The e-poem provides a weekly poem by e-mail free of charge to all who wish to receive it – one poem for children and one for adults. The Buskerud, Østfold and Vestfold county libraries launched this scheme, and it is currently administrated by the two latter. The project has received development funding from Arts Council Norway and the National Library of Norway.
With the e-poem, modern technology has assumed a key role in the dissemination of poetry. In Norway, anthologies of poems are printed in 1 500 copies on average. E-poetry reaches 12 000 subscribers weekly, and the number of final users is significantly higher. Recently, e-poetry was awarded the distinction of the best national library project of the year.
Why provide poetry by e-mail?
The novel has a prominent role as a literary genre in Norway. Writers of crime stories in particular feature widely in the media, and can achieve astounding sales figures domestically as well as abroad. In comparison, poetry sells rather poorly, and most collections of poems are left untouched on the library shelves. Compared to novels, poetry has few readers. We wished to reverse this trend, and started working on the basis of the following assumption: Poetry is being under-utilised.
Why is poetry so little read? Poetry is little marketed or given visibility in today’s media. People are unaware of the collections that are being pub-lished. In addition, poetry is widely held to be a narrow and slightly odd genre, in which the language and the topic are either solemn, rigid and old-fashioned, or modern, but difficult and inaccessible. This notwithstanding, librarians regularly encounter requests for poems that can be used for life’s great events, such as births, baptisms, confirmations, weddings or funerals. We take this to mean that poetry is perceived as a genre that has an important message, and that will make a difference in the context of a great event, be it joyful or grievous.
We wished to demonstrate that poetry may also speak to the readers in every-day situations. Poems can be casual and colloquial. Poetry shows us the details that we fail to notice, and may turn a triviality into a joy. As a genre, poetry is eminently suitable for the busy people of our times, who have little time to read. Poems are short and can be read in a few moments, and at the same time give the reader an intense experience and some new ideas. The small volumes of poetry being borrowed and purchased may be because people are unable to locate poetry that appeals to them. Many have failed to discover the genre!
Potential readers of poetry are found among regular library users as well as among those who do not visit the li-brary on a regular basis. Our assumption was that many readers would want poetry if the poems are perceived as meaningful and understandable, if necessary hand-picked by a librarian, and distributed into their daily life in a simple manner. Such intersecting needs are as made for modern technology. The idea of distributing poetry by e-mail was thus conceived. By using e-mail as our tool, we can reach readers all over the country, abroad, in their workplace, at home or while travelling, and we can reach those who are never physically present in their local library.
Poetry for children
The scheme was initially started in 2008 for children, with the intention of stimulating authors to produce new poetry for children. This intention was based on the following observations.
- While a large number of diverse books for children are published in Norway, good collections of poetry come out far less frequently.
- In the face of poor reading skills among Norwegian children, efforts to develop language skills and promote reading must be taken extremely se-riously. In its form, poetry is a type of condensed literature, where rhyme and rhythm, playfulness and fun establish awareness of and sensitivity to language, and help establish a good basis for literacy.
- Poetry provides a new and different impression than other literary genres. Poems can easily be learned by heart and recalled. The words become our friends.
Adult employees in day-care centres and schools act as subscribers to the poetry scheme for children, and these disseminate the poems to groups or classes of children aged 3-8. At the moment, we have 2 300 subscribers to e-poems for children. If we assume that each group comprises 15-20 children, this means that the number of final users per week could be in the range of 30 000 – 40 000.
E-poems for adults
The e-poetry scheme for adults was initiated in 2010, and currently has close to 5 000 subscribers, as well as
5 000 friends and users on Facebook. The purpose of the scheme for adults is to kindle their interest in poetry by providing a meaningful respite in between everyday activities. People often report that they enjoy reading, but cannot easily find the time to do so. A novel may have hundreds of pages, and many may need days or weeks to read. Reading a poem only takes a moment. A poem, however, may encompass questions and truths of the same scope as a novel and stay with the reader long after, and the reader can easily return to it for a re-read.
A win-win situation
Authors who endorse publication of their poetry as e-poetry are reimbursed according to specified rates. The copyright holder must give prior permission for the use of a poem; as a rule this will be the author, the publisher or the author’s descendants. The author’s name, the title of the anthology in which it was first published, the name of the publisher and the year of publication are provided below each poem. This becomes a win-win situation for all involved. The authors reach out to a new and far wider audience, their poetry is brought to life, and the publishers as well as the libraries enjoy the benefits of PR for the printed poetry collections. Moreover, the libraries reach out to new and other users, who otherwise do not use the public libraries. Best of all, however, is that thousands of users each week can have a new literary experience.
Before the launch of e-poetry, a professional communications agency pro-vided advice on design and promotion. Posters, roll-ups and bookmarks were produced. The bookmarks were sent to libraries across the country. Moreover, e-poetry has featured in newspapers, on television and radio. In Norway, the libraries’ shared list of e-mail addresses has constituted a key channel for an-nouncing the scheme, and has been widely used. Hundreds of librarians, teachers and pre-school teachers out there are printing out the e-poem of the week and posting it in the library, on notice boards, in elevators, in canteens and tea-rooms, in teachers’ staff rooms and locker rooms.
Of course, e-poetry has its own web-site, www.e-diktet.no, where visitors can read the poem of the week, as well as find an archive of previously distributed poems. The website also has a ‘forward to a friend’ function, as well as feedback from the readers.
E-poetry by app
We foresee that e-poetry will attract a growing number of subscribers. Their number is growing every week, and we believe that this is only the beginning. To develop this concept further, we are currently establishing e-poetry as an application for mobile telephones. We produce two versions, one for Android and one for iPhone. We foresee the inclusion of a push-function. The e-poetry app will be launched this summer.
- Poetry needs active dissemination
- E-poetry represents a good utilisation of digital tools
- Poetry is a condensed literary form which is well suited for busy people
- E-poetry is good PR for the libraries, the authors and the publishers.