15 August 2006

Poetry and the Internet

As you might already know, I spend a lot of time surfing the Web. It's my job. One element seems to constantly shine through on almost all sites: poetic license.

Now, I'm not exactly referring to the use of alliteration or skewed syntax. No, I'm referring more to stanza length and enjambment. Although enjambment occurs more sporadically depending on the text size at which viewers choose to set their monitor, the length of stanzas (better known as paragraphs) have shortened from that of conventional prose.

Then there's the size of the area in which the content is placed, usually a narrow swath of virtual space no more than 500 pixels wide. The average characters that can fit on a line of online text rarely exceeds 60, while the average book or MS Word document at 12 pt font size averages around 90 or more.

The driving principle in content management for websites is to be concise and simple. This means avoiding the desire to create long-winded walls of text for your web page. No one likes to open a page and see words strung from the top left corner to some imaginably long scroll length's bottom right corner. Unless the reader has no choice but to scour through your prose for needed information, you have lost another viewer.
No, pages that get read offer short chunks of information where every word counts and is placed in the most effective order.

For all those familiar with the general principles of poetry, all this web design principle talk should ring a bell. Writing Web copy is like writing poetry. Even though the debate over whether or not the Internet is destroying folks ability to read, people are still spouting out the proverbial "I read it on the Internet." So, people are reading, and they're making websites, and a lot of them are actually publishing their poems.

Gary Sullivan offers a relevant blog entry that points at what I'm talking about here. Poetry is once again so marketable that it's being advertised on MTV in the form of "ringpoems" (personally, I think they should be called "poemrings" to avoid confusing them with the group activity).

Poetry seems to be coming to life again via the Web. Certainly, there were those poets who created poetry-specific online communities, but what of all those who read what they produced? What about those who use poetic principles of line breaks in constructing their online content? Is poetry really feeling a comeback thanks to online text formatting?

p.s. This post represents my initial pondering. Over the next few weeks, I shall refine these questions and offer you the ability to watch revision at work.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting questions. It got me thinking about how I make line-break decisions when doing graphic design, not just online but also when making posters, articles, etc. It now occurs to me that it's very much like writing a poem. I see examples all the time where sloppy or confusing enjambment in text ruins an otherwise well-designed piece.

Your discussion of the shift between consumption of peotry from print and cyberprint and collary influence on writers got me thinking, "What happens/happened to poetry when it makes/made the shift from handwritten to print?" I always handwrite for close or fine writing, mostly because I find myself obsessed with brevity when I type.

You pose, "Is poetry making a comeback?" If by that you mean the "real poetry" that people read in books and online and go to hear at a slam, then no, I don't think so. I think that stuff is pretty much as popular as it has been for the recent past, and gonna pretty much stay the same for the foreseeable future. I don't fault poetry for not growing because it seems to me the competition for people's artistic attention is stronger than ever. Poetry's doing well just to hold it's own.

But if you expand the definition of poetry to include poetic lyrics, poetic scripts and plays, comedy, well-designed websites, good advertisements, perhaps even the poetry of human movement (athletics, dance, etc.)... if things like that are considered then I'd say that consumption and appreciation of poetry is definitiely growing.