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it’s too much

By Stephen Burt

I’m sorry. I just can’t do it. I don’t have the energy. Maybe I never did. Every week, every day, I get email and Facebook notices and for that matter word of mouth about the latest debate or commentary or controversy or metapoetic metaconversation (sometimes it’s even attached to actual poems) on one of three dozen fine websites and active blogs and web-only or web-mostly mostly-poetry magazines, like Montevidayo and Like Starlings and Tarpaulin Sky and Constant Critic and Cold Front (to which I contribute) and John Gallaher’s blog and Amy King’s blog and Bob Archambeau’s blog (wish I’d seen Ballet Mechanique!) and the eloquent if sometimes cranky Contemporary Poetry Review and the continuing arguments around, at and for Claudia Rankine’s site (not all of which concern The Matter of Hoagland) and the very site you are reading now… to be au courant, I should keep up. And I can’t keep up. There’s something to like in each one (and those are just the ones I’ve recently clicked towards); a few are even places I’ll contribute, or plan to contribute, or hope to contribute, once I find the time to finish something or respond to their request. But I just can’t keep trying and failing to get myself to read everything, or even most of the things, that appear on them all. It’s midnight Eastern Time and I’ve just managed to clean the floor off which our baby will probably eat tomorrow (he’s an enthusiastic floorivore), and then there’s the family obligation-vacation and the left headlight that needs repair and the professional-obligation tenure-reviews and article-reviews, all of which have somebody’s safety, income or livelihood dependent on my doing an accurate and timely job, which isn’t the case for, you know, a poem. And I’m ridiculously lucky: I’ve got a stable job I enjoy very much, and more time at home, away from that job, almost whenever there’s a need (preschool vacation, for example, which takes place this week, and which was– till I named it just now– the subtext of this post). If I can’t keep up, who can? And if nobody can keep up with all of it, how does anyone decide what slice, what segment, what section, to follow instead? I think I can keep up with books, more or less, which are countable, finite sets of things (especially since they do come in the mail): but if the proliferating, ramifying, exciting discourse about poetry now takes place in a million web journals, at all hours of the day and night, I’m not sure I can keep up with them. I’m not sure that I could have kept up with them when I was 20, or 25, or 29, and without dependents, and eager to stay up all night.

But maybe I did keep up. Fifteen years ago there was an internet and plenty of e-mail and plenty of literary discussion, but the formal, thought-out, extended reviews and essays that continued the discussion, and the poems it concerned, didn’t come on the internet: the new poems and the essays about them came in magazines, sometimes the same big ones we have today, and sometimes little ones, ones that were hard to find– impossible to find if you lived in the wrong place and didn’t already know where to look. I don’t just mean self-identified post-avant, nor formally-retro, magazines: I mean the spate of pretty good print mags that popped up for those who could find them, and then sort of receded, or disappeared. I’ve just discovered– thanks to a few Web clicks– that Spinning Jenny still exists! I loved it ten years ago, sent them poems, and haven’t seen it since (though the poems came back). Maybe what’s different now isn’t just that I’ve changed, and have less time, more obligations, a different sense of what I should do first (though I have changed) but rather than all the many little lit mags, startups, attempts to affect what we talk about when we talk about poems, are simultaneously, easily, quickly accessible from anywhere, so that somebody like me, just outside Boston, and somebody who is 20, or 80, in Seattle or Brooklyn or Belfast, Northern Ireland, or Belfast, Maine, can all, with a few clicks and tweets, see how much we might miss.


Posted in Uncategorized on Friday, April 22nd, 2011 by Stephen Burt.