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, April 25, 2015

Has Social Media Been Good For Poetry?

"...most 'poets' are stupid and lazy. Not only do they take shortcuts, but they get lost doing it."

- Zachariah Wells on the Vox Populism blog, 2009-12-7

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #7
Blogger Carmine Starnino¹ asks "Has Social Media Been Good For Poetry?" and David McGimpsey answers:

"My anecdotal psychological insight into this is that Facebook and social media has made younger people generally better poets than they used to be, and the reason why is that now it becomes a thing that people just know how to do² without being told how to do it: How to materialize the self."

Respondent B. Glen Rotchin challenges such narcissism effectively with this riposte: "Poetry is the materialization of the self? A projection of a better you? So a poem is just another kind of Selfie?"

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #169
 Unfortunately, Mr. Rotchin commits a similar synecdochical fallacy in continuing: "Silly me, I always thought it had more to do with truth-telling."

In fact, most poetry is fictional[ized]. Altogether now:

"Poetry is a mode of speech."

Having dispensed with the Content Regents, the larger question remains:

Has Social Media Been Good For Poetry?

The simple answer is "Not yet, obviously."  Social media "promotes" everything--everything from poetry to needlepoint to zamba, each at the expense of everything else, resulting in little or no significant, long term engagement in any particular activity other than social media itself.

The question becomes:

Will Social Media Be Good For Poetry?

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #69
We are talking about an opportunity unseen since the primordial campfire: appeal to the entire tribe. Via the Internet, the performance or text can reach every anglophone on the planet. In recent centuries publishers have filtered access, ideally based on quality but all too often affected by pre-existing influence. Today, more than ever, people are left to make their own decisions. What few reviews there are might be ignored as blurbs.

"But there are no filters," some might argue, "to strain out the diarists (like David McGimpsey), 'truth-tellers' (like Mr. Rotchen) and others with no concept of technique or audience.  Social media usually includes no publishers, no editors, no reviewers, no critics."

"No filters?"  If anything, there may be too many filters. The only way that a piece is going to "go viral" and reach a significant portion of the public is if strangers--each of them a filter--Share or Retweet it. Think about your own experience:  How often do non-poets pass on contemporary verses? Memes? Sure. Kittens and puppies?  Hell, yes. But poems?

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #93
With good reason, pundits, along with this squirrel, bemoan the proliferation of mindless distractions (e.g. reality television, pseudo-celebrity gossip, video games, Taylor Swift), the catastrophic drop in standards and education, all leading to the inevitable result: Nobody Reads Poetry. Zero successes in 50+ years is an abysmal record, unprecedented in human history. Parenthetically, paradoxically and, above all, perversely, inattention may actually help poetry's cause now.  Think in terms of the Slingshot Effect.

To wit, this isn't like a poetry 'zine pumping out their top submissions or a contest with a guaranteed winner; the best of a bad lot will not suffice. Only an entertaining³ YouTube video--no, text will not do the job--of a brilliantly written and performed poem will be passed along by enough Facebookers or Retweeters. In theory, at least, the fact that the public has rarely seen the competent, let alone the good, means that the uniquely great could stand out and excite them enough to show their friends.

The chain reaction begins.


¹ - If this name seems familiar, Carmine Starnino was the one who lost the "Poetry Cage Match" to Christian Bök so badly that web sites have politely removed the video.

I found it interesting that, by Zachariah Wells' count, six metrical pieces--none of them causing a ripple--in four entire volumes is enough to qualify someone not only as a "formalist" but as a champion of that aesthetic.  Mr. Starnino is a fine teacher and a thought-provoking blogger but I don't see him claiming to be a technician or a debater.

² - This is the dumbest statement ever made.

³ - If it helps, think of "entertaining" in the broadest possible sense.

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