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Blogs 10, Publishers 0

Scott Rosenberg has an article in today's Guardian about how blogging is, in some ways, turning ten this year - and how that relatively impressive anniversary has yet to convince blog-haters of the inherent literary, or other, value of the form. He notes, particularly, how once-countercultural-guru-and-white-dressing Tom Wolfe (now apparently just as bland as the Man from Glad) is dismissive of people who write blogs, and the blogs they write.

As Eyewear has been quick to observe, these last few weeks - and more generally since starting this blog a few years ago - the UK, while innovative in so many cultural and technological ways - has been stuck in a neo-Edwardian moment, poetry-wise, in relation to the web, and blogs. Bluntly stated, poetry on the Internet is still a second-class citizen, in British and Irish literary circles.


There's a one word answer that fans of the American 60s comedy-action series Get Smart will recognise: Control.

The larger, mainstream publishers of poetry in the UK market poetry as a rare, precious and high cultural product. Consider how Faber rarely publishes more than one or two new poets a year, and how rarely, say, Penguin or Faber publish (unlike, say, Carcanet) new anthologies of new poetry and poets. Rather than identifying the thriving, uncontrollable many-styled forms and diction of poetry, as it appears worldwide, on the Internet, British poetry editors, reviewers and awards organisations chiefly prefer to look away - as if the web was a destructive Medusa, and not, instead, a golden fleece. Disgusted, perhaps threatened by, the riches of the current poetic output before them, a clutch of gate-keeping figures about as current as the 1890s hold on to power (in much the way that king in The Little Prince lords it over the flower on his tiny planet, if I recall correctly - or is that two planets?).

As I have urged before, and will again, UK poetry publishers should begin to place more of their poetry online, and encourage their major poets to publish, from time to time, online as well, supporting the growing, but still relatively underground, community of web-based poetry journals. This would benefit the great tradition of British poetry, since, as younger readers are tending to go more and more to digital sources for their information, entertainment and education, it would allow a transition of this tradition, to new readerships, and younger emerging poets. In time, this will happen anyway. It would be simply wise to work with the development of new media, not against it - even if this means admitting that no one publisher, or style, or form, any longer prevails.

Poetry need not be at war with (in Yeatsian fashion) all forms of non-archaic, contemporary life - some elements of the current age are, in fact, promising, even beautiful. Blogs, and the Internet, though democratic, and hence opposed to an aristocratic or fully-elitist outlook, can still sustain and express the loftiest of words, placed in the best possible order - and remain available to many more readers than any but the most gruellingly-marketed collection. Oh, and print books should continue to exist, of course. This isn't a zero sum game.


Brian Campbell said…
The British publishing establishment strikes me as particularly stuffy. But here in Canada, and I'm quite sure you'd agree on this, a print review credit like Antigonish Review or Descant still carries considerably more weight with most trade book publishers than say Dusie or (may I daresay?) your own nth position -- not to mention Blackbird or The Valparaiso Review. Many of said publishers, I'm sure, have no notion of how hard it is to get into those reviews.
Todd Swift said…
Brian, yes, you're right to remind me that Canadian publishers can be stuffy too - but, you know, nth position credits have begun to appear in many good collections of poems. But again, I think you're fundamentally right in saying that many publishers don't respect an online credit as much as a print one - because they assume that the editorial rigour is less strict online. This is, when you think about it, a silly position, since anyone can publish print, just as anyone can publish on the net - the difference may be money, but it is isn't necessarily editorial brilliance. I feel that online poetry journals should be judged just like any other kind: by the quality of the writing they publish, which, by extension, implies at least some kind of standards are in play.
Brian Campbell said…
Of course part of this is the untried and new vs. the tried and somewhat (?) true. It seems to me only a matter of time before certain portals in the online world will acquire the general recognition they deserve. Perhaps by the time nth position celebrates its tenth year, more in the mainstream publishing world will be familiar with the character of your review and what it means to publish there. Of course, if more online portals found a way to actually pay their contributors, that would give them at least an air of professionalism and enhance their cachet. At the same time, as we both well know, many established literary reviews still only offer contributor's copies...

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With the death of the poetic genius John Ashbery, whose poems, translations, and criticism made him, to my mind, the most influential American poet since TS Eliot, 21st century poetry is moving into less certain territory.

Over the past few years, we have lost most of the truly great of our era: Edwin Morgan, Gunn, Hill, Heaney and Walcott, to name just five.  There are many more, of course. This is news too sad and deep to fathom this week.  I will write more perhaps later. 

I had a letter from Ashbery on my wall, and it inspired me daily.  He gave me advice for my PhD. He said kind things about a poetry book of mine.

He was a force for good serious play in poetry, and his appeal great. So many people I know and admire are at a loss this week because of his death. It is no consolation at present to think of the many thousands of living poets, just right now. But impressively, and even oddly, poetry itself seems to keep flowing.