Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Poetry

I received a very kind personal rejection from Deseret Book this week. I had known before I ever sent the query in that my cause was hopeless. Poetry doesn’t sell. Besides that, Deseret Book doesn’t sell poetry. (Probably for precisely that reason.) I went into DB a few months ago and asked where the “poetry section” was. The answer? They had none, but I might find something over in “Inspirational.” (That’s when I knew it was hopeless, because only bad poetry is considered “inspirational.”) When I headed over there, I found ZERO poetry collections. As in NOT ONE. As in not even sappy “too often for Mormons” poetry, let alone any Carol Lynn Pearson, who I thought was still selling (don’t people still read her?).

It was a sad day.

So it was sheer stupidity that made me send the query anyway. But I thought I had a hook: what about a very small (chapbook) collection of poems about womanhood and motherhood, all dressed up nice in a little booklet and packaged to sell for Mother’s Day right next to the other little Mother’s Day booklets they sell. Yeah, I know people don’t buy poetry but maybe, just maybe I could be the exception. With the right packaging and marketing, you know. What if we had a radio ad (dream on) of someone reading the boob job poem? If you heard that poem, wouldn’t you want to go check out the booklet? (OK, now you know how off-my-rocker I was because of course Deseret Book could never sell anything with the phrase “boob job” in it.) I just thought—hoped—that maybe I could straddle the line between accessible/inspirational (cheesy) and poetic/skillful (esoteric) in such a graceful way that people would actually be fooled into being entertained by poetry, and want to share the experience with others.

So the nice gentleman at DB said, very nicely, that poetry doesn’t sell. Or at least, if it were going to sell (and my poetry was interesting and he enjoyed it—so why not mine?), it would have to be from a grass-roots level. Once I (or someone else) create the demand, DB would be happy to step in and supply it, of course.

Yeah. Well.

Um, how does someone go about creating a grass-roots-level demand for poetry?

Yeah, yeah. Self-publish a chapbook, pass it around to everyone and their grandma’s dog, build a following, etc. I guess that could be done. I’m beginning to waiver in my belief that I’m the one to do it, though.

But here’s my question for you: have you ever bought a collection of poetry? I know you haven’t so let me ask you another: when was the last time you read poetry on purpose? How did you get it? Did you seek out more? What poetry have you read (over your lifetime) that you enjoyed? Can you imagine ever buying poetry? If so, what kind would it be and where would you find it?

23 comments:

ashley said...

Hi Darlene! I found your blog through MaryAnn's site. I love poetry! I don't own alot...just a few collections of poetry by Walt Whitman, Emily Dickenson, ee cummings. I also have one of those Mother's Day book of poems that you were hoping to find. ("A Mother's Love" published by Eagle Gate) I don't really have any great suggestions to getting published. If your work is religious you could try the church magazines. As far as getting a following I think you should start a beatnik poetry group, berets and all. :)

Jenny said...

If you think your poetry is controversial enough, I can connect you with A's uncle. Let me know...

How about making some Kinko's copied poetry books for those of us willing to pay you for that?

My favorite poet is Billy Collins. Can you recommend any others?

Zina said...

Ashley and Jenny, I'm going to have to tell you to go right now and subscribe to Segullah, if only for Darlene's poems, which are often published there (and where else have you published, Darlene? Irreantum? Where else? Tell us!) Okay, so I admit I haven't subscribed to Segullah yet, but I've been meaning to and now that I've told you to, I'm honor-bound. It's only $15 for a year's subscription (three issues.) Here's a link to subscribe:

http://segullah.org/subscribe.php

and here's a link to Darlene's wonderful poem in the most recent issue:

http://segullah.org/spring2008/sinceborn.php

Darlene, if I'm speaking out of turn and you'd rather we saved our pennies for your self-published effort, please just delete this comment.

I forget to read poetry, and forget how much I enjoy it, so I haven't purchased any in years -- I did buy a nice fat anthology of American poetry around the time I graduated from BYU, and I've also kept the anthologies from my English classes, but these days I'm actually more likely to Google a favorite poem than to go find it in a book.

I would, however, purchase any collection of your poetry and recommend it to anyone and everyone. Just the other night I was quoting to my mom that wonderful line from the boob job poem about the Relief Society sisters who "argued long and soft." In fact, I told her I'd find the whole poem for her, and have forgotten to, so if you'll put it in a compilation and sell it to me, I'll give it to her for Mother's Day. Do you have PayPal? Want to put your poetry in a Word document and email it to me? In fact, I'd gladly buy copies for all the women in my family for Mother's Day -- I haven't had any other great gift ideas yet, and that would be fun. (And so grassroots!) :)

Zina said...

P.S. I should wait to post this since a) it's a little evil and b) it's past my bedtime, but I can't resist telling you that you just made an entry to my malaprop treasury -- with "waivering faith." If it makes you feel better, "wavering faith" only get about 75,500 hits on google compared to the 924,000 that "waivering faith" gets -- so I had to check James 1:6. You should also know that I only collect malaprops that strike my fancky, and I like "waivering" because it makes it sound like you signed a waiver to give up your faith.

Zina said...

Uh, make that strike my fancy. If I do have a fancky, I definitely don't want it struck.

Darlene said...

I promise, the thought of striking your fancky never, ever occurred to me. Ever. I'm not that type.

Thanks, Zina! I'll publish a little Mother's Day-ish chapbook one of these days. I don't know how to do it well, but I'll figure something out. Or I'll wait another year or two and send a collection off to Signature, I suppose.

You do know that you can read all of Segullah free on their site, right? (Although I think it's worth subscribing because the issues are so beautiful with the artwork.)

