June 15, 2010

To the Editor (Part 2)

Some weeks ago I posted one of my poems to this site, "Life is Like a Train." Unlike the other poems posted here, this was a previously unpublished work. By posting the poem, I have made it ineligible for submission to a great majority of poetry publications. The poem has lost its virtue by this very modest exposure.

The existence of this standard policy among the publishers of poetry of not reprinting "published" work is evidence that they misunderstand their present role in the promotion and distribution of poetry. In the past, successful publishers of poetry were most concerned with discovery, unity, and exclusivity: poems were discovered by editors and plucked from obscurity; the poems were bound together into a unified and unalterable artifact; the poems were exclusively debuted to an elite readership of subscribers. But this is no longer a formula for success.

Like the record labels of the last decade, publishers of poetry are clinging to an outmoded system which will invariably result in their irrelevance. In the context of the current internet culture, exclusivity is difficult to ensure; it does not preserve but rather suppresses interest. The unchanging artifact (printed journal) has given way to the viral, the user-altered, the meme, the parody. Discovery has been eclipsed by sharing.

In response to these changes, many journals have created static and often abbreviated electronic reproductions of their print journal, or, if they have gone entirely online, have mimicked the essence of the old pulp and glue fetish by producing a linear, inalterable site. In addition to these "advancements," they've expanded their rules about what constitutes an unpublished work, thereby cementing the hierarchy of publication: print trumps pixel. Online readers, the logic goes, are less legitimate readers, and so online publications are less legitimate works.

Publishers have changed the curtains but have not opened the windows. Accessibility and interactivity are still strangled out. There are exceptions, of course, but the majority of publishers behave as if the community was there to support them and not vice-versa.

Publishers, if they wish to attract readers and writers, must reinvent themselves as a portal, as a place for collaboration and interaction, as a showcase for popular (viral) poems. Instead of discouraging poets and writers from building a readership by posting their work, publishers should encourage writers to self promote; the reprinted/reposted poem will then bring to the publication an already invested readership.

I posted the poem for the simple reason that a couple of people asked for a copy. I prefer to respond to the readers I have at hand rather than to defer to the uncertain courtship of publishers. For the record, I'd do it again and for anyone who asks.

Ultimately, publishers seem to believe that it is their rigidity and rules which attract readers and funds. This is a little like believing people go to the beach to hang with the lifeguards. The lifeguards have a role to play, but it's the beach, man, that gets the people out.

(Read "To the Editor: Part 1")

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