Spotlight On.....Snakeskin Poetry Webzine


This month's Spotlight is on Britain's Snakeskin Poetry Webzine, a monthly webzine devoted to publishing original, thought-provoking poetry. Snakeskin was founded in December, 1995, and is the brainchild of Editor-in-Chief, George Simmers. Advisory Editors include Wayne Carvosso and Linda Crespi.

Simmers explains about the origins of Snakeskin:

"We felt that the Web had room for an independent poetry magazine - not linked to any institution, not devoted to one kind of writing. While the editorial team themselves are most interested in using rhyme and metre, we enjoy all kinds of poems, and the average issue contains more free verse than strictly formal. We're based in England, but are proud of having included poets from five continents."

Simmers states that, on the other hand, Snakeskin is selective about the quality of poetry it will publish.

"We're not a "shovelware zine - the sort that indulges its poets by printing any old chunk of self-pitying pseudo-rock-lyric they hurl at the mailbox. We're very selective, though to be honest we've failed utterly when trying to codify the principles of our selectivity. George Simmers Photo
George Simmers
Essentially, we're just looking for something special: originality, wit, honesty, a way with words, resonance, surprises... Especially surprises."

Snakeskin is well known for its occasional theme issues. Recent theme issues have included a Nature poem issue, an all-rhyme issue, and months devoted
to Time, to Food, and to Myths. A recent very successful theme issue has was the July, 1997 issue, the "Terse Verse Special" in which no poem is over six lines in length. snakeskin

Snakeskin is unlike most webzines in that it is interested in continuities with the past. The webzine maintains a link page of "Snakeskin's heroes" - great poets of the past. The publication also pays homage to a neglected poet of a century ago in its special Arthur Symons pages.

A fascinating feature in the webzine is Contributing Editor Linda Crespi's Haiku Machine and Tanka Manufacturer.
Ms. Crespi has produced a "machine" which uses the JavaScript programming language to transform a limited but evocative vocabulary into syllabically and grammatically correct haikus and tankas. She has also created a program that permutates variations on a Shakespearian sonnet.
Javascript Haiku Machine

Today water droops.
Now snowflakes regret the past.
Still nobody mourns.
The results vary, of course; some are surprisingly beautiful. Are the results poetry? She grins and says, "You decide."

For those unacquainted with Japanese verse-forms, a haiku has three lines, of five seven and five syllables. A tanka is a five-line form. The lines are five, seven, five, seven and seven syllables long.

Our attempt at creating programmed poetry with JavaScript yielded the following haikus:

The girls meditate.
I believe that the girls sigh.
Spring has disappeared.

And then...

Today water droops.
Now snowflakes regret the past.
Still nobody mourns.

A merging of technology and poetry? We certainly have read much worse poetry penned by human hands.

Snakeskin has a reputation for experimentation. The webzine has published poems written jointly by e-mail collaborators who've never met face to face. Snakeskin has more experiments lined up in its future: hypertext poems and more Javascript poetry programs from Linda Crespi are planned.

When asked about the future of Snakeskin, Simmers responded that, in general, the webzine will continue on its present course. Simmers states that,

"Things will change, but in ways our contributors will point out for us. As the Internet becomes the main medium by which new verse reaches its public (that's starting to happen already) poetry will be transformed as surely as it was by the coming of print or the development of the little magazine."

"So far there are only hints of what's to come. Already, though, we have the sense of poets gaining confidence from addressing a world-wide audience, and responding to instant feedback from their readers."

Simmers also elaborated on the effect of the Internet on the poetry world,

"One danger looming on the horizon is the emergence of a web-writing elite whose names crop up in almost every zine you look at. The web is international, but it's a tiny bit worrying to see the same poet published in London, New Zealand, and Idaho. Keeping the zine's quality distinctive may become a real issue."

And the challenges ahead?

"Now we're an established site. (Founded in December 1995, we sometimes feel like the grandaddies of the Web) We've got to keep looking for promise among the new poets, and not just rely on our regulars and the big boys who submit everywhere. So that's our resolution. To keep it new."

The August Issue of Snakeskin Poetry Webzine will be available online after the first week in August.

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