May 18, 2013

The World Drops By Poets Online


I enjoy looking at the widget on this page that let's you see the recent visitors to the blog and see that fans of poetry from around the world are visiting.

Although doing the PoetsOnline.org website since 1998 and this blog since 2005 has connected me to many poets, I have not literally met very many of them.

A few of the poets who submit poems and some of the featured poets are people I know from workshops and readings from the east coast of the United States.

I do feel like I know some of the regular contributors too. I have been reading their poems for years and have seen their writing change and grow. But, I will probably never meet them in person.

In this age of Facebook and social media "friends," I have a pretty wide circle of poetry friends. People follow us on Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest.

One of those virtual poetry friends is Mary Kendall who has been submitting poems for the past eight years. I know that she has been a familiar name in the submissions folder, but I know more about her because she has emailed me about "non-submission" topics, and because via those social networks, I discovered her own blog.

Mary is an American transplanted to London. She started blogging in 2012 when she was headed to the UK "for four months" but she is still there and I get to follow her European travels through her blog.

from Mary's visit to Monet's gardens and house at Giverney
She visited a place I have on my bucket list - Monet's gardens and home at Giverney.was

But the post that I enjoyed the most was one about her own poetry and Poets Online story. Those are the stories that I hope are out there, but I don't expect to hear.

Here is an excerpt:
In 2005 I discovered a website that I quickly grew to love: POETSONLINE (www.poetsonline.org). It is a website with an accompanying blog that never fails to interest me (the blog can be reached through the main website). I am very indebted to this site and blog. After a 20 year hiatus in writing, I slowly started writing again in 2001. It was a strange experience (to be saved for another time) to start writing once again after so long. So, how did this site and blog help? This site presents a poem as a prompt (often several poems) along with some carefully constructed thoughts about the works. This leads the editor of the site, Ken Ronkowitz, to present that month's prompt idea. The prompts are varied and always interesting. The blog adds many details and comments. I often write in response but don't send the poems in. This past month I spent days writing a poem about a willow tree to send in, but when the deadline came, I knew the poem wasn't ready. It is now, but it is relegated to my quiet folder of poems not shared with the world. Who knows where it will land. When I read the poems then published to the prompt, I realized mine was quite different and perhaps it was a good thing I didn't submit it after all. We writers are our best self-critics, aren't we?
Anyhow, starting in 2005, I've submitted and published a number of poems, some ok, some good, and one or two that have become some of my favorites. Occasionally I will get an email from someone who has read a poem and they make a private comment to me. Once, a composer, Paul Carey, asked to use some winter haiku he had read from the site. That was a lovely surprise. I never got to hear the resulting work, which was my only disappointment, yet the fact that another person wanted my words for his music is touching. 
My thoughts today made me think back to the first poem I wrote for poets online seven years ago. The prompt asked us to think about who our reader is and what they would be like, how they would read the poem, how they might respond. I'm going to share this poem with you here today because I have been wondering who my readers are in all I have ever written. They will always be anonymous just as I am a reader of poems, novels, blogs, etc. and unknown to so many authors, many of whom I love.

It's a nice bit of serendipity that her first submission was to a prompt about the reader you imagine when you write. I have several idealized readers for my poems. One is a radio voice - that of Michael Silverblatt. For some poems, I have a single person that I am writing to and for.  But for most of the poems I have written based on my own prompts, I imagine the poets like Mary who are out there also writing a poem to that prompt. I imagine that, like them, I want the other poets reading the poems that are in the Poets Online archive (and that's a lot of poems at this point) to like my poem.

Sometimes poets and readers will reach out by email, as Mary mentions, and connect because of a poem online. Most of the time that doesn't happen. Most of the posts here don't get comments. That is typical for most blogs and websites. I have been teaching for more than 35 years, so I know that most students won't tell you about a good experience they had in your class, but you do cherish the few that do.

Writing poetry can be a lonely craft. Doing the Poets Online site is also a quite solitary job. But when I do hear from poets, it makes it worth it.

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