Poetry has long been the domain of scribbling academics with degrees in Literature, squeezing erudite metaphors into trochaic tetrameter, and publishing, with a flourish, great tomes of verse. Now, though, with the rise of the web as a platform for creativity, anyone with access to an internet connection can find themselves QWERTY-ing their way to celebrated poetdom.
Last weekend, following his stint as a judge for the Forward Prizes for Poetry 2014, Jeremy Paxman spoke out about poetry’s place in the modern world, claiming that its writers are not “talking to people as a whole”. The implication that poetry is not accessible to the masses has sparked some debate around whether or not this is true.
On the same day as Paxman’s comments, Patrick Roche’s performance poem “21” hit four million views on YouTube. And for good reason. It’s not often a poem gives me goosebumps, but the poignant, emotionally-charged dynamism of his words reached out through the screen and held me captive. For those of you not familiar with spoken-word poetry, it’s a genre of verse which relies on the power of vocabulary, and the dramatic delivery of the lines by the poet, to convey its message. Roche’s performance, at the CUPSI 2014 (College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational), was uploaded to YouTube by Button Poetry, an organisation founded in 2011 , which, according to its website, aims to “broaden poetry’s audience” and “develop a greater level of cultural appreciation” for the art form.
Button Poetry’s YouTube channel is host to over three hundred performance poems, and it’s just a drop in the ocean compared to what is available across the site as a whole. From love to hate to feminism to body image, these poems are a channel for the discussion of what makes people tick, and they’re available online for anyone to see.
Yet the internet is not just a place to read poetry – it’s the perfect place to publish it too. There are entire websites dedicated to fulfilling the amateur or budding poet’s desire to be heard. Websites like Allpoetry, on which users can create a free account, allow the first tentative steps to be taken in the world of online poetry. This is not a select group either, it has 51,000 likes on Facebook and the site is a thriving community of readers, writers and critics of the poetic form. On the internet, everyone is equal, and this convergence of similar minds around a common topic allows for the exploration of literature in a way that would be impossible with traditional, written texts. Just scrolling through the #poetry tag on blogging site Tumblr yields a perhaps unexpected abundance of rich, varied poetry – an Internet Anthology in and of itself.
In contrast to Paxman’s suggestion, there is a whole world of online poetry, and an audience keen to interact with it, which can be overlooked by the older generation. We have this incredible resource at our fingertips, literally at the click of a button, and it may just overturn the way we receive poetry in the future.