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This article is taken from PN Review 151, Volume 29 Number 5, May - June 2003.

The Muse and the Mouse Alison Brackenbury

Is there anybody out there? Good. I may have a job for you later. This is not a god-like survey of the World-Wide Web (is such a thing possible?) but a quick uncollected canter around some of the bluer fields of poetry's cyberspace. I hope to persuade you that the Internet, maddening and muddling as it may be, does offer valuable new spaces for poets and their works.

Long before the Web, it was clear that certain poems can escape into extraordinary freedom. Poems by (for example) Jenny Joseph, Wendy Cope, Carol Ann Duffy and the Liverpool Poets are read, heard and remembered by people who never buy a slim first collection or a poetry magazine. This sweep into wider currents of circulation seems to me a most desirable journey. Despite the merits of publication in a collection or a literary journal, as Marlowe's Mortimer says in Edward II, `There is a world elsewhere'.

Mortimer's destination may, of course, be Hell. The poems are luckier. They appear on posters in offices, as Poems on the Underground, between the eyecatching covers of best-selling anthologies and on the soundtrack of BBC2's recent poetry series. They are `out there'.

In 1997, I sat before a new (and alarming) computer watching poems form and flash before my eyes from the few poetry `sites' I had stumbled upon. The Web did seem to me, then as now, a place; a chaotic sea; a planet, always present, but invisible ...


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