Several months ago, I submitted my chapbook manuscript to BlazeVOX Press, among others. Just before Labor Day, I received a response. The email offered me an opportunity to publish my book… for a nominal donation, which would be made in the name of ‘cooperation.’ I was not alone in receiving such an offer and much better writers than me responded.
In fact, after one blogger wrote about how betrayed he felt [http://thebarking.com/2011/09/the-half-hearted-acceptance-letter/], other readers posted and reposted his post. The one-time legitimate publishing company with an excellent reputation was going bankrupt [who knew?!]. In an effort to raise some capital, they decided to get some [not all] of their new authors to help pay for publishing costs. Over the course of the Labor Day holiday, this caused a pretty big scandal in the small-press world. Without rehashing old news, some felt that this was too close to self-publishing or a vanity press. Others thought this was a practical response to a struggling market, if only the managing editor had been up front about this in the submissions page on his web site.
Before many days had gone by, BlazeVOX had rescinded all such offers to those new authors, me included. They plan on doing some significant fundraising in New York and plan on only continuing publication as sufficient funds allow.
What stood out to me, over and over again in all those online discussions, was the general acceptance that poetry is a dying market; people just didn’t read/appreciate this art form anymore. Small presses across the country struggle to keep doors open, a truth I can attest to as I search and search [and continue to search] for a home for my writing.
Sadly missing was any explanation as to why this is occurring. When some explanation WAS offered, the writer seemed to imply it was because people just didn’t have the wherewithal to appreciate the complexity of this expression [I interpreted that to mean the writer didn’t think folks were smart enough to ‘get it.’]
This makes me furious. Without dragging this out forever, I find that attitude both elitist and ridiculous. If high-brow poetry put out by academic presses seems to be struggling to find an audience, perhaps that’s because it’s become a little irrelevant.
There’s a reason Katy Perry is popular.
She speaks to people using metaphors and language easily relatable. If she seems shallow, it’s because we’ve lost an appreciation for the banal.
Poetry has become distanced from its audience, so far removed by esoteric modes of expression and frankly judgmental tones, that people, everyday-normal-9-5ers like me, find it tortuous to be forced to experience it.
And yet I’m a poet. “Publish or perish” is not a mantra I have to live by. If I wanted to donate to BlazeVOX in order to have a lovely book produced that I could distribute in my community, how was that any less legitimate as an art form, as poetry?
What I would hope is that some person from my community, some man or woman who buys groceries from the same Dillon’s as me, might find a line or two that speaks of their own life, their own song.