Bernhard Cohen on Thu, 15 Oct 1998 11:16:45 +0200 (MET DST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Poetry on the Net - A Quest for the Truly Bad

Poetry on the Net - A Quest for the Truly Bad
Bernard Cohen

I've used the internet for about a year, put some writing on it (including
a poem, my second published poem ever, in a pocket of John Tranter's
Jacket e-zine), been convinced that donating novel extracts to large media
organisations is in my interest (the Age has a cyberspatial demi-chapter
of The Blindman's Hat and the Sydney Morning Herald has a virtual chunk of
Snowdome), and have set up a modest site for my writing and attempts at
Net humour. 

In my literarily directed netsurfing forays, I've come across plenty of
what we might call owner-operator poetry sites Q that is, pages whose
creators publish their own poems so that other poetry lovers and US
college students can find them. IUd never seen anything that I loved, but
hadn't looked in kind of systematic way, so that may not be surprising. 

It is possibly as yet unclear how the new technologies of email and the
internet will aid and hinder writers and poets. But rather than speak from
my underdeveloped aesthetic sensibilities, ignorance and inexperience, I
thought IUd be empirical. In terms of systematics, I am a beginner, so
began at the beginning: by plugging RpoetryS into various search engines,
and seeing what they came up with. 

The search engine Hotbot registers 298708 matches for the word 'poetry'.
Yahoo found 57 categories, 3376 sites, and 162350 web pages for poetry.
Altavista, as always, outdid others, coming up with the figure of
2,402,980 pages. 

Politicians, it is said, donUt so much tell the truth as make Rtruth
claimsS. Similarly, website builders make poetry claims. The time had come
to check out what the high-ranking sites were. 

No 1 on Yahoo was Blue Mountains greeting cards, and as I live in
Katoomba and have always wanted to write those dinky little rhymes, this
seemed fortuitous. At the site, I was able to send a Happy kiss and
make-up day card to a friend I'd flamed the previous week for sending me
demi-spam, and who wrote back saying 'Bernard, That has to be one of the
most perverse things I've ever been sent... Thank you.'

On Lycos, eight of the top ten poetry sites were at Cara's Poetry Cove,
'hosted by Hypermart, the world's fastest growing business community.'

Eg: from a world that doesn't see what joy two can know, watching each
other, in love to learn and grow I [And this went on for screen after

Infoseek found 1,125,292 pages containing the word 'poetry', and presented
me a banner offering the opportunity to enter an on-line poetry
competition. This is run by The International Library of Poetry, and aside
from prizes ranging up to $1000 (and down to $28), I may be selected for
publication in an anthology. Under contest rules the following appears:

'By submitting a poem for this contest, the artist may also be eligible
for the one time publication of the poem by The International Library of
Poetry in a hardbound anthology. The International Library of Poetry is
under no obligation to publish every contest entry and can disqualify an
entry at any time. The artist is under no obligation whatsoever to
purchase a copy of the anthology in which the poem may appear.'

The top poetry page of Altavista's millions had moved. Tell your mother
and grandma! it demanded. The second page named the instructors for Santa
Clara University's poetry subjects. 

The sixth page, titled RMost poetry sucksS is not a critique of poetry,
but a series poems by the unnamed site builder. 

This was more hopeful, I thought. Self-consciously bad poetry: a new
research tangent. An opportunity to use the word 'bad' in a non-pejorative

Altavista lists 2361 'bad poetry' sites. It also lists 1826 'good poetry'
sites, but two of the top three 'good poetry' sites are: 

1. My not-so-good Poetry: His smile's at sweet as fresh picked fruit,
Which makes him look so adorably cute.

and 3. Jon's not-very-good poetry page.

Of the bad poetry sites, two of the top five are at Australian
universities. One contains three poems I wonUt inflict on you. (The poet,
Nigel, has apparently moved to Santa Fe.) Leesa, of the Tasmanian
Conservatorium, no longer exists. 

Could this be a characteristic of Rbad poetryS, that its creators are more
afflicted by address changes than poets in general? RBad Alien PoetryS is
no longer at Bad magnetic poetry (which IUll also spare
you) links to a poetry magnets site, which isn't there, but has been
replaced with the story of a bike trip across Michigan. RSpank, Otto Von -
original fikshin and bad poetry. Weird in its sober disregard for society
is no longer at . 

BearKlanUs bad poetry page web-publishes drippy love poems your ex-boy or
girlfriends have written and which you, being a vindictive person, have

For the serious student of bad poetry, Western Michigan Uni has a bad
poetry index, set up by creative writing teacher Seamus Cooney. Cooney
writes a rare reflective web-piece on badness: 

There is a huge amount of bad poetry in the world. Although new bad poems
are being written by the hundreds every day (many of them in university
creative writing classes), most bad poetry is simply weak and ineffectual
and lacking in interest and (fortunately) is soon forgotten. 

To achieve memorable badness is not so easy. It has to be done innocently,
by a poet unaware of his or her defects. The right combination of lofty
ambition, humorless self-confidence, and crass incompetence is rare and
preciousI these pages present some classics of badness: supreme
achievements of the lame, the naive, the meretricious, the bathetic, and
the sentimental. 

Note: the canon of bad poetry is as fluid and open to discussion and
emendation as any other literary canonI

Cooney puts forward Julia A Moore (1847-1920) as the Michigan equivalent
to the poet he calls the Great McGonigal. 

