Warrick Wynne’s Poetry Pages

reading, writing and the connections

State of the Net: Online Poetry Magazines

[This article first appeared in ‘Five Bells – Vol 6, No. 6, April 2000]

When you peruse the great banks of banality that pass as magazines in your local newsagency, you might be forgiven for thinking that poetry magazines didn’t exist, and that cosmetic surgery, Britney Spears, Posh Spice and the Royal family were the only subjects worthy of ink and paper. And if, like me, you were unfortunate enough to live too far from a quality literary bookshop like ‘Collected Works’ in Melbourne, that stocks a good range of ‘little’ magazines, you could find yourself starved for reading. Viva the internet!!

The idea of a poetry ‘magazine’ on the internet is an odd one when you consider it closely; why should the old ideas of ‘magazine’, with the attractive cover and the table of contents, the list of contributors at the back, be simply copied and pasted into the online world? But that’s largely what’s happened. Just as the traditional newspaper has morphed into its online version pretty much intact, so has the poetry magazine or ‘ezine’ (electronic magazine).  Nevertheless, it remains true that the greatest benefit for poetry readers and writers from the growth of the internet has probably been the growth of such small magazines and their newfound accessibility.

There are basically two types of poetry magazines on the net; albeit with infinite variations. There are those which have developed as a ‘web presence’ for a traditional printed magazine like and there are the ezines that have developed since the internet, utilizing the reduced costs of taking printing and distribution out of the loop. They serve different functions and I’ll consider each in turn.

The most common type of poetry magazine is the ‘front end’ internet site. These kinds of sites are usually the showroom of sometimes long established literary magazines looking for some kind of web ‘presence’. It’s the poetry equivalent of Honda.com; you go there to have a look but if you want the full experience you’ve got to call in person and have a test drive. The extent of poetry you can actually read at these sites varies; some just list the current contents, the editorial staff and tell you how to subscribe. Better sites, better because they reward you with new content when you return, give you some of the content, perhaps two or three of the poems, perhaps one of the feature articles. It’s a great way to discover new poets, in magazines you may never see in bookshops in Australia. Some have archives or back issues available for viewing. Some, like our own ‘Westerly’ even allow you to search back issues for articles or authors. Many also give the opportunity to submit your own work, though an astounding number do not permit emailing of poetry submissions. ‘Ploughshares’ is typical in its submission guidelines: ‘Sorry, but we do not take e-mail or computer-file submissions.’ Or, as the Birmingham Review says, ‘At the present time, we do not accept electronic submissions’ The famous Chicago ‘Poetry Magazine’ typifies the difficulties: ‘Submissions should be limited to four poems or fewer, typed single-space. Manuscripts are usually reported on within 12 to 16 weeks from the day of receipt. All manuscripts must be accompanied by a stamped, self-addressed envelope. Stamps alone are not sufficient. Writers living abroad must enclose a self-addressed envelope together with enough postage in validated international reply coupons for air mail return.’

I thought about this one for a long while; why would a poetry magazine refuse email submissions? No more paper to clutter up the office or get lost, no more postage hassles, easy and quick access to the author for any follow up. Why wouldn’t you allow it? In the end I could only imagine that these magazines feel that allowing email submissions of work would open the floodgates to hundreds of pages of unsolicited material, and hundreds of emails bulging with novella length attachments. Do these magazines believe that the complications of the mail, with the need for return postage, fresh printed copies, actually playing some sort of filtering role, reducing the sheer volume of work that arrives daily? Is it the dread of traditional magazine editors that they will be flooded with random verse? Spammed with stanzas and sonnets?

It must be so. Therefore, it’s probably good advice to support those who do allow the cost-saving and convenience of email submission by submitting with some traditional restraint; no more than six to eight poems per submission and allow them time to reply. They may arrive in that Chicago office (almost) instantly; but don’t forget they’re all asleep across there, or out listening to jazz in some cosy bar (or so my American imagining goes!) Give them time to read your work carefully without emailing them every day for a quick answer.

