In my last column of the fall semester, I offered some books I consider among the best of 2010. But let’s say you got an iPad for Christmas instead of a box of books. (In which case, well done). Maybe you find turning pages a bit too 20th century. Or maybe you’re sitting in my class right now — laptop raised like a barricade in front of you — and you’re too bored to listen, but you’ve already updated your status and Googled yourself and your exes.
In my first column of the new semester and the new year, then, I want to suggest some online resources to enrich your experience of poetry in 2011. Just as importantly, if by some cruel trick of the verse gods this column represents your only interaction with poetry, I think you deserve the chance to read some other opinions about what makes a good poem, and what it is that makes poetry so good.
No matter your stage of involvement with poetry, one of the best places to start your browsing, reading or even research is the Poetry Foundation’s website. As the parent organization of Poetry magazine, the Poetry Foundation has made one of its goals the support and promotion of poetry in communities everywhere, both physical and virtual. The volume of information on the site’s front page can make you feel as if you’ve just downed your second Monster Energy — but once the shock wears off, you can search for poems by theme, poet or even occasion. You can also follow the site’s blog, Harriet, on which a rolling cycle of poets muse or grouse about the craft.
Good as the Poetry Foundation is, it suffers from a lack common to many American poets, anthologies and websites: an awareness of up-and-coming international poets. Sure, you can find books by international Nobel laureates easily enough. There’s nothing wrong with reading Nobel laureates, just like there’s nothing wrong with seeing Springsteen at the Giants Stadium in 2009. But it’s something else to have seen him at the Stone Pony in 1975.
You can’t return to Asbury Park 35 years ago, but you can visit Poetry International Web today. Poetry International presents poets — emerging and established — from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. Tour the site. Read poems translated from Arabic or written in Nigerian English. Print out a few pages if you’d like. For once, it can be you reading the most obscure-sounding author outside Café Ambrosia — and helping that poet become a little less obscure.
Other sites offer a new poem each week or even each day. The web magazine Slate publishes a poem most Tuesdays, selected by former poet laureate Robert Pinsky. Pinsky has excellent taste, but you may be just as fortunate to visit the site on a day when he is reading and commenting on a poem from the annals of the language. You can read a poem a day from a variety of aesthetics — as well as news from the poetry world — at Poetry Daily and Verse Daily.
Pinsky’s Favorite Poem Project — initiated when he was U.S. Poet Laureate — features Americans of various backgrounds and occupations reciting and commenting on their favorite poems. Watching and listening to these clips is an invigorating way to remember it’s not just English professors and Daily columnists who care about poetry.
If you find poetry you meet in class to be too difficult or absurd, you may be relieved by what you find at Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac and Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry. Keillor and Kooser tend to publish poems that are witty, accessible and frequently Midwestern in sensibility.
If the idea of reading poems selected by Ted Kooser makes you want to drown your sorrows in apple pie and decaf, you may already know about Silliman’s Blog. But if you don’t know the poet, computer programmer and blogger Ron Silliman, he writes one of the most widely read and respected poetry blogs on the net. Unapologetically committed to the avant-garde, Silliman’s opinions are frequently idiosyncratic and sometimes controversial, but almost always compelling reading.
Poetry and blogging seem to go together like — well, like apple pie and decaf. Other poets who blog, sometimes even about poetry, include Eduardo C. Corral, Philip Metres, Aimee Nezhukumatathil and C. Dale Young. Many literary magazines and organizations now publish blogs too, including Ploughshares and VIDA: Women in Literary Arts.
This column is short, and the Internet is long. My list cannot begin to represent the poetry available there, much less be comprehensive. I’ve left out many fascinating developments with an online presence, from performance poems to Flarf and Fibs. So if you read this and cannot believe that I’ve forgotten your favorite poetry website, please let me know via e-mail. By then it will probably be time to check Facebook again anyway.