Saturday, September 03, 2005

Fantasy publishing: a brief history of internet poetry

Let's play fantasy publishing. The game is to pull together an outline of what should go in a book entitled Caught In The Net: a brief history of internet poetry.

Here's my initial stab:

Ch 1: First stirrings
A brief description of how the US military arpanet developed into the Usenet newsgroups, and poetry's place in the usenet pantheon - text perhaps developed from interviews/chats with people like JJ Webb and Marek Lugowski. It would be nice to get a flavour of the newsgroups "in action"

Ch 2: A mirror to the real world
This could be the story of the establishment of the early webzines - Alsop Review, J P Dancing Bear's Disquieting Muse, the whole WedDelSol thing, maybe C E Chaffin's Melic Review?

Ch 3: Workshopping the muse
From the webzines and newsgroups grew the need for workshops - general workshops, elitist workshops, metrical workshops (Ablemuse's Eratosphere), Claudia's QED, subversive workshops trying to link poetry to wider art, etc. PFFA (of course) as a reaction to the anarchy of the newsgroups. There ought to be something about IBPC and its tribalist tendencies, too. Something also on the sharing type of workshop?

Ch 4: Reaching out to the world
A survey of the development of personal poetry websites and "vanity" publishing, then moving on to things like the rise of online publishers such as Marek's ASGP, webzines branching out into chapbook publishing, etc.

Ch 5: Organising the web
I think a chapter on the role of people who have tried to make sense of the burgeoning 'netpo scene deserve a chapter to themselves. Listing sites such as Peter Howard's Low Probability of Raccoons, The Poetry Kit, Poetry Daily. Something on Rick Lupert's Poetry SuperHighway? Possibly also something on people's efforts to build communities and campaigns on the 'net -, poets against the war, etc. Could also mention email groups and closed networks?

Ch 6: Learning about poetry
There's some excellent teaching and learning resources online that ought to be mentioned. Also the various attempts to put out-of-copyright poetry texts online (and Dedicated fansites for great poets deserve a mention, especially those that put the poet in their historical context.

Ch 7: The world wakes up to the 'net
This should deal with the (sometimes comical) approach of the poetry establishments trying to come to terms with the internet. Hardcopy magazines' websites, established writers' "blurbsites", publishers and their attempts to drum up business online. Newspapers that support poetry (in principle) like Guardian Unlimited? How about a mention of print-on-demand publishers such as Some mention of Google (especially after they bought the DejaNews newsgroup archives)?

Ch 8: The rise of the poetry blogs
I've not long been blogging so this is new territory for me, but any 'netpo history would need to deal with blogging - Ron Silliman and other early adopters, the range of issues covered in blogs, how bloggers are trying (but not yet succeeding) to define and reassess the philosophies and schools of poetry, etc, etc, etc.

Ch 9: The future of 'netpo
God knows. Get some people to speculate on possible directions. They'll all be wrong: who knew that 'netpo would have come so far in even the last 5 years?

I also think there would need to be lots of example poems to highlight the product coming out of all this activity. Otherwise the point of the book is pretty much missed. But that would also mean a long book - more like 450-500 pages rather than 150-200 pages long.

But I don't think such a book will be published. Unless it was written by a really famous poet which, given that there are no really famous 'netpoets yet, pretty much defeats the object - I'd not want to be the subject of some academic dissertation or populist freakshow so it would need to be written by someone who's part of the 'netpo scene. But without the famous name the book won't be taken seriously by reviewers, and won't be bought by people outside the 'netpo scene. Classic Catch-22 territory.

And how would it be published? It would make sense, given the material, to make it available electronically as well as in hardcopy, but few publishers would be up for that game. Who would pay for the initial publication costs? Perhaps an arts grant (though I don't agree with public money being used to support poetry endeavours outside of the educational establishment). Possibly corporate sponsorship from those very nice people at Google or those equally nice people at the Bill&Wassername Gates Foundation - which would guarantee half the participants in the book would withdraw their cooperation on principal. Vanity publishing?

And who on earth would be stupid enough to edit such a monster?


  1. That would be one of the hooks. It might also sell if it was offered up as a story of people rescuing poetry from [insert name of hated elite here]. A good editor should be able to capture the essence of some of the banter that goes alongside the poetry, and of course a dissection of how a good flame war can lead to the setting up of new poetry communities would be an entertaining read.

    Thanks for contributing. You are now officially the second person to do so. I salute you, number 2!

  2. Dear Rik,

    Good thoughts. Alan Kaufman edited The American Bible of Outlaw Poetry and it was near 1000 pages, covering the pre- or early performance poetry evolution.

    I have often thought of such an anthology as you suggest. The work involved in our first and only print publication, The Best of Melic: Three Years Online, definitely dissuades me from such a herculean and thankless effort.

    As an editor I know how much poets bitch and how easily they are slighted. I closed Melic ( )this year. Yes, we were at the beginning and fought many board wars with WDS and Alsop. They fought dirty and we won; both mags apologized to us. But that's so eight years ago.... Alsop is a museum now, and we have become one after our last issue, and WDS goes on with mad Ahab at the wheel.

    The early years were fun. One problem in publishing an anthology of net poets is crossover; the good ones cross over; I've been solicited by Dorianne Laux for the Alaska Quarterly Review, for instance. The main reason I'm known as a net poet is because I'm too lazy to lick stamps, truly. I have a blog now, too:

    Sorry for the self-promotion, but somebody's gotta do it. ;-)

    Thine in Truth and Art,

    C. E. Chaffin