Curation, not Competition: Pinterest and Poetry

For those of you who haven’t ever used it, Pinterest is a link storage site (similar to delicious) that organizes bookmarks with pictures; it’s also similar to Tumblr in that you can like and share links.* Users make “boards” and then upload, link, or share “pins” based on the subject of the board. For instance, you could make a Book Arts board and “pin” links to cool book art on it.

Pinterest is a great tool for poetry. You can pin your own projects (although it’s discouraged, and you certainly shouldn’t use Pinterest as pure self-promotion– it’s just not the ethos of the site). You can pin inspirational pictures or follow poetry magazines and presses to see new publications. Pinterest is very popular among k-12 teachers for lesson planning, and there are lots of great ideas about teaching poetry that you can share (pin to your own boards).

Pinterest is also handy for remembering that although we’re all poets, we have other lives too. We’re moms, dads, cooks, teachers, artists, book makers, consumers, designers, fashionistas. Poetry is often a male-dominated world and the stereotype of the “life of the mind” is a masculine stereotype– women have to multi-task. Emily Dickinson baked. Sylvia Plath was a single mom with two kids under 5. Facebook also reminds us of this: we’re not just brains. We’re real people, with problems and debts and births and deaths. Poetry is not just the words we put on the page: it’s the way we live, the way we see the world and interact with it. And that’s not just cerebrally, in our ivory towers and attics, it’s physically, in our gardens and kitchens.

One of the most useful lessons that Pinterest offers is a frame shift for thinking about poetry publishing. When you’re pinning to a board, you create the board and its boundaries; you curate the pins that relate to the board as you define it. Poetry publishers work like this too, whether they’re magazines or book publishers. Each press or magazine editor has a sense of the board s/he’s making, and selects poems/manuscripts that fit into that board. As the poet who “submits” (recommends?) work, it’s hard to remember that your work might be wonderful and it just might not fit into the Editor’s board. PoetryLand can often seem highly competitive: we’re competing for limited readers, the limited time those readers have to focus on our work, the limited funds available for publishing work so that it can find more readers. But this competition doesn’t necessarily find the “best” work. The people who control the resources– the Editors and Readers– are sifting through all the pins and looking for the ones that appeal to them to put in their boards (publications/brains). It’s not (just) about merit, it’s about taste. It’s not (just) about competition, it’s about curation.

And just like on Pinterest, you always have the power to build your own board: your own press, your own magazine, your own readership. Don’t rely on the tastes of others to define the poetry landscape: get in there and start your own boards.

* It seems like whenever a new social media tool pops up, people grumpily ask, “What would you ever use that for?” and then complain that it’s stupid or a waste of time. They joke about people taking pictures of their food or writing about what they had for lunch. Those people lack imagination.


About Jessica Smith
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