“The first poetry blogger I ever read till my eyes swam was Ron Silliman. I knew him rather vaguely as the critic behind The New Sentence and the editor of the major anthology In the American Tree,despite his having published nearly 30 books of poems. By the time I found his blogspot in 2003, Silliman had been posting for almost a year. Picture me instantly hooked, not so much by Silliman himself as by the concept: a poet writing about poetry, in a personal, erudite but not necessarily scholarly manner, on pretty much a daily basis. I went back and read the year’s worth of archives, including his debut post from August 29, 2002 (which strikes me as funny now, given how popular his blog has become):
Blogs have been around for awhile now, but to date I haven’t seen a genuinely good one devoted to contemporary poetry, so it may prove that there is no audience for such an endeavor. But this project isn’t about audience. The fact that the blog has the potential to carry forward the best elements of a journal and seems inherently prone to digressive, if not absolutely plotless, prose gives me hope that this form might prove amenable to critical thinking.
Perhaps Silliman was one of the earliest adopters thanks to his familiarity with the computer industry, where he happens to work as a market analyst. He wasn’t the only one inspired by the possibilities of the rapidly evolving medium. The same month I bookmarked his eponymous URL, Silliman posted his first blogroll—a list of several dozen other poetry-focused bloggers. I’d never heard of most of them, even the handful who lived in Brooklyn, practically in my backyard. I clicked them all.
Totally thrilling. Within the month I was thinking, damn it. Could I have skipped my MFA program (which I’d delayed for years after my BA, unsure and wary) if the blogs had arrived sooner? (I was already working as a writer and had no plans to teach.) On these emerging blogs, as well as on e-mail lists and forums, I’d finally found what I’d been looking for working in publishing, hanging around at readings, and going to grad school: other poets. Not famous ones, elder ones, teaching ones, laureate ones, or the ones with books from Knopf stocked at Barnes & Noble. The other ones. Ones like me.
Whatever subset of POET you’re looking for, the Internet’s got them. Like the mimeograph and the photocopier in their day, blogging software and hosting services allow anybody to hang out a shingle and start publishing—without buying apps or renting server space, without registering a domain, and without knowing how to code a single tag. The key word there is anybody. Academic credentials are optional, no pitching articles to editors, no need to have three books out and another on the way. Fast, cheap-to-free, low tech-threshold publishing quickly has become as simple and ubiquitous as e-mail, and much more effective, in practical terms, than a letter to the editor when it comes to telling William Logan what you think of his latest review.
Which is to say, along with changing the speed and focus of aesthetic debates, blogs have also changed the participants. Reb Livingston,publisher of No Tell Books and the online journal No Tell Motel, agrees. She’s pleased to see outsiders infiltrate:
Poets who were never in the center (often these were women, but not limited to women), who weren’t getting attention, are now getting attention and readers—often more than the so-called mainstreamers. The old way of getting an MFA, winning a contest, publishing with university presses, and getting a job teaching has been shown not to be a particularly good measure of anything—if anything, the many flaws and shortcomings [of that older route] have been exposed.
Poets have hacked the template—both literally, as they edited the HTML behind their blogs, and figuratively, creating alternatives to once-dominant modes and traditional publishing platforms. Frustrated that the established systems weren’t as user-friendly as they’d like, they’ve approached poetry publishing and poetic discourse in the manner of open-source programmers, improvising workarounds and frankensteining new hybrids. “