Monday, November 3, 2008

A 51st Post Retrospective

Reviewing American poetry, we find:

1) There are too few books of poetry sold in America.

2) Po-biz itself seems to be "healthy" and thrives in academia. Unfortunately, its main product seems not to be poetry but posturing.

3) Slam poetry also thrives, but in the ether. It's exciting in the sound but printed, falls down.

4) The two shall never meet.

5) Narrative poetry is neglected but tends to do well when it can get published, which is not often enough.

6) The number of "trained poets" is staggering.

7) They must be the only ones who buy books of poetry.

8) To solve this we should change the way we write and aggressively market poetry.

If you're someone who is satisfied with the state of American poetry and thinks we should just write for maybe 1/3 of 1% of the population, then I'm not really talking to you.

But if you think that the reading public (1/3 of America, or 100 million people) would read poetry if they could find anything good, if you're interested in expanding the readership of poetry, if you want to consider what your audience wants and deliver it to them with brilliant artistry, then I have three questions:

What have I left out?
Where am I wrong?
What do you think we can do?

Cheers for the next fitty,

#9: Visual "poetry" isn't poetry but rather the same thing as acrostics and comics -- for lack of a better term, propago.


Rachel Fox said...

Well, I can't speak for North America but on the academia thing in general...maybe all academic poets should have to leave their homes and jobs. Maybe they should be dragged kicking and screaming out into the rest of the world to see what they can write about once they're out there. Maybe they should be forced to write poems that someone (other than another academic) can read and least some of. Maybe all poetry prizes and journals should be banned.

Does that seem a bit harsh? Shame to spoil such an otherwise great day.

G. M. Palmer said...

Maybe all academic poets should have to leave their homes and jobs.

Maybe a little harsh but I understand the point that leads us to:

Maybe they should be dragged kicking and screaming out into the rest of the world to see what they can write about once they're out there.

This would be a good start. But we'd have to give them a vacation out of their cities as well. Though I'm a bit frightened of just making more Winter's Days.

Maybe they should be forced to write poems that someone (other than another academic) can read and least some of.

I would second this -- except it's much more easily achieved not through force but marketing which is why your next point:

Maybe all poetry prizes and journals should be banned.

Is so important. I think if we simply add "publically funded" or "tied to a university" or "non-profit" we would get somewhere on the right track.

Modern academic poetry is an excellent example of what happens when a commodity is cut off from the market (Ma Bell, 80s cable, and most power companies also work well) -- the customer is ignored and the content providers pursue their own regressive ideals.

We need to get the market back into poetry.

But how how HOW?

Rachel Fox said...

Hey, I was kind of joking...kind of...and you're serious! How exciting! You boyfriend...

I know what you mean about the market but it's not quite how I look at it or would phrase it. You can end up sounding like one of those libertarian loonies if you bang on about the market too much...and I mean look at the markets...things aren't going very well there either. If poetry was made to survive in the market place that would probably just be the end of poetry. People would just write for the friends. Would that be any different? Would that be a bad thing? I'm not sure.

For me what has happened is that a lot of people (maybe under 50?) now get the poetry they need/want/like from song lyrics. That may not be ideal, poets may not like all the lyrics or rate them in any way but to me that is what has happened. Songs and poems have always been linked...and currently the song rules by quite some margin. There are a few poets who are widely read and heard and some of them are great.

Rachel Fox said...

That should have been 'their friends'.

G. M. Palmer said...

Oh, I'm only mostly serious.

I think that poetry should have a wider readership -- ergo I think that we (poets) should consider audience when writing.

That's a fairly easy thing to do -- but getting the poetry to the audience (or rather the audience to the poetry) is a much tougher chestnut.

Poetry and songs can do different things -- and both do a good job of informing each other.

But songs deliver sound and poems deliver meaning -- it helps for them to do both -- but poetry can get away with things songs can't and vice-versa.

Rachel Fox said...

I think songs can have meaning - why not? And poems have sound. Even if it's read from a page...we hear in our heads do we not? Well I do.

And a lot of poetry just now has meanings that are so hidden to most people that it may as well be meaningless. So does that mean it is meaningless?

I agree about audiences. Most poetry events have audiences that are all poets and I'm not a fan of that scene at all. Some people love it but it is not for me. My website is - kind of a joke, kind of a protest (if small), also a name I used for another project a few years ago. I read to music audiences mainly (sometimes quite big ones) and find them receptive and interested. Often they are pleased to have been able to understand what I'm saying and not feel shut out by poems they can't penetrate. It's a long slow job and it gets me plenty of snooty looks and comments on the way (from 'real' poets)...but really...haven't they got something better to do?

G. M. Palmer said...

Oh sure, songs and poetry both rely on music and meaning -- just songs the former and poetry the latter.

I don't think "real" (as in academic) poets have anything better to do.

In fact, it helps their cause to sneer at the little guy -- at poets who otherwise would write clear, accessible verse. And, of course, it makes them feel better to bully.

Sad, really, but there you have it. I thought about going the Alisky route and trashing and thrashing against the academy (you can still see that urge in earlier posts) but 1) the outside will never be as organized as the inside and 2) I'd rather just win with excellence and let the hothouse flowers rot once they realize that the gardeners are gone.

Of course, I think of the accolades that could be had and wonder -- but then I remember I'm much more concerned with audience than accolades.


Rachel Fox said...

Alisky? Means nothing to me...what's that about then?

G. M. Palmer said...

Saul Alinsky, sorry for the typo.

He was a leftist Movement political action theorist who outlined a violent (if effective) way to wrest control from those in power. Sort of the Machiavelli of the 20th century.

He was the guy who came up with the slogan "think globally, act locally."

Rachel Fox said...

I'd never heard of him with or without his 'n' but have been and read a bit about him just now. Sounds interesting. And influential.
So thanks. Till next time.

Kirby Olson said...

It's important to try to write poems that your close friends and family will like.

I wrote a poem about my son Tristan's first time at bat in Little League. He popped out to the shortstop.

Cortland Review just accepted the poem, and I showed it to my son.

He cried.

"Why are you crying?" I asked.

"Who wants to remember that I popped out?" He asked. "Why do you want everybody to remember THAT? Couldn't you just forget about it?"

This led to a long talk about the value of participation versus the value of winning. At the end, he sort of agreed, and he's letting me publish the poem.

Poetry is such an irritant. cortland Review will publish the poem in May '09. It's an online publication.

Crafty Green Poet said...

I'm a bit late joining the conversation here but Rachel is so right about reading to music audiences. Where i live there used to be two regular cabaret nights that mixed poetry and music, great atmosphere, decent sized audiences. Whereas you go to pure poetry events and its either (to grossly generalise in each instance) literary snobs or raucous performance poets.

The fact that i blog and have performed in non literary venues helps to mean I'm not taken seriously at all by the literary poets

G. M. Palmer said...

Nice to have you here, CGP! I'm not so sure that being taken seriously by literary poets is that great a thing. . .