Why I Put My Poetry in a Blog

Q: [Nic Sebastian]
Patricia: You wrote in a recent [WOMPO] list email: “What is the goal of publishing poetry in this day? Is this an attempt to validate the poetry in the context of your hope for future jobs in higher education? Or is is about finding an intelligent and informed audience and readership for the poems? The two are very different, and the paths to these two goals seldom intersect.”

I’d be very interested in hearing your thoughts as to why and how these two objectives differ. I consider myself a poet, but earn my living in an absolutely-nothing-to-with-poetry field. After initially having lots of energy and a strong desire to pursue publication over several years, and with some success, I have lately found myself seriously losing momentum in this regard and am wondering to what extent the dichotomy you refer to plays into it. Not an earth-shattering development, but I am curious.

Nice meeting you, Nic, and thank you for question. I’m pondering how to clarify my earlier statement, but basically it’s personal for me. I’ve been in both places and find value in both, and continue to struggle to make sense out of this dichotomy. I’m also really tired (sick kid) so hoping this isn’t rambling too much and makes sense to someone.

My poetry career began in academics. Well, my post K-12 poetry career, I should say. 😉 This was back in the 70s and late 80s. Because the poetry publishing field was so highly competitive, and it was so HARD to get published, I was always afraid to show my work to anyone for fear it would be borrowed, cribbed, stolen, abused in some fashion. I have enormous notebooks collecting jealously guarded early works that very few have ever seen. I won awards; was published in most issues of the the school literary magazine; moved onward to small press poetry mags; worked in a library in part as selector for 20th century English language poetry; applied to creative writing programs; was offered a fellowship. I made friends among poets, bought tons of poetry books, went to readings & receptions, and was determined to make poetry my profession.

Sounds like a fairly typical progression, doesn’t it? Well, after I received the offer of a fellowship, I celebrated by going out with my creative writing pals from the local university, and asking what happens once you get your degree? It turned out, for a woman, there was no real future. There was a long pause, as my circle of friends all looked at each other, trying to decide who would be the one to share the unhappy truth. Eventually, the head of the local creative writing program, still a highly respected and frequently published poet, told me, “You will be over qualified for the job you hold now.” A flurry of vehement conversation later came part two, “You have been offered a fellowship. That is your degree. You are a writer, you are a poet. The rest is just politics and the icing on the cake. Even if you do get a job as a writing faculty, you will lose the freedom to write what you really want. You’ll be measured by quantity of published work in the area you’re hired to write in, not your creativity or innovation. If you are hired as a poet and decide to start writing short stories, the stories will not contribute to your tenure efforts. They will be discounted. And visa versa.” Or words to that effect.

I didn’t want to believe this, so I did research. At that time, I was able to locate only ONE tenured woman faculty of poetry on the North American continent. Most women ended up with one or two year temporary appointments, moving from school to school. The looks went around the circle again. I was told, “We are writing faculty because we can’t do anything else. You can. You have options, choices.”

I declined the fellowship and went to library school. I was a single parent. I had a child to support. I didn’t want to raise her as a gypsy, I wanted to give her some stability and safety in life. I wanted health insurance (kid was sick a LOT, in the hospital three times her first month).

Fast forward twenty or so years. I continued to write. A lot! But I didn’t continue to submit my poems to formal publications. Well, occasionally, just a few, but I didn’t work at it. When I did submit works, it was usually to chapbook contests, and they were gently declined. It really does help with later publications to have various journal publications first. I did a little bit in the Chicago slam poetry movement, but again not a lot. I grew up in a university town, and was focused from an early age on academic achievement. I was still protecting my poems, afraid of sharing them except through official formal publication channels. I had a few really trusted readers, but I had to train them myself. The tendency of friends is to simply always say whatever you’ve done is wonderful. That never helped me understand what went wrong at a certain paint, how to make a piece stronger, did I ramble too long, or try to cram too much into too small a space, did I overdo it with alliteration/rhythm/???, were the line breaks too random, etc, etc.

