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 And that’s not including the hundreds of thousands of unpublished poems written each year.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