Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Wider Reading | Poetry | Wiki Wild West

“The Internet is just a world passing around notes in a classroom.”

“A Mission Statement is a dense slab of words that a large organization produces when it needs to establish that its workers are not just sitting around downloading internet porn.”

I’m saying this right off the bat – I love Wikipedia.

Are you still here, poets? Good. This is a call to arms.

Most people I know have been in this ubiquitous conversation-path in the post iPhone world:

A: That is not true!
B: It is true!
A: I will stake any money on this… it is not true
B: OK then, well lets see if you’re right (pulling out iPhone) see… right here, it says it’s true.
A: (sarcastically) Oh! Oooooh! Well if it’s on Wikipedia then it must be true. That site is just a load of people putting down their opinions and pretending it’s a fact.

I hate ‘A’. With my whole heart I hate them (although I’ll admit that ‘B’ is a twit as well). Not because I believe in everything I see on the internet, but because I hate the mentality that criticizes something that you have the ability to directly change. I’m not talking about a philosophical Gandhi-ish ‘be the change’ moment… you can literally change Wikipedia if you don’t like it. It’s ours. It’s free. (Sorry countries where it isn’t).

Why do I bring this up in relation to poetry? Because poets are missing a trick. The scientists have the right idea. I cannot count the fascinated hours I’ve wasted learning about Leidenfrost Effect, or Tautochrone Curves or Nikola Tesla. Why is it then that I can barely find an A4 page’s worth on Ted Hughes or Free Verse or Anne Carson? If the scientists are so desperate for the world to understand their obscure ideas, then why can’t we follow suit? Wallace Stevens has saved my life just as many times as the Leidenfrost Effect (althought Stevens does have one of the better Wiki entries)! I know there are scientists out there who are fascinated by poets – can we please repay their favour by sharing what we know.

I have begun my campaign to feather poetry’s Wiki-nest brick by brick. I am starting with a few high-profile poets, one paragraph per day. This may not seem like much, but as my confidence grows I will become bolder and more ambitious with my contributions. And what’s more, you are going to help.

I know that there are poets reading these words. I know that you own text books and literary criticism and biographies and ‘collected letters’ and quarterlies. I know that these are absolutely brimming with information that will die if we let it – poetry is a niche market and its literature goes out of print.

So as soon as you are done reading this, sign up for a Wikipedia account and start editing. You can do this immediately. Find a poignant quotation from a reputable source about a famous poet. Then go put it on that poet’s Wikipedia page – and reference it properly with the ISBN etc.

It will feel strange at first – Wikipedia editing requires you to become familiar with a formatting code of sorts that takes a little getting used to. But this does not matter to you because you are doing something good for the world. Once you hit your stride it will take you 10 minutes to add a paragraph to a page. Then you will start getting adventurous. You will begin adding images and info-boxes and going out of your way to research.

You will find yourself sat in the library and notice that you are surrounded by people doing the same thing as you – not ferreting away for their own obnoxious essays, but they are all making notes and citations that they can go home and share with the world. You will all glance in recognition at each other and go for a beer in the pub opposite the library and toast a new age where the doors are blown open by a wind that forces every speck of dust out of the windows.

Go forth and start sharing all that specialist knowledge you take so much pride in.

Phil Brown
Poetry Editor


  1. I used to get my truth from Conservapedia, until all those leftist subversives got hold of it.


  2. Is there a contrapuntal 'tree-hugg-ipedia' or 'liber-pedia'? Or would that just be the Guardian Online?

  3. Doesn't reality already have a liberal bias, Phil?

  4. Not since Shakespeare penned Marc Anthony's speech has the world seen as sharp an example of damning with false praise than Colbert roasting Bush.