Letting People Poem
On 19 March 2011 a website called Let People Poems appeared on the internet. There was no grand announcement. No one took credit for creating it. The only information available about the site was how it described itself:
Let People Poems is social self-publishing. It is a community of contributors. It is a level playing field.
The site was a Blogspot that anyone who requested access to could publish poems on. It was essentially an online journal but its masthead proudly announced “There are no editors”. People quickly started posting. Already established writers like xTx and Frank Hinton were among the first to share work on the site but it also proved to be a great platform for people who were just starting to get their names and work out into the world. Jamie Mortara, Guillaume Morissette, and Sara June Woods started out posting their early writing on the site and are now among my favourite writers. I myself had been following the online literature scene for around a year at this point but Let People Poems was the first place I put my own writing out there.
Within three days LPP had almost reached Blogspot’s contributor limit of 100 and the site was shifted over to WordPress (the WordPress site is no longer online but you can still check out the first few posts on the original Blogspot).
At some point around here it came to the surface that the site was run by Shaun Gannon and DJ Berndt. They had geared everything about Let People Poems towards encouraging appreciation of the poetry itself. The layout was simple and unassuming, white and light blue. There were no author bios. The ability to comment on poems proved particularly important in the development of a community around the site. It was one of the few places I’ve come across online where readers interacted in-depth with the text, telling the author what their favourite lines were and offering encouragement. I remember checking the site every day to see what had been posted while I’d been asleep.
Here are a few regular contributors’ memories of the site:
Shaun Gannon and I both started our MFAs at the University of Maryland in 2010, and we were in the habit of drinking a lot. Shaun’s favorite things to talk about when he was drunk were internet writers & this mysterious website he and DJ Berndt were putting together called Let People Poems. I didn’t know anything about internet writers before I met Shaun, but I think LPP was one of the best things that could have happened at that time. It was such an open platform, and the real beauty of it was in the comment function. I’d post a poem and then other writers would give me instant positive feedback. But it wasn’t bogus—everyone really did only choose to write nice things to each other on the poems they liked, and it seemed to work out that there was someone out there for everyone. I don’t know how they got that to happen. It was a community booster. I met so many great friends and writers through LPP (including my bb Jackson). I think there were a lot of us who were using it to test out our weirder, more unconventional work, and finding that people were into it, which was so cool. Let People Poems was some of the most fun I’ve had on the internet.
let people poems was very validating and important for my self-actualization about being a poet.there were times when actually being in school wasn’t helping me to feel like i really belonged to something. sometimes it did but most times it kinda fell short. i know it was open to everyone,but it still made me feel like i was allowed in the club and accepted, even though literally no one knew me. when i was allowed posting permission it just felt like i won the lottery, but like – a lottery that everyone can win if they try? haha. the best kind of lottery?
Let People Poems was important to my development as a reader and writer of poetry because it introduced me to the world of internet literature and the many young, talented authors inhabiting that world. I was exposed to not only a lot of exciting work but also a lot of genuine warmth. Whenever someone shared a new poem, a conversation would blossom — people would comment on the poem with all sorts of encouraging feedback and banter. There always seemed to be a clear sense of community that was very optimistic and untainted, as well as a consistent variety in terms of different approaches to poetry. One of the last poems that I ever shared at LPP was a picture of a broken plastic fork in a pile of dirt, and that poem was received with just as much respect as any other poem had been. LPP was a rare place of literary love, with responses that were constructive and critical without being cold and judgmental. Letting me poem meant letting me learn so much about reading, writing, publishing, and loving poetry.
Shaun Gannon answered some questions I had about the site (I’ve already interviewed DJ for this series!):
Why did you and DJ first start Let People Poems? And why did you do it anonymously?
Let People Poems was created out of a desire to publish anonymously, as I wanted to contrast the lit journals that seemed to generate more prominence for the editors than the published authors. One night, DJ Berndt and I were chatting online, and we simultaneously came up with the idea of an open website with a non-editor. DJ typoed “let people poems” at one point while describing our goal, and I knew that would be the journal’s name.
