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).
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!