Debating an Online Presence
There is a certain mystique, a romantic vision, surrounding the “process” of publication when it comes to literary journals. Visions of editors and staff members crowded around large tables covered with pasted mock-ups of the next issue, late night meetings in coffee shops arguing over content and editorial vision, the pressure of deadlines and rushing to meet promised delivery dates complete the scene. The vision is not a fantasy or an illusion. There are late night meetings, mock-ups, and arguments over content and editorial slant. But now there’s a new mode de l’emploi and it comes with mixed reactions. It’s HTML and it delivers the content 24/7, 365 days a year.
Editors Hurliman and Kunakemakorn offer the viewpoints of nineteen “well-known editors, poets, and fiction, nonfiction, and hypertext writers” on the politics of online publishing. Paula E. Geyth, in her article “The Literary Magazine, the Web, and the Changing of the Avant-Garde” discusses the role of literary magazines in the twentieth century as avant-garde art movements. Drawing on Surrealism, Dada, the Beats, and L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry, she notes that the literary journals arising out of these “movements” were often doomed to obscurity because their ephemeral nature and anti-institutional stances limited the acceptance (and purchase) by public libraries. Geyth believes that “. . . (J)ust as previous avant-garde magazines acted as bridges connecting the far-flung centers of literary and artistic movements, so are the avant-gardes of today connected by on-line, multilingual publications . . .” As in most of the essays in this book, Geyth believes e-publishing should not be viewed as competition for p-publishing, but instead as a compliment, another form of access to the written word. The invention of the zipper did not make the button obsolete—that kind of argument.
Much of the book is spent soothing the reader, letting us know everything is going to be all right, online publishing and print—everyone can get along in one happy poetic cloud. When not singing the praises of hypertext, the writers offer reasons why we, the reader, should view their literary journal online and they tell us of the trials and tribulations, the nail-biting behind the decision to “go online.” And, strangely enough, it works. Writers need to be told not to fear the Internet just as readers need to be told the work involved in creating an online literary journal is a difficult process and to move online is a gut-wrenching decision.
Among the literati, there is an inherent elitism which stems from the published one’s interpretation of the legitimacy of any publication. Most of the writers argue in favor of the Internet’s legitimacy. Discussing mainly the efficacy of poetry’s infusion onto the web, many contributors also have a bias because they sponsor, edit, or maintain a poetry journal online. This does not negate the writer’s legitimacy because, while they are unabashed in their own self-promotion, their experiences illustrate valid experiences in the transition to the Internet—from paper to HTML.
Marion Wrenn, editor of Painted Bride Quarterly, on PBQ Online:
PBQ Online helps chart the similarities between modernity and postmodernity. Flux, fluidity, and play are available online. The web site is a postmodern form in that it is constructed around technologies of simulation (web zines), virtual reality, fluidity, collage and the fizz of spectacle. On the other hand, the book (as object) suggests fixity and permanence, markers of modernism. The shift from page to webs signals an apparent shift from modernity to postmodernity. But as many theorists suggest, these categories overlap. This can be seen in PBQ’s new form. The web site is associated with the fleeting, the ephemeral and contingent—even its archive captures the 30-year history—even as our print annuals will document and make permanent the work of our web issues.
Our electronic transformation is a snapshot of a cultural form in a liminal moment. It is also a reflection of our culture at a particular historical moment. We are in the later stages of transition into a phase of “secondary orality” (Walter J. Ong’s term) from print culture.The residual traces and effects of typographic culture can be found here in a culture dominated by images.
The politics, purpose, and merit of online literary journals will be debated for years. WithoutCovers is a valuable resource, a personal discussion of the current “institutional, cultural, and financial pressures” which affect not just poetry’s online presence but all Internet content.