I've been thinking about the issue below a little further. Yes, books are excellent. We all want books, because as writers, we all have a bit of a book fetish. Of course we do, since most of us devote our entire lives to them pretty much in some way. But there's just not enough. Not enough publishers with open slots, not enough book prizes, not enough of an audience for poetry beyond ourselves. And this is not necesarily a terrible thing. I have a poetry/golf analogy. Yes, the only people usually interested in watching golf matches are those that play themselves. Ergo, poetry is the golf of the literary world. And I'm fine with that. In an ideal world, poetry would be like Hollywood, unlimited money and resources and everyone who wrote good poetry could be published by nice little presses that weren't struggling financially, that didn't have to make decisions of one author over another, by journals who could publish whoever they wanted and put out however many issues they had decent work to fill. (The lovely thing about editing an online journal is I never have to say no to things that I just can't fit spacially into an issue).
So very often, the established publishing routes--the academic presses and the larger indies--have to serve as gatekeepers, allowing only so many people through because there's only enough room and oxygen for a few while the rabble is teeming outside. Some would argue that this is exactly as it should be, the the cream rises to the top. But more and more, I see relative uninspiring work being published while others, much better writers, are still being crushed in the mob. God help the poet out there who doesn't take things into his/her own hands and find a way to distribute the work outside the bottom-line publishing world. And so micro presses, and chapbooks, and self-publishing, they're not about vanity. They're so much like indie record labels and independent film, getting you art out there despite the bottom-line, despite the woeful gatekeepers (most who don't like shutting you out, not really, well maybe the vindictive ones.) And maybe they won't always be shutting the gate on you, but that doesn't change what you're doing now. I'm always especially disconcerted by the fact that so many people have to live in the publish or perish world, where their job security depends on whether they get past the gate. It turns poetry into some rabid competive world where people will do aything to get what they want, and not at all the world of the creative arts.
hmmm...perhaps it is a bit like Hollywood in that case.