Theory 101: Anthologies Vs Internet

Poets!

 

I had been meaning to post 10,000 things for National Poetry Month (which is now, by the way) but I got a big stinky computer virus and fear I may need to do a factory reset on my machine (yikes!) and therefore have posted nothing! Those are my excuses, accept them as you will.

 

Nevertheless (yes, it’s one word) I am inclined to kick off this month of peppered verse with a short but fun little blurb from my long dusty thesis.

 

I wrote a thesis which was completed in 2012. It was an dazzling process, and I recommend everyone considering doing an undergrad project of that size to dive in! I was focused on mainly poetry and the changing concepts of digital/visual works as the internet became more user friendly. And of course it has, but poetry has yet to explode the way I had hoped it would.

 

I wrote that words and meaning would still be the major components of communication, but that the work we did would grow another dimension: a third visual, tactile, sonic, scented dimension that would enhance the reader experience. Like Smell-O-Vision for Shakespeare. Or something like that.

 

But more on those theories later this month (unless my laptop melts).

 

Today I want to talk a little on a concept I penned called Anthology Theory, and the teetering edge we are sitting on when it comes to poetry and poetry education. As many of us who took English Classes well know, the anthology is a book that collects the best and brightest works from a certain era or in a certain subject. It could be a collection of short stories or the works of the Victorian Era, either way, it encompasses many authors and several writing styles at the very least.

 

The anthology is use in classes that cover large areas of time, like a survey class, that would rather you buy one book instead of a dozen. They also come with cute like intros and images to help orient students in that timeframe. They are, in theory, a great tool. However, no tool is without its limitations.

 

Anthologies are a closed system. They exist within the bounds of their editors and the tone of their publisher. As a tangible entity, they cannot be changed unless a new edition is posted.

 

They are also guarded by gatekeepers: the editors and influencers who decided–based on space or preference– that they would or would not include certain works in the collection. Pound and Elliot are never cut from the Post Modernists, but there might be limited space, and we could lose some H.D. or Sitwell to make room for newer pieces.

 

As the cannon changes –yes, the cannon changes– we are left with only the most potent works, the pieces that defined the writing generation.

These are sometimes the most provocative and fresh works, but not always the best or most relatable works.

To keep with the Post Modernists, the Wasteland is a heck of a poem, but few enjoy it. It defined poetry that era, but is hard to read and a little terrible if you get through it.

Other, more delightful poems are pushed out for the real pungent stuff and as a result few people who learn poetry from an anthology actually end up liking poetry.

In my project I blended poetic/literary concepts with marketing and communication terms. Attempting to make the issues with learning from a closed system like an anthology clearer, I used this metaphor to illustrate the point.

 

You hear a knock on the door (push communication) so you open it to see who is there. It’s the raven, come to interrupt your evening. You ask him what he wants (pull communication) but his reply is always the same: Nevermore! (Anthology Theory).

 

raven

 

You can communicate with a book just as you do with people, unfortunately the book can only tell you a finite, permanent set of responses with no change as the world around the book changes. This makes books an excellent gage of the time period they were created: a perfect historical capsule. However, it fixes them in a state of decay that limits their usability. Especially when it comes to anthologies, which are meant to represent a time period in its essence but often end up representing our impression of a time period, which is a flawed biased perception.

 

The solution, of course, is the internet, which can house everything from the popular to the obscure, granting access and knowledge to those who seek it. Push communication always will exist, that’s the advertisements and pesky banners. But Pull communication and the power of the researcher to find any and everything–free of gatekeepers–is the gift of the internet.

This is especially important for poetry, as the internet gives space to the poems that are most pivotal and poems which are simply lovely without displacing one to covet another.

Finally, with the internet’s infinite space and open structure, poetry can be a iron fist and a bending writs.

 

Happy National Poetry Month
More Theory to Come!

To Pause or Not to Pause; That is the Line Break

green water

Hello Poets,

As my universe goes whirling into a soupy maelstrom of grad school, I have found a shallow moment to ponder my favorite quirk of poetry: the line break. So humble and yet a true demonstration of the power poetry can foster. Many a man, and woman, has faught to death over a line break… or at least, I assume so, I mean, it’s a pretty touchy subject.

I remember most vividly my first experiences with creative line breaking. I was in my first poetry class at JMU, a narrow wooded room in the crooked cooridor of Keezel Hall, with one long table in the center. It felt like a meeting, or a large family dinner just before the entrees arived. The professor, a woman whom I deeply admire, passed out a paragraph. We were to cut it into little pieces, shave away the poem from that block of knotted words.

I cut them carefully, making all the sentences end softly on their toes. The words were goose feathers on a unbroken surface. I intended to make no ripples. But I was wrong. The paragraph was a poem, strong and aching–about a woman who serves fish on the funeral night of her husband. The fish, plunging rough to lower depths, was a lasting reminder of the power of linebreaks. I wish I remember the name of the poem; it meant so much to me, hearing the real line. Waiting at the end of each phrase with my toes curled.

Her tension was beautiful. I was nearly ashamed of how simply I treated the phrases. How desperately I wanted them to sit neatly on the nose. I was (still am) so young. The words, with their billowing potential, float easily on breezes I foster with foolish optimism. I have no gut for broken lines. No weighty pause.

As I began to pay more attention I noticed the forming of two camps. Those who stopped at the end of the line and those who read to the punctuation. Some readers were subtle, waiting only a moment before carrying on the enjambment. A suggestion, perhaps, a Mona Lisa smile. Others, like me, made a point of waiting, letting the line circle it’s own feet before begining another. A pause for thought, or respect.

I was reminded of the line again, some years later from the narrow room with the dinner table, where we feasted on poetry and were satiated and insatiable. While discussing poems with my Editor, I found that the word choices, the slanted grammar, was not a particular bother to me. I realized we were looking at two different poems: one with enjambing lines and one with neat little lines like arm hairs–straight up.

I think that’s why I never fuss over the capitalized first line of poems (oh Microsoft Word). So many of my colegues leer at a poem with capitals at the far left margin, standing straight up as if reading itself aloud. Sometimes I don’t notice. I’m a micro-ist. Reading the poem as a poem, and the line as a smaller poem. Gears on gears on gear, spinning.

Enjambment has become fashionable these days; everyone wants to test out their strength at the wrench. Will it hurt if I increase the tenson. How tight can I wind these bolts. I am guilty of this myself, I’m afraid. But over time I find the poem makes itself comfortable in its own break-age. The mark of a true artist lies in how gracefully one breaks the surface.

Hope that wasn’t too theoretical…
Keep writing and feel free to share your thoughts on line breaks in the comments. I would love to know how you read poetry!

–ECW