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, December 21, 2013


Earl the Squirrel's Rule #43
    How would you like to be the most famous/successful poetry publisher in the world?

    Imagine if this required zero creative talent and a $0 investment.  What is more, because of population expansion and mass media, you could attract a larger following than any poetry source in the history of the world.  

    Difficult?  No.  In fact, it's child's play.  All you need is some time, energy and familiarity with a few basics.

     We begin with The First Rule of Marketing Poetry: 


Earl the Squirrel's Rule #72
    The drivers in my home town never use their turn signals. 

   "Why not?" you ask? 

    Because they don't want to lose the element of surprise.

    Go to your favorite successful fiction publisher's website.  Take a look around.  What related word¹ will you rarely find anywhere in their descriptions?

    They will mention, among other offerings, "novels", novellas", "novelettes", "books", "magazines", "stories", "joke-books", "narratives", "paperbacks", "hardcovers", "pot-boilers", "cliffhangers", "mysteries", "who-done-its" or "romances".  Anything other than "prose". 

    Given that prose outsells poetry by thousands to one and that publishers assiduously avoid leading with the generic word "prose", why on earth would you want to describe what you are trying to sell as "poetry"?

    Seriously, if you are trying to promote William Shakespeare bill him as a playwright, not as a guy who writes five hour² long poems.  You don't want to scare off the customers.

Audience Awareness

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #15
    Most poets can be excused for having trouble with this since it involves awareness of something that doesn't exist.  At the very least, one must begin with awareness of that fact:  there is no audience.  Indeed, at this juncture, those unable to accept that poetry is dead [on the demand side] can stop reading.

    For what it's worth, non-poets usually grasp this concept instinctively.  They can intuit why magicians don't use the word "trick".  They understand why the subtitle says "audience" rather than "reader".  They appreciate how pedantic it was for me to add "[on the demand side]".  They'd rather have the still-operative 1945 Chicago White Sox Goat Curse cast upon them than allow anyone to defame their efforts with the word "poetry".  Lawsuits have been filed over less!

    As an aside, ponder the notion that no literary critic--not Marjorie Perloff, John Boddie or Peter John Ross--is as tough as the person with no interest in poetry.  Think of it:  we're comparing those who have devoted much of their lives to analyzing poetry texts to those who turn up their noses and growl:  "Get that shit out of my face."  Which of these is better situated to understand why people don't enjoy contemporary verse?

     Let me cut to the chase.  Here's the gig:  Find a story to tell.  It can be, in descending order of general success, funny, romantic or dramatic.  Let the audience decide whether it's prose or poetry and whether that's a plus or a minus.  Concentrate on the destination (the audience's pleasure), not the cargo (i.e. content) or vessel (i.e. prose versus poetry). 

     Believe it or not, your ability to recognize appealing material is the only significant challenge here.  To understand how easy the rest is, check out Hank Beukema's recital of the John Stewart song, "Mother Country":

     The material is barely adequate, if a little hokey.  We could imagine it working in the United States around, say, July 4th.  The performance is okay, too, although we might hope to hear more excitement when E.A. Stuart comes out.  The video production is abysmal, though.  This has to be brought up closer to the level of a television vignette or commercial message.  All of that said, this is what your competition looks like.  Hardly intimidating, is it?

     With a little networking, you can do much better than this.

The Practical Steps

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #19
     Find a good narrative.  If it happens to be a poem, so much the better.

     Find someone³ who can tell stories well.   

     Find someone³ who can point a camera and use a video editing program. 

     Put them together, perhaps with some background music³.

     Post your results on YouTube and wait for one of your videos to go viral.

     Repeat as necessary.


¹ - A search for "prose" upon arrival at the Simon and Schuster website initially yields [authors' names Francine Prose and James Prosek along with] David Lehman's "Great American Prose Poems".  It seems that only poets are silly enough to warn off readers with the enervating words "prose" or "poetry".

² - No, really.  Some of Shakespeare's productions took five hours.  And we complain about commercials!

³ - Any fast food restaurant should have plenty of qualified musicians, poets, actors and film students on staff.

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Earl Gray, Esquirrel

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