Is the line-break the defining element in a poem? Can poems be poured onto electronic screens without violating the sanctity of the line? How can we be sure the poet’s artistic choices are preserved when poems migrate from the printed page to digital media? These questions have been hovering in the world of online poetry since the beginning of the digital age (see our previous postings on these topics listed below)—and while they are certainly not settled issues, at least some of the major poetry publishers have begun to work towards practical answers, translating poetry books into electronic format.
from Associated Press:
“Poetry Finally Joining E-book Revolution,” by Hillel Italie
“The problem had been how to transfer a poem from paper to screen without either breaking a line up—a primal violation of the art form—or making the font size too small to read. It’s unlikely that publishers can design a perfect solution, but they have managed to find acceptable compromises. In part, they credit advances in technology that make it easier to keep the original look intact. They also cite a technique long used in print.... The hanging indent.” [Guide note: The funny thing is, news stories online don’t use the hanging indent, so the example that follows, showing its use in the iPad version of a Sharon Olds poem, is invisible.]
Past Postings on Poetry’s Migration to Electronic Screens:
“iPad Poetry: It’s the Real Deal” (2012)
“Poems Mangled in the Move from Page to Screen” (2010)
“Misprints—Are They Serendipity, Inspiration or Embarrassment?” (2008)
“Typos Are Like Viruses.... They Replicate on the Net” (2007)
When this Web site was new, back in 1997, we published an article on poem phone phenomena around the U.S., cataloguing the local phone lines devoted to putting poems in people’s ears. A few years later, most of those phone lines were dead. But there’s something special about the private experience of listening to a poem read to you on the telephone—and we wonder if that experience can be replicated on the Internet.
John Giorno originated the Dial-a-Poem concept in New York in 1969—his 10 phone lines offered recordings by people like Allen Ginsberg, Ed Sanders, Ted Berrigan, William Burroughs, Anne Waldman and Diane di Prima. Many of the Giorno Poetry Systems recordings now reside online at UbuWeb Sound.
In 2009, Kelly Writers House created a Dial-a-Poem phone line using recordings from its PennSound archives. Does anyone know if this phone number still works?
In 2012 the Museum of Modern Art revived Dial-a-Poem for its “Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Language” exhibition. You could call 347-POET001 (a local New York City number) to hear poems the old-fashioned way, on the telephone, or visit MOMA’s Dial-a-Poem Web site to play a poem online.
What do you think, folks? Does filling your ears with a poem from an online audio archive recreate the intimate experience of hearing a poem read to you on a telephone receiver? Or are we just indulging in misplaced nostalgia? If you know about any currently working Dial-a-Poem numbers, please, please, come back and tell us about them by commenting below.
Here at About.com Poetry, we’re immersed in classic poems that compress history and link us to the experiences and understandings of the poets of many past times. Still, every so often lately I look up from my computer screen and find myself thinking, “We’ve lived into the future”—where speculation leaks into real life, and science fiction becomes everyday reality. And there are poems here, too, in the borderlands between science and science fiction.
Last week, NASA announced a campaign to gather haiku to go to Mars on the MAVEN (“Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission”) spacecraft, launching this November. MAVEN is intended to study the loss of Mars’ atmosphere and water, opening a scientific window into the red planet’s climate history and its ability to support life in the past. As it has with other recent missions, NASA is seeking to generate public interest by asking people to sign up and send their names into space—more than 1.2 million names already went to Mars on the Curiosity rover. But this time they are also collecting haiku poems, putting them up for a public vote, and sending the top three to Mars along with the names of everyone who submitted a poem. So, poets, get to it! Write a haiku for Mars, and send it in.
There are also poems that live in we might call “SciFi” land—deeper into the realm of speculation. Here’s a recent sampling:
- Les Murray’s New Yorker poem “Science Fiction,” perfectly capturing the timeslip sensation of having lived into the future
- The Science Fiction Poetry Association, founded in 1978 by Suzette Haden Elgin to bring together readers and writers of scifi poetry, and its quarterly Star*Line, where you can read editor’s choice poems from past issues online
- Suzette Haden Elgin’s essay, “About Science Fiction Poetry,” illustrated with two of her poems, “Brochure From the Intensive Care Ward: 2081” and “Psalm To a Higher Power”
- Isaac Asimov’s editorial on poetry, explaining why Asimov’s Science Fiction publishes mostly light, rhymed verse
- SciFaiku— scifi poems in haiku form
- Rebecca Ariel Porte’s io9 survey of contemporary poetry recommended for scifi readers who “want to get [their] feet wet in the world of poetry,” “The Best Books of Poetry For Every Kind of Science Fiction Fan,” as well as her list of “Ten Great Scifi Poems.”
