Many, many thanks to editors Eric Melbye of Segue and Leah Browning of the Apple Valley Review for framing the case against accepting poems posted to personal blogs and to editors Reb Livingston of No Tell Motel and Susan Culver of Lily for putting the case in favor of doing so (their respective thoughts appear in the last four posts below).
I’ve started a standing page listing publications on each side of the debate here (link also in the standing page column to the left), with, where relevant, some additional remarks from editors who responded to my queries while I researched this topic. Many thanks to all those who took the time to respond. If you’d like to add to it, please post a comment.
The bottom line in my view is that the poetry editor community seems to be pretty much split down the middle on this topic, with good honest editors on each side of the divide.
So what’s the lesson for the blogging poet who posts poems to a personal blog? It’s a hard one. I doubt that every editor googles every submission (even those who state they prefer not to publish blogged poems must in fact at some point have done so without realizing it) so it must be possible to ‘get away’ with having posted a poem on your own blog with these editors.
One approach often seen is when poets post poems to their blogs for a short period of time then take them down so as not to fall prey to trawling editors. But even if they stay up on the blog for five minutes, they have been posted to a personal blog, surely, and don’t they therefore fall into the no-no category for some editors? From my point of view, this presents something of an ethical dilemma (although I see how others may not see it that way).
One definitive solution would be to refrain from putting a poetic syllable online until after publication (which would, in my case, definitely impoverish the writing process). Another is to be up-front with editors upon submission – which is what I am doing at the moment– adding this line to all submissions: These poems have been posted to my personal blog (URL below) but will of course be deleted when/if accepted for publication.
In more than one case, and despite careful perusal of submissions guidelines, I have only found out after submission that the editor is on the no-blogged-poems side of the debate.
So although I am not sure which way I will end up going on this one, what is clear to me is that there is currently enough ambiguity surrounding the definition of publication with regard to personal blogs to make it reasonable for editors to EDIT THEIR SUBMISSIONS GUIDELINES (pleeeeeez) and spell out their policy toward blog-posted poems. That way submitting poets don’t waste their own and editors’ time with ineligible submissions and we can all get on with our lives.
Personally I have have a sneaking suspicion that the poetry world hasn’t worked out its relationship with the internet yet in a more profound sense than just questions of submission guidelines. Poetry is a minority interest medium with a geographically dispersed readership, and it can be delivered successfully online. The fit between poetry and the internet just seems too good for it not to end up profoundly changing the way poetry is delivered to people.
Newspapers are haemorrhaging readers all the time and having to find ways of adapting to the brave new world; do we really believe that more than a very few print poetry journals are sustainable in the long term? I think the real question is how to do internet-centred poetry publication which is financially sustainable.
But I guess that’s a long argument for another day.