Poetry is going through something of a public renaissance. Some may think that’s rather untrue to those long standing lovers of poetic verse, those who ventured to libraries, cafes, soirees and spoken word events alike before it was cool and part of the social media zeitgeist.
However, we cannot ignore the incredible rise in popularity and profitability of poetry not just as an art form of very personal catharsis and expression but as a genuine money making sector.
The way in which we engage with poetry indicates where we are technologically. Old media had the challenge and still has the challenge of transitioning from the printed page to multi-platforming across multiple channels across the Internet through websites and apps, finding ways of making a profit and delivering first class news to a wider readership. Poetry is no different in this regard.
Escaping from the confines of a limited reach in printed publications, to speak broadly, poetry has had the challenge of appealing to a new generation of reader that consumes information in the palm of their hand. E-readers and apps like Wattpad are a gateway to consuming literature, as well as producing it on and offline from the comfort of a device that can carry a whole library of content with none of the traditional setbacks like weight and wear.
Within this camp there are, again broadly speaking, two types of reader. One is the traditional reader with a long attention span who can read the whole Harry Potter collection, Jack Reacher, Sherlock Holmes and all of Shakespeare with the comfort of knowing that they don’t have to lug around their favourite physical copy, which lends itself to a more organic aesthetic pleasure of touch and smell.
The other reader is the bee. Consumption of journalistic by-lines and tweets is more their speed. Super-fast and to the point is the name of the game. Succinct potency trumps flowery paragraphs of plenty. These expresso-like consumers desire to digest much from very little. The haiku is a fine example of a poem that conveys much through very little and has done so for centuries.
This type of poetry however has only grown in popularity because of the rise in social media use which demands much more attention from all who use it, splintering attention and loyalty. Less truly has become more. It is not what is written but rather what can be derived from the little that has been. This has become a gateway into the wider writing world an alternate world wide web of pre-established rules of literature and literacy.
Herein lies the contentious debate. As more and more of this budding generation embark upon the wider writing world with preconceived ideas of what it is to be a writer of words, a mirror to the world, a poet even, they are being challenged. Good writing has nothing and never did have anything to do with good publicity of pictures or a well turned phrase alone, but rather a burnished body of work that pointed to a well-honed craft (often years in the making), an intent free of shallow desire alone (all writers have ego) and quick results and a passion to touch the world through the medium of the written word.
The world wide web has endowed the written word with a new power, digitally alive, these words now take on new meaning and resonance in ways writers decades before the Internet and longer perhaps had no concept of. Hashtags are portals to a world of associated visual synonyms and followings that bolster the word with each new entry. The way we combine words and images to arrive at memes, for example, has become a cultural phenomenon and an experience that has changed how we see certain words and in general, how we use them.
The saying A picture is worth a thousand words in the information age of Instagram truly holds new and powerful resonance. The instantaneous efficiency with which we send out a search of a word to get a returned answer is incredible, the deus ex machina of the search engine has perhaps stripped us of a deeper curiosity and affected the way we engage with vocabulary. The art of deciphering has changed forever, there is no mystery, no music in our pursuit. Though it can be argued there is music in, it is just the melody has changed, the efficiency with which we delve into unlimited pools of knowledge so casually is unprecedented and impressive.
Poetry has often been described as being a mirror held up to the world, so maybe it is accurate in its assessment that the popular poetry of the day is often short and plain to the point of mosaics of everyday conversation passed off as insightful meaning, colourfully eye catching, instantaneously gratifying pieces of “art”. The jury is still out. Many argue that its lack of depth is ironically the point while others genuinely subscribe to the camp that these are works of brilliance.
Ever the rational, I’m somewhere in the middle. At university I was told that the sector I was going into (journalism) was dying in its current form and would have to regenerate and be born anew online to meet the needs of a new type of reader. The other half of my degree was in creative writing; my lecturers were encouraging us to explore avenues ranging from writing on several platforms to old school pen and paper. However the poetry ‘scene’ itself seemed a lot slower to cop on to the transition. That being said, there were and are many initiatives funded by the art council of England, the national poetry library, a plethora of publishers and independently organised poetry events and competitions. Its popularity however did not soar to such dizzying heights of social importance as it currently holds.
Sometimes however all that is needed is a little publicity, a perfectly tried and proven paradigm to convince others to invest and take interest. A social media campaign, or the well timed perfect storm of a scandal to raise a few eyebrows to get people talking and eventually, with the right marketing-buying. Traditional publishers have been taking note, watching with interest and finally stepping into the arena and plucking individuals they deem marketable. In the information age craft is only half the battle, calculation makes up for the other. The mathematics of consistent viewers, listeners, fans and followers stands as a currency that is more valuable at times than even money. Interaction and connection is king, not cash.
Many writers have truly blossomed with support garnered online. Heights ranging from stepping into the world wide web to enter the wider writing world as a beginner, testing their work upon the ears and eyes of peers in online social groups, LIVE hostings and forums to making a fully fledged living out of a passion via Patreon and YouTube, sidestepping traditional publication routes in favour of a path that invites arguably more intimacy and connection with the niche they write for. The Internet is a different type of gatekeeper for better or worse, the great equaliser.