The HyperTexts

Viral Poetry

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 example ...

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, Poems About, Litera (UK), Yahoo Buzz, Got Poetry, 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, Feeds4all, Blogged, 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 interested readers.

The HyperTexts