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The Poetry Data Project
While we were out group-blogging for National Poetry Month, poetry news kept a’churning. One item we read in April that we bookmarked for re-blogging come May was the announcement of the Poetry Data Project at Queen Mob’s Tea House. The project is the brainchild of poet Donald Dunbar and statistician Rachel Springer, and it attempts to build a map of the always already too much poetry that grows bigger by the day. As Dunbar writers:
Even the most devoted readers with access to the most expansive collections can’t claim to be up on what’s been published in the US in the last year alone, much less the last decade, much less the last century, much less in the various traditions, cliques, movements, and cultures around the world. Even if someone had the perspective to really get what all the thousands of truly interesting poets are doing, and had time enough to read them, how would they possibly cohere that knowledge into something that would point relatively new readers towards the poets or traditions they really want to get into right now?
Dunbar goes on to describe the project:
About a year ago, I was sitting around with Rachel Springer, who’s both poet and statistician, wondering at different spectra of poetry. Not good/bad, but things like wordy/sparse, and extroverted/introverted. I’m not allowed to say what categories we settled on, but Rachel broke out her stats software and created a cubic 3D graph to chart our friends’ poetry on. As we added more poets, famous and not, little clusters began forming, and as we rotated this cube, so many similarities between so many poets became easily apparent.
Then we thought, what if we could make it only show, say, books published in the 1980’s? Or show poets by gender, or race, or geography, or sexual orientation? What if we could select which presses’ books to display, or show poets associated with certain schools or movements?
One of the outcomes of this project will be a web-app that will allow anyone to do just that. Using the data you give us about your favorite books, we’ll create an interactive map of poetry that can be used for thought experiments, scholarship, as a guide through the bookstore, and as a teaching aid.
Beyond that, Rachel wants to mine the data for secret trends. How does poetry respond to changes in the world? What trends in one tradition of poetry are mirrored in another? When has poetry been transformed, and how is it transforming now? We can’t say what we’ll find, but the more data we get, the more we’ll see.