It's been a few months since attending my first ever AWP conference,
the yearly gathering of the Associated Writing Programs. Some old teachers
walked around, holding court, and I could see current MFA students,
many from my old cheap and unnamed graduate program,
picking up calls for papers from journal tables, and generally emasculating
themselves in front of the bigwigs. Networking á-go-go.
As a former creative writing student, I found it odd to be attending
an AWP years after getting such a terminal and luxurious degree, and
perhaps decades before I would take ever part in this conference as
a full-fledged, expenses-paid faculty member. But no matter. I attended
as a Web Fair Internetista, drinking cocktails in the corner conference
room where Web editors spent four days intermittently congratulating
ourselves on changing the publishing world, with a small and curious
cadre of onlookers passing by the door.
In my real life, I write technical articles for a medical newspaper
for oncologists. I delineate results from the latest cancer studies
presented at conferences, very much like AWP. What stands out in those
medical get-togethers, at least judging by the transcripts and tapes
I'm given, is that there always seems to be one year where the preclinical,
1, studies are presented, with little hoopla. These are what
researchers call dose-escalating trials, which see if patients respond
with side-effects or any marked toxicity. At the Web Fair, it was very
much the same thing: Web pages were shown on an overhead, no one's hair
fell out, no one developed neutropenic fever reading the latest Skanky
Possum. There may be even be marked improvement among
the sickest patients.
Well, almost. There was one panelist who advocated a "don't ask,
don't tell" policy regarding print and online crossover publication,
meaning if a poem appeared in a print journal, go ahead and put it online.
Just don't tell anyone. In medical conference terms, this would
be the quack who made unfound statements about colorectal cancer treatment.
At AWP, no one will die from any study, but this person was an entirely
horrible example of what online mags represent. We aren't an adjuvant
therapy, we aren't an add-on or a marketing tool. When I upload pages
to a server, as I said a few weeks later at the Big
Small Press Fest, I feel like frickin' Gutenberg.
We can only hope that in the future, bragging about getting paid twice
for a poem (a whopping fifty dollars when all was said and done) will
be kept to bulletin boards, private e-mails, and editorial pillow talk,
and not from a microphone in Palm Springs.
But there were many good sides to these airing of differences, without
grumpy commentary like mine. The views of online editors at AWP were
divided among those monomaniacally concerned about online publications'
legitimacy and, oddly, copyright, and a second group who were satisfied
with getting great work out to a larger audience. The former group's
backs bent slightly as they spoke of double-publishing and turning a
buck from a poemthe universal mark of a bush league writer, or
one who is insane.
The latter group, meanwhile, the quality-seekers, talked about hypertext
and how poems and stories will be affected by our reading on a screen.
I don't necessarily think this group, of which I would like to include
myself, are necessarily the torchbearers: There I was, supping with
editors of print journals, some of whom were plainly bored and going
through the motions, others merely seeing four issues a year as a job
to be done. I admire the missionary zeal of the Web Fair zealot. At
the same time, I covet the brandy-snifter ennui of the endowed
or tenured print journal editor.
Where La Petite Zine fell into all of this at the end of the
day, I dunno. I mean, I publish famous and semi-famous people haiku.
I did strut a bit, tooting my horn, showing off tables of contents.
After my click-through, one print editor came up to me and asked if
I do LPZ "just for myself." As if to imply that no one reads
LPZ, or the fact of this person's tangible, graspable book implied a
reader, no matter how unbent the spine. Back to square one. Or phase
1, whichever the case may be.
At next year's fair in New Orleans, I predict, the phase 3 trial results
will come in, and they will be encouraging. The drugs, or Web zines,
will be universally approvedFDA, AWP, NEA, all the same thing.
Everyone will take the magic pill of Web zines, and all of the machinations
observed in Palm Springs will seem quaint.
We are at a unique point of history, however, one where Internet mags
are equaling or, in some cases, surpassing the quality of print magazines,
and it will be interesting to see how next year's Web Fair participants
handle it, if at all. As for the drug, there will be generic versions,
super-duper versions, placebos, over-the-counter. And a hierarchy will
start to appear, if it hasn't already. One thing that will stand out
in my mind, though, as I flash my chest for beads on the streets of
New Orleans: We might actually miss the quacks when the party's over.
But I don't think the world of online publishing could ever be as pedigreed
or, frankly, as boring as the print world. That is one legacy I think
Web people will never be able to surpass.
I remember one day in high school when a couple girls from the Cool
People Table came round to eat lunch with me. I was utterly shocked.
Never mind that it was senior year, and half day with an abbreviated
lunch period, and the Cool People Table was already full of blondes
and muscled jocks. They sat next to me that day. The Web Fair,
at least to this editor, was the same thing. I never thought it would
happen again. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that "there is no history,
only biography." In New Orleans, history, and biography, may repeat
itself once more.