Across the Great Divide: Print/Online in 2015

One thing I’ve missed in the last run of poetry years is the thoughtful streak which was omnipresent in the Aughts. Critical commentary in poetry from about ’12 forward has been almost uniformly inane and frivolous. It is as if a script dictated that the Teens create a sense of entropy around what many of us accomplished intellectually in the Aughts. However, and conversely, I’ve been heartened by the success of some of my Aughts print ventures— not just my own books, but print journals I’ve been published in which have now become both sought after and collected. It has put me in mind to reevaluate what the print versus online debate of the late Aughts means over half a decade later— what conclusions seem to have been come to generally, what conclusions I’ve come to personally, where the parallels and the perpendiculars are, so to speak. I, for one, have by no means lost my appetite for print. To give up the tactility of print books, how social they are, perhaps even how sexy, would be a terrible deprivation. However, one can see on sites like Amazon, Barnes & Noble online, Biblio, and the like, that print poetry books in the marketplace are often manhandled in what looks to me like corrupt ways. Why it should be that, on Amazon, for example, print poetry books are primed to look like they sell in bushels when in fact, even a cursory knowledge of contemporary poetry will inform the wise that these are books which cannot sell at all, is that print books now have a vagabond air about them, of doing things in the world they shouldn’t do, and of upholding subterranean interests which make the books themselves evanescent but the games around them essential. In short, and again— print is corrupt (however tactile, social, and sexy) where online is more pure. Those who dare to have pure hearts around literature may be repulsed by the sleaze factor in print in 2015. On the other hand, authors like myself, who have a ravenous appetite still for print books, and to see our own print books succeed, just have to live with the turgid ambiguities around print now.

Online repositories like Internet Archive, YouBlisher, and Blogger do offer solid, purified reading experiences. Even more pertinently, for print in 2015 to succeed completely, it must, as an absolute imperative, be backed up online for it not to appear evanescent and insubstantial. Those poets of my generation who have opted for the hard-man (or woman) approach to sticking to print against online interests are now suffering terribly from a sense of awkwardness and neglect around their oeuvres. Ultimately, this is because it looks to me like, at the end of the day, print and online textuality, their respective positions, have balanced out to an uneasy, hotly contested 50/50 ratio of importance. Different cases create different ratios— novels, for example, will always (despite tablets and Nooks) tend to fare better in print, even as poetry more easily adapts to the Net. That delicate balance between print and online, riding the edge of it, is where I’m at in 2015. The late Aughts critical scenario often amounted to someone (sometimes me) pontificating on the new freedoms and privileges engendered by the Net and Net publishing. Seven or eight years down the line, the Net has become entrenched enough (despite Hollywood’s cornball insistence on partying like it’s 1959 when publishing comes up in scripts) that no one needs to pontificate about it anymore, especially when some of the biggest distribution circuits for print books (Amazon, B & N, E-Bay, Alibris, Biblio, etc) are online. No one can deal in books seriously in 2015 and be Net-illiterate. If anything, print stalwarts are now more defensive about the monstrous impact the Net has had on publishing in general, and in how they hope to back up what they offer online. For those with no way, or interest, in getting out of the jaggedness of the 50/50 ’15 ratio, all we can do, whether we choose to be pure or sexy, ethereal or tactile, accessible-but-distant or exclusive-but-intimate, is watch for the way the books from the Aughts forward form themselves as gestalt constructions over a long period, which they are starting to do in 2015. Books tend to have a will of their own, and will get their way in the end.