Poetry in Decline- Is a Revolution Needed?

– g emil reutter

Cover of the Summer 2012 edition of the Fox Chase Review

Cover of the Summer 2012 edition of the Fox Chase Review

Salt Publishing based in the United Kingdom recently announced they are discontinuing publication of single author poetry collections. The Guardian article notes the cause of the announcement:

“Official figures from Nielsen BookScan show a sharp decline in the overall poetry market in the last year. There was growth of around 13% in 2009, when the market was worth £8.4m, followed by small declines in 2010 and 2011, and then a major drop of 18.5% volume and 15.9% value in 2012, when the overall value of the market fell to £6.7m.”

While we know that poetry publishing caters to a niche market and very few poets make a living writing, it is sad news that a prominent British publisher who was dedicated to the publication of poetry has withdrawn from the market.  There appears to be a disconnect.

diane sahms-guarnieri wsp 2Diane Sahms-Guarnieri , poetry editor of The Fox Chase Review places fault directly on the establishment and Universities with a call for promotion of realism.

“This is very unfortunate news coming from the UK that Salt will no longer be publishing Poetry.  With many small presses in America closing due to increased publishing costs and decreased sales, poets are almost forced to do the unthinkable (self – publish).  Hopefully, Poetry in America will have a resurgence of readers/sales, but I think in order for this to happen Poetry will have to connect more with the masses of readers and thinkers, and get its head out of the thoughts of the controlling groups of Elitists in Universities.  Let’s face it, Poetry is Poetry and Art is Art and when either genre tries to become what it’s not it loses its soul.  Poetry has lost its way in America – it’s an exclusionary country club that does not allow for realism, rather it’s fragmented and its howl (and not a Ginsberg “Howl”) is more like a slow dying Yawp, with an aftermath of wine glasses clinking and Brie to the giggles of many self-indulgent, stream of consciousness – nothingness.”

Guarnieri concludes with hope, “Poetry is dying a slow death and until the revolution of realism flows through its veins again (intravenous is where we are at), then many American publishers will join up with it unfortunate cousin in the UK, lying still in a coffin.  Bring on the Revolution!”

larry robinLarry Robin, a longtime promoter of poetry in Philadelphia takes on a different point of view.

“Robin’s Book Store closed last December after 76 years, Moonstone Arts Center closed as a venue as well, since it was dependent on Robin’s Book Store for the space (Please note that Moonstone continues to present poetry every Wednesday at Fergie’s Pub and other programs at other locations, seewww.moonstoneartscenter.org) How does this relate to Salt Publishing? “Talk is cheap.” if you don’t support the organizations who do the things you like then they will not be able to continue. Yes, the economy is bad; yes, you can find it cheaper on line, Yes, you can leave it to others to support them. And then there were none!”

Robin concludes with a look at poets themselves:

“How many poetry books did you buy last year? How many readings did you go to and left without buying the poet’s book or making a donation to the organization who organized the reading? How do you think things get paid for?  The problem is not them, it is us. Each of us are responsible for what we do, for how we act, for what we support, for how we spend our money. For the cost of three lattes or beers or a cheap dinner, you can buy the poetry book at the next reading you go to. The book will last forever, you can  read it again and again, you can give it to a friend and pass it on to your grandchild. You can say, “here is a book that is out of print, it is a poet I really liked, it is autographed because I got it at a reading I went to, you will like it.”

In an age when “Inclusion” is an iconic word for progress some say those at the top of the poetry mountain have built a wall denying entry. With DIY publishing, small letter press publishers and POD technology available the masses are drawing near. The question remains, can the establishment be toppled? Larry Robin made an outstanding point, go out and buy a poetry book!  What say you?

g emil reutter


– g emil reutter lives and writes in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pa.

24 responses to “Poetry in Decline- Is a Revolution Needed?

  1. Phillip Bannowsky

    In academia PC is mistaken for solidarity. They talk a great game about diversity and recognizing that knowledge is generated in the streets, but they still won’t let anyone crash the gates. At the same time, Spoken Word, slam, and popular rap appear at cabarets, homeless shelters, demonstrations, and church basements and are heard by far more regular folks than the ars gratia artis read by the literati in dozens of elite lit-mags.

  2. Pingback: Discourse: talking about poetry « annemichael

  3. The poet writes because the Muse demands it. She cares nothing of sales, only that she is worshiped. The Muse is alive and well, as she has been for thousands of years. Western agonizing over the health of poetry is an elitist vanity that is shared only by those who inhabit the temples of deceit.

