Allison Cobb and Jen Coleman

DC Poetry

What do poets Jen Hofer and Tom Devaney have in common? Jen is living in Mexico, translating Mexican women poets. Tom asks, in one of his poems, "How do you say 'funky chicken' in spanish, Poppy?" Both poets were published in Skanky Possum, though in different issues. Tom read at the Ruthless Grip DC poetry series in September 1999, and Jen read at the In Your Ear DC poetry series in May 2000. And they exist together, part of the same virtual community, on the web site at DC Poetry.

A reading event is a temporal and spatial text; the shifting audience, the reader's intonations, the poem, the space and the pauses create a wave of experience. For some, a reading event is the poem in its true form; as Etheridge Knight explains, existing between the poem, the poet, and the audience. Charles Bernstein refers to the reading as a unique event separate from the poem on the page, almost a genre in itself. For others, the reading event is just as much about establishing community and presence. The unique qualities of a reading event, its fleeting and fluid character, make it difficult to record or mimic in another medium. Sound and video recordings can capture a lot, but how to record the community, the social space?

DC Poetry uses the web to recreate, or feed and be fed from, the collaborative social character of a reading event. The medium of the web allows a simultaneous, multi-media, interactive, hypertextual representation. It also functions as a cumulative, ever-changing archive. The dcpoetry site is fairly simple, presenting a reading schedule for three innovative reading series, biographies and representative poems from each poet, and reviews or comments submitted by the audience at the event. A web reader can at once see what the series has been, what it will be, and participate in the event of documenting the readings.

The site doesn't begin to use the full potential of the medium. It relies on web publishers, hypertextual pieces, web journals and other poetry sites to provide content. Yet it very simply gives record to what traditionally was word of mouth; it gives location and lasting presence to a community and cameraderie too often limited and obscured by its small size and small resources; it gives a sense of place, history and community to both the poets who read and the audience who attends.

There's a lot of potential for a site like DC Poetry. It could offer movies, sound, bulletin boards, maps to the readings, interactive discussion boards, and a simultaneous schedule for innovative reading events up and down the eastern seaboard. Perhaps it will grow in this direction. But as it exists in its simplest use of the web, it is both a record of and service to the DC poetry community.

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