‘The guarantees hardcore print enthusiasts once associated with paper are no longer valid.’

Finally, and this is the point that I don’t see enough people making, printing a very good looking paper journal has now become so easy and affordable that many people out there are doing it in vast, unregulated numbers. The guarantees hardcore print enthusiasts once associated with paper are no longer valid. A paper issue doesn’t necessarily mean you have the backing of a university, an established editorial board, or even a small press. It also doesn’t mean that you have a guaranteed readership—in fact, your work will probably be read by many more readers if you publish it online. A print issue can mean all these things, but it can also simply mean that someone has a good computer and has been visiting blurb.com.

Excerpt from an excellent post from Celia Alvarez, which pulls together and persuasively articulates in its first two paragraphs many publishing things we all vaguely know, but that I, for one, haven’t seen restated with such comprehensive clarity anywhere. I agree wholeheartedly with her point about print, and have argued elsewhere that technology has so reordered today’s publishing landscape that print publication is no longer the holy grail it once was, but has taken its place in line simply as one publishing option among many viable ones.

What really matters in all publication forms is the gravitas brought to the publication equation by the people involved. (Yes, I know – just another way to bring the conversation back around to nanopress publishing again!)

One final thought: The ‘demotion’ of print to the regular ranks of publication brings with it another seminal change – a change in gate-keepers. There will always be gate-keepers, but they are not now who they were and will change even more dramatically as communities absorb and reflect the seismic changes in the publishing landscape.

Who will be the new gatekeepers?

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43 thoughts on “‘The guarantees hardcore print enthusiasts once associated with paper are no longer valid.’

  1. Nicholas Liu says:

    Points 3 and 4 made my hair stand on end.

    3. Make sure the title’s serious? Really? Maybe not everyone has respectability as an end-goal. Maybe it is possible to show “respect” to the writers you publish without being *respectable*. Maybe publications divide into more categories than just “joke” and “respectable middlebrow journal”. Maybe!

    4. “The better the journal, the more people will be involved.” “Someone who has fewer publications than you is not likely to make a good editor.” I don’t even know what to say to these.

    • Yes, those points are arguable indeed! In truth, I was most taken with the first two paras of the article and have corrected my post to reflect that. Thanks for making me focus and always good to hear from you, Nicholas.

      • Nicholas Liu says:

        You’re welcome! Thanks for starting this conversation; there’s a lot to think about here.

  2. Ivy Alvarez says:

    Paper becomes fetishised. Well, even more so. :-)

  3. Sarah Busse says:

    I’m sorry, but her article really turned me off. Although I’ve enjoyed previous posts on her blog, she sounds like she is still in high school, when she writes about this topic. As someone who was a geek and a dweeb–or maybe, who was so far out of the scene that those words weren’t even applied, I find her take ridiculous.

    I think the responsibility is on poets to do the research, whether paper or online. But why not support the start ups? Why not take a chance once in a while? Why not (to continue her metaphor) resist trying to be “cool.” In the end, the poems will have to speak for themselves. Readers of a book aren’t going to discount poems because of where they appeared first. Not if they’re good readers. And in the meantime, by submitting to a variety of places and taking a few chances, you’ll discover some very interesting, independent, funky and good-humored groups of writers.

    • Hey Sarah – great to hear from you and thanks as always for commenting! My interest, as I noted in my reply to Nicholas, is with the first two paras of the post, with which I strongly agree. I also like her #1 point: “Forget the print/online distinction. It is no longer valid. There’s good and bad on both sides of the great divide.”

      This overall intro, on which I am focused, I think very accurately sets the stage on which ‘criteria to submit’ play themselves out and no doubt each submitting poet will construct their own personal package of criteria according to their own personal experience and prejudices. Each criterion Celia proposes could certainly be argued in different ways and there are doubtless others she does not mention.

      (And of course, the cases are different – as we’ve discussed elsewhere – for poets in academia who hope to make a living out of teaching or otherwise handling poetry and those of us who have nothing financial riding on the publication equation.) Best, Nic

  4. I am wondering who you are finding to be your gatekeepers in Nanopress Land. I would guess Dave Bonta and Beth Adams are pretty important because they are linked to the “qarrtsiluni” community and because Dave writes appreciations of books. (My most popular all-time post remains one about the 16 things I learned from editing “qarrtsiluni”–with Ivy! Hi Ivy!) Also, Beth is important because she is strongly attached to print as well. Each of them has a following of people who look to them for knowledge about poets. Beyond that, I’m not wholly clear. Is it clear to you? I’m curious how you seek to find these, starting from “scratch.”

