This is a draft of an essay I'm working on--heavy on the draft--and I think it's pertinent that I put it in these pages, perhaps ask for comments, since I'm speaking about being an editor and a poet in the Internet age. Plus, I never issue editorials, especially the highfalutin kind, and it's high time that happened. -- DN
Mouse": The Poem and The Internet
This is one of the greatest things about being a poet: you weren't the first poet and you won't be the last. You won't be the person to kill it, and you won't be the one to perfect it.
The poem, meanwhile, waits around these death knells, existing in that nether region beyond words.
Frank O'Hara wrote in 1961 of his realization that if he wanted to, he "could use the telephone" instead of writing poems.
This, he continued, would put "the poem squarely between the poet and the person."
"In all modesty," he says "I confess that it may be the death of literature as we know it."
2000 years later, in one second on the Internet, billions of people may read a poem, squarely between the poet and the person, just as one may read the racing form, read the news, download pornography, or yes, talk on the telephone. Horatian Ridiculous Mouse indeed.
The poem meets us face to face, and we hopefully do not know where it's coming from. Where is the poem, you may ask? Where?
Nowhere and everywhere. Some say it's that first drawing of blood, the first ink, the piece of paper it was written on. Others say it's in the air, when a poet reads it and lets the music be heard. Bob Holman, the champion of spoken poetry, has a friend who says it's only the single handwritten draft with corrections that is "The Poem." Sign Language poets have still other versions.
So nobody truly knows where the poem is, nor should they. A poem, like consciousness, is a mutable thing, moving like heat from one room to another.
have always aspired to a more spacious form," Czeslaw Milosz in
"Ars Poetica?" writes,
And it is indeed a bellwether moment when the online journal Can We Have Our Ball Back? which costs 100 dollars a year to publish, has 60,000 readers for each issue, and a prestigious print journal such as Parnassus, which has 1,000 subscribers, a number that I think is inflated.
But I can't help but think there's more. I like to think back to 1994--the Stone Age by Internet standards--when there was no Can We Have Our Ball Back? Back then, for poets who wished to have their work read, it was Parnassus or bust.
The Internet, by virtue of having an audience that reads new art texts, has done more than change the way poems are distributed. I mean, we could say the same for the mimeo revolutions of the 60s and 70s.
The Internet's common space bullhorn for poetry, an outlet for poets who actually want to get their work out, has affected the way poems are read and written.
By that definition, I'd like to add the following: Hudson Review. Partisan Review. Triquarterly. No attempt to reach past a privileged coterie, no concern for expanding past the atrophied poetics therein. The poems have had to change, to be more boring, to satisfy the dark windowless office of English professors.
I think it's great to live in a time when poets have their work read, instead of submitting to an academy-funded, NEA-grant-pleading, middle-class values kow-towing, no-computer skills-having, ambiguity-hating, middling-name-from-the-same-English Department-TOC-loaded, avant garde-quotad, CV-padded, desiccated aesthetic-enslaved, Santayanna-genteel tradition-concerned print journal whose editor hasn't seen the light of day since on August 12, 1981, when the first PC rolled off the assembly lines.
And I think the poem now has the potential to be nowhere, where it rightfully it belongs. On the computer screen the poem is as provisional as lyric should be, as interposed with our daily lives as possible, as subversive as a summer rap song coming from every car.
I also like to think this Ridiculous Mouse has changed the way we read, and inevitably and hopefully, the way we write poems. I embrace it.
The mobility and mutability of word processing, of publishing, and thinking has replaced liberated our poems.
400 years of nouminal tyranny of movable type has been overturned!
The poem is freed, hybridized, ephemeral!
Flying on Keats's "viewless wings," we read now and know it's coming from somewhere that may be alive, that might be new, that is, frankly, from a place where the switch could be turned off.
The poem's gift tradition is well-documented. Poems makes no money. The poem is the first and best peer-to-peer network.
Poems aren't about books. They never were. And I'm not talking some nouveau Pollyanna notion of an authorless text, nor some oral tradition that's been anthropologically exoticized
But I am talking about giving the poem back to the wireless ether, where it belongs, and away from a perfect-bound subservience to the sign.
The poem is best served when it can as Horace said, again, 2000 years ago, 'devise a harmonious action.' He didn't say "word" or "book" or "video screen." He said "action."
"All this you will find in a dictionary, which is both beautiful and true." William Carlos Williams.
What Williams saw as the temporality of his poems-that you could simply look them up, part by part, in the dictionary, and this would be beautiful-we can read poems on screens now, along with all other words, all other meanings, a stock ticker or baby picture in the upper-right hand corner.
The poem, to be the most beautiful and true, has to coexist with all other words, and the Internet gives that chance.
Because of source code, we have all become close-text readers again.
Because of the mouse, because of the ridiculous mountain-worked mouse, we touch poems again, as we did with animal skin, papyrus, paper, Xerox sheets, mimeos. CGA VGA flatscreen Palm Pilot = our new meaty vellum.
Text is now a backlit stepchild. The poem's godliness heckles the stars. Am I talking about the will here? Perhaps.
I made 'em play it, made 'em say it/ made 'em okay it, made 'em obey
I wouldn't be the first poet to say we have lingered too long in the dustbin of Modernism's dais, has held the hand of postmodernism on day trips to the museum.
tells me that. But now, when I see my words on-screen, I say that the
poem's mutability has been reinstated.