Bloggers are the new poets, or so Paul Krugman claims in “Poetry and Blogging,” in which he compares bloggers’ propensity to use their blogs to build their reputation in order to acquire paid work like poets did with their poetry back in the Tudor court. I think Krugman is right, but not for the reason he proposes. He’s right in that poetry has always existed outside of capitalist structures that equate money with value, but he fails to acknowledge that it still lives there and that its population is starving. Poets rarely find a way to turn their poetic reputation into employment. Adjunct gigs are hardly what they used to be. More and more, I meet writers with advanced degrees in poetry pursuing jobs in SEO, and our poet skills serve us well. Perhaps poets are becoming the new bloggers, and the SEO industry could learn a few things from the practice of poetry.
Negative Capability and the Poetical Character
Okay, so Negative Capability is hardly a contemporary idea. Poet John Keats coined the term in a letter to his brothers back in 1817, when he defined it as “when man is capable of being in uncertainties. Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” Not only is Negative Capability helpful when having to argue multiple positions within the same industry, but is also the defining characteristic of what Keats called “poetical character.” The Original Guest Blogger?
The “poetical character … has no self- it is everything and nothing- it has no character and enjoys light and shade… A Poet is the most unpoetical of anything in existence, because he has no identity, he is continually filling some other body.” The ability to dwell in uncertainty—to not be filled with a self that has strong opinions—is the key to writing as multiple personas as a guest blogger. I can write as an HVAC expert and a caterer for hours (“filling some other body”) and I, the “poet,” receive no social capital for writing eloquently about forced air heating and cooling. It’s not about my ego or identity. Developing the capacity for Negative Capability will help you to better inhabit your personas as well as calm any jealousy you may have towards the number of publishing credits attributed to them.
Keywords are Made of Language
In my first graduate poetry workshop, my professor made one point that helps me to write even when I feel uninspired: poems are made of language. Poets (and those who romanticize poets) can veer into the illusion that poems are made of feelings or a self that just needs to be expressed. This can be paralyzing. It’s much easier to write when you realize that putting any combination of words on the page creates the potential to make meaning. In poetry school, this lesson is often accompanied by a list of words that the student must include in their poems. This forces us to give the language primacy over whatever noble feeling we want to infuse into our poem. This is not unlike incorporating keywords or keyword phrases into our copy.
While our blog posts ideally make logical sense rather than emotional or structural sense (like poems can), keywords introduce a limitation to website copy and articles that force us to pay attention to the language. When I’m having trouble with an article, I start with the long-tail anchor text or keywords that I need to use and make meaning around them. These are the pieces of writing where the “assigned words” are incorporated most seamlessly.
Make it New / Sound and Sense
Cliché is the enemy of poetry. Familiar phrases dull the emotional impact of a poem (or any piece of writing) precisely because it cannot cause the reader to feel anything—they’ve encountered it before. In poetry school, we’re often told that we have to “make it new,” which has become a cliché in its own right. Anyone with postmodern leanings, or who has spent any time weeding through the endless abyss of content on the internet, is skeptical of this being possible.
Nevertheless, as SEO writers, we are charged with the task of creating unique, sharable content in a context that makes this seem difficult. We need to “make it new.” Poetry skills help with this. When it comes to making my content “new,” not only do I aim to generate new ideas, but to present these ideas with “new” language. As poets, we know that the way language sounds also carries the potential to make meaning. This is reflected in the title of a traditional poetry textbook—Sound and Sense.
When I’m struggling with a topic, or writing content that doesn’t feel convincingly fresh, I aim to seduce readers through word sound and rhythm. Sometimes I even break into iambic pentameter.
Like any denizen of the poetry ghetto, at first I felt unsure about using these skills to capitalist ends. Ultimately, poetry has made me a better blogger, and blogging has allowed me to further develop my “poetical character” and has made me a better poet. Fellow SEO writers—consider poetry. Your poetic reputation will probably not land you another job, but your poetry skills will make you better at the one you already have.
Megan Williams is a poet who blogs for Page One Power, a link-building firm based out of Boise, Idaho. When not writing, Megan runs GHOSTS & PROJECTORS. a poetry reading series and concocts new ways to prepare kale for her hunny and her bunny.