Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Novels versus Poetry - Part IV

     From "Novels versus Poetry - Part III":

    "Once the work finds its audience reader discussion, critics and the passage of time will separate the Timothy Findleys from the Stephen Kings."

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #9

     This is a point that prose publishers understand but that completely escapes poetry promoters:  you can't have a little good without a lot of bad.  Sturgeon's Revelation must be allowed to run its course.  Fiction editors who fail to comprehend that we don't get a Carol Shields without a lot of Danielle Steels don't keep their jobs long.  By contrast, poetry editors don't seem to grasp the notion that you don't get a Robert Frost without a lot of Edgar Guests.  The latter brings them into the tent;  the former benefits from the comparison.  You can't grow watermelon in an area that won't support an abundance of weeds.  No less a critical and technical authority than Peter John Ross--yes, Peter John Ross!--defended the existence and role of failures:

     "A poem may have twenty windows and no doors, and its roof may let the rain in, but sometimes that's part of the fun. Too narrow an adherence to high principles might ensure that one never writes a poem that be described unequivocally as bad, but a lot of interesting poems might also never be written."

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #34

     Precious little poetry is art (i.e. "the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance") by any useful standard.  In the past, most of it was doggerel;  today we see prose with linebreaks published by people who think "The Red Wheelbarrow" is free verse.  (As an aside, do not overlook the point that the most trivial, poorly written verse did have a popular following once;  the same cannot be said of prose with linebreaks.)

    The idea is that poetry, good or bad, needs to be read, not just published.  It must become part of the common culture, mentioned by non-poets in everyday conversations and quoted in social media.  Before radio music took over in the early 1920s poetry was part of everyday life:  political slogans, newspaper columns, travelling entertainers, parlor performances, books, [writing and] recital contests, quotes embedded in prose, etc.  Much of this was contemporary verse and 99% (Sturgeon was an optimist) of that was wretched.  The 99% supported the 1%.  In ditching the goose we dumped the golden egg, leaving us with 0%:  not a single iconic line, let alone poem, in the last half century.

    How might we get bad poetry to support good?  Consider this example/idea:

    Suppose you got some funding for prizes and held an annual agency contest for commercial poetry:  advertising verse, including jingles, for whatever company or product the poet chooses.  No entry fee, the "catch" being that, in exchange for your promotional efforts, you will take, say, 5% of any proceeds from the finalist poems.  Another 5% will go to a videographer willing to work on spec (almost any film student would do).  Once you have enough innovative verse for a short-list, get the appropriate contracts signed, make videos (setting the verse to music where appropriate) and approach the companies (or their ad agencies), telling them that, with their permission, you will feature the ad for their product in your winner's circle.  No charge!  That is, no charge until and unless they decide to air commercials based on the poet's verse, at which point...KA-CHING!

    Imagine what 5% of the proceeds from this would be:

    As your event gains recognition year to year, more companies will consider using your winners' verse.  If so, this will more than pay for whatever artistic poetry you hope to publish.

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