Mike Snider's Formal Blog and Sonnetarium :
Poems, mostly metrical, and rants and raves on poetry and the po-biz.
Updated: 1/24/06; 10:18:45 PM.



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Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Not all poets turned their back on readers, of course, and I'd certainly count Rhina Espaillat, Richard Wilbur, Frank O'Hara, and Allen Ginsberg among those who didn't. But Pound and company started a hole that in the last 25 years has gotten pretty damned deep.

6:57:40 PM    comment: use html tags for formatting []  trackback []

Jonathan, I got your point, and you're wrong. With the exception of the courtier poets of the 16th century, poetry never was for a small audience until the latter part of the 20th century: Tennyson joked that people would sell his nail-clippings if they could get hold of them. So what changed? It's not TV, because readers don't buy poetry, and they once did — it's poets who have largely turned their back on readers, perhaps because their success now depends on semi-academic careerism rather than reaching out to the world.

6:14:38 PM    comment: use html tags for formatting []  trackback []

I really wish Bemsha Swing had a comments section, so I could answer there, instead of appearing to obsess over such small beer. The key sentence of Jonathan's latest post is "[t]hat Ron outsells Rhina proves absolutely nothing, and if the reverse were the case it would prove absolutely nothing either." Sales ranks at Amazon are current sales (for how long a period I don't know) and are strongly driven by publicity and current events and fashions. But there are some interesting factoids to be gleaned:

  • Of the current top one hundred selling books, number 6 and number 35 are long arguments with lots of evidence by the biologist Jared Diamond.
  • The current top one hundred selling books in the Literature & Fiction category includes 1984, Reading Lolita in Tehran, Siddhartha, and Will in the World.
  • Neither the general list nor the Literature & Fiction lists include a single volume of poetry.
  • Of living poets, only Ted Kooser (30), Mary Oliver (68 & 81), and Jean Valentine (78) have books of new, original poetry for adults in the top one hundred poetry list, and only Seamus Heaney, with his translation of Beowulf (10), appears in the top 25. Unless you count Alicia Keys.
  • Paradise Lost outsells every living poet.

There is challenging and important material in the bestseller lists, but no living poet can outsell Ken Follet(379), and Laurell K. Hamilton's Vampire Hunter series has 5 books with sales currently comparable to the currently best-selling book of original poetry by a 20th century poet. No living poet has original material in the top 25 of the freaking poetry list. Tell me again how poets are reaching an audience.

Posted from webmail, so there's no title. And, BTW, Richard Wilbur's Collected outranks Allen Ginsberg's Collected, 14,779 to 57,030, and Robert Frost has two editions of Collecteds which rank at 11,503 and 12,194. John Ashbery's best rank is 59,120, for a reprint of Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror.

2:38:56 PM    comment: use html tags for formatting []  trackback []

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