Saturday, July 31, 2010

are poets really this immature?

Silliman announced today that he's shutting down the comment section on his blog.

what does it say about the larger poetry community that two of the largest public forums for poetry, Silliman's blog and the Poetry Foundation's Harriet blog, have had to completely shut down their comment sections? are poets too stupid and immature to handle civilized dialogue? i still hope not, but that is what this seems to suggest.

i, for one, find it... hilarious (but the kind of hilarious where my faith in humanity dies a little bit).

the Harriet blog shut down conversations a few months ago, giving the nonsense excuse that "blogging is dead" (really? because if that were true, poetry would be so dead that the its myth would be more illusive than rumors of Atlantis). the real reason it was shut down probably being that the comment section made their readership look like complete morons. and please don't think that's an indictment of Poetry Foundation's actual readership. i'm more than willing to give the benefit of the doubt that the commentators were a vocal minority. but that minority did make us all look quite dumb. when Harriet introduced, for a short time, a comment voting system, their readers were completely unable to avoid downvoting thoughtful comments that they merely disagreed with. this is hilarious to me (for same values of hilarious as noted above) because this comment voting system is something that reddit, a large online community of mostly high schoolers, is able to use maturely with only minor difficulty.

i'm conflicted about the decision, though. the Poetry Foundation is undoubtedly one of the more valuable resources for poetry on the web right now, but there's also no doubt that they tend to spoon feed their readership. for instance, when they published some flarf and conceptual poems in one issue, the poems were bizarrely quarantined and effectively apologized for before their actual presentation. is shutting down comments an extension of a kind of lack of faith in their readers; a necessary choice that helps keep their site comfortable to some of their important but thin-skinned blog contributors; or just an attempt to maintain an air of propriety? i don't know the answer, but i do ultimately disagree with the decision. the blog has shifted from a place where people at least tried to deal with interesting poetics topics, to a general links-based overview of the poetry world. still somewhat useful, but much less daring. something has certainly been lost. though, in the "about Harriet" section, you'll still see the claim that Harriet "is dedicated to featuring vibrant online discussions of poetry and poetics." certainly not. if they're honest, that should probably be taken down at this point.

for Silliman though, a lone blogger, there's obviously much less of an argument that he has any duty to provide a discussion space for his readers. it's his decision to make as it's his unpaid time that gets spent on keeping out the bullies, sexists, racists, homophobes and other riff raff. Silliman does still foster conversation by linking once or twice a week to blogs that have responded to his posts.

it is still a disappointment, though. blog comment sections were, for the first 4 years of my serious commitment to poetry, my only access to dialogue about poetry. comment sections make the blogger seem more approachable. i've often assumed that the main reason some poets don't have comment sections on their blogs is because they have no ability to defend their positions. now that i'm more aware of some of the vile comments that Silliman says he has to censor, i guess i'm less likely to make this assumption.

my own approach to online poetry discussion has certainly been shaped by the acidic commenting environment. i've even, at times, been much more likely to enter into some of the more hateful discussions knowing that my ideas have more chance of actually being engaged with on some level.

the more interesting (i think) blogs i've written have been calm observations about poetics. however, my posts have never been engaged with as much as when i've tried to tear apart some of the more prevalent idiocy of those poets who, for some reason, could not stop talking about their hatred for flarf and conceptual poetry.

i'm embarrassed to admit that on at least 2 occasions i inserted insults into blog posts that i wouldn't have otherwise included because i knew that, as a completely unknown commentator, i'm more likely to be taken seriously (or at least engaged with) the more insulting i am. and by no means am i trying to blame the poetry community for my brash way of saying things. i'm all too willing to talk some casual shit about various poetics ideas over some beers with friends, but being insulting is not particularly something i want to be in a publicly readable forum.

on the other hand, while the comment community is unnecessarily petty and vitriolic, it's also clear that some people just have no backbone whatsoever. some poets just have no tolerance for people who challenge their ideas. i can't tell you how many times i've had my head bitten off by a blogger merely for offering a contrary perspective. even after considering to myself that i can often come off as harsh and forceful, and making sure that i've worded my challenges in as polite a demeanor as i could muster, some bloggers still made it quite clear that i was unwelcome to participate in discussions on their blogs. one blogger even emailed me privately, demanding i stop engaging his ideas on my own blog.

but sure, i can't deny participating in vitriolic discussions. and, even though i'd want to argue that it was my way of coping with the available dialogue, having a voracious need for poetry discussions and no other outlet, i also won't skirt the amount of blame i deserve for participating.

all that said, i hope Silliman's comment section opens again someday. though, what i'd really like to see is a truly open public forum for poetics discussions. hopefully something a little more sophisticated than some of the more popular listservs that kind of meet what i'd like to see. for now though, can we all please just grow the fuck up?