    • Hi Marly – it’s way too early to tell yet, I think. All that is clear so far is that a changing of the guard is in process and that the gatekeepers of yore will not be the gatekeepers of the future. And that therefore testing and experimenting and pushing new boundaries is very much in order, so that we may collectively feel our way forward. But I have no definitive answers yet – hence the question: Who will be the new gatekeepers?

      What are your thoughts? Do you think the gatekeepers remain and will remain unchanged? Thanks for stopping by and commenting, as always.

      *Update* – just added more in response to your comment in my response to Sarah’s second comment below.

      • Sarah Busse says:

        What role do you see “gatekeepers” playing, in your work and in the poetry world in general these days? Is there another title? Is there a different way to think about these issues? I’m personally uncomfortable with gatekeepers, myself. I’d rather invite everyone into the party, I guess.

  5. Sarah – thanks for coming back . Answering your comment, I am taking another stab at responding to Marly’s just above, as I think I responded to her too quickly earlier. As you know, the ‘gatekeepers’, until relatively recently, were publishing houses, which owned the resources (printing press, paper, editing, production & marketing power) required for publication and made the decisions about who got published and who didn’t. If you couldn’t get the attention of a publishing house, you were pretty much out of luck, unless you went the self-publishing route.

    When publishing houses lost the monopoly on resources with the advent of the internet and print-on-demand services, and as the credibility of digital publication grew and the primacy of ‘print’ diminished, the ranks of the ‘gatekeepers’ swelled to include small- and micro-presses (and I will include nanopresses here too, Marly), as well as independent editors of online journals. So there are already way more people invited to the gatekeeping party now than previously. Of course, the traditional self-publication model eliminates the gatekeeper entirely, and works well in a few cases but, as I explain elsewhere, does not include the element of ‘quality control’ -an outside editor’s judgment and gravitas – the majority of readers of poetry look for.

    As I said in my post above, what really matters in all publication forms is the gravitas brought to the publication equation by the people involved. What is the quality control element in the equation? So for nanopresses, Marly – as for other types of presses – the editor figure is central. Who is the editor and what gravitas do they bring to the equation?

    The nanopress swells the potential ranks of the ‘gatekeepers’ by adding people who have the requisite gravitas and who choose to edit a manuscript with a poet on a one-time basis. They are willing to establish a nanopress (which is by definition a single-publication endeavor) but otherwise don’t necessarily have any interest in editing/publishing on a continuing basis.

    Does the mix described above represent what the final ‘gatekeeping’ landscape will look like? I don’t know, which is why I said above I think it’s too early to tell. But it’s already a much bigger party than it ever was, for sure.

    Warm thanks to you both for your interest and engagement. I really appreciate this kind of exchange and questioning, which is crucial for sharpening thinking and helping focus. Best wishes, Nic

    • Sarah Busse says:

      Hi Nic,

      Thank you in return for the engaging topic. To me, as I read your thoughtful reply, there’s a strong undercurrent of anxiety throughout. “Gravitas” — as in, How will people know I am a serious writer? How will readers see that I am separate from the vast common self-publishing crowd?

      I hope I’m not misrepresenting you, as I try to tease out the real issues here.

      In my work at Verse Wisconsin, I have had to rethink all my ideas around these issues. We are a mission-driven magazine, and a large part of our mission is building and expanding a community of poets and readers. Another aspect is connecting writers previously separated by –well, by whatever separates us from each other. Educational background, geography, culture, financial resources, “style” of writing, voice…. So we look to invite as many poets as possible into the conversation, while retaining the editorial right to reject work that we think is too weak, or work that sounds too similar to other poems we’ve already accepted, or work that for whatever reasons just doesn’t quite make the cut. We’re gatekeepers, I admit, but many times to me it feels more like being the hosts at a really fun back yard barbecue or street party–bring your friend, wave over and invite the neighbor, it’s all good. Which, again, is not to say we don’t reject–we do. I’d say we reject as often as not.

