6.18.2005

1. The greatest advantage to publishing online is that you get known about much more widely than in print, apart from the much longer time it takes for any publication to respond to a postal submission. Even as you remark: print is welcome if you get invited but I wd say hardly preferable otherwise--unless one thinks of online existence as insubstantial. The prejudice of some literary minds.

2. I once thought of the computer as too hard for an alpha person who was not numeric. I changed when back in 1991 the book publisher who accepted a prose ms. of mine wd give me 15% royalties, only if I cd send it on a floppy disk (which I had hardly heard of), otherwise only 10%. So, I bought a Mac and grudgingly learned.

3. About those you know with macular degeneration who won¹t go near a computer. There are degreees of macular degeneration. I¹m in my eighties and have it in both eyes. But not so badly in my left eye that I can¹t read. I won¹t drive anymore and reading is no fun, but on the computer screen I can work with 16-point print. I know that lots of people have bought computers and later discover they have little practical use for them. On the other hand those who feel computers are outside their limits may discover a new bond they hadn¹t anticipated. The computer can be considered a visual aid for the m.d.¹d.

4. I began as a word poet, actually in traditional verse, but long before I dared approach a computer I was also doing what I didn¹t at first call visual poetry though I knew most of it wasn¹t concrete. I still can¹t figure out Photoshop and I still do a lot of photocopying outside (and I still write word poems), but the big difference in publishing online is that people discover you who would never have known you existed in print.

5. I note that Poets & Writers is still heavily print oriented. I nearly gave up my subscription because if I¹m looking for mss. wanted, I find more on the net. The main reason I still subscribe is that over the years people have re-established contact with me through their directory--but, interestingly, they were people no longer young, and, yes, aged writers who are not online.

All to the Good,

Irving Weiss
www.irvingweiss.net




All the way from Beijing, Bob Marcacci wants to know if I see a rift “between online poets and print poets. It seems like they are two different worlds. The cross-over only appears slight.” That gave me pause & sent me back to my own bibliography to see just what the implications of the web have been.

I’ve been using computers since 1982, when I returned from a stint of teaching at UC San Diego & volunteered to handle the mailing list for the Northern California chapter of DSA, which I agreed to do precisely because it would force me to learn how to use the primitive PC on which the list was to be maintained. Much of my work over the next seven years turned out to be the computerization of tasks in different nonprofit organizations, first the development office of the California Institute of Integral Studies, then The Socialist Review, before actually making the move to work in the computer industry directly. I worked at ComputerLand’s headquarters for a year at least before the marketing group established its first primitive network. At that point, if I recall correctly, we were all still working on DOS, using Windows only as a test environment in case the operating system should ever succeed.

By May, 1995, when I moved to Pennsylvania to work for a joint venture co-owned by IBM & Kodak, I was already a participant in the Poetics List at Buffalo. There were 634 messages that month on the list, exactly nine more than were posted last month. There were, however, maybe one-third of the number of list members, suggesting that the list itself has something like an ecological limit with regards to messages that one can heed over a month. Which would in turn imply that this limit will mean very different things to a subscriber list of 300 and one of 1,000.

It wasn’t until 1998 that I first had a poem published online, in Xconnect. That same year, Laura Moriarty included another poem in her online zine, Non, but that zine & its links appear to have gone away. I started this blog in 2002, feeling wildly successful that first autumn because I averaged 90 visits per day, less than a tenth of what there is now. I didn’t even start a blogroll until sometime in 2003, simply because it didn’t seem that there were enough other people doing poetry blogs to make it worthwhile. (The list on the left today stands at 550.)

Yet this will be the first year that the majority of my publications of poetry in periodicals will be online. In addition to the list of recent appearances I posted yesterday, I have had two poems appear in email zinelets, one in RealPoetik that Kirby Olson sends out, the other in Halvard Johnson’s Poems by Others. To date, I haven’t had any appearances this year in a hard copy mag, tho I do think that will change by year’s end.

All of which suggests to me that there is a steady evolution going on, one that is hardly complete, which is gradually transforming how poets relate to the web as well as to institutions of poetry, such as magazines & even books.

When I look at the list of bloggers to my left, one of the things I note is that I’m not a kid anymore – the number of poets who are generally in my age bracket & whom I’ve known¹ most of the years I’ve been active in & around poetry is darn small, perhaps just Steve Vincent, Barrett Watten, Norman Fischer & Nick Piombino, with some others like Tom Beckett & Tom Raworth not so far behind. A third cluster of folks I note are those who seemed to be around for awhile, then disappeared & have now resurfaced, tho their relation to poetry may now be more oblique (viz. Harvey Bialy, John Perrault & Gerard van der Luen).

When weblogs around poetry first began to spring up in number in early 2003, it may have been true that there was an aesthetic slant towards the post-avant, but, if so, this lasted only a few months at the very most, as more poets & different kinds of poets discovered that the medium had something to offer, as a place to discuss poetry and even to post one’s own. There are School of Quietude poets in abundance & even some slammers in the blogroll to the left – that sort of cultural dispersal is only going to increase.

This suggests that one aspect of what Bob is suggesting isn’t necessarily the case – there is no aesthetic rift that I can see around publishing on the web, or with regards to blogging (which, it should be noted, are not the same thing, even tho they may be related). Ultimately, it doesn’t give the post-avant or School of Quietude any advantage, except insofar as the dissemination of better ideas might do so.

