But now it's all different. As Steve puts it,
Every week, every day, I get email and Facebook notices and for that matter word of mouth about the latest debate or commentary or controversy or metapoetic metaconversation (sometimes it’s even attached to actual poems) on one of three dozen fine websites and active blogs and web-only or web-mostly mostly-poetry magazines...Man do I sympathize. With the expansion of the internet as the primary medium of poetry, & of the endless chatter of poetry-promotion & poetry-discussion – of pobiz, in short – it feels like there's been an exponential explosion of poetic activity out there, so much being written & published & written about that no-one, but no-one, is able to grasp more than a tiny fraction of it. Ron Silliman, in various blog-posts, has celebrated the explosion of poetic activity; lots of curmudgeonly types have grumbled that the poetic world's going to hell in a handbasket, now that everybody's gotten into the game (paging Dr. Pope – an outbreak of Duncitis...).
My own sense is that something real is indeed happening, if not in terms of the proportion of the body politic writing poetry or maybe the raw numbers of poets active, but certainly in terms of the increased availability of poetry & the discourse surrounding it. There's clearly more out there to be read. But perhaps more importantly, the internet, & such devices as a poet-heavy Facebook friends list, work to give one the momentary illusion that if one had the time & energy, one could somehow get a handle on it all. One could, like Milton, read all the books that matter.
But that's never really been the case, at least not in our lifetimes. Every year, I discover poets who by rights I ought to have been reading back in the late '80s. When I'm reduced to madras shorts and a white patent leather belt (the local octagenarian uniform), I hope to be discovering poets of the 2000s & 2010s I'd somehow missed. And that's part of the process of one's reading life, I keep saying to myself, trying to muster a zen-like equanimity about my own absymal out-of-it-ness. The internet wants me to believe that I can have it all, right now. But the state of not being able to have it all, of having to pick and choose & have things picked & chosen for one, is in the end the human condition. Or at least my human condition.
On t'other hand, the irrepressible gadfly Kenneth Goldsmith would taunt us – or at least taunts Steve B. – with the prospect of a veritable tsunami of recycled, reframed, & regurgitated preexisting texts, repackaged & put on display by a new generation of "language hoarders" who have no interest in outmoded ideas of "originality" or "expression." "This ain’t E-poetry or Net Art: this is all about a basic change in the ways in which we use language," Kenny G. tells us with glee: "We will never write the same way again."
Don't get me wrong: I'm fascinated by projects like those of KG, or Vanessa Place, or Craig Dworkin, etc. I've screened "Sucking on Words," the Goldsmith documentary, for a half-dozen poetry classes, & have seen the best minds of my last undergraduate generation promptly set to work cannibalizing their Facebook feeds and text messages to reframe them as poetry. It's a little too early, however, to put to rest a several-millennia-long habit of making poems out of the air, stringing words together in combinations that strike one as new. The internet will probably have as deep an impact on human verbal sensibilities as the printing press or the codex did, but I suspect one impact it won't have is to wipe out the human tendency towards verbal creation, in favor of varieties of repackaging preexisting word-strings.
And anyway, it's too early to tell, innit? Part of me sees Kenny G's flood-tide of digital verbiage as a kind of cottage industry version of what late capitalism is already doing with language; part of me strives desperately to see some kind of subversive potential in the new conceptualism. But my hunch is that it's always going to be in coexistence with more or less old-fashioned compositional impulses.
My own gesture towards temporarily reefing sails in the face of the hurricane of poetry – as I think I've mentioned – has been, for the better part of the dire "National Poetry Month," instead of reading as I usually do a dozen or so newish slim volumes of contemporary verse, to read straight thru Christopher Ricks's Oxford Book of English Verse. Not the best anthology around, but by no means a bad one, & at the moment the handiest. Just finished it this morning; more on that later.