Friday, February 24, 2006

Mad ideas

Every now and then I get mad ideas. For instance, I enjoy browsing the poetry newsgroups (yes, I am that sick) but one day I thought it would be a really good idea if someone just made a list of posts containing original poetry every week, with links to the relevant posts on google, and posted that to the group. Thus was born the Long Ladle Review, which lasted a good 3 months before the wheels fell off that horse.

Then there was my idea about poetry magazine submissions. I had this stupid idea one day (it was on a longhaul flight to Australia, which probably explains a lot) that poetry magazines are doing themselves no service by requiring people to jump through so many hoops to get poems accepted for publication. I thought it would be better for everyone involved if it could all be done online, with the poets submitting their work via a website into a database, which could then be accessed, considered and judged by editors, subeditors, slushpile miners, etc, which would in turn allow the poet to check up on the progress of their submissions.

That idea got coded up and everything, but luckily I came to my senses before any lasting harm was done. Instead, I decided that there were too many lists of poetry magazines that didn't really collect all the information a person needed. That an online compendium of information on poetry journals would be, well, useful. This mad idea resulted in Clot [edit: now removed], which hasn't been updated for a couple of years but continues to be visited regularly. So obviously a good idea which led to mad amounts of work for one idiot.

I learnt from that idea, so that when I had the idea to do something similar to Clot - but this time for individual poetry websites and blogs - I coded it so that maintaining the information on the database remained the entire responsibility of the person submitting the information; the only check I needed to do was making sure the link worked. The Periscope [edit: now removed] has been running for a few months now, and recently saw its 25th entry on the database. I'm not planning to dismantle this site for many years yet so it can only grow. Maybe one day it will become the first place to visit for people wanting to search for poetry outside the establishment of journals, publishers, etc - proving that mad ideas are perfectly capable of mutating into even madder ideas.

But why is it always me that acts on these mad ideas? Lots of people have mad ideas about getting poetry to the masses, but very few people actually do anything about it. Many prefer to copy an idea, changing it in little ways. For example, the people who came up with the idea of the free-to-view online poetry journal must have been jumping out of trolleys and falling out of trees from an early age, and yet the idea is stunning, superb. And it works! I reckon most people access their finished, polished modern poetry through such venues. But there's so many of them nowadays: the idea is so good that everyone wants to do it. Everyone with a smidge of coding ability and a talent for design can come up with a winning online poetry journal.

And how do these journals differ? Most seem to have the same format - closely modelled on print journals with poems, some book reviews, an occasional thought piece on what poetry is currently dying of, perhaps some interesting artwork. A few (a very few) may dabble with more complex coding to present a more interactive experience - sound files, for instance, or animation. But nothing much else really. Almost all of them declaim that they only publish the best poetry, yet are there really that many "best" poems being written every day of the year? Almost none of them pay copyright fees on the poems they publish. And almost all of them refuse to publish previously published material - this is a seriously severe one-shot game.

Anyways, I had this mad idea. What if - I warn you, this is a bit on the mad side of mad - what if someone paid poets a fee for hosting their very best poems on the web. Say, pay $100 for exclusive electronic - and print - copyright to host the poem on the website for one year, with options to renew the contract (say for a lesser fee - $50 a year) thereafter. Of course, the mad person paying the money would have the right to claim a share of royalties for any use of the poem beyond the website during the contract period - for instance a cut of the royalties accruing from any anthology sales during that time. Or maybe the right to negotiate a cut of any payments offered for using the poem in promotional or advertising work. I mean, getting one couplet featured in a Nike ad would surely rake in enough money to cover the running costs of the rest of the operation for years!

Somehow I don't think I'll be taking this idea forward myself. Unless I win the lottery, in which case watch this space.

But I think we need some more people willing to risk pursuing mad ideas. Because the current online poetry scene is stagnating. Online journal: been there. Online workshop: done that. Online listing services: wrote the code.

And where you find stagnation, you find leeches. Leeches like hardcopy and online poetry journals who can't be bothered to pay poets for the right to feature their poems between the journal's covers (or pixels). What sort of market is this? What sort of shite economy have poets managed to get themselves into?

"It's the Art that counts".

"It's the exposure that matters".

"It's the kudos and honour of having my work selected".

"How dare you taint poetry with the scum of commerce!"

I think sheep manage to herd themselves into the slaughterhouse because they think there's safety in numbers, that breaking away from the controlling bleat is dangerous, fearful, demeaning, heretical.

I also think that some of the best poetry being written today - not mine - is being flushed into the sewers for nothing more than a publication credit. Wasted.

I think poets need to turn around and say: "pay me for my work. Pay me cash for my words".

I think it's time people turned this whole farce into a sellers game.

Now there's a raging mad idea!

1 comment:

  1. You are definitely mad.

    But that's why I love you.

    I have mad ideas, stupid stupid stupid ideas, and most of the time I squash them. Other times, I do poetry contests with them!