      I have been surprised, again and again, to learn which of the poems that we’ve published our readers most respond to. This gets back to intended audience, which maybe we poets should think about and maybe we shouldn’t… but I know you’re interested in finding readers for your work.

      Another factor that is troubling the waters, for me, is the very real belief that we none of us know quite which poets will stand the test of time. We do our best, launch our poems, and cross our fingers that one or two lodge in someone’s memory. I think history shows that often the contemporaries of genius failed to recognize it–and the gatekeepers of the day kept out someone we would surely want to see in.

      I write all this, and then hasten to add and admit that I also feel anxiety about the chaotic environment I’m cheering on. I believe in critique, I believe in aesthetic judgment and being able to say what one likes or doesn’t like, and why. I guess I will just end by saying I am willing to take any writer seriously who admits to erasing a word in search of a better one. I believe that if you put your poem or book into the world, you’re also agreeing to the possibility it may be received critically by readers. I believe we all can be better than we currently are, and that we can encourage each other in that direction even as we cheer on our triumphs.

      I don’t know if this furthers the general conversation, or only helps me clarify myself to myself, but again, thanks for starting the conversation.

      Sarah

      • Sarah – thanks a million for coming back to this! I’ve answered your comment in piecemeal fashion below, with your observations in bold and my responses underneath.

        To me, as I read your thoughtful reply, there’s a strong undercurrent of anxiety throughout.

        Well, it wouldn’t make sense for me to try and argue with your perception (since it is yours) of whatever feelings you think might underlie my nanopress advocacy! A little bit of context though: I make my living in a completely non-poetry field and I have zero financial or career stakes wrapped up in poetry publication – this is all fun and intellectual stimulation for me. Further, I am always very aware of the systems in place in my operating environment generally, and make something of a specialty of identifying weak spots in systems and advocating for systemic fixes that will benefit a community at large. This tendency works well for me in my day job as a manager. In my non-work private life, however, it does sometimes have me tilting at windmills! Nonetheless, in my own perception, I am engaging here from a systemic perspective – not with anxiety but with immense curiosity – and have been doing so for close on three years now (my first post on the subject dates from July 2008 and says pretty much exactly what I said to you in my last response above.)

        The weakness in the po-biz publication ‘system’ is that it is bottlenecked – on the one hand, you have the contest system, which works very slowly, expensively and unpredictably for very few; and on the other hand, you have heroic small & independent presses which read for free but just don’t have the capacity to meet the demand. In other words, there aren’t enough credible gatekeepers!

        “Gravitas” — as in, How will people know I am a serious writer? How will readers see that I am separate from the vast common self-publishing crowd? I hope I’m not misrepresenting you, as I try to tease out the real issues here.

        Yes indeed, an outsider’s judgment and ‘gravitas’ is a sine qua non for the nanopress model (as it is for all other poetry publishing models except traditional self-publishing) and yes, the idea is precisely to set the nanopress model apart from traditional self-publication, by introducing an outside editor’s judgment. The idea is also to set the nanopress model apart from traditional publishing by empowering the poet. A ‘third way’ model in many senses. I’ve written about all this extensively here and elsewhere.

        (Let me add parenthetically that having had two manuscripts edited extremely competently by two different editors and having personally seen the qualitative improvement that editing brought to the manuscripts – not to mention to my own self-awareness and self-understanding as a poet -, I am sold more than ever on the value of this outside element. Adding it improves the product and is therefore simply more respectful to the reader, I think.)

        All that said, however, I of course defend the right of anyone who wishes to pursue traditional self-publication to do so. This is not a zero-sum game. It is to the benefit of all of us if multiple publishing models are constantly in play. The nanopress is just one possible model among several. I see it as a way of increasing the poetry publishing system’s ability to handle the continually-growing demand from poets.

