As an individual born into the online world, I have actively tried to become less online — by writing on paper, reading on paper, setting screen time limits. But once COVID hit, I seemed to abandon these efforts and adapt to the new medium of life within my screens. Reading poetry online subverts the romance of poetry we are taught of (a group of poets sitting in a dark room, knocked out on opiates, writing on yellowed paper with a feather quill). It has created both a space for poetry and a medium for poetry which poetica has never anticipated.
At times, I do feel nostalgic for that intoxicating time of Romantic poetry which I never personally existed in. Take, for example, Emily Dickinson, whose poetry existed on scraps of paper never intended for the public. Reading her work is an intimate experience, one which can’t be replicated by poetry.com. Ink marked envelopes, wrappers, letters. Her words transcended the page, given nuance by her scratchy, “fossil bird track” handwriting. Romantic poetry existed for its own sake, as a thing of beauty and art only within the physical realm for the enjoyment of oneself and their beloved. Irish poet Eeavan Boland states that “we aren’t supposed to write poems, we are supposed to be in them.” It is believed that Dickinson refused publication of her work due to how it would inherently standardise the artform. Her poetry was more than just words — it was both a literary and aesthetic artwork.
This is still despite the fact that Romantic poetry’s patriarchal ideals would most definitely not accept me, a woman of colour, with loving arms. It is well known that poetry and writing is an inherently patriarchal artform, with writers being overshadowed and silenced by their male counterparts (see Percy Shelley’s ruthless ‘editing’ of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and even attempting to publish the book under his name). Poetry by women is seen as a subgenre of the form, where even within contemporary society, womens’ poetry anthologies are still published — I have yet to see an anthology of male poets.
It’s true that the same patriarchal values which the form was born of are still evident in contemporary works. However, the accessibility of the internet has increased the potential for women’s poetry to be shared and welcomed by poetic communities. Yasmine Lewis of Bankstown Poetry Slam comments that the internet has “forced a lot of traditional print publishers to actually print important voices that have been raised online.”
Akin to the birth of poetica, online poets are participating in an ever-changing form that is moulding itself to the world around it. Lewis writes that social media has facilitated the sharing of poetry due to its “short art form and quickly consumable content.” In Lewis’ opinion, “it’s also allowed writers to publish their work and receive exposure when they may have otherwise been denied by traditional gatekeepers.” Although kitschy, new poetic forms have been birthed from the internet, with provocative “Flarf poetry” and “Alt Lit” becoming both a product of a new generation of poetica as well as eulogising the end of the once-traditionalist nature of the poetic community.
Kenneth Goldsmith of the New Yorker writes that “for these artists, unlike those of previous generations, the web is just another medium, like painting or sculpture”; a medium which, by abandoning the traditional physicality of poetry, allows for the malleability of form. Although (extremely) avant garde, Flarf poetry examines this shift, abandoning form, rhyme, and any apparent meaning in lines such as “big birds make big doo!”. Harry Burke’s poetry anthology I Love Roses When They’re Past Their Best epitomises this idea. The web has not created a rupture in poetica, but rather a “reworking”; the poetry of now is a “careful and important negotiation with what has gone before”. Although reading Flarf can seem less like a negotiation and more akin to a powerful slap to the face of traditional poetry, it’s these giant leaps towards change which have allowed for poetry to become an accessible and internationally-seen medium, rather than for only the eyes of the poet and their fellow poets.
In our current existence on the internet, grand opportunities have opened for young poets such as us at USyd; online writing competitions, online open mics set us apart from the opiate fuelled words of the Romantics and the seeming nonsense of Flarf poetry. Art is born from lived experience, and it is up to us to continue the progression of poetica and ensure its continuance within times of struggle.