Archive for the ‘poetry’ Category

Poetry is Underappreciated

September 10, 2011

I wandered across a discussion going on at No Tells and wanted to bring it here. What doesn’t interest me is the center of the argument that seemed to sprout up from HTML giant’s original post and which led to numerous comments on (apparently) several sites and blog posts. And, honestly, what these other sites (like No Tells) have said, already cover this specific issue more fully and more knowledgeably than I could. I’m not a publisher, I’m not even sure I would want to call myself a poet despite dabbling in the art from time to time. Instead, what stuck out to me was this chunk in the middle of No Tell’s post:

No Tell Books’ best selling title broke even after three years and is now earning a very modest profit. This is by an author whose work has appeared in places like Poetry and Best American Poetry. This title has been taught at universities. How many copies does one have to sell to be the best selling title at No Tell Books after four years? 228. That is not a typo. This number doesn’t include what the author has sold herself, probably around 200 copies on her own. But the press doesn’t earn money on those sales.

So if that’s a best seller, what’s a flop? 74 sales after five years (again, this number doesn’t include what the author sold on his own, which was maybe 50 or so). (UPDATE: Gatza states, “In general, books by new authors sell around 25 – 30 copies.” Shocking? Only if you don’t know the first thing about poetry publishing.)

This is the reality of poetry publishing. There are certainly presses that sell more copies. A poetry title reviewed in The New York Times can sell 2-4k copies, it is true. But small, independent presses, those small shops, usually run by one or a few people, rarely see those kinds of sales. University presses, for the most part, don’t see those kinds of numbers for poetry. I attended a panel by the publisher of Grove/Atlantic and he said his press’ poetry sales was around 800 per title. They publish “big-name” poets, their books are often shelved by chain bookstores, they have good distribution, a strong reputation . . . and that’s what they sell. Publishing poetry is their charity–their poetry titles are subsidized by their fiction and non-fiction sales.

I am somewhat shocked by this because I am new to poetry publishing. I had no idea what sales should be expected by a publisher putting out quality works (or crappy works, even). As I’ve seen elsewhere, part of the problem might be over-saturation with publishers and people wanting to be poets and make some sort of living or mark in the industry. Maybe there are just too damn many. But that’s awfully pessimistic and not an agenda or direction I would really want to push my way down. For one, I’m willing to bet that there has always been a bunch of people wanting to be poets, people who filled notebooks full of  verse and prose, and just didn’t have the numerous opportunities present to modern poets. Secondly, if there are that many people out there looking to be published, there certainly seems to be a market out there.

The problem that I see is that it appears to be a one-way market. A bunch of people wanting to be published but not overly enthusiastic about throwing their money down and seeing other people published. Part of me has to admit to being a part of this group, at least to the extent of really not being a poetry person. I will rarely buy literary mags because of the sheer volume of poetry in them and my lack of interest and chapbooks, well, pretty damn unlikely to get my money.  This is something I certainly didn’t bring up very often at AWP.

In glancing through some of the replies on the other sites, I see there have already been people pushing for better marketing, and poets re-thinking their ambitions, maybe not pursuing conventional publishing routes and instead just seeking to get their work viewed by as many people as possible. And the numbers pulled into the light by No Tells and BlazeVOX may support that. After all, if the best they can hope a new book does is 25-30 copies, it’s clearly not being exposed to a great number of people. And if you’re not being read, what does it matter who publishes you?

So maybe it’s time to go back to mimeographed pages stapled together and sold out of the back of the car or stacked in the public areas of universities? Or some sort of collection of websites that push poetry that can link to each other and push viewers from one site to the next? Or maybe it’s time to start buying up adspace in news papers and publishing poems in the ad space?

I don’t know. That’s why I’m putting this out there. Poetry seems under appreciated, at least by people with money to throw down on it. While many of us are closet Silvia Plath’s, we’re also not interested in reading what the uncloseted poet across the hall has published. And maybe the poetry scene is really dying a slow death, filled with people who continue to push the medium but who continue to have an ever quieter voice beyond the edges of their personal radiance.  We need to find aways of not just helping our small presses survive, but of pushing poetry back to the front and center, or at least onto the stage. Alright, back to work.

