Ampersand Press and its sister blogs, The Rag Tree and Mood Indigo, have become keenly aware of just how unpopular poetry is with the U.S. general public. By way of evidence, tell any mainstream publisher that you’re working on a book-length poem. The light immediately goes out of their face, and they tell you: “People don’t buy poetry.” Then there are the hard facts backing up the claim about low sales: most POD books of any kind sell less than 200 copies. The market for these books consists of family, friends, and local booksellers.
On the other hand, a lot of people are publishing poetry books now, what with the e-publishing revolution. If one follows the numbers from Bowkers, which issues International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs), then millions of book will be published this year. So the market is certainly saturated.
But there are other problems, too, many of them self-inflicted. Here are some things that poets can do to improve the situation:
1. Start buying and reading each other’s books. Poets, be honest: when was the last time you bought a book of poetry by an author you had never heard of? This may be the single biggest problem with poetry sales–poets don’t buy each other’s work. Start by buying one poetry book by an unknown/local poet every month, reading it, and reviewing it. For an investment of less than $20/month, and some of your time, you will have taken a giant step towards revitalizing the craft.
2. Start publishing a poetry blog. This is an excellent way to get your work out there and start receiving feedback. You will connect with other poets (and fans of poetry) and more than likely sharpen your craft considerably. Great morale support–there is nothing like counting the number of likes for each poem published. And a blog is a great platform for your reviews and self-publishing efforts.
3. Start participating in local poetry readings. Or even better, organize one of your own. The local library, cafes, and small bookstores will be more than interested in hosting your event. An excellent way to raise consciousness about local poets and their writings.
4. Start a poet’s support group. Such a group should meet regularly and could form the nucleus of a poetry center in your town/neighborhood.
5. Volunteer in a local literacy program. According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL), administered in 2008 and 2009, 15% of Americans were fully literate; 40% had either a basic command or a below-basic command of reading, writing, and numeracy skills. If you’ve got free time, go to the local library and volunteer to teach the skill that is at the center of your professional life.
6. Start buying and giving poetry books to family and friends. Avoid your favorite authors and books and search for materials and subjects that are meant to appeal to a wide audience. Why not start with Garrison Keillor’s Good Poems or Billy Collins’ Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry?
7. Write a long poem about the history of the place you’re living. As you will quickly learn from attending poetry readings, the audience is always a poem’s most important topic.
Poetry is not a hobby; it is a profession, a form of white magic. Poetry is for fun, for protest, for beauty, for healing. Poetry is about community. AP
Image: Lyric Poetry, mural at the Library of Congress; Walker Highsmith; WikiCmns; Public Domain.