There are three difficulties in authorship: to write anything worth publishing, to find honest men to publish it, and to find sensible men to read it. – Charles Caleb Colton
I think it’s time someone put things into perspective. A while ago I had a poem rejected because it appeared in a comment I made to someone online. Okay, in the strictest sense, it is now in the public domain (which is how they found it) but seriously since when does that count as published? How many people bar the blog’s owner will have been bothered to read down through all the comments and seen my wee poem? And let’s say that this webzine, the webzine that just rejected my poem, hadn’t been as diligent and had gone ahead and published my poem in a couple of months’ time what are the odds of someone coming along and saying, “Hey, I think I saw that poem in the comments of a blog I read a couple of years back.”
Sites differ on what they consider ‘published’:
- Poetry: We cannot consider anything that has been previously published or accepted for publication, anywhere, in any form. Work that has appeared online is considered to have been previously published and should not be submitted.
- Rattle does not accept work that has been previously published, in print or online (we do not consider self-publishing to personal blogs or Facebook as publication).
- Qarrtsiluni does not consider written work or video that has been previously published in online or print journals, books or anthologies. We do, however, consider work that has only been posted on an author’s blog, personal website, or personal channel on a video upload site such as YouTube or Vimeo, because we think such online sharing constitutes a vital part of the creative process for a growing number of writers and filmmakers, and we want to encourage that.
- Sentinel Poetry Quarterly: Generally we discourage submissions of previously published work. If we feel strongly about a previously published work we may solicit it. If your work has been published elsewhere and you feel it has not been given the exposure it deserves, and you feel strongly about it, by all means submit it, but please mention where and when it was first published.
Of course they’re under no obligation to publish anything. They can and do make up the rules as they go along. Some sites only publish poems under a certain length, some want nothing but religious poetry whereas others are particularly interested in poetry written in traditional forms. None of that is wrong. People are free to publish what they want and if they don’t want to publish what they consider “previously published” then so be it. All I’m saying is that we need to be realistic about all of this. There are millions upon millions of websites out there. God alone knows how many of them publish poetry but there will be thousands and, as was always the case with small press print journals, most won’t survive more than a few issues and are lucky if more than a handful of people look at the magazine who aren’t in the magazine themselves or related to or friends of someone whose work has appeared therein. There are sites where my poems have appeared and presumably (by that I mean ‘hopefully’) been read by more than just the site’s owner and me and now they’re gone. Ask yourself: when was the last time you trawled through an archive of poetry looking for the hidden gem?
I had five poems published in writers bloc back in 2011. The site’s no longer there and so your chance to read those poems has gone. Pfft! I can’t offer them to most sites because they’re been “previously published” and so that’s that. I tried using WayBack Machine but I got a message: Page cannot be crawled or displayed due to robots.txt. I can access their robots.txt file but who cares; the poems are gone. So, what’s to stop me offering them elsewhere and maintaining they’re never been published?
Here’s a poem that has been published online by Gloom Cupboard:
This is a
It is in
is complete and
No words are missing and
though they have
all been read before
the previous owner
was careful not to
read too much into them.
The poem will make sense
but it must
be said it doesn't
quite mean what it used to
and it may require
some reader attention.
What you see
is what you
get but what
you end up with
up to you.
16th February 2008
Poems don’t go off. No matter how many people have read them before you get to them they’re as fresh as the day the poet completed them. That a poem can be found using a search engine is neither here nor there. No one’s going to look for it. It’s been read by the only dozen or hundred people who are ever going to read it and it’ll never be looked at again. And that’s just wrong. Imagine if Radio One played a record once and that was your lot; you never got to hear that track again unless you had the foresight to tape that broadcast. I, personally, don’t see anything wrong with an author trying to get as many people to read his or her work. I’ve a box full of old print magazines going back to the seventies full of perfectly serviceable poems, poems that deserve to be read again. Quite a few were published more than once because back in the day I didn’t have a clue and just kept sending out the same stuff. I got a letter once, responding to a submission, from the editor of Trends telling me that he’d seen one of the poems I’d sent him in another journal which took me aback; I was so struck by the fact someone had read one of my poems and remembered it. But he took the poem anyway.
Okay let’s play devil’s advocate here. Let’s say one of my poems has appeared in one of my blog posts. Has it been published, I mean really published? Or has it been self-published? There are those who say that self-publishing’s not real publishing because there’s no gatekeeper and if that’s the case then why are they making such a fuss about it? Just saying.
Eileen Tabios, publisher of Meritage Press and editor/publisher of the review Galatea Resurrects, had this to say over on the Poetry Foundation site in an article appropriately entitled Just Get the Poems Out There:
One of the healthiest elements about poetry blogging is how poetry blogland more accurately mirrors the nature of Poetry than has traditional canon-making poetic machinery. There have always been more poets and poems than those marble-ized in Norton anthologies, “best of” anthologies, et al. . . . There is no centre—or there are many centres—in poetry.
I have a number of friends who are poets and they’re usually friends with a bunch of other poets who are in turn friends with some more poets and many of them are friends with me. Considering the huge number of poets out there I don’t actually feel that I’m in contact with more than a handful, not exactly a clique but there’s a lot of common ground; for one thing most are British. I would also guess that most of us are maxed-out when it comes to online friends. We can’t follow all the ones we’ve subscribed to and their Twitter feeds just pour by. No one’s looking for more to do than they already have to do. We like it when new stuff comes our way but it usually comes our way via one of our existing friends and so, yes, the group expands but that expansion is offset by those who’ve decided they’ve had their fill with the blogosphere and have gone off to give real life another go.
So here’s all I’m saying: Let common sense prevail. If you’re happy simply to see your poem in print and whoever reads it is whoever reads it then fine—I guess any reader who isn’t you is a bonus—but if you’ve written a good poem (hell, it might even be a great poem)—then doesn’t it hurt to know that that’s it, the only other time it might see the light of day is if you include it in a collection and how many people are going to be champing at the bit to read that? Probably the only ones will be the ones who read the poem when it was first published anyway. Such is the state of modern poetry.
There’s a very interesting article here concerning print runs. Everyone knows that poetry doesn’t sell. A print run of 200-300 from a traditional publisher appears to be about the norm unless you’re Billy Collins. That’s nothing. So what if another two or three hundred get to read it online as well. That’s still nothing. And if there happens to be an overlap, maybe a couple of those who bought the book, do you honestly think they’d feel cheated to encounter the selfsame poem online? Might they not think: Hm, I’ve seen this poem before. If some other editor thought it was worth publishing maybe it’s a better poem than I first thought. Maybe I should read it again a bit more carefully. It’s not like a painting. Two or three hundred people already own a copy of that poem. That’s the nature of poetry.
The whole copyright thing is all fine and well when you’re being paid for permission to use your work. I can understand a magazine being a wee bit fussy if they’re forking out cash even if the only other people to read that poem beforehand might’ve been a couple of dozen Brits three or four years earlier. But most online magazines don’t pay. Yes, it’s still technically publishing but why not think about it as promoting? A poem is like a review. It demonstrates what that poet can do and is an encouragement to readers to seek out more and maybe fork out a few quid on a chapbook or something.
If you run a magazine all I’m asking is that you think about revising your submission guidelines. Maybe refuse any pre-published within a set time frame, say six months or a year. The face of the Internet changes constantly. Hell, a week on it’s barely recognisable. And we only read what’s in front of our faces because that’s all we have time for. Give poets a second chance, that’s all I’m saying.