Throwing my two cents into the cauldron of fascinating discussion initiated by the amazing Jessica Piazza around the question of paying (or not paying) for poetry. I very much agree with Rattle’s Tim Green, and have put together this post following the argument he makes that the ratio of poets to poetry consumers makes the traditional supply/demand commercial paradigm pretty much unworkable for poetry.
Caveat: I am the first to recognize that the figures below really are completely unscientific and pulled together from an unrelated set of sources. But I do think that while the true figures might vary in one direction or another, the broad set together are a reasonable reflection of current reality. A couple of graphics to start with:
Number of U.S. novelists: 1,000,000
U.S. Population: 316,000,000
Number of U.S. novel consumers: 186,440,000 (ie 59% of 316,000,00)
Annual $ available for novel consumption (assume $20 per person/year) = $3.7bn
Ratio of novelists to novel consumers: 1:186
In other words, each novelist is potentially supported by at least 186 novel consumers who are not themselves novel producers and who are not competing for a portion of the annual novel dollars available.
Number of U.S. poets (middle ground sorta between here and here): 200,000
Number of U.S. poetry consumers: 200,000 (in general, it is pretty much poets who buy poetry, but not all of them do, so this number may be over generous)
Annual $ available for poetry consumption (assume $20 per person/year) = 4,000,000 (0.1% of novel dollars available)
Ratio of poets to poetry consumers: 1:1
In other words, each poet is potentially supported by one poetry consumer, and that one consumer is probably also a poetry producer and also hoping for a share of the tiny annual pot of available poetry dollars.
Conclusion: Setting up poet to compete commercially against poet for limited resources in such a commercially-skewed reality really strikes me as bad energy for both poetry and the poetry community. In closing, I’ll echo the words of Terry Wolverton, featured recently at Jessica’s Poetry Has Value blog:
“Rather than view writing poetry as labor, and the poems themselves as commodities, I would prefer to view it as practice, as in a spiritual practice, the product of which is the creation of energy. When I read poems, I am looking to see the world anew, to find something of substance to help me live better. My aim is that an expression that comes out of my pen may strike a chord with someone, shift their view of a situation, elevate their perspective, help them grapple with a challenge that before seemed unmanageable. I don’t want to calculate my words or their presentation in order for them to sell better; I would rather work to increase their vibratory frequency so they may matter more.”
Thanks again to Jess for initiating this great discussion!