A few years ago I become the UM Emerging Technologies Librarian, with a significant focus on the impact of social media on academic activities such as teaching, learning, research, publication. I work closely with the unit focusing on open educational resources, and actively promote Creative Commons licensing on campus. This is part of my job, but has snuck over into almost every aspect of my life. After a few years, and after routinely posting short poems (micropoetry) on Twitter and Facebook and Identi.ca, I was asked to contribute to the blog OpenMicro. This grew into collaborations, and other invitations. I started reading online poetry magazines in addition to print. I attended poetry readings & workshops in Second Life, and joined in as a reader, and challenged myself with improv poetry. Eventually I started a poetry blog for the National Poetry Writing Month challenges, which I’ve done a few years now. It gives me quite a rush when people end up in a flurry of conversation around my daily poems during April, people telling me they are eagerly waiting for the next one, guessing what I’ll do. Unfortunately, I simply don’t have the stamina to keep it up all year. I wish I did. Online social media, being open and sharing my poetry has resulted in a readership many magnitudes larger than any I could ever have through print media, much more engagement and activity. It is so much more rewarding than anything else I had done with my poetry, I cannot begin to express it.

Now, I am not seeking academic tenure for my poetry, so I am not risking my professional reputation. Actually, I am ENHANCING and enriching and expanding my reputation. But, as a writer and a poet, I am having massively more fun with my poetry and other folks poetry working in this more open and social environment than I ever did working off in my own little cubby with fewer readers than fingers and protecting my poems so much than I’ve lost copies of most of them. Just my experience, but it illustrates a bit of the dichotomy.

For the record, I’ve observed similar shifts in research and science. There is a huge focus coming out of the government to try to facilitate more rapid growth of science through transparency & collaboration. The whole concept of translational science (one of my own research interests) is based on this, as are the movements on open science / open notebook science / open data / data sharing / citizen science / etc. This is part of the conversation that will be happening at the HASTAC conference December 2-3 on Digital Scholarly Communication in the humanities. In my honest opinion, this is the wave of the future. I could go into detail about why for hours. I feel heartbroken and sad for my poet friends who don’t understand this and linger in the “I must protect my content by not sharing it” mode. Sharing it is HOW you protect your content in the modern online environment. That is how you build reputation, how you prove the date of authorship, how you expand your audience, how you maximise your sales. There is quite a bit of research to substantiate these claims. My favorite new article came out last week in PLoS showing how research publications that share data tend not only to be more cited but also more accurate and better quality!

Jelte M. Wicherts, Marjan Bakker, Dylan Molenaar. Willingness to Share Research Data Is Related to the Strength of the Evidence and the Quality of Reporting of Statistical Results. PLoS ONE: Research Article, published 02 Nov 2011. 10.1371/journal.pone.0026828

Obviously, I’m biased. 🙂 Which was why in the original statement, I tried to focus on the goals and not my bias. Sigh, failed, again. 😉

8 responses to “Why I Put My Poetry in a Blog

  1. It’s a bias I share. Thanks for articulating this so well, Patricia.

    It might be worth pointing out that, perhaps because of the focus on personality online, and/or because of better tagging and SEO, my blog Via Negativa regularly gets about 100 more page views per day than qarrtsiluni, the online journal I publish. (Which, by the way, has had a policy of considering previously blogged work for at least four years now — thanks to the advocacy of Nic Sebastian, as a matter of fact.) And I strongly suspect that qarrtsiluni has a larger readership than many, more reputable online and print journals, due in part to our extensive use of online social and syndication tools, as well as our willingness to buck the trend and be bloggish, with comments enabled and new content appearing five times a week rather than in big quarterly dumps. So I think another part of the solution is for online poets to publish each other in blog zines, in videos, on podcasts, etc. Together we can build — are building! — an alternative literary publishing ecosystem.

