Poncho Peligroso is now the number one Google hit for “2011 poet laureate.” He’s also a friendly acquaintance of mine from Bard College at Simon’s Rock. I’m Dan Copulsky, and Poncho answered my questions in April 2011.
How did the idea to promote yourself as the 2011 Poet Laureate develop?
It was Steve Roggenbuck’s idea. He was the first serious supporter of my work, and has been pretty much since we started interacting through facebook last June. His first stunt to promote me was last November, right after I sent him my manuscript for the romantic, when he declared November 14-20 to be Annual International Cyber Poncho Peligroso Week. I’m trying to figure out right now when the idea first came about, but I’ve locked myself out of facebook and twitter until my thesis is done, and most of my correspondence with Steve is through comment threads on other people’s facebook walls, and thus nearly impossible to keep track of. He’d mentioned the idea for the google bomb in early February, around when I was planning visiting Chicago for my February break to meet him and some of my other internet writer friends for the first time. I arrived in Chicago and stayed at the apartment of Stephen Tully Dierks, editor of Pop Serial. On February 15, I woke up late in Stephen’s apartment after he’d gone to work, turned on my computer, checked my messages, and found way more emails, facebook notifications, tweets to me, and pageviews on my website than I was used to, though I wasn’t really sure why. I checked my tumblr feed and saw this post on the Metazen blog, which I was flattered and confused by, because I hadn’t actually been published by them yet, and had only sent them prose. I eventually found Steve’s post about the Google bomb, which had gone up while I was asleep, and started laughing uncontrollably when I realized what was going on. I posted a link to it on my facebook wall, and pretty soon afterward Mike Kitchell commented on it and said he liked the idea and was going to write about it. I didn’t realize it was Mike Kitchell because he doesn’t use that name on facebook, so when the post on HTMLGiant went up later that day, I danced around the empty apartment for several hours while giggling.
Thanks largely to HTMLGiant’s coverage, it took off a lot faster than we’d expected it to, and I was the number one result for “2011 poet laureate” within two days. When this happened, I honestly had very little idea of what a poet laureate was, though I was amused by the whole stunt, of course. I’d been clarifying my position as “2011 poet laureate of the internet by verdict of google” whenever anybody asked, but when I researched the actual position of the poet laureate, I realized that there was a pretty big disparity between the designated responsibilities of the poet laureate and the behavior of the poet laureate in practice. The poet laureate’s job is, supposedly, to promote the awareness of poetry in American culture, and, as I said on my blog: “While WS Merwin is an undisputed master and his environmental work is admirable, he’s also an 83-year-old man living in seclusion on an isolated pineapple plantation on the North coast of Maui, which is to say that he’s not really in touch with the kids.”
That’s why I decided to make the post about why I should be the poet laureate for real – while I have no expectation that it’ll work, it’s been a wonderful publicity stunt and got around enough that people have made me a facebook fan page, a facebook event about the campaign to become U.S. poet laureate, and a hotly-disputed wikipedia page about me that I expect to die any day now. At this point, I’m kind of letting it stagnate while I do other work, because publicity won’t help me graduate. Once that’s done, though, I’m going to focus on writing a lot more poetry and releasing it for free online in various ways, including in-browser ebooks and downloadable PDFs that I’ll promote as if they’re hip-hop mixtapes leading up to the release of the romantic, which I’ll be self-publishing later this year unless I get some ridiculously great offer from a publisher first.
What would you do if you were officially declared the Poet Laureate?
Go on talk shows, hopefully the Colbert Report. Go on tour to venues that wouldn’t normally host poetry readings, like rock clubs, and bring in young local poets to perform at every stop of the tour. Promote self-promotion. Encourage poets to act more like indie rock bands in their promotional tactics. There are all these bands and musicians that have made their way into the mainstream through their use of the internet and social media to promote themselves, but there have been very few writers that have achieved anything similar. Encourage poets to consider social media as not just a promotional tool, but as a platform for the creation of poetry as well. Encourage poets to distribute poetry with guerilla tactics instead of relying on literary journals as their sole outlet. Support self-publishing as valid and respectable, because the approval of the reader who buys the book is, to me at least, more important than the approval of the editor who might decide to publish it. Poetry receives very little promotion from publishers anyway, and with the internet and social media at their disposal, poets now have the tools to promote themselves and their work.
I’ve seen a lot of stuff about the shrinking attention span brought about by the internet being the death of literature, but I feel like this just means that literature, poetry, and publishing all need to adapt to new media, similar to how the music and film industries have had to. The shrinking attention span of the reader on the internet is perfectly suited to short-form poetry, and if we can hook readers with work that fits within the shortest of attention spans, then there’s the possibility that the hooked reader will, in searching for more poetry like what hooked them, find themselves moving on to more work that would have been previously daunting for its length. The most prominent points of entry for new poetry readers are from decades in the past, at the very least, but I want poetry to be recognized as something that’s awake and alive and contemporary, and I want young, emerging poets to have followings like musicians might.
I would try and raise the national awareness of poetry by giving poets the tools to make people aware of them.
