Meeting Notes 8.20.09


Meeting Held by Conference Call: 10:30 – 11:45 pm CDT

Meeting Summary

The working group of the Harriet Monroe Poetry Institute’s inaugural Poetry and New Media project convened for the eighth time by conference call. Katharine Coles opened the meeting with the bittersweet note that the main work of the Poetry and New Media project was ending and that it was likely that this would be the last working group conference call. K. Coles thanked the group for their hard work and expressed her hope that the group was content with their accomplishments over the past nine months.

K. Coles continued with a discussion about the recently edited legal section of the “Poetry and New Media: A User’s Guide” report, with a particular focus on the tension in the current version between encouraging people to ask for permission when using a poem that is not one’s own work and providing information about when one may be engaging in fair use and so may not have to ask for permission, such as when the use will be in a critical essay. The group agreed to reassert that in many cases it is required or at least good etiquette to ask for permission, but that it is not necessary to ask permission in fair use cases. Further, the group agreed to revise a recommendation to encourage publishers both not to request permissions fees or paperwork for uses they consider to be fair uses and also to broaden their ideas of what might entail fair use. The group raised the idea that publishers might have a conflict of interest in deciding fair use and also noted that anyone undertaking the use of a portion of a poem under the fair use doctrine was taking a risk in doing so, since fair use is determined in court on a case-by-case basis.

The group revisited the section of the report pertaining to poets’ estates, noting that many, if not most, poets who have wills have disposed of their literary property along with their other property, without recognizing that intellectual property is different from, say, a washing machine. K. Coles noted that the disposition of intellectual property under estate law involves a delicate interaction between federal copyright law on the one hand and state laws on the other. In addition, intellectual property and physical property are two separate concerns. A poet may wish to leave copyrights and any income generated from intellectual property to one heir and physical papers such as manuscripts and letters to a different heir or a library or archive. Finally, the group agreed that a will should express the values and circumstances of the individual. For all of these reasons, the group decided not to provide sample wills, since they would not necessarily be helpful to individual poets and could indeed mislead poets into believing that a simple template might work for them when it would not. For all these reasons, the document will recommend that poets making wills speak to estate lawyers familiar with their individual circumstances and the laws of their states.

K. Coles provided a brief overview of recent meetings with colleagues in New York about the working group’s conversations to date. This led to a renewed discussion of the revised language of the second section of the report, with a particular focus on the recommendation concerning the formation of a study group to create a guide to poetry for teachers and individuals. The group noted the potential difficulties in creating such a guide without either duplicating existing efforts or being perceived as co-opting proprietary materials. In addition, the group noted that there may be suspicion among members of the poetry and/or Internet communities of any such effort that may be perceived as attempting to control access to information. The group agreed that ultimately these matters would have to be addressed by any subsequent effort. One group member noted that this recommendation was urging not a “guide to” one particular outcome but a “guide through” to many possible outcomes and that people could weigh the final options for themselves.

The group finished by discussing the possibility of other organizations and people outside the working group endorsing the “Poetry and New Media: A User’s Guide” final report. K. Coles asked working group members to e-mail potential endorser recommendations. K. Coles further asked the group about writing a series of op-eds highlighting different recommendations from the report, and the group agreed that this would be a good way to share their findings.

Several members of the working group expressed their thanks and appreciation for the Poetry and New Media project. K. Coles again thanked everyone for working very hard and generating a document that she hopes will be important to the poetry community. She also expressed gratitude for the wonderful good humor, spirit, and frankness of the project members throughout the meetings. K. Coles ended the meeting with a review of her next steps in relation to the working group’s final report and its production.


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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