Tuesday, January 6, 2009

"some poet" speaks back

I was reading GalleyCat, the publishing buzz blog (although rather in dirge mode these days due to all the layoffs), and the following quote, from a New York Times article about the new pinch in publishing company budgets, just jumped out at me:

“Books can only support a certain retail price...It’s not like you have books that can be Manolo Blahniks and books that can be Cole Haan. Books are books. A book by James Patterson costs the same as a book by some poet.” --Amanda Urban, literary agent

As one of the "some poet" group, I dislike us being considered anonymous. The whole point of writing poetry is to give voice to my very own twinges of humanity: the celebrations, mourning, railing, questions, conversations, ruminations, sensations, memories, passions, confusions, and dreams that fill gray matter and soul. And as a poet I'm a pair of loafers, definitely no heels.

But poets don't speak in one voice as a (borg-like) collective hive. Poetry is intensely personal even when it isn't confessional--it is a reduction sauce of the heart. Surely some literary agents can give name to some of the people that fall in the sack of "some poet." So are you saying that poetry is a) monetarily equal to hamster litter and b) not worthy of a living name, such as Billy Collins, Gerald Stern, Lucille Clifton or Kay Ryan, our current poet laureate? Or even poets kids read too: Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelusky or Dr. Seuss? I am sure Ms. Urban didn't mean to offend, I am not holding her responsible for not being able to name anyone in the mostly-non-money-making profession of American Poet. I am well aware the average person's eyes glaze over or dart away in alarm when I reveal I write poetry. They murmur "poetry, I don't, uh, do poetry or opera," and quickly change the conversation to noting the shiny new pennies in my loafers. But it is time for us some poets to rise up and say we have names, we have value, even if our books don't make the best seller list very often. And here at the frontier where commerce drops away and art walks the footpath of glory...OK OK, we'd all happily step on the gas to enjoy James Patterson's sales, but we're not holding our collective breath for that to happen.

We remain, some poet(s) only in the mind of the collective deal makers or people who won't read the stuff...which is a lot of folks, admittedly. Here's a truth, in times of trouble or joy, people return to poetry. How many weddings, inaugurations, or memorials are poetry-free zones? I expect relative sales of poetry to go up. Read us, name us.

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