Round table leader

Moshe Bennaroch, poet and contributing-editor at Ygdrasil

Round table participants:

Karen Alkaly-Gut
Janet Buck
Klaus Gerken
Maryann Hazen
Kucinta Setia

Participants' Biographies and recommended links


Perihelion's round table discussions were developed to stimulate an ongoing discussion about Internet poetry publishing.

Do use our bbs to participate and help provide the focus for future discussions.

Is There A WebPoetry?

   An email assisted round table discussion
   hosted by Moshe Benarroch

Poetry is an experience. It is not only a reading experience, or, as the universities might like to think, texts to analyze. I believe the best poems create emotional, intellectual, and even physical responses in their readers. The experience can vary depending on how the poem is presented to the reader. It is one thing to read a Bukowski poem, another to hear his voice from a cd, or see him in a video, quite another to have had the chance to see him live. Sometimes, poems speak best to me in their printed forms, other poems work best in a public reading; sometimes one form of presentation can enhance and compliment the other.

I have been on the Internet for just a bit longer than a year. But I immediately felt that something new and different happens on the web. Moving along links from another site, you can find a poem suddenly in front of you that can touch you intimately. This is different from buying a magazine, or going to a reading. In terms of Eastern philosophy and the concepts of yin and yang - where these dualities are in a constant state of flux - surfing the net can be called Yin, or a passive experience, actually reading a poem becomes dynamic, or Yang.

On the Internet, I found myself reading more poetry than I had in years. The Internet was so much easier to use than ordering books from the States, waiting for them to arrive via air mail, or prevailing upon friends to find books and send them to me. Reading on the Internet in real time, I was encountering very new poems written by poets in the last year or so.

Before the advent of the Internet, it could take a famous poet twenty years to travel the world and build a global readership. Now, the poets participating in this round table - who come from all over the world - are poets I read for the first time on the web. Reading their work has become part of my daily life. All of them publish on many web sites, making it easy for me to follow them and their poems. I also discovered poets like Orhan Velli Kallick on the web, a Turkish poet who died in 1950, someone I probably never would have read unless his work was available on the web.

After you read this round table, I hope you'll use the links to travel the world wide web of poetry. Some days you may not find anything that reaches you, other days you may find the most important poems of your life.

The Questions:

1. Many poets agree that there are poems that succeed best read in public - are not necessarily written for the page. But do you perceive a difference between poetry written for print publication and web published poetry? Does web published poetry need to catch the eye more quickly?

Maryann: It has been my experience that poetry published on the web is not only more readily accessible, but reaches a far greater audience, in sheer number and variety, than in a print publication. However, I have also found that many people do not consider a piece "published" if it has only appeared electronically, they require the work to have appeared in a print edition. I think the issue is whether the piece has appeared in a reputable "Ezine" or simply posted in an area equal to a bulletin board. Whether it catches the eye or not is entirely up to the person who is looking. A person may walk around all day and not notice that the sky is clear, cloudless and brilliant blue unless they take the time to look up!

Karen: This is really a whole bunch of questions. And Maryann's response raises even more. I feel like a mosquito in a nudist colony - don't know where to begin. So I will concentrate on two issues. First I agree with Maryann that in practice poetry on the web is more accessible - and sometimes the effect of reading a strong immediate poem on the web is amazing - you go through all that incomprehensible data and then you suddenly encounter powerful human communication. It's just not like sitting down with a poetry book where there are codes of expectations. You don't know what and when something will hit you. But I also think we haven't even begun to explore the media of the web as a medium for poetry - poetry with links, options, sound, graphics, etc.

We are just learning about how to use that, how to make web poetry something unique that couldn't even exist on the page. Most of the web published poetry (at least my own) was originally written for the page-it will take a while for most poets before we incorporate the possibilities of the medium.

Janet: I think fresh images and accessible form are ground-rules for both mediums. Length, however, can be a problem on the internet, because of screen size. I find an initial reading of a poem on screen (if it's over 20 lines) to be a tracking challenge, because it's hard to bounce back and forth in the process of connecting with the poet. In other words, you don't get much more than one stanza in front of you at a time. The simple answer is to print out the piece, then read.

Kucinta: Yes, I agree that not all good poems are written for the page. They should be recited. There is no basic difference. The only variable that distinguishes both media of poetry is the connection fee, electricity fees if the poet is very poor and is not competent in computer-based literacy skills. It hampers appreciation and exposure to the panorama of poetry over the Net.Web-published poetry is sharp in the sense of the light reflected from the screen and any background pictures. Poetry on books seldom come with pictures unlike web-published poetry. They make reading dull sometimes.

