Blog-posted poems redux

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.

As a final thought, I tend to agree with Harry, who wrote in his comment on Eric Melbye’s post:

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.

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6 thoughts on “Blog-posted poems redux

  1. I agree with Harry, and have said so at more length here.

    Expect much of this to change over the next few years. Thanks to the internet, poetry is experiencing a surge both in popularity and in quality. Poetry magazines will adjust accordingly in time. I imagine that in a few years most editors will adjust to the reality of the poetry world.

    And I speak as a poetry snob who until this year would never have looked first to the internet for top-notch poetry. But that is changing, and will continue to change.

  2. Nic wrote: “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.”

    I mentioned in my post that I don’t have time to consider the slippery slope of what might/might not constitute a previously published work, and it’s also true that I don’t have time to investigate whether every submission truly is previously unpublished. I’m sure I have published work that has appeared on blogs, etc., in the past. There’s an assumed level of trust between editor and writer that the writer is following the journal’s publishing policies, and I think it’s unethical for writers to knowingly bend/break those policies. I could easily get away with submitting work simultaneously to journals that don’t accept sim. subs, but I don’t. I also don’t submit previously published work to journals that don’t accept them. So, for the writer who posts drafts of work on blogs, etc. who wants to submit work to journals with vague submission guidelines, I think the easiest solution is–as Nic suggests–to simply that the work has previously appeared on such-and-such blog on such-and-such dates. A good working relationship between editor and writer demands honesty from both parties (which is why I’m going to make Segue’s sub. guidelines more explicit).

  3. thanks, Nic. I will add that degree of explicitness to our guidelines for the poetry site and journal I run. to me the question comes down to this:

    writers make decisions about whether they want to self publish or get published through a publication with an editorial board. if you see value in having an editorial board judge your work, then publishing is the way to go. if you just want to share and disseminate your work, a blog or a self-published chapbook might be a better method.

    i know that as a writer i grow dissatisifed with how long a literary journal will take to consider my writing. by the time something is published i am usually on a completely different wavelength and find it unsettling to wait for so long. i post my draft poems on my blog (eleanorincognito.blogspot.com) and remove them when they are published, adding a link to the publication’s site.
    i made the decision to post poems on a blog because at readings and when talking to fellow writers and friends, i used to be asked where they could read my writing. when i wasn’t published that much, posting to my blog was a way of keeping them up to date about what i was writing. now i have a few things (not a lot) published, i can also direct people there.

    as an editor of a publication (site and journal), i want to offer readers fresh work that hasn’t been seen before and also that has gone through some kind of evaluation process. some readers like that and others would rather judge for themselves.

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  5. Hi Nic,

    I just discovered your blog while researching this topic. Thank you for all the helpful information and comments you’ve collected from editors on this!

    I have to say, my feelings about this subject are PASSIONATE! Writers are artists. When I am not writing, I am a designer. Many of my friends are visual artists and other designers. And…we promote ourselves. We have online portfolios. We go about or own self-promotion activities as independent agents. We deserve to!

    And what about more commodity-oriented arts, like music? Well, many of my musician friends post songs on their site in a secure format. I understand different types of art have varying degrees of security from plagiarism and theft, but the bottom line is: the issue of an artists’ right to promote him or herself cannot be neglected. Nor can it be controlled, unless you want to buy exclusive rights to my work (similar to a recording contract, which I personally think are creepily codependent—but at least the musician is amply provided for. The poet is not).

    Is my creative freedom worth more than the pittance that a prestigious publication might pay me for the poem I spent years toiling over? Is it so important to me to be included in its lofty ranks that I’m willing to cage my self-expression in as an artist?

    I completely understand and respect the need to avoid simultaneous submission, duplicate publication (including on any non-personal online publications), etc. This is just basic copyright law. But in the end, the poems are my own property and I respect myself and my work too much to grovel to any publication (no matter how reputable) who does not respect my need to market myself and gain a reader base and identity as an independent artist. I see no reason to take down my work when it is published in another journal. I DO see the need to link to the journal after publication.

    I mean, what on earth is the conflict? I would be linking to the accepting publication. They gain new readers and publicity. It is a symbiotic, not antagonistic relationship. Everyone wins.

    Poetry is not something to be hoarded. It is one of the few arts that gains in value and relevance the more widely and freely it circulates. I hope that in this century, we discover that the value of poetry can be measured very differently than other arts. You can buy a painting or a song, but a poem? It is fairly easily memorized and stored in the mind, or on a scrap of paper. It is small and elusive, easily appropriated. What is valuable, then, is the presentation, the concept, the journey of reading many poems together. And herein lies the value of a magazine.

    Poems, like poets, gain in value by associating and kibbutzing, forming connections—not by being locked in a closet. Somehow or other, whether it’s on the internet or on a passed note or someone reading it over the phone or on a street corner, a poem is going to enter the public domain. And THAT is why poetry is my life. It is the most amazing art form to me precisely because it is VIRAL. It is about creating memes, shaping the collective consciousness, whittling language itself—which is public property.

    Publishers will just have to deal with this. And respect it! I consider this process very sacred. You do not OWN a poem simply because you published it. I don’t even own it by writing it. I consider poetry to be a gift. Sometimes, because of this, I give it away for free out of love and generosity, like I would pick a flower and give it to a loved one. Still, the fact that I can pick a daisy from a roadside doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t go to the florist and pay for a colorful flower arrangement on a different occasion. Poems are not commodities and we cannot afford to be stingy and short-sighted about the big picture. The more readers a poet has, the more widely known the poem is (as long as the “widely known” is from the author’s own self-marketing efforts), the more EVERYONE benefits.

    Until the publishing world wakes up and creates actual legislation to protect the rights of blogging poets, I’m perfectly happy carving my own path. For a few grand, I can publish my own work. I have a marketing and design background. And I seriously think all poets should consider becoming businesspeople with these skills. The relationships we develop with publications should be selective and empowering. Being told not to submit unless we erase all traces of ourselves online on our OWN sites is NOT empowering. It is ridiculous and does not show any respect for the poet. These practices should be abolished, but the only way it will happen is if enough poets simply decide they refuse to work with publications that utilize them (similar to the way work-for-hire practices were all but eliminated in the clip art industry due to enough fed-up illustrators deciding to open up their own businesses). The only thing blinding poets to the absurdity of this restriction is our own slavish dependence on outside publishers and agents to validate our existence.

    Thanks again Nic. There aren’t too many things I can’t get on the middle ground about, but this is one.

    Sarah

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