        In my work at Verse Wisconsin, I have had to rethink all my ideas around these issues. We are a mission-driven magazine, and a large part of our mission is building and expanding a community of poets and readers. Another aspect is connecting writers previously separated by –well, by whatever separates us from each other. Educational background, geography, culture, financial resources, “style” of writing, voice…. So we look to invite as many poets as possible into the conversation, while retaining the editorial right to reject work that we think is too weak, or work that sounds too similar to other poems we’ve already accepted, or work that for whatever reasons just doesn’t quite make the cut. We’re gatekeepers, I admit, but many times to me it feels more like being the hosts at a really fun back yard barbecue or street party–bring your friend, wave over and invite the neighbor, it’s all good. Which, again, is not to say we don’t reject–we do. I’d say we reject as often as not.

        Yes, I agree – you are gatekeepers (but there is nothing anywhere that says gatekeepers can’t be fun hosts!)

        Another factor that is troubling the waters, for me, is the very real belief that we none of us know quite which poets will stand the test of time. We do our best, launch our poems, and cross our fingers that one or two lodge in someone’s memory. I think history shows that often the contemporaries of genius failed to recognize it–and the gatekeepers of the day kept out someone we would surely want to see in.

        True enough. And conversely, 99.9% of us will not stand the test of time – we should remember that before we take ourselves too seriously! In this post from September 2008 I linked to a post by Leslie Harrison at Always Winter that discussed the poetry contest system. Unfortunately, Leslie’s post doesn’t seem to be accessible any more, but I did include an excerpt on my blog, where I wrote:

        Love this timely reminder [from Leslie]: “Well, history is going to sort us out, and I can guarantee that whether you were published by a big press or small, or self published or stuck your poems in the rafters of your house, whether you worked as a doctor or lawyer or professor or chambermaid, history will not treat about 99.9% of us well.”

        I’d settle for being treated badly by history, but Leslie’s being too kind, I fear. The reality is that history is not going to treat 99.9% of us at all….

        I write all this, and then hasten to add and admit that I also feel anxiety about the chaotic environment I’m cheering on. I believe in critique, I believe in aesthetic judgment and being able to say what one likes or doesn’t like, and why. I guess I will just end by saying I am willing to take any writer seriously who admits to erasing a word in search of a better one. I believe that if you put your poem or book into the world, you’re also agreeing to the possibility it may be received critically by readers. I believe we all can be better than we currently are, and that we can encourage each other in that direction even as we cheer on our triumphs.

        No argument with this, although I have to say I find all the change and upheaval much more bracing than anxiety-provoking – one never knows what new solution or new promise will come poking through next. (“Chaotic environment” or “constructive turmoil”? I prefer the latter…)

        I don’t know if this furthers the general conversation, or only helps me clarify myself to myself, but again, thanks for starting the conversation.

        A bit of both?! Thanks again, Sarah – it is immeasurably helpful and satisfying to me to have to articulate my thinking in this fashion. Best, Nic

    • Nicholas Liu says:

      What is implied by the term “gatekeeper”? What is the gate? Where does it lead to?

      • Nicholas – I believe I addressed this point in my second response to Sarah Busse above, the one that starts: “Sarah – thanks for coming back . Answering your comment, I am taking another stab at responding to Marly’s”.

        Was I not clear enough there? Let me know what I should address more/better – I know I do ramble! Best, Nic

      • Nicholas Liu says:

        I guess what I mean is not “Who are the gatekeepers?”/”Who have they been historically?” but rather “What do we even mean when we call someone a gatekeeper? From what do gatekeepers bar those not permitted to enter?” The simple answer to that last question seems to be “publication”, but the two problems with that are 1) no one, as you’ve mentioned, can bar anyone else from publication in some form now and 2) no one’s been able to do that anyway since photocopiers became cheaply accessible. By this measure, not only are there no gatekeepers, but there haven’t been any for some time.

        It seems we need a more precise answer–something like “publication in a context that will accrue significant social capital to the writer”. But if we choose this answer, it seems to me that nothing much has changed as far as gatekeeping goes. There is a limited amount of prestige in the literary economy: there are more people with editorial deciding power (because there are more presses), but most of the people who make up that growth aren’t really gatekeepers, as they can neither bestow nor deny social capital. There’s still only one Paris Review, one New Yorker, etc. I love Whale Sound, but a poem in it isn’t going to help get anyone a publishing contract or a job.

        Basically, I wonder if the sort of person you’re talking about is better described by a word like “curator” than “gatekeeper”. Anyone who selects work for presentation has curatorial powers. Not every person who does so can meaningfully be described as being a gatekeeper.

