Wendy Cope said in a Q&A a few years ago that she now only writes a handful of poems a year. These days she can tell at the start of an idea whether it will make a really good poem or not. She seems to be jealously guarding her reputation from accusations of diminution in quality in old age. I sympathized, but felt sorry for the rejects I would never get to read.
All writers have an internal quality filter, though mine used to be pretty nonselective: I wrote for my own amusement and that of my acquaintances, and I let online editors decide if any of it was worth showing on a screen. But now I face a quandary, because I’ve broken into a prominent print literary journal, The Dark Horse http://www.thedarkhorsemagazine.com/. While these poems will probably be read by more people than usual whom I have heard of, they will probably be read by fewer people I actually know. They would need to get a physical copy of the journal, either from the website, from a library, or borrowed from me or another subscriber. It isn’t on Amazon and I doubt many bookstores carry it. Almost everything else I have published is available onscreen at the click of a mouse.
Don Marquis said, “Publishing a volume of verse is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo.” But what sort of echo am I even looking for? Do I want to establish a serious literary reputation or do I want to entertain my friends? Things written for the latter can be counter-productive for the former. The only things I have written that were good enough for serious print journals were the product of unusual flashes of inspiration. Do I wait for those, as Wendy Cope now seems to? Or do I plod away at exercises and follow prompts from The Spectator in the hopes that something can be eventually be polished to be good enough?
Editors of print journals have always acted as a quality filter for the readers: available content was limited to what they thought was worth reading. Now everything is online so we can judge for ourselves – but where do we even start? This affects science and journalism as well as the arts: the whole publishing industry seems to be going through a crisis at the moment. If the audience for printed media is disappearing, then how can it survive? Gerry Cambridge, the editor of The Dark Horse, darkly advised me to cash my honorarium cheque quickly.