Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Searching for a buzzing fly

Well, I have reached the eve of my last day of class for this semester! It's very exciting, and I can certainly say that I know a lot more about cataloging and classification than I did four months ago. Getting back to my project, this last week was our peer review session where two of my classmates looked over what I have so far on my blog and gave me feedback and suggestions for future entries. As a result, I was given a new idea for an entry subject - poetry search engines - do they exist? If so, are they better (or more relevant) substitutes for Google?

The answer is YES, they do exist. Ironically, I was able to find them using a Google search. The first one I checked out was It is a reference site for Verse (poetry), Fiction, Reference, and Non-fiction. I had never heard of the site before, but very quickly I have been able to put it to good use. Instead of going through all the sections, I went to the "Verse" tab right away. A screen comes up that has a "Search Verse" box, so I put it to the test. I chose poem 465 ("Dying") by Emily Dickinson, and input the first five words, "I heard a Fly buzz" and hit search. One result came up, so I clicked it and it brought me right to the poem - or so I thought. Oddly enough, some of the words and punctuation are different from the poem as written in my Norton Anthology. Why would this be? I noticed a link button above the poem that said "Bibliographic Record" and clicked on it to see if I could find my answer. Here is what I found: It's not exactly a MARC record, but it does tell you the original source. Is that good enough? I'm no Emily Dickinson scholar, but it does seem strange that there would be two different published versions of the same poem, especially since they were never translated from another language. I'm not sure which one is the authoritative version, but this website doesn't seem to have the answer.

Since I had limited success with the Bartleby site, I tried another Google search result, After closing out of the pop-up advertisement (yet another reason to choose books over digital sources), I repeated my search query for "I heard a Fly buzz" and got two hits in the poem category. Both were for Emily Dickinson (thank goodness), so I clicked the first. This pulled up a copy of the poem - and much to my consternation, I found that it was again a slightly different version than the one in my book. However, upon closer examination of my book, I found that there are often multiple versions of the same poem when dealing with Dickinson. Very interesting. While this website did not contain an obvious bibliographic reference, it did have an interesting feature beneath the text of the poem in the form of a reference to other poems using subject words. For this reference it said, "Read poems about/on: power, light." The second search result brought me to essentially the same poem as the first, with slightly different paragraph breaks, but the same "extra" references at the bottom. Additionally, there was an area for viewers to comment, and there were actually comments for this poem. Unfortunately, there was also a commercial for Lysol and fighting H1N1 through hand washing, which sort of detracted from the poem a bit for me personally. :)

I had a brief look through a few other poetry search sites and was able to find a version of my poem in each. All in all, it was a positive experience to find that there are indeed "search engines" dedicated to poetry exclusively. Whether or not the common user would even look beyond the basic Google search to find them is another question. In my opinion, they function as a sort of online index, which works in a way that LCSH could not. My only concern for these vast online databases is in the referencing of specific works. As I now know, some poets write different versions of the same poem. In my preliminary searches, I was not able to locate the version that matches the one found in my text, which serves to highlight one of the limitations of the poetry search engine. However, in the instance of the website, there was bibliographic reference which would at least send the reader in the direction of a physical text which could in turn lead them to other collections by the author and then perhaps to the different versions of the poem...

Since I spent so much time on this poem tonight, it seems only fair to use it for my entry concluding LCSH send off. Please note - I am going to use the version from my Norton Anthology.

#465 ("Dying") by Emily Dickinson

I heard a Fly buzz - when I died - (Insect sounds, Sound production by insects)
The Stillness in the Room (Quietude)
Was like the Stillness in the Air - (Quietude)
Between the Heaves of Storm - (Windstorms)

The Eyes around - had wrung them dry - (Crying, Nonverbal communication)
And Breaths were gathering firm (Respiration)
For that last Onset - when the King (Kings and rulers)
Be witnessed - in the Room - (Vision -- religious aspects)

I willed my Keepsakes - Signed away (Wills, Legacies)
What portion of me be
Assignable - and then it was
There interposed a Fly - (Flies)

With Blue - uncertain stumbling Buzz - (Insect sounds, Sound production by insects)
Between the light - and me -
And then the Windows failed - and then
I could not see to see - (Death)

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