Vox Populi

Vox Populi: A Public Sphere for Politics and Poetry

Michael Simms: A Note from the Editor on the Vagaries of Publishing Poetry on the Internet

Once again, a poet has emailed me, peeved that a poem of hers that appeared in Vox Populi is not anything like the version she sent me. The line-endings and stanza-breaks are scrambled. Her careful crafting of white-space has disappeared. Her neologisms have been auto-corrected to gibberish. The indentations are…  Well, I’m embarrassed. She’s embarrassed. Readers are shunning the page.

For the umpteenth time, I manually correct the html of a poem and remind the poet that a website is not like a typewriter where you can control exactly the way things appear. A website often sees non-standard formatting as errors to be fixed. And even if the formatting holds on the website, each server and social network may make arbitrary changes. Poems transmitted by email are often a mess. And even if these systems don’t screw up the poem, individual laptops, desktops, and handheld devices make adjustments to layout based on screen size and shape, as well as font preferences of the user.

I say to the poet (and all poets): “I’ve done the best I can. Now pray to the Gods of the Internet that they look favorably upon your poem.”

Since the internet has become the dominant medium for poetry (Vox Populi gets as many as 170,000 hits a day), many poets are evolving a style which is internet-friendly. I tell the poet that she might take a look at the layout of Jose Padua’s poems on Vox Populi. The poems are flush-left with short lines and no stanza breaks — perfect for website publication. Here’s one of my favorites:

American Sadness

Of all the sadness in the world
there is nothing that can compare
with American sadness. When
America is sad the whole world
weeps. Whenever one American
is sad, at least two non-Americans
somewhere else in the world consider
the possibility of ending it all. When
a hundred Americans are sad, wars
are fought in faraway lands for
the great purpose of making these
hundred Americans happy again.
When a million Americans are sad,
every flag in America droops, then
slides an inch and then another inch
down the flag pole and nothing can
stop this descent until bold, confident
smiles return to these Americans’ faces.
American sadness, let’s make it clear,
is exceptional. Unlike what you may
have heard, it doesn’t always talk
softly, but it always carries a big stick
because no one is sad the way an
American is sad. No one drags his feet
through the dullness of a day, or
walks with her eyes looking downward
quite as sadly as an American who
feels sad because America is losing
a battle, coming in second, or washing
ashore with empty pockets and bad breath.
American sadness, of course, is the greatest
sadness in the world—do not look it
in the eye unless your intention is
to make amends. Do not settle for a
knowing grin, or a sliding into place
of the proper order of thought or things.
Work hard, do your best, and fight
whenever a fist is called for, or a bomb
needs to be dropped upon a civilian population
whose greatest misfortune is not being American.
But above all, keep American sadness at bay
like a ship that wrecks off shore through
instability or from fault of navigation.
Let’s remember to keep America happy.
Let’s keep America entertained.

.
Another option for poets in the Age of Information is to forgo the whole apparatus of line-breaks, stanza divides, white space…  and instead adopt the appearance of prose, albeit a compact lyrical prose that uses sentence rhythms, quirky attitudes, and quick turns of thought to create poetry. Here, for example, is the opening to a wonderful Vox Populi essay by the poet Adrian Blevins called “An Ode to the Erection.”
.

I sing, for my daughter, of shanks and shafts and the endearing contrast between the mind’s affairs and the body’s undiscriminating inclinations.

This is a midget and perhaps very foolish ode, I kid you not, to the erection. I’m writing it for my baby girl, who’s just now taking an afternoon nap inside her exemplary body on the big bed she was born in. I take on the expedition, too, for her friend Charlotte, who just turned 2 in April, and for the companions the both of them will have in the years to come.

I was myself a doe in the headlights when it came to sex. I was a grasshopper on the windshield of a Dodge Durango. I was a wee strawberry below the steel-toed boots of some mean-assed fisherman. My parents did sit me down for “the talk” when I was about 11, and my father, a painter, even got out his paper and his pencils. But what my parents covered that afternoon was menstruation and ovulation. And while there is nothing wrong with menstruation and ovulation, it was erections that dumbfounded me, erections that were the trump cards in the deck.

