NPR did a short report on Friday’s Morning Edition called “Already Poor, Poets Don’t Much Mind the Recession.” It’s charming, ends with some terrific “recession haikus”, but it’s breathtaking how badly it misses the point.
Yes, yes, we all know there’s no money in poetry. But the funds to support the poet in her writing and the press in its printing have to come from somewhere.
Poet first: the audience for poetry is, by and large, other poets. Let’s just take that as a given. Because there is no money in poetry, poets work other jobs, either in academia, Brooks Brothers, bookstores, or elsewhere. Poets donate money to the presses they believe in, subscribe to journals, buy poetry books, and write poems they hope to publish in journals and books.
But if the poet loses her job, ahem, she loses more than her income. She loses whatever “extra” funds she had to make donations, subscribe to journals, and buy new poetry books. Used book sales generally go up during hard times. That’s great. I like used books and used book stores. However, used book sales don’t benefit the publisher or the author, except by increasing readership — nice, but it’s not going to help pay the rent in the hear and now.
I believe in supporting your community, but without the Dorothy Prize I certainly could not have afforded the spate of subscriptions I recently took on.
Now, the publisher, both of books and literary journals, operating on a shoestring in his basement, or in tiny offices buckling under the weight of stuffed manila envelopes, is paying for his endeavor usually with a budget cobbled together through donations, book sales, and a day job. What happens when he’s laid off? When the economy tanks, books sales go down, subscriptions dry up, donations slacken. Presses begin to see their cash flow dwindling to a trickle: Salt Publishing has sent a call for help. Tupelo Press as well. And some university-affiliated literary journals, like Southern Review and New England Review, are being threatened with losing their university funding.
All of this to say that poets, and poetry, do very much mind the recession.
In that spirit: as I’ve said, subscriptions are ridiculously cheap. Many literary presses offer substantial discounts if you order directly from them. So if you can, please subscribe to a journal today — there’s a bunch of links to great ones a few posts ago. Go to a publisher’s website (like Salt or Tupelo or Four Way Books) and buy a new book. Or, and I know this a revolutionary proposal, go to your local independent bookshop and place an order there.
While great poetry will be written whatever the state of the economy, without our support the venues to publish and share that poetry could disappear.