Saturday, February 23, 2013

Poets by the numbers

What if poetry went through the kind of statification, that is, the increased attention to stats that professional basketball has undergone over the last several years? Our black studies contributors Caleb Butler and Bryan Ryan were recently writing about how the NBA takes stats quite seriously these days, noting how "how mathematicians and technology are changing the way we follow basketball." Moving forward, we might consider how thinking about poetry by the numbers, so to speak, might enhance our views of the genre, its leading practitioners, and select poets seem to gain more attention than others. 

Consequently, there have been more and more conversations about the demographics of poetry. For the most part, those conversations offer generalizations about the larger field (i.e. poetry is alive with too many poets? poetry is dead?) But what might 'individual stats' of poets look like, or what categories would be worth highlighting if we were trying to quantify productivity?

Perhaps we would need to consider several factors--number of publications, number of poems in volumes, sites of publications, awards and achievements, kinds of poems, and nature of writing style. We might go further too and address issues like time between publications, birth year of artist, appearances in anthologies, key affiliations, non-poetry publications, university appointments, and so forth. As some of the links suggest, I've been trying to think through some of these factors for some time now.

Of course, if we used the NBA approach as a model, we might note that rather than the players, the commentators, team coaches and scouts, and die-hard fans drove the interests of increased attention to stats, as those varying stakeholders were looking for more precise ways to assess the productivity of players and to predict the outcomes of games and careers. I'm not sure how some of those issues might translate to poetry, nor am I sure whether poetry communities would be in those issues. But then again, publishers and university hiring committees have long been into the business of making predictions on how well volumes of poetry and poets, respectively, will do, and thus making their decisions to sign or hire, respectively, based on those predictions. 

Maybe, a focus on stats has a certain negative or at least overly competitive. Then again, the notion of poetry vs. poetry vs. poetry is quite prevalent. We might do well to identify and chart some of those recurring factors that allow some poets to pick up more wins than others.

Future Histories project

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