    • You are right about the Muse not caring about sales; however you also say, that she – the Muse – wants to be “worshipped.” If no one is able to read her musings (the poems that poets write to honor her) than she alas will not be worshipped. Temples of Knowledge are not to be confused as Temples of Deceit.

  4. I think both Diane and Larry make good points. But an issue that hasn’t been mentioned, and that is very real, is the state of the economy. A lot of people can’t afford to buy poetry books right now, and the venues that give us space to hold readings also need our support in the form of buying that “cheap meal” or that latte or beer, so they can afford to stay open. Print publishing in general is declining — and not just in poetry — because people are increasingly reading online, which is either free or cheaper. (The Village Voice just fired most of its staff, including its most well-known writers, my friend Michael Musto among them. Print journalism is feeling it too). I think it’s true that poetry written only for an insular audience of academic professionals, and an educational system that narrowly supports it, are part of the problem and have damaged the health of poetry as an art form. But while commercial publishers put out less and less poetry because they only care about the bottom line, new small presses are starting up all the time. There will always be a community of people who create and present poetry as a labor of love — but it’s more important than ever that we support each other in whatever ways we can.

  5. I must say that I don’t find that poetry is in decline. There seems to be more and more of it written and shared orally, digitally and on paper. I think that it is true that sales of poetry books, which were never tremendous, are down and that is sad and disappointing. However, I am not sure it would be realistic to expect sales of hard copy poetry to brook the overall general decline in the sales of printed books. And up to now no poet has managed a “Shades of Grey ” volume success.!

  6. Larry Robin is right on. Poets are the only buyers of poetry books and they don’t support each other as a rule. Why not buy books to give as gifts to non poets instead of gift cards?

    • I agree with Larry as well. Last year, I bought three poetry books directly from the authors, and two books from an independent bookstore. If I buy a book on line, it’s from an independent store linked to Ebay or Amazon. I went to a baby shower where the parents to be asked every to help build their child’s library. They provided a list of independent book dealers. Each guest affixed an envelop to back last page of the book with a note or greeting card.

  7. I agree with Larry Robin! How are we supporting it. Print on Demand or e-books may be a solution. And perhaps poets need to think about what and how they express themselves.

  8. Poetry,is in decline.Because much of it is obtuse pretentious Crap at least
    W,Burroughs was honest in his cut and stick .Now we have Paragraphs
    instantly forgettable repeat after me or listen to poetry please or do we even
    dare suggest that Pam Ayeres has no problem filling Halls or selling her
    books.O’h dear someone people relate to that will never do if she was
    Poet Laureate that would stop any decline especially when we hear the
    Emperor has no cloths despite any gender audit.As my friend Ralp said
    why are they calling me Raff when we were feeding the ducks with stale

  9. These are very interesting and timely observations but let me add two things; first, I go to readings here and find that in many instances those attending want to read themselves but though they have been told the arrangements to keep the organization going they will not buy even the required drink or two or contribute. Which demonstrates the lack of support even among poets and the idea that they are not part of a contract that will
    keep the communities alive.

    The one group I am involved in that comes out, supports the programs and the offerings is involved in haiku, which I write. Even with the development of “modern” haiku and the various discussions on it that happen this group is attracted to a historic form, to developing it and to the structures it provides.

    And I find that interesting. I have read and heard so much too much “poetry” that is lists of trade names or places on maps, etc., and has no
    intimacy, passion or communication that I rather dread going to hear or picking up a publication whose author’s work I do not know even a bit. I think that as in the visual arts lots of people want to identify as artists but have no special talents, interest in reading what has gone before or even the ear a musician needs. They want an easy ID as a poet or painter, no more. And so we lose interest and are less engaged ourselves.

  10. I never buy preachy poetry. I find it mentally draining. I once asked a poet and non-fiction writer if they read a certain book and they replied, “I don’t have time to read other works because I’m too busy writing my own.” To my surprise, comment was made by well known authors. I’ve attended street festivals where kids cry for parents to buy a $5 book. Instead, the parent buys a $5 hotdog, a $2 soda, and a cheap bracelet made in a sweatshop.

  11. Pingback: More on Salt Publishing and Poetry | Fox Chase Review

  12. Has any one done an empirical study on the demographics of who buys poetry? who get published as a poet? who attends poetry readings? As well as who attends and participates in Poetry Slams and Performance Poetry events? It’s my hunch that with the advent of audio and visual recordings, youtube, etc. that the vital locus of where, who and how of our culture’s truly vibrant poetry is shifting. Poetry only found the ‘home’ of the printed page and the University Literature Department in the 1500’s. For thousands and thousands of years it was primarily a performance art. In Europe for example, the Romans and Greeks poets, philosophers and historians PERFORMED their works before audiences – and if they couldn’t they hired professional Orators to perform them for them. As noted in the article by some one in the know: ‘…Poetry will have to connect more with the masses of readers and thinkers, and get its head out of the thoughts of the controlling groups of Elitists in Universities.’. Many opinions and hunches are bandied about, surely some empiricial data is emerging. ?

