Babes in Poetryland

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Michael Kelleher takes some time to get deeper into the matter of the poetry market (such as it is) and does a good job of breaking down the power structure. I’m not wild about the sweeping statements he makes about “official verse culture,” but that’s mainly because I think the term is too ill-defined to have any real meaning, and so is often used to slur poets whose work the user doesn’t like. (Note: I’m not saying Kelleher is using it that way here–I’m talking about wider practice.) It’s just too easy a term to throw around.

But what he says about small press culture is good stuff, important stuff as the publishing world continues to fracture and as poets continue to try to find audiences for their work. Kelleher is right, I think, when he points out that the “Culture Worker model democratizes the relationship between the author and the publisher. It views them as co-conspirators. The work of selecting, editing, designing, making, marketing and distributing a book is viewed as equally important to the writing itself.” Poets can’t just be poets anymore. We have to hustle our books (if we have them) and hustle ourselves (if we want an audience). No one is going to do that work for us. We’re not getting interviewed by Jon Stewart or front-paged by the New York Times. No one is calling us up and asking if we’d like to go on an arena tour of readings (cool as that might be).

Go read the whole thing. It’s worth the time you put into it.


Brian Spears's first collection of poetry, A Witness in Exile, is now available through Louisiana Literature Press, and at his personal website. He is Senior Poetry Editor at The Rumpus. More from this author →