Williams Essay

How Poetry Journals and Poetry Have Changed with the Internet

Journals and newspapers preserve much of the18th and 19th century great poets’ work, from Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Robert Frost and others. Similarly, much of the most popular and radical 20th-century poetry appeared in workers’ newspapers and journals and in popular songbooks (Folsom). However, with the growth of the Internet, poetry in the 21st century has re-asserted the traditional distribution of not just poetry journals but poetry itself. Poetry journals use to have to be subscribed to and then one would have to wait another a week or two before receiving it in the mail. But with the Internet, poetry journals are now easily accessed with just typing the name of the journal into the search engine or typing its URL into the toolbar. The Internet triumphs the previous centuries’ traditional distribution of poetry journals because it is cheaper for the journals to produce, provides readers with quicker and easier access to the journals, and most importantly it provides them mostly all for free. Not only does the Internet provide people with more access to poetry than ever before, it is also changing how poems are being written and presented. For example, The New River and YouTube.com, are such websites that are using the internet to reassess the traditional definition of poetry through their usage of graphics, sounds, and motion to name a few.

Internet, Free & Easy for Poetry
The Internet provides quick and easy access to free official and non-official poetry journals as well as free websites that host all the works of a famous poet. With such free search engines as Google for example, one can type in “Walt Whitman poems” and the results are 7,710,000 different websites, most of which are not official but that still contain the whole collection of his poems. No longer does one have to buy a volume of the poet’s works or go to the library and check out a collection of the poems, but instead Whitman’s Leaves of Grass can be easily found at Bartleby.com (http://www.bartleby.com/142/index1.html) for example, and printed off for free; the website’s slogan even being “Great Books Online.”

The Internet also provides readers to poetry journals that contain thousands of today’s new poets (professional and amateur) and for free as well. By just typing “poetry journals” into Google, 19 million different journals are found. Before the Internet and its ability to make finding and obtaining different poetry journals quicker, easier and more personal, there was only hard copy journals which usually only involved small distributions to the library or perhaps a local bookstore (Folsom), but with the Internet, poetry journals can experience international exposure. Most literary journals and magazines, however; now publish both online and printed material. The national Arc Poetry Magazine, for example, not only produces hardcopy issues but also administers national contests and awards online (arcpoetry.com). The online American Poetry Review has a circulation of 8,000-12,000 to its name (aprweb.org). The fact is, it is rather easy to start an online literary journal of one’s own. So why should a writers try to get their work published by a literary journal?

Criticisms of Online Poetry
With the Internet though, today’s poets no longer have to remained confined by a journal’s opinion of whether or not their work is worthy of publication, instead a poet can have their own website and/or blog as a place to present their poems— if you have a little time, are willing to shell out the cash for web hosting, or don’t mind using one of the free blog-style formats available, a literary journal can be up and running in an afternoon. The Internet has made the distance between poet and reader nearly nothing, and the feedback cycle is instantaneous. Writers can learn what readers think of their work within minutes after they’ve made it public on the Internet. For example the website 1,000 Voices (http://telmcg.wordpress.com/) contains poetry all written by an amateur poet, Telly McGaha. McGaha gives the date when posted and a link under each poem to comment on it.

An issue of Poets & Writers magazine includes a special section called “The Lit Mag Moment,” and within it contains a story by Sandra Beasley titled “From Page to Pixels: The Evolution of Online Journals.” Beasley argues convincingly that writers should submit their best work online and makes the case that online journals in general have a viability and sustainability that other amateur websites do not have and that “modern writers are increasingly defined by the work they have available online.” In other words, if one is interested in making a career on poetry, submit your work to online journals that have a creditability of their own as well.

Structure of Poems Changing
The Internet has not only provided people with more access than ever before to read online poetry journals, poetry by legendary poets, and present their own poetry, but it is also altering the structure and forms poems are being written and displayed.

