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.

the Rector on Good Friday

the sky is not pluming charcoal
the air does not quiver
with hot yellow grief

it is April centuries later yet
bending dark occupies
his soul, his eyes
are empty brown rooms

he lives the day tuned
to an old oboe
follows it winding
down hours of ancient pain

in younger days I pulled
on him: Grandfather
remember I am flying
this kite and you
are helping me

now I only sit with him
or touch his cheek or bring him
something to drink


“Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour.”

how do you feel about self-promotion, o poet?

Rob Mackenzie is asking over at the Magma blog. Interesting comments thread – mostly UK poets, but the angst and challenges seem to be identical to those faced by US poets.

I agree with the commenter who said (in so many words) that we need to stop trying to pretend that poetry is a commercially viable proposition. It just isn’t. But that inaccurate paradigm dictates so much of the discussion about poetry publication and poetry promotion.

in praise of Difficult

There is this Rilke quote that you can find all over the internet (although sorry I can’t find where he actually said it):

What is required of us is that we love the difficult and learn to deal with it. In the difficult are the friendly forces, the hands that work on us.

I did find this in Letters to a Young Poet, though (letter No. 7):

Most people have (with the help of conventions) turned their solutions toward what is easy and toward the easiest side of the easy; but it is clear that we must trust in what is difficult; everything alive trusts in it […]. We know little, but that we must trust in what is difficult is a certainty that will never abandon us; it is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be one more reason for us to do it.

Mere assertions, really, that stand or fall less on the strength of the evidence presented than on whether the assertions happen to resonate with the audience.

Well, they resonate with me. I’m a fan of Difficult, mostly. Yes, we all deal (must deal) in one way or another with Difficult when we come upon it, or it upon us. And, yes, what is my difficult is not necessarily yours. Everyone’s difficult is different.

But we all know what our difficult is, immediately, when we see it. And then there are Questions about it.

On the tactical level: When I am faced with Difficult, do I a) run from it or b) face it? On the strategic (more important?) level – when I do face Difficult, is it because I have a) stumbled upon it or b) sought it out?

There was recently an exchange on Difficult on the New Poetry list. Poet X posted in outrage about some incomprehensible work by some famous difficult poet (Peter Manson, as it happens). (You know how it goes: This means nothing to me. How can it mean anything to anyone!? Do this artist and his/her supporters take me for a fool? Anyone could do this! Watch me do it right here! Etc.)

And someone nice responded: Poet X, The piece you quote has been taken out of context. Yes, the whole work is difficult, but worth the effort, trust me. “Difficulty,” said the responder, “is usually the entry fee for anything new (or new in one’s experience), in the arts and elsewhere. Complaining about it makes no more sense than arriving on an unknown island and being offended by the lack of maps.”

To which my hero of the moment, Bob Grumman, responded (his response reproduced here with permission):

I commend [Poet X] for at least complaining about it, the standard reaction to such stuff of mainstreamers being to ignore it. I also think he SHOULD complain about there being no maps. That is one of my on-going complaints: no critical attention paid to people doing work like Manson’s or like other poets in schools of poetry totally or almost totally unknown to academia like, yes, mathematical poetry.

Why not, I just thinkz: a college class devoted to Literary Incomprehensibilty. Start with an overview of all the great writers whose work was first thought incomprehenisible, then do Stein’s Tender Buttons, excerpts from Finnegans Wake (neither of which I yet find comprehensible, except for a few lines here and there, myself) and “The Wasteland” and maybe something else from back then). Then present students with a list of incomprehensible contemporary texts by people like Manson, Jim Leftwich, P. Inman, Clark Coolidge, John M. Bennett, Scott Helmes, and require each student to choose one text no one else will be working on and require a thousand-word appreciation due at the close of the course. Devote each class after that to discussions of the poems. The teacher should guide but not give any help of substance–for instance, he might suggest where criticism of some of the authors or writers like them may be found, and maybe ask a clarifying question or two, but leave the students on their own. Group efforts allowed, perhaps encouraged.

Goals: forcing each student to confront the incomprehensible and find ways of dealing with it; astonishing a lucky few into a capacity for appreciation they wouldn’t have believed they could have (like me, when a friend said something that suddenly made me at 18 see what the impressionist painters were doing, and caused me on my own within weeks to appreciate the abstract expressionists and all kinds of other non-representational painters I had hitherto had contempt for). But also forcing those not able to appreciate whatever texts they had to try to appreciate to say what those texts lacked, what they did wrong, what it was about them that prevented appreciation–all of which would have to improve their critical sense. Intelligent negativity counting as much as intelligent positiveness.


The Chinese word “Pu” is often translated as “the uncarved block,” and refers to a state of pure potential which is the primordial condition of the mind before the arising of experience.

which poetry press should I help?

There are fifteen hundred non-profit calls on every dollar in everyone’s purse, and a donor’s problem is often simply deciding where to bestow every ear-marked dollar. When it comes to general charitable giving, I annually set aside a specific portion of my income for specific charities that focus on areas of interest to me and have a demonstrated record of responsibly using donations.

Sites like the Combined Federal Campaign, which collect and provide standardized information on hundreds of charities, are useful on this latter point. CFC, for example, “calculates and publishes participating charities’ percentage of administrative and fundraising expenses (AFR) and advises donors that an AFR in excess of 35% is considered high by many in the philanthropic community” (I see that the charity I am supporting this year has a 2.1% AFR). There are also sites like the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance and Charity Navigator. But none of these sites seem to have poetry-press-specific searches.

