Voice Alpha

on reading poetry aloud for an audience

poetry doesn’t sell because it isn’t performed well enough

2 Comments

(Cross-posted from Very Like A Whale) Interesting reading from the folks at Commercial Poetry:

… poetry sales figures make it abundantly clear that no one buys poetry without performance of that poem, of that poet’s work or of poetry in general. Aside from the paltry numbers involved, the model of publishing a tome and then doing readings for a few dozen friends and fellow poets fails for two reasons:

- it must be a performance, not a reading; and,
- it is ass-backwards: live, film or theatrical production comes before any expectation of profitable text publication.

This was true even in poetry’s heyday. Shakespeare’s plays were not collected and published until well after he retired. How many copies would his scripts have sold without production? Just as you don’t buy MP3s of songs/artists you’ve never heard, interest in individual poets usually began with seeing their work performed, not necessarily by the poet*. If enough of that writer’s work caught your fancy you might buy the book or catch the author on tour. Contrast that to poetry’s status quo: to no one’s surprise, people who have never encountered a contemporary poem being performed competently are not enthused about reading any particular poem or poetry in general. How many Superbowl tickets are purchased by those who have never seen a football game?

I especially love the footnote corresponding to the asterisk above:

Footnote:
* The notion that anyone other than the author would want to perform a contemporary poem seems utterly foreign to today’s poets. As long as this is the case there is no hope for poetry’s reanimation.

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Author: Nic Sebastian

Nic is the author of Forever Will End On Thursday and Dark And Like A Web. She founded the now-archived Whale Sound site and is co-founder of The Poetry Storehouse. Nic blogs at Very Like A Whale and Voice Alpha.

2 thoughts on “poetry doesn’t sell because it isn’t performed well enough

  1. Performance first, transcript second. This makes so much sense.

    I wonder if poetry could follow the orchestra’s growth model. Just as orchestral music started during interludes between operatic acts, might poetry be performed between dramatic acts? Plays aren’t as popular today as opera was hundreds of years ago, but plays today are more popular than poetry, I think. Poetry could be written as a kind of complement or counterpoint to a play . . .

  2. Wow – I like that idea! Unfortunately I don’t really know anyone in drama to ask – might be worth pursuing, though. Good to hear from you,Peter!

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