Giving Poetry Away

By Beth Spencer Republished with permission of the author A while back I got an email from a scientist in Texas who’d read some poems on my webpage in his lunch hour and said he was heading down to his local Barnes and Noble to buy a copy of my book. Of course, he’s not going to find it. It is hard enough to find any work by an Australian poet in an Australian bookshop – let alone a book that’s a few years old. He probably would have more chance of success if he said he was going down to his local pet shop to buy a wombat. Basically, bookshops are a nineteenth century technology for the distribution of cultural products to an elite group. They still work fine for some things, but I am always amazed at how committed poetry publishers and funding bodies are to pursuing this avenue, given that the best you could hope for is to get your poetry book into say, seven shops around Australia, instead of three. (The cultural equivalent of re-arranging deckchairs.) And there is something so personal about owning a book by a local contemporary poet that, for many people, even if they do happen to know about and live handy to one of these rare (and admirable) poetry-stocking shops, hovering around the poetry section, choosing something, taking it to the counter — and then having it visible beside their bed as a marker of their taste — can be as intimidating as going into an adult bookshop. It is not that people don’t like poetry – I think the internet has proven that they do, and that itÕs a highly participatory art form. Indeed while poetry has traditionally been valued for its universal themes (universal amongst the small elite group that […]