  6. Sarah Busse says:

    Nic —

    Great responses above. “constructive turmoil”–yes. Thanks! As a poet and an editor, I really enjoy the back-and-forth conversations I get into, whether over a single poem or over a book manuscript. I think your nanopress projects are fascinating models. As I begin working with Mayapple Press on “Somewhere Piano,” I’m also eager to engage with their editorial insight and opinion over my poems.

    As always, the conversations and ideas in these posts challenge and stimulate. Now I have to go ponder for a while.

  7. helenl says:

    Why “gatekeepers” at all? They sound like poet-police. Quality poems are quality poems wherever they are published (or even if they are not). Print publications just mean more business for the post office. And yes, everything looks lovely now even the junk. The same applies to student papers. A pretty presentation doesn’t determine literary worth or academic excellence, and neither do “gatekeepers.” Only time will tell. Time will tell.

  8. Nicholas – yes. And you bring things full circle, I think. As I said in my original post: “What really matters in all publication forms is the gravitas brought to the publication equation by the people involved.”

    The concept of ‘gravitas’, whether applied to poet, editor or publisher; to traditional publishing or nanopress publishing; is something built up poem by poem, issue by issue, step by step, post by post, over years. There are no shortcuts, whatever your model. And that’s the way it should be, I think.

    Check out this post:

    The bottom line is that I believe poets seeking to break into the “scene,” whatever that means, should spend a minimum 10 years giving to that scene by doing one or several of the following: publishing a small press (chapbook and/or journal series), hosting a reading series, otherwise building community by engaging with a group of like-minded poets who both challenge and encourage you (again, via a reading series, weekly discussion, group study, exchanging and critiquing each other’s work, etc.). Call it an apprenticeship, if you will.

    You may find that it’s not for you. You may find that you lose money, lose friends, grow frustrated with the egos involved and the very slim margin for error. In that case, though, perhaps poetry isn’t for you. Perhaps you need to seriously consider your motives for getting involved in the first place. Simply jumping in and expecting or needing to be published is the mindset of the capitalist weevil looking for immediate gain. You are ripe for the contest scam, and the contest scam could not thrive without that mentality.

    Hence, the H.D. quote at the very top of this post. The scam would have you believe that you need a cadre of anonymous (or famous) judges to underwrite and legitimize your efforts. This is a lie. All you need are three or four like-minded individuals with a passion for the work, for your individual minds and efforts and energies to play against. Every important movement has been launched this way. Granted, there’s a bit of myth-making involved, but it’s not a terrible stretch to say that the various ‘-isms’ of the early 20th century involved a handful of people in each case — Imagism, Surrealism, Dada, etc. More recently, poetry movements such as the Language School and, yes, Flarf, began with a small group of individuals bouncing ideas and poems around. You don’t need the huge apparatus of a contest.

    If you put the time in, withstand the bullshit, and grow to love this “apprentice” work, you will “arrive” on the scene in some fashion. People you respect will know and respect you. And you will be a better poet for it.

    Best, Nic

    • Sarah Busse says:

      Love this, Nic. Thanks for sharing. I really believe in the apprenticeship model, believe in the power of 1) hiding away for 8-10-12 years or so, studying craft and developing on your own and 2) finding ways to give something of value to the community, besides the poems.

      • helenl says:

        Sarah, I was 50 when I had my first poem published. The poem was only a few months old. Should I have waited 8-10-12 years (I’m 64 now and just published my second book of poems). I taught school 9 years and raised two sons. Did I need to give something else?

    • Nicholas Liu says:

      I’m interested in hearing more about “gravitas” as you conceive it. You say it’s “what really matters”. In what sense(s) does it “matter”? What happens when someone (press, poet, anything) has it? What happens when they don’t?

      • Are you serious, Nicholas?? OK. Several definitions of ‘gravitas’ online – I think the pertinent one is: “Substance; weightiness.” Others might call it: reputation. Others still: track record. In sum: What is this poet’s/editor’s/publisher’s body of work? Its scope and breadth? How long have they been poeting, editing, publishing? With what quality and consistency? How much time have they spent in the trenches? Have they learned the lessons of the trenches? And so on.

