First it’s Stephen Burt being overwhelmed, then Mark Scroggins, and before you know it everyone on Facebook is complaining that there’s just too much to read to keep up with; that the internet is making too much available on a 24/7 basis. Since I remember being in New Mexico in the 1980s, where one small bookstore (Collected Works, now much bigger than it once was & relocated) sold poetry books and journals, it’s difficult for me to claim that accessibility is a bad thing, and both bloggers make that point as well. Back in the day, I’d scan acknowledgments pages for new journals, subscribe, and then scan journals for poets with new books. I still submit that it’s one of the best ways to form one’s own tastes, though when I finally went to graduate school & had colleagues with their own opinions I admit I liked that better; there were conversations involved. [Discouraging to me is that some of those same colleagues haven't broadened their reading scope in the past thirty years!]
And yet, Burt & Scroggins are reading only the published books. Anyone in small-press publishing necessarily has a bit more of a range, reading publishable (and, alas, unpublishable) work in multiple styles of writing, from the most rigorous sonnets (Ahsahta published Ed Allen’s 67 Mixed Messages—the sonnets were also identical acrostics) to highly conceptual work (Chris Vitiello’s Irresponsibility being one book we published). Yet readers of poetry partial to either camp probably missed these books because neither was widely reviewed. I’m suggesting that they might be part of what Scroggins refers to as the books people like him will read in their 80s, wondering how they missed them when they were published.
As Burt notes, reading time can be impinged upon from many directions. As a professor, my time in the academy is supposed to be divided into teaching, creative activity, and service. At my institution, we’re expected to teach 5 courses over 2 semesters, with the equivalent of 3 courses released for research & creative work [this used to be a 4/4 institution]. In addition, we’re supposed to do a certain amount of service, which can be anything from service to the department in the form of committee work, administrative work, or in my case work with Ahsahta Press. Professors can receive course releases for this work as well; I get one release per semester for the Press and occasionally an additional release. So you can see how my (ostensibly) 40-hour week is divided up: this semester, teaching 2 courses, 20 hours for teaching and grading; 10 hours for Ahsahta Press, and 10 hours for my research & creative work—reading & writing. And let me say right now that it takes more than 10 hours per week to run a small press, so the rest of that time is taken from my research & creative time and my soi-disant leisure time. Except this semester alone we had 5 hires in the department (I served on a hiring committee that hosted four campus visits, not to mention reading about 300 applications), a University requirement to revamp our core course offerings that meant many department meetings, the creation of a new undergraduate creative writing emphasis, and my usual committee work on the Faculty Affairs Committee (advising the chair). We ran the Sawtooth Poetry Contest and received about 700 submissions on a system I had to install and test beforehand. And Ahsahta Press was establishing its first board of directors.
You can imagine my reaction when faculty suggest (and they do) that because I don’t have kids, I don’t have a family that requires my time. I do have a family. I spend time with them.
So yes: keeping up with the poetry world is impossible. How do I pick and choose? Well, I’m sorry to admit that I rarely peruse the Harriet blog or Poetry (though I have a subscription); unless someone points me to a blog post, I just don’t have the patience for the turf-marking and gadfly attitudes there; that’s also why I only occasionally look at Ron Silliman’s, though I understand he’s eliminated the comment field again. I look at Montevidayo, Constant Critic, Scroggins’ blog, VIDA, Amy King’s and a few others. I read as many poetry reviews as I can. The journals I subscribe to include APR, A Public Space, 1913, Fact*Simile, The Poetry Project Newsletter, Volt, and many others that come to the office. I’m happy to look at an equal number online. But keep up? I don’t even come close. Does anyone?