According to William Empson "Poets, on the face of it, have either got to be easier or to write their own notes; readers have either got to take more trouble over reading or cease to regard notes as pretentious and a sign of bad poetry" ("Argufying", 1987). I've some sympathy with this. Though the author might not be best placed to write a study guide, they have a unique viewpoint and should have some worthwhile comments to offer. The best example that I know of (and it's excellent) is Kona MacPhee's The Perfect Blue companion. She writes - "I'm hoping to provide the same kind of informal preambles that I might offer when introducing the poems at a reading" and that "The commentaries aren't aimed at other poets, critics, literary academics or "professional" poetry readers, but rather, they are explicitly intended to provide a handhold, a stepping stone, a small reason-to-trust for readers new to poetry".
I'm surprised that more people haven't written such commentaries. If you know of more, tell me. My attempts are
I've had no feedback about these. They're not often visited; the pages that are read the most are those that web searches on other subjects would most likely stumble upon. At least they serve to archive something of the books' beginnings and launches, and correct misunderstandings that might easily arise. They also helped with the issue of deciding how many notes and footnotes to put in the books.
Having made a similar post at Eratosphere, Maryann Corbett et al made the point that I'm conflating different kinds of web-augmentation -
- Notes - like you'd get in the poetry book
- Study Guides - see for example Jehanne Dubrow's Red Army Red Study Guide. Some books include study guides nowadays. They might encourage CW tutors or reading groups to choose the book.
- Commentaries - like Kona MacPhee's, aimed at non-poets
- Companion Site - a place to store corrections, and links to youtube clips or reviews.