Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Great Divide

Poets can be bitches. This has been proved time and time again including this past week when the poetry blog world exploded (we also exaggerate) with posts about the idea of literary magazines charging for online submissions. New England Review and Ploughshares both just announced they would be doing this. I'm not going to rehash the arguments. If you want to see the full discussion, I recommend checking out the blogs of C. Dale Young, Steve Fellner, Collin Kelley, and my friend V. Wetlaufer.

I can see the arguments on both sides and all four of the people I listed above make valid and interesting points. What I found more interesting, than the discussion over charging $2.00 to submit to a magazine, was that in the comments section of many of these blogs the argument suddenly became about print vs. online.

It was suggested by many that instead of charging people to submit to your magazine to stay afloat, maybe your print magazine should go online, which some have (TriQuarterly for example). This lit a fire for many who seem to harbor a hatred for online publications. This fire was returned by people who believe everything will be online and that online is somehow more creative and cutting edge.

Underneath this argument seems to be lurking the same debate between "the academic world of writers" and "the anti-establishment world of writers." Because I attended an MFA program and long for a good academic teaching job, I fall into the first category. What this really means is I have to play by the rules. I need to get published in good magazines. I need to get a book published through a first book contest. Basically, I have a path I am supposed to follow. For many this does not include the online world.

What I hate about these debates is that there never appears to be a middle ground. People either are hating on the academics or hating on those who are not tied to academics and are often more willing to embrace online publications and self-publishing options.

I seem to land in the middle. Call me what you want, but I love academics. I love teaching. I love going to classes. I went to a very traditional, old school liberal college for my undergrad. I love books. I respect the establishment and the game I have to play. Publishing should be hard work. I will probably end up in a PhD program in the near future because I miss school so much.

On the other hand, I am young and see the benefits of the online world and I'm open to it. As you can see from my list of publications, I have work both in print magazines (many good ones) and in online magazines. This isn't completely a black and white issue, but everyone tries so hard to make it one. There are good and interesting online magazines and there are wonderful print magazines. There are also terrible ones of both. Some seem to think because it is in print it is somehow automatically good. This is not true. For example, Twilight is in print. Someone published it (grammatical errors and all).

The poetry world also has to be careful of fully embracing all online publications and self-publishing options. I wrote a bit about this in my blog a few weeks ago. These methods often lead to a world of writers but no readers. There still needs to be a quality check. I'm also tired of some of these online enthusiasts claiming the print world is dying. Books have been around a long, long time and aren't going anywhere (at least not in my lifetime). I do like some online magazines, but I have a hard time reading poetry on a screen. I love nothing more than a book in my hands.

I think we all need to calm down just a little. I don't care if you are published online or in print or if you have an MFA or not. I care about your work and if it is good. Maybe we need to focus on that a little more and stop trying to make this divide in an already small world. I am careful about where I submit, and I think everyone should be. I carefully consider the poem and the publication. At the same time, no one should close their eyes to any avenue, and we should try to respect and understand each other a little more (cheesy, right?). Of course, what would we write blog posts about if we weren't all a little bitchy and full of ourselves?

-Stephen (Poet Bitch)

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