reading revival: a poetry book blog

reading revival is devoted to promoting australian poetry books and related discussion through reading one book - firstly, duty by geraldine mckenzie. i will choose a new book roughly every 3 months

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

buying poetry; a thorny topic. (a rosy topic). though my intention is not too get too general about poetry, poetry criticism, but to keep focus on the book (duty, at present) - the question of book sales is one that brought reading revival into existence. the common complaint is lots of poets - why arent there more book sales? i am encouraging book sales through the site, &, i know that ive succeeded in selling a small number of copies. what are the factors involved? i buy poetry books quite often, but i didnt when i first started writing. money. poets are often poor. when i started writing poetry seriously i was on the dole. i didnt have much money of course, but i bought cds & went to movies. i bought interesting secondhand books. this wasnt purely about pleasure, but about meaning. the australian poetry scene was relatively invisible to me. its not that different from being gay if you dont know where the clubs are & dont have any gay friends.

it was a very gradual process. somehow i found out about & went to open readings. i slowly made occasional connections with someone i saw reading & their poems in an anthology. i learned about the existence of the melbourne writers festival (i came from country nsw via canberra). i went to book launches. i still wasnt buying new books. though i spent quite a bit on secondhand ones and was reading more poetry from the library. i read early to midcentury american poets: plath, lowell, ginsberg, berryman, cummings. i read their bios. in a sense these were metaphors or movies of the real thing. which did exist right here. but i couldnt get into it. i hadnt studied poetry since high school - the only modern was eliot; noone contemporary. i read frank o'hara & ashbery - but did anyone else have their humour & warmth? i was interested in lowell, but it was a bit of a duty; ditto williams - but easier. wallace stevens was a new adventure in pleasure, emily dickinson. (ok im getting off the path of buying factors here perhaps into a fairly generic sounding reading trajectory - i wont go on about how i went down the path of stein -- langpo -- ). i published a few poems, i read the other poems in the journals. i read a few anthologies. i am slow to learn most things. plaths collected is probably one of the first new poetry books i bought. i got to know some poets. generally they didnt have books. i read john forbes library copies. gig ryan. secondhand pam brown. (one factor is i didnt see the poets i was becoming interested in 2nd hand).

i am trying to remember what got me buying new poetry. finding collected works bookshop. cant remember how. part of the pleasure of a bookshop is buying; i did/do feel guilty if i go in too often without buying anything. i bought books as presents: wallace stevens, robert adamson. a vague constellation of aust. po. was forming in my head. i submitted mss to publishers. i was included in an anthology. i got a job (this was earlier); my pay went up; i went part-time: it went down. i got a grant. i was attracted to more avantgarde books: surrealist books, novels etc. things that werent in the library. books with inviting covers (oh dear). i started to know the people whose launches i went to. there was an element of obligation in buying - if i had the cash - tho i still felt guilty if i didnt. poetry gradually meant more to me than other forms or writing. i was becoming interested in new australian poetry (i still knew little about colonial or pre-1960s poetry). i felt desire when a new book by someone i knew came out (poetry publishing is so slow - or has been since the 90s - that it can seem static - books were always already published). i began to think about reviewing. i bought chapbooks (cheaper). i think part of it was there was little publishing by poets in their twenties - the way there had been in the 70s - so it was harder to get a handle on the poets' culture(s). even now i find the culture of many poets a million miles from mine - but im more interested, able to find meaning in their language use, their tone, how they keep it all together.

