Jessica has posted one of the most level-headed & straightforward defenses of self-publishing that I’ve read in ages. I hope it’s read by thousands of young poets, & taken to heart.
There’s one problem, however, which I think can be summed up in that single nasty word “professionalism.” (And here I speak only of the somewhat weird & self-contradictory professionalism of the academy, & its perhaps most zany wing the creative writing industry.) It is indisputable that almost every notable ground-breaking, innovative poet in the last 2 centuries at some point availed her- or himself of some combination of self-publication, paid publication, or coterie publication. And just to remind everyone, since we keep forgetting that very few poetic career paths resemble those of Elizabeth Bishop or Robert Lowell:
William Blake–need one go on? A list like this, however, carries precisely zero weight in the assesssment procedures – fellowships, grants, hirings, tenure – of the academic poetry industry. The implied logic goes something like this:
Edgar A. Poe
Emily Dickinson (what were the fascicles but the ultimate in author-controlled self-publication?)
William Carlos Williams
Sure, William Blake & Walt Whitman & Gertrude Stein published themselves, but that was back in the bad old days, before Poetry & Prairie Schooner & Fence arrived, journals which are so in touch with what is truly alive in contemporary letters that their editors are able – largely unerringly – to select the grain from the chaff, & thereby to confer professional legitimacy upon the poems they choose to publish. & the same goes for the small presses & university presses & trade publishers who collect said poems into new slim volumes of verse & publish them at their own expense.It's hard not to see the holes in this logic – that "their own expense" these days often amounts to "the take from the thousands of $25-a-pop contest entries"; that for most of its history since Tottel's Miscellany, poetry book publication has been largely a matter of the poet's knowing the editor or underwriting her or his own book; that basing an assessment of poetry, even implicitly, by its success in a "marketplace" (of ideas, of aesthetics, of whatever) is to buy in wholesale to a market logic that poetry implicitly and explicitly rejects.
But the illogic doesn't matter: so far as I can see, this is still the majoritarian logic within the academic poetry industry, & it accounts for much of the hand-wringing about self-publication & its variations that I see among my own MFA students & in the poetry world in general. I'm tempted to say, as Jessica does in several thousand words, "get over it, girl/boyfriend!, get out there and put your stuff into the world!" But I know that the rewards of self-publishing depend on the work itself, & the self-assurance of the self-publishing poet; it won't get you a job, & it won't get you tenure. (This assuming, of course, that you've got your heart set on settling down in academia on the basis of your poetry, rather than something else. Student from a few years back, on learning that Geoffrey Hill didn't teach poetry writing: "But what else does a poet do in the university?")
But what I meant to write about was my own short-lived venture into being a publisher, something called Diaeresis Press. Some six or seven years ago, a non-academic friend & I decided to launch a chapbook series, which we called "diaeresis," what turned out to be a wonderfully suggestive name the my friend Bill picked up from a bunch of printer-output garbage one day.
This was total DIY, samizdat-style chapbook-making. We did our own desktop typesetting, our own xeroxing (which involved lots of cutting & taping & many trips to Kinko's), and our own mailing. Publicity consisted mostly of posts to the Buffalo poetics listserv & word of mouth.
Over the course of two years, we published 7 chapbooks. For your bibliographies:
1: Hank Lazer, As It Is (1999)In retrospect I'm very proud of the press's output. Norman's Hineni was later incorporated into Powers (Spuyten Duyvil) and Eric's Space Between Magnets turned up as half of his wonderful The To Sound (Verse).
2: E.A. Miller, The Underbrush of Abundance (1999)
3: C.S. Giscombe, Two Sections from Practical Geography (1999)
4: Bill Burmeister, The Gunner’s Daughter (1999)
5: Norman Finkelstein, Hineni (TRACK, continued) (2001)
6: Eric Baus, The Space Between Magnets (2001)
7: Meredith Quartermain, Spatial Relations (2001)
[to be continued]