Sunday, May 13, 2007

What about Gutenberg?

One of my poems appeared this week in an online journal. It looks fine; the "magazine" itself is neither better nor worse than the print outlets in which my poems more commonly appear; and the editors deserve thanks for their doubtlessly unremunerative devotion to the art. But for us sons and daughters of print, there is something oddly unsatisfying about e-journals and online publication. It seems so ephemeral and provisional. (No offense to that other magisterial symbol of our times, The Shit Creek Review.)

I know this is illogical of me. Scholars, fans of poetry, and potential biographers are not going into Widener, browsing through bound back volumes of the DeKalb Literary Arts Journal or Phoebe in the hope of finding a dimly remembered poem of mine. And yet. And yet. They could. Is the same going to be true of my latest electronic incarnation?

4 comments:

Nevid said...

With libraries going digital, tons of stuff is never going to be found by anyone, at least not the old way, by browsing the shelves. I'd get some stone tablets and start chiselling.

RHE said...

I like features like "Next Blog" in Blogspot and Stumble in Firefox, for their randomness: they are something like the equivalent of roaming library stacks, pulling an unindentifiable book off the shelves because I like the binding and seeing what I've landed. Of course, as slim as the chances are that the unknown book will be a long-forgotten volume of Henry James's short stories, they are better odds than that Next Blog will produce anything but a Portuguese teenager's bedroom musings. (Turns out, those are pretty much the same musings which emanate from the bedrooms of Des Moines and Provo.)

Caratacus said...

Pilgrim, everything is ephemeral. Ezines, print, the Great Globe itself. Like the shifting course of a creek, meandering from who knows which bubbling source of burst sewer main through who knows what wildernesses of sans-paddlitude to merge who knows where with the great heaving noxious noisome ocean of general sludge, drifting thence without so much even as a main verb. Or, to put the matter less allegorically: SCR does plan to bring out a Lulu'd or Cafe-pressed print version of the year's product early '08. OK, not the OUP, but something tangible to cling to, perhaps, amidst the mists of evaporating ephemera. Some of us Shelleyan types, though, find electronic publication all the more spiritual precisely because of its provisionality and apparent lack of physical presence.

RHE said...

That's always been the problem with Shelley, hasn't it? Most of us prefer roast beef and jam roly-poly with our sprouts. And most poets write in the hope their poems will outlast them--what Eluard call "le dur desir de durer."

At least they used to. Things may be different in this age of Every Man His Own Poet; and making the perdurable aesthetic object may not be what the online poet is really after. But those spurred by the traditional motives will feel some need and nostalgia for that traditional medium.