David said...

Of course these clods at Harriet's blog don't represent the actual readers of Poetry magazine. The online forum is free. You have to pay money to buy the magazine. Amazing how a mere couple of bucks can separate the classes.

Iain said...

i actually meant that i don't think that the "clods" represent even the online readership. also, many of the regular (and more annoying) commentators were people who admitted to buying the magazine. these people created an environment that even the majority of their online readership didn't want to participate in.

i'm sure many online readers wonder why an intelligent person is buying something that they can get online for free. i very much doubt that those who can't afford to subscribe to poetry publications (like myself for instance) are inherently less intelligent than the "clods" who can. but yes, it is "amazing", as well as an injustice, that a mere couple of bucks can separate the classes.

Daniel E. Pritchard said...

The contents of each issue of Poetry Magazine is posted free at the P-Found site as well. There's no distinction between readership, I don't think. This is definitely a problem across all websites with any amount of traffic, poetry-related or otherwise. I'm on the fence about comment sections myself. They rarely lead to much insight, whatever the reasons.

Iain said...

i agree Daniel, the distinction in readership, if there is one, is one of medium preference, not "class".

comment sections are quite new to our society. i don't think we've really figured out, collectively, how to get the most use out of them. i do think, though, that over time, comment sections will increase in usefulness until they are just as shaky as every other kind of human interaction.

Zachary Bos said...

"They rarely lead to much insight..."

Well sure, with that attitude. For me, with commenting available, the attentive blogger can always curate and attract conversation of high value. To put it in your terms, DEP, insight is possible, and increasingly so with effort. Without commenting, it is definitely impossible, and is shunted to... where? It costs Ron nothing to keep it, except perhaps the esteem of readers driven away by repellent comments. I don't know how greatly we should value the esteem of people who can't make a distinction between the author of the blog and the author of a comment, however.

Some of the literary relationships I value most were discovered after I or they followed trails whose heads were located in blog comment threads.

Robert Lee Brewer said...

I obviously think comments are important to blogging. Or else, why would I be leaving one, right? Sad that any blogging community gets backed into that corner by what I'm assuming is a minority of loud voices.

Jane Holland said...

Try the British-based Poets on Fire forum. Real names must be used and all membership applications approved and identities proved before new members are allowed to post. This almost guarantees an absence of idiots and insulting comments. Though one or two still sneak through occasionally!

Iain said...

thanks Jane, i'll check it out!

Ms Baroque said...

Heh! Though Jane hasn't told you about the EPIC SPATS.

Unfortunately Cyril Connolly's description of poets being like hyenas round a dried-up watering hole is still pretty accurate. I heard the comments and messages were getting pretty ugly at Harriet, and I can imagine that: even on my own blog it sometimes gets a bit vitriolic and personal. If you put your head above the parapet, someone will shoot it off.

Now, Silliman's been doing it for years. It may not cost him anything but he certainly isn't getting paid for it. Ditto me. I don't publish the abusive comments, then I get streams of increasingly abusive comments attacking me for "censoring" the commenter. It can go on for days! No, comments alone won't "hurt" you, but they don't exactly make your day, and in the end, if you're running a blog on your own steam, in your own house, who needs it? And as for Poetry, well, I'm sure they just thought there might be better things to do with the Lilly money and with everyone's time.

Art Durkee said...

I think your thoughts here are pretty insightful. In my own experience, for reasons mostly having to do with the dominance of vitriol in all online poetic forums of late (I regret Ron's choice to shut down his comments but I sure respect it), I pretty much turned my back in the past year on all the online poetry forums I used to participate in. I still have my own blog (which almost no one reads, which is just fine LOL). The last straw for me was when I got banned from a poetry board that I had specifically been invited to join; I was basically banned for politely disagreeing with the forum owner in many discussions about poetry, and poems. Sometimes people get strange, and those who you thought were friends go weird, the rules change, and you find yourself up against the wall. I think your example of someone telling you not to discuss his ideas on YOUR blog is pretty hilarious, though, in a bizarre and extreme way.

The Harriet blog comments were dominated by curmudgeons, though. Sometimes I tired to make comments that were about the topic itself, which usually got ignored. There was a lot of ego-based posturing. And that voting system was one of the stupidest ideas I've ever seen online—and the results were predictable, to be blunt. So I didn't take Harriet's decisions very seriously to begin with. Ron's comment stream at least had some meat in the discussions, even when they went bizarro.