If you weren't aware, for the last several years mild mannered librarian Alan Cordle has been masquerading as the literary vigilante foetry.com who doggedly pursues every whiff of cronyism he can locate in the poetry publishing world.

While I think it's important to note that Cordle and his crew of followers often make connections between poets on the foetry discussion forums that are so tenuous they aren't far from claiming that poetry publishing is controlled by the Rothschild family in conjunction with the Council on Foreign Relations, the Ancient Order of Free and Accepted Masons and the Trilateral Commission, what gets lost in the hubbub is the fact that they actually make a good point: poetry publishing is rife with cronyism, gladhanding and pettiness.

Take for example the recent announcement from blazeVOX that they would be pulling a planned publication because some of the contributors had threatened to sue because their permissions weren't secured properly.

Now, I'm all for copyright and making sure that people maintain control over their intellectual property. Hell, I don't even use Bit Torrent. At the same time, blazeVOX is about as small as small presses get, and while they have put out an impressive catalog of poetry books to date, they're still print on demand and funding out of pocket in the red. So the idea of suing them is frankly ridiculous. Particularly since the work that blazeVOX publishes is the kind of fringe lunacy that maybe will be famous in a hundred years, but in this day and age is lucky to find a home on the Internet. I'm not saying that people shouldn't have a right to say where their work sees print, but come on, do you really need to go to court to work something like this out?

I'll admit that I'm a little biased, since I like (blazeVOX's publisher) Geoff Gatza's attitude, and he's printed poems of mine in the blazeVOX journal that I didn't think would ever see the light of day. But at the same time, I think it's a little bit unreasonable for people to be so grasping and paranoid about fringe publishing. People behave as if there's some economic value in print runs of a few hundred from POD presses. There just isn't. As can be seen by the fact that everyone and their mother has now started a POD vanity press to self publish their spy novel.

So what's at issue here, and the thing that ties together blazeVOX and foetry in the niche world that poetry has become, is the limits of community. On the one hand, those folks threatening to sue blazeVOX don't understand the value of community, and the cronyist weasels who deserve all the bile foetry can spew at them don't get it either. A community is something that should nourish, encourage, and protect it's members. But it should also be expansive and open. I'd go so far as to say that the writers who have benefited from very small presses in the past, and have grown into prominence with those presses (certain elder statesmen and women in the poetry world who are now draped in scholar's robes and happily ensconced in academic presses) have a responsibility to give back to the young presses like blazeVOX or Outside Voices (full disclosure, another small press that has forthcoming work from me) by lending their names to help bolster the reputations of small outfits. I'm not saying that older poets don't do this, but that it's good that they do. And I point it out to show that the opposite behavior, using community in a cynical and self-serving way to booster your friends and close colleagues or, worse, obstructing the rise of poets whose work you find aesthetically threatening (which is What Billy Collins is up to, I think), is abominable.