Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Out-of-Touch and Living Under a Rock

Haven't heard of Tryfon Tolides either.

Now I don't claim to know all contemporary poets writing in English or even most. But I read a fair amount and I often at least recognize a name, even if I'm not familiar with the name's work.

This confirms my sense that big name publishers don't have nearly as much to offer poets as one might think. If that's your dream, maybe inquire as to what exactly are your expectations from such a situation. I know in many cases, the sales are still pretty negligible. Big publishers don't seem to bring a whole lot of readers or name recognition to poets -- which might be why they frequently stick to publishing late-career poets who already developed a strong readership (via indie and university publishers) and already won "big" awards. A poet may be "rewarded" for her decades of work by a contract with a big press and if there's indications that an expensive book tour or advertising may succeed with an already big name, a big press might step up to the plate. Maybe. But it seems in many cases a newer/younger/less-established poet doesn't benefit a whole lot. Much of the task of getting the work out there still seems to fall onto the poet no matter who the publisher turns out to be.

I know this isn't a scientific way to track readership, but most online chapbooks seem to reach more readers (who are at least interested enough to comment on and rate the work) than this major contest winner. Dickman seems to have more of a readership, but as Michael discussed, Dickman does a lot of self-promotion. I bet that has a lot more to do with it than the actual award itself.

I don't really care who wins what book award and which big press publishes whom. It doesn't stop me from doing what I want. I do care a bit about (some) poets (who I know and care about) who seem to put so much stock in all of these labels masquerading as achievements. Writing the divine book is the true achievement -- and that's what your readers (if you're fortunate enough to have them) care about. That is what you're really being judged on -- at least by anyone you should give two shakes of a rat's ass about.


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