Klaus: Per se I do not believe there is a difference. The difference is not the poetry, but the medium. Poetry printed on a page is perceived as somewhat distant from the reader, while poetry read on the web allows a reader a much greater intimacy. On the page, I perceive the poem much more as a concrete entity which stands apart from me, while on the web, I gain a sort of empathy with the thought itself. One thing I have found though, is that sometimes poetry which does not primarily work on the page seems to work on the net. Again this may only be due to perception. On the page I seem to perceive the poem as a complete entity, on the web, or even just the computer, I see much less of the complete poem, rather just a few lines which appear on the screen.

2. Do you read many poems on the Web? If so, Do you print the poems that you read on the web or do you read them online? Or if you do both, which poems do you print? Has poetry that you read on the Web influenced your writing?

Maryann: As poetry is truly a passion/hobby of mine, I read it every day. Depending on the quality and content of a poem determines whether I print it for future enjoyment or not, and that is something that is simply a personal preference for a particular type, style or author.

(Like Moshe and Janet's work which I keep an eye out for!) Some poetry is truly inspirational and a small phrase may spark a thought that would influence a piece of my own work. Since I write poetry of all types, from children's works to the erotic, again, this is something that is a personal preference. Maurice Sondek could be inspiring if I'm working on kid stuff or I may need something "heartier" to sink my teeth into to write a SciFi/Horror piece.

Janet: I'm embarrassed to say that I spend so much time writing that I rarely read poetry on the net, except to garner the flavor of a publication before I send them a submission.

Karen: I am not a creature of habit - don't tend to do anything regularly unless I have to - so while I have spent whole evenings going through 'zines to see what's new, I have also gone through weeks where I haven't looked at a single poem on the net. When I do read poems on the web, I usually prefer the effect of reading them on the screen - having it appear illuminated and in isolation before me. I suspect this is connected to the fact that I am dyslectic, and absolutely benefit by the large print and the focus of the screen. It's also somehow MORE universal on the screen than in a little book. But another thing I do is look up well-known poems I once read but haven't seen around lately, and refresh my memory. It's great doing a search for a line that suddenly got dredged up from somewhere in my unconscious and finding the whole poem in minutes. "Now as we were young and easyŠ." Then, after I've read the poem, I can switch to a game of solitaire and contemplate it - ecstasy!

Kucinta: Not many, utilities' concern and I am studying and working too. In Singapore, the longer you use the Internet for cultural purposes, you have to pay more. There are no fixed fees for subsequent usage of Internet. Internet servers are profit-minded. It is the same during financial crises, you pay more though the rate of payment falls. Because I am studying (studying English and English Literature with Open University of the UK) and working (as a librarian-editor), I don't get to browse detailedly other individual poets' web-sites though I would like to. Other occasions are that when I respond to their web-sites, I don't get replies. One primary reason is that I was stranger to them.

Sometimes if I can afford, I usually look for odes and Shabbat poems. I love especially odes written by Pablo Neruda, the Chilean poet (now demised). I don't get to read Sabbath poems written by other writers except Christian poems praising God. I especially like Moshe's poems because he uses Hebrew and English words on a continuum as if both dialects of different worlds are equal. His poems inspire me to pen Singlish poems, that is, poems made up of multi-languages like Hokkien, Hebrew, Malay, English words.

Yes, they definitely influence my writing but not to the sense of duplicating. It is against the copyright law to do that. When I am inspired, I don't lift texts from their poems. I believe good poems should be original, out from the heart and they should have beautiful structures. But that varies from context to context (mood to mood). There should be attribution to poets if I am inspired.

Klaus: Obviously, as an editor, I have to read a lot of poetry which is sent to me over the Internet. Most of the poems I read on screen, only printing poems which are fairly long. I still have a need to see the poem as a complete entity. As to reading a lot of poetry on the web, either through sites, or through newsgroups, I rarely do these days. I find there is just too much bad poetry out there to weed through. Although as a reader it is still the first line which is the most important, and I think this holds true even more on the web than on the page.

3. As a poet, I enjoy how quickly poems are often published on the internet, when they still feel very fresh to me, whereas print publication can take 6 months to a year, and by that time, I feel more distance from my work. Do you make these distinctions, or any others, between print and Internet publishing?

Maryann: I enjoy how quickly works are published on the internet too and it takes some serious juggling with my records to keep everything straight from month to month. It's very nice to have my coffee in the morning while I open my Email to see if I have been accepted in any magazines on the web. It's also fun to send a submission out snail mail, and then four months later, get a response! Oh yeah!! I forgot all about that!

