The first thing to say about blogging by contemporary writers, whether they are poets or not, is that there is now an implicit or explicit expectation among publishers that authors should have some sort of online presence to help build the audience and connect with readers. A friend of mine who got a contract for a novel with a major publisher a little while ago found that this was the first question her editor asked: Where’s your on-line presence? That presence had to include a website, a twitter feed and a professional (as opposed to personal) Facebook page.
Frankly, that expectation was what first brought me to blogging about poetry, when my first pamphlet was accepted for publication. There was no direct requirement from my publisher, but I felt I owed it to them to be at least a little visible. What you are ultimately doing, I think, is creating supplementary (and free!) content for those who might be interested in your work.
Having said that, a gap soon opened up for me between the initial pragmatic motivation and the things I actually used the blog for. To begin with, I think I was creating content for the blog for anyone with a general interest in poetry, throwing in some details of my own readings and publications in the vain hope that this might broaden the audience, even if by only one or two people – that’s a lot to a poet.
As time went on, however, the blog became more about issues that matter to me, where these relate to poetry. There are quite a lot of other issues, especially political ones, that move me in my personal life and impact on my writing, but I have tried to be disciplined about not letting these encroach on what is, by definition, a poetry blog. Maybe I’ll start another blog to talk about other things in the future, when they finally get around to increasing the number of hours in the day.
So, over the last year or so, the posts have become sparser (partly due to work commitments) and I have focused on writing about debates within the poetry ‘world’ when I think I have something distinctive and productive to say. I often find online polemic, especially of the kind that dominates social media, alienating and aggressive, and have blogged about that too. Blogging is a slightly slower form, despite the apparent immediacy, so this gives me time to really think about what I want to say about an issue and add nuance to the argument in a way that is apparently not possible on a Facebook thread or Twitter feed. Now I try to blog when I really think I can contribute something to a discussion, not because I need to add a post for the sake of keeping the blog ticking over – although I do still slip in the odd bit of self-publicity.
There are other ways to do it, of course. Some very good bloggers use their sites as a kind of diary, interweaving details of their poetry lives and their personal lives. Although I like my life, I really cannot imagine that anyone would be interested in reading a blog post about it and, after three years, I feel as if I have arrived at an understanding of what the blog is for and what it is about. Ideally, I suppose, I should have started with that understanding, but getting there has been an interesting process.