12:00 AM, May 09, 2015 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:17 AM, May 30, 2015

Can there be a virtual poetry revival?

A few months back I published an article in these pages with the interrogative title, “Is Poetry a Dying Art?” After a somewhat dispiriting account of the state of poetry today, I concluded with the observation that the internet might improve the fortunes of this quintessential literary form; and added that it would take another article to explain why I thought so. Our astute literary editor seized the opportunity to demand that I deliver the explanation. Hence this piece, with another interrogative title. I will go point by point, beginning with –

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The Obvious. 
The amount of poetry on the net is simply staggering. All the great and popular poems we have  – or ought to have – read are a mouse click away. You can plug the holes in your reading with a daily dose of poetry; refresh your memory, or help others refresh theirs, as I discovered some years back. An old friend, the late lamented journalist Tareq Ahsan aka Shomi, phoned me one day and, quoting a line from a once-popular poem, asked if I knew who had written it. He had read it ages back and the line had stuck in his memory, but the author's name escaped him. I was on the same boat as he, but my computer was on, and in a second Google provided the answer, which I passed on with a preliminary “Um, let me think.” After a few more incidents like this I began receiving fulsome praise for my capacious memory. I chuckled to myself but didn't let on. I like to imagine Tareq chuckling as he reads this on the celestial version of the internet.

It is not only the poetry of the past, poems out of copyright that are available on the internet. You can access numerous literary journals specializing in poetry, as well as their archives. Some of these are online journals; others have both print and online versions. You can also submit your own work for consideration via email.    
 
How to Develop Your Taste for Poetry with the Help of the Internet. 
As you are aware, poetry needs to be savoured, pondered, read aloud. A little poem can take you a long way as you discover its semantic and aural subtleties. The best way to read poetry, in my view, is poem by poem. You cannot, in other words, plunge into a fat collection of poems and go through it like a novel, cover to cover, and at a trot. I recommend that you take a poem that interests you – maybe one that made a lasting impression when you first came across it – and google it. Print out a copy and carry it in your pocket or purse; and read it, slowly, whenever you have a minute to spare, Read it aloud when you are by yourself – or if you can overcome your self-consciousness, read it out to a friend. Lovers and Lotharios, by the way, have long been aware of the romantic and seductive uses of verse read out well.

The internet can be a big help in enhancing our appreciation of the sound of poetry. There are numerous recordings, audio as well as audio-visual, of poetry readings. Some are by actors, including celebrated ones like Sir Richard Burton, some by amateur poetry enthusiasts, some by poets. I find poets reading their own works the most interesting. You can listen to the sole recording of Walt Whitman reading for half a minute or so from a poem titled 'America'. The way he articulates each word is suggestive of the poetic value it embodies. You can then leap to his twentieth century poetic descendant Allen Ginsberg reciting a well-known poem, also titled 'America'. The received opinion of Ginsberg, especially among those brought up on New Criticism and Formalism, is that he is a ranter. That isn't quite fair. Listening to him reading 'America' brought home to me his subtle-jokey-comic-ironic dimensions.

Once you get used to experiencing poetry via the internet, you may wish to make up anthologies of your favourite poets and poems by printing them out and having them bound. Many contemporary poets whose books are hard to come by have hundreds of poems that you can access on the net. Let me give one example. Billy Collins is one of the finest poets writing in America today, but if you order any of his ten or so collections from a bookstore here, is there any guarantee you will get it within a reasonable time? And which one would you order? I trawled the net and found a broad selection that I turned into a personal anthology; whenever I wish I take it to bed, where I do most of my reading and thinking and writing.

How the Internet Has Affected My Career.
My observations on the positive role of the internet in promoting poetry followed the most gratifying discovery that, unbeknownst to me, some of my work was travelling in cyberspace. I don't simply mean that my work has appeared in online publications, for such appearances are the results of conscious intention. Thus the websites of the Daily Star, the Dhaka Tribune, the online versions of The Asiatic (Malaysia), the Journal of Transnational Literatures (Flinders University), and online journals like the Drunken Boat, Brooklyn Voice, India Writes, have some of my poems because I submitted them for publication. The poems might have sat on these sites waiting for the odd browser to take a look and move on. But something else also happened. People I do not know picked up poems and gave them a second cyber-home. 

Google 'Living in a Lungi' and you will find a site run by the University of Northern Iowa. It outlines an afternoon programme for high schools, as part of their Human Geography course, in which students cut cloth, stitch lungis, wear them, and recite my poem 'Ode on the Lungi'. The site tells us that the text of the poem was taken from the Daily Star. Go into Youtube and type in 'How Many Buddhas Can They Destroy', another poem of mine that first appeared in the Daily Star. There are two identical sites, Vietnamese as far as I can tell, on which you can read my poem as it unfolds to the accompaniment of gentle music. Someone put up three of my poems on Poem Hunter. One of them has a video attachment with a recording in an electronic voice: listening to it is a strange but not uninteresting experience. Ron Silliman, a well-known American poet, has a blog on which he puts up poetry-related material he has picked up from divers sources: you will find pieces relating to me taken from the Daily Star. 

Have I provided convincing evidence of the positive role the internet can play in disseminating poetry? Even if you answer in the affirmative, the question remains: will the internet bring about a poetry revival? Perhaps not. But it can certainly make it easier for poetry to travel, and for poetry lovers to discover interesting new voices.    

Kaiser Haq is a Bangladeshi poet, translator, essayist, critic and academic.

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