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what I wish was a drunken conversation in a McDonald’s at AWP

February 8, 2011

The g/f and I went to one off-site event while we were at AWP, at The Asylum, where we watched some poets read, munched some vegan appetizers (which were incredible, despite their non-animalness)(not awesome enough to make me give up my animal tasty treats for good, though) and where I got the beginnings of a headache and tired of some personal space intrusion. This was still at the time I was having to do a TON of grading for the courses I teach, so I wasn’t in the best mood to begin with.

So, we left after the readings and struck out for the convention again, hoping to catch the last bit of the Jhumpa Lahiri keynote address. Instead, we wandered into a basement McDonald’s and griped about the state of poetry and the faint of heart, spotlight shunning writers who just don’t stomp the terra firma, to borrow and, likely, butcher a quote from Hunter Thompson.

First, I should say, I’m not a huge poetry fan right now. There just isn’t a lot out there that interests me and a lot of it sounds pretty similar. This isn’t to say it’s not good, I just don’t find a lot of it catching or interesting. It seems a lot of what is said is said to work in a slam environment though not necessarily on the page or even in your own head. Again, this isn’t to say it’s not good, it just feels like everyone is doing the same thing right now. And none of them really say a whole helluva lot.

And part of the problem seems to be this odd anti-intellectualism that permeates poetry (and, truth be told, fiction). This isn’t to say they’re dumb, or ignorant, just that I have continually witnessed an aversion to research and reading something that isn’t fiction or poetry.  I’ve griped before about this idea that the work is sparked by some muse and comes from on-high, which is another way of saying what I often heard repeated, that “you don’t think about it, you just write it and it’s THERE.” Which I disagree with too a fair extent, despite how many well written poems I’ve read that chronicle the depths of your despair in the eyes of a puppy on a sunny day.

Which, in a roundabout but perfectly logical (at the time) way, took me to Allen Ginsberg and my declaration that he was the last poet that I could genuinely respect and admire as a Great (capital G) Poet (capital P) because he not only wrote great poetry but, by all appearances, had a meaning and purpose behind what and how he was writing. I’ve liked poets since him, sure, I really enjoy Bukowski, but respect him as a writer? As an artist? Maybe not so much.

And what sort of disgusted myself with this declaration is that it’s sort of like bringing Hitler or the Nazis into an internet argument – it’s just so over the top inarguable, that it’s pointless to bring it up. I mean, is there anyone who is going to argue that there was a bigger, more influential and flat out better poet after Ginsberg in the last half of the Twentieth century? I couldn’t, and wouldn’t, unless we begin pulling in guys like Bob Dylan into the argument, or try to argue that filmmakers are poets in a visual medium.

And what disgusts me a bit now is that I know, and have known, other poets who are very good, who are dedicated to their craft, and who I stupidly insulted. But, at the same time, I still have this nagging feeling of having still been right, to a certain degree. There have been poets since Ginsberg who entered our social consciousness, who found themselves or made themselves part of our national fabric, but none of them have carried the weight of Ginsberg, none of them have cast his shadow. None of them have stomped the land.

Anyway, that’s my off-handed gripe/post. Take it with the grain of salt it was written with.

Rane Arroyo – RIP

May 11, 2010

Just learned today that I lost a friend of mine early Friday morning to a cerebral hemorrhage. I met Rane Arroyo during my stint at UT. I was pursuing an MA in English Literature and had an opportunity to take a class I figured I would enjoy for a change, a creative writing/poetry class, and jumped at it. Rane was a wonderful professor. He cared about all of hsi students. He would do anything to help nudge them down the road of becoming better writers. He gave. He gave a lot. He gave of himself, he gave his time, he gave his friendship, he gave his joy. He was a joyful person despite all of the crap he had to go through and I only knew a fraction of that crap.

The immediate reaction is to, in some way, quantify the loss. One Rane Arroyo is equivalent to X amount of sorrow. Rane was unquantifiable. He was too young to go and the world is the worst off for losing him. If you get a chance, check out his stuff.  Donate some time/money to your local humane society or animal shelter. Laugh. Be joyful. Rane was joy.

Eric Darby – Scratch and Dent Dreams (reading)

April 21, 2010

ericdarby.com

Atwood,Rushdie, IPad Stuff, Australia and some other bits

March 23, 2010

Margaret Atwood was the recipient of $1 million from The Dan David Prize. Beyond the ten percent she is required to share through Doctoral and Post-Doctoral Scholarships, she is sharing the prize money with another writer, Amitav Ghosh.

