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, February 21, 2015

Democracy: Good for Poetry?

We live in a country of cowards and corpses,
both roll down the river en route to the ocean.

   - "Leaving Santiago", DPK

"Without the refuge memory offers, words disperse as wind."

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #70

     Currently, poetry is not democratic because it is missing a key component:  voters.  Nobody Reads Poetry.  We here at Commercial Poetry would love to see the art form reincarnated by a healthy electorate but, unfortunately, ours is a tiny voice.  With only poets present, and fewer than 1% of them participating on any single project (e.g. by buying, reading, hearing, performing or critiquing any given poem or collection), we have primaries in a tripartite (i.e. pixel, page and stage) system but no general election.  Ours could be described as an apathetic oligarchy.

     Parenthetically, what is the difference between readers-centric and writers-centric poetry when all your readers (tanr) are writers?

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #58
Qui Bono?

     What percentage of golfers are as good as Tiger Woods?  How many pickup basketball players make the NBA?  One in a ten thousand?  One in a million?  This rarity is true in any pursuit, including poetry.  Comparing Pop Warner football game ticket sales and prices to the NFL's makes the point that, notwithstanding reality cable television, paying customers want the best.

     Imagine you are Editor-in-Chief of a poetry magazine charged with sustaining, if not increasing, circulation.  Knowing that almost all of your subscribers are poets hoping to be published by you, do you cater to the A.E. Stallings of this world or the run-of-the-mill 99.999%?  Do you publish only the one poem per year that might survive into posterity or do you lower your standards to a more practical level?

     Common sense dictates that numbers will prevail.  The world is built for the average and, with market¹ no longer an issue, poetry can be created by the average.  No one understands this better than the great poets themselves, which may explain why, like William Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson before them, today's two top versers rarely, if ever, submitted work for print publication. 

     It follows that only those policies that favor the mediocre majority² will be instituted.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #157
     For example, Poetry Out Loud is a wonderful initiative, developing performance skills in youth.  Why not sponsor similar contests for adults? 

     Because that might create an audience for poetry.

     Why don't publishers keep up with the world in mastering multimedia? 

     Because that might create an audience for poetry.

     Why do magazines not publish technical articles explaining crowd-pleasing tricks?  Why are these not taught in school? 

     Because that might create an audience for poetry.

     Why do stage and, especially, page poets eschew the critique that would help them improve? 

     Because that might create an audience for poetry.

     And what's so bad about creating an audience for poetry?

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #19
      For one, shortsighted magazine editors are concerned with promoting readership, not audience.  Also, unlike blurbers and sycophants, audiences tend to be honest.  That can't be tolerated.  Having gotten rid of them, poetry has become the dreaded "democracy of survivors".  Readers (tanr) are culled to suit available writing rather than the other way around.

     Of course, one could say this is a practical adaptation to the fact that Nobody Reads Poetry.  Why learn about "crowd-pleasing" when there are no crowds?

     Performing?  Multimedia?  For whom?

     Critique?  Without a market, what difference does quality make?  Suggesting improvement will be viewed not just as impolite but gratuitously so.  Even earnest praise can be resented for daring to suggest that not all poets/poems are created equal.

     "How dare you suggest there are better poets than me my favorites?"

     In short, democracy might be, at once, the best thing that could happen and the worst thing that has happened to poetry.


¹ - Pseudo-sophisticates worry that writing for the public will lower standards so they write for no one, eliminating standards entirely.  LOL!

² - When underappreciated³, solipsistic³ poets speak of democracy they mean "Publish me!" adding new voices to generate publication credits diversity.  This is shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic.  From the editors' point of view, it involves replacing existing subscribers (who will drop out as they lose access) with potential ones.  Poetry publishers may lack the shrewdness of Wall Street traders but even they understand that this would be bad business.

³ - Please forgive the redundant qualifiers.

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Earl Gray, Esquirrel

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