Preprints in Poetry: Why am I doing this?

First, a confession:
Yes, I write poetry. In fact, I've written poetry slowly but persistently for more than three decades. Most of it is complete garbage; some of it has been published in literary journals. But a great deal more, of modest quality, has never been published, submitted or shared. The last fifteen or so years have been largely dedicated to a single form--five couplets, generally not rhyming; ghazals, loosely understood and (at times) loosely "after" Ghalib.

Second, my profession (of late):
For better or worse, the pace of my poetry composition slowed to a trickle when I became a librarian. It slowed even more when I became an advocate for open access and a tenure-track Scholarly Communications librarian. But new professions lead to new questions and new vantage points. Questions like: what is publishing, after all? And, if my scholarly work can be freely shared ahead of publication as a "preprint" in an institutional repository, why should my poetry wait for the dusty wheels of paper-based publication?

Third, why I shouldn't do this:
Well ... you tell me. Or, if you're drawing some blanks (beyond the professional embarrassment I hint at in my "confession" above), here are a few objections that I expect some would hold: But will poetry publishers hesitate to publish these works once they discover that I am distributing them here? (Who cares. That's their loss. And I don't submit poems to journals, but for invitations.) But am I missing out on the benefits of publication from a reputable press, including the prestige and the money. (Really? Am I? What money? What prestige?) But, do you really think you can find readers for your work without the help of a traditional publisher? (I can count the readers that I care to have on two hands. Maybe by sharing "preprints" my readership will enter the double-digit range. Maybe not. But again, remember, I've been writing poetry for many years without sharing more than a few dozen poems--so, clearly, readership has not been a high priority for me.)

Fourth, but poetry on Github? Huh?
A poem is a work in progress until the author stops working on it. Even then, some poets revisit and revise published poems--sometimes for the worse. I want to share my poems in a form that permits a degree of versioning. Yes, I could do that in Google Docs, but I wouldn't want Google to wake up one day and delete my account. And, Google Docs adds a counterproductive technical complexity to the file in its efforts to give people a full-featured word processing tool. After consulting with two colleagues in my university library's Center for Digital Scholarship, I opted for GitHub. As a code repository, GitHub lets me write poems in a text editor, save and share them in Markdown, and keep track of even the most insignificant changes. Ultimately, given the simple structure of the Markdown syntax and the features of code repositories, moving my poetry repository from GitHub to another digital platform will be relatively easy. (I'll be asking our Digital Humanities guru, Caitlin Pollock, for help when the time comes.) Maybe there's some tool out there that does a better job of versioning ... maybe, I'm behind the curve and others are sharing poetry in a similar way somewhere else. O.K. Yes, I could do that too ...

Fifth, what you will find in my GitHub poetry repository:
To get this project started, I've posted eight poems. Read these, and others at:

I write poetry longhand. Most of my poems go through three to five revisions before I even bother to type them. Most of the poems that I type are not revised much. But, I have found that poetry readings force me to revise -- when I read a poem aloud a few years after typing it, I usually hear things that I don't like. But I don't give many readings these days. (Maybe I should read my poems to my parrot. He'd probably like that.)

I'll be crawling through much of the work that I've written in the last twenty years and posting it bit by bit. I'll also be posting new works. But, I don't plan on letting anyone know what's new and what's not. I hope that this process, among other things, gives new energy to my efforts at revision. I also hope that a few people will bother to read one or two poems now and then. I'm not expecting a crowd, but my GitHub poetry repository may be "forked" and the poems may be re-posted, printed, and shared. For now, I'm sharing everything under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) license. (Go ahead, tell me why I shouldn't do that.)

Finally, thanks for reading.

Blog Categories: 
Digital Scholarship Blogs
Digital Humanities
Updated Oct 17, 2016 by Webmaster