Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

New media and poetry


Symposium of Struga Poetry Evenings 2012




by Germain Droogenbroodt



First of all I must warn the reader of this article that I am a poet, translator and publisher of modern international poetry since many decades, but not at all a fervent user of the modern communication “gadgets”. In fact I use my cell phone ONLY when I am abroad as I hate to listen to persons which do not know how to kill their time and have nothing important to say, but insist in saying it, while I always have a lack op time, coping nearly daily with deadlines.


I set up my Face Book long ago but add new information but 2-3 times a year and open it hardly once per month, it are mainly known and unknown friend which fill it up. No, so far Face Book did not convince me as the appropriate system to promote decent poetry, it appears to me mainly as the written version of the cell phone where a lot of worthless information is being written for friends and no friends.


I know about the existence of Twitter, but never heard about “Pinterest” or about “Myspace” before receiving the invitation to write this paper. Am I a kind of unworldly old fashioned being in a world where everybody hangs on its little ringing-machine as if their lives depend on it? Honestly speaking, I feel very happy and free NOT to depend on it and to ring people when I wish to do so at the time I decide. In fact, to write I always have gone to lonesome places without TV and even without internet. Moreover I used to write with a fountain pen, so that the words resist and ask to be thought before they fit into a verse. I love the scratching of the pen so I HEAR the poem coming letter by letter, word by word. No I do not need my ears to be connected to an I-phone or anything else. Silence is what my muse likes and needs. But once the poems have been written I use the keyboard and sometimes make changes in the structure of the poem as the typewritten text shows how the published poem will look like and I take much care of the structure of the poem, mainly so that the reader will read it more or less the way I think the poem should be read in order to understand it better.


Are the new types of communication a danger to poetry and would they endanger creativity? I do not think so. It is known that the abundant sending of messages with cell phones is harmful for the linguistic skill, as most users don’t care about the correct spelling of the words, as also a large number of youngsters which hardly write with a pen or ballpoint, have an illegible handwritings. However, although it appears to me that contemporary poetry, especially in Europe, does not reach the high quality of the first part of the former century, at least so far, I did not notice an increasing poverty in the linguistic skills of contemporary poetry because of the abundance of electronic gadgets. On the other hand, I doubt that they are of great help for the living poet. Because of internet the offer of poetry has become so overwhelming that one can’t see anymore the wood for the trees, but being selective, it also offers the possibility to find good poetry, at least when one knows the name of the - already famous - poet. To find good, but not yet well known poets – and how many living poets are well known? – the search might be disappointing. The interested poetry reader might get exhausted of reading to many writings of would be poets before discovering a solid piece of beauty.


I recently read in a German newspaper an interview with the Brazilian bestselling author Paulo Coelho who pretends that the internet is his global village. He has eight million fans at Face Book and two million of them read monthly his blog. In spite of that huge number of friends, he still has time to write his books and pretends to talk to his TWO MILLION! readers with twitter. While reading that interview I though about the famous poem by Fernando Pessoa: a poet is simulator / He simulates so completely / That he manages to simulate he is pain / A pain he really feels. Poets alike, novelist also invents things. So I guess that Paulo Coelho “simulates” that he speaks with two million fans as even having a few hundred secretaries, he hardly would be able to .speak to all those admirers.


As to communication with fellow poets, fans and interested readers, the internet has made it much faster and easier and is doubtlessly a welcome tool. Like many colleagues I have a website which I update quarterly. The average sales of poetry books in Flanders (the Dutch speaking part of Belgium) are 250 copies. Since I set up my website it has been visited so far more than 117.000 times, mainly by readers from abroad which I never would have reached. Also distribution has become much faster and easier. Meeting last June the president of a group of painters at Lake Como in Italy proposed to have all the members painted works inspired by my poetry book “Do You Know the County?, Meditations at Lake Como”, written at a long journey at the that lake in 1884. But that book is sold out since long and I do not have anymore extra copies.
It would have been a lot of work to make photocopies of the poems for all the members of that group, so I sent them by email and they distributed the work to all the painters.
Of course, there is also a well known danger of undesired copying as it does not leave the author any royalty for his work. But sure, email is a great invention and very useful for a writer.


Are new communications a subject matter of new poetry, or vice versa, is poetry a subject matter of new communications? I do not think so. So far I did not read much poetry about the new communication facilities and – with the exception of some people sending their no-poems as spam to any email address they can grasp, I do not receive that much information about good poetry, with the exception of what friends are mailing me. There are always exceptions and anybody can become an addict of the new communication systems, but as far as the majority of writers is concerned I suppose that they will keep doing what they always have done: writing their poems. During the last decades, sales of poetry books have decreased in most European countries, probably because nowadays there is an avalanche of equipment and tools to fill one’s free time. Instead of buying a book, persons in need for a poem for a striking event for which they need solace, such as a serious sickness or death might now search for it in the internet, but I do not think that there is a much larger need for poetry in whatever form. However, on the contrary, the fact that the majority of persons continuously “communicate” with short messages, thus do not phone or visit their friends anymore, palpable, face to face contacts or a warm embrace have become rare so that in spite of the greater communication facilities than before, many persons might feel much more lonesome than before. Statistic might prove that the numbers of suicide or drug addicts did not decrease but increase although one can write or phone at any moment of the day, wherever one stays.

Not much more than 100 years ago, cinema has been invented. At that time, many a critic predicted that the new invention would be the end of theatre. Halve a decade later, the same happened with the appearance of television, also movies would disappear. But both, theatre and movies are still there. Will e-book replace real books? For sure, e-books have advantages, especially for the traveler, he can take a whole library in his pocket and read whatever book he wishes wherever he is. But I feel sure that the real book lover never will replace that cold plastic thing by a REAL book, where one can touch and feel the pages, smell the paper, write some notes in one’s own handwriting, pack it nicely and offer it with a dedication to a beloved friend. No, books will certainly not disappear.


As to the so called social media, we should first find out and be sure that they are really social and not mere commercial enterprises eager to have as many customers as possible to fill their bank accounts with sky skimming amounts of money. And the public as co-creator of poetic contents? No, a reader might be a valuable critic and induce the poet to a minor change or a new thought, but co-create? Definitely not! Neither will specialized poetry nets replace poetry festivals. If poetry festivals have lost audience it is not because of the poetic nets I think, but because in many countries poetry festivals used to be one of the few important events local people could enjoy. In this case the new communication systems are playing a very negative role; they do not promote cultural events which interest only a limited number of persons, but happenings for the masses as do the media, as do politicians. They do not care for quality, but for quantity, for the crowd. But poetry will not disappear. Through the ages it has been marginal and marginal it will remain. But it will remain!


Germain Droogenbroodt


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