About ten years ago I was involved in a vigorous online discussion on the poetry magazine Iota’s website regarding the policy of most, if not all, poetry magazines requiring that any poems published in that magazine be ‘not previously published in any other magazine’. I was arguing that this was self defeating for the future of poets and various Editors responded by saying that purchasers wanted new material and their magazines would go under if that wasn’t the case.
This argument raised its head again in a recent edition of ‘South’ where a comment column made much the same points that I had been putting forward those years ago.
The main and most important point is that this policy severely restricts the opportunities for poets and poems to become well known. As both the columnist and I argue Poetry must be the only art form where a previous publication/exhibition/concert/cd means that it can never be realistically seen again. Can you imagine the situation where if the Beatles had been first heard on Radio Merseyside then no other radio station would play their music. Or David Hockney’s paintings had been shown in Harrogate so the Tate would not place them on display.
Who knows whether a truly great poem has been published in some obscure magazine with a circulation of dozens and lost forever. Why not have something like a ‘Top of the Pops’ where a good poem gets into national significance by being read in many magazines. Maybe the magazines would benefit as well due to their having a mix of new and previously published work.
The columnist makes the further points that aspiring poets only submit their best work to magazines with large circulations so cutting off the input to smaller magazines and also that ‘famous’ poets have little incentive to bother submitting to small magazines when, as a consequence, they will dramatically limit their audience by so doing.
One of the ironies of the columnist’s article is that underneath the piece is a statement from the magazine’s Editorial Board that ‘not withstanding these comments it is still South’s policy only to accept previously unpublished work’