The Beautiful Poetry of Perseverance (or is it the Other Way Around?).

Hello again! I hope you have all been well.

So, I want to start out with a premise. Poets are masters of perseverance. We know it up close and personal.

We persevere when we struggle to find the exact word or phrase, when we strive to find a publisher for our work and an audience of readers.

Well, this week I want to salute an unexpected partner in the quest for perseverance: The Grinnell College football team.

Now, before you think I’ve slid off the rails or enbibed in too much pre-holiday spiked punch, allow me to explain.

Grinnell College, in Iowa, is an elite school. It has one of the most stringent entrance requirements, among the highest SAT scores of applicants and largest endowments of any private school in the United States. It is where my daughter and son-in-law went to school and graduated. (Full disclosure: She could have attended the university where I was a professor for free but that is a story for another blog).

They also have a football team which I admire, I salute, for its perseverance. In the last five years, their record has been 8-42. And all with the same coach (take that Ohio State University and other big-time football schools!).

But it is the scores of those loses that I admire most. This season in consecutive weeks, they lost to St. Norbert’s College 91-0 (my son wondered out loud if St. Norbert’s beat the Las Vegas point spread), 53-7, 55-0 28-7 and 24-0. They also lost another game 55-14. If you are keeping score at home, they were outscored 278-28. I can only wonder at the exhaustion of the defense as they came off the field after each score. And what of the offense who probably never ran more than three plays at a time before punting, fumbling or being intercepted?

And here’s where my admiration comes in. How did they keep up their enthusiasm, let alone show up for a game each Saturday? What sort of pep talk did their coach give them each Monday when they returned to practice for the next week’s game? What did they say to each other to keep up their spirits?

I wish I could have been in their locker room to listen to it all and perhaps write a poem, no, an ode, to them.

Please don’t think I am making fun of this team. I am not. I am in awe of them. They play because they love the game, the process more than just winning. I’m sure that given the choice they would like to win as much as any other team. But they go out there on the field despite getting routed, week after week, season after season.

 As a famous politician —no, not Donald Trump— once said: “I come not to bury Grinnell College football but to praise it.”

So, here’s to the future poets of the Grinnell College football team. They may not succeed in the poetry world, but they sure will have the futility part down pat!

Thanks for reading and hope to see you next week.

 

How Relevant Is poetry, Anyway

Hello again! And thanks for coming back.

So, in my last blog I tried to make a case for the relevancy of poetry by discussing the number of poetry books and magazines being published. From that I made a conservative estimate to the thousands of poems published every year. And that’s not including the hundreds of thousands of unpublished poems written each year.

But is this good news or bad news? Like everything else in life, it depends upon how you look at things. And to paraphrase my wife who says about me: “Not only do you see the glass half empty, but you believe someone spit in it when you weren’t looking,” things don’t look all that good.

Is poetry relevant to most readers? I would argue that the answer to this question is a resounding “No.”

Here are some interesting facts to ponder

·         The average commercially published poetry book sells less than 2,000 copies. Most sell less. Any poetry book selling more than 5,000 copies is rare indeed.

·         By far, more self-published and vanity press poetry books are published than commercially published books. These generally sell less than 100 copies and are heavily subsidized by the poet him/herself. Most of the readers of these books are the author’s friends, family and fellow poets. In many ways, this is a good thing. It keeps poetry at the grass roots level, but it does reinforce the fact that published poetry books simply do not sell well.

·         The overwhelming majority of magazines that publish poetry are literary journals with readerships of (perhaps) 300 subscribers. Many literary magazines are web based and have a readership of 150 or less. And again, God bless these heroic magazines and editors!

·         There are virtually no general interest magazines (except for perhaps the New Yorker and The Atlantic) or newspapers that publish poetry. It just isn’t done anymore.

Finally, let’s try an experiment. Ask a friend or co-worker to name their five favorite contemporary non-fiction and/or fiction authors.  I’ll bet you’ll get a lot of answers. Now ask these same folks to name their five favorite living poets. How many people will be able to answer five or even one?

I write this not as an indictment of any reader or set of readers. People vote with their feet, their library cards and their pocketbooks and clearly, they not voting for poetry.

No, the fault lies elsewhere. And before we can talk about the craft of poetry and how to get folks more interested in the genre, we need to figure out what has gone so badly wrong.

Like any writer, I want to leave you in suspense about the answer, although, if you know me and my work, you can probably guess where I’m headed.

Hope to see you next week!

Best to all.

Rich

 

 

First Blog...

November 21, 2018

Hello to everyone who is crazy enough to be reading this.

This is my first blog. The little voice in my head is telling me that it should also be my last blog.

But friends and readers of my poetry (hopefully this is an overlapping population) have been telling me for years that I should write a blog. So, I guess I’ll try.

I’ll try on the condition that the blog is not about me or my life. Neither is that interesting.

Instead, I will write a blog about the one thing I might know, poetry. Of course, this begs the question: Who cares about poetry?

When I did some research on this question, I admit to being shocked. According to Statista which keeps stats on this sort of stuff, in 2013, the last year for which they have numbers, 10,156 poetry and drama books were commercially printed (they don’t split the category). If that seems high, consider that in 2008, 13,474 such books were printed!

But as the TV commercial says: “Wait, there’s more.” Duotrope which keeps tracks of current magazine markets for poetry and literary fiction found 1,544 magazines that prints more than one poem per issue.

Now (and I don’t have exact numbers for this) let’s assume that a given literary magazine appears either in print or online two times per year (usually they appear more frequently than that) and that each issue prints ten poems (a conservative number). That’s 30,880 published poems per year. And that’s not counting submitted poems that were rejected. Given low magazine acceptance rates I bet there’s almost one-million poems submitted for publication per year!

And how about all the people who write poetry but never submit for publication? That must bring the total to tens of millions of poems written every year!

My conclusion is that, in contradiction to popular beliefs, poetry is alive and well; people are writing and (hopefully) reading it. In other words, people are interested.

With those numbers in mind, I humbly hope I can write a blog that is informative and interesting for readers. We’ll talk about what makes a poem, what makes it good, readable and enjoyable. We will also discuss ways to come up with, write and revise the poems which you write.

Like everything in life, the operative word is hope.

As in hope to be in touch with you soon.

Best

Rich