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

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

How good a poet are you? - Measuring

     What measuring stick can we use to determine how good we are when Nobody Reads Poetry?

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #158
     My self-serving answer would be "Ask a geek!" but, frankly, there aren't enough of us to matter.  Posting your drafts to Eratosphere, Gazebo or Poetry Free-For-All works only for onliners with rhinoceros skins--again, not a significant demographic.  We could broaden the search to include everyone who teaches poetry, regardless of whether they care about the elements of the craft or not.  However, that will, at best, measure our appeal as "poets' poets" and will not be free of personal and professional concerns.  Ideally, we would have a sizeable objective consumer audience, as all successful endeavors do.  For example, those interested only in literary merit could use bookseller databases to select for sophisticated readers based on whatever else they purchased.  The problem with this is that, aside from the fact that Nobody Reads Poetry, the Tsundoku Law indicates that the number of contemporary poetry volumes read by more than one person is much smaller than the number ignored by the purchaser.

     In the absence of technicians, critics and the public, we are left with close associates and students examining our published work to see what is being accepted.  The latter are not helpful because they aren't reading for quality or pleasure.  To wit, they might be asking themselves:  "How badly do I have to write to be published here?"

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #115
     The population and its ability to access information has mushroomed since poetry died more than half a century ago.  Were it alive today, we would be asking questions such as these:
  • To the nearest thousand, how many times was one of your poems quoted today?  (GIYF.)

  • To the nearest hundred, how many times was one of your poems plagiarised in toto today?  (GIYF.)

  • To the nearest hundred, how many times today did someone ask you for permission to use one of your poems? (GIYF.)

  • To the nearest multiple of ten, what percentage of the population can recite your most famous poem, as they can thousands of popular songs?

  • When was the last time anyone offered you a 6-digit or larger sum for the rights to one of your poems?

  • When was the last time you stumbled upon someone performing your work?

  • To the nearest multiple of ten, what percentage of the population can recite your most famous poem, as they can thousands of popular songs?

     With only our circle of friends and family to guide us, how can we tell whether we are the next Maz, grossly underestimating our talent, or are suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect and need to repeat Scavella's Maxim non-stop for the rest of our lives?  Given the bias our loved ones will share, the results won't be particularly reliable, but here are some helpful signs:

1.  Your followers enjoying some, not all, of your pieces suggests that their focus is on their love of the writing, not just the writer.

2.  Enthusiastic involvement in your promotional efforts, whether you appreciate this "help" or not.

3.  An interest in the art form they would not exhibit otherwise.

     More discouraging signs would include:

1.  Failure to respond to new work that you've sent them.

2.  Failure to ask about new work.

3.  Failure to post or share your poems on Facebook.

4.  Failure to attend your readings/performances.

5.  Failure to mention poetry, especially when the two of you are in public.

     Yet another of the uncountable reasons to perform your work live is that you can see and hear the reaction, if any.  Audiences slumping and looking away during your three minutes of fame and polite applause after it are disappointing.  Listeners sitting bolt upright and returning your gaze are encouraging responses.  Of course, this has drawbacks:  you're still dealing almost exclusively with other poets and it might not be apparent whether it is your words or your delivery that garners praise.


  1. How good a poet are you?

  2. How good a poet are you? - Measuring

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Earl Gray, Esquirrel

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