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Quality: Some thoughts on poetry, writing & blog poets

May 18, 2009

The other day I saw 1Poet4Man’s tweet “The Pulitzer Prize for Poetry was not awarded to a blogger!” and went to read his point:

Other poets, like Paul Squires, agree with his basic point–that most blog poets suck as he puts it, and that the general poor quality of poetry on-line makes good poets look bad, and readers lose respect. Not to mention the general sense that people value more that for which they pay–or that poetry published on the web is less legitimate, or that if you publish your poetry on your blog, it’s not eligible to be published in on or off line literary journals.

To Paul’s credit, he champions many a blog poet and writer, and ralies his forces around the battle to validate the act itself of publishing on a blog. For another example, the widely published California Poet Laureate Emeritus Al Young frequently posts poems, new and old, as well as thoughtful musings on various subjects, on his website and blog,

While I agree there is a lot of junk out there on the web, stuff NOT worth reading, and a lot of work that’s an “ode to joy” of being “meep,” I don’t think it’s up to me to tell people their creative projects (whatever they may be) aren’t good enough to be published on their own personal blog. And I’m not afraid that it will destroy poetry, much less blog poetry, to have anyone who wants to to be able to self-publish their own wordplay.

We readers vote with our feet and our fleet fingers–we click quickly away from that which does not interest us. And as he points out, we “vote” with our comments. Admittedly, I find it much easier to comment on an accessible poem. More challenging poems may be rewarding but they’re more difficult to comment on. The bottom line for me: I want to support people to produce poetry and develop their voice. This takes time. Does that mean, as 1Poet suggests, that they not publish on the web in the meantime?

Natalie Goldberg, in her in-person writing workshops and in her books, encourages people to recognize that a work isn’t good or bad. It just is. She wants people to really listen to people’s work and comment on what they hear, what they remember, and to repeat in  a workshop setting not what they THINK about a poem, but exactly what it was they heard.

This strategy is a great tool for all writers: to hear what words have an impact, what images readers remember. It’s helped me recognize what works, what really works, in my writing.

When I teach, I encourage students to tell other students what works, not what doesn’t work, and to ask questions which will help the writer make the text more clear to the reader.

I’d also like to point out that what happens on the WWW is similar to what happens in town. Many blog poet don’t seem to participate in local readings, preferring to post and share on the web rather than in an open mic environment.

Poetry readings are similar to reading poetry on the web. The features are usually worth listening to while many of the readers in the open mic are not. Just as some blog poets are full of well written words and others aren’t.

Same with art. Some open shows and even juried shows feature work that I don’t need to spend time looking at.

This doesn’t mean that I am going to restrict my reading to Pulitzer prize winners (even if I am a fan like I am of Merwin) or only go to BIG museum shows or look at art in books.

Just as it is worthwhile to me to venture to various galleries and poetry readings, looking for the aesthetic “that which engages my whole soul” as described by Coleridge, I will journey around the web looking for well crafted words.

So, dear readers, I encourage you to read, and read widely. If you’re a writer, pay attention no matter the source of the text, to how the writer works with words. What do you like? What moves you? Which images do you remember? And how can you bring that into your own writing?

I wish you well, and thank you for spending some time with my words. Leave your thoughts and comments please or at least a link and I’ll go see yours.

For more “blog poets” check out the Monday Poetry Train or Read Write Poem. Two of my favorite blog poets are Paul Squires and Danika Dinsmore aka Accidental Novelist over there on my blogroll.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. May 18, 2009 7:02 am

    There is good and bad poetry. If there wasn’t there couldn’t be great poetry. You have had showcased a lot of great poetry here. You have posted a lot of really good poetry of your own here. If there was no distinction between good and bad poetry I wouldn’t be able to say that. I have no objection to anyone posting whatever they want in their own blogs, as you say noone has to read anything. The time, long ago, when I was complaining about the amount of bad poetry on the web, I was really complaining about the amount of bad poetry masquerading as good poetry, people who knew nothing at all about poetry setting themselves up as authorities, the lack of genuine critique, the tendancy of people to write compliments for sucky work in the hope of receiving compliments. There was, and probably still is somewhere a whole world of egotists with typewriters massaging each others egos and creating an illusion which sidetracks and wastes the time of a lot of people. Fortunately I don’t spend any time in that environment any more, problem solved.
    (P.S, You absolutely cannot measure the worth anything by the number of comments it gets. I disagree with the suggestions that we vote with our comments.)

