If I ever needed proof that Coyote has a hand in the order of the universe, it came on the heels of my last post, where I extolled the joys of being in community on the Poetic Asides blog. Almost no sooner had I posted, than one of the regulars on the blog whose poems I had fairly frequently commented on and appreciated, announced that he was no longer going to post with regularity. Why, you ask?
It’s a simple answer, really, one that in truth I, too, have wrestled with. He was ready to send his poems to presses that as he put it, don’t want “previously published,” poems. Though the poets on the blog essentially self-publish (there’s no editorial selection process), many magazines and journals specifically spell out that posting on the web, however it’s done, counts as publishing. Even if they don’t, the ethical message is clear: if it’s published in any way to an audience other than yourself, a poem becomes “previously published” in that instant.
I recently faced the same dilemma this past September when I finally pushed myself to submit again to magazines and journals after—dare I say it—almost 18 years. It felt to me like most of my best recent work I had posted on the blog, and the magazines I targeted were clearly in the “no previously published” camp. I did have many poems to send out nonetheless, but I was disappointed not to be able to try my luck with some of my more recent work.
If I’m any proof, I’m sure most of us tinker with our “completed” poems every time we come back to them. I’d like to say that every edit makes a poem a different poem, a poem that in a sense, therefore, is “unpublished.” It’s true, but my conscience says “not true enough.” Change a word or line, and the poem’s origins are still recognizable.
At some point I imagine revision changes a poem enough that it becomes a new enough thing to become “unpublished” again, but where that point is for me, and for the editor of a magazine or journal I can’t say. I’m certain it’s a subjective and amorphous space, almost impossible to define.
The easy thing then, if you want to try your words in the realm of the small press, is to write and refrain from posting even to your own blog. Or write enough for both and all, something I admit I don’t have the time for since the day job is the one that pays the bills.