  13. right!…number of poetry readers is diminishing everywhere

  14. Does anyone feel, however, that the number of people who want to (or believe that they do) write poetry is increasing? We have a group here in Bahrain, of some 20 poets and we’re holding our second annual poetry festival. The number of young poets – from Yemen, Sudan, Bahrain – is very encouraging. BUT the big question – to me – seems to be will their words remain poetry or become lyrics?

    • It’s increasing, however a lot of people are not trying to master it. I take classes when I can afford them. In the pass two years I stopped writing because I had pneumonia which affected my writing and thought pattern. I read works of others between practicing.

      • “Not trying to Master it”… That is so true Monique. One needs to understand rhyme, rhythm, meter, etc. challenge oneself into trying the different forms before deciding to go wandering off into that wilderness that is free verse where sometimes one finds more brambles than berries.

      • When Tyler Perry remade Colored Girls he made a lot of blunders. He didn’t pair the poems with the right scenes. Those not familiar with poetry or the original screenplay thought Perry did an excellent job. When I directed to PBS broadcast of the play filmed in the ’80s they viewed it as boring. Some viewers want to be entertained. If the poetry is slow pace the audience is lost. Some poems need to be at a slow pace.

  15. Robert Klein Engler

    (Based on data from “The Best American Poetry 2012,
    edited by Mark Doty)

    Poetry could be in decline because the publishing deck is stacked against some poets. Mark Doty makes my point. He has edited the 2012 anthology THE BEST AMERICAN POETRY OF 2012. He has selected 75 poets to represent “the best American poetry,” and written an introductory essay to the book.

    In his essay Doty expropriates the Catholic tradition of the Venerable Bede and the poet Caedmon to ground what is for the most part, a secularist, Marxists poetry. Bede write of Caedmon “…a certain brother particularly remarkable for the Grace of God, who was wont to make religious verses, so that whatever was interpreted to him out of scripture, he soon after put the same into poetical expressions of much sweetness and humility in English, which was his native language. By his verse the minds of many were often excited to despise the world, and to aspire to heaven.”

    It is odd that Dotty would spend a large part of his introduction writing about Caedmon, when this first English poet represents two things contemporary poetry ignores: poems written in praise of God, and poems written by someone who has the gift of talent.

    What secularist, Marxist publisher who controls most poetry today would publish a poem that praises the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? What creative writing program or workshop leader would admit that to be a poet you need the gift of talent? To do so would put them out of the PO-biz.

    If Doty had gone deeper into Christian theology and scripture, he might not have published in the 2012 anthology the poem by Stephaine Brown, ‘Notre Dame.’ Doty should know that the poem contains a fundamental error about the nature of angels.

    Christian revelation, scripture and theology tell us that angels are neither male nor female, but sexless spiritual beings. This is not to say that Brown did not have a vision, but it is to say that if what she saw were angels, then they could not have been male and female.

    Brown’s error detracts so much from her poem that the poem ought to have been rejected by an editor versed in the Christian tradition. In Doty’s case, if you have to drop one poem from the anthology to make room for a Chicago born poet, “Notre Dame” would be the poems to omit.

    Making room for a Chicago born poet beings us to the other reason American poetry is in decline–geography determines poetic destiny. Below is a list of where the poets selected for the 2012 anthology were born or raised. An asterisk is placed after East and West coast cities. Looking over the list, we see that Doty’s introduction and Brown’s poem are not the only oddities in this 2012 anthology.

