Thursday, August 06, 2009

January's "Got poetry" campaign

(You will find this post in the comments of the blog you go to when you click on the title of this post.)

January, I'm glad you came back to this issue with some new information and some more thoughts. I think back to Edna St. Vincent Millay and her trips across the country doing readings to huge crowds and wonder where poetry has lost all the popular appeal it once so apparently enjoyed.

On the subject of self-promotion, I definitely agree with both you and Collin on this issue. Additionally, I think we must also jump on each other's bandwagon, so to speak and relentlessly promote other people's poetry that we find important to us as well.

If you look at the difference between the indie and the large publishing house, you immediately see that the latter focuses on a small number of writers and promotes them professionally. Please don’t mistake me for thinking badly of indies, I publish all of my writing there currently and am extremely grateful for their existence. What I am trying to illustrate is that about half the reading public goes to a handful of large houses and the other half goes to a group of indies that is only slightly less numerous than the readership it serves. Among the indies, the promotion ranges from none to rather professional and they don’t repeat-print works (first timers only, please) although that is beginning to change. The net result is a very diffuse and huge group of near nameless poets for whom little or inconsistent promotion is generally applied and for whom the per capita sales of each author are rather small. When compared with the big houses, we can see how effective is their concentration on a small number of name-recognition level writers and strong promotional support for each of those names.

Still, the interest in those names doesn’t seem to approach the level of popularity of Millay, Frost, and a handful like them. It seems to me that something has happened to the perception of poets as interesting, odd, exciting people worthy of, perhaps for lack of a better word, gossiping about. I guess poetry now is about ordinary, if slightly eccentric, people living ordinary lives and legendary figures of immense popular appeal are not to be found in this group anymore. Maybe I’m just trying to take a poke at a windmill here as I really can’t seem to put my finger on why poetry has slipped out of the popular view. If it was just about professional marketing, wouldn’t the big houses already be so successful that the indie market would never have even been able to assert itself? I’m obviously missing something here and would be deeply indebted if someone would be so kind as to point it out.

I hope others will have something to say about this topic and so I’m going to post it to my blog and refer them to yours where this all started. Thanks again January for continuing your discussion of this important issue.


Rethabile said...

Interesting discussion. Thanks for this, Russell. Need to ruminate.

Russell Ragsdale said...

Hi Rethabile! This is an interesting subject! Is the decline of poetry just some dilema coming out of a culture wide postmodernist thought pattern? Or has modern poetry changed in such a way that ordinary people can no longer appreciate it? Or has enjoyment of poetry simply dropped to such an all time low among the literate that only people who write poetry are willing to spend their time reading it?

I don't have the answer, my friend. I'll be interested to hear what thoughts come from your ruminations.

Great to hear from you and looking forward to more!

Rethabile said...

Did I thank you for the book? I hope I did. I read it on and off during our travels in the US. And really enjoyed it.

Now, would another literate person go out of their way to buy, read and reread it? As they would for a music CD or a whodunit or a film DVD? I don't think so, and that's a shame because this is art, too, and more time is spent working on this, carving words and polishing tone, than on making a movie. Though infinitely more money is spent making the latter.

Poets should buy each other's books, of course, if they like the poetry within, and they toot their fellow poets' horn, they should read to their children and they should take part in public readings, both as the public and as the performer.

I was amazed at how easy it is in the US to find poetry books. It is not that easy in France. You can find classic poetry books alright, but try finding contemporaries (English or French). Barnes and Noble need to come here and open me a bookshop.

Relatives of mine in the US were saying that they couldn't understand my poetry, that I used "tough" words and literary English. I knew it not to be the case. And these are educated people who enjoy the arts, painting, music, photography. They play the piano as do their children. One of their kids also paints. They all listen to classical music and the Motown sound and have palpable pleasure doing so. They read all sorts of books, with the sorry exception of poetry books. So, what's wrong here?

If they don't like my poetry, that's fine. But in fact it is poetry they seem not to like.

When my wife introduced me to one of her friends, a few years back, and told him that I wrote poetry, he suggested that we were "going to be poor." And that is the image (true as it is) folks have od poets: people writing unnecessary stuff for no money.

January raised the question of poetry's marketability. The other arts are doing it, and today's world is intricately linked with the tactics of the market place. And like her, I say we market the hell out of our work.

Tor Hershman said...

My work is only to 'shoot back' sooooooooo marketing ain't part nor parcel of the equation.

Rethabile said...

What do you mean, "shoot back?"

Russell Ragsdale said...

Hi Rethible! Glad you enjoyed my book and you are most welcome! To have been a couple of poets sitting in a shady street cafe in your part of Paris on a gentle July afternoon is riches that money can't touch.

Yeah, I know what you mean about people who are, for all intents and purposes, very artistically alive but draw a blank in the poetry area for some reason. I can't explain why this is so but I know exactly what you are talking about. It is an issue that disturbs me very much and one I'm afraid we can't afford not to look into.

I think some poets receive an appropriate amount of professional marketing but it doesn't seem to get poetry out of the 'artistic closet' unfortunately. I agree with you that we must market the hell out of our own (and each other's) work. That still leaves the question unanswered as to why poetry seems to live in limbo for most otherwise artistically savvy people?

Russell Ragsdale said...

Hi Tor! Thanks for the visit! I also find 'shoot back' a bit cryptic. I'd love to know what that means.