Thursday, April 17, 2008

Are You a Notable Poet? Well, Are You?

What a silly question: Are you notable?

But then again . . . I wrote a couple days ago that someone out there in the world created an entry on Wikipedia about me. Here’s the page:

I wasn’t surprised that almost as soon as it went up, it went down. And I didn’t think much more about it, until I started reading the reasons why people wanted it taken down. Go to this article’s entry to read the comments to delete the entry and the comments to keep the entry.

The whole thing struck me as rather funny. And I thought they’d decide to take it down and all would be back to Wiki normal, but then I read Lytton Smith’s comments this afternoon to keep the entry up, and it occurred to me that there is an interesting question here. A little searching, and I discovered that very few poets have pages. That should change.

The Wikipedia people (whomever they are) have certain objective criteria a poet has to meet to be considered notable enough for a Wikipedia entry. Those criteria seem to include the "size" of the press that poet is published with, what awards (and what kind of awards) the poet has won, and how many acticles (and in what kind of publications) have been written on that poet.

What do we think of those criteria? In short, how does the culture guage poets? What, in the end, are any of us worth? And then, honestly, what makes a poet “notable” to other poets and the readers of poetry?

It’s quite fascinating.

Your National Poetry Month Homework:

I suggest that everyone put a bio up on Wikipedia. It can be a bio for yourself, or for someone you think should be up there. This weekend, I intend to put a bio up for Martha Ronk, who is, by anyone’s standards, notable. I didn’t (despite what one of the commentators intimated) put my entry up, so I don’t know how difficult it is, but I’m guessing it’s not very.



At 4/17/2008 6:06 PM, Blogger Steven D. Schroeder said...

The commentator didn't intimate it so much as say it right out. Regardless, I've long said that (A) Wikipedia's "notability" standards are a joke (Dan fucking Schneider has a long, fawning entry, for Christ's sake) and (B) if I ever get an entry, I'll be the first to nominate it for deletion.

At 4/17/2008 11:32 PM, Blogger ljs said...

I love this idea, John. Let's inundate the idiots with bios. Where I'm coming from, a book of poetry is pretty darn notable. So's democracy. Both are missing from Wikipedia. Inaccuracy I expect from them, elitism I resent.

At 4/18/2008 4:06 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I think I'll do one for Steven D. Schroeder!

At 4/18/2008 6:51 AM, Blogger Penultimatina said...

I'm trying to figure it out. It's kinda hard. What's the sandbox? Hmmm.

John, you're one noteworthy guy.

At 4/18/2008 7:27 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Yeah. I'm putting off figuring it out until I have more time. Maybe tomorrow?

At 4/18/2008 7:33 AM, Blogger Charles said...

Another aspect to discuss is how the Wikipedia community at large serves as informational gatekeepers when, at heart, Wikipedia's mission originally was to subvert informational gatekeepers from controlling what information was "legitimized."

At 4/18/2008 7:50 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Trade one set of gatekeepers for another and you still have a set of gatekeepers. True.

Lytton Smith offered a different set of criteria the gatekeepers might use for such bios. That could be another place to have a conversation.

I feel silly saying something like "let's propose a panel for AWP" but I do think some forum like that would be a good place to get the writers themselves talking and thinking about how we're being represented and evaluated by places such as Wikipedia.

At 4/18/2008 7:12 PM, Blogger Steven D. Schroeder said...

I tend to think you pass the notable test, in poetry terms, at least. You have books with reputable presses, you publish in top-tier journals, and you get reviewed in them too. And all the reviews say something about Ashbery.

Me, I have a blog. And I write odd things about robots and fish.

At 4/19/2008 5:15 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

That's very generous of you, steven, but I like staying, and find it comfortable, here under the notable line. I never was much for notes.

At 4/19/2008 8:20 AM, Anonymous Debra Di Blasi said...

You cannot self-nominate. They will automatically delete. I suggest we all nominate someone, living or dead, who is known and respected among literary folk but unknown to the likes of the Wikienes (aka, the Wikiites, Wikians).

But I also intend to sign in and comment on their ignorance regarding the likes of the Levis Prize, Spuyten Duyvil, and Jon et al.