        I could announce the establishment of a nanopress with a 21-year-old MFA student as its editor; or a nanopress with Hugely Famous Poet X or Tremendously Discerning & Respected Poet Y volunteering as editor. Which nanopress would have more ‘gravitas’ in the eyes of most observers? Which nanopress publication would you be more inclined to acquire, as a reader? If I told you I had a poem about to be published by Whale Sound or the New Yorker, which claim would have the most substance in your eyes?

        People and entities acquire ‘gatekeeper’ status, they acquire ‘gravitas’, by dint of talent, flair, hard work, dedication and solid accomplishment, over periods of time. What was wrong with the old publishing model was that in addition to flair, hard work, discipline, etc, the gatekeepers had a monopoly on the resources of publication — the printing press, the paper, the marketing networks and the economies of scale needed to turn a profit.

        The resources of publication are now available to all. But what remains intangible – and what will perpetuate the tradition of literary gatekeeper – are intangibles like gravitas, reputation, track record – call them what you will. Because of new technologies, people & entities will acquire their gravitas in new & different ways. But technology can only support – never replace – these intangibles.

      • Nicholas Liu says:

        Thank you for your explanation. Believe it or not, I am/was serious. The reason I asked was that, as I see it, “gravitas” and similar concepts seem to have little to do with the idea of “gatekeeping” (which by definition is concerned with preserving a space of limited access, and the business of deciding who’s allowed in and who isn’t). It made me suspect that either 1) “gatekeeping” is not really an apt metaphor for the issues you’ve been addressing or 2) you were using “gravitas” in a personal/idiosyncratic way (which poets and critics are wont to do).

        Why? Because, in the examples you’ve listed, the reason for those different reactions has nothing to do with gatekeeping and everything to do with the curatorial (the word is a mite overused, I know) role of the editor. We gravitate towards a publication–it has gravitas–when we appreciate the artistry of its editor’s/editors’ inclusions, not when we approve the tastefulness of their exclusions. Gatekeeping, as a metaphor, is about keeping the rabble out; curating is about selecting, out of a great many possible things, some things that are of interest and exist in interesting relationships with each other. Curating requires no claim that those things not included are unworthy; gatekeeping does.

        In short, it’s really a semantic point I’m making. But I think the metaphors we choose makes a difference, and that gatekeeping–unless we really are concerned with the business of keeping the rabble out–is a metaphor past time for retirement. It is not only that, as Sarah’s said, the implications are not all pleasant, but that it isn’t even an accurate description of what’s at the heart of the enterprise.

        IMO, of course.

  9. Fantastic debate and discussion. I’m interested to see where everything in writing and publishing is headed/ing….there are big shifts going on, right?

  10. Sarah Busse says:

    Helen — I can’t leave a reply directly on your comment but good heavens no. I’m not making rules for anyone here. As more than one writer has said, even when you’re not actively writing for a period of years, it all goes into the soup and comes out later in the poems.

    The ideas of apprenticeship, of taking time away from publication, as well as finding service-oriented roles, are ideas I would encourage younger writers, esp creative writing majors and graduate students in their twenties, to consider. That a life of writing is more organic and weblike (perhaps) than ladder-like. That’s all. But I’m not in a position, or of a mindset, to want to make any rules for anyone.

  11. Sarah Busse says:

    Oh, Nic. Dangling so many temptations at once in your reply to Nicholas, you tease. : ) ….Harold Bloom? Really? I love his “Western Canon” but I’m not sure I’d trust him in the nanopress model. And The New Yorker? I dunno…I read their poems almost every week and…enjoy…some… (If they knock on my door asking for poems, though, I won’t say no)

    You wrote: “People and entities acquire ‘gatekeeper’ status, they acquire ‘gravitas’, by dint of talent, flair, hard work, dedication and solid accomplishment, over periods of time.”

    If I thought that was really all there was to it, I would trust the notion of gatekeepers much more. Hopefully, that is ALMOST always all there is to it. But you’ve left out a bit about connection (sometimes this is good, sometimes this is not so good), geographical location (NY helps, still), and money.

    Maybe what I’m getting at here is, what about gatekeepers who lack gravitas?

    • Sarah – I hesitated about putting names in there (too tempting to pooh-pooh whatever choice!) and have now taken them out!

