Monday, February 27, 2012

Social Media: Friend or Foe?

I recently came across an interview with Dana Gioia in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Conducted by Evan R. Goldstein in June 2011, the interview focuses largely on Gioia's reading practices. He reads copious amounts. The volume of his daily reading is all the more amazing in that he still teaches. Although I couldn't possibly come close to equaling the amount of reading he does, I was reminded again that writers read, a practice sometimes ignored by young writers.

But I was surprised by Gioia's response when asked how his reading of professional journals had changed in the past 10 years. He replied:

I used to follow a great many journals in my field, which is modern and contemporary poetry. Today I read far fewer.  Most publications now seem more or less interchangeable—the poetry mostly forgettable and the critical prose generic. Perhaps I’m getting old and tired, but I’ve noticed that most of my peers also seem to follow these publications with less interest. Perhaps we are in a poetry slump.

I now read about half a dozen journals regularly, plus the online Contemporary Poetry Review. I also check Poetry Daily, which provides links to poetry reviews from across the U.S. as well as the U.K., Ireland, Canada, and Australia. I also rely on friends who constantly send me links, off-prints, and copies of journals.

Journals change, sure, and so do readers. But with so many journals to choose from, I find such a blanket dismissal surprising. I wonder which half dozen journals Gioia does read regularly. I wonder, too, if he is in a poetry slump or if poetry is in a slump.

Having read that response, I was not then surprised to read Gioia's response when asked if he reads blogs: "I don’t read any blogs regularly, although half the people I know seem to be blogging.
 I read them only when friends send me links in their emails."

Given how much print material he reads each day, it's easy to understand why Gioia wouldn't have time for blogs, but that's a lot to miss.

When asked about Twitter, Gioia replied: "I  never use Twitter. In fact, I am deeply suspicious of the massive communications overload that the media obsesses over and glorifies. So much of this activity is just covert advertising for products and celebrities. The objective is to capture and commercialize every moment of people’s time. What we really need is more quiet and less phony connectivity."

Certainly there's a good deal of truth in this. And yes, we need quiet time for reflection and solitude for writing. But there's also the practical reality that if we want our work to be read these days, we need to make some use of social media. Yes or No? Is time spent on social media wasted time or is it part of the work we need to do to stay in touch with other poets and to assist our publishers who simply do not have large budgets for lots of advertising? Honestly, many of my Facebook friends are very well-known poets who I'm happy to hang out with, albeit if only virtually.

One reader of this interview made this comment: "Gioia's dismissal of social networking is the voice of someone who mocks what he does not understand. A shame for a scholar to let his own ignorance be his certitude."



  1. Thanks for this post, Diane. I am downright shocked that a poet of Gioia's stature would reveal that he is reading fewer literary journals. Shocking! It reminds me of another poet (whom I will not name) who stated in a recent newspaper that he regretted buying a bunch of new poetry books the year before. Why would well-known and respected poets share that they do not read the work of their contemporaries? I do not get it. I do understand not bothering with Twitter, Facebook, or even blogs, but poetry journals!? To each his own, but I feel strongly that it's crucial that poets support their contemporaries, along with the respected magazines who publish them.

  2. My impression is that Dana does support his contemporaries... For just one example, he helped found and always attends the West Chester poetry conference.

    I think we all feel that there is an onslaught of words, and that we must carefully pick and choose, given how fragmented time can be.

  3. Thanks, Martha and Marly. You both make good points. I think it's essential that we subscribe to and read journals to support the poets and keep abreast of what's going on. Most importantly, if we don't, then those journals will disappear--as many have. We need to support the journals that give us a place for our work. I was less bothered by G's trimming down the number of journals he reads than I was by his dismissal of them as not being what they used to be. But I would not suggest that he doesn't support his contemporaries. Good grief! He was head of the NEA for years, has been a guest at many festivals and conferences, is a teacher of poetry, runs the West Chester Conference.

  4. I do agree with Gioia in that we need more "quiet" but I feel everyone has their own way of finding that quiet. Without social media, I would not have much of a poetry "community" - no one to talk poems, books, writing with or to share favorites, ideas, great sites with. But, as Martha says, to each his own. I am grateful for social media but think the key lies in moderation.

  5. My writing life wouldn't be half what it is without the social media / online element. I've learned so much from reading and interacting with other poets online, found many journals (that I now subscribe to) that I might never have known of, and enjoyed it along the way. My first priority is always my own quiet reading and writing time, but that solitary element of my writing life is much enhanced by social media.

  6. I agree, Molly. We can use social media to widen our own small poetry world. We just have to be careful not to forget that that small world needs time and solitude.


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