Curation in the Digital Age

This is not a post about E-Literature or digital poetry.  It’s about digital access to print poetry and poetry published for the first time online.  I’m going to write about digi poetry later in the month, but right now I want to address the question about the vast availability of poetry on the internet, which I believe is a question of curation.

First, I don’t believe that curation and the commons are antithetical.  Curation isn’t an exclusionary act, though some may suggest that it is.  It is a process of deciding, a process of an individual or a group of individuals enacting their poetics.  In that process, editors choose the poems that best represent their poetics, and they reject the ones that don’t.  This becomes problematic when some massive anthologies make claims to a larger accumulation of poetics – something like Contemporary American Poetry edited by A. Poulin Jr. and Michael Waters, which I think is a great anthology.  I have both the third and eighth editions on my bookshelf.  But for any curated collection to claim that it represents all of – or even the best of – something as vast as the poetry produced in contemporary American – is to invite failure.  You can’t do it.  Best to admit to bias.  Best to admit to incompleteness and the necessity to have multiple anthologies of contemporary American poetry.  Best to say straight off that none can be definitive.  We run into trouble when one anthology, for some reason or another, becomes the g0-to, the default, the trusted.  Like the Norton. It gets taught over and over again and so the poets it includes become canonized while those who it excludes fall into obscurity.  Which is why we are seeing so much recovery work now – not just of working-class poets but of other poets from disenfranchised communities.*

For that reason, I believe that the digital proliferation of literary journals and anthologies and websites are a positive development in the evolution of poetry.  While many bemoan the concept that that internet enables any and every incompetent poetaster to litter the bi-waves with dross – is this really a problem?  For those of us who go to the internet to read contemporary poetry, are we being assaulted by love poems written by 12 year olds?  Are the margins of our google search page crowded with doggerel?  Do we have to wrangle with pop-up windows that spew poor Seuss impersonators?  No.  It’s not a problem.

Well, it’s a tiny problem when you are searching for a poem or a collection on the web and you’ve forgotten the title and you’ve forgotten the author (and this happens to me all the time), so you type in some key phrases and maybe you have to wade through a bit of this and that before you are able to find what you are looking for, but have we turned in to such research sissies that we can possible complain about this process.  Go thumb through a card catalog.**

The digital landscape serves as a commons in which everyone is empowered to curate their own collections based on their own poetics and interests.  And while I won’t deny that there are some remnants of the digital divide still keeping people from fully utilizing the internet, the financial liberation of online publishing more than balances that out.  You no longer need a printing or mailing budget to publish a journal.  You don’t need to buy the paper or manage other distribution costs.  You can spend a little time learning wordpress or blogspot and you can curate.  And depending on people’s interests, they will read.  Or they won’t.  Because the commons promises everyone a space to create/curate/contribute and a space to exhibit their creations/collections/contributions and the ability to access everyone else’s creations/collections/contributions.  The commons doesn’t promise equal attention or any attention at all.  That’s not what the commons is for.

*To tell the truth, I don’t get so very worked up about the major player anthologies.  I believe that anyone who is really interested in poetry will move quickly beyond them, will explore and discover the journals and poets which resonate with their interests.  The big anthologies serve often, I think, as a bridge.  Something that can carry a reader to the world of poetry.

**I MISS card catalogs!

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1 Comment »

  1. dwlcx said

    I was wandering around Yale a bunch of weeks ago & wandered through the library & there were rows & rows & rows of card catalogs. I got very excited & ran over to open one at random. It was empty. They all were. Just empty drawers.

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