Blazing Away

BlazeVOX announced yesterday that it would close at the end of the year after it was revealed the press was asking poets to help subsidize the publication of their books. Today, the press changed its mind. This back-and-forth began when Brett Ortler wrote a long blog post about his dealings with BlazeVOX at Bark. Brett's book was accepted for publication and editor Geoffrey Gatza asked for a $250 donation to help with production costs.

In just a few days, the controversy spiraled with plenty of poets weighing in on how wrong this is, that BlazeVOX is a "vanity publisher" (it's not) and the revelation was another smirch on the grand tradition of poetry and publishing.
 
BlazeVOX has published some fine poets: Anne Waldman, Megan Volpert, Eileen Tabios, Christine Hamm, Daniel Nester, Didi Menendez, Amy King, Andrew Demcak and Kazim Ali to name a few. I have a number of the press' books in my library and I always thought they were well done. However, BlazeVOX made a misstep in not disclosing its co-operative publishing approach. It was only a matter of time before a poet made an issue of it, but the vile and derision heaped upon the press over the weekend is, sadly, typical of a certain part of the poetry "community" in America.

The fact is that many poets believe if you're not published by one of the indie darlings or one of the biggies like Knopf or Norton, you're an abject failure as a poet. This myth is perpetuated in academic circles and by poets who make a "career" hopscotching to residencies, who also subscribe to the "must win a first book contest" rule.

The publishing industry is having its ass handed to it on daily basis by writers circumventing agents and publishers to self-publish via ebook format and inexpensive printing options like Lulu. Poets who live and die by the academy are, for the most part, taking the hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil stance against this publishing revolution. Those who have no interest in MFA and academic cultures just laugh and go on with making their art and disseminating by any means necessary.

BlazeVOX's lack of transparency is disappointing. The donation request should have been clearly stated in the submission guidelines. Gatza made an error in judgement, but the complete damnation of the press, which has produced some fine books over the years, is outrageous. Gatza has been called an illiterate, a scam artist and far worse in the comments on Ortler's blog and at HTML giant. Meanwhile, the icons of American poetry who have given awards to their friends, students and husbands are still on their pedestals, along with the complicit presses. In many ways, the BlazeVOX controversy says more about the "poety community" than it does about the press. It reveals deep insecurities, self-importance and fragile egos on the part of poets trying to "make it" in a niche part of literature.

I'm glad BlazeVOX has decided to stay in business, despite many of its supporters – and even a few poets published by the press – running in the other direction for fear it might damage their "reputations." Getting a book published by a press isn't easy. Many beloved indie presses now require a reading fee (Four Way Books is one) and poets spend hundreds or thousands of dollars in contest fees without batting an eye. Once a book is published, poets must purchase copies of their own books beyond the agreed upon number of author copies and the majority of marketing/touring will be coming out of the poet's own pocket. There is no free ride in publication and those who tell you otherwise are liars.

I hope BlazeVOX continues its tradition of publishing quirky and "weird" collections, but does so by being upfront about its policies. The press has worth and so do all the fine poets it has published in the past.

Comments

Christine said…
Thank you.
JimCD said…
Brilliant. Thank you.
Jessie Carty said…
Well said :)
Justin Evans said…
My issue is that I just (in fact not 10 minutes ago)sent them a request for information on my July 2010 submission. Yes, an entire year. I do not know if my manuscript has been list in the wind or simply rejected.

I had heard nothing of this controversy, though I think you are correct in your assessment---this incident being more of a revelation of the people in the poetry community than anything else.
Jeannine said…
I agree, Collin - nothing is the way it used to be. The future of books - especially poetry - seems very up in the air.
Maureen said…
I've read quite a bit about this mess since it started. Thank you for writing honestly about it.
mark said…
I appreciate your honesty, Collin
January said…
Agreed. Again, good post. And I think Blaze should stay in business
Marie-Elizabeth said…
Well said, Collin. Thank you.
Anonymous said…
Until the stranglehold that academia has on poetry is wrested from the MFA factory automatons, then poetry will be forever locked inside a tiny bubble. Or some politician invites Maya Angelou to read at an inauguration. You know it's true.
Kazim Ali said…
Thanks for your support of BlazeVox, a wonderful small press that has given many writers (including me) an opportunity to develop an audience and continue withh our work. A $250 contribution is not at all "vanity" as you rightly point out, nor is it even close to "co-op." But like musicians who sometimes have to produce their own CD's I completely support writers who publish their own books or pay for their publishing-- it is the work that's important. $250 toward the design and publication of a book is the smallest sort of token, an investment that I as a writer have made countless times with each of the small presses that has published my work. It is a hardship I guess but I believe in these presses and the work they are publishing.

I hope BlazeVox has a long and brilliant future--

Kazim Ali
Stacia said…
I'm a little late, but thanks for this post. Here's my take, as a BlazeVOX author myself: http://www.staciamfleegal.com/2011/09/my-name-is-stacia-fleegal-and-i-donated.html
Anonymous said…
Well said, Colin. Yes, Gatza made a big mistake not being upfront about his policy, but as you rightly say, there are worse "corruptions" going on within the poetry publishing establishment, and other major poetry publishing rackets.
Anonymous said…
bottom line is this: until poets start to truly value their own works, and stop giving their work away for free via the current academic and small press/journal publishing system, then there will continue to be, as there has always been, very little to no monetary value in poetry publishing.

the notion that the art world needs small poetry presses is vain, primitive, and quite simply, a bad financial decision for anybody involved in that process. poets need to start charging higher rates for their work, and holding on much tighter to their work until somebody approaches them with the right price. the current publishing models, whether they are mainstream or micro, are doing nothing to improve the value and stature of poetry and poets.

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