What happens when a poetry video gets 3,000 plays in 5 days?


 
The video-maker freaks out, is what happens. This will be the last post I write about viewer stats for still image remixes, but I did want to get this experience down, noting that what has been interesting for me is less the stats themselves than my reaction to them.

As previously recorded, I had already been unsettled by the relatively high numbers of viewers attracted by earlier still image remixes I had done for poems from The Poetry Storehouse (this one and this one in particular). But neither of those came anywhere close to numbers of viewers attracted by Items of Value to a Dying Man (shown above – poem by Kristin LaTour, art by Peter Gric), the response to which just blew me away. Peter Gric was wonderful to work with – open, generous and in no way inclined to control any part of my remix process – but either his terrific art has made him much more famous than I thought, in my near-total ignorance of the art world (I found him by clicking randomly through links and simply emailed him via his website) and/or he has – relative to online poetry networks – a pretty enormous online network.

The video got 1,050 plays on the first day, 1,650 on the second. My original FB posting of the video link got 554 shares after Peter shared it. The video exceeded 3,000 plays today. (As I said before, I am used to the most popular of my poetry videos capturing maybe 40 or 50 views on their first day. Over time – months, sometimes longer – a video may end up with 200 to 300 total views.)

I was delighted of course, but fell into angst at the same time. What did it mean that I had accidentally put together something that led to hundreds of people interacting with a poem they would almost certainly have had no interaction with otherwise? Was I burdened with some heavy new Responsibility to Poetry as a result?

I took my angst to (where else..?) Facebook. Is a poem that is read by and moves 10 people of more value to the world than a poem that is read by and moves 1 person? I posted as my FB status, not even sure if that was in fact the question I was struggling with. The question got traction quickly and, as is usual in the poetry community, thoughtful and helpful responses came quickly (see here for the exchange, although I don’t know if any or all of the conversation is viewable from the outside). It turned out that wasn’t at all the question I needed to ask, and the back and forth over a day or two was very helpful in clarifying my thinking.

I see now that what had been complicated for me by the experience was my sense of my role as showcaser, curator, remixer, presenter of poetry (at The Poetry Storehouse now, at Whale Sound previously). Was I now obliged to take these activities in some different, burdensome, non-fun direction?

What the Facebook exchange clarified for me was that poems are not like the toys in Toy Story. They don’t have a separate, secret life that springs into action whenever their owners are asleep or otherwise absent. A good poem can support a literally infinite number of interactions – living in interaction over and over again through aeons, each time as freshly as the first time. But a poem has no life outside its interaction with people. When they are not being interacted with, poems lie dead in the dark, where they are purposeless, and meaningless.

The role of the curator, remixer or publisher of poetry is to maximize the number of interactions each poem has with people. In the hands of the successful curator/publisher, the poem lives in interaction repeatedly and reaches a higher level of its interaction potential than poems in the custody of less successful handlers.

That’s the role of the curator/publisher in the scheme of things poetry. But it doesn’t have to be their motivation. This is where I got confused. If things go well, more people will interact with poems as a result of my remixing and curating. If things don’t, they won’t. But that’s not why I do what I do. I do what I do because I like voicing poems, I like exploring the technology of putting poems online in different ways, I like the challenge of combining poetry and digital imagery in video, and experimenting with sound.

The additional interactions that occur between poems and people are a happy by-product of my doing what I like to do. But I don’t do it in order to increase the number of those interactions.

And that made me feel so much more relaxed about those viewership stats. Some videos will get 3,000 plays in a few days. Most will be lucky to get 300 plays in a year. Should that influence what I do and how I do it? No.

As artist Kiki Smith said, in a quote I recently encountered via a Twitter feed: “Just do your work. And if the world needs your work it will come and get you. And if it doesn’t, do your work anyway. You can have fantasies about having control over the world, but I know I can barely control my kitchen sink.”

With warmest thanks to the Facebook friends who were so thoughtful and generous in their responses to my original and subsequent questions.

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15 thoughts on “What happens when a poetry video gets 3,000 plays in 5 days?

  1. If things go well, more people will interact with poems as a result of my remixing and curating. If things don’t, they won’t. But that’s not why I do what I do. I do what I do because I like voicing poems, I like exploring the technology of putting poems online in different ways, I like the challenge of combining poetry and digital imagery in video, and experimenting with sound.

    That’s a really useful distinction. Thank you for sharing it.

    • It seems fairly obvious now it’s written down, but I had managed to quite thoroughly confuse myself on this point! Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Rachel.

  2. L.L. Barkat says:

    “A good poem can support a literally infinite number of interactions.” Yes, yes.

