Member Rara Avis
This is a little frightening, but I think I actually find myself in agreement with Brad on the importance of narrative in poetry and the dangers of letting our work become so personal as to be either incomprehensible or just plain boring.
The main Passions site has become pretty popular, running a bit over one million visitors a month right now. When you consider that Yahoo, the most popular site on the Internet, hit 36 million visitors in December, you can see we're moving into the big leagues. By way of comparison on the other end of the spectrum, Poetry Super Highway (which is an excellent site and has been around three years) gets less than 3,000 visitors a month. Those of you with your own web site know just how difficult it can be to entice large numbers of people to read poetry. So what has made Passions different?
Judging by my email, one of the biggest factors has been the descriptions that accompany each and every poem. From day one, I've insisted that every author write a short paragraph or two to help provide insight into the reason the poem was written. I've encouraged them to be both honest and very personal. Don't tell me "it's about a man falling in love." Instead, tell me "this is how I feel when she walks into the room." Getting a good description (which is a misnomer) out of an author has often been like pulling teeth. Michael, for example, has admitted to me he hates writing them (yet, his descriptions are invariably among the best). A lot of poets feel their work should speak for itself, and stand alone or not at all. Maybe they're right. But not at Passions.
The descriptions, of course, turn every poem at Passions into a narrative tale. They provide insight and understanding often lacking in typical poetry. I have become increasingly convinced over the past year that a lot of people want to read and enjoy poetry, certainly as many or more than read prose (see, Brad, I knew we'd find something to disagree about ). But they also want to understand what they read. Yes, there are many more people who read fiction than read poetry. But what kind of fiction? Most of the world resolutely avoids "literary" fiction (non-plot stories) - and those are probably the same ones avoiding poetry. They won't read what they don't understand.
In one sense, Passions caters to the lazy reader. Most people simply will not spend a few hours trying to wrestle meaning from a dozen lines of poetry (any more than they will a page of prose). In another sense, I cater to what I call the "soap opera" effect. People want to read about real people, in real situations. The narrative impact of our descriptions help fulfill both of those goals.
Does that suggest there is no room in this world for "meaningful" non-narrative poetry? Does it mean that Passions exists only for the lowest common denominator, the lazy soap-opera-fan reader? Of course not. I've always defined our audience at the main site as "people only learning to appreciate poetry." Not all of them will move beyond the greeting card genre. Not all of them will move beyond spoon-fed understanding. Not all of them will find the joy of discovering layers of subtlety and meaning in the best poetry.
But some of them will.
I also find myself agreeing with Brad (shudder) and others about the importance of learning both structured and non-structured techniques, regardless of which you choose as your own medium. But I'll carry that a step farther and insist it's equally important to learn the techniques of prose. I wish I had more time to spend in the Fiction Workshop. Better yet, I wish someone else would jump in there and take up where I've failed from lack of time. When I wrote the introduction to the Workshop I said that "Fiction and poetry are not separate mediums, but rather siblings within the family of writing." I firmly believe you cannot excel at one without understanding both.
Strive not to be a poet. Strive, instead, to be a writer.