Monday, February 25, 2008

 

It took this blog two years & five months – from August 2002 until the end of January 2005 – to receive its first 250,000 visits. But it took only three years & two months – just nine more months – to receive the next quarter million and hit the half-million threshold. That ramp upward got steeper still as it took just 16 months to receive the next 500,000 and hit the million visit mark. That was February of last year – sometime Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning, the 1,500,000th visitor will click on through.

These are not the sort of numbers I normally associate with poetry. That is three Woodstocks, or the current population of Philadelphia.

One thing this tally doesn’t represent is anything like 1.5 million separate individuals. There are a few hundred people who show up here daily and a few thousand more who come by with some regularity – once or twice a week perhaps. And a third, larger cluster that is far less regular, some of whom may do so only while taking a class that requires it. My guess is that those three groups combined add up to six or eight thousand people. That’s less than the number of poets who write in English, but still a sizeable fraction of the number of folks who care about poetry. And it’s more than the thirty a day I had hoped for when I first started this project.

There are all kinds of interesting ways that a marketer would want to cut such numbers, demographics being the default in that mode of thinking. What percentage of my readers are men and how does that relate to the percentage of people interested in poetry who happen to be male? What are the age breakdowns? Race? Religion – how many Lutheran are there here (how many Lutheran Surrealists)? How many readings do we attend each month & do we go out for a meal before or after? How much do we each spend on books? Etc. I know that among my comrades in the Grand Piano project, there are some who appear never to read this blog, and two or three who seem always to do so. I would suggest that this is probably to be expected from a cohort that ranges in age from late 50s to mid 60s – all of us are what we call “digital immigrants” where I work, people who came to the technology a little late in life, unlike my children who are digital natives, having used PCs since they were toddlers & Richard Scary’s Busytown was the software package of choice. Except that my Grand Piano co-authors are all people who have known me for at least 30 years, so I think that may boost the numbers artificially. After all, I do know poets from my age group who still avoid PCs pretty much altogether. They’re the last of a dying breed, and I think they know it.

I try to imagine what it must be like to be a poet today, particularly in the U.S., who is entirely off-line and still working with a typewriter. If I were that poet, I think I would find it strange, as if the social domain that is poetry were somehow getting away from me & becoming more & more ethereal. Where I used to see all the “important” literary magazines, say, in Cody’s or Moe’s in Berkeley or in City Lights in San Francisco, there are now many important journals that seem locked up out of sight, because they don’t exist in the print world – How(2), Jacket, mark(s), Big Bridge & so many more. I remember being a teenager & not being able to get hold of a copy of Locus Solus or Art & Literature & feeling totally frustrated by that. Try to envision this same phenomenon many times over for the poet who is not wired.

I can’t say that I’ve met any younger poets who consciously disengage from poetry’s existence on the net, tho I suspect some must exist. We are moving, faster than I think any of us (or me anyway) are conscious of, toward a day on which poetry is something that exists primarily on the web, having made the migration away from print & bookstores to a degree that right now seems unfathomable. Those older poets who currently refuse to publish on the web – they do exist – will discover soon enough that they have painted themselves into the proverbial corner. Far from being a “debased” terrain where works commingle without being presorted by “value,” the web simply is becoming the commons for such work.

I have been fortunate, especially being an old paradigm guy, to have had some success with this new medium. I don’t think what I’m doing here is in any way unique. I think I’m more consistent & dogged, and that I’ve thought through my positions whether or not anyone agrees with them. When people who do generally disagree with me sit around and argue over a concept I first threw out here – like post-avant or school of quietude – I have to admit feeling pleased. Even rejecting one of these ideas, if done thoughtfully, furthers the discourse, and that is the point really.

Do I have the capacity to stick this out another five years & six months? I have no idea. I do know that this process functions as the most powerful crucible for new ideas, for me, that I’ve found since the very earliest days of poets’ talks in the late 1970s. And that’s a powerful motivation. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

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