But there is, clearly, a second rift – tho the connation of “tear” in that word choice might not be the most accurate – that is apparent, and this literally is one of age. It is not news, I hope, that poets, even the most productive & intelligent & “most successful” (whatever definition you might want for that), don’t necessarily produce work uniformly throughout their lives. Some have very intense short careers, others have ones that cluster around different periods of productivity, a lot start out writing a lot and taper off as experience gives them so many more reasons for not putting this word here, that phrase there. But there clearly is also an age factor evident in computer use in this society. Younger people, who grew up with computers always already there, are far more apt to be comfortable using them for everyday activities. My wife, on the other hand, reads her email maybe six times per year. Neither my mother or my mother-in-law make any effort to become acquainted with the PC & as both are suffering now from macular degeneration, the limits of the standard store-bought system makes that less & less likely, even tho word-into-voice software does exist today. This is just the intersection of technology innovation and stage-of-life issues – even tho I’ve worked in high tech now for 16 years, I can’t bring myself to show any real interest in the kind of gaming technology that my own sons are going off to summer camp to learn how to program.

Last year, my own high school graduating class celebrated its fortieth anniversary. Because I’m reasonably visible on the web, the organizing committee for the event was able to reach me – something that they had not done for any of the previous five-year reunions. On the other hand, the directory & memorial book that accompanied the event was a low-end small press chapbook. Nobody to my knowledge thought to suggest something like a website, simply because computer use among the alums of Albany High’s class of ’64 still falls well short of critical mass. Indeed, the one alumni web site that even exists for the school to this date is one that has barely been updated in the past five years that was originally created by my sixth grade teacher, Al Nielsen. At some point, no doubt, tho, some younger alums can be expected to bring Albany alumni into the contemporary world.

The world in poetry is not so different. Computer use among poets over the age of 50 continues to be far short of universal & for every writer like Barrett Watten or Steve Vincent who has become comfortable with the technology, there are others like Clark Coolidge & Bob Grenier who have largely avoided it. For people in this latter category, it stands to reason that they will be less inclined to send works to online journals. Indeed, if you look at Clark Coolidge’s web page at the Electronic Poetry Center, there are only two instances of his work linked at the site that appear to have been published first on the web, a poem from a 1999 issue of Kenning, and a series of ten poems in a 2001 edition of Jacket, both instances I suspect of the editor seeking out the author. Indeed, the great value of the EPC site has been the large number of works that were computerized for the first time in order to be sampled there. Grenier’s page is even more stark in this regard – virtually all of his online occasions have been the result of a couple of longtime supporters, Karl Young & Michael Waltuch. Grenier’s one webzine appearance seems to have been in Non, which as I noted above is no longer available on the web.

If you’re a poet over the age, say, of 60, as both Coolidge & Grenier happen to be, and have been publishing for over 30 years, with any luck, you’re going to be a position of having at least a little control over what appears & when in journals (Grenier, it should be noted, has made it harder by working in formats that often resist mass representation, and his show at the Marianne Boesky Gallery last fall was in many ways the equivalent of a big book publication). So it stands to reason that you are more apt to say yes to journals that you yourself are likely to see and read – which for older poets still means hard copy.

This has been changing over time for those of us who are in our 50s (even if only just barely), but I think it’s already entirely ordinary for a poet who is 40 to feel comfortable with online zines. For poets younger than that, it’s a no-brainer. For poets under 30, online zines have been around most if not all of their publishing lives. It doesn’t represent an “alternative” or even “the new” – it’s just part of what’s there.

I think there is a serious question as to the future viability of certain types of hard copy small press journals. For the cost of a poorly printed saddle-stapled zine that has no hope of getting carried and displayed in all but a handful of indulgent bookstores, one can mount a webzine that has global distribution and that can, if handled properly, stay online for years, potentially even decades. Unless one is really exploring the implications of fine press printing, why would one make the decision in 2005 to go with hard copy if it means the limited impact and distribution of the saddle-stapled journal (and, if so, why wouldn’t one opt for sewn binding)?

On the other hand, I think the saddle-stapled chapbook will last quite a bit longer, perhaps even through the 21st century. But I do think that more and more publishers will be realize the value of maintaining their out-of-print archives indefinitely on the web. Right now there are a lot of web journals that don’t keep their back issues up indefinitely and only a few hard copy publishers who make PDF or other versions of older books available. Within a few years (five? even that seems long), I expect both webzines and chapbook series will consider archive sites standard operating procedure. Further, I think that universities will eventually wake up to the importance of archival sites as such, just as Penn is doing in taking on the maintenance of the Ubuweb archives (and eventually, one suspects, those of the EPC as well). There will of course be some negotiations and issues to be resolved long term – copyright being the foremost among them – but this is a trend that seems as inevitable over time as downloading music & movies.

So, to reiterate Bob’s question from the start of this note, do I see a rift between print & online poets? The answer really is only insofar as there may be an institutional difference between the visibility of certain older poets who publish through wide distribution presses like FSG or Knopf & those who still work primarily among small presses. Depending on where you stand with regards to the School of Quietude v. Post Avant question, that either will or will not seem like such a big deal. But the real axis of difference is just age or stage-of-life & technology, and, just as technology continues to evolve, so will that relationship.




¹ This phrase turns out to be an important qualification for an interesting reason. One thing the web does is erase some (tho not all) of the penalty that most “late starters” suffer in getting their work out & around, or beyond a regionally isolate poetry scene.

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