I keep meaning to write about the poetry wars. Or the #poetrywars. Or–
Driven, today, inspired by something Jon Paul Fiorentino wrote about sexism in the literary community that spawned from Twitter debate and aggression, and resulted in threats being fired at him privately.
Once upon a time, the great feuds in poetry (and there have been many; remember rule 1, Poets Are Bitches) played out in books followed by reviews followed by books of poetry criticism or other books of poetry. People made remarks at readings. Maybe your snarky letters were published posthumously. The poetry wars were fought in geological time.
Now, we have social media. Now we have Twitter, in particular, the poet’s social media. So much depends on one hundred & forty characters.
Now we have can have whole new limbs added to the poetry war machines. Now the poetry wars can casually scroll across your screen alongside promoted tweets for washing machines. You can’t resist it, either–poets, like anyone, are compelled to find community. We want to hear other poets talking about poetry.
And then the poetry wars turn from cold to hot, because then they’re on the internet, they are content, they change dynamically. Get into a heated debate with someone about your differing opinions of poetry (and if they are a women, respond with misogyny; respond with death threats, respond with detailed descriptions of rape, you are a writer, you have the imagination). Go write a sad poem on your Livejournal. Go write a screed on your blogspot, ignore the part of you that says This is in public, this is visible, this will be remembered.
My point being, this is strange to watch from the fringe (the sum total of my poetry publications exist as feathers pressed between various pages of various literary journals–no books yet, just an unbound manuscript).
As a writer, one of my great pulls is community, but it’s hard when you go out there and the community comes across at times like a seething mass of monsters. For every website devoted to robust exploration of poetry and exaltation of the community–like Lemon Hound, for example–there are a dozen nasty back-biters tweeting and subtweeting, particularly if that website is under female guidance.
But what are they actually fighting about? The “right” way to talk about poetry? Who has read more Judith Butler and Zizek, who can construct a more coherent argument out of strung-together quotes? The question of which is morally correct–lyrical poetry that evokes an emotional response in its reader, or postmodern poetry like elegant puzzle boxes of crystalline structure?
Make sure those two poetries don’t touch, or there is only annihilation, after all.
Two poetries. Hah.
It’s hard to excite yourself about the discourse when it hinges on completely arbitrary binaries half-submerged in the usual burning hate-oil that has grown to characterize our perception of “The Internet” (that monolith that sits outside your door and tells you to go fuck yourself, 16 characters).
And everything fuels the machine. This post fuels the machine. This post is shaded:
- Wah-wah, I want to be part of the discussion.
- Wah-wah, they’re talking about it wrong. (As in: morally incorrect, 17 characters)
- Wah-wah, what if someone snarks about my work?
- Wah-wah, what if no one ever does?
You can’t observe the #poetrywars. They infect. You can’t be a daring cub reporter sneaking into the combat zone to record for posterity. Contact mutates. It’s not like this wasn’t happening before the internet, it’s not like this is some new thing sprung from screens; it just happens faster, more publicly, you can divine conflicts between people with more correspondence to peruse, as it happens, when you’re not even sure people read poetry anymore, or who “people” are.