Poetry: More salt, please

Salt and pepper granules: credit -- Jon Sullivan

Salt and pepper granules: credit — Jon Sullivan

Poet Michael Odom passed along a recent item from the UK edition of the Huff Post that illustrates poetry’s continuing difficulties in the publishing marketplace. (Read Michael’s work at Mao’s Trap.) One of the big supporters of new and upcoming poets, Salt Publishing, has decided to scale back from publishing books solely devoted to a single author. Instead, they’re sticking to the anthology and “best of” routes, and I get it, even though I’m not happy to hear about it. The official Salt announcement doesn’t mention the business side — anthology publishing, it says, will be used for “raising [poets’] profiles and reaching new readers” — even though that’s clearly what it’s about.

The part that bugs me more is Robert Peake’s response in the Huff Post blog, which I like and don’t like. There’s plenty to admire in his post (check it out for yourself), especially his inspiring words about the power of poetry to transform “our grey morning commute” and “[take] the top of our head off.” But there’s also a real defeated tone to the whole thing:

Maybe we’re doomed. But we are doomed in good company–you and me–which is to say we are blessed indeed. Ask anyone. The poets always throw the best parties. They dance like they have nothing to lose, because it’s true. And you and me, we’ve made it this far somehow, getting by, doing our thing, making life just about work.

John Keats died largely unrecognised. But ask his friends at the time, and he meant as much to them then as he does to many of us now. Do we really expect better for ourselves than the respect of a few respectable peers?

The audience is dwindling. Fine….

Really? It’s fine? Yikes. I cherish Keats, but I don’t think any working poet today wants to die young of consumption in some forgotten corner, right?  I understand that words are immortal, but isn’t it good to stick around and belong to a community? Here are a couple of small things I’d suggest:

1) Buy poetry.  Don’t just attend a poetry reading at your local bookstore: buy the book after the reading is done. Readings are about sharing and supporting each other, and if we can spend eight or nine bucks on two extra-large mochas with extra whipped cream, we can certainly invest in a chapbook of someone’s observations.

2) Show some support to nonprofit and small publishers of poetry. Let them know you’re out there. Here are three that I admire (the third one, by the way, keeps W.S. Merwin’s works within easy reach):

Red Hen Press

Sarabande Books

Copper Canyon Press

3) Blog about the poets you’ve read and drop a link to their websites. Give readers a taste (and a place on the web) so that they won’t have to wait for an anthology by Salt or somebody else. Let them know (along with the publishers) that you’re out there and what they say is important to you.

In the comments field of this post, you’re welcome to drop links to poetry publishers deserving of support. Onward, my friends.

3 responses

  1. Nice post, Nick! I’d like to plug SPD, Small Press Distribution. Their URL is
    http://www.spdbooks.org/

    They are a nonprofit located in the San Francisco Bay Area that accepts contributions for the work they do to get writers and their work noticed and disseminated. They also sell books!! :o)

  2. Thank you, Nick, both for the mention and more importantly for continuing this issue. Marick Press http://www.marickpress.com/ is a very small press out of Michigan. I only know about them because I know Mariella Griffor, who is a principal there. They are big on translation and always find the quirky titles you wouldn’t find anywhere else.

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