Saturday, October 13, 2007

About a comment

I had left a comment on a wonderful post by Tiel Aisha Ansari on being a Professional Poet. It is on her blog Knocking from Inside. I really find her a remarkable young poet. Also, like she mentions, thank God we love our day jobs. ‘Nuff said, you can go and read all that for yourselves. This is the additional comment I sat down to write after writing the first one. I decided to post it on my blog, rather than muck up her comment box:

Tiel, I wanted to add another couple of thoughts to my first comment. First, I would like to thank you for being such a part of the group of contemporary poets that one finds via the internet. I am honored by your presence in the life of my writing as are many others, I’m sure. The internet has been a real resource for contemporary poetry to grow in skill, community, enjoyment and, most of all, commitment among those who take this art seriously. That is indeed a great thing.

I remember when I left the writing program many years ago at the university. Those programs are so full of all the resources necessary for young poets. The contact and support structures are so busy with people trying to help that I was really unprepared to leave it for the loneliness of the print oriented environment it was supposed to be preparing us to enter. Afterward, I joked for years that I had finally found the obscurity I had been seeking. Eventually I stopped publishing poetry and then I stopped writing it.

This brings me back talking about the internet. It was my savior. My poetry found a raison d’etre here. The internet probably saved my life, in reality. The contemporary poets I have become acquainted with here are friends and colleagues whom I treasure. We share a lot and I am looking forward to continuing to do so for the rest of my life. I am about ready to publish a book now and have had the honor to be included in some fine e-zines as well as printed media and enjoy the encouragement of some wonderful editors. I woke up and started living again.

Lately however, the legalistic world has started to invade poetry on the internet. More and more we are told, if your poems have appeared on your blog then legally they have already been published and cannot appear in our magazine. I am now holding poems back to publish elsewhere before I put them on my blog. More and more I see poets who earlier were prolific on their blogs but have now become practically mute. This is a trend that worries me. I am not sure it is a good thing for the good poets out there to stop giving us the opportunity to come read their work and learn from them. I am not sure it will be a good thing for us who aspire to be afraid to practice and share our efforts with the group of readers we enjoy. I understand the value of the things Tiel and others have assembled as exercises and places to practice the art of poetry but that is only part of the richness we have all shared on the internet. It is the loss of that original and rather free environment that I find scary. I am not sure quite what we should do about it and would like to open this discussion with all of you out there who are equally affected. Tell me how you are reacting to these new changes in our precious electronic community. Please give us your comments!


Shubhodeep said...

Perhaps we could delete each post after it has been "lapped" up by the blogging community. I doubt if publishers would be able to detect this "deception".

On a more serious note Russell, I would like to address an aspect of your post from which I differ at the moment. (At the moment, because greater experience and exposure might change opinions and situations)

Let me concede at the outset that I consider myself to be at best a grappler with a few good words. Definitely not a poet as I understand or would like a poet to be. However, that you will concede, cannot take away my love for writing. There are different reasons why people write. Some write for fame, others for money. And some others for academic recognition or critical appreciation or mass appreciation or maybe even all. Sometimes these reasons overwhelm the basic reason why most people start writing: namely, the love of writing.

All outflows of creative impulses can best be explained by love for a particular outlet eg. music, art, poetry. Personally, the incentive for me has largely been the love of writing, although admittedly coupled with a vague desire for appreciation. However, considering the fact that neither my parents nor my friends know much about my endeavours, albeit flimsy, in writing, I reckon the appreciation argument doesn't stand.

I concede however that there may be a variety of reasons for giving up writing.However, the point i'm trying to make is that if a deep love exists for something, then external incentives pale in comparison to the automatic impulse generated by that love.

Whether the internet exists or not, whether greater opportunities cease or they don't, I doubt if there is a power that can break true love!

Shubhodeep said...

To put it in a nutshell, I sincerely believe that lovers of words such as ourselves, will still be able to gain pleasure from the few words that we put down in ink, even if nobody else reads those words.

