January 29, 2011

Center for Social Media’s Fair Use in Poetry: a one-sided response

Filed under: Poetry — crcb @ 11:22 pm
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Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
— T.S. Eliot

When nations grow old, the Arts grow cold, and Commerce settles on every tree…
— William Blake

Through following Cory Doctorow on Twitter, I became aware of a BoingBoing post that led me to the Center for Social Media’s “Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Poetry” document (; there’s a link to the PDF version on this page).

I don’t intend to do an in-depth analysis of this document, but I would like to share some visceral responses.

Most of what the Center for Social Media says about fair use is not new, and I’m not sure why poetry is considered a special case. However, there are portions that raise my ire — mostly in the introductory section. For instance, this bit: “However, poets, especially those not working in and for new media formats, expressed anxiety about how new media might affect their ability to make money from their work and to establish and advance academic careers.” Quoting this out of context gives a one-sided impression of their motives, but it is a sentence that gave me pause. Not the least because — money? Really? Who thinks there’s significant money to be had in poetry? You’d earn a better hourly rate scouring the beach for coins and scrap metal. (Unless you’re Jewel.)

Another sentence of concern from the introductory portion: “Fair use is widely and vigorously employed in many professional communities.” The implication here is that poetry is a profession. It is not. A vocation, perhaps, but not a profession. And thank goodness for that! (But I’ve written about that elsewhere.)

Please read the whole document, because I’m only quoting the parts that get my dander up, but a final one from the introductory section, maybe the worst: “This guide identifies seven situations that represent the poetry community’s current consensus about acceptable practices for the fair use of copyrighted materials.” (Emphasis mine.) Poets, the people of the Center for Social Media claim to speak for you and me. Do they? Isn’t “consensus of poets” a contradiction in terms? If not, it should be.

When it comes to the specifics of fair use, there’s one concept that recurs: “Uses that are solely ‘decorative’ or ‘entertaining’ should be avoided.” I have at least two issues with this:

  1. It’s a mighty stuffy definition of art that dismisses the decorative and entertaining — certainly not a definition this poet embraces!
  2. Shouldn’t a group that claims to speak for the community of poets (a community, it implies, of professional writers) understand the proper use of quotation marks?

However, they save the best for last: Situation 7, Literary Performance. I go to a fair number of poetry readings, but that’s mostly poets reading their own work. The CSM is concerned that someone other than the poet might read that poet’s work in an unapproved manner. But not to worry, they’ll tell you what’s approved. You may read work from another poet as long as either it is part of a performance that includes your own work, or it’s part of a celebration of that poet. So if I wanted to read from Jewel (to continue picking on her) so that we could all have a hoot at what a stinker she is at this poetry game — that’s a no-no. Unless I follow it with one of my own poems.

While this document provided me with a good half-hour of entertainment, I suppose the biggest mystery about the whole thing is who the CSM thinks will care, in the long run. Maybe those career poets they mention. You know, the ones making all the money.



January 27, 2011

Lunesta(tm) Poem #6

Filed under: Poetry,Writing — crcb @ 12:14 pm
Tags: ,

Lunesta(tm) poem #6

I used to be a certain person
now I’m full of dither and squeam
I don’t lotion my hands in winter
let them crinkle crack and bleed
because I like the rub of rough knuckles
on my chin oh I pity them their pain
but pity’s not enough is it
and I struggle to eat anything fried or red
or when I’m full or meat grown in boxes
but I do it I’m not sure if that means I’ve lost
I hide my summer pallor indoors but sometimes
want to move to a desert state
and lie on a rock in the sun
and not want to not lie on a rock in the sun
let my skin leather to lizard
reptiles are never of two minds
no snake comprehends Hamlet
only two minds would be bliss
I sometimes think but then


January 21, 2011

Software for Writers Review: FocusWriter

The rising interest among writers in “distraction-free workspaces” is a bit of a fad and a delusion. Focus comes from the writer, not the software. However, I’ve long been looking for a stable, free text editor that provides a running word count and timed writing. FocusWriter fits the bill nicely.

FocusWriter is a free, open source word processing application, with versions available for Windows, Mac and Linux. I composed this review using the PortableApps version of FocusWriter for Windows. I have not reviewed the non-portable version, or the Mac or Linux versions. It’s possible the PortableApps version has more limitations than the others.


