Optimisms 9: Elizabeth Ross

Optimisms 9: Elizabeth Ross

Today on The Optimisms Project, poet Elizabeth Ross considers the economic underpinnings of the poet’s quest for expression and publication. All this in answer to our question: What makes you feel optimistic about the future of poetry in Canada?

For project curator Jacob McArthur Mooney’s introduction to The Optimisms Project please go here.

What makes you feel optimistic about the future of poetry in Canada?

In 2009, the federal and provincial governments cut literary magazine funding to the point where their survival is questionable. I’ve petitioned, written letters, sent emails. These cuts aren’t just killing literary magazines, I argue, they’re killing the careers of emerging writers. Obviously, I’m not alone; thousands of people–established and emerging writers–and more importantly, readers, have spoken out.

So from a sheer economic perspective, there’s a market. And if literary magazines aren’t going to be able to showcase emerging writers’ work, perhaps it’s time to reconsider traditional publishing avenues. The passiveness of that sentence kills me. It’s time for poets to consider how to publish. Still too tentative. I’m just scared to say, “Poets need to publish themselves.” I’ve been taught that self-publication is the best way to ensure a literary press will never publish you.

Don’t get me wrong, I love literary magazines: reading new work, skimming bios, and getting to know who’s out there, so to speak. Although (should I admit this?) I shelve most of mine on the back of the toilet tank because I spend more and more time reading online. Lemon Hound, Vox Populism, Quill and Quire (to name a few) are all providing discussion points into poetic aesthetics, politics, and publishing.

Poetry has been around a lot longer than literary magazines. There’s no question it will survive, but how? Will writers in my generation learn to produce hand-stitched chapbooks (a method poet Tim Lander advocates) or will we push out into new mediums? I think we might do both. In my program, some of us are talking about creating a publishing cooperative, a type of venue, which, I gather, went out in the sixties (twenty years before I was born).

I’m waiting to see what happens. In any case, regardless of the outcome, poetry shouldn’t, as Tim Lander says, be reproduced without love.

Poet Elizabeth Ross has started a blog, and posted a longer version of this piece, at elizabethross.ca/blog. She’s an almost-recovering MFA student.