View from the choir

I am a Catholic layperson and Secular Franciscan with a sense of humor. After years in the back pew watching, I have moved into the choir. It's nice to see faces instead of the backs of heads. But I still maintain God has a sense of humor - and that we are created in God's image.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Where have all the poets gone?

In the last couple of weeks I've visited a couple different local branches of a well-known bookstore chain.

Whenever I visit a bookstore, there's a couple of sections I always check out. One of those sections is the poetry one.

I've noticed in those chain store branches the poetry section is getting smaller and smaller. Whereas at one time the poetry filled three or four bookcases, poetry now fits in one or so cases. The number of titles has decreased, as has the selection of poets. The big names are represented, but not many more. The only kinds of selections that seem to be increasing in number are anthologies devoted to specific themes - love, passion, loss, for example - or ones by famous people (musicians, politicians, actors - not poets).

One of my pleasures in the past was finding new poets - including some local ones - or works by more obscure ones I'd heard of but had never read. That's happening less and less. In fact, I haven't bought any poetry books in a while.

I suppose the poets and their publishers are finding other ways to market, such as the internet. Still, there's something to be said for picking up a book and skimming through it before buying it.

I guess I'm just old-fashioned that way.

Now, off to bed to read some poetry until I fall asleep.

Maybe some Chesterton.

My wife got me a new volume of his collected poems. She had to special order that.


Blogger Joe Sottile said...

Lee, I've done the same thing--looking for poetry and finding less and less. Where I find poets and poetry every day now is at Jayne presents very interesting poems, bio and websites to view.

2:25 AM  
Blogger Joe Sottile said...

I agree 100%. Your Daily Poem is a great site to find poems and poets!

2:27 AM  
Anonymous Jaime said...

I have to say that I've seen much of the same here. I know the internet is the next big thing and perhaps I as a teenager should have no problem with that, but the truth is i like the texture and reassuring weight of a nice book.

2:14 PM  
Anonymous Richard said...

Emily Dickenson wrote "Publication is not the business of poets."

Alas, poetry is not the business of publishers these days. Being in that biz myself, I fret over the cost of paper (especially here in Mexico) and have to consider the up-front production costs as much as the worthiness of any "product" I produce. There is no way we can publish poetry (and believe me, we see a lot of it... mostly bad, btw).

I don't like thinking of books as a "commodity", but I have to. I blame Ronald Reagan and the conservative mind-set that sees poetry as "elitist" or at the very least, something that doesn't return a bottom-line profit. But, then, I blame Ronald Reagan and the conservatives for everything that's wrong with U.S. culture, so no surprise there.

Pre-Reagan University presses and arts organizations had the budget to put out slim volumes at a reasonable cost. But Universities can barely pay their English departments now (and the thinking now is who needs poetry when advertising pays better), let alone publish their profs' work. And arts councils have to find corporate co-sponsors who expect some splashy pop-culture showing that's gonna bring in the crowds. Not a poetry reading.

I can't say the lack of poetry in local bookstores was the reason I emigrated, but I do appreciate living in a country where art and culture are seen as national resources, and something to be fostered for the good of all.

The government still subsidies for publishing poetry though university and arts council type presses. Of course, these are Mexican poets in Spanish (and the indigenous languages) and given the price of books, often priced out of the reach of poetry-readers — but then, books here are outrageously priced.

I suppose a few poets in the U.S. -- those who can sling some slang, toss in a few inuendos, and look good in a hoodie -- can get by IF they can snag a recording contract, but I'm afraid the poet in his or her lonely garret had better have a good internet connection.

That may not be all bad... but for those of us who grew up loving paper and leather and slim volumes, it takes some adjustment.

1:58 AM  

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