The second kind of poetry magazine or ezine is probably the more interesting. The ezine, which exists only on the internet and does not have a ‘dead tree’ equivalent is a fairly recent phenomenon. Easy to start up, anyone can launch a free home page and call it a poetry mag; in fact, they come and go with startling frequency. When I checked my old internet bookmarks; ancient in internet time since they were over a year old, more than half of them no longer existed! Swept away by the tides of technology.

What these kind of sites allow is a completely different approach to poetry. Since these ‘magazines’ are not intended to be printed, they can use animation or abundant, normally expensive colour or can exploit the advantage of hypertext as a reading and writing medium. Magazines that could not previously existed due to prohibitive printing and distribution costs can be viewed around the world, as long as they can make it into the search engines. ‘Divan’, the Box Hill Institute poetry magazine, boasts an impressive range of contributors, is simple and elegantly designed, and probably wouldn’t exist in printed from. ‘Mangrove’ magazine, which features postgraduate writing from University of Queensland students is interesting and more design-conscious; the opening page (the cover?) is a beautiful animated image of elements of Queensland landscapes, a motif repeated throughout the whole. I like the catch cry of ‘MudLark’, an electronic journal of poetry and arts – ‘Never in and never out of print’. Ezines can also be more innovative in the way they work: ‘Snakeskin’ publishes ‘poetry pamphlets’ on its web page which are virtually chapbooks in Microsoft word format, except you download them and print them from your own computer. As they describe them, ‘The e-chapbooks are a Snakeskin experiment in Internet publishing. Each is a collection by a Snakeskin poet, presented as a word-processor file ready to be printed off to make an instant pamphlet.’ Snakeskin also has an refreshing attitude to email submission; the say, ‘Nothing could be easier. Just cut’n’paste your original unpublished poems into an ordinary e-mail and whiz them this way.’

One of the best of this kind in Australia is certainly John Tranter’s ‘Jacket’ which is a very readable and content-rich ezine. Tranter says the internet is ‘the most significant change that publishing has seen this century’ and is clearly taken with the technology, even to the extent of exploring the kinds of typefaces that are most effective when read on a computer screen. (Verdana, Trebuchet and Georgia all work well apparently) As one of Australia’s best poets, Tranter has the kind of reputation that gives ‘Jacket’ some clout, and enough friends and associates to have a steady stream of interesting work online. In his essay ‘The Left Hand of Capitalism, Tranter writes about the attraction of ezines:

Sappho, Callimachus, Catullus, Li Bai and John Donne all had small audiences for their poetry, and any serious poetry faces the same situation today – it’s not a profitable market anywhere in the world. Bookshops can only afford to stock popular verse. Canadian bookshops can’t afford to stock New Zealand poetry, and vice versa. Few Australian poets are found in the bookstores of Brooklyn; Scottish poets despair of big sales – any sales – in Normal, Illinois.

Enter the Internet: it’s relatively cheap, it reaches everywhere there’s a telephone line (or a satellite drifting overhead), and it costs the distributor almost nothing. In effect, the purchaser does the work of accessing the material and paying for its delivery.

It’s not insignificant that, like the ‘Heat’ site, and the plain looking ‘Electronic Poetry Review’ there doesn’t seen any place at all to contribute to ‘Jacket’, electronically or not. Which may or may not help alleviate some of the problems Tranter also recognizes in his essay the problem of the ‘gatekeeper’, or lack of one:

For the consumer, the first problem is quality, or rather lack of it. You walk into a good bookshop and go to the poetry section: the books you see have each gone through a process of selection and editorial fine-tuning. Most of them are likely to be of reasonable quality, personal taste aside. But on the Internet, most of the poems you find are awful: uninteresting, unedited, and definitely not fine-tuned.

Anyone can publish anything at all on the Internet, and broadcast it all around the world, without the bothersome interference of censors, style police, or cantankerous editors. Cool!