    Thank you so much Paul, for commenting here and making clear your point. I see now how your thoughts on poetry published on the web has evolved, and I appreciate the point you are making. I think genuine critique can happen without being negative or critical but by following Natalie Goldberg’s model of sharing the exact words that have an impact. I totally agree that no one benefits by empty compliments placed in a comment box merely to get empty compliments back. Except except except I have to say it is wildly bizarre to have hundreds of people read my blog every day and come and go with out leaving any trace behind except their page views on my stat page. Almost like having an open house with hundreds of people passing through your house with nary a smile or a good day.

  2. May 18, 2009 10:07 am

    Hi Gwendolyn. Thanks for highlighting the post over at 1 One Poet 4 Man. I’ve left my thoughts over there. I’d be interested to see what you think. You are among those that I read often and comment little on, but I regularly go away with something worthwhile to think about.

    Thank you, Brad. I must say I always return from a visit to your cafe feeling refreshed!

  3. May 18, 2009 1:47 pm

    I’ve been mulling over what to say since I read all the pertinent posts this morning. Rather than debate, I’ll just say this: I’ve read more great poetry online in the last three years than in all the printed books, magazines and journals combined in the world.

    Brian, I’m glad I gave you something to mull over! I think I have to agree with you–that as much print poetry I read and poetry readings I attend, I have probably read more poetry, and well written poetry, on the web in the past year. In fact, having access to the web’s poetry has increased the amount of poetry I read substantially.

  4. May 18, 2009 2:10 pm


    Thanks for furthering a quality discussion about poetry.

    I really am not trying to make the point that readers vote with their comments…

    My main point is that poetry, at least the poetry that I like, requires contemplation…so hence to comment on it would beg at least a bit of that as well…but since so few of us have the time for contemplation, it seems that simpler poems become more accessible…

    When I think of Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Anne Sexton, T.S. Elliot, and other past great poets, I wonder how their poetry would fare in this more complicated, and faster paced internet world of poetry…


    Poetman, thanks for commenting and clarifying your point. With regards to Dickinson, I wonder if she would have been willing to publish on a blog versus placing her poetry in a drawer! I suspect the web brings the words of these poets to more people. However, I think more cogent point is your concern whether the new Whitmans and Sextons will be heard over the din of all the other words on the web. I want to think they will. I guess we will see in the next few years, won’t we?

  5. May 18, 2009 2:24 pm

    Hi, I think this is a very interesting subject. Personal blogs are excellent places to publish work(maybe not a novel because of giving away the reader rights) but certainly poetry and short stories.

    Lawrence, I think rights are an even bigger issue with short works like poetry or with images since it is soooo easy to “borrow” them. I wonder where some of my more popular poem posts have ended up, and who has claimed “my” words!

  6. May 18, 2009 5:07 pm

    Thank you everyone for participating in this conversation! I blinked when I woke up this morning and saw your comments! Now many of you are sleeping while I am responding to you! (those are my words in italics)

  7. poeticgrin permalink
    May 18, 2009 6:53 pm


    What a timely piece you’ve published here! I have been struggling with this and in fact blogged about that struggle over the past week. Stripping away all else, the simple facts are that blogging my poetry and reading poetry blogs have made me a better poet, have made me appreciate poetry more, have enhanced my love of poetry, and have granted me opportunities that never would have occurred otherwise. However, the publishing industry as a whole seems to frown on blogging poetry (it takes away much of their power, see?). I’m with Paul on the sentiment, but feel as if I have to play “their” game at least on some level if I want to become published in print. It’s soul-twisting, really. The answer I came up with involved password-protecting the poems on my blog that I submit for publication. Not sure if that makes any sense since I will freely give out the password to all who want it (hint – it’s Shake with a capital S!) but hey, that’s the solution for me.

    Great post, and you’ve pointed me to some intriguing poets I will definitely have to check out. Thanks for this great read!

  8. May 19, 2009 2:41 pm

    There are very goog blog poets out there. Some are much much better than any published poets. I have been enriched because of those blog poets.

    two hearts

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