Poetry is dead

by Steve Watson in April 2010
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This month’s Stack delivery went out on Friday, including a free gift in the shape of Popshot, “a poetry and illustration magazine gently intent on hoodwinking poetry back from the clammy hands of school anthologies and funeral readings”.

It’s a lovely looking thing that pairs poets up with illustrators to create spreads with a poem on the left hand page and its own illustration opposite it. I don’t know if it works as well for all readers, but I find myself reading the poem, contemplating the illustration opposite, then going back to read the poem again, which seems like a nice way to enjoy both.

I was reminded of this reading experience when a Canadian magazine called Poetry is Dead landed on my desk this week. Now in its second issue, PiD is home to some really outstanding poetry, but it was editor Daniel Zomparelli’s letter and his introductory essay that particularly caught my attention.

Poetry, he says, has fallen between the cracks. Poetry books don’t sell so shops are giving them less space, and because poetry doesn’t sell, professional writers are turning instead to fiction in the hope of at least paying the bills. But that doesn’t mean nobody’s writing poetry. The internet allows anyone to publish their work, and has given rise to the internet poet:

“Readers of poetry have now been given the awful job of managing the slush pile. Do you follow poetry on Twitter? Then you too are bombarded with irrelevant, awkward 140-character haikus. Found a poetry blog? Well, then you’ve read thousands of self-published poems that haven’t made it past the editing stage… And even when you find a poem online, the quick pace of the internet has you skimming it, rather than indulging in its intricacies. An advertisement or link often has you clicking off the page just as soon as you’ve clicked on.”

It’s yet another reminder of why magazines are important. Popshot and PiD do two quite different things, but in essence they both solicit work, trim it back to the best bits and then present it in a practical, attractive format. And that, basically, is what all magazines do.

I had a very interesting conversation with Astrid from Issuu earlier in the week (more on that later) so I’ve been spending a lot of time in the last couple of days looking at electronic magazines. Issuu is a brilliant way for magazines to spread the word about what they do, but it also serves to demonstrate the strength of the paper object. When you’re reading a real magazine there are no links to click, no search bar tempting you to find out more about what you just read. In fact, when you’re reading a paper magazine you can’t really do anything else that takes a great deal of attention.

Real magazines are limiting, but it’s within those limits that a connection can be formed between the reader and the thing they’re holding in their hands. The iPad is a hugely exciting development for magazine publishing because it offers the potential for a whole new type of magazine that both limits and liberates its reader. Whether that’s actually possible remains to be seen, but there are lots of people who’ll tell you that print is dying so the iPad and its like are the only hope for magazines.

Poetry is dead, print is dying, but something tells me we’ll be seeing a lot more of both for a long time to come.

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