  • Can save documents as text or Rich Text Format (RTF). While this isn’t a wide variety, these two formats are very portable.
  • Customizable menu bar, so you can include only the items you most often use.
  • Easy to create new themes (color and font schemes) for the interface.
  • Live document statistics avoid the necessity of running a word count anytime you want to know where you are.
  • Session management for working with groups of related documents.
  • Daily goals can be set for word count or writing time.
  • Spell checking included, and can be live or not.
  • Free and open source.


  • Can open only text or RTF file types. Ability to import more file types would be handy.
  • I’d rather the menu bar and status bar not hide themselves. (Really, how much of a distraction is the menu bar? Do writers typically put off writing by playing with the “Save As” command?) I’d like to check my word count at a glance, without moving the mouse. I don’t see any way to change this in Preferences.
  • Project management would be a useful addition. Unless I’m missing something, a document must be open to be part of a session.
  • Theme creation is slightly unintuitive, in that “background” and “foreground” do not refer to the page and the text, but to the frame and the page. The terminology could be clearer.


FocusWriter is a simple but flexible tool, capable of being used either as a text editor or simple word processor. By design, it lacks the advanced capabilities of more sophisticated applications, but based on my initial experience with it, FocusWriter bids fair to become my tool of choice for slamming out a first draft — especially during NaNoWriMo.

January 12, 2011

LotRIoT: Librivox

Filed under: books,e-books,Links,LotRIoT — crcb @ 10:00 pm
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Link of the Random Interval of Time (LotRIoT):

LibriVox is the go-to site for free, public-domain audio books (and shorter works). I’ve been listening to a selection of poetry on my daily commute: Blake, Dickinson, Shakespeare and others.

The readers are volunteers, and my gratitude to them is tremendous, but they vary in competence. Some read mechanically; some in sing-song; some melodramatically; and some with the right amount of expression, but with odd choices in emphasis and phrasing. (I have a theory about this last group: I believe they are good prose readers, who give too much semantic weight to line endings when it comes to verse.) Not a few, however, get it just right. What’s more, many of the offerings on LibriVox — especially the shorter ones — are provided in multiple versions with different readers, so you can choose the one you like best. (I suggest someone with a cockney accent, when possible, for Blake’s poems.)

LibriVox provides audio files in mp3 and ogg vorbis formats, and links to text versions of the works. The site can be hard to browse, just because of the sheer number of files in their catalog. Since all offerings are public domain (as are the performances), new works are scarce. With the wealth of classics at your earbuds, though, that’s hardly a problem worth whining about.


Donald Hall, “Death to the Death of Poetry”

Filed under: Links,Poetry — crcb @ 6:21 am
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About every five years, if not more frequently, some author makes a splash by writing poetry’s obituary. Every time I read one of those articles, I think about writing a rebuttal. Now I don’t have to: Donald Hall has taken care of that at (Now, if only somebody would do the same for the death of the novel…)

(Thanks to Jason Ryberg for bringing this article to my attention.)

Update: looking at the fine print, I see Hall’s article was originally published in 1989. That explains some of the dated references. What it doesn’t explain is why newspapers and magazines have continued publishing “poetry is dead” articles for the past 30 years.

January 10, 2011

Satan too nice, claims Blake

Filed under: Poetry — crcb @ 9:15 pm
Tags: ,

Blake’s Satan in Milton: a passive-aggressive personality. “You know Satan’s mildness and his self-imposition, / Seeming a brother, being a tyrant, even thinking himself a brother / While he is murdering the just…”

January 8, 2011

Link of the Random Interval of Time (LotRIoT): A Very Serious Question

Filed under: Links,philosophy,Poetry — crcb @ 12:38 am
Tags: ,

From Harriet the Blog, the topic of the 2011 Great American Think-Off: Does poetry matter?

January 2, 2011

Poem: New Year’s 2011

Filed under: Poetry,Writing — crcb @ 1:40 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

New Year’s 2011

It’s time to stick twelve knives in the old guy,
drain blood from bad lusts, burn husks of habit,
drape hopeful names over the new-crowned self:
Me the Active, the Temperate, the Brave–
honors I will drop, deed by same old deed.

About the form

The form of this poem is one I invented, and call the lipquin — for lipogrammatic quintain. The rules:

  1. Five lines
  2. Each line has the same number of syllables
  3. Line 1 cannot contain the letter “a”
  4. Line 2 cannot contain the letter “e”
  5. Line 3 cannot contain the letter “i”
  6. Line 4 cannot contain the letter “o”
  7. Line 5 cannot contain the letter “u”


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