Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Internet poetry - oxymoron?

It's good to google yourself once in awhile. And even to do so in several different search engines.

Today I used and was delighted to find myself quoted in a fascinating article about online poetry by Frank Wilson, book editor for the Philadelphia Inquirer (May 21, 2006). He quotes several poets from the blogosphere and elsewhere on the Internet. What he picked up from me was a sound bite: "online poetry is a participant sport" -- meaning, as I elaborated, but he didn't quote, that more people write online poetry than read it. I meant it as a comment on the comparison between print journal poetry and its online counterpart. But who really knows? We need some surveys, some studies, some investigative journalism here.

I'm glad Frank Wilson has started the ball rolling. I have a feeling eventually this ball is going to get very big. We're at the stage of trying to figure out what online poetry is by the equivalent of a blindfolded committee trying to describe an elephant. This animal of Internet poetry is probably radically different than we imagine. All depends on your yardstick and your blindfold.


  1. Rachel,

    "The yardstick & the blindfold" sounds like another of those mystical essays. Congrats on the good (as you say) soundbite & its noted circulation. Regarding studies relating to online poetry, a few weeks ago Ron Silliman attempted to analyze, in some detail, the results of one survey. It's a survey that had (only) 137 respondents. Perhaps survey-takers don't deem that a small number. At any rate, I don't feel I've a deep rapport with such matters of statistics; but you might find Ron's ruminations of interest. These began with his post on Monday, April 24, and continued in follow-up posts dated April 25, 26, 27, and May 3 (vide blog archives, if interested in details).

    In the future study of online poetry custom & practice, no doubt distinctions may be drawn (somewhat -- though in some cases more clearly than in others) between online journals and poetry blogs; then, between group blogs and individual blogs. Perhaps between journals and zines (a distinction with a fading difference?) I've noted some online journals or magazines that issue as infrequently as one per year! (but are, if anything, more respectable than ever -- perhaps through the eclat of this relative paucity); while poetry blogs typically show entries every few days (or, oftentimes, daily).

    There are undoubtedly some poets for whom online publication is a primary public outlet (indeed, truth to tell, I'm of that brood); there are obviously many for whom online and print publication are the two hands of work -- a natural left & right, or (to get less riverbankian about it, a basic this & that); still others are more leery of the online world. And a few are not even plugged in.

    Talk thru hat based on absorbable inference from where I sit. Which might be by the tail, or maybe the trunk, of yer elephant.


  2. Hi David,

    What I find most interesting is the way print journals and zines are blending the boundaries. Most print journals now have web sites and some even have an Internet-only version (Mississippi Review, for instance). Many of these print-on-the-web journals post a goodly selection from their past and current print issues, thus blurring the distinction of where the publication of that piece actually occurs -- or maybe both 1st serial rights and reprint rights simultaneously being used.

    Bloggers are increasingly posting their drafts in online creative journal type sites. Most are unaware that they may actually be self-publishing, taking their new work out of the running for print journals.

    And some zines have surpassed many print journals in prestige. Some print journals have gone all e-zine and given up printing copies, while lots of zines have developed an annual print version, most anthology-sized.

    I'll look for Ron's survey. I think we need a lot more information and analysis on what's happening, though. As usual, the media are acting as though this phenom isn't even happening.


  3. "As usual, the media are acting as though this phenom isn't even happening."

    Of course 'the media' (mainstream, with lots of personal turf to defend) ignore it. They've been doing so since 1993. Or they get it as wrong as they can get it when they report on it. Again, motivated by the protection of turf. But it keeps growing anyway.

    And now, with people realizing they don't have to depend on the MSM and its strangle hold on distribution, that stories are beginning to appear about 'grassroots' poetry participation. Online communities and POD books available via the net, books that would never see shelfspace in a bookstore, is the future. But it's mostly because MSM doesn't really care. They never have cared ... about anything, but how to make money from novels. The 'net was made for poetry. And it was made for "everyman's" poetry. Ain't it great?!


  4. Blue --

    I imagine some prose writers who use the internet as a significant outlet, might beg to differ with some of your leaps of thought -- though they're interesting leaps. Stories and novels, too, find circulation via the internet.


    I've noted that at least some periodicals (online or otherwise) may place self-blogging in a separate category from publication per se (i.e., with the former not serving to proscribe submission for publication, while the latter would). How pervasive this may be, I don't know. This is a separate (but doubtless important) little issue, in the overall murky terrain.

    A thoughtful, new listing of periodical publication opportunities (I recall the standard, big book one saw some 25 years ago, but forget the title -- a basic tome listing periodicals, submissions guidelines, suitable genres, etc.) could do well to spell out where things stand with this question-in-flux.