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Ross Sutherland foresees the future of poetry

October 9, 2009

Publishing this in full here, as it has peculiar resonances with my Revolutions in Form poetry show at the Bluecoat on 18th October.


Thanks Ross!

Poet Ross Sutherland on poetry in the near future
Here’s a quick story about the death of poetry. It starts in the not-too-distant future with Poetry4All.com, a reasonably-priced, comprehensive, cross-publisher retail platform for buying poetry.

I think that sounds like a pretty good idea, but then again, I just invented it, so of course I like it. My original business plan is to attract customers to Poetry4All.com through the audio functions. You can download The Birthday Letters, turn on Ted Hughes, and let him read along with you. Then, if Hughes becomes dull, I’ve installed Brian Blessed on the other side. With my audio in place, I produce weekly podcasts, featuring highlights from new collections, plus well-known poets presenting their favourites.

However, despite being the country’s one-stop shop for all your poetry needs, Poetry4All still isn’t making me enough cash. I feel like I’ve barely tapped into the colossal online poetry community, which churns out thousands of poems every day onto the message boards of Britain. I decide my website needs to accommodate these poets too. I need to turn these eager producers into eager consumers.

I relaunch the website and throw the doors wide open. It’s one big poetry house-party, and because I’m really popular, everybody comes. However, many of my new poet friends don’t seem to have any connection with my old friends. Operating outside the publishing industry, these new poets are strange adjuncts from other artforms. They’re mutant poets: cybertext authors, installation artists, poet-filmmakers, a capella rappers, unpublished page poets born in the wrong century.

Trawling through my website soon becomes like walking into an incomprehensible bar-room brawl. If you knew little about poetry before coming in, you’ll know even less when you leave. It’s hardly a cohesive community. My published poets threaten to pull out now that my website’s top five most popular poems are all limericks about cats.

Forced out into public, but frustrated at their inability to distinguish their own work, the poets start to become increasingly inventive with their self-labelling (even poets are savvy with branding in the not-too-distant future). With help from the press, micro-movements emerge, emulating the quick turnover of fashion and music industries. They even start to write manifestos again.

It turns out, by forcing the community together, I’d inadvertently shown them how much they hate each other. And seeing as they’re either all poets, or none of them, they decide its best to remove the word “poetry” from their sales pitch altogether. After decades of hybridisation and misappropriation, the term gets quietly killed off and replaced with a glut of sexy subcategories instead.

And despite this sacrifice, I think that’s pretty much a happy ending. Readers are happy. Sales increase, so the writers are happy. The publishers are happy. Here at Poetry4All, we’ve got a nightmare rebrand ahead of us, but apart from that, we’re pretty happy too. And sure, it’s sad that poetry had to die, but in doing so, we might have just ensured the content inside has the best chance of survival.

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