Karen: Does anybody revise AFTER the poem has appeared on the Web? Sometimes I read a poem I put on the web last week and think, "Oh, it was too soonŠ I should have thought about it a little more. The temptation for immediate gratification is very great for me - but I think I'd the like opportunity to workshop my own stuff more on the web. I don't mean just asking for feedback, but actually working back and forth on individual words. Now someone is going to say that lots of people workshop on the web and where have I been all these years -- playing solitaire?

Maryann's reactions are incredibly familiar to me, in any case - that wonderful morning news! The situation is intensified for me by the fact that I have been writing poetry in English in Israel for the last 25 years and - since there are almost no publications in English in Israel - trying to publish abroad - a very expensive and time-consuming affair. The web just cuts through the cultural and spatial distances and says: take the words as they are. Net.

Janet: I love the "instant gratification" of the internet. I can send off a poem and get it published within a matter of days. I think this element has been a booster shot to my writing career, since I've have a very dry well in the arena of patience. I do like being able to read something I've written before I've had the distance and come to the conclusion that I could have written something better:-).

Kucinta: I think both media act in the same way. If multiplicative power is greater for both media and there are many poets supporting them y contributing poems, there are bound to be delays. Some editors may choose to pick famous poets, rather than giving chances to unpublished and very young poets or writers. This is the case in Singapore's Mandarin newspaper, Lianhe Zaobao. Its Literature City column has poems only from poets who have published their anthologies and been promoted by influential groups. Unheard-of poets who are talented are ignored. Talents who can be the next John Keats and Heine are wasted.

Klaus: The Internet is revolutionary in that it allows the poet to reach a very large audience not available before. It also allows poets to regain control of their poems. I always liken it to how poems were published in Medieval times, where a poet had the manuscript copied and it was thus passed from hand to hand. It's a very exciting time indeed, for the poet as well as the reader. Unfortunately at the moment is still too pervasive, but that may well change with time. All in all I like what's happening to poetry on the web. Ever since TS Eliot poetry became the exclusive property of the universities; the Internet has changed that. I think for the better.

4. Do you think poetic standards have changed within the Internet poetry community over the past year? If so in what ways?

Maryann: There has been a most definite change, and in my opinion - upgrade, of poetry standards with the poetic community recently. I have found the competition to be tougher, there are so many new poets emerging and accessing the web. With such an influx of new, raw material the guidelines/deadlines are becoming far more strict. This should not by any means be a deterrent to new authors, but looked at as a tool to help polish the piece till it shines so bright, it HAS to be accepted!

Karen: Sorry, I don't know about standards - I know I like what I've been reading recently. And I agree with Maryann that the higher the standards the more it induces poets to put out their best work.

Janet: Don't know exactly. I do know that many magazines that I was instantly embraced by a year ago are now harder to get into, which tells me the standards are going up.

Kucinta: What are the standards? I can't comment unless in relation to certain poetry genres. Also varies form culture to culture. Klaus: Standards have changed. Not so much that the poetry has gotten better, but because certain poetry journals (like Ygdrasil) are now seen as "legitimate" publications, and therefore have attracted the more serious poets to the Internet, who otherwise might not have considered using the Internet as a medium for publication.

5. How do you feel about Internet magazines wanting first rights to your work, as many print publications require, or of asking to view work exclusively? Do you cross-publish your work (the same poem in many ezines)? Do you give attribution to an ezine when you subsequently publish that work in another place?

Maryann: I have found no reason why I would object to an Internet magazine requiring first rights to my work. I also submit so many pieces of work in a week that it is quite possible that some of them may appear simultaneously, in which case, I notify the editor immediately. However, it is my practice to make certain that if a magazine specifically states that it will not publish simultaneously, to only send them pieces that are not currently being submitted elsewhere. Again, a lot of serious record juggling is required to keep it all straight. I would also never submit a piece without indicating its previous publications, if any. There are some print publications that do not consider electronic publications to be "previously published" and so this is not an issue (pardon the pun!) to them, however, I have had pieces returned on occasion from print magazines specifically because they did appear on the Internet.

Karen: If 'rights' mean the journal should be acknowledged, then fine. Publication should be acknowledged. And I always note where poems have appeared (if I remember them and have kept proper records) But I think we all agree that we own the rights to our poems and can publish them wherever we want. Which raises another issue for me - payment. Do any web 'zines pay? Rights, I think, should be linked to remuneration.

Janet: If they pay, they have a right to the first rights. If they don't, they don't. I keep copious submission records and respect the "no simultaneous submission policy," but I think it's rather inappropriate that many magazines take three months to decide whether they want a poem or not. The internet and e-mail are, however, making a dent in the problem. Turn around time is a lot faster. It's understandable that a magazine would want exclusive rights, but I think they should buy them.

