Ezine thoughts

Julie and Rik have both posted on the subject of what makes a good poetry ezine. Since I’ve spent rather more time recently thinking about web design than poetry, here’s some thoughts about that side of it.

Don’t try to be a print journal. The real print journals do that already, and you’re never going to look like anything other than a low budget knock-off. That means questioning your assumptions about how a poetry magazine should work. For example: why have periodic ‘issues’? Speaking for myself, my tolerance of reading lots of stuff onscreen at once is lower than reading it in print, so if a large issue of your ezine appears, I’m probably going to read a couple of poems then move on to something else. That happens with print as well, but at least if I have a physical copy of the journal lying around my house I’m more likely to pick it up again and read some more. On the web, it’s that much less likely.

After all, an electronic publication isn’t bound by the physical constraints of print, so make that a virtue. Instead of the thing coming out in a big gobbet every few months, have frequent new content. Give people a reason to drop in regularly to see what’s new. I very much like the idea of using print-on-demand technology to produce occasional anthologies, though. That way you can have the best of both worlds; a continual supply of new material that builds up indefinitely into an archive of work, and periodic physical issues for people who like something they can read in bed and put on their bookshelves. At this point ‘journal’ and ‘ezine’ start looking like they might be the wrong words, although I don’t have a better one.

You can always provide an RSS feed so that people know when you’ve added something. Just because a site has RSS, it doesn’t have to look or feel like a blog. But why not also have a blog associated with the ezine? Have the editorial staff jointly contribute to it, with input from interesting guest bloggers. You could invite everyone whose work appears on site to also provide a guest post for the blog. It would help keep the ezine in people’s minds, hopefully create some goodwill, and act as a venue to make announcements. It would also provide a way people could engage with the site by posting comments.

Another technological advantage the net has over print is the ability to incorporate other kinds of content. Most obviously, that means audio and even video. But it’s also true of photographs. For a print journal, the decision to include glossy colour photography would dramatically increase the cost of production. On the web, it’s no harder than text.

And on the technical front: No tables. Definitely no frames. And use a proper CMS, so that adding new material is no more complicated than posting a new entry on a blog.

Aesthetically speaking: again, don’t try to look like a print journal. Particularly a rather dated looking print journal. Nor on the other hand should you get all web-happy and produce an intrusive animated Flash interface. Especially one that insists on pop-up windows.* The main thing is to present the content as sympathetically as possible, and to look current without being a fashion victim. And get the design basics right: make it easy to navigate around the site, without letting all the menus and buttons distract the attention from the poems. Make sure it at least looks professional.

I also think it would be no bad thing to widen the focus beyond just poetry. Get poets to write articles on other subjects. Have fiction reviews, or whatever. Something to introduce a little variety. I’m not suggesting turning it into a general arts journal, just making it poetry plus. But if you are going to engage with the broader culture, take it seriously. Don’t include artwork and photography unless it’s at least as good as you think the poetry is. In fact, since you probably know more about poetry than art, err on the safe side and hold it to an even higher standard.

Most of what I’ve said isn’t actually poetry-specific, of course. It would apply if you were running an internet ‘magazine’ on any subject. The scare-quotes being, of course, because I don’t think a magazine is really the right model. I’m really imagining something more like a poetry repository. A cairn. A midden.

*I was originally going to post links to specific sites that I thought served as examples of these problems, but I think I can live without that particular pissing match today.

4 Comments

  1. 22 August 2006 at 2:16 am | Permalink

    Harry, I’d be very interested in your thoughts about qarrtsiluni, which I helped found last fall (as it happened, “cairn” was one of the alternate names we came up with). It started more as a group blog, but has evolved into something resembling a journal, at least in its editorial standards. We’ll be moving to a new URL and a WordPress platform sometime in the next month, so we’ll be looking to make some adjustments in style and presentation. If you have the time to write down any reactions to it, no matter how critical, I’d love to see them.

  2. Harry
    22 August 2006 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    Looks good. Very clean. I have a bit of a pet hate for fluid-width text columns, but that’s just me. I wonder if the post titles could be more distinct? Maybe just by putting a bit more white space at the end of each post? But that’s being very picky. I like it as it is.

    There’s a part of me that thinks poems should ideally be presented with each individually on a plain page, which is one reason why I’m slightly ambivalent towards the idea of a blogzine. In practice I didn’t find it particularly distracting, though, so perhaps I’m just inventing problems which don’t exist.

    I was interested to see that you’ve got comments enabled. I’m a great believer that one of the strengths of the internet is its ability to create a sense of community, and that requires some kind of interactivity; but when I was thinking about it, I was unsure whether allowing commenting on poems was a good idea. Firstly because of the plain page thing, but also because of the risk of flaming. You don’t seem to be having that problem at the moment :)

  3. 24 August 2006 at 1:42 am | Permalink

    Thanks much. I share your ambivalence about comments, and also personally share your preference for fixed widths. I’ll pass your thoughts on to my co-editor, who is the design guru.

    Incidentally, we may well stick with Typepad, simply because of the way it preserves the full posts on category pages, rather than giving digests as WordPress does. Since we are using categories in place of issues, this seems important to me.

  4. Harry
    24 August 2006 at 1:52 am | Permalink

    Assuming you’re planning to use your own installation of WordPress, rather than one hosted at wordpress.com, it would be easy enough to edit the category archive so that it displayed whole posts. You just need to find the bit where it says

    < ?php the_excerpt() ?>

    and replace it with

    < ?php the_content() ?>

    I think.

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