    Spokane, WA*
    Manchester, CN*
    Vallejo, CA*
    Wilmington, DE*
    Bangor, ME*
    San Francisco, CA*
    Oceanside, CA*
    Bakersfield, CA*
    Pasadena, CA*
    Pasadena, CA*
    Toronto, CA*
    New Brunswick, NJ*
    Charlotte, NC*
    Wolfeboro, NH*
    Fukuoka, JAPAN
    Detroit, MI
    Casa Grande, AZ
    Columbia, ML
    Forest Hills, NY*
    Oak Park, IL
    Homestead, PA*
    Cape May Country, NJ*
    San Francisco, CA*
    Columbus, IN
    Columbia, SC*
    New York City, NY*
    Cleveland, OH
    Rochester, NY*
    Kalamazoo, MI
    Winchester, VI*
    Newark, NJ
    Jackson, MS
    Brooklyn, NY*
    Germantown, PA*
    Cedar Rapids, ID
    New York City, NY*
    Bellingham, WA*
    Lexington, MS
    New York City, NY*
    New York City, NY*
    Minneapolis, MN
    Los Angeles, CA*
    Maple Heights, OH
    Holyoke, MA*
    New York City, NY*
    Long Branch, NJ*
    Stockton, CA*
    Hartford, CT*
    Seattle, WA
    McKeesport, PA*
    Wildwood, FL*
    Unknown, CA*
    Grand Rapids, MI
    Brooklyn, NY*
    St. Louis, MO
    Okinawa, Japan
    Niagara Fall, NY*
    Falmouth, MS
    Columbia City, IN
    Sommerdale, Canada
    Ann Arbor, MI
    Brooklyn, NY*
    Gulfport, MS
    Pittsburg, PA*
    Vienna, Austria (lives in Waltham, MA)*
    Albany, NY*
    Columbia, PA*
    Lincoln, NE

    You say the poetic arts are tilted toward the two coasts. You say the poetic arts are tilted towards the decadent sentiments of the liberal East and West coasts, avoiding the fly-over country of the midwest. Prove it.

    Not one poet in the 2012 anthology Mark Dory edited was born in Chicago, even though Slam Poetry was invented in Chicago and the city is home to Poetry Magazine!

    Oak Park doesn’t count as a Chicago birthplace because as Hemingway said, Oak Park is a place of “broad lawns and narrow minds.” Once, the narrow, Oak Park minds tilted Right, now, they tilt Left. Same difference.

    Here is more data that suggest active discrimination, not chance: Total poets in the anthology: 75, Percentage of poets from the East and West coast: 55%, Percentage of poets from just the East Coast alone: 40%.

    Do the math. This is discrimination pure and simple in the poetic arts. Why?

    Maybe because even it its Democrat-politics-worst, Chicago is vital. The poems in Doty’s anthology are just weary and come from word heavy heads. Life has gone out from those poems and that’s what the progressives who pull the strings on the poetry puppets want most of all–death singing the song of death.

    When it comes to poetry anthologies in 2012, it’s the same old same old. This is evident when we look back to 1991. Gloria Klein reviewed the Best American Poetry anthology for 1991, edited by Mark Strand (Klein, Gloria. Performance Poetry and the Silence of the Page. Chicago: Alphabeta Press, 1991).

    Klein writes in her review, “This book is incorrectly titled. It is not an anthology of the best American poetry of 1991. It should really be called New York Poetry, 1991. To say that the poetry in it is the best, is presumptuous. What this book really is, is a compilation of dead prose and friends publishing their friends. It hardly recognizes that there is an America west of the Hudson River, let alone that there are poets out there as well.”

    “There are seventy-five poets represented in this book. Fifty-six percent of them are from the East Coast; a full twenty-five percent are from the New York City area. The poems published in the book were first published in thirty-three magazines; seventy percent of these magazines are either in New York City or other East Coast cities like Boston. Do we need this kind of provincialism in a book that claims to be the best poems published in 1991? One wonders if the editor actually leaves New York City or reads anything that is not published there.”

    “In his poem, ‘The Seasons,’ included in this anthology, David Shapiro writes, ‘I saw the ruins of poetry.’ There is no more apt line to use in this review. Most of the poems in this anthology are really prose passages set up to look like poems. It is hard to care about them. Does the country need another John Ashbery poem anyway? After reading these poems one can conclude that poets in New York City must spend their Sundays holding their word-weary heads, pondering a deconstructed world where there is neither God nor hope.”

    Twenty-two years have passed since Gloria Klein wrote her review and things have not gotten better in the world of poetry for Chicago poets. Do you care? If you do, don’t hold your breath waiting for a written invitation to the New York City circle-jerk of poets. Their hands are busy doing other things.


    Robert Klein Engler lives in Des Plaines, Illinois and sometimes New Orleans. Many of Robert’s poems, stories, paintings and photographs are set in the Crescent City. His long poem, The Accomplishment of Metaphor and the Necessity of Suffering, set partially in New Orleans, is published by Headwaters Press, Medusa, New York, 2004. He has received an Illinois Arts Council award for his “Three Poems for Kabbalah.” If you google his name, then you may find his work on the Internet. Link with him at Facebook.com to see examples of his recent paintings and photographs. Some of his books are available at Lulu.com. Visit him on the web at RobertKleinEngler.com.

  16. Pingback: Is Paxman right? Or Should Poetry Just Follow its Natural Course | Fox Chase Review

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s