Sue hardy-Dawson said...

Being fairly prolific I can usually find enough for both blog and other stuff and of course your blog is an advertisment for your writing. The rules vary from organisation to organisation anyway and they might on the basis of your blog ask for something else you've written. If it's a problem you can always delete it and even change the name. The vast internet would be hard to check for every poet they process and a new edit makes it a new poem there's no copyright on words.

Tiel Aisha Ansari said...

Hi Ruseell-- thanks so much for your compliments!

Your last paragraph sparked some thoughts I've been having about the state of the poetry industry-- so I put up another post about it. Take a look:

Russell Ragsdale said...

Thanks everybody for entering in the debate!

Baised on shubhodeep's comment, I find myself asking what makes a person a poet, and how is that different from someone who writes poetry?

Also, if you write poetry and no one ever sees it, were you really being a poet?

I also experience pleasure in many parts of the creative process that becomes a poem, my friend, but I don't know if I could make it the only reason I will ever need, in order to continue to write.

I would be interested to know what kinds of answers others have to these questions.

Russell Ragsdale said...

Hi Sue! I'm pretty prolific too but I have a hard time deciding the merits of a new poem. Frankly, I often can't tell a really good one from a good one. Since this is a performing art, I usually have to put them out and try to figure out from the reactions I get as to which one is which.

Your right, of course, as I too have had publishers contact me and ask for a specific poem they have seen on my blog or somewhere similar to that. Frankly though, I haven't been innundated with requests, so I'm not sure how important an issue that is at the moment.

I think my overall concern is how much poetry is still making it to the internet now and, what categories of poetry are likely to be affected by these leagal issues?

Russell Ragsdale said...

Hi Tiel! Thanks for being such a big part of this discussion. I came by and read your new post, there are a lot of interesting ideas to think about. Some of those numbers make real sense - take a look at my counter. Ron Silliman said once that his most popular book only sold 4000 copies, yet he has recorded over 600,000 visits on his counter to date, I believe.

When I get more time I will go back and read your new post again. Thanks again!

Shubhodeep said...

I couldn't say Russell. All depends on how much you wish others to read your works.

Moroever, I admit it would be difficult for a person writing for a living to write solely for love.

Anonymous said...

Russell, I think the "don't-submit-a-poem-if-it's-appeared-on-a-blog" rule is a fair one, and I'll tell you why:

1.) Some blogs receive more hits than most ezine publications. Most people who frequent poetry blogs also frequent poetry zines. So what's the point of an editor featuring a poem that's already been well read by its audience?

2.) There happens to be a lot of top-notch poetry out there, and competition is high. Why should an ezine or print mag take up space with an already-read poem that could go to a poem that's yet been seen?

3.) Print magazines cost a fortune to run. Our print Magnapoets costs $11,000.00 a run. Since we publish twice a year, that's $22,000.00 we're spending. Who's going to want to purchase a magazine if they've already read the poetry on the internet? Who, as an editor, is going to want to waste precious time (of which many of us have very little) on putting together a publication of already-seen poetry? There's nothing special in that.

And lastly,

4.) Most good poets should have enough previously published poems to keep a blog going, as well as maintain submissions of fresh work to publications.

5.) Posting only previously published work on your blog protects you from plagiarists. It's hard to prove a poem is yours if it's "only" appeared on your blog, but if it's already in print prior to appearing on your blog, authorship is already proven. Plagiarism on the internet, particularly from blogs, is a HUGE problem. It's happened to me so many times, I've lost count, with other bloggers taking my work, even though they know we have the same readership.

Too many people want to be poets without putting the devotion into the form. They want recognition, but not the hard work it takes to really achieve something. I say, Learn your craft, get some publication credits under your belt, then try to branch out. Blogs don't have to be solely about poetry, they can be about the art of writing, or one's daily experiences as a writer. The possibilities are endless!

