Monday, March 01, 2004

The assault on blogs goes on over at the Poetics list.

Ray Bianchi--himself a blogger--wrote in yesterday bemoaning the "decline of this listserv", and suggesting that blogs were in part to blame for drawing away a lot of poets so that "we do not have the kinds of fights that existed before."

This prompted, of course, one of the periodic bouts of blogophobia that seizes the list; even the old line about "the list is the forum, blogs are boutiques" got hauled out again. (I already had my say on that one back in December.)

But anyway. As someone who's only posted to the list about three or four times in the past five years, I can't say I'm that nostalgic for knock-down, drag-out fights on the Poetics list--in fact, I've always found them profoundly alienating. I'm bothered by the fetish of "starting an argument" for its own sake, especially when it gets confused with dialogue or community.

So maybe there's a reason that some of the "brightest lights" have taken up blogging. I've been blogging for about a year now, and I've found it to be (for me) a much more amenable form in which to think and talk about poetics. And contrary to what often gets said about blogs on this list--that they're "boutiques" where poets get to "listen to the sound of their own voices"--I've always thought of blogging as a much more humble mode of communication. If you want to tune in to my random musings, you can, but they don't land in the inboxes of several hundred people each day. More overheard than heard, I guess.

I also like what Chris Murray said about the slower pace of blog discussion--which gives me time to think about what I want to say, and to explain myself at some length; the list tends to make me just react.

Contrary to what Ray Bianchi suggested, I think blogs make discussions about poetry more accessible, less "ghettoized," than before. Non-poet friends and colleagues who would never have access to the Poetics list can and do look at blogs, and the odd mix of the public and the private that tends to animate a blog can be more appealing to a general reader.

And I have found that blogs can build poetry communities just as effectively as a listserv. I recently moved from the Bay Area to Chicago, and felt like I was able to make contact with poets here right away largely because we were reading each other's blogs. I'm not sure whether Tim Peterson meant his comment that blogs were "re-regionalizing" poetry as a criticism; to the extent that it's true, I don't think it's a bad thing--maybe, like politics, all poetry is local--but if it's giving certain places (San Francisco, Chicago, Boston) a clearer sense of themselves, it's also connecting them to other communities elsewhere.

So has the Poetics list changed? Sure, but I don't think blogs are to blame. If anything, the list is kind of a victim of its own success. As it's gotten larger and larger, and become something like an official organ of experimental poetry--become, in short, an institution--it's inevitably become more public and impersonal, more like a bulletin board than a coffee-table conversation. That's an important role, and maybe it's a sign of the strength of a community rather than its weakness. Conversations take all kinds of forms, and they don't all have to involve screaming.

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