Last night I had a lovely reading at the Mendocino Hotel where I sold four books to a sparse audience. But they were attentive and I had a grand time. Doing what I do best, reading from my own work, always pumps me up! I got to bed late. But what a pleasure to fulfill your calling--a calling with which those who have followed this blog are familiar.
Today at Poets.org in a discussion of the effect of online poetry boards, I had this to say.
I have nursed these questions for years, having begun the Melic Roundtable poetry board in 1998, shutting it down in roughly 2006 when barbarians invaded. We did not require registration at the board, one of the last "free" boards, and the moderators had no power to delete. For a while we had a thriving culture, winning more IBPC awards than any other board. But it collapsed and policing didn't interest me.
The main difficulty in poetry boards is separating the unfledged from the advanced, so that beginners are not cudgeled into despair nor the elite bored and disgusted. Many boards now include levels to join by personal choice, as in the "Merciless and Possibly Painful Critique" at the Poetry Free-for-All (I don't necessarily recommend this board but here's the link: http://www.everypoet.org/pffa/ )
The proliferation of boards has definitely diluted the quality, say since 2003. At that time there was great competition between a few boards for primacy: Melic, Alsop, and Web del Sol among them.
It is the grand disparity in craft and talent that "dumbs down" boards into factories of misguided compliments. I suspect the best poetry workshops reside in private listservs or carefully guarded posting areas. Zeugma was an early example of this, producing a number of fine poets before it ceased.
Ultimately it's like tennis: always play a slightly better player. But for those of us who have published widely and have non-vanity books, where do we find these players? Certainly the exalted like Ashbery, Murray, Strand and Levine don't play anywhere.
To speak the truth, I wager that most advanced poets have little patience with fledglings, despite the encouragement ladled out at seminars and as MFA instructors expected to be "nice" for the continuing income generated. Here capitalism largely prevents excellence IMHO. The similar "never a discouraging word" culture practiced at so many boards is maddening. Fear of hurting the feelings of the callow will soon make a more discerning critic into a skunk at a garden party (to use a much worn trope).
So rather than deride the existence of mediocre boards, or promote the severity of a board as I mentioned above, I think the best solution is a listserv or personal correspondence between poets of roughly the same level instead of the potpourri nature of boards and their subcultures of obvious glad-handing.
Lastly, "Fleet Street" has always existed, famously satirized in Pope's "The Dunciad." Its proliferation on the net is not a new development, but an inevitable consequence of tyros reaching for the laurel. To this we ought to be accustomed by history.
You can always find me at Facebook now as Craig Erick Chaffin. As I said in a previous post, I think Facebook and Twitter are driving down the popularity of blogs, save the exalted, group blogs (like Huffington's) that have morphed into profit generating enterprises.
At 1 Kilobunny (though I did get very pumped up after the reading as I always do),
C. E. Chaffin