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Jumping the Poetic Hurdle (part 7): an interview with Rosanna Licari, editor Stylus Poetry Journal

In late December/early January I interviewed a number of people involved in the print publication of poetry, including Lyn Reeves (Pardalote Press), John Knight (Post Pressed), Tiggy Johnson (page seventeen) and Ralph Wessman (Famous Reporter) to discuss the state of poetry publication and distribution in Australia. This time round, I plan to talk with a number of people publishing exclusively online to get their response.

First up I spoke with Rosanna Licari, founding editor of Stylus Poetry Journal.

 

Why is it that poetry, an art that arguably best reflects the speed at which we absorb ideas, information and imagery, is being neglected by corporate publishing houses and distributors throughout Australia?

Publishing is an expenisve and specialised business that employs many people who have different roles, and there are huge costs associated with marketing and distribution. The big publishing houses say the market for poetry is relatively small. Put simply, poetry doesn’t make money whereas novels and cook books do.

Perhaps more formal poetry may be considered too high brow or inaccessible for mainstream readers and other forms, such as bush poetry, less worthy or even vulgar. In fact, an IT person, who shall remain nameless, said to me recently that poetry died 150 years ago!

 

As publisher and editor of Stylus Poetry Journal, you have embraced technology and publish exclusively online. Initially, what influenced your decision to publish the journal online and not in the more traditional print/hard copy format?

I initially began Stylus in order to offer an opportunity for emerging poets to publish poetry. It seemed near impossible to get into the big magazines (such as Heat, Quadrant, Hecate, Island, Meanjin, Southerly, Westerly and Overland) – so many fish, such a small pond. There are many talented and well-respected poets out there.

 

What role do you see online publications such as Stylus, playing in the future of poetry publication and distribution?

Publishing poetry online offers other benefits in that it solves the problem of distribution and there is more exposure for the poet on the Web.You can quickly see what other writers are producing creatively. The Web is a wonderful resource.

Furthermore, it is considerably cheaper to publish online compared to costs associated with print publishing. Editing is also easier. If there has been a mistake made e.g. a typo, it’s easily fixed. This cannot happen with print publishing.

Online poetry publications are being taken more seriously now. There has been resistance in the past perhaps because print publishing has been with us for quite a while and the new medium has been considered with suspicion. Let’s face it, anybody can put anything on the Web, so quality and credibility are issues.

It was the librarians who took the bull by the horns. The National Library of Australia (NLA) initially established PANDORA (Preserving and Accessing Networked Documentary Resources of Australia) in 1996. PANDORA, Australia ’s Web Archive www.pandora.nla.gov.au archives Australian online publications and web sites it considers significant and which has long-term research value. Stylus is included in this selective archive as well as other poetry ezines and this can only promote Australian poets and poetry. Presently a collaboration of ten partners contribute to PANDORA, Australia ‘s Web Archive and each institution has its own selection criteria.

Australian universities were also interested in databases that would service their teaching and research communities. During the eighties’ several universities had developed specialist literature databases and in 1999, they decided to pool these resources into a single web-based information service. AustLit is a collaboration between Australian universities, the National Library of Australia (NLA) and the Australian Research Council (ARC). Citations and information on library holdings make up the bulk of AustLit records, but a range of selected full text of both creative and critical works is available via AustLit from a variety of sources, these being PANDORA, SETIS, the Scholarly Electronic Text and Image Service at the University of Sydney, and finally, links to internet publications.

On a smaller scale, but in no way invaluable for poetry publication, was a breakthrough which occurred when UQP’s The Best Australian Poetry series, a prestigious annual print anthology, began to source online poetry from selected journals and these were published in The Best Australian Poetry 2007. Stylus was one of the online journals sourced, whereas before that only Australian print journals and newspapers were considered. (The series editors are Martin Duwell and Bronwyn Lea.)
The Best Australian Poetry 2007 was edited by John Tranter who is a true and early believer of the powers of the World Wide Web. In 1997 he founded the well-respected ezine, Jacket, and most poets I know would just salivate at the thought of being published in Jacket.

As well, Peter Rose, editor of Black Inc.’s The Best Australian Poems series which is another prestigious annual print anthology, considered poetry published online for The Best Australian Poems 2008.

John Tranter has been instrumental in pushing to get Australian poetry online. He was one of the parties reponsible for the APRIL (Australian Poetry Resources Internet Library) project. The aim of the project is to build a permanent library of resources on the Internet with the focus on Australian Poetry and so increasing circulation, reading and understanding of Australian poetry nationally and internationally. In fact, Tranter started in 2004 with a prototype website. Ulitmately, the APRIL project also wants to provide print-on-demand poetry books or collections of texts or anthologies. For more information readers can go to <http://april.edu.au/2home/home.shtml>

An area of online poetry which is still marginalised in some circles is New Media poetry which is the avant-garde of online poetry. A couple of New Media poets who have been on the radar for a while are Jayne Fenton-Keane in collaboration with David Keane, and Komninos Zervos. New web software is offering more opportunities to explore and experiment with poetry but in terms of Stylus pursuing this would involve a major overhaul and financial outlay so it is not something I am considering in the near future.

 

What is on the horizon for Stylus?

Stylus will continue to be produced quarterly. Last year I decided to publish haiku and its related forms only twice a year, that is, in January and July, after the haiku editor, Janice Bostok, decided to pursue her own projects. Duncan Richardson is currently in that role and Pat Prime is still Reviews editor.

What readers will see is more guest editors for the contemporary poetry section so that a variety of perspectives and styles can be viewed. It’s hoped this will happen once or twice a year.

The current issue of Stylus was guest-edited by Roland Leach, a fine Western Australian poet and the publisher of Sunline Press. Last year, QLD poet and translator, Simon Patton guest-edited an issue of contemporary Chinese poets (in translation), while another QLD poet, Jena Woodhouse guest-edited an issue of Australian women poets. The July 2009 issue will also be a special issue. But I’m going to keep that a surprise!

 

Check out the latest issue of Stylus Poetry Journal at www.styluspoetryjournal.com

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