Shakespeare said it first. Or at least Don Paterson’s version of Shakespeare’s sonnet 102 did:
That love is merchandized, whose rich esteeming
The owner’s tongue doth publish everywhere.
Which leads DP into:
Oh yes – overpublication is a terrible thing in a poet, and only arouses suspicion. It looks like it’s coming way too easily, meaning either it’s not costing you enough, or you’re insincere, or you’re probably repeating yourself. (And it’s all too easy to do: readers like to read their poetry as if it were something rare and precious. A poet can saturate his or her market just by publishing every three years.)
Yes, it’s the opposite of ‘tell everyone if you plan to go on a diet’. The quotation is, of course, from DP’s recent commentary Reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets, which, among other things, includes tips and advice to poets from One Who Knows. Not everyone will agree with him here, needless to say – though I do.
That’s because the pile of poems and anthologies at my elbow grows daily and there is a point at which it all becomes like too much pudding (not padding, pudding). You only look forward to dessert as a special thing, if you’re going to be able to get up and walk after you’ve eaten it.
This creates a wee problem for those poets who are hugely prolific, and possibly for those who are currently writing a poem a day for NatPoMo. Well – it does if writing and poems and sharing them with the world are seen as hand-in-hand activities, as they are by many.
This week, on Facebook, poet and publisher Peter Daniels shared Book Business comments from someone called Neal Goff (great name) of Egremont Associates, a firm that helps publishers sell stuff. And what does he say?
. . . in order to succeed in selling books directly to consumers . . . publishers are going to have to step back and nurture gatherings of consumers in the consumers' interest areas before creating content that those gatherings want. This is the antithesis of what publishers were once able to do, which was publish content and then create audience interest.
Oo-er missus. I was at one of Colin Will’s book launches yesterday – lovely readings from Geoff Cooper, Eddie Gibbons and Lyn Moir to support their new pamphlet publications. Was that nurturing gatherings of consumers? I suppose it was in a way.
As is Rob Mackenzie’s Poetry at the . . . Store this very evening, at which one of ‘my’ new poets, Matthew Stewart, launches his new pamphlet (32 pages of poems compiled carefully over several years).
But I don’t think we can nurture enough consumers to beat the book battle. Nurturing people is very time-consuming. It’s hellish trying to nurture folk and produce poetry publications at the same time. Are you being nurtured as you read this? If not, email me. I will send chocolate.
Jon Stone suggests “alternatives to the single author volume” may be the answer. More anthologies. Anthologies do seem to reach more common readers, or readers who like their theme, which can counteract the Fear of Po. The two big sources of income for poetry activity, in the days of vanishing AC funding, must surely be competitions and anthologies (take a look at Bloodaxe’s top ten titles).
This gives me a nice opportunity to work in a mention of the new Grey Hen volume, out this week, Get Me Out of Here! Poems for trying circumstances. Quirky (often funny) poems by “older women poets” of whom I am one. A very enjoyable read and probably going to be marketed to a nurtured gathering of older women readers (there will be noteworthy exceptions). We older women (OWs) are still, I imagine, the main poetry-book-buying group in the UK. (YWs reading this: you can be an OW eventually. If you want to know what it’s like, read this book. YMs: tough.)
And there's another excellent new anthology from Leicester-based Soundswrite, this time women from aged 25 to 98! A pleasure to read. If I were in the area, I would want to be involved with this group: a place where nature and nurture are combined. (YMs: sorry.)
But Mr Goff suggests that “the internet is the best marketing medium ever invented”. Maybe so. Maybe no. It connects with a vast number of people, theoretically, but that vast number of people is having a vast amount of stuff marketed to it every second of every hour of every day of every. . . .
Therefore, like her [Philomel], I sometime hold my tongue,
Because I would not dull you with my song.