I’m afraid I’m demonstrating terrifying ignorance by even asking, but are there comparable sites with such information about poetry presses? Or does one have to seek such information directly from the press? I am all for supporting poetry presses – particularly in these very difficult times – and I’d like to contribute regularly to at least one or two, but I admit a bias in favor of presses that can demonstrate to my earnest control-freaky self effective and responsible use of donor funds. Any pointers in this regard greatly appreciated.

woe is us

“.. what we need in poetry are more people who don’t have a stake in it, more people who don’t know the people, the real people behind the words to care about poetry enough to write about it. This is true in every other field, it seems, but us. This is a problem because there is hardly any “demand” for poetry beyond practicing poets.”

Victoria Chang making an excellent point. When was the last time you read a review of someone’s poetry by a practicing poet that said: I consider this work weak, for the following reasons…?

Either people (and that includes me) say stuff is great, or they say nothing. I’ve been on a recent roll of ordering and reading chapbooks and collections by poetry blogosphere poets. Some of it is really good stuff and I have been and will continue to write enthusiastically about it.

Some of it, though, makes me go WTF?! and wonder what the publishing world and standards in general are coming to. I could defend my WTF reactions meaningfully and respectfully in reviews, I think, but I’m choosing not to. Choosing not to even begin to go there.

For snivelingly cowardly reasons, mostly related to my self-interest as an aspiring poet myself.

Woe is me. And us. Where are we going to get the critical feedback we really need, if we’re all so busy scratching each other’s backs…?

Related post here.

The Special Relationship

“A phrase often used to describe the exceptionally close political, diplomatic, cultural and historical relations between the United States and the United Kingdom.”

In everything but poetry?

I’ve been comparing the frequency and level of engagement in the responses in this forum to those in this one

And at least this UK discussion board has a forum for US (& other) poetry. I’m not aware of any US discussion board which gives a specific reciprocal place to UK (& other) poetry.

The US and UK poetry seem, from here, to be two separate universes, two distinct planets, with only the occasional pond-straddling pioneer (Rob Mackenzie and just a handful of others come to mind) at the ‘working’ level, where most of us operate.  (At the mega-poet level - where there are mega-poets - all things become much more equal, don’t they?)

Is this an accurate picture? If so, is such working-level separateness good or bad for Poetry?

And that’s just the US-UK divide. There’s also the huge and important rest of the English-speaking poetry blogosphere.  Is there more or less connectedness there?

Should people who care about Poetry be trying to do anything about any of this?

Or should we just be all Candide and il faut cultiver son jardin?

true or false

a) Nic Sebastian hasn’t written a poem in more than two months

b) There is no room in Nic Sebastian’s junk-yard/creepy-attic/stale-leftovers -packed head for poetry at the moment

c) Nic Sebastian is no longer a poet

d) The angels are weeping for Nic Sebastian

flaws and perfection

Scavella - who writes the best sevenlings – has been busy.

And is making me think about what I’m doing.

I got more or less serious about studying and writing poetry just about two and a half years ago. My first publication - submitted on a monumental dare to myself - came in November 2006 (thanks, Shit Creek Review!) Subsequent submissions were made cautiously, in great trepidation and greater angst.  Fourteen months later, I have a total of 22 pieces either published or accepted for publication.  (Full list here.) I’ve tried to submit only to places I will always be happy to claim as a publication credit, and I think I’ve succeeded.

Rejections were never any surprise. Acceptances always were. Which remains true today.  But the paradigm has shifted over the last year or so, and so therefore has the quality of the surprise.  At the beginning, the rejection of a piece signaled to me a flaw in the piece, and it was dashing for that reason.   Now – after having a number of pieces rejected several times before going on to find good homes – I find I am dashed by rejection more as evidence of failure to connect, than as evidence of a flawed piece. And, conversely, delighted by acceptance as evidence of successful connection, rather than of a perfect piece.

And, now, confused about just what a “flawed” piece is. Or a “perfect” one.

I don’t think either is what I used to think it is.

publication — who needs it?

Julie has some unhappy thoughts.

I sympathize. What can you do? Poetry is a changeling kid with burning eyes. You can’t treat it like the other kids. If you put it on your to-do list, it will sit right up with its straight straight back and laugh at you. Between the eyes. With a laugh you think sounds like a spoon stuck in the sink garbage disposal until you realize it sounds like jasmine rice spilling over a glass table.  

And it’s moved in to stay.

How do you live with something like that?


A real diehard, indestructible, irresolvable obsession in a poet is nothing less than a blessing. The poet with an obsession never has to search for subject matter. It is always right there, welling up like an Artesian spring on a piece of property with bad drainage.

- Tony Hoagland, Real Sofistikashun

One of the things I did this summer was to look at all the poetry I have written as a body of work, rather than as disparate, random poems. Put it in piles, sort it by themes. I ended up with five main piles — poems of human dysfunction; relationship poems; motherhood poems; God-shaped poems and existential/human condition poems.

I was certainly surprised by the first and the fourth categories. But I wouldn’t call any one of them an “obsession.”

Sometimes I convince myself that all this time I’ve only been picking at the edges of a scab with this poetry lark and that somewhere there is indeed an obsession lurking.  And that I should just bite the bullet and rip it off.

The scab, I mean. To get the Artesian spring of obsession going.

Me being a property with generally bad drainage and quite suitable, I think.