Q. Why are many of the most famous, classical poems missing from this anthology?
A. This site is new and I am still reviewing the literature for poems to include. However, some poems are not included because they do not fit the theme of the site, or simply because I don't like them. The poetry of Keats is a case in point. I have heard it said that his odes are the finest poems written in English, yet I find their language to be flowery and artificial. I am most interested in formalist poetry written in a natural voice (Frost is the perfect example). However, if enough people request that certain classical poems be included, I will probably oblige.
Q. Why are many of the 20th century's best formal poets not represented here?
A. As I explain in the Preface, most poetry published in the 20th century is still under copyright. It is beyond my budget to pay reprint fees. I am focussing on publishing the poetry of lesser-known formalist poets. Please keep reading for more information on copyright issues.
Q. How should I submit my poems to the Poem Tree for publication?
A. This being an anthology and not a magazine, I include only poetry which has been previously published. If you have published a book of poetry, I would be interested to see it, especially if it is metered poetry. If you do not have a book or chapbook, then you should have at least 20 poems published in magazines. Click here to send me an e-mail to discuss the matter. For more information on how I do things, click on "Comments to Poets", above.
Many poets over the years have written one, two or three great poems, but the total body of their work did not reach the level necessary to be included among the "greats". I am looking for those isolated poems which would otherwise slip through the fingers of history. If you know of such a poem, please send it to me with the author's name and any relevant data that would help me track down the poet or copyright-holder, and I will consider it for publication.
Q. Is it safe to publish my poems on the internet? Can they be stolen?
A. I am not a lawyer, so I cannot give a definitive answer; but here are my impressions:
First, very few people will be interested in stealing your poems. Most people are fiercely proud of their art, and the thought of claiming someone else's poetry as their own would be unthinkable. Furthermore, there is very little money to be made from poetry, so poems in and of themselves are not particularly valuable. However, on rare occasion someone does steal a poem, so the question needs to be answered.
Publishing your poetry does help to establish your authorship, but publication in and of itself is not the final proof that you are the author. After all, a thief could get hold of your poem and publish it before you do. Were someone to steal your poem, you would have to provide as much evidence as you could that the poem was yours: handwritten or typed drafts, witnesses who read or heard you recite the poem before it was published, a stylistic analysis which shows that it is consistent with your other work, etc.
Publishing your poem in a magazine may provide slightly better evidence of authorship than publishing your poem on the internet, simply because a magazine is a physical thing which can be brought into court, whereas the internet is an electronic medium which changes every day.
If you are concerned about having your poems stolen, here are some steps you can take to establish your authorship, should the need arise:
1. As soon as a poem is finished to your satisfaction, mail a copy to a trusted friend and ask him or her to keep it along with the cancelled envelope.
2. Keep all of your old drafts of the poem, and any associated notes.
3. If you keep a handwritten diary, note the names of your poems in your diary as they are completed.
4. If you attend a poetry workshop or peer group in which you distribute copies of your poem for critiquing, ask the members of the group to sign and date their copies and then return them to you.
5. As an alternative to the previous step, post your poem on a bulletin board where critiques are offered and then, when you have accumulated a series of critiques, copy and save the series (also called a "thread"). The best poetry bulletin board that I know of is at www.ablemuse.com/erato.
6. Submit your poem to a magazine for publication.
But back to the original question: Is publishing your poem on the internet as safe as publishing in a magazine? Probably not. If the site closes, and the programs are deleted, no record would remain of your publication. But as long as the site remains open, and your poem remains published, then the safety factor is about the same. (I hasten to add that I am talking about first-time publication of a poem. Having a poem reprinted on the internet after it has been published in a book or magazine poses no risk at all.)
Q. How do I know if another person's poem is protected by copyright or if it is in the public domain?
A. The laws have changed over the years. Generally speaking, anything published in 1922 or earlier is in the public domain. Also, poems which were published in 1963 or earlier without a copyright notice are also in the public domain (although authors had the right to file an application to correct the mistake). Since 1963, a copyright notice has not been required; simply publishing the work is enough to give it copyright protection. Furthermore, if the poet has made a declaration that his poems are in the public domain, then they are (Judson Jerome did that, hoping that it would increase the circulation of his poems; I don't know if it did). But what does "publishing" mean? It means that the work has been placed before the public in some tangible way, either by printing it and distributing it, posting the work on the internet, or broadcasting it over the airwaves. Prior to publication, works are protected as the personal property of the creator.
For works published in 1978 and later, the copyright term is the life of the author plus 70 years. For works published prior to 1978, the term is 75 years plus 20 years (the 20 years were added by a law sponsored by the late Sonny Bono – yes, the husband of Cher, as in "Sonny & Cher" – who became a Congressman before he killed himself by skiing into a tree). Because of this 20-year extension, works which were falling into the public domain 75 years after publication stopped falling into the public domain. Starting in 2018, works which are 95 years old will again start falling into the public domain; but until then, 1923 remains the cut-off year for public domain status.
Incidentally, some people, including me, question the constitutionality of the present copyright laws. Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the Constitution states: "[The Congress Shall Have the Power] To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries". This clause clearly states that copyrights are granted to authors, not to their heirs and succeeding generations of heirs, as is now the case. However, it is possible that the lives of successful authors would be placed in danger if their deaths had the power to liberate their works into the public domain. It should also be pointed out that 95 years is the standard copyright term in many European countries, and the 20-year extension simply brought the United States in line with those countries. Nonetheless, it seems a shame that the public has to wait 95 years to freely enjoy creative works.
There is a "catch" in the law that you should know about: If two versions of a work are published at different times, each is copyrighted separately. For example, most of Emily Dickinson's poems were published in edited form before 1923 (they were edited by her family and friends in an attempt to "improve" them), but the unedited versions were not published until 1955. The early versions have now fallen into the public domain, but the later, unedited versions will be under copyright until 2050, which is about 185 years after they were written. Those early versions can be reprinted without paying fees, but who wants to reprint them, knowing that they are not genuine?
The "fair use" doctrine gives authors the right to quote the works of other authors if the quoted material is essential to the new work. Thus, a reviewer may quote portions of a work he is reviewing, the author of a critical essay may quote portions of a work he is criticizing, and the author of an opinion essay may quote portions of a work to support his opinions, etc. Generally speaking, you may not quote an entire work in such a manner, but since poems are so short, quoting an entire poem may be acceptable. How far the fair use doctrine extends is the stuff of litigation.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has a useful table which gives the various provisions, dates and changes in the laws. Click here to view that table.