This past April I did an interview series for National Poetry Month. During the series, one of the questions I asked was this:
Do you think there is a disconnect between academic poets/poetry and online poets/poetry?
Some of the people I interviewed declined to answer. Some said “I don’t know.” Some gave an in-depth explanation of why they thought there was a disconnect or not. In general, many of the people I interviewed truly believed that if there is still a disconnect in any way, it will not be around for much longer because the internet has become so much a part of our lives.
I’m not so sure.
It is human nature to strive for status. It is part of our psyche to work toward success because it brings with it so many rewards: respect, wealth, power. In an evolutionary world, this means that one’s offspring has a better chance of survival if one has power.
In a literary sense, the definition of success has traditionally meant publish, publish, win awards, publish, win some more awards, etc. The more one publishes, the more one’s work has a chance of survival long after the writer has died.
The introduction of a radically new medium (online publishing) into an established and entrenched process has upset this balance of power. The hegemony of traditional literary establishments is slowly eroding as the prevalence of online opportunities expands. The question is whether the traditional establishments will adapt and survive or hang on so tightly that they slow down the process of change. I think it can go either way: some will adapt and some will fossilize their procedures (publishing, awards, etc.), thus preserving their traditional authority for at least a while longer.
(One need only to read the many articles about the arrival of ebooks and the hysteria that is gripping traditional publishing houses (see the brouhaha surrounding Amazon, the big six, and the Department of Justice) to realize that a similar upset is slowly gripping the literary publishing world as well. What most people don’t realize is that the tipping point for commercial fiction is already here.)
Just recently, I received an email from The Fox Chase Review. This lovely online journal posted a blog entry in which they explained why they would no longer be sending work to the Pushcart Prize anthology. This decision was because of a statement from Bill Henderson in the introduction of the 2012 Pushcart anthology:
“I have long railed against the e-book and instant Internet publication as damaging to writers. Instant anything is dangerous—great writing takes time. You should long to be as good as John Milton and Reynolds Price, not just barf into the electronic void.”
-Bill Henderson – The Pushcart Prize 2012 Introduction..
The Fox Chase Review’s response:
The internet has opened a door to poets/writers in this new time. There are many fine publications who publish only on the net and are not easily entered. Rejection rates far outnumber acceptance rates. Henderson’s void is an opportunity for various styles of writing to emerge that may not have found a home in more elitist presses which I am sorry to say The Pushcart has now become through the voice of Bill Henderson. The Fox Chase Review will no longer submit entries to The Pushcart Prize and we hope Henderson doesn’t continue to barf on his computer.
Clearly, a miasma still lingers around online publication of poetry. It will be interesting to see how long it takes before this barrier between online and academic/print establishments falls. I suspect it will be several decades yet.
Meanwhile, I’ll be over here quietly writing poems and being unutterably grateful I don’t hold a position where I must publish in the right places (meaning print/academic/pushcart/poetry/newyorker) or perish.