Sunday, August 30, 2009

On Poetry Boards; Last Night's Reading

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 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: )

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


  1. Anonymous4:37 PM PDT

    I don't care, I still miss Melic- it's tought to find places for my poetry to be read other than zines and personal chapbooks.

    Want to watch a great movie? Check out "I served the King of England" it's Polish with subtitles but it's worth it- I promise.


  2. I think the kind of board you want might be achieved were it created by invitation only.

    Thumbs up as well to one-on-one private critique which actually can be and is quietly done on existing boards.


  3. the best crits I have ever received were in email, between two people who liked each other's work, respected it, and were not close buddies. (with a few exceptions.) In a poetry forum what you get sometimes is nine or ten people giving you nine or ten ways to improve a piece, and you end up not liking any of them or even yours. It can be daunting.

    I loved Melic, CE, I had my own personal problems with Gazebo (I am one of the many, the proud, the occasionally banned), and was active at Web del Sol until I burnt out. What finally sent me away from poetry forums was the proliferation of 'traveling poems', the same poem appearing on three or four or more sites at the same time, all crit'ed by the same people doing the same thing.
    And it always was it an honor to be published in Melic Review, a class act, all the way.

    Invitation only seems a good way to go, but it would have to be handled carefully, to avoid that kind of clique-ish atmosphere where everyone loves everyone else's stuff automatically. Tricky business, this crit stuff.

  4. Good comments. Good to have comments on this, my now infrequent blog. Yes, Mittens, you're right: how to make the right mix from invitations. I think most importantly the originator must admire the craft of those invited, even if he does not favor their styles. Heterodoxy is needed for cross-pollination. The more I think about this, the more I'm tempted. There is no board I know where quality is recognized as such. Recently I saw ten people comment at a board without looking up the key word to the poem they admittedly didn't understand--just the name of a type of tree, easily looked up. The same laziness appears in their poems.

    I imagine narcissists at night re-reading their own critiques like precious pearls, also willfully increasing the number of posts to their poems by replying to every nit until the trail of comments might make one think the poem was worth comment. And then moderators naturally get more attention as people wish to ascend the brown-nosing line into some kind of anal ether.

    I would like a workshop that fostered my growth, not my cynicism. Will let everyone know if I start such a thing again. But please, let me know if you know of a discerning board where I may play.


  5. I still think a loosely-structured one-on-one session with a friend is probably the best way to go. At least the easiest, and often the most productive.
    When I was board editor at Web del Sol I was involved with at least half a dozen of those kinds of personal crit sessions, and then we went our separate ways; we've never communicated since, but the dialogue as well as the crits were extremely valuable, and sometimes the back and forth dialogue is more important to the development of a poem--and the poet--than nuts and bolts changes.

    I like to discuss a poem that's being critiqued, whether it's mine or other guy's, and that is just not done on larger, faster moving boards, which often work on an assembly line principle. In email there is time to reflect, to question, to discover.

    And yes, as I age I have less and less patience with anyone who looks at a strange word (these are obviously not readers of anything) and says, "what does THAT mean?"
    Look it up, look it up

  6. I'm with Shann (who incidentally, is the kind person who introduced me to Melic via another poetry board). I still miss the hell out of Melic. I rarely workshop anywhere anymore and I still miss Melic.

    I'm glad I was a part of it while it was alive and roaring.

    My goodness, what a damned good poetry board it was.

  7. Yep, yep; there seems to be a space now where it should be, the way there's a space where that old tooth was, and I keep checking, just in case it came back

    And Melic always, always, put out a first class ezine.

  8. Heck, the Earth is bipolar.
    It's them thar monpolars that worry moi.

  9. Bagology12:52 AM PDT

    Restarting the Melic board is a wonderful idea. It may not work, but then again, it may fill that gaping hole that everyone hopes for. What's there to lose?


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