what im trying to do is to find the block that i had about buying poetry to see if it will help others with their blocks... its hard to break habits - even negative ones: like the habit of not buying things we arent already familiar with .. i used to buy cds based on nme reviews - a rating of 7+ out of ten was enough. john peel said when asked what his favourite music was said he was always more excited by the records in the boot of his car (that he hadnt listened to). im trying to make a habit out of not behaving habitually. does duty seem strange? are the writers mckenzie mentioned: niedecker, berstein, oppen, celan, strange? the whole world was strange when we were born. do we feel locked out of the culture? it sounds like a capitalist cliche to say we become part of the culture by consuming it .. but poetrys not coke. do you want poetry to continue: 'always' like coke? this is not a moral question, nor a rhetorical one. are u ambitious or unambitious for your own poetry? (if you dont write poetry & have read this far -- i salute you!). readers are the vital element of poetry culture (obviously) - give yourself credit as a reader. read strange things. why be comforted all the time? you can always sell them secondhand if you hate them. what books do you buy? are they the kind easily accessible in libraries? you can lend your new poetry books to friends: more value for money. you can buy them as presents now youve read them & can be confident theyre good. you know whats going on right now - this is the other side of going to readings or reading magazines - those poems can be fresher than those in books - but heres an art to poetry in books thats separate .. if you dont read individual volumes you wont get to learn this pleasure. the entering a world, the breathing in of a poets work. it opens to you - in your space - in a way no other form of poetry does: in the book, the new book.

tell me your own stories relating to mine ...

6 Comments:

At 10:04 AM, Blogger Alison Croggon said...

There are two things which inhibit me from buying new books. The first one is that I have no spare money. This is a biggie. When I had spare money - back in days that seem like fabulous legend, though when I think back I ought to have been as poor then as I am now - I'd head off and blow $300. (How did I do that? Is there less money around these days?) I don't dare go into Collected Works, because I can't afford it - browsing is expensive there, there's always a must have... The second, more trivial reason is the question of where I put them. The house has as many books as it can hold; there are already shelves of stuff in the garage, instead of a car. That is, I agree, simply pathetic.

Somehow I end up with new books anyway, by some mysterious process of osmosis. I love reading new books. I even love reading poems. Maybe we should hold a benefit concert...

 
At 7:10 AM, Blogger michaelf said...

perhaps an advantage of online buying is that its easier to avoid browsing - & just buy what u were looking for. if u think a garage full of books is pathetic what about a bed? space is an issue - a friend who bought clothes from opshops always took stuff when he was going to buy anything new. a twostep process - old books to the opshop/2nd hand shop - then to the new shop - if u use the money u get from selling books, youll gain space...

 
At 2:51 PM, Blogger Alison Croggon said...

Yes, but I don't want to sell any of the books I have. We do occasional culls and send things off, but most of the rest I need - your library is after all an extension of your brain in these post-orality days.

So clearly I have to get a bigger house. Ha.

 
At 8:41 AM, Blogger michaelf said...

i can see a home improvement show for book addicts ..

 
At 10:25 AM, Blogger Tim said...

I bought Duty a couple of days ago from Gleebooks. I've just started a new job around the corner, in Broadway, and after a morning drilling the difference between present simple and present continuous to English students, opening the book to read the first couple of words (lines) was like breathing new air. But I haven't yet looked at it again. It was a feeling that I used to get more often with poetry - as if it was too much, the words would do me for a week, I could let experience form around them.

Re: buying poetry - I've had some similar experiences. Perhaps only three years ago, in my mid-twenties, I was going through the Australian poetry section at Marrickville Library. Then there was (and still is, thankfully, because the UTS library is now accessible only to students - others can get in in but only if they register and get a pass. There's also security guards and electronic gates) Fisher Library. It's really only been in the last year that I've started buying poetry new, and it is different - the difference between having someone stay at your house for a couple of weeks, and slowly getting to know a housemate. My consumption of poetry was also informed by this feeling that I'd missed the boat by getting into poetry later than (what I thought) most poets did - and so there was always the feeling, to varying degrees, that I needed to catch up.
Coincidentally I just received my first online book purchase in the mail this week too, George Oppen's Selected Poems..

 
At 7:43 AM, Blogger michaelf said...

tim, what u say about feeling youve 'missed the boat' is interesting: evokes the gap between poetry as an established & a dynamic culture. new books are being published every year (60-80 approx in australia alone) but if yr not attentive to that would you notice? bookshops dont usually feature new poetry publications. & who are these poets anyway? how often are you asked have u read the new poetry book by x? be the first in your street/suburb/city/country to own a new book by y. y is great!i like to have a range to read: library books, secondhand books & new books.

 

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