalo

September came like winter's
ailing child but
left us
viewing Valparaiso's pride. Your face was
always saddest when you smiled. You smiled as every
doctored moment lied. You lie with
orphans' parents, long

As close as coppers, yellow beans still
line Mapocho's banks. It
leads them to the sea;
entwined on rocks and saplings, each
new vine recalls that
dawn in 1973 when
every choking, bastard weed grew wild.

     Above the text are the videos:  slide shows or montages that include the poem in audio, subtitles, or both.  These can be seen and discussed by clicking on the photo.  To view the listing we click on the category:

  • "Original" is an creation of the author or copyright holder.

  • "Critics" is the consensus opinion of teachers, geeks, and critics.

  • "Fans" is the consensus opinion of everyone else.

  • "Latest" is the last video submitted.

    For example, hitting "Fans" renders a listing of all the submitted videos in order of their popularity.  Clicking on the image above "Fans" plays the overall top rated video.

    Similarly, the text is followed by a string of videocam performances of the poem, which may or may not include one by the author.  The submissions procedure makes it clear to the poets that they are giving permission for these videos/webcams to be produced and distributed, as on YouTube.

    A discussion of the poem follows, along with a bio (if available).  Clicking on a name reveals all of the text (e.g. poems, comments, articles) that person has written and all of the videos he or she created or appeared in on and, if they've filled out their profile, off the site.

    In our next installment we'll detail the parameters of an online discussion.  Then we'll look at funding.  Stay tuned!


The Future of Poetry - Part I - Venues

The Future of Poetry - Part II - Discussions

The Future of Poetry - Part III - Funding and Repêchage


¹ - It is a topic for another day but don't miss this dichotomy:  artists compare items of the same plot, type and/or genre--apples to apples--while the public tends to compare works with different plots, types or genres--apples to oranges.  A critic can compare, say, two elegies commemorating the same person;  typical audience members might complain that they prefer happier stories.

Friday, November 7, 2014


Earl the Squirrel's Rule #63
     I am flattered that Mark Yakich's quotes me in the Atlantic.  Moreover, Mr. Yakich succeeds in illustrating the silliness of Content Regency simply by listing its basic tenets.  As such, "Reading a Poem: 20 Strategies" may be one of the the most brilliant satirical pieces of our time.

     The first clue is in the title itself.  "Strategies"?  What strategies do we devise in watching a film?  Popcorn, a couch and a tall drink?  A preemptory pee break?  Do we need to absorb similar articles in order to read a novel?  Did Shakespeare's contemporaries need to convene planning councils before attending his plays?

     The second clue is how almost none of the 20 points addresses the central issue of reading poetry as opposed to prose.

1.  Poems ask you to pay attention¹--that’s all.

      No.  Those are sirens and billboards.  Poems ask you to remember them verbatim--that's all.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #61
2. ...always read it out loud...the ear will tell the mind what to think.

     Better yet, why not have someone else read it to you, studying the words later if they merit the attention?

3. Try to meet a poem on its terms¹ not yours.

     If this actually meant anything I'd probably disagree with it.

4. Whether or not you are conscious of it, you are always looking for an excuse to stop reading a poem...

     Read different poets.

5. It’s up to you how hard you want to work¹.

     "Work"?  How much are poetry readers being paid?  Should we unionize?

6. If you don’t know a word, look it up¹ or die.

10. When you come across something that appears "ironic," make sure it’s not simply the speaker’s sarcasm or your own disbelief¹.

    As opposed to prose reading, where we should continue on in ignorance? 

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #92
7. In fact, a poem’s greatest potential lies in the opposite of paraphrase: ambiguity.

     Antonyms for "paraphrase":  digest, explanation, rehash, rendering, rendition, rephrasing, restatement, rewording, summary.

     Antonyms for "ambiguity":  doubt, uncertainty, vagueness, anagram, doubtfulness, dubiety, dubiousness, enigma, equivocation, incertitude, inconclusiveness, indefiniteness, indeterminateness, obscurity, polysemy, puzzle, tergiversation, unclearness, double meaning, double-entendre, equivocacy, equivocality, polysemousness.

     Notice how he says this immediately after: "If you don't know a word, look it up or die." 

     As I said, satire at its finest.

8. Discerning¹ subtleties takes practice.

     I wonder if that's why they call them "subtleties".

9. As hard as it sounds, separate¹ the poet from the speaker of the poem.

     The only way it could be any easier is if someone other than the poet were performing the poem. 

     People used to do that, I'm told.

11. "Reading for pleasure" implies there’s "reading for displeasure" or "reading for pain."

     In the same sense that dieting implies eating poison.  IOW, WTF?

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #12
12. ...it’s okay if you don’t understand¹ a poem.

     It's okay if poems are written in foreign languages, too, for people who understand them².  Again, WTF?

13. Reading without writing in the margins is like walking without moving your arms. You can do it and still reach your destination, but it’ll always feel like you’re missing something essential about the activity.

     Like the relaxation and entertainment you're missing because you're taking notes?

     Is there a test later?

14. There is nothing really lost in reading a poem.  If you don’t understand the poem, you lose little time or energy. On the contrary, there is potentially much to gain¹...

     Why not read an instruction manual instead?  Some of those even have glossaries.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #26
15. ...your brain will attempt to make order out of apparent chaos.

     Why not read a mystery novel or do a crossword puzzle instead?

     Oh, wait, that is precisely what people do.  Who knew that success at problem-solving is more fun than failure at it?

16.  As your ability to read poems improves, so will your ability to read the news, novels, legal briefs, advertisements, etc.

     And vice versa.  Still, if we're trying to learn about mixed metaphors or flawed analogies (e.g. snowflakes and friends), wouldn't legal briefs and [Fox] news be the place to start?

     Who knew that reading improves with practice?

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #138
17. Reading poetry¹...can enhance your awareness of the world...

     Aside from the aforementioned Fox News, what form of communication doesn't? 

18. ...be young, intelligent, and slightly drunk.

19.  Someday, when all your material possessions will seem to have shed their utility and just become obstacles to the toilet, poems will still hold their value.

     A rare indication from Mr. Yakich that he is speaking tongue-in-cheek.  Having touched all of the bases he finishes with a flourish of over-the-top dark demagoguery:

20. Reading a good poem doesn’t give you something to talk about. It silences you. Reading a great poem...prepares you for the silence that perplexes us all:  death.


     Absolutely brilliant.


¹ - The same applies to reading prose which, contrary to popular misconception, can be every bit as subtle, ambiguous, metaphorical, figurative, detailed/intricate, fictitious, fantastic, artificial, objective, subjective, blunt, obscure, educational/informative, etc.

² - The word "them" refers to the languages or the poems, of course.