An extract from MooreUs poem, RKalamazooS: 

The Michigan Insane Asylum Is up on the top of the hill, And some
irresponsible crazies Meander around there at willI

But it is this next quatrain which lifts her into the immortals. Her poem
to WashingtonUs birthday, February 22nd, has the chorus: 

Beautiful twenty-second, Beautiful twenty-second, May the people ever keep
it, Beautiful twenty-second. 

There's not only virtual education out there, but concrete help. A listing
which promises fame for Rbad poetsS through the inclusion of email links,
has a change of address by means of which the surfer arrives at the
service site Rpoetry doctorS. 

RThe Poetry Doctor can help you with all your poetry needs. From layout to
content, from grammar to metaphor, she can give you the constructive aid
you need in getting your poetry up to where it should be! Using Adobe
Pagemaker), MS Word), and other programs (see below), the Doctor can turn
your poetry into a chapbook manuscript ready for you to take to the
printer. With extensive experience in poetry workshops, graduate classes,
and in teaching high school creative writing courses, the Poetry Doctor
can give you the critique you feel you need. All levels of pain are
available. The Poetry Doctor will bring chapbooks to press under the
auspices of Limax Press. Please send all inquiries to the below email

A number of bad poetry sites welcome contributions from appreciaters of
the genre. One bad poetry site for connoisseurs is The Coffee Shop Times.
It welcomes your entries, but they have to be bad in the stupid sense: 

MacPh'rs'n's W'mb't ! 

by Chris Sumberg (Fr Rob't B'rns!) O, yer pink and gristly! Yer eyes er
brite! Yer hair is bristly! O, ye er a wombat! A bonny, bonny wombat! A
sweet an' glist'nin' wombat in the dew!! 

On-line poetry generators

CreatOR is phrase-based, so it interpolates such phrases as RHoly flying
land shark, BatmanS, an attribute I see as a limitation. 

RShocked StiltonS grabs a bunch of words from PJ Harvey or Immanuel Kant
and puts them in any old order. Alternatively, you can type your own words
in (though it wouldnUt let me paste words in from elsewhere). Crappy. 

The Philosophical Phrase Generator, with its typing monkey logo, gives
pre-generated phrases for the blocked writer. On the subject of food, for
example, it offers: pure and free meritorious on-the-half shell meal
spoken lunch good supper on-the-half shell with-the-works skillful
barbecue spatial jam sharp dish microcosmic interfaced indifferent meat
and potatoes able curry unitary pie wish-fulfilling fully developed
mesmerized sausage naive spice easy goulash objectified nonidealistic
psychotherapeutic meal osmotic chop abiding steak underdetermined Eastern
moss covered junk food playful steak

insidecentralflorida generator uses shakespearian forms and is replicated
by district councils in their website games sections in pittsburgh and

At RThe Postman: living poetry siteS, you can generate Web haiku: choose
from five vocabs: pablo neruda, winter, coffee, computers, tao wisdom and
ferroelectrics. Copyright is claimed for all its generations, and it can
have them. 

Robopoet, which claims to be based on the approach of Gysin and Burroughs,
is pretty formulaic, to wit: Raggressive summer looks unholily, drunken
street concocts impersonally, traveled enticement concocts terribly,
undisciplined sack dies drolly, upright laundromat stoops thinlyS etc etc

ItUs something that the downloadable macintosh program McPoet can do with
one configurable syntax rule. McPoet is at . Its

RAnd here you are a writer, infinitely original and endowed with a
sensibility that is charming though beyond the understanding of the
vulgar.S Q Tristan Tzara, Patron Saint Of McPoet Configured with syntax
and vocabulary from John Tra nterUs _Under Berlin_ (UQP, Brisbane 1988),
after a couple of runs through and a touch of selectivity on my part,
McPoet came up with: 

Tranter McPoem 2

Internet poetry waited,
going to the magpies.
these obsessive distant neighbors
feel confused by its cool, 
the brown sky pays attention to its maturity: 
tangled heat attends to the silenceI 
the screen door attends to the cold stage. 
beer listens to a room. 
Internet poetry begins patiently and deceitfully; 
he laments 
he worries 
he looks,
listens for the paper,

but pages are off and
the bleached-bright real 
rushes away from loneliness.
The eucalypt tops will be drifting bombers 
a blowing barrage in a khaki sky. 

the pointless pages confuse Sandra and Scott, 
who try to feel idle, 
to yarn, 
the shade-filled adolescence 
Internet poetry attends to 
the tattered beach ball that he is.
No troubled net waited idly! 
are not rites of passage obsessive? 

The God of Smoke paints his Council,
his troubled, tangled cinema,
his distant world.
Adolescence laments the burning world
like a few cool pages: 

Someone scribbles, 
the weather paints patiently, 
Internet poetry listens for open sky
Someone listens for the azure summer sun. 

the two plots hang out the heat 
like six vertical sheets hang out your heart, 
Someone rushes away from dusk, rushes away from her ridge of mist, rushes
away from the arena, shelters from the net,

acres of old marriage listen 
to the inexhaustible sky.


Bernard Cohen <> is the author of three books:
Tourism (Picador), Blindman's Hat (Allen & Unwin) and Snowdome (Allen &
Unwin). This essay was first presented at the Newcastle Young Writer's
Festival, Newcastle, Australia. 

#  distributed via nettime-l : no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a closed moderated mailinglist for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  URL:  contact: