poetry doesn’t sell because it isn’t performed well enough

Interesting reading from the folks at Commercial Poetry:

… poetry sales figures make it abundantly clear that no one buys poetry without performance of that poem, of that poet’s work or of poetry in general. Aside from the paltry numbers involved, the model of publishing a tome and then doing readings for a few dozen friends and fellow poets fails for two reasons:

- it must be a performance, not a reading; and,
– it is ass-backwards: live, film or theatrical production comes before any expectation of profitable text publication.

This was true even in poetry’s heyday. Shakespeare’s plays were not collected and published until well after he retired. How many copies would his scripts have sold without production? Just as you don’t buy MP3s of songs/artists you’ve never heard, interest in individual poets usually began with seeing their work performed, not necessarily by the poet*. If enough of that writer’s work caught your fancy you might buy the book or catch the author on tour. Contrast that to poetry’s status quo: to no one’s surprise, people who have never encountered a contemporary poem being performed competently are not enthused about reading any particular poem or poetry in general. How many Superbowl tickets are purchased by those who have never seen a football game?

I especially love the footnote corresponding to the asterisk above:

* The notion that anyone other than the author would want to perform a contemporary poem seems utterly foreign to today’s poets. As long as this is the case there is no hope for poetry’s reanimation.

Cross-posting at Voice Alpha (of course).

trouble with Salt

As Rob and Katy note, the UK’s Salt Publishing is having financial woes. Salt director Chris Hamilton-Emery suggests buying just one book to help tip the balance in its favor. Since I already have Rob’s Opposite of Cabbage, I just bought Katy’s Me and the Dead. That’s kind of cheating, since I’ve been meaning to treat myself to it forever, but hey, win-wins are good. Fingers crossed for Salt.



poetry discussion lists

Poetics List: Our aim is to support, inform, and extend those directions in poetry that are committed to innovations, renovations, and investigations of form and/or/as content, to the questioning of received forms and styles, and to the creation of the otherwise unimagined, untried, unexpected, improbable, and impossible.

Wom-po: An international listserv devoted to the discussion of Women’s Poetry. Membership is open to all individuals who are interested in discussing poetry written by women. The discussion covers women poets of all periods, aesthetics, countries, and ethnicities.

NewPoetry List: Has two purposes: information and discussion related to contemporary poetry. We welcome publication announcements, reviews, essays, open letters, quotes, news items, calls for submissions, and, of course, poems and your commentary.


These are the three I know of and it’s quite surprising how long it took me to gain awareness of their existence, and then to actually sign up for them. I haven’t determined the exact List Serv Ratio of Noise to Substance for any yet, but so far so good, in all three cases.

Are there any other poetry lists out there that no-one’s told me about?

premature talk of greatness

I’m with Reb and Amy on this one. 

And, every other consideration aside, history decides the answer to who is ‘great’ in any field. Not us, writing now, however smart and well-informed we may be (or not). What we think now is not necessarily what history will think 50 or 100 years from now.

She’s funny that way, history.

In Praise of Rareness

Responding to complaints that Poetry magazine should give all its space to poetry and/or much less to prose, an interesting article by Christian Wiman:

“..a strong case can be made that the more respect you have for poetry, the less of it you will find adequate to your taste and needs. There is a limit to this logic, of course, or else Plato would be the patron saint of the art. But still, an overdeveloped appetite for poetry is no guarantee of taste or even of love, and institutionalized efforts at actually encouraging the over-consumption of poetry always seem a bit freakish, ill-conceived, and peculiarly American, like those mythic truck stops where anyone who can eat his own weight in rump roast doesn’t have to pay for it.”

Surely it’s a matter of degree and some publications can be, should be, and are more discriminating than others. They set the bar the highest and that ultra-high bar is certainly needed in the industry at large (poetry being an industry, n’est-ce pas). But to apply the same high bar across the publishing board? Yeek.

Possibly he is only talking of Poetry and its ilk, though, and not positing a categorical imperative, in which case I’ll shut up.

Online poetry workshops & a review challenge

Midge over at The Smug Gnome took an interesting look at online poetry workshops. Thanks for that round-up, Midge. Two he didn’t mention are The Wild Poetry Forum and The Waters. I’ve just started checking them both out. Too early to say much yet, although none of them seem to have the workmanlike tell-it-like-it-is ethos that makes PFFA such a great place to be (not that I’m that I’m biased or anything, ahem).

Meanwhile, Julie over at Carter’s Little Pill has just issued an almost irresistible challenge. Great idea!

iPod poetry

Poetry for iPods. Holy crap! I haven’t even got an iPod for music yet. Among the poets available for download, New Yorker Michael Donaghy. (Even if you don’t get the iPod thingy, please read his poem Haunts.)

By the way, this is one of my favorite blogs, although you would not think it, looking at all the tech savvy and stuff I have not got. I have a you can look but don’t touch attitude to high tech gadgets.  As of today.  Working on it, though.


Ran into the African Book Centre online today. Apparently a real place in London’s Covent Garden, but closed just now for a “planned three-year redvelopment plan.” Mail order service continues.

The scary thing about it is that the site has a list of Africa’s 100 best books (actually closer to 80 if you count them, but still).  I was appalled at how few of these authors I had even heard of (we won’t even discuss how many I’ve actually read). I counted 13 – Chinua Achebe, Mariama Ba, Nadine Gordimer, Cheikh Hamidou Kane, Camara Laye, Naghib Mahfouz, Okot p’Bitek, Alan Paton, Nawal Al Saadawi, Tayeb Salih, Leopold Senghor, Aminata Sow Fall & Wole Soyinka. (Note: I feel one shouldn&apos;t really get credit for Mahfouz, Al Saadawi and Salih, as they are also part of the Arab canon and so are twice as exposed.) 

Don’t know who compiled this list, but, hey, this is a book-selling site, and a fairly niche one, too, so one is surely safe in assuming that a hefty degree of consensus/mainstreamness  went into the compilation.

Note: I typed “African canon” into Google and got not much, apart from this Google query: “Did you mean to search for: American canon?”

That would be no, Google. (At least it didn’t say: “Did you mean: Western canon?”) 

Other note:  I searched Asian canon, and only found this entry, entitled Re-writing the Asian canon.  At least there’s one to re-write. Go, Asia. Come on, Africa. 

Jack Prelutsky – children’s Poet Laureate

We now have a children’s Poet LaureateJack Prelutsky. Woohoo! Look forward to seeing what he makes of the position. A sample online workshop with Jack Prelutsky for your young ones at home.  


Super Samson Simpson  

by Jack Prelutsky 

I am Super Samson Simpson,

I&apos;m superlatively strong,

I like to carry elephants,

I do it all day long,

I pick up half a dozen

and hoist them in the air,

it&apos;s really somewhat simple,

for I have strength to spare.

My muscles are enormous,

they bulge from top to toe,

and when I carry elephants,

they ripple to and fro,

but I am not the strongest

in the Simpson family,

for when I carry elephants,

my grandma carries me.I saw at least one carping article on the web that said, What about Maurice Sendak? Well, it could be what about a whole bunch of other people, couldn&apos;t it. Go, Jack, I say.