by Michael R. Burch
I began my "career" as a poet the old-fashioned way: by submitting poems and
essays to various paper-and-ink literary journals, waiting to hear a response,
and from time to time being rewarded with publications here and there. Thanks to
persistence and (hopefully) talent, I have now been published more than 2,000
times, if I count poems that have "gone viral."
Sometime in the late 1990s (I really don't remember exactly when), I decided to
create an online literary journal, The HyperTexts. This was during the
dark days when virtually every poet I knew continually lamented the demise of
poetry. Poets who wrote formal/traditional poetry were especially down in the
dumps, since most of the better-known literary journals frowned on (or
completely dismissed) anything smacking of formal meter and rhyme. But I had
stumbled upon an interesting tidbit of information: Lycos (the Google of its
day) had published its most popular search terms for an entire year (I forget
which year, exactly) and "poetry" had made the top ten. Incredibly, "poetry" was
more popular, in terms of Internet searches, than "football," "golf" or the
names of most of the Internet sex kittens!
I have always been an optimist, so I decided to go where the interested readers
were: the World Wide Web. Today The HyperTexts receives around half a
million page views per year, and other poetry websites are even more active, so
it seems the news of the death of poetry had been greatly exaggerated.
Recently, I've experienced a new phenomenon: poems and essays of mine seem to be
"going viral." People are pasting them on personal websites, blogs,
Facebook and other Internet forums. This seems to be happening most frequently
with things I've written on socially relevant topics such as the Holocaust, the
Nakba ("Catastrophe") of the Palestinians, and the crisis in Darfur. But people
are also copying and indexing other poems of mine as well. Over the last 48
hours, as I've used Google to research this new facet of my career, I've found
48 new, unexpected "publications" of my work: an interesting synchronicity. For
Epitaph for a Palestinian Child
I lived as best I could, and then I died.
Be careful where you step: the grave is wide.
"Epitaph" was published under various titles such as "Epitaph for a
Palestinian Child" and "Epitaph for a Child of Darfur" by Romantics
Quarterly, Mindful of Poetry, Voices for Africa, Poetry Life & Times, The New
Formalist, Jewish Letter (Russia), Daily Kos (a blog), Hi5 (a Spanish blog), Katutura English
(Namibia), Genocide Awareness, the Hip Forums, Darfur Awareness Shabbat (by a
rabbi who seems to have been using poetry as part of a sermon or lesson), Viewing
Genocide in Sudan, Team Bridge (a teacher/student website), de Volksrant (a
Dutch blog), Coalition of Concerned
Liberians, Danielle and Steve’s Bridge (a teacher/student website), and Truedantalion (a blog). The poem was
also read and discussed by Chicagoland Jewish High School, according to the
school's website. I have also found a number of discussions about the poem online. One
student called it "the most blatant and honest poem ive ever heard." Another
student said "the second i read this poem i felt a powerful feeling of grief."
Three other students wrote "it said a lot to me" and "it touches and scares me at the
same time" and "when I read this my soul moved." Another student said "this poem
really resonated with me." Not all the people discussing the poem online were
novices, as one person pointed out that some of my other poems were more
"Victorian" in style (as some of them are). It's also interesting that several
students commented on "Epitaph" and "Neglect" (the next poem in this list), but
that none of the students mentioned being particularly moved by "Neglect,"
although some of them found it informative. So it seems they were probably speaking
honestly about "Epitaph" and simply found it to be a more moving poem. Good for them, for
being honest critics and not over-praising a poem they didn't care as much for.
"Neglect," a poem I never submitted for publication elsewhere was published on
my For Darfur
page and was subsequently picked up by Time For Change (a blog), Daily Kos, Hi5, Katutura English,
Genocide Awareness, the Hip Forums and Darfur Awareness Shabbat. It was also
adopted by the Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, which according to its website
planned on having it read, accompanied by music, at a Holocaust memorial
ceremony sometime in 2009.
My article about Afghani poet Nadia Anjuman was published by About.com and was
subsequently translated into Vietnamese by Linh Vu and published by Tan Hinh Thuc,
along with my poem "Songstress," also translated into Vietnamese by Vu. Vu also
translated my essay on Formal Poetry and published it with Au Huu Ninh Thuan.
My Anjuman article was also either published by or linked to by Woman-Stirred,
Khaworan (Afghanistan), Social Upheaval, Philobiblon, netcav.com
(a Farsi site) and Wikipedia.
My Holocaust poem "Auschwitz Rose" was published by NeoVictorian/Cochlea,
Poetry Renewal Magazine, Mindful of Poetry, The Eclectic Muse, Black Medina,
Sonnetto Poesia (Canada), Poetry Life & Times, Other Voices International, Voices
Israel, Verse Weekly, Strange Road, Trinacria, Pennsylvania Review, Famous Poets
Poems About, Litera
de Volksrant, and Wikispace teaching course on the Holocaust called "Day Seven."
My Hiroshima poem "The Day the Cloud Reigned" was picked up by five blogs which
seem to be related: Methoblog (Wales), Blogrunner,
and Bishop Alan's Blog. My
Hiroshima page has been published or linked to by Tribe Network, Pagan
Space, Deviant Art, Direct Hit, and The Connexion.
My poem "Brother Iran" was translated into Farsi by Mahnaz Badihian and
subsequently published in either English, Farsi or both by MahMag, Other Voices
International, Thanal Online, Deviant Art, Portal Vapasin (Farsi),
Jamasp (which seems to be a Farsi search engine), and other Farsi sites I am
unable to read sufficiently to glean their names.
My article "The Path to Peace in the Middle East" was published in differing
forms by The Tennessean, Fullosia Press, United Progressives, a Justice Blog and
the National Forum of India.
Seventeen of my poems were picked up, seemingly by multiple different indexers,
on the Litera website (www.litera.co.uk).
In conclusion, it seems that people who are interested in poetry (especially
socially relevant poetry, but also poetry in general), have been taking the time
to read my poetry and cut and paste it here and there, giving it new life in the
form of an Internet virus which is hopefully beneficial, or at least benign.
What does this mean for other poets who would like their poetry to be read? My
advice would be to write poems on subjects that might be of interest to readers,
and to invest some time, as I did, in making the poems readily available to