A woman student standing in front of the Lamont poetry board clicks her tongue disapprovingly. Shaking her head, she walks away, commenting, "harsh, harsh, harsh."
It's hard to tell exactly what she was responding to. To be sure, many of the poems displayed on the board are thought-provoking, to say the least.
But more likely, it was the poetry board's unique brand of commentary which elicited her response.
A particular haiku, for example, is dismissed with a single word--"mediocre." The comment is followed by another student's scrawl: "What is this? The Gong Show or something?"
And a third critic addresses the second, asserting, "He fucking asked for comment. Who the hell are you?"
Barroom-Style Literary Criticism
To regular visitors of the Harvard Quarterly Poetry Board Board--known affectionately by regulars as the "Board Board"--this barroom-style literary criticism is an integral part of the poetry forum's charm.
Nora S. McCauley '91-'92, who founded the Board Board two years ago along with Matthew Steinglass '90, admits that she finds some of the less constructive criticism disturbing. She also acknowledges that people occasionally put up joke poems.
But McCauley insists that these abuses do not interfere with the basic mission of the poetry board, which is to enable students to get responses to their work.
"It's meant to be an anonymous starting point," McCauley explains, "especially for people who are too shy to ever show their poems to anyone."
Andrew D. Harless '83, who has put up several of his poems, says that for him, the board is a place to bounce ideas off of nameless, faceless critics before taking his work on to the people who really matter. The poems he has displayed on the board "have really been poems I didn't think were good enough to give to somebody whose opinion I trust," he says.
"Some people are more articulate than others," Harless says of the commentators, "some responses are more useful than others."
McCauley, editor of the Quarterly's poetry board--not to be confused with the Board Board--says the Board Board has gradually begun to attract a more diverse audience. Harless, who is an economics graduate student, is the proud author of the Board Board's "Capital Asset Pricing Poem."
"People originally felt intimidated" by the Board Board, McCauley says. But now that the board has been there for so long, "it seems to have definitely taken on a life of its own," she says.
McCauley hopes that in the future, the unique forum will continue to widen its constituency. "It would be good if it could become a link between people who write poetry and people who don't," she says.
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