Years of Snakeskin
Here's how they look from the
On December 1st, 1995,
Snakeskin issue 1 went online.
A few weeks before that, my Internet service provider had
excitedly emailed with the news that I had been allotted
some webspace on a server that I could use if I wanted
to. The fashion then, in the early days of the Internet,
was for personal homepages This is me, these are
my hobbies, this is a picture of the dog you know
the sort of thing. I might have gone for that, except
that the amount of webspace offered was just 100k. You
couldnt fit many dog pictures onto that.
I realised that text took up less space than pictures,
and that verse took up less space than prose so a
poetry magazine might be a way of doing something
worthwhile, or at least fun.
At that time I thought of myself as an ex-poet. Id
written a lot when younger, but there had been zero
enthusiasm from the few publishers Id got around to
sending stuff to. My recent versification had been
confined to song-writing for local shows, and some light
verse for the New Statesman and Spectator
But I thought to myself why not? I had thoughts and
theories about poetry, I had always fancied being an
editor, and here was an opportunity. And if nothing came
of it, I hadnt lost anything. There would be no
yellowing piles of unsold back numbers in the spare
bedroom reproaching me for a bad investment. In fact, the
only investment was my time, and since I wanted to learn
HTML, this was as good a way as any to get some practice.
And the poems came in. Theyve kept on coming in,
and Ive kept on enjoying them, so from that point
of view these ten years have been a pleasant success.
Thank you. poets.
Thank you especially the
various guest editors who have taken up the burden some
months, and have always added something new, and stopped
us from getting too predictable.
But I think back to the ambitions of ten years ago.
Before Google, before Internet shopping, before Internet
gambling. The early days of the Internet were exciting.
We were wide-eyed and optimistic, and we didn't have any
advertisements. This was a new medium, capable, we
thought, of reaching huge new audiences, and developing
new forms of writing. Information wanted to be free, and
so did ideas. Has the promise been fulfilled?
We have certainly reached audiences that most paper
poetry magazines dont. Feedback has told us that
(and the feedback is so much more immediate and
spontaneous than it is with paper magazines). Every year
we have attracted more readers but the increase is
far smaller proportionally than the increase in Internet
users. Poetry has stayed in its ghetto.
Well, that was probably inevitable. But what about the
new forms of writing? Has the Internet encouraged new
poetic forms, or has it just spread the usual stuff more
Mostly, Im afraid, its the latter. I've
sometimes look at an issue of Snakeskin and thought,
Yes, theyre all good poems, but theres
nothing there that couldnt have come across just as
well on paper.
Weve tried. Weve printed some poetry
hypertexts (including the huge Maze of
which I collaborated with K.M.Payne, and which remains
the Snakeskin achievement that Im proudest of).
Linda Crespi has emerged from hiding now and then to give
us works that really use the resources of HTML. (Try her Synchronised
Sonnets if you
dont know them, but be warned that they may not
work if youre not using Internet Explorer).
Weve also explored the possibilities of e-chapbooks
(Poets love them and readers dont, generally). We
have even experimented with email publishing (see the Re-United sequence in which I battled with Helena
Nelson, and had the most fun of these ten years).
And yet... Why
arent more poets interested in pushing the
boundaries, testing the possibilities?
Well, I guess the sad fact is that poetry people tend to
be poetry people, and computer people tend to be computer
people, and not too many want to explore the strange
things that can happen when computers and poetry meet.
But Snakeskin wants to do that so heres to
the next ten years.