In the Rik view of the world a poem is a poem when somebody reads it, or hears it, or watches it being performed and they turn round to their mates and say: "now that's a poem!" I can sit here typing until I'm blue in the fingertips claiming that my poems are poems, but until they're validated by other people as poems, they're just collections of words on the page or screen.
In short: poems need people, and people need poems.
But people aren't going to get the poems they need if those poems are trapped inside a book or a magazine. A book which they have to go out and buy, or borrow from a library, or nick off a friend. A book which they probably don't know exists, because for most people in the real world, seeking out books of poems is not high on their list of things to do. I mean, why should it be?
The living book
I came to the conclusion years back that I had no interest in pressing the life out of my poems between the pages of a book. I rarely submit work to print journals; I've never (forgetting one moment of madness) sought a publisher for my poetry. I don't need to: I've got a website.
The RikVerse Website isn't just a webpage where I shove all my poems. Oh, no! My overriding vision for the RikVerse Website has been that of a living book - a place where I can showcase my poems to the world, where I can share the development of the poems with visitors, and where I can promote the finished works through as many different channels as possible. That's why I've spent so much time and effort to make sure the site's accessible and welcoming to the casual browser: it's about the poems, innit, not the geezer wot wrote them.
My poems are on webpages and in pdf documents; a number have audio and some have video. If visitors don't like the website, they can perhaps check out the poems via Scribd, or Issuu, or Google books. They can even buy a portion of the RikVerse in dead tree format, if that's what they want (though it kinda misses the point of the ever-evolving 'living book' concept, but hey ho). And as soon as I work out the technicalities, RikVerse poems will be available for eReaders such as BeBook, Kindle and eSlick.
Copyrights and stuff
But I don't think the RikVerse website and all these other delivery channels is enough - I want people to be sharing my poems with their mates. But the one thing that stops such sharing (legally speaking) is the copyright issue.
So I've decided to start using Creative Commons licences. As the CC folk say on their website: "Creative Commons licenses are not an alternative to copyright. They work alongside copyright, so you can modify your copyright terms to best suit your needs. We've collaborated with intellectual property experts all around the world to ensure that our licenses work globally." I like those words.
Look at what CC licences have done for photos - arguably the visual equivalent of a poem. People don't think twice about uploading their photos to venues like Flickr, thus offering them to others to use in their own venues or in their own work. And it's all legal, thanks to the CC licence. There's no payments as such, but rather a kind of gift economy where payment is made in kudos and respect. And nobody (except the commercial photographic libraries, I'm guessing) has a problem with this massive change in the way images are traded between folk around the globe.
I see no reason why it shouldn't be different for poems.
Now don't get me wrong: I'm not one of those raving lunatics who thinks all poems should be released into the wild for swapping and sharing. There's good reasons why copyright laws were established over the past couple of centuries, and if some people can make money from their poems by selling books and stuff then more strength to their elbows, say I.
But equally, why should poems remain copyrighted for seventy years after their authors have died? I mean, how does that benefit the writer? Are they expecting the royalties to pay for fresh flowers on their grave for generations to come?
It's a tricky question. I want to retain copyright over my poems, yet I don't need floral tributes to celebrate my death day after I've gone, and at the same time I do want my poems to be read and shared by people while I still breathe. Which is why, after fretting about these issues for years, I decided that the best option for me was to move all my poems onto a Creative Commons licence.
What does all this mean?
In practical terms, what I'm saying is:
- if you want to post one of my poems to your website or blog, go right ahead - as long as you remember to give me credit for the poem by making sure you say "This poem was written by Rik Roots"
- feel free to take one of my poems into class for your 'found poem' project
- you can reuse a poem, for instance in a leaflet or pamphlet - as long as they're not for sale!
And the best bit is you can do all this fun stuff with my poems without having to pay me! Check out the Creative Commons website for more information for what can and can't be done to works released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales Licence.
But wait! There's more!
You know how you're supposed to progress as a poet as time goes by? Well, I've been thinking about those poems I wrote more than 15 years ago and, well, I think it's about time they started to make their own way in the world. So I've decided to release those poems written more than 15 years ago under the much sexier Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 UK: England & Wales Licence.
Which means that for these poems I'm going to be brave and let people copy, distribute, display, and perform them - and derivative works based upon them - as long as people mention my name somewhere where folks can spot it. And yes, people can use those poems for their own commercial work, and no, I don't expect to be paid.
It's a brave new world out there. I look forward to seeing how this all works out.