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

Sunday, July 14, 2013


Earl the Squirrel's Rule #19
     As you may know, Nic Sebastian is one of our favorite onliners and a stalwart advocate of Nanopresses, the mechanics of which are to combine "a good manuscript", a "credible editor" and an innovative, Indie "Nanopress" that will sell books at cost.  The theory seems to be that what prevents people from reading more poetry is the price.  Therein lies the flaw.  Were this true, poetry webzine servers would crash every day.  If the Internet proves anything it confirms book sales figures indicating that, so far, people don't read poetry.  At any price.  Period.¹ 

     Does this mean that the Nanopress approach is unworkable?  Hardly.  Indeed, it is a brilliant idea that, in my humble opinion, calls for far more ambitious use.  Let's view such a project as a commercial poet would.  To begin with, the key issue isn't the marketing aspect;  that can be easily tweaked.  Rather, the focal question is:

    "Aside from the length and level of the authority's commitment, how is this different from the normal blurbing model?"

Ezra Pound
     If the small-e editor has the technical chops²  she (I flipped a coin and have designated the editor as female, the author as male) can improve the writing significantly.  This is the strength of the Nanopress model:  it replicates the most successful partnership in Modern poetry:  that of T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound.  As such, the relationship between the two Nanopress participants should not amount to two friends or a professor with her prize pupil.  At some point in the collaboration the editor has to be free to fling pages at the poet and scream "Too penty!"  Otherwise we risk seeing the bland lead the bland.

     How does one come up with "a good manuscript" and "a credible editor"?  Actually, that's the relatively easy part for the experienced poet.  Go to Eratosphere, Gazebo or Poetry Free-For-All and participate for a few years.  You might even write down some of the positive things critics will say, quoting them later either in the book or in promoting it.  During this process you will meet many prospective editors.  Send out private messages until you snag one.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #35
     By far, the most significant role for the editor is to proactively support the product.  Blurbing, yes, but on steroids.  This might include trying to find the biggest publisher--in essence, Nanopress without the Nanopress.  Self-publishing is always an option but don't dismiss the Indies/Nanopresses out of hand.  One or two of these might have some very interesting distribution methods, venues and networks.  Regardless of who puts the book out, the small-e editor, even more than the large E-Editor [who actually published the book but who may have others to worry about, too], will need to use all of her contacts to find reviewers and bolster the book's chances of winning an award.  Who knows?  That might even attract a reader or two!

     Aim high!


¹ - We cannot change this problem until we acknowledge it.

² - Alas, there are no Ezra Pounds today.  Those with the chops rarely have much pull.  That is, of the dozen or so experts I could recommend as editors only one would have much influence with publishers, high profile reviewers or awards committee panels.  That, alone, speaks volumes on the state of the art.

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  1. Very interesting, but where is your evidence for 'people don't read poetry'? Do you mean 'people don't BUY poetry'? There is a clear difference, which I'm sure you can see.

  2. First, the issue of sales, bearing in mind that we're talking about the non-academic consumption of English language poetry written in the last 50 years as opposed to our experience in 1913, before songs on the radio replaced poetry.

    Few poetry books sell more than 200 copies, mostly to friends and relatives [and students trying to learn how to write poetry that lacks audience appeal, I suppose]. Compare this to Robert Service making $500,000 from one poem. Poetry has disappeared from the non-literary media almost entirely. A rare exception is the New York Times, which published 446 poems in 1946, 13 in 2013. Many major publishers won't bother with poetry titles because they don't sell. True, readers and buyers aren't one and the same, but if publishers, whose business is judging their readership, felt that WRITTEN poetry were making a comeback we'd see it in their sales and publication mix. Ain't happening yet.

    Next, the issue of listeners: No one is playing to packed houses at Carnegie Hall. A world famous poet MIGHT get 50 people at the AWP, barely that at any other reading EXCEPT, perhaps, a university packed with students more interested in the buzz than the poetry. Slams? Open Mics? Usually more participants than audience members (most of whom are friends or relatives of the performers). So far, then, no one is buying poetry and no one is listening to it live. That leaves the Internet: mostly, ezines and YouTube, often cited on social media.

    No poem has gone viral on YouTube yet. That leaves ezines. These tend not to show their hit counts anymore--itself, a discouraging sign--but when they did I rarely, if ever, saw more than 1000 visitors to an individual poem, many if not most of which may be bots, spiders or looky lus (no stats are kept on visit durations). This in an anglophone population of 2,000,000,000, rising sharply.

    When was the last time you saw two non-poets discussing a contemporary poem they'd read? In 1913, that would be an everyday occurrence (given that it appeared in every daily of that era). Today, with all of our advances in telecommunication, including the one you're reading right now? Not so much.

    Here is the most telling factoid, though: ignoring Dr. Seuss nursery rhymes, not one in 50 North Americans can recite a single poem written in the last 50 years.

    The numbers I've seen show that, while production is skyrocketing, there is, as yet, no significant population buying, reading, hearing, quoting, performing or memorizing contemporary poetry. AS YET. We here at Commercial Poetry are trying to change that.

    Do you have any evidence to the contrary, Cspalding?

    Good to hear from you, by the way.



Your comments and questions are welcome.