Thus I take them out here and lay them — ace of spades, of hearts, of clubs and of diamonds — on the table….
.

For many years, I ran Autumn House Press, a boutique poetry publisher of beautiful books and chapbooks for discerning readers who love the look and feel, and yes, the smell of books. I’m still passionate about the printed page and will never stop reading books, but I’m also a realist who’s aware of the enormous changes brought about by technology. Just as ancient poets had to deal with the evolution from oral to written language (boy, that must have pissed off a lot of old poets who’d spent their lives perfecting their memories!), and late twentieth century poets had to adjust to changes in the technology of printing and the rise of mega-publishers and big-box bookstores, so the current generation has to learn to use the internet. Everything changes, folks, get used to it.

The internet offers a cheap and efficient way for poets to reach millions of readers and listeners. So far there are no censors and very few laws stopping us. Seventy years ago, we (that is, poets) snubbed our collective noses at the opportunity to bring poetry to the people through television. Let’s don’t blow it this time. As the business consultants say, “There are no problems, only opportunities.”

Of course, some poets are more than a little exasperated when I say that they might consider changing their style to be more internet-friendly. After all, the ancient craft of poetry takes years of practice to learn. Turn, counter-turn, leap, and pause are intrinsic to a poem’s aesthetic experience. But, hey, the internet doesn’t care. The Muses are alive and well, but Apollo with his lyre doesn’t rule here. Nor gray-haired bright-eyed Athena with her wise counsel. Rather Hermes, God of Messengers, Travelers, and Thieves, interested only in getting the message delivered quickly, dominates the Age of Information. Let’s make sure the message includes poetry.


Copyright 2016 Michael Simms

Hermes.jpg

Hermes, God of Messengers, Travelers, and Thieves (image from Wikia)

62 comments on “Michael Simms: A Note from the Editor on the Vagaries of Publishing Poetry on the Internet

  1. Pingback: A Note on the Vagaries of Publishing Poetry on the Internet – mitzyonherlaptop

  2. Pingback: Michael Simms: A Note from the Editor on the Vagaries of Publishing Poetry on the Internet – I, James Laurie

  3. gospelisosceles
    February 11, 2016

    Where can I find more of Adrian Blevins’ work? Blog? Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ashlie Estle
    February 11, 2016

    Check out my blog!!! Any advice is appreciated!
    https://ournewbeginning.wordpress.com/

    Liked by 1 person

  5. depressionsuxblogger
    February 11, 2016

    So true, Michael, but what occurs to me is your attitude as I read the comments. I love books. I love poetry. But change is the only constant, so we must embrace it. I enjoyed following the comments and watching how open you were to learning from Josephine. Better things ahead.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      February 11, 2016

      Thanks for your generous response! One of the good things about my posting this essay has been people like Josephine offering suggestions for improving my online editing skills. Her techniques don’t solve all the problems with formatting poetry, but they solve many of them. Onwards!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: A Note on the Vagaries of Publishing Poetry on the Internet – LIFE KICKS

  7. kbstblog
    February 10, 2016

    Reading this made me realize how much I didn’t know about the writers of the Internet. I am curious to know more and be a part of this writing world.
    Although I am not a brilliant writer I absolutely love poetry.
    I have just started a blog recently and I am still debating if I should post some of my poems or not. Any advice?

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Pingback: Michael Simms: A Note from the Editor on the Vagaries of Publishing Poetry on the Internet – Stuff Inside Books

  9. Pingback: A Note on the Vagaries of Publishing Poetry on the Internet – ~*~tightlines and sunshine~*~

  10. Dean Kutzler
    February 10, 2016

    Maybe I am missing the point, but have you ever thought of using PDFs to post the poems, so in which the manner the poet has written them stays true?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      February 10, 2016

      A good point, Dean, and we have used pdf’s in the past, but they come with their own set of issues.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Christy Anna Beguins
        February 11, 2016

        I’ve seen Poetry Magazine often publish poems (typically older or long ago published pieces) as .jpgs / photo files. Could you grab a screenshot of more complex or intricate pieces and share as photos? Just an idea.

