Sitting at a laptop in a pool of free WiFi, networked to the world, we find ourselves at an amazing moment: the perfect time to think afresh about the best way to read and write with the tools now available to us.
You may associate poetry with well-thumbed leather tomes, battered paperbacks, stapled-together pamphlets or hand-typed manuscripts – but these are some of the traditional means which have delevoped to move words around. What matters most, of course, is the words themselves. As Benjamin Zephaniah puts it, “The most important thing is to publish in people’s hearts – and there are many ways to people’s hearts.”
In order to reach people’s hearts, past generations wrote their work by hand, typed it up and submitted it by post to magazines and publishers. They, having selected just a few from the tottering piles of submissions, then printed them up and shipped them to bookshops. Publication literally meant your work ‘appeared in print’, in other words you saw it for the first time in ink properly set and in bound form.
The world has changed. Now your first jottings can be rendered in umpteenth typefaces, decorated with all manner of illustrations, photos or video and emailed about or uploaded to the global bookshelves of the web for free, to be read on laptops, mobiles, Kindles and iPads.
More significantly, you no longer have to wait for a publisher to tell you if you’re a real writer. You can publish your work yourself whenever you’re ready, on an informal blog for a few friends, or as an ebook available to download print on demand for whoever wants it. That’s liberating, but it also puts the responsibility on you to ensure your work deserves reading.
Online you can seek out a circle of readers, beginning with family and friends, developing an international network of creative readers and fellow writers from whom you can receive criticism, praise and all kinds of responses.
You can share work, make work in collaboration with others, perform, animate and illuminate it in new ways, promote your events and publications, find ways to ‘amplify’ and share your poetry – and, most importantly, find new poetry to read and experience.
The web is also a source of inspiration and a place to roam in search of ideas, but it can also be a big distraction. How do you ensure it is a dream space and not a brain drain?
These are some of the issues we’ll be looking at here over the next few weeks, helped by a range of poets and people with useful things to say. And we’ll be inviting you to respond to a series of weekly poetry challenges to help the amplified poet (that’s you!)
Claire Askew’s blog One Night Stanzas provides advice and resources for new poets. Her poems have appeared in numerous literary publications including The Edinburgh Review, Poetry Scotland and The Guardian. She was awarded the 2010 Virginia Warbey Poetry Prize and longlisted for a 2010 Eric Gregory Award.
5 Recommended Poetry Blogs from Claire and Andrew
Stephen Nelson’s blog is heavy on the vispo (that’s ‘visual poetry’ to you and me).
Todd Swift’s blogzine of poetry, politics and pop culture has interesting guest reviews and guest posts.
Committed to seeking out lesser-known voices in poetry and fiction, this online compendium of new writing, literary reviews and articles is focused on text, technology and popular culture.
Poet Colin McGuire mainly uses his blog to post his own work but also reviews new poetry collections.
US performance poet Rachel McKibbens posts weird and wonderful prompts to inspire you to write on a regular basis.
Chris Meade is the Director of if:book uk, a think and do tank exploring the future of the book in the digital age. He was Director of the Poetry Society from 1993-2000 and Booktrust 2000-2007.
Do you have a favourite place online to find poetry? Do you prefer to read and listen to poetry online or do you still prefer a paper book?