Paul Stevens is editor of the Shit Creek Review, which accepts blog-posted poems for publication.
Up Shit Creek with a Previously Published Poem
Every issue of The Shit Creek Review has has had a major lesson for me. Issue #1 had the Limericks Overboard affair, discussed on this thread at PFFA. Someone sent in some witty limericks that I accepted and made a page for in SCR, with illustration and all – only to learn that in fact the witty limericks in question had been plagiarised from elsewhere. I had to bin the page. Obviously I am not in favour of including previously-published work of that nature. And as you can tell from that incident, my opinions on matters editorial are very much the opinions of a rank amateur who is making up stuff as he goes along.
The Shit Creek Review wants to publish good poetry. What it doesn’t want is to be tied down by hide-bound rules that would stand in the way of publishing good poetry. Previous publication in one of the 97 gazillion poetry ezines out there does not mean that a poem is likely to have been read in our particular pool of readers – and if it has, well, if it’s a good poem it will stand a re-read. And if a poem has been previously put online on the author’s personal blog, then to me that seems similar to its being in an author’s notebook and shown around to a group of friends. Poet’s blog readerships are generally not huge (though my own is approaching 50,000), and anyway a personal blog is a very different context from a selection of poems by many authors in a magazine-type format.
So I do not see previous publication as a major impediment to the inclusion of a good poem in The Shit Creek Review. On the other hand I would not want the whole zine to be composed of previously-published poems. What I do want is a good balance: perhaps a few great poems that have been published elsewhere, a lot more that are new. In a similar way, while SCR favours poems written in rhyme and metre – Formalist poetry – we don’t exclude vers libre poems if they’re good; in fact, again, we like to have a balance of types and styles.
What’s really important in all of this is the poets and the readers. I’m all for helping poets access as many venues as possible to further their readership, and for enabling readers to access a few bloody good poems that they would otherwise miss if they don’t happen to read every little ezine or print magazine that’s popping around the net and beyond.
I understand all the arguments supporting exclusivity, and I reckon that every editor is entitled to do as she or he judges best. That’s the whole point of running your own ezine, and what makes one different from another. The Shit Creek Review – as you can perhaps tell from its name – has never taken itself massively seriously, and has from the start sought to steer clear of preconceptions and received wisdom. In a discussion with another editor the other day we were trying to come up with a name for a new ezine, and I found myself saying this: I don’t think that I could conceive or edit a poetry magazine with a totally serious name. I need to have some ironic undercutting or humour: a really straight title would sit very uncomfortably on me. I suppose that somewhat flippant attitude of mine is embedded in The Shit Creek Review and is reflected in my failure to take even the issue of previous publication terribly seriously when picking good poems for SCR.
Let ten thousand poems bloom! And let some of them grow on into a second flowering!
Addendum: I sent this piece to Nic but luckily she spotted that I’d made a typo in the title: ‘Preciously’ instead of ‘previously’. C is next to V on my keyboard and my flying fingers had hit the wrong key; nor had I managed to pick up the error on re-reads; so Nic corrected it. But I wonder if there isn’t a little message from the subconscious infinite channelling through there: are we being just a little bit precious in demanding that poems we publish be absolute virgins? Maybe a vigorous verse with a bit of history might be fun too? Provocative, perhaps: blame the typo!
Many thanks for your comments, Paul.
Shit Creek Review’s submissions guidelines clearly reflect SCR policy with regard to blog-posted and online-workshopped poems.
More on the whole blog-posted poems issue here.