The Way to People’s Hearts: The Possibilities for Poets in the Digital Age

chris-article-image-1Sitting 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 on Writing Blogs

“I use my blog to share my thoughts on literary trends and news items, I write reviews of poetry collections and I publicise the numerous literary projects I’m working on! Blogging gives me the opportunity to contact and converse with like-minded creatives, whose responses to my posts often provoke and inspire further writing. I appreciate it when other bloggers take care over what they publish – structuring posts well, and editing and proofing them before hitting ‘submit’.”

Photo by Leon Crosbie

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.

Andrew McMillian on reading Blogs

“I think blogs work best when they aren’t used simply as a marketing tool, as a way of self-promotion; blogs work best when they further a debate or a discussion, offer insight into the current poetry scene and break new writing talent. ezines are a vital platform for new, young voices before they move on to being published in print.”

Andrew McMillan’s debut pamphlet, Every Salt Advance, was published by Red Squirrel Press. He co-edits Cake Magazine with Martha Sprackland.

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.

Hand and Star

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.

Notes from a Glaswegian Immaturity

Poet Colin McGuire mainly uses his blog to post his own work but also reviews new poetry collections.

Rachel McKibbens’ blog

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?

Published May, 2011

4 thoughts on “The Way to People’s Hearts: The Possibilities for Poets in the Digital Age

  1. The thrill of hearing a writer read their work – listening to personal nuance and cadence – is a huge advantage of poems recorded and posted online. It enhances the democracy of publishing too, enabling a diverse range of artists to seize cyber autonomy and present their work to a potentially international audience. Digital poetry encourages spontaneous creativity – mobile wifi allows anybody with an idea to be a poet anytime, anywhere. The world becomes a writing desk.

  2. I admire the skill of the poet. I also admire the work of a good web editor/producer who knows how to write compelling online copy. The similarity between these two figures is that they both write succinctly and with meticulous attention to structure. The difference, I think, is that poets sometimes/often write for themselves whereas web editors/producers always have a target audience in mind and tailor their writing to satisfy that particular audience.

    When it comes to blogging about poetry, there are quite a lot of blogs out there which fail to hit the mark because they don’t seem to be reaching out to us, the users. You know the kinds of blogs I mean – the ones where bloggers write at length, explaining little, protesting much…

    I think the key to writing a good blog is to suppress our inner poet (who tempts us to write in a way that delights the self) and to bring forth our inner web producer, who forces us pick a target audience for the blog and to write in a way that will satisfy that audience.

    Writing for a target audience isn’t about ‘selling out’ it’s about ‘reaching out’ with consideration.

  3. I thought the poetry blogs they recommended were very interesting– I particularly enjoyed ‘afterlights’.

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