P.S. I do have a Wiki bio already. Don't know who put it up, but it's still ther, and I don't think I'm any more "known" than you, John.

At 4/19/2008 8:43 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Can they tell if someone autobios? One of the commentators went on to say they thought my entry was an autobio, and, well, it wasn't. It was a well-intentioned someone else.

I'm going to get that Martha Ronk one up as soon as I get this room painted. I promise.

Debra, as you already know, you're tip-top in my book, just under Jirí, so to speak, even if your Wikipedia entry is only a stub.

Maybe I'll practice on yours before creating a whole new one. I think adding to en entry is quite easy.

At 4/19/2008 1:57 PM, Blogger ljs said...

Did y'all see John is now officially considered notable given that they've opted to keep him?

If anyone wants to create a post, which has to be for someone else, put up enough citations to outside sources and you should be fine. I think the easiest way to create an entry is to copy the code for an existing one and replacing the content. Here's the link to Jeff Clark

At 4/19/2008 2:50 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Officially notable means external links. Life is simple and beautiful.

At 4/21/2008 8:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had a very similar experience. Someone put me in Wikipedia as a concrete poet - which I am not. Someone who knows my work well tried to correct it but their accurate entry was taken down in days. I gave up on it.
Tony Trehy

At 4/21/2008 8:50 AM, Blogger Kevin Doran said...

Been there, on the Wikipedia problem. The action suggested won't change anything; but it's a fun exercise in 'culture jamming', perhaps.

At 4/21/2008 9:16 AM, Anonymous Debra Di Blasi said...

"Jiri, Jiri, Jiri. That's all I ever hear!" Why doesn't he have his own listing, if he's so damned special? Hey, there's an idea.

If you juice up my bio, John, make certain you somehow connect me to Ovid's wife. Six[ty] degrees of separation should do it.

The Wiki-problem is a microcosm of poetry's, and literature's in general, status.

At 4/21/2008 9:46 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Jirí, yeah, what a Christmas catalogue of pain.

I added a link to your web page, as a test!

At 4/21/2008 10:06 AM, Blogger newzoopoet said...

You must be notable -- look at all the attention you got on Wiki! lol

At 4/21/2008 10:37 AM, Blogger Glenn Ingersoll said...

Kevin Drum, the political blogger at Washington Monthly, once wrote about his own misadventures in Wikipedia. There was debate about whether he was significant enough to merit an entry. He claimed not to care one way or the other.

But what's with the gatekeeping? With memory cheap (& getting cheaper) there could be a Wikipedia entry for, well, for every person in the world. And why not? What would be the argument against that?

At 4/22/2008 6:13 AM, Blogger Ailbhe said...

I'm so glad your entry is being kept. This could be the beginning of something good.

There was a great article by Nicholson Baker in the Guardian recently about his mildly obsessive battles to save Wikipedia entries from being taken down by 'deletionists'. He suggested having a seperate Wikipedia for all the deleted articles - which would indeed be a lovely thing to browse through!

At 4/22/2008 8:14 AM, Blogger Curtis Faville said...

The issue points up the inherent weaknesses of Wikipedia. There is no relationship between literary fame and quality of the product. Never has been. Never will be. Wikipedia's ad hoc committees won't change that.

Bring back Mortimer Adler.

How to reconcile the public and private personae. What a dull routine. Poets who need audiences aren't writers, they're performers.

At 4/24/2008 5:59 AM, Blogger Andrew Christ said...

Wikipedia may be the best free wiki online, but it is not the only free wiki online. I'm sure a university could create a wiki for poets. Why not ask the MLA to do that? It could be used as a focal point for the poetry community. Explications could be posted there, for instance.

At 4/24/2008 9:57 AM, Blogger Jow Lindsay said...

argh it's a great & noble experiment in democratizing knowledge plus it's Absolute Spirit

At 4/24/2008 5:50 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Either that, or it's a B movie.

At 5/09/2008 10:40 AM, Blogger Bryan Coffelt said...

I really have a hard time with the idea of "notability" to begin with, but this is just one more example of people trying to maintain a stranglehold on notoriety. I'm not a conspiracy theorist or anything, I just don't think the average Wikipedia user has their finger on the pulse of contemporary poetry.


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