And for those who suggest posting a poem and later deleting it, I have bad news for you: It DOES show up in search engines if one knows how to search properly, and many editors do. Nothing on the internet is ever deleted. In fact, there are sites that save all this stuff. So be honest in your writing, if you really want to be a good writer.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and I forgot one more:

6.) Many people are turning blogs INTO poetry publications. Just check the URL on a few newer ezines, and you'll see they're powered by blogger because it's free and easy. So if a blog owner calls his/her blog a publication, who are other editors to argue? And isn't blogging known as one-step publishing, anyway?

Russell Ragsdale said...

Hi shubhodeep! I don't know any poets personally that write for a living. Every poet I know has something else that provides her or him with income. Also, all of my well published friends and even those who I know who are just starting their poetic careers seem to be writing out of love for poetry. I don't want you to think we are at odds on this question because we are not, in any way, my friend.

You see, I consider you a poet although you modestly prefer to say you are a grappler with words. The real question here is when does one say that you have become a poet, after you write your first poem, after your first publication or after your first book comes out. What I'm saying is that being a poet is a spiritual reality rather than a physical fact. As such, it is difficult to qualify and quantify.

By now we have covered to distinct issues: people are poets from the inside, independently of what stage of development they are in: and people write poetry, share it with others, and do so knowing they will never make any real income from doing so.

Yes, we are both lovers of words and gain pleasure from being involved in the process which we enjoy. I suspect every poet is that way. Certainly that is not the only reason they write or none of us would have ever met through our blogs, which is the mechanism through which we share our writing. Certainly, I think we can say we need to share our pleasure with like-minded others, or else we would all wander around mumbling amusing things to ourselves and end up being regarded as mental patients.

Being honest with myself means that I have to admit that sitting up in an attic and writing notes to myself was not enough to keep me writing poetry. My love for it never left, on the contrary, that unfulfilled desire was killing me. I simply gravitated to writing other things that people were interested in and I enjoyed doing. Then it was simply a matter of trying to find something I enjoyed having as a job and would pay me enough so that I could continue to write. Still fulfillment would not come until I could share my poetry. That is where the Internet came in.

I think every artist needs an audience. For me, I know that is absolutely true, because that is where I go now to learn more about what my creation is doing. I can’t say about always and forever but I can say that that has made a real difference in my life now. I just wanted to share that with you.

Russell Ragsdale said...

Hi Aurora! Thanks for that rather complete and well structured comment. I'm sure Magnapoets is a wonderful work of art as you and the others who are hard at work on the site are also a fabulous group of talented poets, writers, photographers and artists. And, as you well know, I have been a fan of yours for quite a long time.

I'm not going to do a point by point on your argument because we aren't really in total disagreement. Rather I’d like to say that I am grateful to the e-zines and print media where I am proud that I too can be found. I do not plan to boycott them and, on the contrary, I am planning to put out a lot of material to them in the next six months. I am very grateful to them as resources for reading the poetry of others as well as publishing my own work. I am also very grateful to you for taking the time to comment on this important topic.

One of the real benefits of sending work out to the zines before putting it on the blog is that I now am planning a much more aggressive campaign to publish my work. I admit to having been rather remiss in that area. Still I will miss getting all the wonderful feedback that we all used to share before the work became “public.” The freedom to do that is the thing that seems to have fled before this new wave of the already published material. It seems as if our old way of doing things, at least for those of us who do publish, has now been reversed.

What does someone else think about this?

ozymandiaz said...

There is no dilemma here for me as I have no delusions of grandeur concerning my writings. I save all of my delusions for other things. Being I have no belief that anything I write would be published (by simple comparison to things that are published and poet laureates and such) the only way anyone would read them is if they are free and even then they aren't read much...

Russell Ragsdale said...

If you had delusions of grandeur about your writing then they wouldn't be delusions because many of us are devoted readers of the Oz-man. You have written poetry that would be welcomed by many editors, my friend. Maybe you should get some more delusions, I have plenty to spare if you would like some.

