Why I Publish on the Internet
I run a website which publishes poetry. I had previously published a magazine, books and pamphlets in paper, in the 70s and early 80s. I do not see myself returning to paper publishing. Here are the reasons why not:
- Publishing on the Internet is almost free, and therefore very little caught up in a cash nexus. I pay about £50 a year to the hosting company. I would have a computer for home use anyway (and even if I didn't — their use is available free in libraries). The poetry becomes a co-operative, shared enterprise, rather than a product to sell in the marketplace. We are having our imaginations colonised, our ways of living moulded and our future exhausted and poisoned by the processes of capitalism — I prefer that poetry occurs in an area not totally under the control of money and markets.
- Distribution is of course global and immediate. The number of bookshops that are interested in small press publications is shrinking. The Web is accessible anywhere (free in public libraries — which are not likely to be buying small press poetry). They enable the writing to be read by people outside of those in the know already (who attend events like CCCP, or are on various specific mailing lists). This is hugely worthwhile — and enables the range of alternative poetries to broaden their readerships, rather than keep them within the same restricted circle of trust.
- Publishing on the web is very flexible — texts can be easily presented in a range of ways, involving images, sound, moving image, and it is possible to explore non-linear structures through hypertext. I am not as rhapsodic as some about concepts like e-poetry or visual poetry: much of this material is just decorative or ingenious, and I'm anyway still trying to exhaust the possibilities of mere text. I am, though, convinced that it is possible to present poetry and other writing in ways which are clear to read and as visually interesting and involving as a well made book. But different.
- The web is also a very forgiving medium. Apart from being able to make corrections and improvements on the fly, I have found it relatively easy to use HTML, and to achieve clear pages through following obvious guidelines on readability.
- Publishing on the Web has interesting qualities with regard to time. I have to fit my work on the website around a fulltime job, so cannot be in control of schedules and deadlines. The equivalent of a magazine can exist on the Web as a constantly changing site, rather than as discrete issues (with sets of deadlines that I never met when working with paper). It is also possible to change work on a website over time, so that a sense of the text as process or action rather than object can be explored, and similarly the potential transitoriness of material existing only digitally can also be used. I haven't done any of this enough — but hope to explore these possibilities.
- A final reason for publishing on the Internet is that, in my experience of teaching teenagers, it is increasingly young people's preferred way of accessing information. The readers of this piece are I suspect mostly people who are quite emotionally involved with words on paper — sorry, but we have as much future as trained scribes post-Gutenberg. I want the range of poetries that CCCP has always championed to be accessible to an ever increasing number of people — I can conceive of no other position than this. If it is not possible to make contact with such poetry on the Internet, then those involved with the poetry will become an ever more restricted and backward-looking coterie. That would be a disaster.
I accept the reasons why books are good objects still. They are obvious, and I feel this way too. But — I think the Internet is a good place also, and want the writings which CCCP has involved itself with to be presented there, to an ever-increasing audience. There are other futures which are being given to alternative poetry, eg the increasing role of writing and poetics courses. I find the involvement of academic institutions and values alarming — whatever poetry is, it is larger than these, and it is crucial to its continuing life that it doesn't depend on such institutions (apart from issues of restricting access only to those with certain educational — and thus social — characteristics). The wide and open accessibility of a website is its most important characteristic, the quality I am most proud of, and put most faith in.
First published in CCCP (Cambridge Conference of Contemporary Poetry) 15 Review 2005.