Five years of Snakeskin

Snakeskin could very easily never have happened.

Back in 1995, when the World-Wide Web was an odd new toy for the technos, in those now-legendary days before the adverts proliferated, my Internet provider announced that each customer had been awarded a whole 100k of webspace to do just what he or she liked with. I was just about to produce a typical "This is my back garden; this is my dog" sort of personal homepage when bubbling up from my unconscious mind came an ambition long repressed and almost forgotten - to run a literary magazine. This had never been more than an idle daydream. I live a fair way from conventional centres of literary activity, and have neither the desire nor steadfastness to deal with the grotty practicalities of print publishing - the subscription lists, the postage charges, the piles of yellowing unsold back numbers in the spare room.

But here, I realised, was the chance to try paper-free publishing. What had I to lose? And since you can get more poems than essays into 100k, poetry was the obvious topic.

I thought it might be fun for a few months. I didn't think it would survive this long. The webspace allocation has changed, but the zine has kept going. I'm rather proud of our record. Not many webzines have kept up regular publication for this long, hitting the modems on the first of each month year in, year out (There have been three occasions when we didn't get online till the second or third, I think, and this month the deadline is feeling pretty tight...)

The early issues were not very like the current Snakeskin. The first was a few simply presented poems from offline sources. We had a few readers - I know, because some of them wrote in complaining about the amateurish, often unreadable, HTML. The third issue was one I liked. Devoted mainly to attacks on the over-rated Irish poet Seamus Heaney. Not only did it feature Wayne Carvosso's
Dig at Digging, a piece that still attracts appreciative feedback from Heaney non-fans five years after its first publication, but also a line-by-line analysis of a Heaney poem, demonstrating its incompetence.

We seem to have stopped that sort of knocking. Have we mellowed? Maybe. I started with fixed ideas about poetry, but the good thing about editing is that most months one gets at least one submission that slightly expands one's idea of poetry - a good poem, but not the sort one thought one liked.

I've tried hard to be as inclusive as possible (except for utter pretension, imitation rock lyrics, or pastiches of Charles Bukowski, of course). I have my own preferences and habits as a writer, but I've tried hard not to be the kind of editor who only prints clones of his own poetry.

My ideal issue would contain something of almost everything; a piece in traditional metre, something experimental; something passionately serious, something light; something rhymed, something kinetic; something… You get the picture.

In this anniversary issue, it's good to welcome back three of the earliest contributors to Snakeskin - Richard Fein from New York and Alan Papprill from New Zealand, Linda Crespi from Middlesex. And to feature new work by our two most faithful and consistent contributors, John Cornwall and L. Fullington.
These, and so many others, are people that Snakeskin has been very proud to publish. My own greatest satisfaction has come from working in partnership, especially with K.M.Payne on
The Maze of Mirrors. (By the way, have you looked at Ken's Manifesto for the Internet Poem lately? Now there's an ideal to live up to.

One thing has disappointed me. More than 90% of the poems we receive are the sort that would fit neatly onto a page of the average little magazine. Why? The Internet doesn't need rules about 40-line maximums. It can cope with an epic as easily as a haiku. It can also suggest its own forms. My own writing energy recently has been devoted to producing work that couldn't be printed on paper. Are there really so few poets excited by this possibility? Send us your hypertexts, your poetry generators, your DHTML shape-shifting poems. We want them.

The future? Goodness knows. The furthest we've thought ahead is February's special theme issue, on Fathers and Fatherhood, guest-edited by Jessy Randall.

After that, we go where the poetry takes us. Here's to the next five years.


If you've any comments on anything , George Simmers would be pleased to hear from you.

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