Monday, January 28, 2008

AWP Countdown

I'm quite dizzy with anticipation about the AWP Conference. One of my goals is to glean as much insight on what's going on within the poetry industry. We never talk about poetry as a business or an industry, but AWP is a good place to have those conversations.

In trying to be an advocate for my book, I've been thinking long and hard about this huge disconnect I see between the number of poets writing today vs. book sales. I can't tell if we're part of a dying art or experiencing a revival. I mean, the number of creative writing programs has exploded during the past 30 years. There are more ways to get our work out there than ever before: more small presses, contests, journals, Web zines, community projects, spoken word venues, open mics, and blogs. Even state and city poet laureateships are on the rise, for better or worse. So why aren't we selling more books? Why are we still this low-profit (practically no-profit) industry? And please tell me where are all the women poets?

I've always believed that the pobiz sustains itself because the poetry readers are its writers, so it will never go away but never grow. Doesn't matter how many Pulitzers a poet wins or how many genius grants are given, we just haven't figured out a way to get our books into mainstream channels. I'm waiting for that high tide to raise all boats. If there are success stories, we don't hear about them--we're terrible about sharing knowledge within the community.


I really started to go off on this post but deleted most of it because, really, I don't have any answers. And anytime I start talking about the inequities in poetry, the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.


This AWP Conference is the largest, and the first time it's sold out with 7,500 people attending—with an ungodly amount of off-site events open to the public. Hope you'll come back later in the week to this blog for photos and posts from the conference.

And, if you send a question I'll try to get you an answer.


pepektheassassin said...

Yeah, well. This is why I decided to self-publish. I don't have the time or the patience anymore to swim upstream. And I think I am a pretty fair poet. Most people don't really care. Some other poets, maybe.

Have fun!

Left-handed Trees... said...

Have a great time, January! I "tagged" you with a writing-prompt if you get a chance once you're home and settled in again. Good luck to you at the AWP.

JimK said...

Dozens of niches, hundreds
of journals, tens of thousands
of blogs. It is fractured but
fractal. The experimental and
pseudo-random hold a lot now,
but the narrative/real-things is
returning. I don't know how
AWP sorts out... should be very
interesing. A lot got surprised
at no day-of tickets.

Goodnight, Mom said...


My thought is not that there aren't more poets but maybe it is just the decrease in printed material in general. Anyway, not a poet but that is just my thought.

Please have a fantastic time at your conf and give JoJo a big smooch from me.

My confession is up, btw.


Catherine said...

January, I counted the number of women poets in my Poetry Daily anthology and came up with around 136 of a total of 366 poems (though one or two male poets had more than one poem). No doubt I missed some women where the name was possibly unisex or had initials only. I don't think that's so bad. In New Zealand although we have some wellknown male poets, five of the six poetry books in the book awards last year were by women poets. I think that's dangerous. Any occupation that becomes dominated by women starts to become devalued - nursing, teaching. I gather that in Russia most of the doctors are women, and that it is a lower status occupation there for that reason.

As for poetry books - I read lots of poetry for instance Poetry Daily every day, but a) I don't have much spare cash for books and b) sometimes when I buy poetry books other than anthologies, I find myself a bit overwhelmed with a lot of poetry by one author. (On the other hand, one poem by a particular author in an anthology often leaves me wanting more).

Poetry has a huge future but poetry books as such are probably more at risk from the internet than novels. It's a lot easier to print out a poem that you like than to print out a whole novel (though when I do buy books, I buy poetry books, and borrow the novels from the library - I'm sure I'm in the minority though)

JimK said...

Hi January...belated digging.

Re: gender effects..
..I researched it a bit.
There are many entries, especially
women editors talking and taking
stats from their own selections.
They just about all say they pick
merit not gender. But some remark
on the much larger number of male
submissions. Often, the distraction
of child-raising is mentioned, but
the link isn't clear....

I will take a risk and propose a
theory: I see many great female
poets becoming editors. I have
not tallied, but it seems more
editors are women than men are
editors. And editing is very time-consuming work. I wonder sometimes if many of the best
women poets find their energies spent in the service of other poets. This would have a
counter-intuitive effect, where
the widespread efort to make
things more even results in
inequities in the submission
numbers (on top of maybe other
trends: males submitting more
agressively has been ventured
by the women editors).
The inequality would be stronger
for the 'best' women (if the word
best can ever be used in poetry!),
blunting the top honors.

Anyway, there are a lot of efforts
at gender balance, and the stats
mainly show piles of male
submissions. If were a woman
with early signs of success
(like yourself), I would therefore
focus on more submissions,
according to that theory, and
try to stick to just being a poet
for a while if more success comes.

I don't submit much myself, so
this sort of scolds me. It's an
aggrevating activity, with high
rejection rates for even the best
( But since poetry
is always personal with the reader,
ringing all the doorbells in town,
once you have a large, quality
reserve, seems like a way to get

If "Best American Poetry" is an
ultimate goal, I suggest you
analyze different years carefully:
they might as well be different
planets. There can be no more
powerful demonstration of how
personal poetry selection is than
the history of BAP selections,
and the different editors.

Catherine said...

Men submitting more agressively certainly sounds more likely to me. I have heard research to the effect that men in any field go about it in a more business-like way than many women. For instance, there are hardly any male quilters, but those who do go into that field take it very seriously as a career and seem to find ways of making money at it, which most female quilters never do.
So I would certainly agree with the advice to get plenty of submissions out there (now I should just take my own advice)

Crafty Green Poet said...

I seem to find and read as much poetry by women as by men. A lot of published poetry in the UK is very 'fashionable' - acclaimed by critics and poets writing similar poetry but not really appealing to the general public. At tne same time we have a lot of poets who work in a way more similar to musicians - they're out there doing gigs and recordings rather than publishing books. They're often the ones who have the increasing audiences.

JimK said...

Quite similar in the US.
Most is undecipherable to
the public. But many open mic
crowds still love eloquent
narrative poetry and wit.
There is a big "Storytelling"
circuit which is much dramatic
prose. And a few "dramatic poets".
Audience overlap at hoots,


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