All the common criticisms of non-fungible tokens apply to NFT poetry—in particular, why would you want to own a poem that you could read, even write down yourself, or simply google whenever you felt like reading it?
I will answer that question using everyone’s favorite method: pausing to answer an entirely different question first!
What is good poetry?
Imagine you’re heading to a party. The theme is the Great Gatsby. You pull into the gates of an art deco mansion. A mustachioed valet opens the door of your vintage Rolls Royce. Women sweep by you, the tassels of their flapper dresses brush your leg as you make your way inside. The twinkling of improvised piano from the jazz band in the corner fills the marble foyer. You spot a champagne tower, with hundreds of glasses awaiting bubbles. Just as you can almost feel the cold bubbles bursting in your mouth, you see a man climb a ladder and pour a vat of coffee.
If I did my job, and you were kind enough to take the leap, your belief in that party was absolute—until I broke it by pouring coffee where there should’ve been champagne. In the same way, good poetry absorbs us completely. It is as if it sucks us inside, and for that moment, we belong to the poem.
And at the risk of dodging my initial question for even longer, I’d like to share my favorite poem.
In a Station of the Metro Ezra Pound
The apparition of these faces in the crowd: Petals on a wet, black bough
This poem is like a little world I get to visit whenever I read it. I feel the rain, see the hollowed eyes of strangers, the hunched weight of anonymity, the gratefulness for getting to ornament these places on earth, for however long. It possesses me through the act of reading, even though I’ve had the words memorized for years.
Given the immense degree to which this poem captures me, I want to own it. It was first published over a hundred years ago in Poetry: A Magazine of Verse. If I were to try to buy this antique, I’d probably pay a few hundred dollars for art to frame. Or I could buy a poetry anthology that includes it—many do. I could also simply google it. But what do all these methods of “ownership” have in common? In none of them do I give money to the heirs of Ezra Pound for the owning of the work, nor do I directly reward an early patron of poetry that bought it before me. In other words, the one that I give money to in order to “own” are profiting exclusively for something they had no hand in producing themselves.
In the same way that Bitcoin makes fiat-nuts deeply uncomfortable, NFTs have the ability to make die-hard traditional art collectors feel profoundly unhinged. NFTs have changed the definition of ownership, of what it means to truly possess a store of value.
If Pound published In a Station at the Metro as an NFT today, what would you pay for it? Perhaps a better question, particularly given the polarity of Pound is: What would you pay to be the sole owner of your favorite poem?
Poetry has immense value in how it awakens our souls. Increasing sales speak to the fact that more and more people are becoming patrons of poetry through the on-ramp of NFT Poetry. Maybe one day our community will even bring that imaginary Great Gatsby party to life—this time with real champagne!