Some of the shortest poetic forms are most difficult: the triolet, for instance. Like the pantoum, a triolet takes part of its structure from the repetition of entire lines—in fact, three of its lines are repeated, so that the poet only actually has to compose five lines to write a triolet. This extreme repetition, and the fact that only two rhymes can be used in the eight-line poem, restricts the language so tightly that both poet and reader must focus on the very subtle ways in which the sound and meaning of the same words evolves line by line during the progress of the poem.
Examples of triolets in our library:
“Triolet” by Robert Bridges (1876)
“How Great My Grief” by Thomas Hardy (1901)
“The Coquette, and After” (a pair of triolets) by Thomas Hardy (1901)
“Winter in Durnover Field” by Thomas Hardy
Four Triolets by Sara Teasdale (1911)
We can think of no better way to mark May’s arrival than to debut our collection of classic poems inspired by gardening and the garden environment. The idea of a garden—a cultivated enclosure, a sanctuary both for the fauna and flora nurtured within its bounds and for the men and women who tend them—has been an important metaphor for poets going back to the very beginning. But it takes many forms and permutations....
In the story of the first garden, the Biblical Garden of Eden is created by God as a home for Adam and Eve, and it is only after the Fall, when they are banished from Eden, that they must do the work of cultivation to feed themselves.... The gardener’s speech in Shakespeare’s Richard II is a parable of pruning, teaching the importance of cutting out the weeds and “superfluous branches” in a kingdom or a garden.... Andrew Marvell takes both sides of the metaphor, celebrating the joys of solitude in the enclosure of “The Garden” and complaining about the hazards of over-meddling gardeners in “The Mower, Against Gardens”.... For Coleridge, the garden begins as a prison where he is confined while his friends wander in wild, sublime nature, but in the end, ever the Romantic, he learns to take pleasure in its enclosed beauty:
“No plot so narrow, be but Nature there,Our collection goes on to measure the manifold effects of gardens and gardening on many other poets: Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Deserted Garden” remembered from childhood.... Matthew Arnold’s celebration of London’s urban refuge in Kensington Gardens.... Walt Whitman’s miraculous compost.... Robert Louis Stevenson’s view of the worker-bee gardener through the eyes of a grasshopper child.... Amy Lowell’s luxurious Imagist view “Behind a Wall”.... Edna St. Vincent Millay’s wry parable of “Blight”.... e.e. cummings’ early sonnet “ This is the garden: colors come and go”.... and Robert Frost’s village story of “A Girl’s Garden”.... Enjoy the fruits and flowers of these cultivations!
No waste so vacant, but may well employ
Each faculty of sense, and keep the heart
Awake to Love and Beauty!”
William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy were separated in childhood after their parents died, but developed a very close relationship as adults and spent the rest of their lives together, even after William was married to Mary Hutchinson. Dorothy and William walked the Lake District hills together, her detailed observations of the natural world served as inspiration for his poems (he wrote “She gave me eyes, she gave me ears...”), and she contributed her ideas to the poetic discussions between Wordsworth and Coleridge. Dorothy kept journals—intended not for publication, but solely for William’s eyes—and their publication a century later opened a window on the writing life of a Romantic poet. After reading those journals, British biographer Frances Wilson wrote The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth: A Life (published by Faber in the UK, 2008, Farrar, Straus & Giroux in the US, 2009 ), a fascinating story of the intertwined lives of a poet and his sister and helpmate.