        I definitely agree with Josephine that the html editor is the best way to go. The two most helpful html tools to me are the ones to “insert line break” and to “insert single space.”

        This article has been a godsend to me; I’ve bookmarked it and find myself going back to it whenever I need to remember how to insert white space:

        http://m.wikihow.com/Insert-Spaces-in-HTML

        Thanks for an interesting article,
        Christy

        Liked by 2 people

  11. hermesssaglaea
    February 10, 2016

    I liked the post, but didn’t like a poem… back to Shakespeare… Ahhhh

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Rajat Pradhan
    February 10, 2016

    Nice post, also liked the American sadness poem.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Pingback: A Note on the Vagaries of Publishing Poetry on the Internet | jnejatayubandung

  14. Pingback: A Note on the Vagaries of Publishing Poetry on the Internet – fizyblog

  15. A Campbell
    February 10, 2016

    Very good perspective. Notes taken.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Pingback: A Note on the Vagaries of Publishing Poetry on the Internet | tripleactionblog

  17. Pingback: A Note on the Vagaries of Publishing Poetry on the Internet | benapolebd

  18. walt walker
    February 9, 2016

    I like that poem about American Sadness. It smells like teen spirit.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Pingback: A Note on the Vagaries of Publishing Poetry on the Internet – SmartMobileGear

  20. Drunk Off Rhetoric
    February 9, 2016

    Very well put! I write prose more than poetry but often find myself annoyed by how much I have to chop and edit my work to appeal to hasty internet users (I know I can be one of them too!). This definitely gives me a lot to think about and puts it a bit more in perspective.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Pingback: A Note on the Vagaries of Publishing Poetry on the Internet – kafeihaus

  22. bookforces
    February 9, 2016

    Reblogged this on bookworm and commented:
    excellent write up about the challenges faces by a website / blog

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Pingback: A Note on the Vagaries of Publishing Poetry on the Internet – chopipilipil

  24. cmblackwood
    February 9, 2016

    Nice post. And yes — I’m one of those readers who loves the “look, feel, and smell of books.” I hate Kindles. I hate reading online. But I do my best! And this post sort of hit home, since I’ve been excavating and posting some of my old poetry lately.
    Thanks for sharing!🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    • robert okaji
      February 9, 2016

      A former bookseller, I, too, love printed matter. But I’ve accepted that my preferences are no longer the norm, so I’ve adapted. I have a Kindle, but use it to read “disposable” books, not those I’ll keep and cherish, but those I read simply for entertainment, or when I’m too impatient to wait or find a book on something I’m interested in. But I never try to read poetry on the Kindle. Can’t do it.

      Liked by 4 people

      • cmblackwood
        February 10, 2016

        Hey, I hear you on that one! Looking forward to more of your material, Robert. All my best.🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  25. jphvargas
    February 9, 2016

    Editing requires a sobering amount of tact and brilliance. Poetry, for me, is the most difficult medium of expression. So much can be said with one word. Thank you for your ellucidating article.

    Liked by 4 people

  26. Pingback: A Note on the Vagaries of Publishing Poetry on the Internet | Write On! Poinciana

  27. tmezpoetry
    February 9, 2016

    You poor thing🙂 Hats off to editors!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Vox Populi
      February 9, 2016

      Thanks, but I really love publishing poetry. This old dog just has to learn the tricks of using the new media…

      Liked by 3 people

  28. jdoublep
    February 9, 2016

    One for the reference books. Thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

  29. harryzenz
    February 9, 2016

    Thank you for sharing the poem about the sadness of America. Maybe it should have been about the madness of America.

    Nowadays a nonsense book like Finnegans Wake would almost write itself. Just leave it to the idiosyncratic spellchecker.

