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Accepting The Beautiful

by Rachel Mennies

I love many people, and many of the people I love don’t love poetry. Most of the time, this barrier between my writing and the understanding of my loved ones is the same barrier one might expect between a lawyer and a carpenter, or a airplane pilot and a wedding planner: one of sheer difference, an inability to identify with and perform the other’s trade. One of my goals with this space is to explore the relationship between poets and “the outside world,” which of course — despite any crazed, manic, dramatic-man-standing-on-desk cliché you might have internalized from popular culture — we poets occupy daily (this is a post for another time - stay tuned!).

Last week, something terrible happened in this outside world: a brilliant and controversial inventor died of pancreatic cancer. This man, Steve Jobs, made vast swathes of once-inaccessible computing technology available and learnable to nearly every person on this planet. I see his example as one that fits the mission of poetry, at least the mission that captivates me: to find a love of — and ability to understand — poetry dormant within oneself already, ready to access and explore. As an avid Apple user, I’ve also discovered that the Jobs-built library of iDevices suit poetry reading quite well. It’s an imperfect relationship, to be sure - and many folks, both poets and non-, are still convinced that reading should only take place on dust-collecting things with spines and paper pages. However, it’s a relationship, ever evolving, that I suspect might help shorten the distance between those non-poet-lovers I love and poetry.

To me, the door to poetry’s home on the iPad and iPhone is POETRY Magazine. POETRY occupies an unparalleled space on the web among poetry journals and organizations, partially thanks to a massive endowment from its benefactor, Ruth Lilly. Its app brings its users virtually every poem in American letters, searchable by line and browse-able by author, theme, or occasion. Poems can be emailed or Facebooked or tweeted. This is the 21st century equivalent of reading a poem at someone’s window (romance and scholarship for the Me generation) and even a casual or cursorily interested reader can find something to fit their curiosity or whim. Many of the people I love use Spotify for their music; this also-free app is poetry's proxy.

If POETRY’s door is too wide, the poem-a-day app from Poem Flow, a collaborative project of the Academy of American Poets, presents a more focused option. “Each day,” their website explains, “a new poem flows to thousands of screens around the world. Everyone receives the same poem on the same day, creating an instant, invisible community of simultaneous readers.” This network of exposure flattens the field of access. Anyone selecting to view the poem may do so; she can watch as the poem animates itself before her, or she can choose to use the touch screen and read it at her own pace. She reads the same poem as thousands of others on the same day. This service is also free, and, in addition to the app, web-based, for those with laptops or (gasp!) PCs.

Within many iPad-ready magazines, too, readers will find poems. The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and Slate, to name three, all have apps, and they’re either free to use (Slate) or “free” for already-subscribing patrons (the rest). Even though they’re not poetry-focused, these magazines are both time-tested on Apple devices and attractive to those folks who still aren’t sold on iPoetry yet. The New Yorker in particular has embraced its multimedia options on the iPad, including an audio recording of the poet reading his work for at least one of the several poems it publishes per issue. It’s also beautiful to view, simply put, and features the selected poems alone on a naked “page” in a stark and focused way that the print issue does not.

As a writer, I rely on writing technologies to keep me active and productive, to allow me to capture ideas and to tease them out in a medium that’s second nature: an extension of my brain. As a reader, I rely on reading technologies to introduce me to new texts and to text formats, and to make finding poems and poets easier. Any medium that allows me to foster these relationships might allow me to foster a relationship between poetry and those indifferent or inexperienced folks I’ve been writing about all night.

You know who you are. You might even be reading this ditty on an iPad or an iPhone. You might belong to one of those near-infinite number of professions that isn’t Being a Poet, or one of those near-infinite number of people who Doesn’t Like Poetry.

If you’ve got the access — a wi-fi connection, let’s say, and a browser, to start — I might be able to convince you yet.

Rachel Mennies is a professional writer for eight hours a day and a poet for the other sixteen. She lives and works in Pittsburgh. You can reach Rachel at rachel.mennies[at]theinclusive.net, or at http://www.rachelmennies.com.