Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Depressing New About Poetry Sales

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/publishing/publishing.feature.html?id=177576

This is not the whole article reprinted here - it is one excerpt which shows holiday poetry book sales for one specific bookstore. The others, however, are depressingly similar in their tallies.

Open Books: A Poem Emporium 2414 North 45th Street Seattle, Washington 98103 (206) 633-0811 www.openpoetrybooks.com Bookseller: John Marshall TOP POETRY SALES 1. Tao Te Ching translated by Sam Hamill (Shambhala) - 13 copies 2. Solar Prominence by Kevin Craft (Cloudbanks Books) - 12 copies 2. Wild Braid by Stanley Kunitz (W.W. Norton) - 12 copies 3. Funny by Jennifer Michael Hecht (University of Wisconsin Press) - 11 copies 4. Poems from Ish River Country by Robert Sund (Shoemaker and Hoard) - 10 copies 5. Enter Invisible by Catherine Wing (Sarabande Books) - 8 copies 5. Niagara River by Kay Ryan (Grove Press) - 8 copies 6. New & Selected Poems Volume Two by Mary Oliver (Beacon) - 7 copies 7. Pieces of Air in the Epic by Brenda Hillman (Wesleyan University Press) - 6 copies 8. Say Uncle by Kay Ryan (Grove Press) - 5 copies 8. Elephant Rocks by Kay Ryan (Grove Press) - 5 copies 9. Migration by W.S. Merwin (Copper Canyon Press) - 5 copies 9. A Family of Poems edited by Caroline Kennedy (Hyperion) - 5 copies 9. Dangerous Astronomy by Sherman Alexie (Limberlost Press) - 5 copies 9. Winter Morning Walks by Ted Kooser (Carnegie-Mellon University Press) - 5 copies 10. Facts About the Moon by Dorianne Laux (W.W. Norton) - 4 copies 10. The Trouble with Poetry by Billy Collins (Random House) - 4 copies 10. Dog Language by Chase Twichell (Copper Canyon Press) - 4 copies 10. Jejuri by Arun Kolatkar (New York Review Books Classics) - 4 copies


Pretty sad, yes? The 10th top selling poetry book, written by none other than Billy Collins who is one of the top selling living poets, sold a whopping 4 copies. I wonder how many a book of poems by (oh say) me would sell?

This couldn't have come at a better time. I'm attempting to pull together enough poems to create a manuscript for a poetry contest being sponsored by AWP. The Association of Writers & Writing Programs -- Serving Writers Since 1967 Well, not exactly "enough" poems, I have more than "enough" - I just don't have enough good poems to qualify for inclusion. Funny how a poem you wrote a year ago sounded so good a year ago but doesn't stand up to today's test of time. I'd like to think it's because I know more now and I have higher expectations of myself, but I fear the truth is - it isn't very good now because it wasn't very good then. Sometimes, after working and working to write a poem and then revising and revising that same poem 50 or 100 times, you become so close to it and you have so much invested in it that it HAS to seem good. But give yourself enough time to forget the work and to forget the agony and it's just a poem, and, unfortunately, it's not even a very good one.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Do I really think I have something to say that no one else has or will say as well as I can say it? Do I really believe that I have the talent and the intelligence and the utter nerve that it takes to write even one poem, never mind a whole book of poems, that someone else will want to read?

Besides that, Dan is making me switch from my familiar and hopelessly outdated and incompatible-with-virtually-everything word processor to his widely-used but Geek-to-me Microsoft Word program.....and I can't figure out how to get the damn page number thingie to work. There - I've got an excuse. This particular contest will have to pass me by.

5 comments:

Julie Carter said...

It works the other way, too. Some of my old poems depress me because I can't match them. Some depress me because I used to think they were good!

Rob Mackenzie said...

It is kind of sad that poetry sells so badly. I suspect that part of the problem is because it's invisible. I remember reading that one of the major UK bookchains makes something like 90 percent (I must check the exact figure - it may not be as much as that, but it was a large percentage) of its total sales from items on promotion i.e. 3 for 2 offers, books displayed in prominent positions in the store etc. All the other books (the vast majority) accounted for the remaining 10 or so percent of sales.

It's hard to know whether shops create demand or respond to existing demand. But one thing's for sure - if you want to find a poetry book there, you have to descend to a corner of the basement to find the little that's there. The evidence is that few people do that even for more mainstream literature.

Lo said...

Maybe if Oprah recommended it.....

Radish King said...

They had 2 copies of my book and I know for a fact they sold at least one of them so according to my math, which is shoddy at best, they have already sold half of the books of mine that were on their shelves. Right on the very bottom shelf in the back of the store easily spotted if you slithered in on your belly. I should be on that damned list. I'm going there tomorrow to see what's up.

r

Anonymous said...

Do I really think I have something to say that no one else has or will say as well as I can say it? Do I really believe that I have the talent and the intelligence and the utter nerve that it takes to write even one poem, never mind a whole book of poems, that someone else will want to read?

Lo, it's Tom. If you ask yourself this kind of thing, it is or will become true. Write the poem.