FYI I've published in Segullah, Dialogue, Irreantum, Exponent II, the Friend, the Ensign, and Vigor. (I think that's all).

Darlene said...

And, Jenny, who is A's uncle?

Melinda said...

Some poetry I love -Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, Sandberg.

I have not bought poety since I bought Emily Dickinson for my little sister for Christmas last year.

And I confess: I don't read it much.

However, I would LOVE to read a poem that has "boob job" in it!

Also, I can't write poetry. It always turns out very, very bad.

maralise said...

Hey Darlene...I've bought all of Carolyn Pearson's early work including an anthology (well, bought is relative, my mom owned an LDS bookstore and we 'bought' stuff there a lot).

I've bought all of Derek Walcott's stuff (that I can possibly find)...inspired by a course paper, naturally. Hubby recently bought me a collection of poetry AND finally, I bought a book of poetry from two English-writing Austrians because I went to their reading. In my opinion, readings make me want to buy poetry...a lot. The book was titled, "lust,love,loss." I've read it cover to cover (in no particular order of course) and love it.

I'd buy it Darlene. Have you tried the smaller LDS publishers?

Mark Brown said...

I think I'd have to agree with Maralise about how readings make me want to buy poetry. More than anything else, feeling a personal connection with the poet and his/her work is what made me jump at buying something. There is something hypnotic and spellbinding about hearing someone read their work.

You know, when I was in college at ISU, some friends and I organized a summer reading series at Main Street Coffee and News. We'd invite a recognized regional writer to sort of headline for the first half hour or so and then we'd do open mike for the second half hour or hour. We did one a month for June, July, and August and they were a huge success. People who had books to sell sold them like crazy and they built up a following.

In a place like Utah Valley, I'll bet something like that would be pretty easy to organize and if someone was willing to put up a few flyers here and there and do a little cheap advertising, I bet you could have a very successful, satisfying experience and get a lot of local exposure.

Zina said...

I didn't know Segullah was all online and I'll keep it in mind in the future -- I far prefer saving a tree or two when I can read things online. Thanks for the tip.

That's an impressive (and well-deserved) list of publications -- and it proves we do need a chapbook, so we can get all your work in one place.

mary ann said...

This is your blog -- of course your readers are going to consume poetry! Maybe we're not such a representative bunch, but at least devoted. Our book group just did Billy Collins last month. I do have some Carol Lynn Pearson, Walt Whitman, Paul Celan, etc. I also have a friend who I believe self-published her first book of poetry called Defending the Light. I love one called "Poor Mom/me", though she has one she wrote for Maddie when she was born. Rob used her city poetry in a class of his -- maybe you need a BYU professor who can have a class order your poems in a reader. That would be grassroots too.
You can see her at www.theahillman.com but I should warn you that she's my favorite jewish lesbian sex-positive poet and some of her work will turn your garments green.

Michelle said...

Hi Darlene-- I just found you from Segullah. Ah, Deseret Book is up in the night. I'll tell you flat out that I don't really enjoy poetry but I LOVE yours.

I've had some knock-em-dead fabulous ideas rejected by DB--let's find a better publisher!

I'll be back to read more! Keep writing!

Ang said...

I read most of my poetry from literary magazines, but I have some anthologies, too. Audre Lorde, Walt and Emily (of course), Lucille Clifton, Lisa Bickmore. I really want to get Lance Larsen's. And of course, someday, yours . . .

Ang said...

Oh, and Deborah Keenan, of course! And I just got a copy of Scott Hatch's Mapping the Bones of the World (he uses the pen name Warren Hatch) and it's gorgeous. You could always chase after signature . . .

Ang said...

Should have capitalized Signature, so you don't think I want you to chase after an autograph. Okay, done now!

Zina said...

So I ordered Segullah right after I said I was honor-bound, (and before you told me it was all online, but that's okay, it'll be fun to have,) and then I sent my mom the link to your boob job poem like I'd told her I would, and the next day she told me that after reading your poem and some of the essays, she'd gotten me and all my sisters subscriptions for Mother's Day. :) So I'm giving her my subscription. Anyway, you share a good part in just giving their subscriptions a little boost.

Jenny said...

It's George Smith, founder of Signature Books. Let me know... He is such a wonderful human being! I couldn't adore him more!

Darlene said...

Welcome, Michelle, and thanks for the compliment. Thanks to all of you for the compliments that I apparently fished for. I suppose I really did. It is so helpful to me to know someone cares about what I'm doing and that you are enjoying it. I am really grateful.

Shelah said...

My husband's grandma had four or five books of poetry printed about half a century ago, several by Deseret Book. She wrote a biography for them, and I think somehow finagled it into her biography contract to have them publish her poetry. So maybe that's way in. Maybe not anymore-- heck, I don't know.

Anyway, I love the little bit of your poetry I've read. I do like to read poetry, have written (badly) a little bit myself, and even bought a few books of poems in the last few years-- mostly funny stuff by Billy Collins.

Jenny said...

Hey, I'm related to Shelah. Our husbands are 1st cousins, meaning same grandma with published poetry books and the song "Home" that the children are learning in primary this month. She was actually Utah's poet laureate in her day, and Utah's "Mother of the Year" and a bunch of other accolades that make me cringe with guilt over what I spend my time doing...

Sarah said...

I've bought several different book collections of poetry.

Why doesn't Deseret Book sell poetry? That is a good question.

Darlene said...

Hey, Jenny, don't feel guilty about what you're doing or not doing. Check this out:

http://segullah.org/the-best-books-exploring-lds-literature/its-nothing-to-be-ashamed-of/#comment-78060

I know you're making time to sit and read sometimes and that's important!