Kucinta: There is bound to be discrimination for the powerful over the less matured poets. Any mature poets, not for poetry to say.

Klaus: Obviously if Internet Poetry magazines are to be "legitimate" publications they will have to follow the rules of print publications. One has to realize that if poets publish a poem in various venues, then a magazine's worth goes down the drain. Magazines build their reputation on exclusive rights to a work. The work is readily available somewhere else, then why should the reader go to the magazine? Ygdrasil has, though made exception to this rule, when the poem merited it, and it is not co-published in the same time period. One poem we published only because the publication was very local and the poem had been published many months before. As a poet, these days I publish exclusively only on the Ygdrasil site. When younger publishing in small journals was a way to get known, and also some satisfaction that one's poetry was good enough to be published. These days, satisfaction is in the writing of a poem, not the satisfaction of being published.

6. Have you participated in any group poetry projects on the Internet - either workshops or writing projects? Can you describe them and the impact they've had on your work?

Maryann: I have an upcoming appearance on a local TV program ("The Helen Weiner Show") in October, in which I will be discussing and reading some of my work. I'm kinda nervous about that, but it'll be a lot of fun. I have been a Poetry Place Chat Room participant for well over a year now and have made many new friends and contacts while enjoying the company of some very fine poets. Their encouragement and support have been a true inspiration to my continued writing. The poets that I have met through Poets Place, Poetspire, Poetry Cafe, EWG Presents, The Writers Club... I could go on and on... have helped me to know the difference between good poetry and excellent poetry. They have taught me to use any rejection as a device to better my craft, which, by-the- way, makes the acceptance letters all that much sweeter!

Karen: I don't think I've done anything like that-but as I've said, it would be fascinating. I'd love to see a graphics display of a work-shopped poem - a poem that evolves on the screen as the participates give advice, changing physically as you watch it. I also do a lot of work on stage, with music, with art, and would love to try it on the web. But I'm too lazy to figure out how to do it.

Janet: I've worked closely with editors and found many of them both helpful and accessible, but I haven't done workshops.

Kucinta: Such activities in Singapore are very weak. I have almost no time.

Klaus: In the early 90's I ran a poetry conference and later newsgroup which allowed for great interaction. We collaborated not so much on poems (although Pedro Sena and myself wrote several poem sequences together), but plays, where each character was represented by a different person. The interesting thing about this was that one never knew where the play would end up. Some very interesting plays were created that way. Obviously, there were also a lot of discussion about the nature of poetry itself. I find, though, that the old style poetry conferences were much more suited to discussion than newsgroups. Newsgroups seem to be more live bulletin boards where one posts something. That is why I welcome these type round table discussions. They at least give the poet back a voice.

7. If there was one thing you could ask Internet publishers to do for you as a poet, what would it be?

Maryann: I would have to say that for the most part, Internet publishers seem to be well attuned to the needs of the authors they work with. If I had to ask them one thing, it would probably be to kindly remember to reject work, if necessary, with compassion. I think that poetry is a very personal form of writing, one that would lay bare a persons spirit. Or, on the other hand, that poetry may also be written just for the plain ol' fun of it and even if you can't publish it... just sit back and enjoy!

Karen: Up till now I've been very impressed with most of the editors I've been in touch with - except for one guy who suddenly closed his site with my book on it (unpublished elsewhere) and stole away into the night without even informing me, I have had incredibly good experiences with Internet publishers. And they seem to put an awful lot of work into their sites, and take the reading of their submissions really seriously. It seems to me that these publishers are doing a lot to promote the writing of good poetry in the world, and that means a lot!

Janet: Make the turn around time faster.

Kucinta: Publish hard-copies of my anthologies and distribute, sell them to readers. Poets should be rewarded like teachers.

Klaus: Obviously, being a publisher, I look at this from a somewhat different viewpoint. As a publisher I have always held quality above all. And each poem I read is read on its own merit. I should also state that one thing publishers loath to see are long lists of previous publications an author has published in. That is something that will never sway me towards a poet or a poem. I prefer to only have the poem before me and know as little about the poet as possible. As to rejecting poets; that is always an editors great dilemma. I read about two to three hundred poems a month of which only a few are quality poems. And I always try to provide some form of gentle critique for the poet. But sometimes it becomes very difficult, since many people have no concept what constitutes a real poem. As an editor I find the ignorance out there quite appalling. All the more joy when I receive poems of such excellence as I have from the poets participating in this forum. It says a lot for the future of poetry, not just on the Internet, but in the world.

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