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Reading, Looking, Listening, . . . Questioning

Porn, then Poetry

Categories: Ana Maria Caballero, ZiR


Blindfolded_young_woman porn art

If poetry and pornography could meet on the Web, what would it look like?

Of course, [pornography and poetry] probably benefit [from the Internet] for different reasons: pornography because people really want it a lot but are embarrassed to go get it in person; poetry because people don’t want it that much, so it helps if they can get it for free without ever even leaving their desk chairs.

This excerpt was taken from an article that appeared in the AGNI blog titled “Wherever, However: Poetry Pornography and the Internet,” written by David EbenbachEbenbach has published five books of poetry, edits the AGNI blog, and teaches creative writing at Georgetown University. So, he is well placed to talk about poetry.

Ebenbach’s article responds to the claim that the Internet’s clear winners are pornography, first, and poetry, second.   He writes, “it’s all too evident how pornography has benefited from the Internet. But, it’s less obvious to see how poetry has.”

For one, poetry might be dead or, at best, dying, as indicated by a National Endowment of the Arts study. And, if it’s not, it certainly is not a cultural product that is thriving outside of its self-contained circle of editors and writers. But, Ebenbach reflects, people like poetry when they encounter it, and the Internet allows for such chance, and free, poetic encounters to occur.

Most people simply don’t get a chance to encounter poetry in their daily lives. And, of course, they are not interested in actively seeking it out or spending money to get it. But since poets are used to giving away their work, there is a lot of good work available a cost-free click away. “For better or worse, poets have hardly ever expected to make a living from their verse,” Ebenbach explains, so “poets have adopted a metric for success that fits the Internet: we want readers, and the Web has some of those.”

Hordes of poets have taken to the Web to share and promote their work with the hope of building a following. But, as a poet who posts her work for free on a blog, I have to wonder what is the poetry world’s real end game here? Fame? Fortune certainly is not one. Are poets really going to be okay with performing a public service, so to speak, by giving out their work for others to read and enjoy? Because, if a writer’s work is already available for free on the Web, what are the real chances that people will want to buy a hard copy? Plus, a book requires more effort than the Web. You actually have to set aside a time to read.  Reading on the Web, even if it’s poetry, can easily be construed as work.

Ebenbach’s article glosses over the difficulty pornography is facing as profits shrink due to a proliferation of free versions of itself on the Web. Poets ought to at least consider what it means for their work and future that the only audience willing to read their writing wants it for free, and in its face.

— Ana Maria Caballero, Zeteo Contributing Writer

 

Photo credit: Photo found on WikiCommons with the following attribution: “Blindfolded Woman” by GrizzlyBear

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1 Comment to “Porn, then Poetry”

  1. Daniel D'Arezzo says:

    I did some arithmetic: The 6.7% of American adults who read at least one poem in 2012 comes to over 15 million people (around the population of America’s four largest cities), and this does not include the roughly 20% of sub-adults (around 60 million) who are exposed to poetry at least once a year in grades K-12, which exposure apparently vaccinates the vast majority of them against a chronic case of verses in adulthood. It makes me wonder whether changing the exposure that children have to poetry might reverse the trend and begin to grow the audience for poetry. When you consider the success of rap music, which is basically verse spoken to a beat, it seems possible that poetry could still find a larger audience. The question is, Do poets really want a larger audience? What’s wrong with “fit audience though few”?

    Everything under the sun is on the Internet, so one could as easily compare poetry to recipes and statistics as to porn. Perhaps there is some way for poetry to become interactive, as porn has become, so that Internet users could achieve a false sense of intimacy with poets. But, nah, ain’t gonna happen.

    I’m one of the few who go out of our way to read poems on the Internet. Since I live in Buenos Aires, I don’t have easy access to poetry journals in English, so the Internet is my best option. Most of the poems I read I don’t really like, but this is hardly a new phenomenon. When Christian Wiman was editor of Poetry magazine, he put together a hundredth-anniversary anthology of the journal’s best poems and he admitted that lots of dead wood had been published over the years. It is just really hard to write a good poem. I think part of the reason that many contemporary poets disdain formal verse is that it isn’t too hard to write a poem in a strict rhyme scheme with regular meter and even to say something witty and wise. Much of the dead wood in Poetry magazine did just that. Those of us who keep reading hope to discover the poem that does something completely unexpected, not to show how clever the poet is but how weird our world is.

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