In The Telegraph, Frances Wilson explained how she came to write the biography, after discovering in the journals a Dorothy very different from the accepted stereotypical “maiden aunt”:
“A demure virgin? Not the Dorothy I know”
When the book was published by Faber in the United Kingdom, a good number of illuminating reviews came out in UK newspapers:
from The Telegraph:
“Wordsworth’s intriguing sister Dorothy,” by Caroline Moore
“This account is actually constructed, with scrupulous care, from Dorothy’s own words.... Frances Wilson is meticulously aware of the ‘tantalising economy’ of Dorothy’s writings, and how they resist our intrusive sympathies.”
from The Guardian:
“More than her brother's keeper...,” by Virginia Rounding
“Frances Wilson’s The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth reveals a passionate, talented woman whose love for her brother defined her and finally destroyed her.”
also from The Guardian:
“The agony, the ecstasy and the hot soup,” by Andrew Motion
“...a subtle and iconoclastic life of Wordsworth’s brilliant and devoted sister.... By aligning her life with his, and assuming from early womanhood that they would always be together in some kind of menage or other, she discovered freedom and self-validation but also embraced self-denial.”
And when The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth appeared in the United States, Frances Wilson spoke to National Public Radio about the relationship between Dorothy and William:
from All Things Considered:
“Sister Act: A New Take On Dorothy Wordsworth”
“Wilson describes the relationship as ‘extraordinary.’ In some ways, she says, it was the most passionate relationship of both of their lives.... On the night before William’s marriage, Dorothy wore the ring he intended to give his bride. She later detailed her brother’s wedding in her journal, writing:
On Monday, the 4 of October 1802, my brother William was married to Mary Hutchinson. I slept a good deal of the night and rose fresh and well in the morning. At a little after 8 o’clock, I saw them go down the avenue towards the church.... I kept myself as quiet as I could, but when I saw the two men coming up the walk coming to tell me it was over, I could bear it no longer and threw myself on the bed, where I lay in stillness, neither hearing, nor seeing anything.Following her brother’s marriage, Dorothy retreated to the top room of the cottage, where she lived for the next 20 years—a sort of mad woman in the attic, according to Wilson.... But Dorothy’s voluntary seclusion wasn’t permanent; when her brother died she reemerged as her old self: ‘It was as though William Wordsworth was holding her back,’ says Wilson. ‘When he’d gone, she could breathe again.’”
More on William Wordsworth:
Profile of William Wordsworth, seminal British Romantic poet
Library of poems by Wordsworth
Memory and Nature: A Guide to William Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey"
Wordsworth’s Daffodils Spring Up on YouTube
Poems are coming to life in performance all over the US this National Poetry Month, and if you’re looking for the definitions of the New Performance Poetry, this is the place ask your Poetry Guide Bob Holman. See his manifesto “Open Mic: Definitions, Rules, Etiquette, Irony.” The poetry open mic is “a meta-metaphor for freedom, a place where your art can be presented to the public at large,” a place where “all humans are created equal—so long as you don’t go over the time limit!” Our archive of articles on poetry slam, spoken word, and the late 20th century performance poetry renaissance is a historical treasure trove.
Then if you want further definitions from the younger generation, Eman’s the one to ask: she was just 16 and already hosting two weekly open mics when we interviewed her in the millennium year, “HipHop, Performance Poetry, Spoken Word, Slam: Definitions from a Teenager.”
And then it will be time to get out there and join in the fun—an endeavor for which you might want to consult our performance poetry how-tos:
Many of the formal kinds of poetry we know in English today can be traced to origins in the poems and songs of French troubadours of the 12th and 13th centuries, and many of those fixed forms are cousins, from the rondeau with its repeating refrain and strict rhyme scheme, to the brief and even more tightly rhymed triolet, to the complex scheme of alternating refrain lines that marks the villanelle. We’ve just added two more kinds of “round” poems to our glossary of poetic forms—the rondel, presumably a relative of the rondeau, also deriving its name from the French word for “round” (in this case “little round”), and the roundel, Algernon Charles Swinburne’s variant form invented in the 19th century. Our library has selected examples of all these forms, for poets and readers alike to share the fun in serious word play.
One of the best ideas that has taken root in April as part of National Poetry Month is Poem in Your Pocket Day—this year today’s the day, Thursday, April 18. It began more than a decade ago in New York City, and the Academy of American Poets has made Poem in Your Pocket Day a truly national celebration. “The idea is simple: select a poem you love... then carry it with you to share with co-workers, family, and friends.”
