I’ve promised pie filling today. Here it is in the form of a literary controversy which, like the pie plates, doesn’t appear to have gotten much light. The 2012 edition of Pushcart Prize anthology contains within its introduction by publisher Bill Henderson the following statements:
“I have long railed against the e-book and instant Internet publication as damaging to writers. Instant anything is dangerous — great writing takes time. You should long to be as good as John Milton and Reynolds Price, not just barf into the electronic void.”
I think very highly of the Pushcart Prizes. I believe that annual poetry anthologies are a vital means of getting poetry more widely read (beyond the walls of other poets’ bedrooms and academe.) They also serve as a kind of enormous flip book. A look through a decade’s worth of this kind of anthology gives the reader a sense the prevailing preoccupations and styles of American poetry during that period.
What I did not know, and what concerns me, is that the publisher of the Pushcart Prize anthology seems to be saying that literature published in electronic form is of lower quality, thus not considered for their prize and their publication. This has caused a great deal of concern among certain online literary magazines, some of whom have decided to no longer nominate for the Pushcart Prize.
Radius: from the Center to the Edge,an online literary magazine run by one of the most serious and dedicated editors it’s been my pleasure to know, has allowed its readers extraordinary insight into the effect of this controversy. Here is editor Victor Infante’s piece about his decision to continue to nominate. Infante approaches the issue from the place of the slam versus “literary” distinction, coming as he does—and so many poets continue to—from performance poetry.
I approach this issue from the place of print versus online formatting. I may be misreading Henderson’s words. He may have intended to speak only of personal blogs and internet sites on which anyone can post anything. These are not, in my opinion, literary magazines. I spent the better part of four years working with the online magazine, Drunken Boat. An online literary magazine has the same goals and standards and procedures as a print literary magazine. Dedicated editors and readers, who are generally themselves writers, volunteer their time to read hundreds (if not thousands) of submissions of poetry, fiction and nonfiction submitted via an online submissions manager. There is often a multilayered acceptance-rejection continuum as well as training by the top editors in the magazine’s aesthetic. Submissions which are rated highly by the readers are sent to the editor of that genre, who vets the work prior to its acceptance. Acceptance of work for online magazines now usually includes a contract, which outlines the rights of both writer and magazine.
There are several differences between print and online literary magazines:
- Online magazines cost far less to produce.
- Online magazines use far less natural resources.
- Online magazines can update content quickly.
- Online magazines are far more widely read.
- Online content remains accessible as long as the cost of the server is paid.
I’ve gotten to the point in my submissions practices where I prefer online publication for much of my work. There are a growing number of online literary magazines which publish what I consider to be some of the best work being written. Their editors are well-educated, smart, and very serious about what they publish. They go out of their way to use social media to promote the work in each issue. And then there are all the reasons I listed above.
If the Pushcart Prizes are given only to work published in print magazines, I’d appreciate their being clear about this bias. It’s their prerogative to exclude literature published in an online format. It’s also their responsibility to clarify their selection criteria.