    Liked by 2 people

  30. robert okaji
    February 9, 2016

    I now use less “space” on the page than I used to, for this very reason. Most of my publications appear on the web, so I’ve adapted to the medium, even for the pieces I post on my own blog.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Vox Populi
      February 9, 2016

      Robert, I love your poems. Obviously, you’ve adapted your style brilliantly to the internet.

      Liked by 1 person

      • robert okaji
        February 9, 2016

        Thank you, Michael. I still enjoy working with space on the page, but when formatting is potentially an issue, I don’t send the piece to online journals.

        Liked by 1 person

  31. M. Dympna
    February 9, 2016

    Some great advice here! I generally write short poems, no longer than 4/5 lines usually, which I find is easy to digest online.

    Liked by 2 people

  32. Pingback: Michael Simms: A Note from the Editor on the Vagaries of Publishing Poetry on the Internet | polin bach

  33. Josephine Corcoran
    February 9, 2016

    Hi Michael, I edit a poetry site and I’m unaware of any changes in formatting happening once I’ve edited the piece with the correct code (as guided by WordPress). “And even if the formatting holds on the website, each server and social network may make arbitrary changes.” – your statement really surprises me! No poet has ever contacted me to say the layout isn’t as they wanted. I’d love some clarification from you or Ben Huberman about this. Thanks for the opportunity to think about poetry and its presentation on the internet. I’d be sorry to see EVERY poem without stanza breaks and flushed left! – Josephine

    Liked by 2 people

    • Vox Populi
      February 9, 2016

      Hi Josephine. Have you ever published a projective verse poem that uses a lot of white space with broken lines all over the page? Many poets use this form, as well as many well-known modern poets such as Charles Olson. The Black Mountain School used this technique often. One of my favorite contemporary poets, Laure-Ann Vosselaar, is one of many who have been experimenting with using the middle of the page with the lines. The layout of these poems is not internet-friendly, and the form can get scrambled.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Josephine Corcoran
        February 10, 2016

        Hi Michael, Andrew McMillan (winner of this year’s Guardian First Book Prize and the 2015 FentonAldeburgh First Collection Prize for his collection ‘Physical’ published by Cape) uses white space as punctuation and uses jagged lines, etc and sent me work in 2012 https://andotherpoems.wordpress.com/2012/10/02/andrew-mcmillan/ As far as I’m aware nobody has difficulty reading it. There are others on the site who also work this way. Perhaps all my readers and writers are too polite to tell me the formatting has gone awry! Thanks for getting back to me. – Josephine

        Like

  34. pranabaxom
    February 9, 2016

    This article is an eye opener.

    Liked by 3 people

  35. Mary Tang
    February 9, 2016

    A cautionary tale.

    Liked by 2 people

  36. daniel r. cobb
    February 8, 2016

    As a child trapped indoors during Washington state’s gray, wet winters, I was reborn whenever the next book in that winter’s series arrived in the mail. It was always a thrill to escape my indoor confines with a new kid-thriller. And the feel, the weight, the sound of pages, the smell, all made it such a sensual experience. Publishing is a noble art form, that, it seems, is slowly perishing. Things have changed. But not all for the bad. I can still buy the hardcopy if I want. And online publishing can make each read fresh and often more compelling for it’s immediacy. Vox Populi brings immediate life to the pulse of ideas we share. A bump in the road now and then is to be expected, given all the work that goes into this wonderful and essential endeavor.

    Liked by 2 people

  37. bujonswords
    February 6, 2016

    Eloquently put. Thanks for sharing the beautiful examples as well. It’s nice to see artists (yes poets) challenging the way out work is imbibed. Using images instead of text can be a sweet way of maintaining ones unique presentation as many online poets demonstrate with aplomb.

    Liked by 2 people

  38. Tricia Knoll
    February 6, 2016

    I mostly submit poetry to online journals for exactly the accessibility. Ditto use of twitter for haiku…so much easier than submitting to haiku journals.

    Liked by 1 person

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