You could choose a familiar classic nursery rhyme or a poem by Emily Dickinson or William Blake, since so many of theirs are truly pocket-sized... or browse through the library here at About.com Poetry—we have the poems indexed by title and by poet’s name... or click around in AAP’s collection of PDF poems... or copy out a favorite from one of the books on your shelf at home... just don’t leave home without your poem on Thursday, and don’t forget to take it out of your pocket and read it to someone during the day!
Maybe, just maybe, the lingering mystery and suspicions surrounding the death of Pablo Neruda 40 years ago are about to be put to rest. This week the Chilean government exhumed his body for tests to determine whether the cause of the poet’s demise was poison, as suspected by some of the people who saw him in his last days. We’ve seen Neruda’s passing ascribed to causes as various as prostate cancer, leukemia, and heart failure, but because he died less than two weeks after the coup that brought down his friend Salvador Allende and ended his hopes for a Marxist government in Chile, because he was planning to go into exile in Mexico, because the power of his political voice would have made him a likely target of the new military regime, because his home was searched and ransacked by the army, and because of the rumors of a strange injection given by an unknown doctor at the clinic where he died, the questions persist.
from The Guardian (UK):
“Pablo Neruda: Chile’s beloved poet endures, as do questions over his death,” by Mike Gonzalez
“Forty years after his death, the body of a poet will be gently disinterred from his grave at Isla Negra, on Chile’s Pacific coast. The hope is that Pablo Neruda’s remains will answer a question that has exercised Chileans ever since his sudden death. Was he murdered by the military regime that killed his old friend, Salvador Allende, on 11 September 1973? Or did he die of natural causes, or of sorrow, just 12 days later?... Neruda’s funeral procession was delayed by Pinochet’s regime for two months; but in the end, it was the only public demonstration the military dictatorship could not suppress. Ten thousand people marched through Santiago, chanting ‘Neruda presente’ - ‘Neruda is with us’....”
Perhaps the scientists can settle the issue once and for all... or then again, perhaps it has been too long and there will be no definitive answer.
from Nature International weekly journal of science:
Can forensics establish whether Pablo Neruda was poisoned?,” by Michele Catanzano
A brief outline of what is being done and comment from scientists explaining why the exhumation of Neruda&8217;s remains “might raise as many questions as it answers.”
And before the results are in, people are already trying to shape the significance of his death. Some say the exhumation and investigation are “creepy,” while others insist on the necessity of knowing “the truth.”
from The New York Times:
“Disturbing Pablo Neruda’s Rest,” by Ilan Stavans
“There is something gothic, but also cathartic, about summoning artists like Neruda, and his close friend García Lorca, back into the realm of the living, making us wonder if death is really the end. A Chilean judge’s decision, in February, to allow an investigation into Neruda’s death, which led to this week’s exhumation, looks like an act of expiation.... Neruda... is the poet of the eternal present. He revealed to us the best antidote to oppression (and its most noxious companion, oblivion): poetry. On its surface, a poem seems incapable of stopping a bullet. Yet Chile’s transition to democracy was facilitated by the poet’s survival in people’s minds, his lines repeated time and again, as a form of subversion. Life cannot be repressed, he whispered in everyone’s ears. It was a message for which he may have died, but that lives on in his verse.”
In the meantime, someone in Scotland has carved Neruda’s words on the landscape, creating a permanent memorial.
from BBC News Highlands & Islands (UK):
Mystery over tribute to Nobel Prize poet
“While examining the Old Red Sandstone reefs at the west end of the remote beach at Bay of Sannick near to John O’Groats, I became aware of the carving on an adjacent reef being exposed as the tide dropped. Subsequent research revealed it to be the whole of number XVII of Pablo Neruda’s suite of poems, Las Piedras del Cielo - Stones of the Sky.”
More on Pablo Neruda:
Profile of Pablo Neruda, with recommended book links
Pablo Neruda: Was His Death Disease or Murder? (2011)
Neruda and Ferlinghetti: Two 20th Century Poetic Icons Captured on Film (2006)
Mountains and Craters, Books and Films: Neruda Centenary Celebrations (2004)
Neruda: Politics and Poetical Judgment (2004)
The Sound of Thunder Visits Neruda’s Land, Rattapallax in Chile (2004), by José Ignacio Silva A.