Salman Rushdie has archives on display at Emory University. The Rushdie-specific content is interesting (you can pull up a draft of one of his novels and edit/re-write bits of it, a weird bibliophile’s Eden somewhat analogous to an Air Force fanatic climbing into a military flight simulator) but the issue of preservation. John Updike donating fifty 5 1/4 inch disks shortly before his death is a good example of an author passing on a technology that simply no longer exists (admit it, how many of you have ever seen, let alone used, those big 5 1/4 inch disks?).  At some point, and quite likely in our life times if not within the next twenty years, we will see computing move entirely beyond decides like harddrives with moving parts and possibly even beyond solid state memory (like flashdrives) to lord knows what. are we at risk of losing great swathes of information simply because we’ll no longer be able to access it?

Blogging on demand? Well, maybe. IBM is working on a widget to connect bloggers and readers in a unique way. It’s essentially backwards from how the writer/reader dynamic has been accepted. The writer plugs away at something, throws it out there, and hopes to God someone reads it. Well, IBM is looking to find a way for readers to suggest topics for blogging and for those suggestions to be forwarded to the appropriate blogger to then do with it what he is told to do. On the one hand, as a rarely visited blog writer (unless I criticize illustrators, heh), I can certainly see the appeal. On the other hand, I write about what I write about because it interests me – not necessarily because I want to get a thousand hits a day. My reviews/critiques are dry and not for everyone. And that’s okay.

Make poetry your career and be the best at it. Over night. While it reads as a somewhat tongue-in-cheek way of pushing for commercial success and societal significance as a poet, there is also an undeniable scent of truth to the vast majority of it.  I read lit journals, I glance through the annual year end Best Of collections, and am largely unimpressed with the vast vast vast majority of the poetry.  It lacks something. What it lacks is hard to put into words but there is just a gut reaction that is missing when reading it. At risk of sounding melodramatic (or maybe just wistful), it seems as if poetry is too much a way to make ends meet and not a way of life. The idea of Poet as Occupation should be a liberating one. Instead, it seems we may have become Henry Ford’s dream given artistic form. Maybe i’m not taking from it what was meant to be taken from it, but this is what it made me think about. There is a typed version of the same article at Huffington Post.

Finally, Australia is falling behind the EBook revolution. And they’re not happy about it. And they’re trying to figure out how to catch up. And Amazon is selling Kindles there without any real product support. And Apple hasn’t even hired anyone to run their Australian version of the ipad virtual store thing yet. Australia is really just being patently ignored.  And from it all, what really stood out to me, was the attention the IPad is still generating despite it looking like a fairly mediocre blow-up of the IPhone. I haven’t been thrilled with the IPad but if it somehow leads to EBook industry being opened up some more, then it’s done a good thing. Another piece of interesting info was the fact that publishers aren’t just creating digital copies of their novels, but things that are closer to app files than documents. I’m not a huge computer guy, despite the (numerous) IPad postings. But I keep seeing talk of HTML5 coming out in the near future and how it will do away with Flash and whatever else. I think this could also be the avenue for e-literature to eventually head down. Instead of apps, just use a powerful, multip-purpose programming language (as the next HTML appears to be) that allows different e-texts to be opened with a single browser.  Which makes me wish even more that I had any idea whatsoever how to create a webpage strictly through code (and not through those fuzzy point and click editors like Dreamweaver).

The Reading

March 12, 2010

Last night I went to a poetry reading involving my g/f and a couple of other women. Apparently this month is Women’s History Month or something. I don’t mean for that to sound denigrating, I really am not sure what it is as it was only mentioned to me once, but it set the stage for who was presenting poems and for the subject matter.

I’m happy to say the whole thing went well. Kate was good. She says she was nervous but it didn’t show. The second lady I wasn’t overly thrilled with but was still good. Confident. at ease. the open mic was less successful. One woman read a poem by someone else, a poem about a woman with a hat made from iguanas. It went far too long and I couldn’t help but wonder why someone would read a poem on open mic that wasn’t there own. One woman delivered her poem particularly well, from memory, clearly accostomed to performing but it lost energy halfway through. An undergrad got up and read poems that sounded like poems written by an undergrad but he gets marks for just stepping up and doing it.

What  I again realized, though, was something I’ve realized in the past. I’m not always good at following something being spoken. My interest wavers. I lose track of what’s being said or I simply don’t bother following it from the start.

What I do pay attention to is the person. The performance. The audience. Kate looked good up there. The audience laughed at seemingly appropriate moments. Without entirely following her poems I knew she was doing well.

