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Song of Myself(-Publishing): Let People Poems?

Let People Poems is a Wordpress blog dedicated to social self-publishing. It refers to itself as “a community of contributors” and declares itself to be “a level playing field.”  There are no editors, and the site describes its rules as follows:

-No contributor’s notes following your post.
-Put your name next to the title of the poem; this allows for easier archive perusal.
-Follow the steps for contribution – don’t email us the poem! We’re here to let YOU poem, not to poem FOR you! Also, seriously, you have to have a WordPress account. Otherwise, it’s impossible to let you poem.
-No double-posting – this allows a variety of content to form. That just means if you still have the latest post, you can’t post again. If you’ve waited a week and you’re still the latest post, you gotta wait some more. If you’ve posted, then someone else posts after you within the hour, you’re free to post again – but let’s still be considerate of others!
-Not a rule, but a suggestion: comments are enabled for a reason, and it is that we are a community. Discussion and feedback in posts are encouraged.

As they say in their masthead, “The lack of contributor’s notes and submission windows place the emphasis on content. These are not new concepts, but they are good ones.” A big, albeit not explicitly stated, concept seems to be that this venue is free from traditional cultural gatekeeping insofar as the only requirement for publication is the possession of a WordPress account and a computer with an internet connection.

The encouragement of comments sort of posits that the coercive force of potential mockery (or praise) might promote quality content in much the same way that editorial gatekeeping does.

The system of journals and book publishers of poetry can feel like an exclusionary, quasi-Masonic society to poets who are operating in the wilderness. When you send your stuff to one of these organizations, odds are good that you’re going to get a pre-printed form rejection three to ten months later that will provide no clue as to what anyone actually thought of your work. If you put something up on Let People Poems, it may be savaged by the seemingly omnipresent internet troll or it may get ignored and you’ll know it’s being ignored because you’ll see other pieces getting comments. This is a different kind of suffering than the silent treatment sometimes afforded by more conventional publishing formats. So too is the praise afforded by Let People Poems different than the praise and prestige afforded by established forums.

The day I visited Let People Poems, the poem on the first page that had the most comments—five—happened to be a piece called “Kitchell Park” by C W Kelly. These comments were: “ewwww,” “Needs more metaphors,” “i loved it. this guy named mason’s sippin haterade,” “this is pretty good i think,” and “it’s probably not clear that i found this to be a really cool place.”

Is Let People Poems a really cool place? Is it working? What is it doing?

Side note: Thanks to Stephen Burt for responding to my previous post and helping to explain the provenance of Ferry's adaptation of Rilke. As much as I love these Harriet exchanges, I do wish we had a little more space to elaborate and clarify. And speaking of clarifying, in response to Burt's statement that "[I.A.] Richards, like Rooney, found that his students preferred less canonical, less complex, less critically admired poems to more complex or more critically admired ones; unlike Rooney, he thought those preferences were clearly a problem, and tried to change English education so as to fix them," I feel obliged to say that I DO regard my students' preference for less complex poems to be something that I need to, and that I do, address as an educator. While I resist the idea that a more complex poem is intrinsically better than a less complex one, I don't think there's any question that readers' preferences track their comfort levels; one of our major goals in every class is to become adept at productively reading work that seems difficult, or inaccessible, or just plain weird.

Originally Published: April 5th, 2012

Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a publisher of literary work in hybrid genres, and a founding member of Poems While You Wait, a team of poets and their typewriters who compose commissioned poetry on demand. She teaches English and creative writing at DePaul University and is...