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Monday, January 3, 2011

Contemporary Audiences: Myth and Reality

I often hear from other poets and publishers that people just don't read poetry anymore. Yet the poets continue to write and the publishers continue to make books.

From my college students, friends, family and an eclectic assortment of the general reading public, I hear the one or more of the following: Why don't they [the poets] just say it! or I don't get's too [fill in your own descriptor here for any word which, ultimately, means boring]....or [my all time favorite] You call this art? 

Yet these audiences continue to buy books, attend poetry readings, take classes, read poems that matter.

Moreover, as my graduate professor explained to me one day when I asked him why he devoted his entire professional career to the study of Emily Dickinson, he said something like this:  People still read Emily Dickinson. People still buy her books. And those people are not all college students enrolled in this course. Everyday people go into a mall bookstore and buy Emily Dickinson. Her books sell. Her books are being read.

This same sentiment was echoed by a Santa Fe bookstore owner who said to me: If no one is reading poetry these days, then how it is that I can not keep a volume of the Collected Works of Wallace Stevens on the shelf? His poetry is supposed to be a 'difficult' to 'get.' But his books fly off the shelf as soon as they come in. Who is buying these books? Clearly, someone is reading them.

As for me, I observe audiences at poetry readings--at my own readings and at those I attend. And I see some a good number of people who seem transfixed by the experience.

Yet my experience does not reconcile with the prevailing myths surrounding poets, poetry and audiences.

So maybe  something else needs to be addressed.

More on this later on.

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