The idea of a cyberspace poetry journal came close on the heels of several events. One was the rise in U.S. postal rates, causing me to stagger under the cost of submitting a manuscript. Then a jump in the cost of paper and photocopying turned my knees to water. Living in the paper-producing capital of America, I witnessed ever-growing patches of "harvested" (read: clear-cut) forest quilt the Cascade foothills while piles of wood pulp necessary for publishing vanished from the mill yards. These incidents were compounded by the ever-lengthening time between manuscript submission and publication, which, in the case of one of my pieces, was a record-breaking five years. The lot of the underpaid-if-paid-at-all poet had already become absurd when the final blow hit: the impending dismantling of the National Endowment for the Arts. It didn't take genius to see that literary publishing was a candidate for the endangered species list and that it was past time to explore new methods.
A cyberspace poetry journal would not only eliminate most of the processing and production time, but the problem of storage, shipping, and handling as well as all of the cost. The circulation of a typical poetry journal is somewhere between 100 and l500 subscribers while an electronic journal has a potential audience of 20 million world-wide. Meaning? Meaning that, among other things, a cyberspace journal is more accessible to the lay public than are traditional poetry journals. That's what I told my students in an on-going advanced poetry writing workshop I teach at the University of Washington. Offered through the University's extension program, this class is geared to students who already have a background (including MFA's) in poetry and is populated by literate, accomplished professionals. Which is to say that these people aren't banking on immediate gratification, but are hopeful of realizing something more immediate than the publication of a poem five years down the road.
The class jumped at the idea. I suggested that the cyberspace journal be called Switched-on Gutenberg--the title seemed a natural--and invited the students to offer their best writing. Then someone asked: why not open our publication up to new poems by the contemporary poets whose work we'd studied and read in class? The troops marshaled themselves. In less time than it takes to get rejected by a slick East Coast magazine, we arrived at a list of poets to whom to extend an invitation. Response to our request for submissions came within a week. Many submitted "the old-fashioned" way, but those who sent poems by E-mail had work accepted within hours. Though Jack Marshall responded via "snail mail," his work was accompanied by his usual quick wit: "a potential audience of 20 million is not chopped liver--that's a bit more than I had at my last reading."
We hope that you're as excited about perusing this Twenty-first Century journal as we are about bringing it to you. At the moment Switched-on Gutenberg is a bi-annual publication which imitates like-minded printed journals. It is expected, however, that the format will evolve with each new issue. The time period during which a particular issue continues to be posted will be half a year. After six months a new issue will be posted. The current poems will be removed from the "active area," but will still be accessible within an archive. Please feel free to make suggestions about possible new features or to criticize current ones.