Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Does Poetry Ranking Mean Anything?

With an ever-present urge towards taxonomy and categorization, some folks can't resist making lists. I recently was pointing towards yet another annual list: 100 Best Poetry Blogs. Congratulations to those blog writers listed here, who are going to get some exposure from it, who hopefully are grateful to be so recognized, and will continue to do good work. Many of them I'd never heard of before.

Yet my questions are: Does this mean anything, does it matter? Does this list contribute anything? Is it anything more than subjective and ephemeral? Is it all about increasing hits on one's blog(s)? In the vast world of possibility, does making the list or not making the list say anything about quality? Does it say anything about popularity? Is it a random walk through a vast field that always includes more than can be possibly listed?

Lest I get accused of sour grapes, I'll merely point out that there's only one category given on this list that my own blog writing might fit into, that of poetry-plus-art/photography, labeled "Photographic Poetry." Those listed are of mixed quality of presentation, in my opinion, and I could have nominated a few others in that category. Nonetheless, these are all fine places to start with that topic, and some go quite deep into exploring the synergy of words-and-art or words-and-music, something we care deeply about here. So congratulations to them all for being recognized.

What interests me is this urge towards ranking that lies behind the use of words like "100 Best." I don't think ranking matters, and there are always many wonderful, equally worthy, items that are left off such rankings.

Is poetry a competitive sport? I don't think so. One of the lessons I learned from martial arts training is that one doesn't compete against other people, one competes against oneself, for the sake of one's own development, improvement, and growth. But then, even as a boy, I never thought much of competition; even in gym class, in those rare sports that I was actually good at, being bad at most of them, I didn't feel any different by being the best—or the worst, for that matter. It's good to be noticed. But there's room for lots of people to notice you, regardless of lists or rankings.

When I see a list like this, I'm always drawn to find out who was left off. I always want to know about those who didn't make the cut, many of whom are usually just as good as those who did. Which leads one to surmise that making the cut can be a popularity contest, or simply a matter of the judges knowing about one item and not having been introduced to another. Ignorance is bliss. Surely compiling a list such as this is a lot of work, probably largely unrewarded, and full of coin tosses in the case of items of equal merit.

In which case, since there is no limitation of size in blog posting—no column inches to fight, as in print publications—why not make a list of the best 200 poetry blogs? Or the best 500? Actually, some poetry mavens have done so: long lists of links and recommendations in which the reader is encouraged to go see for themselves. There are blogs that are clearing-houses of links to other lists, many of which are worth pursuing. Only one's personal taste matters, when going through a long list to see what attracts one.

I don't want to cross that line into saying its all utterly subjective, though. Once the postmodern stance of total relativism comes into play, what happens is not that everyone is raised to same level of meaningful rank, but rather everyone is lowered to the lowest-common-denominator equal level of meaningless. In which case, why bother making a list at all? Purely beyond the fun exercise of it, of course.

Well, I don't really have any answers to any of my questions. They're the sort of questions that are worth asking regardless of how you or I might answer them. Although for myself I would opine that poetry ranking means nothing, that one must explore and appreciate for oneself, I have no desire to impose my opinions on anyone else. You're free to mount your own.

I do believe, however, that asking the right questions is often incredibly important; more important in many cases than having ready answers to the questions. When we live in the question, rather than always having a ready answer, we learn a kind of poise, a balance, that will serve us well not only in poetry, but in life.



Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

Subjective is one word for it. My main problem is the fact that I bet they don't even know I exist. I know the quality of my site but time and time again I trip over sites in the dark that are really good and it's purely a matter of chance that I find them. The thing is I do go to a lot of trouble, more than most I would venture, to get my site out there.

Ah well, what can we do, Art, but keep plugging away in the hope that someone will notice us?

8:33 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

That's the dilemma, ennit? You put your finger on it quite well. I have the same experience, of tripping over really good sites by chance. I do bookmark them, when I really like them. Maybe I'll make my own list of recommendations someday. Sites that are really good that I'm not sure anyone has heard about.

As for plugging away, I'll keep doing that anyway, for my own sake, even if no one ever notices. I have a need to do so, I guess it's a creative urge, that keeps me going at it, no matter how isolated we might feel.

8:46 AM  
Blogger Pat said...

My blog is purely for my own pleasure. Bad me. I don't even check the stats, try to respond to comments...but fact is, I like doing it, creating for it...and sometimes taking what I do for it into larger works. My real life friends and family do not even know my blog existsm much less know I write poems now and then. Strange?...Yes, but not really...all artists are strange in some ways or they wouldn't be artists. Right?


12:59 AM  
Blogger Pat said...

I meant to say that I do try to respond to comments...I love the few I get.


1:01 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Those are good points, Pat. I think no matter where it might end up, we all start at the place of doing it for own pleasure. It might go on from there, but that needs to stay alive throughout.

12:23 PM  

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