Guest Column: The Promise of Poetry in a Digital Age
Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time watching people actually use poetry books (both avid poetry readers and neophytes). Several things became clear in just this most unscientific of research. No matter how learned the reader was, people generally were unsure of themselves in tackling poetry. With the “Poetry Speaks” experience, hearing the poets read the poems gave readers more confidence in their own readings. The logic seemed to be, “If I hear Robert Frost reading ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,’ I now have more confidence that I will be able to read other Frost poems.”
Beyond the challenge of how to read and connect with the poems themselves is the question of discovery. How do I find that one poem that touches me? (And indeed, in poetry, it often is about one poem.) “Poetry Speaks” provided 47 famous poets to choose from, so people could sort of graze their way through the book. People looking for Allen Ginsberg or Sylvia Plath might be surprised and delighted to discover that they also love Louise Bogan or Muriel Rukeyser.
For the past five years, Sourcebooks has been working on PoetrySpeaks.com, which will launch in beta Nov. 4. It’s a site we hope will tackle some of the problems that have stood between poets and their potential audiences.
The Web is ideally suited to problems of discovery. And on PoetrySpeaks.com, you can discover poems in a host of new and old ways by exploring three different sections: Two are curated (PS•Voices and SpokenWord), and one section is open to all (YourMic). Yes, you can search by poet and by topic, but you also can look at top-rated poems or the poems that the poets themselves believe are the best introductions to their work (“a poem you must experience”). Or you can look at the most viewed poets or the most downloaded poems.