A paragraph towards the end of Adam Rudden's introduction to the online publication/hosting of his collection Solar Winds and Ions (Lapwing, 2011) by Poetry Ireland, describes the launch of a limited print edition of the same collection a few months before. "There was a different type of energy surrounding the launch at the Irish Writers’ Centre, in September 2011," Rudden writes. "Launching a limited edition publication has a more distinct ‘vibe’ to it than a standard publication launch. As a poet, I got a real sense of immediacy in the room: I was aware that the people seated in front of me, might be the only ones to receive a hard copy."
Note the contrast between the immediate and very real "vibe" of presenting a limited-edition publication as described by Rudden, and the surprising mundanity of it subsequently being made freely available online. Does unlimited access to the collection affect how the work in it is actually read? And is such a move in some way dismissive of those readers who attended the print launch and who "might be the only ones to receive a hard copy"?
Briefly (though everyone is able to apply their own reading to it) Solar Winds and Ions is a short collection that regards artwork as part of the poems rather than illustrations of them, and makes some interesting use of typography. The text is typical of Rudden's work in that it forms spare investigations into what may be called 'the great questions'. There's also interest in forms of communication and its breakdown. It has a clinical quality which is at times vital and refreshing, at others jarring - the poems sometimes appearing overwrought, but often, as in some of the more minimalist pieces, urgent and luminous.
Crucially, it's a collection designed for publication in print, not least because it makes no use of any of the specific publishing capabilities of the web.
The mode of making the collection public becomes of concern due to the emphasis placed on it by the poet himself. Yes, publishing online is easy and cheap. And current. Rudden also clearly wants to make a statement about accessibility. But he also understands that this is a minority-interest project, which makes its launching as a limited-edition publication somehow appropriate: it created a unique and unrepeatable event. Whether an online version becomes available to more potential readers seems irrelevant, because the mode of its conveyance also has to be appropriate. In the vastness of the internet a path to the work is essential.
Though an online presence clearly helps achieve a widening of the interest in a poet's work, could total, free and unsupported access to the poems themselves actually have the effect of diminishing their value? Where should a line be drawn? There's probably merit in a publishing model where the full material becomes freely accessible, whether online or in print, with its author being financially or otherwise compensated through live appearances and events. But the question of how it might work for minority-interest forms - and in particular poetry that doesn't specifically rely on its performance - remains.