On your blog you make some intellectual arguments about the accessibility of poetry to people who feel alienated from the academy. Isn’t discussing issues like that also participating in that exclusive academic culture?
Is it possible you’re really more fascinated by thinking about how poetry can have a wider public appeal than in actually making poetry that just appeals to a wider public?
It’s possible, but I don’t think I am. My most recent work has been more structured and conventionally poetic than the romantic, but this is largely because I’m in a poetry workshop class for the very first time this semester, and I’ve been assigned to work in various older forms. Even in those, when working in blank verse or a sestina or a sonnet or whatever, I’ve tried to keep the language as contemporary and vernacular as I can within the constraints of the form.
I’ve been unfortunately prevented from writing as much poetry as I’d like because writing that I get graded on takes priority until I get my diploma. I just wrote that sentence with my thesis open in another window without realizing the irony until afterward.
I don’t really know the extent of the public appeal of my poetry, though. It seems like, even though I consider it poetry, it tends to connect more with non-poets, and while that’s my goal in general, I by no means have enough of a following, among poets or otherwise, to claim any kind of mass appeal. I write to satisfy myself above all else, and when I do that I usually get a good response with the result. Unfortunately, the poetry class I’m taking is keeping me from writing my usual way, so I have lost track of that a bit recently. My output will most likely increase dramatically once my major writing assignments for the semester are complete.
Who are you when you’re not an internet poet? Are you still in school? Are you working?
I’m currently finishing up my last semester of college. I turn 21 today. I’m in my dorm room and I’ve been 21 for three hours, but I can’t do anything to celebrate today because I’m working on my thesis right now and the first complete draft is due Wednesday. My laptop was stolen from my backpack last week. Most of my thesis was on it, and I unfortunately hadn’t backed it up since a far earlier draft. I got a dropbox invite right after I sent out the school-wide announcement about the theft, so that will hopefully save my ass in the future.
I’ve been working on the story that constitutes my thesis for over two years now in some form or other, and though I still love the story idea and want to see it come to fruition some day, at this point I’m so angered by the theft and frustrated by having to recreate things I already made and sick of the process in general that I can barely bring myself to work on it and am answering interview questions instead. I’d really rather just take the whole thesis out back and Old Yeller it to put it out of its misery, but I have to help it limp to the finish line before I can put it down.
Once it’s done I’m going to try and stop thinking about it for several years until I can start thinking about it fondly again, instead of with contempt for how my past self’s ambition and hubris in designing the project has fucked me over right now. So I’m going to be working nonstop until Wednesday, and then I’m going to fill myself with booze and fall over. Once I ride out the hangover I plan to turn into a small orange housecat and sleep on my girlfriend’s abdomen for a week straight while purring with the intensity of a Harley-Davidson. Then, to cap off the festivities, I am going to revert to my human form as an intermediary step before turning into an aluminum chair, and then I will hurl myself through a plate glass window with such grace and poise that the glass will seem to splash instead of shatter.
This is what I look like right now:
Oh, they also stole my hat.
What should people do if they want to support you becoming the 2011 Poet Laureate?
Here’s Steve’s instructions to help strengthen the Google bomb: “How to help is simple: link to ponchopeligroso.com with the phrase ‘2011 poet laureate’ and convince others to do the same, starting now. If you know someone with a high-traffic website, those links are even more valuable. (From what I know, blog comments rarely help because of the ‘nofollow’ tag included in most blog platforms.) Link ‘2011 poet laureate’ on your blog sidebar, link ‘2011 poet laureate’ in anything about poncho peligroso, link ‘2011 poet laureate’ as a non-sequitur in your blog posts, link ‘2011 poet laureate’ as a non-sequitur on tumblr, link ‘2011 poet laureate’ regularly for the next several months. Ask your roommates to link ‘2011 poet laureate,’ ask your friends to link ‘2011 poet laureate,’ ask your classmates to link ‘2011 poet laureate,’ ask your family to link ‘ 2011 poet laureate.’”
Attempt to convince reputable publications to write about me. Try Christian Lorentzen from the New York Observer – he’s at least vaguely aware of me.
If that fails, write about me on your blog.
Email me or Steve Roggenbuck if you want to host us on our tentative poetry tour this summer. We will crowdsurf and yoyo and sing Justin Bieber songs, also.
Get beautiful photographs, photoshop some of my poetry over them, include my name and “2011 poet laureate” title, and post them on tumblr with a link to my website in hopes of going viral. One guy already put a line from one of my poems over a nebula.
Try writing to the library of congress about me to complain that I’m not in The Poets Laureate Anthology. You can snailmail the luddites at The Library of Congress 101 Independence Ave, SE Washington, DC 20540.
I also have a facebook page, and there’s a link to the “Poncho Peligroso for 2011 Poet Laureate” event on its wall. Like the page, RSVP the event, and invite all your friends.
Also, please give me money. There’s a donation button at ponchopeligroso.com and I’m not sure what I’m going to be doing for money after I graduate. Please help so that I don’t die cold and alone in the gutter.