Inspired by Clare Pollard's post on The Health of Poetry and subsequent comments on resources and support systems for poets we started thinking here about the huge difference in activities and communities Arc poets undertake and have around the Uk and world.
Some live what seem to be impossibly jet-setting lives:
I am on my way to Sweden in two days where I get to stay in the late director's Ingmar Bergman's house for two weeks to write. I will be back the 16th of June... The 4th of July I am going to the international poetry festival in Medellin in Colombia - one of the biggest poetry festivals in the world I have heard. ... I have been invited to a poetry festival in Florence in September and to the literature festival in Reykjavik where I will be reading Rory McTurk's new translation of a poetry that appeared in my poetry book Strandir that was published last year and got fabulous reviews. Of course this is the exception rather than the rule, which is why we're told about it.
In a previous post I discussed what we offer our poets in terms of support, but as the comments in Clare's post show, the odds are stacked against the majority of poets reaching a vast swathe of readers. Arc is fortunate to have a part time person dedicated to promoting the books, poets and working on events. But that's only the start of the business of securing readings. I've spent a large part of recent months writing to festivals and venues about various poets who have new books forthcoming, suggesting why they might be suitable to read at such and such event. Sadly poets with books over two or three years old rarely get a mention in my emails - how many poets - names, titles and bios - can one email contain? To some extent, poets need to keep active and visible in publishing terms to keep themselves attractive to festivals - publishing in magazines, editing, involved in other projects with other poets or artists for festivals and venues to recognise a reason to invite them. If they are still wanting to sell or promote a particular title or themselves. One way round this is asking our UK based poets to host an event for one the international poets we hope to bring over in the Autumn. A new book paired with an older title. A new name supported by a local, familiar name is an appealing combination for audiences
And then they may not have any money to pay a fee, and maybe not even able to offer expenses. This issue has been well documented online - to read or not to read for free. The point I'm raising here is if, as publisher, I secure readings or am approached for poets, are we then responsible to subsidise those readings if it turns out there is not enough money being offered to cover the poet's expenses? Where are we meant to find the money? The well-publicised decision of Salt to stop publishing single collections and more recently the news that the printer Biddles has gone into administration are high profile examples of the industry being under huge strain, and yet we need to sell books. And generally the best way to sell books is for the authors to read. Reviews and endorsements help, and while free, are harder to come by.
In a recent comment thread to a Burning Eye Books said
Here at Burning Eye we focus on performance poetry 1. because it was neglected by poetry publishers and 2. because the performers are walking talking self promoters. They get out there and talk the book up and help it sell. Felix Dennis was quoted in the Sky Arts doc. saying that he sold more books at some gigs than many poets sold in total. These are the kind of sales that don't show up in Nielsen data of course.
This of course relies on the poet being great readers/performers of their work. Which they're not. And there being money to pay them.
Charles Boyle is one publisher who clearly understands the need to support the community of poets and publishers in which he operates. And the power of combined events. In partnership with Eyewear he is hosting a pop up bookshop in London in the first week of July and the fourth annual poetry book fair in London, which in the spirit of recognising not all publishers are based in Lonond is offering travel bursaries for those of us who have to travel to be there.
Pighog Press also recognise the strength of wortking with other publishers with their Pighog Plus events in Brighton, a great opportunity for poets to pair up for a reading in Brighton. No money makes it limited to poets in the south east. Increasingly it seems essential we do not operate within the 'competition' model of consumerism, but as co-operators who by joining forces will make more noise and impact on readers. In some respects readers are no more scarce than poets. The more we turn attention to the quality of our poets the more their interest will spread.