A couple of weeks ago I participated in an editor's panel at the National Federation of State Poetry Societies Convention in Oklahoma City. My fellow panelists were Madelyn Eastlund (former NFSPS president and editor of Harp-Strings Poetry Journal) and Sandra Soli (a very experienced poetry editor and widely published poet). The three of us looked as if we were auditioning for a community theatre production of Evita, our arms waving wildly as our voices rose addressing one publishing point or another.
The discussion became most lively when the topic of "What is published?" came up. We each took a turn explaining that ANY poem that is offered for public consumption, whether on the printed page, on the Internet, or in an open reading, is basically "published." The exception is a private forum where the poet needs a password to participate in a discussion and to read what's posted. Poems posted in such forums are not considered published. However, if the forum can be read by anyone accessing the Internet, then the poem is considered published.
"Published is published!" Sandy exclaimed. And still the questions came.
"But what if I print a poem in my church bulletin?"
"What if my poem appears in my club's quarterly journal?"
"What if I read my poem on a radio program?"
"Published is published!" Sandy and Madelyn shouted over and over again.
I mention this because 1) it's a really important point all poets need to keep in mind; and, 2) it's a point I need to address as it relates to comments on this blog.
Please be aware that if you post a poem in the comments here, it is now published. It's not a legitimate publishing credit that you can use; however, where the poem is concerned, you've just blown its "unpublished" status. That means you can't submit it to journals that don't consider published material, and you can't submit it to contests for unpublished poetry only.
So, please don't post your poetry in the comments section unless you know what you're sacrificing by doing so. It doesn't matter whether you print a copyright notice or not--if the poem appears in the comments, it's published. Published is published!
(As an added note, let me say that when I've judged contests recently that were for unpublished poetry only, I did Google key lines from the poems I'd selected as winners to make sure they didn't already appear on the Web. In a couple of cases, I had to disqualify poems I'd deemed for serious prize consideration because they violated the "unpublished" criteria. What's more, taking down a post--or a blog entry, for that matter--accomplishes nothing. Once something is on the Internet, it's on there forever. Ever see the stuff that Google has cached that doesn't appear on the actual website when you do a search? It's not nice to fool Mother Nature, but it's just about IMPOSSIBLE to fool the Internet!)
UPDATE: Reb Livingston at Home-Schooled By a Cackling Jackel has a spirited discussion going on at her blog about this topic. Definitely take a look (and be sure to click through on her links to "My Stance" and related responses). I stand by the above opinion as basic need-to-know information, especially if you're new to publishing. But there are some important issues related to the published vs. unpublished topic that concerned poets should examine as well.
UPDATE 2:This post provides further discussion of the "is reading my poetry in public the same as publishing" question that came up during Q&A at the NFSPS panel.