Dominic Cavendish on literature

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The Independent Culture
This year was the year we fell for the epic myths of Camelot and cyberspace, and all their deferrals of pleasure. It was, naturally, the year that the Poetry Society went on-line. There, aloft in the great Internet, twinkles its web site - a finger pointed at verse-starved, Christmas-stuffed surfers.

The first thing you notice about the Poetry Map is that it is short on grand theories. The only lapse occurs in the welcome page: "Electronic communication makes it possible to share words around the world at the click of a mouse and that places ever more responsibility on language to create shapes and meanings which actually communicate something worth finding." Huh? Perhaps inevitably the map avoids trying to be hip and endeavours to educate. Many of the alternative sounding zones (such as "The Sea of Inspiration") contain worthy text-only pages: tips on publishing, potted biographies of contemporary poets etc.

The best use for the Poetry Map is as a gateway to other sites. You can either opt for the relative safety of pure data (the Internet Poetry Archive, say) or risk putting a girdle round the Earth. You could come up with anything from the home pages of Douglas Clark, a semi-retired, self-publishing statistician scribbler to (via the oh-so-Swiftian "Yahoo!" searcher) the work of Preston Demouchette Jr, inmate at Louisiana State Penitentiary. Yahoo! also lets you in on the art of telepoetics, a collection of Avian poetry (exclusive poems about cockatoos, juncos and pigeons, left), and the Electronic Poetry Centre at the University at Buffalo. In the centre's anthology of "collaboratively assembled poems" you can glimpse the future of poetry - panegyrics to the power of the net ("I collaborate, therefore I am"). You may laugh, you may weep, but you can't ignore it for much longer.

As WH Auden said in his poem, "E-Mail": "They continue their dreams,/ But shall wake soon and long for info... For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?" It dot could dot be you slash slash.

The Poetry Society is at: http://www.bbcnc.org.uk/online/poetry

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