Saturday, May 26, 2007

Internet poetry - an oxymoron?


I've been dismayed to read a recent discussion by poets who feel they don't want their work in a forthcoming anthology to be promoted as "Internet-related." This is, they say, because they fear damage to their literary reputations from being associated as "Internet poets." As though it carries an actual taint, rather than just being a new form of publishing.

Well, I never. And this discussion -- not to mention the whole anthology coordinating project -- was carried out online. By a virtual poetry community, a group that wanted to publish a representative anthology. Yet some don't want to be identified with the Internet that brought them together.

The argument against being identified as an Internet poet is that there are no standards that can be enforced in a virtual literary community. You can't uphold literary standards such as exist in the print world. The print world, where you can self-publish a book that looks just like any other published, glossy-covered book, and mass-produce magazines on your own computer.

And that's the problem they have, these I-phobic poets, that it's a form of self-publishing, this anthology collective. Maybe they should have thought about the nature of an Internet collective before they signed on to be part of it.

Old prejudices die hard. It's absurd to think that you can't write a good poem if you aren't a professor, but that's where some have taken the "literary standards" they are upholding.

This elitest stance and knee-jerk stigma hardly supports the spirit of art -- discovery. I'm sure the same kind of thing greeted the first mass-produced book -- "Look, it's not a papyrus. What junk! Where's the scrolling, the spindles?"

And the same will be said of the first truly downloadable (in some manageable, readable form), full-length book. Internet-related sea-changes have arrived in journalism and are coming in publishing, where in book sales "flat is the new up." I predict that people won't stop buying conventionally bound book, but will find new ways to locate what they wish to read.

Well, would you like to continue to shuffle the pages of your thinning newspaper in the hope of find a single poetry book reveiw every month or so? Or would you rather bring your coffee cup into the family room and log onto Smartish Pace, where the number of interesting in-depth book reviews is sure to stretch your poetry-purchasing budget?

Let's don't be stupid about this. The future is here, thanks to the Internet. And it's artist-friendly.

For good online book reviews, try: Rain Taxi, The Elegant Variation, Books Inq. (with a great blogroll of reviewing blogs), Arts & Letters Daily.