What is a good poet (worth publishing) anyway? I could use a little help on that definition.

katy said...

this is a fabulous conversation and i'm sure i have something to add to it... even just an opinion. but i'm going to sleep on it.

i think the issue with blogs and publication is a hugely important one for bloggers and i'm thrilled to see people talking about it.

i always mention if a poem's been published via blogspot when i submit, and whenever something is published, i take it down and replace it with a link to the ezine. for anything i hope to have printed, i leave off the blog (just recently did this for a project i'm working on called The Bathos).

but saying that... that i do those things... i never really thought of why i was doing them.

from this conversation too, arises the place for poetry in the blogosphere. my husband and i were talking about this not weeks ago... blogs are the new coffee shops. we hang out in little networks, write each other emails, collaborate, have deep impassioned discussions about what it means to be a poet, etc. and what's so incredible about it is, we're doing it from all over the world. i think that's just as important an issue here.

like i said, i'm going to sleep on all this and post more here or on my blog tomorrow.

sweet dreams, and thanks for the great prompt Russell!!

Russell Ragsdale said...

Sweet dreams sweatheart! I'm glad you will join in this dicussion. I think this is a much larger issue than meets the eye. We take a lot for granted with the great gift we have in the internet. You are correct when you say that poetry and the blogsphere have found a great link. I really like the coffee shop metaphore, BTW!

I'm sure you will have a lot to add to this discussion.

katy said...

here we go

a post reply

although... ah... i may not actually be talking about anything there... my brain is a bit... blargh.

happy halloween

Russell Ragsdale said...

Thanks sweet Katy! I'm glad you wrote that and put it in this discussion. I hope lots of people will enjoy the thoughtful reflections on this subject that you posted on your blog.

arch.memory said...

Russell, this is a great discussion you've got going here. I posted my comment first on Katy's post in response to this, but I will repeat parts of it here as well.

I have to disagree with Aurora; it's not that I think the "don't-submit-a-poem-if-it's-appeared-on-a-blog" rule is unfair--as someone once told me, "If you came to this life expecting it to be fair, then you've come to the wrong life." (Editors can do what they wish; I don't think they should even claim fairness.) The argument is rather about the point or relevance of that "don't-submit-a-poem-if-it's-appeared-on-a-blog" rule or practice. The way I see, the primary function of zines or journals in this digital age is not one of discovery or exclusivity, but rather one of selection. What I mean by that is that if one is to argue that the value of a zine or a journal is that it brings you something that you can't find elsewhere, then that is a losing argument. One can find almost everything out there now, and much of it for free. And it is in this over-abundance that I see the new role of the editors of these zines, as compilers and filterers of what's out there, grouping in one place a collection of work of good quality (just the way "Best Poetry" anthologies are culled from already published work). After all, exclusivity is irrelevant in an age where anonymity is all but guaranteed by the sheer volume of production (most of us are as visible as a needle in a haystack). Thus the draw for the reader becomes the convenience of finding in one place poetry to one's liking, consistently and reliably (thus saving one the drudge of raking through the sludge of all that's out there). As such I find this "don't-submit-a-poem-if-it's-appeared-on-a-blog" rule irrelevant at best.

I, for one, post every poem I care to share on my blog as soon as I write it. (And the ones I don't are usually the ones I think are too bad, rather than what I think is "my best".) And unlike Katy, I do not consider that to be "published elsewhere". If an editor is such a stickler, they can search for themselves; and if they don't like that it has already been posted on my blog, they can reject it for all I care. After all, some of our blogs attract more readership than some small zines, as Russell pointed out. Besides, would these same venues not consider poems just because they were read out loud in public before? After all, some blogs readership is smaller than that of some reading circles. The way I see it, if a poem attracts an audience, that's a reason to publish a poem, not the opposite.

