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Ten years of Facebook has become, in some ways, like ten years of the horseless carriage, or ten years of the jet plane, or ten years of the television... a decade goes a long way towards normalising, embedding, some new fangled thing into our lives.  Facebook has tended to do more good than bad, though it continues to suck up a lot of spare time, and offer a forum for trolls to hector and vilify.  Also, the deadly unfriend button has done more to ruin friendships than the poke button has marriages.  Still, it seems to me that Google remains the more powerful tool, and while Facebook has certainly done much to link poets around the world, a vast alternative poetscape has not developed, though myself and some computer guys in California thought that would happen back in 2003.  The reasons are cultural, and based on how poetry books get published, reviewed, distributed, and prized.  The scene remains local, then national, and few poets become "international" figures.  Anyway, has there yet been a study of, dare I say, a PhD on, Facebook poetry?  Probably not, because academics long ago seemed to stop actually reading and analysing new poetry in any comprehensive way.  The virus that is poetry language has escaped the lab.  A pity because under the microscope is where poetry flares and comes to life.  Or can do.  Anyway, Facebook poetry is any poetry that is published on Facebook, especially like the group I co-created years ago:
It has over 23,000 members.  Hundreds post poems, photos, and links to their ebooks and youtube videos, every day.  There have been thousands, maybe millions, of poems posted at various Facebook sites over the past decade.  The fascinating things this poetry says about the art of poetry, and the socialisation of poetry, are mostly ignored.  I have a few things to say.  Official published poets should read this poetry and shudder.  They need to know how little their work has impacted on the masses who write their own poetry.  Perhaps sadly, perhaps wonderfully, Facebook poetry thrives in a world sealed by ignorance from any knowledge of so-called contemporary poetry by "famous" poets.  The poets who post their work are resolutely amateurish.  They are almost always emotive, religious, romantic, expressive and self-focused.  The poems tend to be simple, in very simple forms - maybe a sonnet or a haiku will appear, and almost always in free verse, with the most basic sort of rhyme.  This is not a description meant to mock.  It is a simply observation - what poetry means to hundreds of thousands of people who I guess care about it enough to write it and post it is not what poetry means to anyone who teaches poetry at university, or published poetry in leading journals, or with established presses.  It is poetry of the people, and it is very raw, and poignant.  I think we do an injustice to these Facebook poets to not at least confront this new form of folk writing.  It will likely yield many tropes and new forms, under analysis.  Ten years of anything means there have to be a few gems out there.  Right?


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Wheeler Light currently lives in Boulder, Colorado.

Life Jacket

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With the death of the poetic genius John Ashbery, whose poems, translations, and criticism made him, to my mind, the most influential American poet since TS Eliot, 21st century poetry is moving into less certain territory.

Over the past few years, we have lost most of the truly great of our era: Edwin Morgan, Gunn, Hill, Heaney and Walcott, to name just five.  There are many more, of course. This is news too sad and deep to fathom this week.  I will write more perhaps later. 

I had a letter from Ashbery on my wall, and it inspired me daily.  He gave me advice for my PhD. He said kind things about a poetry book of mine.

He was a force for good serious play in poetry, and his appeal great. So many people I know and admire are at a loss this week because of his death. It is no consolation at present to think of the many thousands of living poets, just right now. But impressively, and even oddly, poetry itself seems to keep flowing.