Jules Mann - Posting #5

18 January 2000

Building Poetry Audiences and Readers

Imagine this scenario: on a weekend you open your (mainstream) newspaper to the Arts section, and there is an entire page dedicated to Poetry. It looks something like this:

Heading: Poetry

Main Article: Interview with a poet, or with a poetry magazine editor, or about a popular poetry reading venue, or covering several small press 'zines', or about poetry on the internet.

Sidebar, titled Poetry Publications Out This Week: A listing of new titles coming out from poetry presses ranging from Penguin to Carcanet to Mad Dog Press. Besides listing poet, publisher, book details and price, it also includes an excerpt of poetry from each publication.

Review Section: Book reviews, poetry reading reviews, and a reader comment section.

Poetry Events: For the week to come, a listing of who is reading where. Besides listing poet, venue, details and ticket price, it also includes an excerpt of poetry from each reader.

Sidebar, titled Poetry on the Internet: An annotated list of interesting websites that feature poetry.

But the best news of all, this is not just a titillating one-off special issue - this is the first of a new weekly section in your favourite weekend broadsheet!

Several months ago I hinted at the idea that the nature of how poetry is perceived by the public needs to undergo a revolutionary change.

Based on almost two years now of the innovative Poetry Places infiltrating the most unexpected corners of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and emerging with an enthusiastic display of support from 'the person on the street' as well as their local media, it's time to wake up to the notion that the poetry world could take a big mental leap now and stop thinking of poetry as existing just for poets and start treating it as an assumed-place art form.

The status of contemporary poetry has a long way to go in relation to the visual or performing arts; do we really need a 'literary supplement' to our newspapers when dance, music, theatre automatically assume a place - daily - to review new shows? Why aren't poetry books, poetry performances, poetry venues, poets themselves reviewed in that same vein?

Based on the marketing and promotion of other art forms, poetry suffers from the following conditions: 

Lack of Media exposure: Poetry simply does not receive regular reviews of new publications and reading events in mainstream media (such as that received by music, theatre, cinema, visual arts). 
Lack of meaningful promotional content: Advertisements of upcoming readings - in all media, both specialised and mainstream - almost never include excerpts of the actual work itself so that potential audiences may judge on that basis whether to attend. 
Poetryphobia a condition wrongly attributed to the justification that the only audience for poetry is other poets, used as an excuse for poor audience attendance at poetry events.
Let me give you an example.

Following are two different formats for listing a 'poetry event calendar'. I use actual poets whose work I'm familiar with to demonstrate my point.

Format #1 - typical poetry listing in an Events Calendar

Monday, December 3
Venue A, 7:30 pm, £3
Lois Hirshkowitz

Tuesday, December 4
Venue B, 8 pm, £3
Gerry Gomez Pearlberg

Wednesday, December 4
Venue C, 8 pm, £4
Jim Watson-Gove and Edward Mycue


Format #2 - proposed new way of thinking

Monday, December 3
Venue A, 7:30 pm, £3
Lois Hirshkowitz
, poet and teacher visiting from NYC, reading from her book 'Pan's Daughters' and new manuscript 'Flying Inside a Light Bulb'.
'On the 28th floor walls of windows shake with the flashing
the thunder storm's lightnening: two movements without

interruption and a room moves inside your head
tossing the motives from one extended introduction to

another, odd turn zig zag-quirky, cryptic ruptures...'

Tuesday, December 4
Venue B, 8 pm, £3
Gerry Gomez Pearlberg
, poet and editor from Brooklyn NY, reading from 'Marianne Faithfull's Cigarette' and new work
'She is a doorway made of churning wheat
which my mouth can neither open nor close.
I feed on the things that take my breath away:
petrified crutches and letters to Jesus,
doves and white chairs oddly placed in the meadow,
handcuffs and ice floes and broken chess pieces...'

Wednesday, December 4
Venue C, 8 pm, £4
Jim Watson-Gove and Edward Mycue

Edward Mycue is a San Francisco poet whose work has been widely published around the world
'GET WASHED YOU BLIND HANDSOME OCEAN.
YOUR SKIES PLUM COLORED, YOUR BOATS
OARLESS BOB IN THE MARMALADE WAVES.
YOUR HARBOR HAS A STONE IN ITS MOUTH...'

Jim Watson-Gove is a poet, novelist and editor from Oakland, CA
'we are slammed to the wall with feathers in
our teeth we grow sad thinking about our deaths going
to sleep I dream not about my death but about doodle
bugs with engines smaller than coke bottles salisberries
with sleek aluminum skins foot accelerators like cars...'

One small clarification: though this is written in England out of an analysis of Poetry Places, the issue is by no means limited to this country. In fact, I've e-mailed copies to a number of poets across the USA for their response. I'll post anything relevant, and as always welcome your responses, e-mailed to [email protected]