I frankly don't buy into this antiquated model of "get some publication credits under your belt, then try to branch out." It simply propagates the current model where people send out stuff for publication to magazines and journals they've never read or even heard of before just for the sake of "publication credits" (like quality could be earned as such). It creates all these superfluous zines that are only read by their editors, and bought by the people published in them. (I have a stack of such zines personally, and I still haven't read them all, or bought another issue of them.) Which is why, personally, I decided not to do that anymore. I will not send out things for publication in journals I do not normally read. And those I normally do won't have my work because they subscribe to that futile model above. Which is why, for the most part, I haven't been reading or writing much poetry. I read the poetry of the few people I know and like online (Russell, Katy, etc.). And I read and reread books of poets I know and love, even though they might not be en vogue. Which makes it difficult to find new voices to love when I long for that, and for that podcasts (the audio equivalent of those magazine that wouldn't publish me or you) have proven to be valuable.

Poetry is (and has been for a while) in crisis: it is largely irrelevant. And if we think the way to get it out of this crisis is to make the rules more stringent and forbidding, we are gravely mistaken.

Russell Ragsdale said...

Wow Ashraf what an interesting and valuable input to this discussion. You have a whole bunch of observations that I find really germinal to this subject, my friend and I’d like to start with the issue you mention about relevance. I think there are several basic types of journals, those which publish established poets, those which introduce new poets to poetry enthusiasts, those which collect either types of poetry or types of poets or both in publications that have some common factor and those which select poetry based on some social, political, or ideological orientation which serves as the guiding theme of their mag, zine or journal. I realize, of course, there are many variations based on the combination of these factors. What I wish to point out is that you are absolutely correct when you say they all are representatives of the process of selection (compilers and filterers). I think that a few of them could be considered as the “first rights of publication” type of organization but that should be about established poets not those of us who are new and largely unknown. When we look at the issue realistically, a blanket application of a rule of exclusivity seems poorly founded in logic at best.

Katy’s idea of a blog as a journal for works in progress seems to be the consensus among the three of us (you, me, and her), at least. Shubhodeep and Tiel are also probably engaged in the same process as well. I would like to hear their opinion on this subject but I think almost all of us (Mike Snider come to mind) are putting young poems on our blogs and seeing how they do. Maybe Cecilia and Soulless, who publish at a much slower rate are holding on to their poems for two or three months, reworking them until they feel they have finished with them completely before the put them on the internet but for me personally a week or two (if that) is about all they get before they get the shove and I see if they sink or swim. That concept also renders the exclusivity idea of an editor as rather absurd.

I will acknowledge there certainly were (Yeats and Wordsworth, of the tea house fame) and probably still are poets who need to have achieved fame and recognition and use a completely different approach to poetry writing than most of us – let’s call it blog poets, for lack of a better description – and they are more oriented toward the old style of paper publishing. I sometimes edit my poems for a week or more (as I am reading the comments they generate) before I feel the poem has achieved some kind of stable (not final) form. Only something like a blog could empower such a process. This is a brand new time and the approach to poetry can be far more interactive than the old print media style. I believe this is the reason I felt so threatened by this more and more pervasive application of this editorial stance which I find blatantly anachronistic.

I think you are right also when you say that our blogs give us the readership that should be important to editors much as in the same way fame and recognition supported the publication of Yeats and Wordsworth in print. Times are just completely different. This is a time when new measures of quality must be established as many of the old forms have become like the dinosaurs, rulers of the old kingdom which is no more.

I think the demise of the old kingdom and to onset of the new (electronic) one is the reason we have a tendency to reflect on poetry as being in crisis. The truth seems to be that the onset of the internet based poetry has actually a little more than doubled the former “market” for poetry. This has taken place practically overnight, when viewed by the pace at which the print media works. I think if there is an intellectual crisis in poetry, it is because popular attention has shifted onto things like jazz and modern forms of sculpture and art and the consumption of poetry by non-poets has become a rather small number. Still the numbers that come to readings makes me think that even that the population of pure consumers is on the rise. That is good news indeed.

Well, those are mainly the things I wanted to say in response to your fine post, my friend. Thanks for joining this discussion. I would also love to see poets like Pris, who has books as well as a great blog, join in as her opinion might give us even more to think about.