We know what killed poetry: music on the radio, starting in the 1920s.
We know what prevented its resurgence and why its decline was peculiar to anglophone countries: lousy performance.
Take a look at Lola Flores performing a poem by Federico Garcia Lorca:
You don't need to speak a word of Spanish to see how vital these words are not just to the long dead poet's legacy or to this particular performer. Watch the audience. Note all the other performances of Lorca's verses available on YouTube. Lorca's words are important, so much so that whole generations have grown up memorizing, quoting, performing, and recording them.
Decades ago, high school English departments used to introduce students to Shakespeare by reading it. More progressive schools today show it being performed, either live or, more often, on video, before studying it on the page. Similarly, students in Spanish-speaking countries are introduced to Lorca's work almost invariably through performances like the one above, usually involving a professional actor/singer. The 2007 release of "Beowulf" sparked interest in the poem on video and in print. Whether we speak of dramatic, lyric or narrative poetry, then, it is always better introduced to audiences live or on the screen rather than on the page.
As dismal as textual poetry sales are, those of poetry audio recordings are lower still.
Painfully obvious conclusions:
- Poetry is a multimedia art form.
- To compete, we'll need to apply the basics of multimedia.
- The best person to present the poem is usually not the one who wrote it.
- We need to write in a manner that exploits multimedia.
In Preservation, Presentation and Promotion - Part II we discussed multimedia performance, which typically involves presenters in front of a video recorder or a live audience. If we are not great performers--and few poets are--we'll need to work with someone who has theatrical talent. Know any actors?
Montages and slide shows are easy to put together: write your poem, take some pictures or video clips, slap them together with a graphics package like Adobe Flash or Roxio Creator, add some music, perhaps, and post it to Vimeo or YouTube. No musical talent? Do a web search for "creative commons music" and download whatever seems most appropriate. Don't own a graphics package? Go to the Poets.org or Eratosphere discussion forum and ask for help. In the meantime, do your planning: which files in which order?
A similar idea is to write a poem that mentions anything sold on the open market. We're not talking about slogans or jingles. A serious poem. The more artistic, the better. You've probably already written dozens of such efforts. Scan your archives. Alternatively, use a excerpt from a canonical poem. Think of Levi's "Whitman" ad but with a direct tie to a product. Make a video that uses the logos and promotional material of a manufacturer of that item. Post it privately to YouTube and ask the supplier for their opinion. Swap in the visuals of another producer of that item and repeat the process until one of the companies shows interest.
"Okay, but how does one make money giving their work away?" a newcomer to the Internet might ask. By fame equaling fortune. If one or two of your videos "goes viral" you could be the next Lisa Donovan (aka LisaNova).
The most ambitious and possibly lucrative option is the ekphrastic trailer. Pick a movie--ideally, a recent or, if you can obtain a copy, an upcoming film by an established production company. Write a poem that follows its plot. Contact the producer and ask for permission to create and upload a video using parts of their film. With luck, they'll send you a DVD of the movie. Download and install a shareware video cutting program such as FreeStar. Create your video by combining your words--spoken or written--with clips from their film. Post it to YouTube, using the "Private" option until the producers can view and approve it. Then change "Private" to "Public" so that everyone can see your video. Watch the hit count soar.
If you do a good job there's every chance the producers will think of you for their next feature. If not, try another company.
Part II: A friend of mine came up with a brilliant plan to market a poetry anthology. Yes, we're talking about an actual book here. Paper, binding, the whole nine yards. Stay tuned!