Strangely, the poetry I followed the best was the one that was more directly performed rather than read. She was a blonde woman, sturdy with hair that just seemed to go everywhere for a bit. She wore glasses, rectangularish with this plastic frames. Very much the student look before incorporating such quirks in smaller more focused ways for adulthood. Her poem started out and it was funny and catchy about tits on TV at the house of her guy friends but it devolved into a bit of social commentary and what not and lost its energy.

There is something about a performance that focuses my attention.

What’s doubly odd is that I can sit through a recorded reading just fine. I have been watching some David Foster Wallace readings on youtube lately and find them interesting and engaging. But they can’t be all that different from a reading attended in person. Granted, he may just have a style that I find easier to “get into” but maybe the fact that it is filtered through a screen also has something to do with it. The idea that it becomes instantly more entertaining and engaging the moment it is viewed through an additional medium rather than just with my own eyes some how making it more palatable is an interesting and also disturbing one.

Does something filtered through an entertainment medium now lend credibility, even if only subconsciously? I mean, I watch television and I can decide what I think is crap and what isn’t crap and what I want to watch and what I don’t want to watch. but is there still a thought process saying that at least since it’s on television that there must be some purpose to it? Something that makes it worth of being transported to my living room as entertainment? and what’s youtube but the world’s largest cable subscription? Granted, most of the shows are, at most, a few minutes long but still, they’re there to be decided upon whether or not they should be viewed and just being there…well, are they more legitimate for that?

and this is without going into the idea of what exactly legitimacy is. Something that I, frankly, don’t want to delve into right now and will leave for everyone to contextualize as they desire. After all, I think that once given a basic set of parameters, even loosely defined as in the rambling predecessor to this paragraph, I think a general idea of legitimacy as intended by for this piece can be approximated by everyone.

In the end, all I’m really wondering is why I can watch a reading on youtube and be entertained and engaged and follow what is being said while not having a roughly equative experience in-person. I wonder if this is some innate or, possibly, learned shortcoming of mine of if it is something everyone has to deal with. And it’s not a problem I solely have with readings of fiction/poetry but with concerts as well. I’ve been to a few verve pipe concerts with my girlfriend and, outside of the songs I know, I’ve really had no idea what was being sung for great stretches of time but I did enjoy the music. Like a verve pipe concert, last night I didn’t always know what was going on but I did enjoy the music.

Rubbertop Review – submissions

December 7, 2009

Rubbertop Review is a journal published by the University of Akron that focuses on contributions from residents of Ohio.  They accept Fiction, Poetry, and creative non-fiction (was there a time where non-fiction was just non-fiction?) and their deadline for submissions is February 1st.

For more information, including addresses to send work to and guidelines for work submitted, check out Rubbertop Review’s website.

Poetry is Bottoming Out

March 26, 2009

The NEA says we’re reading more fiction but less poetry. 

The dismal poetry findings stand in sharp contrast not only to the rise in general fiction reading, but also to the efforts of the country’s many poetry-advocacy organizations, which for the past dozen years have been creating programs to attract larger audiences. These programs are at least in part a response to the growing sense that poetry is being forgotten in the U.S. They include National Poetry Month (April); readings, lectures and contests held across the country; initiatives to get poems into mainstream publications such as newspapers; and various efforts to boost poetry’s presence online (poets.org, the Web site of the Academy of American Poets, even launched a mobile version optimized for use on the iPhone). Yet according to the NEA report, in 2008, just 8.3 percent of adults had read any poetry in the preceding 12 months. That figure was 12.1 percent in 2002, and in 1992, it was 17.1 percent, meaning the number of people reading poetry has decreased by approximately half over the past 16 years.

Sunil Iyengar, the NEA’s director of the Office of Research and Analysis, says the agency can’t answer with certainty why fewer adults are reading poetry. He and others believed the opposite would be true, largely because of poetry’s expansion onto the Internet. “In fact,” he says, “part of our surmise as to why fiction reading rates seem to be up might be due to greater opportunities through online reading. But we don’t know why with poetry that’s not the case.”

they later hit on what I side with. A lot of poetry is just bad. The stuff has more outlets than it did but I’m an English major, an amateur poet (admittedly poor), and reader myself and I have a hard time finding the determination to bother reading any new poetry I come across. But at least people are reading fiction again. Go Fiction