But as it happens, the bothersome interference of editors is what most readers want. They don’t like having to wade through some amateur’s first draft. They would much rather read a final draft by a writer who’s talented enough to attract the interest of a publisher, and professional enough to listen to an editor’s advice.

When planning to submit poems to any internet magazines, you should keep in mind the same kind of criteria that might draw you and other readers to a print magazine. What kind of writers does it publish? What kind of quality and design do you see in the production and layout? Would your work fit into that context? Judgements of ‘quality’ are trickier; is this site the work of an earnest individual (as many are), part of some communal or cooperative effort or funded by some institution such as a university? How regular is the site updated? Do they pay you for your poems? Answers to questions like these might make navigating the maze of poetry sites easier to manage.  Read widely, using internet search engines like Yahoo or Hotbot or Google to locate new magazines; bookmark the ones you like and come back to them regularly to get a good feel for the kind of writing they tend to publish.

As with submitting work to traditional print magazines, it’s important to try to synch your work with the magazine and look for possibilities in the selection of poems.  I enjoyed some of the landscape poetry from an American ezine called ‘Prairie Poetry’. However, as they state, ‘Prairie Poetry is dedicated to poets of the North American Great Plains. We prefer but are not limited to the work of poets who live East of the Rocky Mountains and West of the Mississippi River. Quality work is important to us. Whether it deals with the geography of the land or that of the soul, the awareness of the people or of those passing through, offer your experience of the prairie or the plains here’. I took that last sentence to mean that they might accept a poem about the great dark plain at the end of my street; Port Phillip Bay. They were happy to.  When I contributed a poem to the English magazine, ‘Limestone’, I did so partly because I liked the design of the pages and the range of writing as much as the humor of the editor who requests, ‘The poems should be in simple text format. The editor is not that good at hypertext markup.’ When a poem of mine was accepted by that magazine the editor and I exchanged several emails in a couple of days about an ambiguous phrase in my poem in a way that would have been very cumbersome, if not impossible, by snail mail.

Still, paper has a tactile attraction, and some common sense applications too. My friend, Garth Madsen, sent me Stuart Solman’s chapbook, ‘From the Waters’ (Soup Publications) for Christmas. I read it sitting at the back of a meeting the other day and can recommend it.  Electronic books are coming they say, but you can’t do that with an ezine yet!

Mind you, there are attractions in ezines beyond the easy submission and distribution of poetry around the world. The Micronesian magazine ‘Small Island Review’ states that it’s ‘the only review in this or any other world that pays in Pohnpei Pepper! It’s great in omelets, on fish, on burgers, or just as an in-between meal snack! Best of all, it’s better than getting money. Pepper connoisseurs the world over sing the praises of our pepper.’ That’s got to be worth an email.

Warrick Wynne

http://warrickwynne.org

Web Sites Mentioned in this article:

Birmingham Poetry Review

http://www.uab.edu/english/bpr/toc.htm

Divan

http://www.bhtafe.edu.au/BHI/VocationalArtsFitness/Divan/

Electronic Poetry Review

http://www.poetry.org/

Heat

http://www.ozemail.com.au/~indyk/

Jacket

http://www.jacket.zip.com.au

Limestone

http://www.users.dircon.co.uk/~limested/4editor.htm

Mangrove

http://www.uq.edu.au/~enjmckem/mangrove/index.htm

Ploughshares

http://www.emerson.edu/ploughshares/Ploughshares.html

Prairie Poetry

http://www.prairiepoetry.org/

Small Island Review

http://www.smallislandreview.com

Snakeskin

http://homepages.nildram.co.uk/~simmers/second.htm

Soup

http://www.netspace.net.au/~cgrier/souphome.html

Westerly

http://www.arts.uwa.edu.au/westerly/

I gratefully acknowledge John Tranter for permission to quote from his essay, ‘The Left Hand of Capitalism’ on the ‘Jacket’ site.

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Written by warrick

December 24, 2007 at 2:59 pm

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