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).

Bonta video poem – “the wanderers’ blessing”

Look what Dave Bonta has made, from one of the poems in Forever Will End On Thursday. I love this!

As I wrote to Dave: I would never have thought of pairing the footage and the poem, but the footage speaks to the themes in the poem — solidarity yet separateness; deep wariness and alertness to the environment; the need for camouflage and the longing for connection — all things that characterize the ‘order of strangers and interlopers.’ The music resonates as well – made me think of yearning and unfinishedness. It’s an unexpected connection you made, but I think it works.

(The poem originally appeared at Escape Into Life.)

more poetry off the page

I’ve been looking at loads of poetry videos lately and one that I have gone back to is a piece by Italian poet Caterina Davinio. Her point of entry is not the text – in fact there is almost no text in the piece – but I still came away feeling I had experienced a poem. Which was very surprising to me, as I have always conceived of text as a sine qua non of poetry.

And a quote from Orson Welles, according to this site:

“A film is never really good unless the camera is an eye in the head of a poet. Distributors, naturally, are all of the opinion that poets don’t sell seats. They do not discern whence comes the very language of the cinema. Without poets, the vocabulary of the film would be far too limited ever to make a true appeal to the public. The equivalent of a babble of infants would not sell many seats. If the cinema had never been fashioned by poetry, it would have remained no more than a mechanical curiosity, occasionally on view like a stuffed whale.”

–Orson Welles, from Ribbon of Dreams

Lots to think through, still.

poetry off the page (cont’d)

Quick additional note on taking poetry off the page to add to yesterday’s post — found a good tour d’horizon post where Ron Silliman outlines the scope of currently available offerings, from “all the videos that are simply documentation of readings,” to things like Billy Collins’ expectedly accessible The Dead, to a “middle ground” clip linking urban signs and graffiti by Tom Konyves, ending in a (densely inaccessible in my universe, I’m afraid) series of five short works by Nico Vassilakis.

More at The Continental Review and Moving Poems.

poetry off the page – sound & vision

“..a poet has to teach the reader how to read each poem. While it was not my original intention, I can see that animated poems could serve as a reader’s guide to my own system of poetics: they demonstrate the way I invite the reader to approach the text from several directions and allow phrases to interact vertically as well as horizontally, and refer back within the text itself through parallel structures (spacial and grammatical). At the moment, I don’t see the animations as a replacement for the poems on the page: I like the A4 frame and compose within that space first. However, it will be interesting to see if working with animation influences the way I compose poetry.”

Ren Powell is undertaking some remarkable explorations on her blog AnimaPoetics. There are of course millions of ways to take a poem “off the page” and I find myself both mildly haunted by the limitless possibilities suggested by the concept and often disappointed by what’s actually out there (although this piece, featuring paintings by Janet Snell and a poem by Belinda Subraman, recently stirred some chords for me).

It seems that everything is being taken to a new level in Ren’s work, though. Check it out. I’ve enjoyed all the pieces she has put together recently, especially A Primer and Hydrotherapy.