I have been thinking about the nature of personal blogs, such as this one, in relation to the definition of "published." The topic has crossed my mind numerous times since starting this blog, primarily when I read the submission guidelines to various literary journals and realized that my poems were ineligible for consideration because I had posted them on the internet via this blog. Some journals define "published" as any posting to the internet. Others may refine that a bit by considering the poem "published" if there is no intention to make further substantive edits. Other journals simply state that a poem cannot be published in any other print or on-line journal or in another person's blog.
This issue was on my mind recently as I read the submission guidelines for a local poetry contest to which I would very much like to submit a poem. I have a poem the subject of which I think would be very appropriate for the contest given that the winning poem is posted on the door of the institution running the contest. The contest guidelines stipulate that the submitted poem cannot be under consideration elsewhere and it cannot have appeared on the internet. I already had submitted my poem to a journal for consideration, so it is ineligible for the contest on that basis, but I also had posted it on this blog. The contest deadline is a couple months away, so I still have time to receive a reply from the journal. But, in preparation for the possibility that the poem will not be accepted by the journal, I removed it from this blog. I "unpublished" it, if you will.
A second event focused my attention on this issue. The editor of a local journal posted a comment on the journal's facebook page reiterating the importance of reading and then adhering to submission guidelines, including not submitting works that had been published elsewhere, including on-line. The editor did note that posting of a poem to one's personal blog might not be considered published if substantial revisions were subsequently made. My response, and then responses to a subsequent question that I posed on my facebook page, produced an interesting view of the murkiness of the whole issue. I won't recount all the comments at this time (they may become the basis of an essay that will appear later). A few key points were raised:
1. Journals have the right to set their respective submission and acceptance guidelines.
2. Journals have an interest in protecting their content and one-time publication rights. After all, if readers can find the poem on-line on the poet's page, why acquire a copy of the journal?
3. The poem is the intellectual property of the poet, who has the right to distribute his or her work for comment and to share with others.
4. The personal blog can be simply another medium for sharing one's work with others, akin to reading aloud at a poetry event, handing out a paper copy of a poem, or sending a copy by e-mail to someone who has expressed interest. The difference, I will admit, between these other distribution formats and a personal blog, is that in the other instances people have made a conscious decision to hear the poet read or to ask for a copy. A personal blog on the internet can also be akin to a book on a shelf in a bookstore, across which someone stumbles.
5. Intent is key. What is the purpose of the blog? To make poems available for comment, even poems that in the poet's mind are in final or near final form? Is it a marketing tool by which the poet puts his or work out there for a publisher to find and perhaps express interest? Is it a means of storing poems digitally in a location that is backed up routinely and maintained by others? In other words, an alternative storage site should poet's harddrive crash, thumbdrives fail or get lost, and paper files get destroyed?
6. The entire issue is murky; boundaries between what is considered published and what is merely posted are fuzzy at best.
For now, I have removed from this site all poems that have not been published with the exception of a few that will definitely be revised prior to submission as well as a few that are not intended for publication. If you saw something here in the past that has since been removed and would like a copy, or if you are interested in reading my unpublished poems, please e-mail me at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.