Doing it for ourselves?

9 Feb

Last week at One Night Stanzas poet Claire Askew posted a blog about the current state of poetry.  This is not a new subject it is written and discussed with great regularity.  What is different about this one is that it wasn’t from the poet or cultural commentators point of view.  It was from the point of view of her Mum, a non-poetry reader.  Refreshingly enough Mummy Askew thinks poetry is alive and kicking.  Not only that, but living in a golden age.  Read some of her reasons why, and you will come away kicking yourself for your incredibly short sightedness in accepting the prevailing cultural view of an élite, expressing outdated and poorly thought out views.  Well, I was…

For instance.  There is a prevailing view that “poetry is irrelevant”.  Now, we have made a mistake in trying to counter this view by arguing for poetries relevance i.e. arguing on their terms.  The argument should instead be that culture has nothing to do with relevance.  If it does then explain the Da Vinci Code?  But, please don’t, I might have to vomit out of tedium.

One of Mummy Askew’s arguments is that people not buying poetry books is not a new thing.  And my God, when you think about it, it’s true.  You only need to dip your toe in the history of poetry and you can see umpteen stories about what are now well-known and famous poems/collections that sold pitiful amounts.  Only centuries later to bore to death hordes of school children – well, that’s the kind of success we all dream about.

This did get me thinking about the sales of books, especially poetry books.  Looking at my collection there are very few that I have bought through mainstream stores.  There are a lot I have bought by mail through small presses, or at book fairs.  There are some I have bought that aren’t even books, but pamphlets.

So, instead of continually bleating about the lack of poetry in the best sellers list,why is there not a best sellers list of poetry by independent publishers and bookshops?  After all, the music business has been quick enough to legitimize downloads and include them in charts and sales figures.  Why cant the book business do it too, and if the mainstream won’t, why aren’t we doing it for ourselves?

4 Responses to “Doing it for ourselves?”

  1. Rachel Fox February 26, 2010 at 1:13 pm #

    Not a bad point (but perhaps hard to calculate sales when poetry books are sold in so many different ways – many of them direct author sales…who could keep track of that?).
    Sometimes papers like the Independent do list a top 10 sales of poetry books list (or they have done in the past). But it’s not a regular thing.

  2. alumpinthethroat February 26, 2010 at 1:29 pm #

    Good point Rachel. I beleive the publishers sell to the author at cost price, who then sell on at reading or whatever for full price. I wonder if the sales to the author would be couted by the publisher as a sale?

    I think we would really need someone involved in the publishing and selling to tell us more about it.


  3. romac1 February 28, 2010 at 9:42 am #

    Publishers usually sell to authors at a ‘special price’, so that the publisher makes a small profit but the writer can do so as well. I’m sure these are counted as sales by publishers, but publishers won’t be interested so much in how many copies they sell. They’ll be more concerened with how much of a profit (or loss) they have have made. No one keeps track of direct author sales, except (maybe) the author. Official sales figures tend to reflect sales in bookshops and on big online stores like amazon. Clearly, the figures very much underestimate poetry sales. However, it’s equally true that poetry sales are pretty rubbish, even including direct author sales.


  1. One Night Stanzas » Blog Archive » Procrastination Station #63 - February 26, 2010

    […] at Chainsaws & Jelly! // Swiss responded to this post by writing a poem! // Mairi also responded! // Howie Good’s new book has the best blurb ever! // & more on his books // Jim Murdoch […]

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