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BRITISH-IRISH-POETS  1998

BRITISH-IRISH-POETS 1998

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Subject:

Re: Cash in hand jobs

From:

"Jon Corelis" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Jon Corelis

Date:

Sun, 05 Jul 1998 13:42:39 PDT

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text/plain

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>From: "David Kennedy" <[log in to unmask]>
>
> how value is
>constructed, how the processes of co-option work...

   I addressed this point at some length in an article in Chapman
number 89.  Since I believe that issue is no longer available on
line, I'll repeat here, in a slightly different form, what I said
in it.

   My impression is that there exists overall a rough but clear
sort of cursus honorum among British poets, consisting of
successive publication in 1) student and very local or short-lived
poetry magazines, 2) small but well-established regional magazines
which one British poet of my acquaintance has described as
"hobbyist", 3) the more prominent regionally based magazines which
have a national reputation, 4) major national magazines like Agenda
or London Magazine, or inclusion in an anthology published by a
highly regarded commercial or academic publisher, leading finally
to 5) induction into the Valhalla of an individual Selected or
Collected poems by such a publisher.  No doubt the situation is
more complex than this, and because of my physical distance from
the British poetry scene I haven't been able to take into account
such factors as performance or prize competitions, but at least a
couple of the British poets to whom I have communicated this 
impression have told me that overall it is generally recognizable.

   The key concept underlying such a situation is that of a
hierarchy of prestige among the various channels for communicating
poetry.  At the very bottom are methods such as posting one's poems
on the sides of buildings or reciting them in pubs in exchange for
a pint:  though this may be publication in the broad meaning of the
term, it is not considered real publication in the careerist sense.
Real publications have three characteristics:  they are printed on
paper bound into books or magazines, they are sold in shops or by
subscription, and they are refereed by editors with generally
recognized credentials for doing so.  It is this last point that
chiefly determines the amount of realness -- that is, the prestige
-- of a given publication:  the greater the respect commanded by
the academic or commercial institutions with which the referees are
associated, the more real, or prestigious, the publication will be.

   The impact of this way of propagating poetry on the poetic life 
of a nation is immense, since it has the effect of establishing a
structured class of literary mandarins as the arbiters of what type
of poetry will be encouraged to establish itself.  And because its
own prestige depends on the legitimacy of current perceptions of
literary and academic respectability, this class, whatever their
politics may be, will in the literary sense be deeply conservative.

   It is no doubt rash to try to predict the future course of
either literature or technology, but since poets are supposed to be
prophets, I will take the risk and predict that the Internet will
bring about the end of predominance of this hierarchy of poetic
respectability.  It will do so, I believe, by eroding that
hierarchy's most fundamental power:  the ability to attribute
different amounts of realness to various publications.  This
process was started some time ago by the use of email lists such as
British Poets to distribute poems to a knowledgeable audience -- a
form of distribution which it is difficult to map against the
standard publications prestige structure:  can such distribution
really be considered merely private circulation when it often
results in poems being seen by more sets of eyes than many which
are published in the most prestigious verse magazines?

   But it is the appearance of Web pages and the associated tools
which enable any individual to put up very polished ones which
will, I think, result in the increasing prominence of a body of
verse propagated by means which simply are not subject to currently
established distinctions of prestige.  A number of poetry magazines
now publish concurrent paper and Web page editions; presumably
appearing on such a magazine's Web page is exactly as real as
appearing in its paper copy.  But there are already more than I can
easily count Web pages put up by independent amateurs who are
unconnected to any paper magazine.  If such a Web page should
happen to be even more impressively produced than those of printed
magazines, and contains poetry that is just as good, are we still
to consider a poem published only in it not to be as real a
publication as one appearing in both the paper and the on line
forms of a well established printed magazine?  Nor is it only the
work of lesser known poets who will be affected by this process.
Already if you rummage around in the poetry now appearing on the
world's Web pages, you may be surprised at how much of it you
recognize as being the work of poets who are already well
established in traditional print media.  Given the explosive growth
of the Internet, it will surely soon be the case, if it is not
already so, that the works of many mainstream published poets will
be seen by more people on Web pages than have seen them on paper.
In such cases, we will be confronted with the paradox of
established poets whose reputation is maintained less by their
supposedly real publications than by their Internet presence.

   Fortunately, the situation of verse publishing on the Internet
is very likely in the future to become even more confusing.  If
these trends continue, the effect will be the increasing isolation,
and eventually the supplanting, of the currently established
hierarchy of verse publication by a much more freewheeling and 
diverse body of work which will be exempt from the necessity of
conforming to the requirements of the literary mandarins and will
thus really be free to establish its worth by competition in the
marketplace of public taste.  This very new development may
actually result in a poetry scene which in its structure is rather
similar to how poetry was propagated before the nineteenth century,
when even the most important poets tended not to subject their work
to the judgement of referees, but published it themselves, or found
a printer who typically was willing to publish any promising and
competent verse, or even just remained content with private
circulation in manuscript.  No doubt this fundamental alteration in
the means of formulating standards of poetic acceptability will be
controversial in some quarters, but I myself cannot see anything
wrong with it at all.

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