      Excellent point about connections. What more do you have to say about that?? (One might reasonably argue that building effective connections comes naturally as a result of participating over years in a poetry community and is an organic part of the ‘apprenticeship’ process discussed above.)

      And gatekeepers who lack gravitas are not gatekeepers by definition – surely?

      (PS And the question for a poet looking to establish a nanopress with a specific editor is not *why* a particular editor-choice has gravitas, but *the fact* of the gravitas – however acquired!)

  12. I wrote an article for the new Poet’s Market (coming out in August, I believe) about micropresses. They vary so widely in taste, end product, distribution channels, etc – but I do think they are a great option for a lot of poets!

  13. Nicholas – “We gravitate towards a publication–it has gravitas–when we appreciate the artistry of its editor’s/editors’ inclusions, not when we approve the tastefulness of their exclusions.”

    Hm. “Selecting” to me implies “exclusion” ipso facto. It’s really impossible to have one without the other.

    But I see your point.Your semantic preferences do put a positive spin on the concept and I won’t argue!

    • Nicholas Liu says:

      Re: selecting and excluding:

      That’s true, but I see it this way: the average editor gets so many submissions, of such a wide variety of kinds, that what ze excludes tells us very little. In fact, I would find it very difficult to describe Whale Sound in terms of what it excludes. VisPo, sure, and anything else that can’t really be translated to speech, but aside from that, I’ve seen you choose from a very wide spectrum of styles. Even something like the New Yorker–an institution, or a dinosaur, depending on one’s POV–is difficult to define in these terms. What does it keep out? The usual work by cranks (conspiracy theories, racist screeds, etc.) and the clueless (“fire”/”desire”), but beyond that, it gets tricky. Does it keep out little-published writers? Not always. Is it hostile to innovative writing? Well, there’s lots of safe stuff in there–but what about that cracking story by Wells Tower, or those poems by Heather Christle? (I don’t mention “bad” writing, because I figure almost anyone can find something to really hate in the NYer.) And I choose the NYer as a fairly extreme example of a known quantity.

      Basically, I find it hard to imagine a reader who defines the magazines ze follows in terms of what they exclude. It’s just so *difficult* to do. So much easier to think of the memorable poems, stories etc. which did appear, and which come to mind when one thinks of that magazine. Even a writer looking, more or less cynically, to place a story thinks, “Does my work fit the pattern of what they like to publish?”, not “Is my work the sort of work the editor likes to reject?” If readers and writers don’t think in terms of exclusion, why should editors (who are always readers and often writers as well)?

      Short version: I don’t see it as contradictory to say that selection is what defines the enterprise, because selection is integral and exclusion incidental.

      (I hope I’m not beating you over the head with my argument. I just feel I owe you as complete and thoughtful an explanation/response as you’ve given me and others on this thread.)

      And of course I see your point, too. I hope I have not put mine across in a needlessly confrontational way.

  14. [...] an offer for you to consider. Find yourself an editor (with gravitas, ok!? – see comments here) who will agree to edit your manuscript and publish it under both your names, and I will offer [...]

  15. beth says:

    Fascinating discussion. Personally, I don’t think of myself as a gatekeeper and don’t want to be one because the word implies an inside/outsideness that I think we need to try to avoid in art and in life. There’s been too damn much of it in the past, and we’ve all been hurt by it. “Gravitas” is a good word, but how about plain old “credibility?” There are lots of ways to get it, but all take dedication, seriousness, and time. It’s a quality most people would agree about, even if it’s hard to define or pin down, and it allows for differences of opinion – an editor can have credibility even if you don’t especially like his or her choices.

    • Hi Beth – I replied to you in my response to Nicholas just above. Agree that ‘gravitas’ is only one possibility in this instance and that there others – credibility is a good one. Best, NIc

  16. Hi, Nic, thanks for picking up this topic. I’m really enjoying the gatekeeping issue. Although perhaps “gatekeeping” as a word has negative connotations, I do believe it’s necessary, for an art to grow, to have a strong critical element, which is the essence of gatekeeping at its best. As to the flute players, my apologies. Surely one can see I was being facetious.

  17. [...] of course, I couldn’t resist this one, given the recent discussion here about the ‘demotion’ of print: I’ve extensively published my developing ideas in [...]

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