new zealand electronic poetry centre

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a new zealand journal of poetry and poetics


1,000 Words or a Picture:Could Poetry be a Contemporary Art? 



Most people’s response to the term “Poetry Blog” is to think of it as an electronic notebook where you post poems as you write them. And that’s certainly a practical use of the medium. I can’t help feeling, though, that it doesn’t really fully exploit the existence of abundant, flexible, easily-accessible (and indexable) free space on the Internet.

What’s more, there are a number of still-contentious copyright issues over whether an editor – or competition judge – might not perceive these online postings as “prior publication,” especially if your blog’s freely available. How can this not be regarded as publication (= making public), albeit self-publication, in fact?

So what other uses can be found for the poetry blog?

The facilities freely on offer include:

  • static images
  • hyperlinks
  • sound or video files

With these at your disposal, you can easily illustrate your poems with appropriate images, link to other sites with analogous material, or post clips of yourself or others reading or performing. In short, the interactive electronic performance poem is now no more of an unattainable dream than home-movies in the days of Super-8.

My own further suggestions for simple, practical uses of the average blog would include:

  1. The discussion forum

This can be illustrated by the following post:
on my own blog The Imaginary Museum

Matt Harris, a Creative Writing-teaching colleague, sent me an email outlining a class discussion he’d had of one of my poems. The students had a number of queries about it, which I tried to answer as best I could. This in its turn sparked a certain amount of comment from other readers of the blog. One (Olivia Macassey) remarked of my rather laissez-faire attitude towards warring interpretations:

I'm reminded of how, when I was in high school, everyone liked to do their art projects on this one particular NZ artist because he always told students they could say whatever they wanted about his work and he would back them up.

All in all, it seemed to show how comments can grow to dwarf the original blog entry.

   2. The translation workshop

The Internet may be the ideal medium for poetic translation (or transformation – whichever you prefer). The existence of abundant linguistic resources online (complete foreign language texts / line-by-line cribs for classic authors) can help you flesh out your version of a poem with the aid of a few judicious hyperlinks.

In the case of Ovid, for example, I was able to justify my rather free interpretation of some of his exile poems, “Ovid in Otherworld”:
by providing a link (first) to a complete Latin text:
then to Tony Kline’s complete, literal, freely-downloadable translation of the whole of Ovid:

I myself found that the perils of thus encountering one of your own heroes online cannot be underestimated, when I posted a series of Paul Celan translations with a mini-essay attempting to justify some of the freer contrasts and juxtapositions I’d permitted myself:

It came as a bit of a surprise to receive, within days, the following comment from Pierre Joris, one of the most eminent commentators on Celan’s work:
Maybe I have spent too much time these last 40 years thinking about Celan & translating his work, & maybe Celan's work has been too essential for my own writing for me to have a detached view on this, but the association of PC with Britney Spears makes me shudder ...

It was even more interesting, though, to see how quickly others waded into the debate. It wasn’t vital to me (or, I’m sure, to Pierre Joris) to win the exchange – what was important was to expound the reasoning behind so apparently frivolous a montage as that of Britney Spears with Paul Celan.

   3. The reprinted editorial or review

How many people actually read poetry magazines nowadays? And yet they’re still seen as the principal way of establishing a reputation in the field.

A lot of unsung work goes into keeping this archipelago of specialised print-outlets in existence. Most poets must have worked on one at one time or another – others have gone further, developing an almost missionary zeal for helping out beginners with judicious editorial advice and encouragement.

There doesn’t seem to me to be any harm in posting your own editorials or reviews online after they’ve appeared in a magazine. After all, if the views you were outlining were worth putting in print in the first place, why shouldn’t they reach the far larger audience accessible on the Internet? I’d venture to suggest, in fact, that far fewer volumes of reprinted essays and reviews will be required in future.

Long-meditated, carefully-revised books such as T. S. Eliot’s The Sacred Wood (1920) or Wallace Stevens’ The Necessary Angel (1951) will always retain their value, but I doubt many would dispute that far too many volumes of tarted-up prefaces and reviews have been pumped out in the past, when the best of their contents could simply have been posted online.
At any rate, that was the reasoning I followed when I put up the editorial for my guest issue of Landfall [214: Open House (2007)], supplementing it with a Poetry NZ essay in which I’d enlarged on some of the same themes:

Once again, it was interesting to see how many comments this inspired. Some points were more obscure than I’d meant to make them; others, however, came across loud and clear.

Rightly or wrongly, I felt it was a timely essay. Whether others agree is up to them. What’s best about the Poetry Blog is how it can reflect the democracy of the web. You can measure the success of a site by the number of hits it receives, but that’s a simplistic criterion.  What I like about the internet is the virtually limitless number of specialised – but non-exclusive – interest groups it can accommodate.

Surely that’s an attractive enough picture to justify this thousand words?


Jack Ross  


Last updated 25 May, 2009