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Saturday, 10 May 2008

Staying Ahead: Bloodaxe and Poetry DVDs

As the Guardian observes, today, in its review (by British poet Frances Leviston), Bloodaxe has released (yet another) anthology, this time to mark its 30th anniversary, combining word with sight and sound: rather than including a CD with the book it's offering a DVD of poets, to complement the text (as Rattapallax was among the first to do, in 2002, with its anthology, which I co-edited, Short Fuse; now it does DVD/magazines).

Despite what Graves and Riding might have said, in their famous critique, anthologies helpfully situate poets, communities, and moments, especially for readers who cannot keep pace with the baffling shifts and turns of the poetry world in all its momentum.

The review also (I was glad to note) mentions the Oxfam Life Lines CDs. Oxfam did a limited poetry DVD for the first Life Lines CD, in 2006, but it only featured 12 or so poets; it was made available on YouTube, too. There is nothing all that "new" about the Bloodaxe book/DVD initiative. Rather, it seems a natural extension of what's been happening in multimedia poetry dissemination since 1999, at least.

And, before that, Bob Holman produced the brilliant, MTV-style The United States of Poetry, as book, and TV series, which combined poem and image in a truly uplifting way. The future is likely to be to not release the book, or DVD, at all, but have all the work online, on a platform that allows poetry videos to be downloaded, or viewed, there.

Still, it is a good sign. Recently, British poetry publishers have begun to openly, and bravely, explore the digital domain. I look forward to seeing (and hearing, and reading) this new anthology, and welcome it. If poetry means to stay alive for a contemporary audience, it will do more of this; though, as Davie observed, with regards to Hardy, and his anthology pieces (he wanted to place poems in The Golden Treasury, that time's version of canonicity) - the best poems are sometimes those not written for a reader, but, instead, irregardless of one.

In this lies the current tension in poetics - no longer between experiment and mainstream - but between those who think poetry can or should be reproduced and distributed, much like any other form of entertainment - and those who think it is, however various, ultimately an "art" - an art perhaps best left resistant to the systems put in place by capitalism to sell, use, even, yes, enjoy, culture and text. I myself am torn on this issue.

I long argued for a broad distribution of poetry (and Eyewear practises this effort in its modest ways); and yet, more and more, am aware of how poetry qua poetry is a subtle, complex form of linguistic expression, that can become miscommunicated if not handled with love and informed appreciation - even study.

Poetry asks of its reader a kind and quality of attention that only close reading (as opposed to close listening, or watching) usually affords. Perhaps this is two issues, related, but not directly impinging on the other: a need to get more poetry to more people, and yet, a need, also, to make sure that poetry itself, in the process, remains true to its traditions, and its elements.
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