Meeting Notes 2.11.09


Meeting Held at: Hilton Chicago, 720 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL, noon–4 p.m.

Meeting Summary

The working group of the Harriet Monroe Poetry Institute’s inaugural Poetry and New Media project convened for the first time just prior to the 2009 AWP convention in Chicago. The Poetry and New Media project is charged with examining issues related to the preparation, distribution, and reception of poetry through existing and evolving new media platforms, with the aim of forging recommendations that both protect the intellectual property of poets and publishers and ensure a vigorous presence for poetry in various forms on new-media outlets.

Katharine Coles, director of the HMPI, opened the meeting by asking this working group (WG) to help shape a larger discussion about poetry in new media. To this end, the WG will be open, will reach out to the larger poetry community, and will ensure that varied interests are represented. It is expected that the WG mission will evolve as the project progresses.

Members of the WG introduced themselves and outlined their various interests in the project. The idea that conflicting interests often occupy the same individual, organization, or field of endeavor emerged. The group agreed that poets, publishers, and readers often have overlapping interests, including the need for poetry to be widely available and also, if we are to have a healthy poetry economy, the need for those in the supply chain, from poets to publishers to new-media distributors, to be compensated for their labor or recoup their investments whenever possible. The group discussed the ways in which new media both creates new opportunities for distribution and presents possible dangers to the traditional poetry economy.

The first oral report, from Jennifer Urban and Monica Youn, addressed how legal and technological interests have responded in various ways to the intellectual property opportunities and challenges presented by the intersection of new media with copyright laws that some view as cumbersome and outdated. Legal principles are being and will be fundamentally challenged as more creative endeavors are undertaken through or distributed on new-media platforms. Some organizations lean toward models that try to leverage artificial scarcity through the recently expanded legal reach of copyright in order to control content and revenues. Others lean toward free and open-source software and use the law to create licenses that provide (and sometimes insist on) permission for content sharing. The legal principles addressing the conflicts between varied uses and interests often lag behind the technological capabilities and artistic desires of the creators. This lag can in part be mitigated if creators and rights-holders clearly define their intentions in relation to the capabilities of and cultural norms associated with new technologies.

The second report, from Emily Warn of the Poetry Foundation, outlined challenges TPF has faced in bringing poetry onto its own website. During the discussion, group members noted that new media is changing how poetry is created, distributed, judged, and experienced. In particular, new-media tools are enabling people to once again actively participate in culture, a practice that had in recent times been replaced by a consumer-driven cultural model. The WG noted its need to explore what fair use means in a new-media environment and to understand how the new-media culture creates value through connectivity and exposure. The group noted the need for poets to be aware of how people might interact, engage with, and possibly even manipulate their work using new-media platforms; the discussion underscored the notion that we may not fully appreciate how significantly technology may affect our relationship to art in general and poetry in particular.

The WG discussed the types of people they would like to hear from and the materials that might be helpful as they learn more about poetry on new media. Possibilities included agents, educators, futurists, and poets working entirely in new media, among others.

Possible outcomes of this project might include various tools for helping poets, educators, and rights-holders as they encounter the challenges and opportunities posed by new media. These tools will include a best practices/values document for dealing with poetry on new-media outlets and may also include a freely available boilerplate/samples library.


The Poetry and New Media project’s working document reports and meeting summaries reflect a process to collect information, consider ideas and develop recommendations in preparation of a final report. Because the new media environment is ever-changing, some of the assumptions discussed early on became outdated or were seen as no longer relevant as process progressed and new information was considered. Thus, the materials presented here must be considered working, in-process documents which are provided only so that those interested in understanding the approach and interim discussions of the working groups can have a look inside those deliberations. As you read them, please consider them to represent an evolution of a free-flowing conversation about a timely topic and not as substitutes for the final report and the recommendations it contains.

The various views presented herein are not necessarily the views of the Harriet Monroe Poetry Institute or the Poetry Foundation. We look forward to sharing the working group’s final report in early 2010.

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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