Hooked on Poetry Daily
by Cy Dillon
In the 1970s, I often referred to William Glasser's Positive Addiction when I explained to my Arizona State students and colleagues why I felt compelled to take a daily run in spite of the climate. The body's ability to produce and enjoy endorphins during exercise is still the excuse I use when a few days without time in the gym bring out the grouch lurking beneath my usual smile. Based on this history, I plan the same defense if my boss catches me enjoying my regular stop at Poetry Daily (http://www.poems.com) during working hours. I am not saying that Don Selby's superb website makes me sweat, I am arguing that it is the perfect refresher for the workday mind, a place to discover the unexpected beauty of the lucid voice. PD is also a fine reference and acquisitions tool for the library community.
Selby worked in legal publishing in Charlottesville for two decades before 1997, when he began Poetry Daily with the help of Diane Boller and Rob Anderson. The original mission of the site is still in force: "Our purpose is to make it easier for people to find poets and poetry they like and to help publishers bring news of their books, magazines, and journals to more people." In a recent telephone interview, Selby shared his strategy for accomplishing that mission: "We have no manifesto; we just get out of the way of the poems." Poetry Daily is a nonprofit organization that is funded primarily by gifts from individuals—the site lists the names of nearly 700 donors—along with grants. Publishers also give PD books and pass along the right to archive poems for one year. The mutual benefit of all this collaboration is at once obvious and unexpected.
The straightforward approach is also evident in the presentation of the poetry, which dominates the page—it really does suggest a page—below a simple logo and above a collection of links and sponsor recognition. There is no hype and no interpretation, connecting the reader to the poem as directly as possible, but there are links to biographical statements, publishers, and other parts of the site. There is also a convenient function that allows a user to email a recommendation and a link to the poem to a friend, as well as a function that facilitates printing the work. All this is accomplished discreetly and efficiently thanks to the design of Jim Gibson of Gibson Design Associates, who continues to provide support.
Beyond the daily poem, PD has an archive of a year's poems and weekly prose features such as an excerpt from C. D. Wright's Cooling Time: An American Poetry Vigil, or an interview with the ever-puzzling Bill Knott. The same link also leads to a collection of poetry reviews and poetry-related news articles, plus a list of books received from publishers. PD also sponsors a weekly email newsletter, and it allows interested users to buy books from Amazon.com with just a few clicks of a mouse.
One of the books that has sold well is Poetry Daily: 366 Poems from the World's Most Popular Poetry Website (Source-books, ISBN: 1-4022-0151-6, December 2003, $14.95), edited by Diane Boller, Don Selby, and Chryss Yost, with advisory editors Rita Dove and Dana Gioia. Selected from PD's first five years, this anthology is likely going into a second printing, and will surely call for a sequel when the site's tenth anniversary comes around. There is a hint of irony in the fact that web publication of poetry has been so popular that the poems have found their way back to the printed page, and that the book is almost always bought by readers who discovered it online.
As enticing as all these extra components are, the real draw—and the source of the addiction—to Poetry Daily is the poetry itself. The variety and freshness of the poems draw 40,000 visitors per day and something like one million page views per month. These staggering statistics come with little self-promotion or advertising, but with an understanding of how to connect with search engines.
The variety of the poems cannot be overemphasized. Selections from the current archive include a masterful baseball poem by David Bottoms, a piece about a dog who has eaten a pair of pantyhose—I am not making this up—by Virginia native Michael Chitwood, five selections from Billy Collins, poems about dancing by Rita Dove, Donald Revell's translation of Guillaume Apollinaire, and Anna Potter's delightful "Selected Entries from the Index of The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table by Oliver Wendell Holmes." Here is a bit from Potter:
BABIES, old, 154.
Beauties, vulgar, their virtuous indignation on being looked at, 194.
Beliefs, like ancient drinking glasses, 15.
Benjamin Franklin, the landlady's son, 12, 53, 57, 116, 135, 136, 246, 311.
Bell-glass, young woman under, 305.
Blondes, two kinds of 184.
Bridget becomes a caryatid, 100; presents a breast-pin, 313.
Now, compare that light-hearted passage to these few lines from the formidable Natasha Trethewey:I was asleep while you were
It's as if you slipped through
some rift, a hollow
I make between my slumber
and my waking,
the Erebus I keep you in, still
not to let go.
Since every day offers a different poem, the visitor to Poetry Daily just never knows what insight or delight awaits. I also find the PD Archive to be my favorite resource for discovering poets I want to read or books I want to buy. It is easy to navigate, displaying all the poems by author, date of appearance, or title. Links to bibliographic and biographical information are easily found just below the text of the poems, making the Archive a fine acquisitions resource.
Of course, it is not necessary to use the Archive, to read the reviews and weekly prose pieces, or to sign up for the email newsletter to enjoy PD. Visitors can take or leave the various features, spend minutes or hours at their convenience, and still be sure of a warm reception when they return. The site is remarkable for its air of restraint and quiet confidence in the art it shares with us. No wonder I am an addict. Now, how can I set the history on my browser to erase itself after every use?