57º ~ still dark out so hard to report conditions, the casters of fore have all fat suns in the next seven days, no rain, no clouds, no storms, and no highs above 85º, uhm, wow!
I'm up earlier than normal, unable to sleep for all of the tasks to be done. These are good tasks that I'm excited about for the most part. I just can't seem to get my brain to turn off and quit tasking and trouble-shooting for a few hours so I can sleep.
In matters of poetry, I've been thinking a lot about the fallout from the BlazeVox kerfluffle. Read all about it here. I'm not interested in rehashing what happened or in any pointing of fingers and raising of voices. What I am interested in is poetry.
First, everybody just calm down. Poetry has been around, according the brilliant Lucille Clifton, since the first human being walked out of a cave, looked at a sunrise/sunset, and said, 'ahhhhhhhh.' It's not going anywhere. It's part of the human condition. How we get our words out to our audiences will change, of course; it has to as technology and communities change. There is nothing devastating in that change.
Second, who in their right mind thinks that poetry is going to earn anyone besides a few Billy Collins and Rita Doves anything substantial in terms of monetary profit. Look at the long history of publishing since the invention of the press, and you will find a long history of authors self-publishing or paying in some way to get their books to market, whether that payment be in cash exchange or favors. I, for one, am not doing this for the money, although I hope to break even and usually do so every year in terms of strict dollars and cents. I do this thing, this poetry making, because I have something that needs to be said and poetry works for me. If you are jealous of the money-making fiction writers, go write a best-selling novel. I've heard it's not as easy as you might think and many prose writers struggle to break even as well.
Third, (yes, I'm listing my points in exactly the way I tell my students not to; it's early, cut me some slack), third, as long as any publishing entity is upfront about their methods, then I'm cool with that. Let the interested parties work out the details with their eyes open. And here is my closest contact with the BlazeVox kerfluffle. It seems to me that information wasn't communicated at the right time and then everyone lost their minds. I'm glad it seems to be settling down, maybe.
Fourth, as I said on Facebook, if you are a poet and you would like people to buy your book, please ask yourself this: how many copies of contemporary books of poetry have you purchased lately? If you don't have a lot of loose change, how many copies have you checked out from your public or school library (you can inter-library loan almost anything these days)? By doing both of these things, you help insure the continuation of your art form AND YOUR AUDIENCE. By not doing them, you contribute to its diminishment, although it will never disappear forever.
Fourth and a half, as I said on Facebook, if you are a poet and you aren't actively working to get poetry off the floor of academia and into the hands of regular readers, then you aren't growing the community. Sure, for some of the most experimental work, this isn't a sure thing, but how do you know until you've tried. Have you asked your local art space if they will let you display books? Have you requested a table at your local farmer's market and sold poetry? Have you created a broadside of one of your poems and stapled it to telephone poles around town? Have you hosted a poetry event during April or some other time of the year? Have you read for free just because you love it? After over a decade of teaching, I know this much for sure: if you bring your passion to the audience, some of it will rub off on somebody. (I've created English majors out of former business majors this way, god help them!)
Finally, do not be too quick to dismiss the audience of people who are not "professional" poets. At one reading I did several years ago, there was a couple in the audience in their early 60s. They weren't poets, writers, or professors. They showed up because the reading (which was held on a rural university campus) was advertised in their tiny local newspaper. My poems resonated with the man's own experiences on the land. As I read, I saw how engaged he was; I watched his head shake in acknowledgment that, yes, this is a way he sees the world, too. They bought a book. Also, even more magical, there was a rural route school bus driver in the small crowd. He was shy about approaching me and waited until almost everyone else had gone. When he did, he pulled out his pocket journal filled with his own poems. There was a time this might have sent me shrinking backwards. Instead, I talked with him for five or ten minutes about the joy of writing poetry and encouraged him to keep writing. Then, he pulled a folded piece of paper out of his other pocket. On it was a child's poem with marker decorations. One of the little girls on his bus loves poetry and they talk about what they've written during the long ride to the consolidated school. I almost cried. The man didn't have enough cash to pay the full price for my book. I sold it to him for $8 instead of $14. Best, $1 profit I ever made.
I do not make money from my art. I try to help my press make as much money as possible, since they are the vehicle for my words making it to my audience. To that end, I give the press a small donation every year (they are a non-profit and grants are harder to come by than ever). I work hard at marketing my book and I encourage folks to buy directly from the press or the distributor so that more money will go into the publisher's pocket. I work hard at promoting poetry in as many ways as possible in the hopes the audience will grow and grow and grow. I do that because I believe that poetry (and all art, really) has the power to make us better human beings, to help us come to terms with our lives, and to help us come together as a global community, which is really the only hope this planet has, in the end.