Friday, April 14, 2006

Poetry online - the question

Is it achieving critical mass, in terms of respectability? Are we yet at the point where you would rather publish in an admired zine than one of the gazillion print journals that increasingly no one but contributors read?

In my case, the local poetry community is lively, determinedly neo-Beat and impenetrable. Too many poets trying to get too many readings too few poets attend, unless Robert Hass or Jane Hirschfield might be there, etc., etc. It's a distinctly clubby atmosphere -- odd for supposed Bohemians, and I don't mean the kind that hang out at the Bohemian Club (or do I?). I've been invited to do few readings and the audiences have been sparse, unless I brought my own.

Contrast that with the democratic, lively, determinedly non-poetically partisan atmosphere that prevails on the Web. Zines abound and are mostly hungry for good work, especially hungry to convert print poets to online poets. With email, it's easy to strike up acquaintances that can even deepen into virtual literary friendships based on dialogues about poems.

Sound like the poetry world dream machine? Except for the lack of pay, I think it is. And since when did pay matter in the poetry world? (Except for professorships, I get that. But for the rest of us.)

I'd like to hear what others have to say. Are we finally at the turning point? Or does online poetry still have far to go in terms of garnering critical respectability?


  1. In the littlest, tiniest way possible, the web has made it possible for me, an obscure poet living in a somewhat backward state, to have an international voice -- to publish in Europe for example. Wouldn't have happened for me otherwise. So I love it and I'm all for it.

    Still, I think I'll feel that I've really succeeded when I get accepted by Poetry or Beloit. (I'm not holding my breath.) Well, I'd be pretty thrilled by Smartish Pace, too.

  2. It's true, isn't it, that we still revere the print mags like Poetry (which I think is fast going downhill in terms of poetry quality, though uphill in terms of critical writing). And I'd be thrilled to be accepted in Smartish Pace, too. I was wonderfully amused when they accepted a glowing review of my book from Barbara, after they had turned down some of the poems in my book.

    Your point is a good one, about the online community making possible the globalization of poetry -- I'm copyrighting that term -- no matter where you are writing from.

  3. Poetry workshops on the web take many forms. It can be a simple form of group therapy - where amateurs share their feelings in poetic form - expecting only positive comments - or it can be as complex as a workshop devoted to intensive critique of advanced poetry.

    Anyone who loves poetry may create an online poetry magazine. Usually, the ones who love it are the ones who write it, and they're the editors of these e-zines.

    These editor/poets span the skill ranges from amateur to accomplished poet. As such, they have widely varying ideas of what constitutes good poetry.

    Contrast this with the print mags - usually run by university lit departments, and it's easy to see why print mags have a higher perceived quality in the minds of most.

    There are online poetry journals out there which (I feel) surpass the print mags - they certainly reach a wider audience.

    Given a choice, would we choose publication in an exclusive magazine with limited readership, or wide readership in a less-respected zine?

    For my own part, I don't seek to publish my work - unless someone asks. I haven't yet reached a point in my writing where I can look back and like the stuff I wrote six months ago. If you're published on the web, it's archived there (and read) until the site is taken down.

    I'll probably choose online over print publication, only because I have no desire to teach. There's not much point competing for publication in an academic rag, and professors must publish.