Image of a computer monitor, keyboard, and person using a mouse.

I am ready to launch my website.

This is not something I’ve undertaken without long consideration.  After all, what does a website have to do with my writing?  Launching a website isn’t likely to lead me to write more poems – in fact, I spent hours trying to design it when I might have been at my notebook.  It won’t provide me with a deeper understanding of the pantoum, or The Dream Songs, or Milton’s enjambment, or the contemporary literary scene in San Francisco.  I don’t expect it to confer any sudden respectability upon my work.  But what it might do is make my work more available.

And there’s the leap, the projection into the void.  Available to whom?  Who am I writing for?  I know there’s someone out there – but is there anyone out there for my poems?

Many poets I know have a complicated relationship with social media and self-promotion, a relationship that must be constantly renegotiated to allow them to best achieve results for their careers while avoiding crippling public scorn and private feelings of worthlessness.  They Twitter, but refuse to Facebook.  Or they Facebook, but carefully ration their posts.  They launch a website dedicated to their work, but don’t include an author’s photo.  They minutely tailor their biographies.  They advertise, quietly.  All of them dread being stuck permanently in their current state of near-universal disregard.  Yet even more than this they worry about the whiff of cut-throat desperation that clings to the arrant self-promoter.  All of us want to live forever, but first we have to live in this world.

Why the self-consciousness?  My photographer friends put up websites promoting their work with no fear of recriminations.  I myself recently purchased a print for my brother’s wedding that I found online on a photographer’s website.  Living in rural New York and exhibiting locally, Carla Shapiro would have been completely inaccessible to me had she not created a presence for herself online.  Because of her website, distance and circumstance availed not, and I found the perfect gift for Alex and Becky – not to mention a new, inspiring artist to follow.  Art and commerce intermingle with great frequency and success all over the internet.  Is our ambivalence toward a poet’s website related, then, to the fact that poems don’t really sell?  Or that, being infinitely reproducible, any individual specimen is of little worth?  A writer might try to sell broadsides of her poems from a website the way an artist sells lithographs, but broadsides, however beautiful, aren’t given the same monetary value as art.  The organization Broadsided uses this fact to its advantage, working with poets to create broadsides for wide distribution – but not for a profit.  Those with a book may link to their publishers or, but most poetry books don’t yield profits either.  What, then, is the nature of a poet’s presence online?

Designing my website, I was reminded of one of those television commercials advertising corporations so rarefied and esoteric that their products are never identified.  A montage of sleek modernity, abstract steel, polymer resins blitzed by light, soothingly accompanied by a Bach quartet: resolve to a still shot of the company name, white caps on black.  This company may control high finance; it may be building a better bomb; it rules you, me, and the third world.  Selling no product, these commercials advertise the company itself; providing no context or information, they become pure style.  Notice us we’re powerful.  Like us we’re in control.  Pay us we know what’s what.  One of my great worries as I launch my website is that I’ve inadvertently created one of these commercials. Am I promoting my work, or promoting myself?

As I said, the contemporary poet has to constantly renegotiate his relationship with self-promotion.  Ploughshares Blog, but no Twitter.  Author’s website, but no personally autographed beefcake shots.  My page is ready to go – it may even be up by the time this blog is posted.  But you’ll have to find it for yourself.

(Okay, here’s a hint  –!)

This is Peter’s fifteenth post as a Guest Blogger.


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