The way that Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy revealed that the poem she had received was unsuitable is definitely a good example of ways in which internet trolling has affected contemporary poetry. The Twitter response – a shared joke among writers about how Duffy was “terrorised” into removing the poem – demonstrates both how worse the internet can be (nostalgia, confusing ambiguity, the kind of accusation often directed at “great” poets when their work doesn’t meet the internet’s artistic requirements – who doesn’t love Edmund Wilson, but still feels baffled by his latest line?) but also how much poetry is, of itself, more an art form for others to comment on and evaluate than for the original author to decide.
I think a significant theme to emerge here is that public art – poetry, theatre, film – are privileged by the public, while writers may be harshly assessed by their peers in the word of the institution they belong to. One of the great things about the internet is that authors of works can turn to the written word to either be respected or repudiated by the larger community. This was particularly true for me and the rest of Iain Sinclair’s writing group of 1987. Were we middle-aged, left-leaning and intellectually fussy, writing to criticise the likes of Margaret Thatcher or John Major? If not, then why did we write about the wider culture?
The poets in the work you mention responded as individuals, but equally, if you conduct a survey of poetry writers of the last 30 years, at a bare minimum you will find most writing about an omnipresent, unknown audience. Poetry is written as an outsider’s art form (and at its best, well, so is history). But the internet and the political climate mean that poets (and others) have to decide whether or not they are writing “for an audience” or for themselves – this has important implications for how writers talk about themselves.
Emile Ntetema is a poet and writer