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

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“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.