The Hermit Poet

June 24, 2005

Little Emerson and the Problem of Consensus

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 6:17 pm

Alberto Romero Berto is running an interesting poetry challenge over at his blog Little Emerson. Essentially he’s inviting anyone and everyone to submit poetry to be judged by a panel of 9 independent, unaffiliated, and unknown editors. Even the editors do not know who the other editors are. For a poem to be published (ie. win the challenge), it must be accepted by all nine editors — the first dissenting vote throws out the poem.

So what really is at stake is the idea of that great poetry will be recognized regardless the editor’s personal style or biases. By eliminating the possibility of discussion between editors, each individual editor must stand on his/her own judgment and aesthetic without needing to negotiate or settle for sake of larger consensus. However, this also means that there is an extremely low probability that anyone will actually be published.

Given that editors will be even more selective than usual, we can probably expect a 1% acceptance per editor. If they have no congruent tastes, we should expect the likelihoood of acceptance to be a product of these probabilities.

0.01 x 0.01 x 0.01 x 0.01 x 0.01 x 0.01 x 0.01 x 0.01 x 0.01 = 1 / 1,000,000,000,000,000,000

Yikes. A 1 in 1 quadrillion chance.

However, there are bound to be some areas of overlap — certain qualities we generally admire in poetry. Moreover, most poets can trace their influences back to a much smaller set of poets. But, these are all variables for which we have no known values and no means of determining them given the unknown status of the editors.

Which essentially means, Alberto must be posing the question as to whether or not there exists such a thing as the perfect poem. I’m anxious to see if anyone succeeds, but am not surprised that nothing has passed thus far.

2 Responses to “Little Emerson and the Problem of Consensus”

  1. barbara jane Says:

    hey neil, hope you are having a good summer.

    interesting discussions in blogland about little emerson. my 2 cents: i do not believe it is about the ‘perfect’ poem. i believe this is about the non-existence of consensus in poetry, the non-existence of a singluar, objective criteria by which one may ‘judge’ what is a ‘good’ poem, and finally, that a poem cannot be completely extricated from its author, and the historical and social context in which the author, hence his/her poem, were created. but that’s just my opinion.

    interested in your thoughts.

    peace, barbara jane

  2. site admin Says:

    Good point Barbara — just looking at the numbers and the improbability of consensus, it seems more likely to be about (as you noted) “the non-existence of consensus in poetry, the non-existence of a singular, objective criteria by which one may ‘judge’ what a ‘good’ poem is” — (my notes here are getting a bit long, so I’m moving the rest of my thoughts to a new post.)

    As for this summer, it’s shaping up nicely. This week and next I’m housesitting for one of my professors up in the mountains — so I’m really shifting into full “hermit poet” mode. It’s just me, two dogs, a pond of trout, and a bear that crosses the property at night.

    I’m hoping to finish organizing my first draft of my MFA thesis while I’m here. I’d like to have a complete book manuscript by the end of the summer and start shopping it out in the fall.

    Other than that, it’s a couple of writing retreats (Kundiman and Idyllwild) and lots of revision work.

    Best wishes,

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