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To Mark the End of an Era, Poetry for the Wired Masses

April 07, 1999|LISA MEYER

"My ignorance of the Internet is complete," says award-winning poet Phillip Levine. "But my belief in the goodness of making poetry available is total."

Helping Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com) commemorate National Poetry Month, Levine wrote the first stanza of the company's Millennium Poem--a collaboration of more than 40 poets that began last week on the Web site's Literature & Fiction page and that will be updated weekly throughout 1999.

Aggressively expanding in a variety of ways, Amazon.com is no longer just an e-commerce site; it is an interactive literary center.

Each week, a new poet will add a stanza. The last, also to be written by Levine, will appear on New Year's Eve.

Publishing on the Internet is new for poets, says Levine, who lives in Fresno. In a telephone interview, he said he insisted that Kerry Fried, co-editor of the Literature & Fiction page, gather poets from different locations and ethnic groups.

In the second stanza, for instance, Irish poet Eavan Boland described quietude dense with anticipation for a new age. And Levine began the poem with images of insatiable hunger, futility and illusion--what Levine thought Dante would find in a modern hell.

"Since I don't believe in a place outside of Earth called hell," Levine says, "I took my protagonist through Detroit, where I grew up."

The Internet, an interactive medium, is ideal for poetry, Fried says. "We want to break people's fear of poetry."

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