“The Internet allows poets and writers to experiment the different possibilities for poetry,” as Ed Falco, an English Professor at Virginia Tech and Editor of The New River, “a journal of digital writing and art,” as the caption reads (http://www.cddc.vt.edu/journals/newriver/ 09Spring/index.html). Poets today can experiment with dynamic structures in which words shift, alter, and transform themselves in innovative new ways, often combining with visual images, sound tracks, and hyperlinks. The internet has allowed this type of online poetry to emerge, causing both a radical reassessment of what an online poetry journal looks like and what poetic expression is defined as and looks like. This work is sometimes grouped under the category of “new media poetry” or “digital media poetry,” as Falco refers to it. Digital media poetry have emerged, as an “experimental branch” to online poetry, Ed Falco explains, and this kind of poetry “challenges our conception of what poetry is and what is possible in the literature form.” Some of this new poetry uses interactive software to actually involve the reader in the creating the finished product of the poem as with some of the poems in The New River.

Another way the internet is reasserting online poetry is the emergence of poetry in motion——combining various visual interpretations of the text through slide shows of photography, paintings with the text of the poem, and readings of the poem as performances—the prime examples of poetry on YouTube (www.youtube.com). Interestingly, Youtube can be seen as a tool for poetry forms to further connect poetry with its early oral roots. For example, David Antin who is known as “talk poet” performs mix comedy, storytelling, and poetry in intriguing ways. YouTube videos also show poetry “slams” in which poets reciting their verse in competitions before boisterous audiences. Also, Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” is one of the most popular poems in the American canon. YouTube provides the poem in a visual form, most showing a slideshow of pictures matching the poem’s meaning, with the poem’s words either spoken or displayed. YouTube even has a video of Robert Frost himself reading the poem (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yG24ohpacDk&feature=related).

Not only are such YouTube videos highly imaginative as are digital media poems, but scholars say they poetry in motion can contribute to enhancing a student’s skills in ‘visual literacy’ (Schwarz, 2002, 2008; Derrick, 2008), often in their first language. YouTube is an outlet for the words of many poems to move outside even the pages of online journals, but to be sung, recited, improvised, cast into motion, and otherwise actively performed with most importantly millions of online viewers to watch, listen, and learn.

Never before has the nationwide poetry community been more connected or independent in sharing their work through online poetry journals and online poetry. Before the Internet, poets were more likely to carry out long conversations long hand over long distances with long silences between long, hard-thought answers. While the loss of this mode of letter writing may be regrettable for some, conversations now take place on a larger scale thanks to the Internet, with more eyes to examine poetry, and more ears to hear poetry, as with The New River online poetry journal and poetry on YouTube. Both of these sites are displaying poetry in an alternative structure than the traditional printed poetry on the pages of journals. With the Internet, poetry has not only changed in distribution but also in structure and form. More possibilities are given to poetry through the Internet’s ability to combine text with sound, graphics, motion, hyperlinks, etc., all to create another form of poetry known as “digital media.” Today it seems as though everything is going digital; novels already have begun, and optimistically it only makes sense that poetry should be headed in the same direction, for it gives poetry and poetry journals a chance to stay alive and well with all the other forms of media in the 21st century.

Works Cited

Beasley, Sandra. “From Page to Pixels: The Evolution of Online Journals.” Poets & Writers. 5 May 2009. Web. 12 Oct. 2009. <http://www.pw.org/content/page_pixels_evolution_online_journals>.

Derrick, J. “Using comics with ESL/EFL students.” The Internet TESL Journal 14 (7), July 2008. 12 Oct. 2009. <http://iteslj.org/Techniques/Derrick-UsingComics.html.>

Folsom, Ed, and F. Wendell Miller, comps. “American Literature: Poetry.” 2009. 13 Oct. 2009. <http://encarta.msn.com/text...1/american_literature_poetry.html.>

Schwarz, G. (2002). “Graphic novels for multiple literacies.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 46 (3).2002.< http://www.readingonline.org/newliteracies/jaal/11-02_column/.>

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