Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Poetry and the Internet


A recent visit to duotrope.com (an online database of publication outlets) revealed that there are at least 2000 journals actively publishing poetry today, nearly half of which are online journals. There are even poetry journals on YouTube and Twitter. A search for blogs about poetry turned up more than 3000 such blogs. And a statistical listing of 1000 of those blogs reported that the average one has 80 followers and several have in excess of 2000 followers.

That’s a lot of poetry, a lot of writing about poetry, and a lot of people reading about poetry.

And those numbers don’t tell the whole story either. I edit an online journal of poetry called Wild Goose Poetry Review. We have 250 subscriptions despite the fact that I tell people not to subscribe. I publish a new issue four times a year, but I post each poem individually so that readers can leave comments on single poems rather than on entire issues. As a result, when I put up a new issue, subscribers receive email notifications for each new poem and review. I encourage readers, instead of subscribing, to let me send them a single email when each new issue goes live. That way they only get 4 emails from the journal each year instead of 120+. There are 250 more people on that email list. So it’s safe to say that we have at least 500 regular readers.

But to understand just how many people read Wild Goose Poetry Review, you would need to know that the site averages 65 views and 15 visitors per day or about 25000 views by more than 7000 visitors per year. Of course, many of those are return visitors, but whether it’s 500 or 2500 distinct readers, that’s still a lot of time engaged with poetry.

All of these statistics lead one to wonder what this great quantity of interest in poetry on the internet means.

Firstly and most importantly, I think it shows just how much passion there is for poetry. Having done both, I can attest that it is much cheaper and easier to publish a poetry journal online than in print. The number of poetry journals has nearly doubled in the last few years not because the number of people interested in poetry has doubled (poetry book sales would contradict that idea), but because the number of people who can afford to publish a journal has greatly increased. Nevertheless, publishing a journal online still takes time, and the rapid increase of such journals is an indication of just how committed to poetry those who write, edit, and publish it are.

Secondly, the proliferation of poetry journals means that it is easier than ever for a poet to get published. Twice as many journals means twice as many poems, and with the encouragement that comes with almost any publication, more would-be poets will continue to write, submit, and presumably read poetry for a longer period of time. So, perhaps the number of people who maintain an interest in poetry will increase with the number of poets being published.

Online journals make it easier to get published not just in the sense of it being more likely, but also in the sense that the process of submission has become easier. Most journals, especially most online journals, accept submissions online, so there is no hassle with printing, stuffing envelopes, affixing stamps, and including SASEs for the return of unwanted manuscripts. Obviously, the online submission process is also cheaper. And the ease of electronic delivery to readers, editors, and poets means the process takes less time, so the turnaround time for submission-rejection-resubmission is shorter, and less discouraging, as well.

Thirdly, the increase in the number of people editing journals and submitting to journals means that there is even more diversity among the poetry getting published. At a recent conference I was on a panel with two other editors, and when we were asked what qualities we looked for in a successful submission, our answers were remarkably different, so much so between one of the other editors and myself that we seemed to give contradictory answers. Interestingly, despite that apparent difference in editorial preference, I have been published in his journal, and he has been published in mine. I wonder how many editors one would have to ask before getting the same answer.

Fourthly, internet publication makes it easier for a poem to be read. When a poem is published in an obscure 500-copy print journal from Montana, it will be read by the 500 people who subscribe to that journal. The poet has to hope that many of those 500 subscribers are libraries and that patrons of those libraries will read the journal and the poem. A poem published online is immediately accessible to anyone with internet access. It will be read by the 500 or so subscribers, many of whom will post links to it on their social media outlets, or email it to their friends, who may repeat the process. And, of course, anyone visiting the journal’s site or searching the internet for more work by the particular poet may see the poem for years to come.

Finally, for those learning about poetry or interested in developing their own poetic abilities, there is no longer any excuse for not reading a great deal of contemporary poetry. Students who used to rely on the “I don’t have enough money for a subscription” rationale can now find more poetry than they could ever possibly read for little or nothing online.

Of course, there are some unsettling consequences of the proliferation of poetry online as well. Many people are concerned that with more editors and more opportunities for publication, the quality of what is being published is significantly diluted. This may not be a significant concern long-term as the best poetry will find its way into the best anthologies and eventually into the classrooms and libraries where poetry outlives its author and any time-bound circumstances it grew out of. This, however, might be of little comfort to the poet who finds that with so much poetry available for free online, it is becoming increasingly difficult to actually sell a poem or even a book of poems.

Only one thing seems certain, for anyone interested in experiencing poetry, there has never before been so much of it available for so many at so little cost.


  1. Bravo!!!!! One never knows where a poem goes. I
    liken mine to Li Po the Chinese poet who wrote
    beside a stream, and after each poem was written,
    laid it on the flowing waters, watched it go on
    its way. ruth moose

  2. Very enlightening and interesting, Scott. I will share this with some who tell me they don't want to publish their work in online journals. I agree with you, with poetry online it will be around for years to come and read by far more people. Poetry is definitely alive a well.