How did you get word out about the project in the beginning? And once it was up and running, were you surprised by how strong the reaction to it was?
I admit to letting a couple writers know I was working on this project, but when we sent out initial solicitations via email, they were all anonymous as well (and admittedly overly cloying, as we felt we were making, in equal parts, a solicitation and a prank). DJ and I were surprised to see how many great writers, some already well-established in the scene, were contributing within the first couple days of going live, and we were elated when social media (primarily Twitter) and lit sites like HTMLGiant picked up on it. These brought in a lot of pageviews and new contributors, and I think that having a high standard set by the initial submissions led to some really great work. DJ and I definitely expected the site to die out within a few weeks once the novelty wore off, but the strong contributions and the monthly book contest seemed to do a good job keeping the site alive. Who knows, maybe it actually was a good idea after all.
Did it take much work to run the site or was it pretty self-sustaining?
By permitting everyone (with a WordPress account) to publish, and by taking an anonymous position that was much more administrative than editorial (I did have a couple rules about spamming the board to give everyone a fair shake at posting, but I accepted all who applied to publish on LPP), the site took very little effort to run. The initial site was created on Blogger, but we learned a bit too late that Blogger caps the number of contributors that could be added to a blog; we came very close to hitting that number in the opening weekend, so I transitioned everything to WordPress, which seems to be a more easily-managed platform. At that point, beyond running the contests, adding email addresses to the publisher list, and providing friendly warnings to multi-posters, DJ and I did very little, as the concept we were aiming for was fairly self-sustaining.
Were there any pieces published on LPP that you remember with particular fondness?
My favorite poems on LPP were those in response to other posters – that was when I most felt that we had a community going, and not just a me-me-me website. There were a couple instances of… overly excited posters who steamrolled the site for a few hours at a time, but most, if not all readers seemed genuinely interested in each others’ work and feedback. I can distinctly remember times when I felt that LPP was more useful and effective – for both other people and myself – than the MFA experience I’d received up to that point. It cost way less, too.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
One of the few things that I would do differently would be to perform more research in the platform of choice, since that would have prevented our false start on Blogger. I’m also iffy re: the administrator’s moniker. “The Friendly Gatekeeper” was chosen to highlight the fact that there isn’t an editor, and technically we WERE required by WordPress to have a “gatekeeper” to add applicants’ email addresses to the publish list (we couldn’t figure out how to make posting totally open to all writers, so that was the one requirement), but I made sure to take an overly ebullient tone in the hopes that our writers and readers would believe the site was run by an accepting entity, rather than an authoritative or elitist one – DJ and I wanted to let people poems, not let SOME people poems, so a welcoming vibe was very important to us. That doesn’t mean I didn’t come up with a dumb pseudonym, though.
The website is no longer online. Why did you decide to let the url expire?
The URL expired due to a combination of low funds and decreasing interest on both my and the other writers’ parts. DJ and I had felt satisfied with the results of the experiment pretty quickly, but I liked hosting a facet of the lit community and giving away books, so we kept it up. After a couple years, we just weren’t getting enough submissions or pageviews for the contests to work out. I probably would have renewed the URL ad infinitum if I had the funds for it, but since I already mentioned getting an MFA, you know I don’t have any of that.
Do you still have access to the archives? And if so, do you have any intention of making them public again?
That’s a good question; let me check.
Yes, all the posts are still there (the last one was about 2 years ago). When I’ve got 99 bucks lying around, maybe I’ll renew it… or we can do some crowdfunding! People love when their friends do that, right?
What have you been up to since Let People Poems closed its doors? Any other publishing projects? Your own writing? Completely unrelated activities?
After finishing up school, I got pretty sick and worked from home for a little over a year, but I also got some writing done during that period. I have a manuscript that’s a week’s worth of fake programming for the home-shopping show where they sell knives, and a project still in progress that combines grotesques, comic books, and a healthy distrust of the government – they’re both funnier than they sound, though. Currently, I’m working in a bakery due to my disgust with academia and love of cookies (in equal amounts, which are near-endless).