I have been working on a Special Collection for the UK Web Archive of UK-based online poetry journals and magazines. My own research at Goldsmiths, where I am completing the first year of a PhD, is concerned with contemporary poetic responses to the increasing ubiquity of the internet and networked culture. This project has been a fantastic opportunity to enrich my own understanding of digital poetry publishing in the UK and develop my research paradigm; I also hope my findings answer some questions regarding digital-only collection strategies for the Library’s on-going Non-Print Legal Deposit (NPLD) responsibilities. In this article I want to share some of my discoveries which will be included in the Special Collection.
The Next Generation of Poetry Journals
My research interests grew out of my experience with poetry communities which had emerged out of, and operated entirely within, digital spaces: participants used social media for networking, collaboration and promotion, taking advantage of cheap web hosting and free blog domains to publish zines and chapbooks. For a younger generation of digitally-native poets growing up in an era of cuts to arts funding (and perhaps less sentimental about print culture), the internet provides the easiest and cheapest method to publish, be read and to interact with other poets. It also provides a space for groups often excluded or underrepresented in print publishing. tender is an exceptional example of this latest generation of online journals; published quarterly as a highly-polished downloadable PDF file, it features a curated selection of original art, poetry, prose and interviews made exclusively by female-identified writers and artists.
Making a Break from Print Culture
Unlike print publishing - with its propensities for the risk-averse and the commercial - the effectively free status of online publishing encourages greater formal and thematic experimentalism. For Every Year, for example, is publishing an original piece of prose, poetry or “something else” for every year since 1400 – they have already made it to the year 1821 and show no signs of stopping anytime soon. Other thematically adventurous publications in the collection include Visual Verse, a zine based entirely around ekphrastic writing; and PracCrit, a journal which publishes original poems juxtaposed with essayistic responses from other poets. Many of these publications are - like much online activity - international in outlook, with contributors hailing from around the globe. The lack of a clear geographical home for certain journals opens up a number of problems regarding NPLD scope, which is limited to the preservation of UK publications.
The Changing Digital Landscape
Examining the brief history of online poetry also charts a broader history of internet publishing trends, as the infrastructure of online spaces evolves with each successive technological shift. The simplistic text and image sites of “Web 1.0” have been replaced with increasingly sophisticated interfaces and professional graphic design as internet culture comes of age (Footballpoetry).
Elsewhere, journals like Conversation Poetry are published via Issuu, a skeuomorphic digital publishing platform which mimics the physical properties of a print publication. Conversely – and perhaps more interestingly - journals such as Proof in the UK and The Claudius App in the US foreground the aesthetics of their own digitality. Through the utilisation of multimedia platforms like Java and Flash, these journals aim to make the experience of reading itself consonant with the interactive, dynamic nature of computational technology.
These too present some of the greatest challenges for the Web Archive moving forward, since even advanced web crawlers have limitations when archiving plugins and streaming media content (although new advances in archiving technology show promise). As part of the broader born-digital genre of e-literature, these new experiments mark a break with traditional “bookbound” forms, and may offer a glimpse of the future of literary arts. Look out for the collection on the Web Archive in the next few months.
By Joe McCarney, PhD Placement Student, Goldsmiths, University of London