Saturday, February 10, 2007

FIGHT THE POWER

I have been conversing, in the comments section beneath "I Know, I Know, I Know", with Australian uber-poet Glenn Cooper about bookshops. He works in one. I occasionally visit one when I'm cold and I have a few moments to spare. But I don't go in often; and I never go in with the expectation of finding something good to read, unless I'm on Charing Cross Road in London(and even then I don't hold my breath.)
Why? Listen, most of the readers who pass through these pages are in the writing/ publishing game in one way or another. We all know poets, even if we never write a line ourselves. And consequently we all know that there is a remarkable, dynamic, global poetry scene that is just not being represented in the bookshops--maybe it is in other countries, but it certainly isn't in the UK. It makes me sick, sending and receiving emails from poets like Glenn and then going into a bookshop and seeing the same old stuff, year after year after year, with a notable shrinkage of the more esoteric or hip writing from the past as well--e.e.cummings is everywhere, but can you find Bunting or Hart Crane? or Harry Fainlight? The bigger presses occasionally throw out supposed new waves or next generations of poetry stars, but when you read 'em it's the same post-Ted Hughes/ post-Douglas Dunn lifeless, boring old verse; I've read hundreds of these books, albeit from the Library, but I can't remember one poem or the name of one author from the bunch--they are as substantial as an uninteresting rumour half-heard by a deaf man in a noisy crowd.
It's time something was done about it!
So my plan this weekend is to write a letter to Waterstone's, my local coffee franchise--uh, bookshop chain--alerting them to the existence of a living poetry scene, naming twenty authors whose works should be on their shelves, and offering to put the bookshop managers in touch with the poets. I'll publish the letter when I write it and post any response I get from them.

This righteous action probably won't change anything, since local managers have to work within company policy, I presume, and the bookshop chains are megaliths who exist--like Tesco or Costa Coffee--to make ££££. These places will probably always be repositories for horrible, bland poetry shunted in by the publishing houses with the biggest financial clout. But at least we'll be smuggling the names of some of the world's finest living poets through their doors at last. And we'll have a little fun at the expense of the Big Boys.

The Twenty, of course, will be my list, skewed to suit my taste. But most of you will agree with some of it.

2 comments:

Glenn said...

Everyone says nobody reads poetry, but where I work each staff member has a section or sections that they "look after", ie. ordering new titles, general tidying up, etc. My sections are poetry, music and sport. I've found that since I've started paying close attention to the poetry section, people DO indeed read poetry. I'm continually turning over titles by Rimbaud, Carver, Neruda, Baudelaire, Ginsberg, and plenty of others. Of course, these people are all literary giants and firmly rooted in the establishment, but nevertheless, it does show that if you stock decent titles, people will buy them. On the flip side, the likes of Byron and Shelley have been sitting on the shelf gathering dust for years ... So surely there's a lesson, there. I wish I could get small press poets on the shelf. But the inventory software we use is too inflexible to allow it, given that invoices would be mostly in US dollars. But 'm trying to find a way around it.

Bruce Hodder said...

Yes, I'm sure that people will read poetry if the right poets are sold in the bookshops, with the right kind of promotions etc. etc. But interest is really killed at source by publishers giving contracts to the wrong poets, and by the disastrously out-of-touch coverage poetry gets in the mainstream media (I have written about the laughable coverage of the arts in general on the BBC in an essay called "Abandoned by Auntie" at the ULA website www.literaryrevolution.com.)Anybody who hears the latest well-groomed new boy of the mainstream reading his dead verse on the radio--or sees the latest John Hegley-type "popular" poet put forth by the same publishers to patronise the masses--is going to turn their back on poetry and go to the cinema instead.