Erin's Poetry Tips

40 tips to poetry and poetry forums

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The Politics of Web Poetry

The innovation of the internet, and the birth of the poetry community have created both opportunities and complications for all who have discovered them.

In the days of paper and pen, finding literary interaction was a bit harder. Receiving any sort of reaction to your work was much less accessible - typically restricted to fellow students in writing classes, or the occasional trusted friend or relative.

With the technological advance of the information super highway comes obstacles, bumps in the road that were unforeseeable. One of these, in my opinion, is the politics of message board replies - not enough, too many, and those colored by favoritism. If the poetry world is to become more than what it is through this contact, reader reaction is to be the key. However I find that human nature overcomes the sensibilities of discipline where this is concerned. Many times, general attitudes prevail that impair the creative process when performed online.

We all know that not every post on web boards is a work of genius. This is true on two levels. Either the piece doesn't fit into your preferred style, and is therefore distasteful to you in particular, or the piece lacks poetic device/style or includes grammatical errors and typos. So, there are often times when a reader must choose his words carefully when reading another's work. When the piece you're reading seems to have little or no artistic value, for whatever reason, what do you do?

There are three choices:

1.) One can back out quietly, in hopes that no one has noticed your arrival, and make no comment at all. This is known as the 'ignore them and they'll go away' syndrome. After all we wouldn't want to hurt his feelings, right? This, unfortunately, only tends to encourage a wider spreading of the distasteful work. A writer, at whatever skill level, can only improve if someone informs him that he needs to. In ignoring him, he will, indeed, move on. He'll move on to post his poetry at every board he can find. Without interaction from other, more-seasoned writers, without outside opinions of his work, he is destined to continue to write badly. I ask you, what effect does this have on the poetry community as a whole to have this phenomenon continue? Surely, you can't think it positive.

"The fact that no one understands you does not make you an artist." --unknown

2.) One can find some meaningless commentary to make, after all, if you respond to him, surely he'll reply to you - poetic back-scratching. This is a variation of the above-mentioned syndrome, only worse. Now he has what he views as 'fans' and feels completely justified in continuing to run rampant through the net, posting objectionable poetry. He finds it within his rights to justify grammatical errors, lack of understanding of poetic device, improper word usage, and will often be found on the righteous indignation soap-box loudly protesting the idea that poetry be held to such standards at all. I'm sure we've all heard how poetry should be written from the heart, and how technicalities aren't important, rather, what matters is how you feeeeel.
This, my fellow writers, is the start of why web poets and poetry sites tend to be held in disdain within the literary community at large. It marks the beginning of the reputation we have earned for being undisciplined and uneducated. In praising those who do not deserve it, we may save his feelings, but in the end, we're only hurting ourselves.

"Discipline is the refining fire by which talent becomes ability." --Roy L Smith

3.) We may offer constructive criticism in an effort to help him learn and improve. This is where we take the opportunity to reclaim our good names, the chance to better our standing within the literary community.

Soothe him by pointing out a redeeming quality or two, and then make use of the moment to share your knowledge. Don't sugarcoat your commentary, and inversely, don't tear into him like a pit bull. Your tone decides whether or not he'll listen, or become defensive. A defensive listener hears nothing - meaning you'll be wasting your time.

'Honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger" --Franklin P. Jones

Help him to grow. Start with commentary on the technical mechanics of the English language. Explain the merits of using punctuation, grammar, or proper capitalization. This is more effective if explained in such a way as to lend him the idea that by doing so, he'll receive more input. Avoid the appearance of being dogmatic or arrogant. Move on, if possible, to explain the finer points of poetry, such as line breaks, stanza separations, metaphor, etc. Explain the negative effects of clich├ęs, gerunds, or whatever you found to be ineffective in the piece.

Generally speaking, poetry is often viewed as an art to be taken lightly. Every ounce of respect we get is one we've earned through hard work, proofreading, editing and revision - through endless hours of carving polished art from an unrecognizable jumble of letters and words. None of us is beyond improvement; each of us has room to grow. And isn't that the point of internet contact in the first place - because who better to teach us, than each other?

This is an article I wrote several years ago - it repeats some of the things I mentioned in other tips, but I felt it miht be helpful anyway