Poets Take the Twenty-First Century

I’m right now sitting in a cafe in Iowa City reading. There’s not much unusual about this situation. But I’ve finally managed to prioritize reading The Poetry Foundation’s recently released Poetry and New Media User’s Guide. The lovely 74-page pdf is split into two sections: Legal Issues and The Lifeline of Poetry. My husband, a new media and technology educator in Cambridge, MA, is sitting beside me (an unusual situation) reading the first section. I’m focusing on the second.

What’s really great about this guide so far is how deeply engaged it is with all of these issues. The first section provides a comprehensive discussion of fair use, Creative Commons, and the sometimes competing concerns of greater access to poetry and compensation for reproduction of poetry. What stands out to me from this section is this: “Members of the poetry community should be aware that when fair use is not practiced and defended within a community, the community risks losing the right to fair use in practice.” The report cites specific examples of poets and critics coming up against a situation where their fair use of material for scholarly work was not defended, and suggests that because Universities and publishers either can’t afford or don’t want to devote their energy in defending these uses, literary scholarship and access to poetry is severely restricted and damaged.

In the second section the group proposes the creation of a “National Study Guide” for poetry that is, to say the least, ambitious in scope. I’m gratified that the eighth item on their list of twenty-three things this guide would do is:

Include poems from languages other than English, providing the opportunity for the user to
consider how we translate from one culture and language into another and, when possible, to
demonstrate and practice translation with the students

Although something about this fetishization of translated poetry concerns me. It’s essential, of course, to engage with translated literature as translated literature, but equally to treat it as literature, as important as English-language literature and perhaps more-so.

My purpose here is not to nit-pick over how translated poetry should be taught or read or guided. It’s to say that I’m encouraged by The Poetry Foundation’s thoughtful leap into the new media conversation, and grateful that there is an organization concerned with keeping literature (some of it in translation) current with the technologies and possibilities of the twenty-first century. Their guide is comprehensive, and relevant to anyone interested in the potentials of new media as it relates to literary arts. Or new media at all. And most especially poetry.

Their ultimately democratizing drive, consistent with that of new media, is heartening (though perhaps contradictory to some of their other efforts). They write in their statement of shared beliefs:

That, over the long term, efforts to limit access to poetry and other important artistic and cultural
works tend to have negative consequences that outweigh imagined positive consequences

and

That centralization of power and control over poetry and its distribution may lead to less
diversity in poetry and poets and less, not more, access to them

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