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2006-09, 351, Elizabeth Webby, Poetry

The Australian Poetry Resources Internet Library

Many of the settlers who arrived in Australia in the decades after 1788 wrote, read and recited poetry. In both its oral and written forms, poetry was much more a part of everyday life than it is today. A year after the first issue in 1803 of a local newspaper, the Sydney Gazette, an original poem was published in its columns. And by the end of 1849, thousands had appeared in local newspapers and magazines. Nowadays, a poem may occasionally be found in a newspaper’s Saturday literary supplement but only regular readers of such supplements are likely to come across it.Indeed, since at least the middle of the twentieth century, with the gradual disappearance of poetry from the general columns of newspapers and magazines, it has become less and less a part of the everyday experience of Australians. Children encounter poems as part of the primary school curriculum and usually are encouraged to write their own. But poetry in high school is rarely taught in a way that continues to make it accessible and enjoyable. Unfortunately, many of those who become English teachers wrongly believe that poetry is only for special people and so fail to encourage their students to appreciate poetry for what it is—a literary form which makes a more concentrated use of the English language and which therefore may require a more intensive form of reading than prose, but can be enjoyed by all. By making a wide range of Australian poems available via the internet, today’s equivalent to the nineteenth-century newspaper, the Australian Poetry Resources Internet Library (APRIL) aims to again make it part of the everyday life of Australians.APRIL, which has received significant funding from the Australian Research Council, through their Linkage program, brings members of the English Department and the Library of the University of Sydney into partnership with the Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) to help solve long-term problems relating to the publication and distribution of work by Australian poets. Poetry has always formed a significant part of Australian literature, and large numbers of both new and established poets continue to publish excellent work. So it is important that knowledge about this work, as well as access to it, be available to more Australians, as well as knowledge about and access to the work of earlier Australian poets.The APRIL site will also be extremely valuable for those researching and studying in the area of Australian poetry outside Australia, who experience great difficulty in gaining access to texts as well as to additional critical and other material. Poetry is one of the most accessible ways of introducing students to Australian literature and culture. The much shorter length of most poems as compared even with a short story allows for a greater range of material from different periods and authors to be covered during a course. Poems are also easier to read in class and can be more readily translated to assist their reading by students from non-English speaking backgrounds. The proposed site will therefore help to promote knowledge of Australian poetry and Australian culture more widely around the world.While the Internet has the potential to fulfil Argentine writer J L Borges’s dream of the universal library, copyright issues have meant that much literary work produced over the past hundred years, as well as related critical and other material, is not yet available online. The American Publishers’Association is currently suing Google over its plan to create a large digital library without first obtaining permission from the writers and publishers of the books to be digitised. Writers and publishers are understandably reluctant to make their creative work available free of charge.  The participation of CAL will encourage Australian poets and critics to allow their work to appear on the Australian Poetry Resources site, since payment for the use of copyright material will be managed using Digital Object Identifiers (DOI, a kind of electronic barcode) and billed to the user in the same way that a library charges for photocopying from books.APRIL will supply accurate texts of poems by a wide-range of selected authors, covering all time periods and poetic styles. In addition, it will provide an enhanced contextual reading of these poems, with details of an author’s life, photographs, interviews and statements about their work. Selected critical commentary will also be provided, together with digitised versions of manuscripts, audio and visual recordings of authors reading their work, and other material as available.APRIL will draw on the mainly out-of-copyright material already available through the collection of Australian historical and literary texts which has been accumulated on the University of Sydney Library’s electronic publishing site (SETIS) since 1997. They include 76 volumes of poetry, containing more than 3,500 individual poems by 46 authors, published during the 19th and earlier 20th centuries. In some cases, critical work relating to these poets is also included on the site. More will be added, along with portraits of the poets, where available, together with other biographical and bibliographical material.In addition, the work of a further 170 Australian poets which remains in copyright will be added to the APRIL site over the course of the project. These have been selected by Elizabeth Webby and leading poet John Tranter as the most significant poets of their generations; they include writers from all Australian states as well as some expatriate poets; they write in a range of different styles and forms.  Women poets are well represented, as are Indigenous Australians and poets from non-English-speaking backgrounds.Elizabeth Webby Professor of Australian LiteratureThe University of SydneyElizabeth.Webby@arts.usyd.edu.au

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