Gary et al.,
Like Jennifer, I am also fully in support of self-publishing poetry. The current poetry publication system is broken and should not be perpetuated by anyone who either has unique talent or cares about American poetry as an art form. I feel that to place our poetry into this system today is to devalue it (perhaps even to condemn it).
We had a number of discussions about this on Foetry.com. Here is the main one. If you check this out, you will see that a number of the Foetry regulars opposed self-publication (in what I felt was a very regressive--sorry guys--attitude). If we don't have the vision and drive to recreate poetry publication in America, then American poetry will continue to be worthless, a disposable commodity. Equally, if we continue to seek poetic credentialing from the PoBiz publication system, I think we do so primarily out of shame and a lack of consciousness . . . we do so in ignorance.
I propose that some kind of loose coalition of self-publishing poets should be formed. Poets who share a feeling of frustration (if not disgust) with the PoBiz publication system and who recognize that it will never change if there is no competition from a superior publication model challenging it.
I think such a coalition has to be very careful not to fall into the same traps and practices that are common in the PoBiz. In other words, I don't think the coalition of self-publishing poets should be a mutual promotion society that thinks it is justified to blurb each other's books. I suggest, alternatively, a renewed dedication to genuine criticism (yes, even of our friends).
What the coalition could offer self-publishing poets is a little protection and the empowerment of numbers in the self-publication game. For instance, these poets should speak up for everyone's right to self-publish and to live or die by the criticism of and reader reaction to what one publishes. We should be honest with ourselves and others about how difficult this kind of attempt is (especially in the face of PoBiz indoctrination prejudice against self-publication). The coalition could be helpful in sharing information about self-publication resources and experiences.
Perhaps, there could also be encouragement among self-publishing poets to post some free poem samples on personal websites (which could be linked through a coalition page). It isn't hard to get a feeling for a writer's poetry after reading a couple sample poems. If the reader likes these, then purchasing a self-published book should not be too radical a move. If they dislike the sample poems, no harm done and no need to spend the money for the book.
The coalition would not have to worry about trying to promote any of the poets who belong to the coalition. And as it grew, it would become more likely that the best self-published books would be read and reviewed (by other coalition members, most likely). As this new publication system evolved, it would eventually attract the attention of those outside the coalition . . . and thus force competition upon the PoBiz publication system.
I think it's important to note that many books of poetry sell only a couple hundred copies or less (and the majority of those go to libraries, friends, and family). The idea that self-published poetry (especially if organized through a coalition system) could compete in sales with PoBiz poetry is not even remotely radical.
But it is up to poets of talent to back self-publication and dispel the stigma that clings to it and is reinforced by PoBiz dogmas and superstitions. As many have said, the PoBiz publication system is really just a more subtle vanity press system. If a coalition of self-publishing poets strove to create and reinforce a merit-based system instead of a vanity system, the weakness and commodification of much PoBiz poetry would be quickly exposed.
The thing such a coalition would need to get past, in my opinion, is the idea that publication is (and must be) the gatekeeping mechanism for poetry. Publication can be manipulated and has only a limited amount to do with the quality of poetry. Fair criticism, word of mouth, and reader interest are the more potent determiners of poetry's value . . . and also its legitimate sales.
This self-publication coalition alternative is entirely viable and not at all difficult to create. The real hurdles are our own vanity and indoctrination into PoBiz dogmas and taboos . . . our precious shame and small-mindedness. What such a coalition requires most is courage. I believe something like this is the only way to change (and I think it's fair to also say, "save") American poetry.
I encourage all to comment on the proposal of a self-publishing coalition and the topic of self-publishing poetry. Please offer your criticisms and feel free to debate. If there is some interest in such a coalition, we will need to do some careful brainstorming to make sure that it cannot become a clone of the PoBiz system. I would suggest that the best way to achieve this is to analyze and understand the PoBiz publication system as thoroughly as possible . . . and use the knowledge gained as a negative model which the self-publication coalition model would seek to reject and remedy.