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Wrapping 2017, Welcoming 2018

Well, here we are! Since my last newsletter (all too long ago...), fall has twisted into winter, a year into another year.
On the left, an autumn afternoon on Boylston Street. On the right, my first experience of a "snow bomb cyclone" in Boston! In this weather, I can't help but recall the "blueblack cold" in Robert Hayden's "Those Winter Sundays." Wherever you are in the country, I hope you're keeping warm and safe!
During these periods of transition, I'm especially thankful for the progress and support we've enjoyed along the journey. You have fueled both. Thanks for reading!
What's inside? A poem nominated for a Pushcart prize, a summary of Trubadour's end-of-year highlights, an example set of recommendations from our humble database, and a roadmap for delivering personalized poetry recommendations this spring.
Featured Poet: Rebecca Hart Olander
 
"Malum"
I met Rebecca Hart Olander at the 2017 Massachusetts Poetry Festival. Her poem, "Malum," was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
This poem offers a genuine, realistic portrait of what passes between a mother and her son, through the language they exchange.
In "Malum", Rebecca illuminates the gap we often experience, where inner life and everyday life fray. The poem demonstrates where language can take us or trap us: what kinds of experiences and connections language enables, but also hinders. It also shows us that, despite damage, the source of communication (the "loosening," the "spilling across") from one to another is the renewing, enduring force of love.
Rebecca studied poetry and English/ Education at Vermont College of Fine Arts, Smith College, and Hampshire college. She teaches at Westfield State University and is an editor and director at Perugia Press, recognizing "the best new women poets." Congratulations on all the great work, Rebecca!
MassChallenge Finale
The four months of 2017 I spent participating in MassChallenge transformed my vision, confidence, and sense of what is possible for poetry and technology.
Some key learning and take-aways:
  • It's better to use pre-existing/ readily-available content--vs. crowd-sourcing--for early analysis efforts. I found that it was faster, cheaper, and much easier to use poems from a large archive like poets.org than to try to collect crowd-sourced poems from individuals via calls for submissions. Because at this early stage, few know about Trubadour, and explaining takes a lot of time.
 
  • Poetry recommendations work! I found it immensely gratifying to have made several successful recommendations of poems to people who I thought would like them. In each case, those suggestions and matches were accurate within 80%--a hugely promising margin, suggesting that it IS possible to use a systematic, scalable approach to make personal connections with poems.
 
  • Young and emerging poets see greater potential in merging technology and poetry. Those who are naturally, already in discovery-mode in their introduction to poetry (i.e. high-schoolers and early college students) are most excited by the opportunities that something like Trubadour could afford. This audience is where I plan to be focusing my efforts in the future.
Top highlights:
  • The Poetry Potluck: a great time had by all, seasoned and new poets alike! Some new friendships even emerged from our gathering, and it helped fuel my confidence in my ability to plan and host public events--not to mention public-speaking!
 
  • Pre-final preparation, judging, and feedback: though Trubadour did not make MassChallenge's "Top 26" companies, I got excellent scores for a venture at this stage. My mentors confirmed our success in achieving huge growth milestones in validation and initial-addressable audience.
 
  • MassChallenge Awards Ceremony: on November 2, around 2,000 people attended the MassChallenge dinner, showcase, and awards ceremony, held at the Boston Convention and Exhibition center. And thus, an unforgettable summer, spent alongside amazing innovators, culminated in the year's largest entrepreneurial event in New England! I am extremely grateful to have been a part of it.
Fruits of our labor: sample recommendations!
In the last few months of 2017, I analyzed 400 poems--scoring over 150 parameters. This process took between 15 and 20 minutes per poem! Curious to see the results?
Here's an example. From Elizabeth Alexander's "Tending,"...
...our recommender system returned, "Sorting" by Twyla M. Hansen:
Cool, right? And from Aracelis Girmay's "luam, new york", we get "Difference", by Nate Klug.
See any interesting similarities or new resonances? :)
We're currently in pilot phase, testing personalized recommendations with a small handful of readers.
In our pilots, we're experimenting with how best to deliver and improve the value of curation we aim to provide.

Stay tuned for the next newsletter: it just might contain the details for how to sign up to get personalized recommendations!
Events
Dr. Lillian-Yvonne Bertram, one of Trubadour's first and foremost champions!--reads her work at the "Boston Originals" reading in Harvard's Woodberry Poetry Room on October 12.
Several poetry and literature events took place throughout the fall: the Boston Book Festival and Boston Lit Crawl around the city in October, Blacksmith House Poetry SeriesFirst Fridays in Jamaica Plain, and "Poets in the Palace"--a reading by Major Jackson at the Isabella Gardner Museum, just to name a few!
Major Jackson read in the Gardner Museum's Titian Room on Dec. 11
It's a great privilege to be in a place where poetry is so often and openly celebrated. I look forward to many more opportunities like this to surround myself with great poets and poems throughout the new year!
Updates
Remember GennaRose Nethercott's Kickstarter campaign to produce a "Modern Ballads" album with some of today's most prominent voices in folk and bluegrass? 