    A good poem is elastic. Spacious.

  3. […] for a Nic Sebastian video remix of a Theresa Senato Edwards poem, brother carried the poppies – for a Nic Sebastian still image remix of a Kristin LaTour poem, Items Valuable to a Dying […]

  4. […] a way to reach new and larger audiences. In a post on her personal blog, Sebastian pondered “What happens when a poetry video gets 3,000 plays in 5 days?” I encourage everyone to click through and read the whole post, which is much more […]

  5. Peter says:

    That’s the role of the curator/publisher in the scheme of things poetry. But it doesn’t have to be their motivation. This is where I got confused. If things go well, more people will interact with poems as a result of my remixing and curating. If things don’t, they won’t. But that’s not why I do what I do. I do what I do because I like voicing poems, I like exploring the technology of putting poems online in different ways, I like the challenge of combining poetry and digital imagery in video, and experimenting with sound.

    Your distinction is very helpful to me. I have to come back to something like it every now and then, or the Internet will drive me nuts. Dave Bonta once wrote in a blog comment something to the effect that “this thing is supposed to be fun.” I remind myself of that sometimes.

    I sometimes go back to my first devotional book ever — Henri Nouwen’s The Way of the Heart — and read one of my favorite quotes (from van Gogh, actually):

    “There may be a great fire in our soul, yet no one ever comes to warm himself at it, and the passersby only see a wisp of smoke coming through the chimney, and go along their way. Look here, now what must be done? Must one tend the inner fire, have salt in oneself, wait patiently yet with how much impatience for the hour when somebody will come and sit down — maybe to stay? Let him who believes in God wait for the hour that will come sooner or later.”

    • This makes me ask – Yet, what if no-one ever comes? Does the fire have less heat & glory for that? Surely it can’t be only the coming of someone that endows the seal of worthiness? Always good to hear from you, Peter!

      • Peter says:

        Nic, I’m glad you asked those questions. As I was typing out that quote, I began to question it for the first time. I agree that “one must tend the inner fire, have salt in oneself” (or agree with what I think those metaphors mean). But I don’t think it matters to me — or rather, I’m best when it doesn’t matter to me — if anyone comes.

        I wonder if it’s possible any longer to labor in obscurity to the extent Gerard Manley Hopkins did, to follow up on our Windhover project. For most of his poetry-writing years (after he burnt his first spate of poems), he had two people whom he felt understood his poetry, and I don’t think he felt understood by both of them together for very long stretches.

        Anyway, I’m still considering this and the discussion you have on your Facebook page.

  6. Peter says:

    Anyway, to rattle on a bit more (I had to cut my last comment short because of a commitment), I seem to do best when I feel an affinity for one or two people who I know sometimes read my stuff. If I have a reader in my mind like that, I’m inspired to write, and writing is fun. When I’ve had unusual spikes of readers (unusual for me, anyway; maybe normal for more well-traveled sites), it doesn’t seem to motivate me. (Here I’m just parroting what you say in your post.)

  7. “But I don’t think it matters to me — or rather, I’m best when it doesn’t matter to me — if anyone comes.” Yes, that sounds right to me. And of course, laboring honestly in (relative) solitude doesn’t mean one should sitting there muttering to oneself about the brilliance of one’s work and darkly cursing the benighted ignorance of the masses. It’s to understand and appreciate the value of one’s work *before* it has contact with an audience. What has it done for you, for your life and your understanding of and engagement with the world and your place in it, before ever it is exposed. The ‘contact with audience’ phase of work is just that – one phase – but we tend consider it the final and only arbiter of a work’s value. (Of course, all this is easy to write down, but not so easy to live honestly, day after day…)

  8. In other words, per the Kiki Smith quote in the post: “Just do your work. And if the world needs your work it will come and get you. And if it doesn’t, do your work anyway.”

  9. I think this may be related:

    The Planet On The Table

    Ariel was glad he had written his poems.
    They were of a remembered time
    Or of something seen that he liked.

    Other makings of the sun
    Were waste and welter
    And the ripe shrub writhed.

    His self and the sun were one
    And his poems, although makings of his self,
    Were no less makings of the sun.

    It was not important that they survive.
    What mattered was that they should bear
    Some lineament or character,

    Some affluence, if only half-perceived,
    In the poverty of their words,
    Of the planet of which they were part.

    –Wallace Stevens

    • Peter says:

      Gorgeous poem. And I think it’s entirely on point.

      It’s also a comfort to me now, an hour after I learned that my father finally threw away the letters written by his father, who was quite a writer, after I had missed many opportunities to salvage them from my folks’ attic. (Besides, my father gave me his father’s best writing.)

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