- Who’s Zoomin’ Who?: The Poetics of www.poets.org and wings.buffalo.edu/epc
If, as Blake would have us believe, opposition is true friendship, then some antagonists certainly hide their affection better than others. Consider how the Academy of American Poets introduces itself on its new Web site:
The Academy of American Poets was founded in 1934 to support American poets at all stages of their careers and to foster the appreciation of contemporary poetry. The largest organization in the country dedicated specifically to the art of poetry, the Academy sponsors programs nationally. These include National Poetry Month; the most important collection of awards for poetry in the United States; a national series of public poetry readings and residencies; and other programs that provide essential support to American poets, poetry publishers, and readers of poetry.
Now consider how Charles Bernstein, the poet and Executive Editor and co-founder of SUNY Buffalo’s Electronic Poetry Center, describes the same organization (which he mistakenly refers to as the “American Academy of Poetry”):
Finally, there are the self-appointed keepers of the gate who actively put forward biased, narrowly focused and frequently shrill and contentious accounts of American poetry, while claiming, like all disinformation propaganda, to be giving historical or nonpartisan views. In this category, the American Academy of Poetry and such books as The Harvard Guide to Contemporary American Writing stand out.(248)
Since Bernstein’s memorable attack, his poetry and criticism have gone, to use Alan Golding’s phrase, “from outlaw to classic.” Appointed the David Gray Professor of Poetry and Letters at SUNY Buffalo, Bernstein faces the obvious charge that he has been co-opted by “the official verse culture” he condemns. In an ironic contrast, the sexagenarian Academy of American Poets finds itself a mere babe on the Internet. Opened in April to coincide with the second Annual National Poetry Month, the organization’s Web site faces comparisons and, to a certain degree, competition with the much better established Electronic Poetry Center. As if according to some New Age prophecy, the old have been made young, and the outcast reborn as Executive Editor.
Given such a background, the two sites might be said to offer an old fashioned war-of-words writ electronic, a continuation of poems and poetics by other means. Like the groups and figures behind them, both sites also must face the larger challenge of trying to find a place for poetry in the American public sphere. A skeptic might quip that the art can claim a National Poetry Month but not a national audience, while others offer anecdotal evidence in support of their hope that reports of poetry’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Regardless of which view is more accurate—and, frankly, who knows?—the Electronic Poetry Center and the Academy of American Poets’ Web site offer noteworthy models of how technology might allow what are often called “mainstream” and “oppositional” or “outsider” poetries to sustain themselves in an age of such insistent pulse checking. Among the questions, then, that I will consider are: what kind of poetries do the Web sites promote, and to what extent do they exploit or fail to appreciate the new interpretive, archival, and critical possibilities that the electronic age offers?
“Not Here For Years”
As a man said to me, we were buying fruit on Seventh Avenue, I know you by your picture, you are the lady who has not been here for thirty one years.—Gertrude Stein How Writing is Written (67)
In late March the Academy of American Poets released a press statement announcing it would establish a Web site. Run on the wire services, the story made several newspapers’ gossip pages, along with the news that Steven Spielberg had cast a former Supreme Court Justice to play the role of a Supreme Court Justice and Barbara Streisand had missed Celine Dion’s performance of Streisand’s academy-nominated song, “I Finally Found Someone,” because of “an ill-timed trip to the restroom.” Awarding the Academy’s efforts equal respect as Babs’ faux pas and the Jurist’s well...