  2. this says so much:

    “Online social media, being open and sharing my poetry has resulted in a readership many magnitudes larger than any I could ever have through print media, much more engagement and activity. It is so much more rewarding than anything else I had done with my poetry, I cannot begin to express it.”

    some of my “best” poems were published in good print journals. and i appreciate that… but? But- the poems are dead on the shelf. When we can share our poetry in such a way that conversations continue as a result, the poems live on and on. yes, at one time being published was the one way a poem could reach an audience and possibly create an on-going conversation, but now we have the tools to keep those poems alive, rather than accumulating dust on a shelf. i agree with what dave said. blog on, give the poems a longer “shelf” life.

    sherry o’keefe

  3. Dave and Patricia,
    I used to post my poems and versions of poems in my blog, and I really enjoyed it, finding it fed my writing fervor and brought interested people to the blog.
    In fact, my chapbook, Balance, which will be published by White Violet Press in the spring, was a product of this fervor. Every night for a couple of months, I got up in the wee hours and wrote a poem or worked on a poem that was part of this 15 poem sequence of poems about a yoga sequence.
    It was among the most amazing experiences I have ever had, writing and posting these poems, then reworking them.
    But I had very little luck getting these or other poems I had written published. Finally, I began to notice that many of the small publications to which I submitted had rules against posting the poems they would publish on blogs or elsewhere online. That was considered prior publication, even though very few people ever visited my blog.
    So I stopped posting poems, and instead joined an online members-only writing workshop. I miss posting poems openly on my blog, though this workshop, Zeugma, has yielded a few good comments and a trove of interesting work to comment on myself.
    The fun and energy has largely gone out of my blog, and I would begin posting poems again if I hadn’t had much more success publishing them since I stopped. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but maybe not.
    I guess I could try posting some again and see what happens. It never stopped Dave from taking many of my poems for his journal, after all, and who knows how many others like him there are out there?

  4. What powerful dialog! I am in awe. Dave, you already know I agree with you. Part of what I love of what you’ve done is that it is open, but ALSO provides options for those who love and savor the touch and feel of the printed page, the shimmer of early morning sunlight on the book. Sherry, what librarians have discovered through making old materials available electronically is that it dramatically increases demand for the original item. My personal preference is to have items available BOTH in print and online. Robby, I hope you do take a second look at Dave’s reply to this post and consider your options. For myself, I decided that I would only submit my poems now to journals that accept blogposts. But since I haven’t actually found the time to follow up with action on that point, I didn’t want to embarrass myself by saying so in the post! Thank you all!

  5. yes, i prefer both print and online. not only with my own poetry, but in what i read and purchase.

    i’ve found that by sharing on my blog a poem of mine that had been previously published in a print journal (or in an online journal) that those journals are visited once again because of my post. (which is what you said about what librarians had discovered).

    thanks for creating a place for a great discussion!


  6. Hi folks– I post a great deal of new work at my blog La Parola Vivace. I too have had the experience of not only response to my work, but actual exchanges about it– a great thing. I got my start in the 70’s with great mentorship from Robert Bly and had I kept with the traditional route I originally chose, I think I’d be tenured somewhere– but instead I stopped putting work out there and led a wild and woolly life in the West for a time– I woke back up and everything had changed and I had a ton of catching up to do. I build audience in posting occasional poems on Facebook as well as the blog, reading and commenting on what others post, and I’m also sending work out to journals with some success. I’m now glad I didn’t go the tenure-track route. I think that the more of us with a bit of gravitas i.e. traditional publication support the idea of online publication and self-publication, the more credible it will all become xxxj

  7. Jenne, what you said reminds me of my own thinking on the matter, and Thomas Kuhn’s work on paradigm shifts. I tell people stories about tool-using monkeys as an analogy. You get a couple monkeys using the tools, and then a couple more, here and there, and suddenly the tool use hits critical mass and it is everywhere! We’ll get there …

  8. Pingback: P. F. Anderson: “Why I put my poetry in a blog” | Via Negativa

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