This is one of the short essays I wrote for my application to graduate school. I thought it might be fun to share. Enjoy:
I wonder how Louisa May Alcott and Emily Dickinson would react if they could experience the age of access in which we now live. For that matter, what would C. S. Lewis and his best friend, J. R. R. Tolkien think?
Gone are the days when life was confined to a relatively small area; when poetry was limited to upper class, more educated aristocrats and scholars or relligated to the fringes of “mainline society,” in the hangouts of beatniks and hippies. Now, it is available to anyone in any place who wants to read, write or listen to it. This is both a wonderful development and a challenge that presents some rather difficult paradoxes.
Global access is by far the single most influential force in all writing, including poetry. It has changed the entire landscape from more locally centered, culturally governed subjects and styles to one that is broader and in some ways, more homogeneous. Forms meld together as the international culture becomes stronger. Everything about it is different: The immediacy of response to a poem; the ability to read without purchasing; an audience that is as large and varied as the world.
This access crosses all boundaries, from geographical, physical ones to those caused by preference and prejudice. It allows people to transcend cultural limitations and preconceptions by exposing them to thoughts and styles that are totally outside their realm of experience.
When I read the blogs that I follow, I find poetry from Asia, Africa, Australia, all of Europe, Jamaica, Canada, the United States, Latin America and the ends of the Earth. Some are written by serious, professional writers; others by people who demonstrate very little skill. The styles and subjects are an interesting mix of things that are completely unfamiliar to me so that I have to go look up words, along with expressions of love, joy and other experiences that each human shares. Every class, belief system and orientation is represented. All of this, and I don’t even have to leave my home!
Perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects of international access is the paradox it creates: One side is that we communicate, at least on some level, with people around the globe while remaining in the comfort of our own houses. We share ideas, learn new concepts and points of view; information on any topic is available in an instant. Having said that, the other side is that we face a new kind of isolation: There are people whose entire social life is via computer. They do not see or interact in person with another human being. The key to any paradox is to embrace both sides. In this case, that would mean enjoying the electronic connection while seeing to it that we maintain personal relationships in our own communities. We only know each other in a deep sense when we are fully present; yet we can know about people and their lives through their compositions.
When I write something and post it, I can do so without disclosing that I am unable to see, which puts me on a more equal playing ground: No one is making exceptions because he or she thinks I am less capable; each reader takes my presentation at face value. I know a handful of people with disabilities who choose to “hide” in this manner. They are not alone: A growing number of individuals who are observably different are choosing online careers and relationships so that they can avoid the pain of live interactions. After all, one of the dynamics of the Internet is that people only reveal what they want to. This is an advantage and a pitfall. On one hand, anonymity protects secrets; on the other, we don’t get to meet the whole person. There is a certain knowing that we miss because of the electronic barrier with which we now live.
One mitigating development is Voice over Internet Protocol ( VoIP,) such as Video calling, webinars and other applications that allow people to interact more directly, reducing some of the disconnection. The ability to see a person, listen to what and how he/she says things is a crucial part of communication that simply is not available with the written word by itself. In poetry, this is especially true. To read a poem is like looking at a musical score: It needs to be spoken (or sung) and heard.
Poets and authors who have written before this age of global access had something that we dare not lose: Personal connections and live performance. If there ever was a time when we need to keep these alive, it’s now. Let the Internet be a resource and tool that serves us; may we never come to serve the Internet