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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Closed submissions

I've heard a vigorous discussion of the idea of creating an invitation-only literary journal, and thus doing away with a major part of the editorial chores -- reading through the slush pile. This discussion seemed to involve mostly teachers at the college level, so my assumption is that they were talking about launching a university-based litmag.

This idea strikes me as curious in two ways. First, it's closing an already pretty tightly closed system, that of literary magazines based on college campuses. That kind of journal already has an inbuilt self-referential momentum. Students who read through slush piles are working to please professors who direct programs and publications that will shape their future careers. That would surely influence my thinking and choices, were I in their position. And it would incline me to select friends of my teachers for publication.

Of course, networks exist around all magazines. It's human nature. But the college publications have this potential to narrow their esthetic focus because of the way the system works. If you eliminate all the readers and slush piles, then you will have a laser-beam focus on the choices of two or three editors who pre-select poets for inclusion. That's interesting, more like an independent litmag. But also like a club. Curious.

The second curious thing -- this idea would possibly narrow the audience. Most readers of litmags are those who have received contributor's copies or who aspire to be in the litmag. Eliminate the latter and you might reduce sales. It's curious to me, the idea of narrowing the universe of potential readers. Poets complain that no one in our culture reads poetry. Narrowing the potential readership could help pull poetry further in the direction of obscurity. Or maybe that's already the dynamic. It's been argued that by maintaining American poetry an academic art form, based in colleges and universities, subject to the choices of editors whose livelihood and magazines do not depend on sales but on subsidy, we have created an art form that all but eliminates the general audience.
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