I use to think of poetry blogs as a bunch of little fiefdoms from which poets proclaimed to the world their own genius or toadstools for the toadies among us to cozy up to writers or editors they thought might help further their own careers. I admit these preconceived notions are the main reasons why it took me so many years to start blogging in the first place. However, more and more, I am seeing the poetry blog, at least here in Canada, as the true marketplace of ideas. No more the spotty-faced teenage brat, the blogosphere is finally growing up.
More than just a place to staple-gun every positive review, pat on the back or passing remark someone makes about one’s poems, poetry blogs are eliciting real discussion amongst poets in a way that I have never seen before and, more importantly, I am noticing actual changes, shifts in our thinking about poetry. The internet is the great equalizer and no one voice, or group of voices, can dominate. Everyone is allowed to have their say, no matter how many choruses of mook pedants try to shout one down. You need only look at the recent hullabaloo about reviewing in Canada. Others and I have begun to raise our voices calling for a reexamination of what constitutes poetry reviewery in this country, something that is long overdue.
For instance, I wrote a piece about the dangers of aesthetic tribalism attaching itself to critical circles, for it often leads to the positing of one aesthetic stance over another under the guise of critical stewardship when really it is nothing more than personal bias or transparent agenda-setting, and was promptly denounced a critical relativist by those who have a stake in maintaining the status quo.
However, there have been many positive offshoots and ripple effects that have sprung up from these hot-topic discussions and lines drawn in the sand, the most notable being Sina Queyras’s sweeping compendium of reviewers on reviewing over on her own blog Lemon Hound which is currently garnering widespread praise here in Canada and the United States.
Where before many of my friends looked southward to U.S. publications for their poetry criticism because the readership in Canada was too small, and much of what passed itself off as “no-bullshit-hard-nosed criticism” was more often tied to a few small presses and power politics, there is now an optimistic feeling that things are finally changing for the better.
New voices are entering into the mix via the blogosphere, and hopefully many more voices are still to arrive in the coming year.
Indeed, it is my belief that poetry blogs have the advantage over print magazines in their ability to influence how we think and talk about poetry. More than just a series of inter-connected “dead letter offices” full of hyper-links, the real benefit of the poetry blogosphere is bloggers creating their own content and readers sharing their feedback. Sure there are still the self-aggrandizing “me” blogs and shameless attack blogs, but substantial poetry blogs that offer a diverse array of literary criticism, interviews, essays and social commentary are on the rise. What is more they are starting to determine what poets are talking about here in Canada.
So what are the print magazines to do? How can they keep up with the rapid exchange of ideas and commentaries offered by poetry blogs if they only publish three or four issues a year? Twice a year? I daresay it is a losing battle for them as poetry blogs are community-building in a way print magazines can only dream of being.
I suppose print magazines do not have to worry themselves too much just yet, for many still see blogs as virtual soapboxes, but with the rise of online poetry magazines such as Northern Poetry Review and Encore Literary Magazine, they might have some real cause for concern in the future. I can say unequivocally I still love print magazines and I am not willing to give up on them just yet. I subscribe to many both in Canada and the United States. The top shelf in my office is crammed to overflowing with dog-eared literary journals, their pages marked for reference or further reading.
However, I am not interested either in supporting literary magazines that purport to be national in character but are run more like club-houses or condescend to a readership which is by and large other poets. I can only imagine the days of such magazines are numbered.