Well...it got FULLY FUNDED thanks to an outpouring of support: 180 backers pledged $8,215!

"Back in late October, the bands & I spent a week in the recording studio. I had the privilege of tucking into the sound booth & witnessing these expert musicians in their element. It was amazing to watch everyone work, bringing to life poetry that had previously existed only on the page & in my head, now sparking into something new." -GennaRose

Keep up with the campaign here, and if you'd like to hear the final results, the album will be ready in February. Yippo! :)
"Hacking Arts" Hackathon!
On November 11-12, the MIT Media Lab hosted its 5th annual hackathon for developers, innovators, technologists, artists, and entrepreneurs to explore the intersection of the arts and technology. Thanks to Lillian Yvonne-Bertram, I could participate in this fun, action-packed weekend over my birthday!
I pitched the idea in front of the audience, we assembled a team of bomb-awesome designers and developers, and for about 36 hours straight, we had fun ideating, making mock-ups, and putting together our presentation of how an app for poetry discovery might work.
It was incredible to be able to share my vision for Trubadour and to see our team run with the idea and make it their own. I was so impressed with the results!
We even got into the top 10--from over 40 teams!

From Boston to the University of Washington, our team came as complete strangers and left as friends. Thanks to Ben, Nadia, Natasha, Rucha, and Kaanchi! I'll never forget how much fun I had at my first hackathon.

Poetry I'm reading
I wanted to try something new and include a section just to feature poetry that has stood out to me of late. :) Here goes!
Oh goodness, is this a great poem. An excellent probe into the emotional life loves gives to us. Filled with experimental images, wow-worthy metaphors, and meditative moments of the sparest, starkest kind. Equal parts celebration, warning, and lament.
A poignant portrait blurring fact and fiction, illustrating the internalization, and distortion, of reality as the speaker ruminates on potential dangers of travel and other topics. Commentary on how the life of the mind dictates behavior and beyond.

And up next: 
  • "tenderling" by Emily Corwin, forthcoming from Stalking Horse Press. She's on Twitter, @exitlessblue. Thanks for the reviewer copy, Emily! :)
For conversation
Similarly new for the newsletter this year, I want to include a section providing links to an article or two that has got me thinking.
This article by Rachel Mennies, "Paying to Play: On Submission Fees in Poetry Publishing," seeks to uncover issues like,

How much are poets spending to get their full-length books published? How much do presses and journals depend on submission fees for funding, and what other sources of funding are primary for them?... What alternatives do we have to the submission fee, both as submitters and publishers?

I was surprised to find that, of the people who took the survey informing this article's writing, poets were paying as much as $3,000 in submission fees to publish their books.

She writes,

If a sizable majority of poets must spend money to secure publication for their books (and, ever increasingly, to submit to journals), and it’s uncertain whether or not those costs will be recouped upon publication, is the submission-fee model equitable for poets? By equitable, I mean accessible across, here, class: can a poorer or working-class poet submit her manuscript as often as a wealthy or institutionally supported poet? The data is unequivocal: no.

Such issues make me wonder about the future of poetry publication. Will there ever come a point where poets just can't afford to foot the bill anymore, or will they continue to find a way, despite worsening conditions? Food for thought...
Next steps
Along with our testing with recommendation pilots, my MassChallenge mentor, Stephanie, and I plan to continue conducting interviews and focus groups with high school students in the area interested in poetry. This will help us further refine who will likely be the end-user of a product we could develop.

And last but certainly not least...

Linus Lee is back! (Hi, Linus!) :) I couldn't be more excited to work together again on some immediate next steps involving the technology and product design. Though we're not exactly sure what will happen down the line, we're currently committed to learning as much as we can in order to bring personal curation for poetry into the world.
Poems in the wild! As seen on a subway, thanks to Mass Poetry's "Poetry on the T"!

Whew!

You made it all the way through! A huge thank you for reading this long newsletter. Next time, I promise it won't be four months in between... ;)
My best until then, and keep warm!
Rebecca

 
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Rebecca Roach, Trubadour · 21 Dry Dock Avenue · STE 610E Trubadour · Boston, MA 02210 · USA

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