nobody reads poetry anymore

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Joined: Thu Dec 08, 2016 3:51 pm

nobody reads poetry anymore

Post by komninos » Thu Dec 08, 2016 3:55 pm

There are no more readers of Australian poetry, only writers of poetry. Some time ago, shortly after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we considered the poet, the writer, the author, to be the ultimate authority of the text. Then as we questioned the restrictiveness of structuralism and developed post-modern theories of literature, we questioned the role of author, we questioned the role of the central authority in anything and looked around us at various models like Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, religion and the Atom Bomb and decided that monocentric administrations in any field of human endeavour were indeed doomed to failure.

Roland Barthes, (the death of the author), around the time of the May '68 student revolutions in Paris, questioned the whole authority of the author. From that point on, the critic became more prominent in the process. There was the poet, the poems printed in a volume and a person who was reading those poems. Of course, as the role of criticism increased the number of possible discourses increased. The poetics and aesthetics of Australian poetry, and also the role of critic became prominent in that equation. So we had the poet, the critic, the eventual reading public and
the poem.

With the increased activity in poetry and poetics in the 60's and
70's, the establishment of small presses, new technologies to get things
published more quickly and the growing influence of the Academy in
Australia, which was set up in the early 60's, meant that the role of
author, the poet, was also changing, increasing in prominence, once again in
Australia having started to develop communities of poetry and small groups
of like-minded people, pockets or movements of poetry of particular styles
and particular interests, particular lifestyles, and so a real poetic
culture began to develop for the first time in Australia in the 70's.
People were living the style of poets, spending the majority of their time
on the work of being poets and being considered quite serious about their
work. People like Eric Beech who refused any other kind of employment to be
a poet and there were plenty like him in the 70's and early 80's.

The 70's brought with it the performance poetry scene, not just a reading
along with a book launch or a reading by a visiting poet to a literary group
but venues dedicated to presenting poetry as performance with an audience
and so the new activity of performance poetry was promoted by the newly
formed movements and groups in Sydney and Melbourne all over Australia,
feminist groups; ethnic groups; political groups and simply new literary
groups monitoring and learning from trends from overseas. So the performance poetry reading, the reading became a great part of that poetic culture during the 70's and into the 80's. Of course, in the mid-80's, performance poetry and actually literature as performance, took a big step further and started having weekly events in large general public arenas and venues open to the media and the attention of the general public and not merely confined to a literary festival or a university seminar or conference.

So the sound of poetry was taking off as a way of receiving poetry, it was a popular way of receiving the poetry in a social environment and we started to get specialists in that field, of which I was one in the early 80's. As a performance poet, I started to earn my living through poetry, through the activities of poetry and through the activities of teaching other people to write poetry.

The boom of the early 80's of the small presses towards the end of the 80's
started to diminish, and in 1995 the major publishers decided that they were
not publishing any more first edition, Australian-written poetry volumes
which meant that a new publishing model had to be developed. One successful publishing model was Five Island Press where the published 6 authors a year and the author undertook to be the sales person and distributor of that publication over the next however many years it may take to sell the print-run. A Penguin editor stated in 1996, at a Queensland Poetry Festival that why would they want to publish something that only had a print run of 300 copies if they could be sure that they could sell 300 copies and that was probably just to libraries in Australia.

So it would appear from 1995, the commercial value of the readership of
poetry was zero and so small presses had to take over that role. So, it
appears that around 1995, there doesn't seem to be a readership for poetry,
although there is a lot of activity still happening in the area of poetry
in terms of publication and in terms of performance and in terms of the poet
being the promotor of their published works and not the publisher. Publication of poetry actually increased at the same rate as prior to 1995. Activity of poetry at the literary festivals started to decrease, whereas in the 70's and early 80's it was quite high. Activity at literary festivals has diminished quite a lot because there is no product, no sales, no books being produced by major publishers who support the literary festivals so they've got nothing to sell. Why should they promote any poet that's self-published or published via regional press?

So, when I say nobody is reading poetry any more, they are reading it, but
they are reading it as an activity which has been as a result of a live
event in which they have seen the poet reading and perhaps purchased that
volume from the poet and so they haven't come to it by finding it on
bookshelves as we would traditionally think in libraries or in bookstores.

At the same time, in the mid-80's, the introduction of creative writing courses to universities came about, following the rationalisation of colleges of advanced education and other tertiary institutions into universities and multi-campus universities like my own Griffith University The more traditional English departments, that were, as well, at that stage, being challenged by the up and coming media and cultural studies elements of humanities departments. As the importance of the reading of all kinds of media as text and the acknowledgement that there were many different constructions of culture, English literature professors seemed to become less of a voice of power in the way humanities developed at the universities. Cultural studies and media studies, including television and film studies was now starting to dominate more within the Academy and it could be true that it was dominating also in the market of available media. It could be one of the reasons the readership of poetry has become less and less and less as an activity, when there are so many other media-type-related activities to choose from these days which are relatively easier and involve switching on something electrical.

So, around about that time in 1985, when certainly the public face of
literature was highest, the book publishers were finding it very
expedient to attach celebrity status to those authors and have those authors promoting their works on television, radio etc. and making Australian literature a lively activity. We had also a lot of experimentation in the late 80's, early 90's with poetic form, having finally realised that there were no rules about how one wrote poetry, the poetics of poetry or the aesthetics that it was pluralist ideas domain which could accommodate many different types of poetry. The prominence of poetry, that was written to be read, and not sounded, was promoted by academics charged with the arguments of Derrida, that poetry was phonocentric and phonologic in nature, and the written word was the other side of a falsely constructed duality. The complete abandonment of poetry that had rhyme, metre, phonic qualities of assonance and alliteration, line/breath, etc, in the publications of the university and mainstream presses in the 80s and early 90s, poetry that didn't always resolve, that defied ultimate interpretation, that removed elements of the self, that challenged the phonic elements of speech, was the poetry chosen by critics and editors as being the most theoretically advanced poetry, and the poetry that should be published.
we started to realise in the mid-80's or so that it was something that people wanted to learn to do. University courses being established throughout Australia and a network of creative writing courses being set up in which the creative writing courses that were being set up, not wanting to be associated with the creative writing programs and criticisms of the creative writing programs from the USA which had developed into a very workshop, autobiographical type of writing production by these university courses, I think the universities were keen not to have this style of workshop or creative writing course but more theory-based creative writing courses, post-modernist theories which challenged the traditional poetry and the traditional writing styles and encouraged experimentation with meaning and experimentation with imagery and experimentation with the written word on the page inparticular and what that could do and experimentation with words, not sonic experimentations, not being explored for the sonic or phonic qualities of the words and how they were being combined, not using rhyme and rhythm and even line per breath or projective verse type of sonic
considerations, phonological considerations for that poetry but the poetry
as it happened on the page and the words that were happening on the page and
their relationship to each other and the spaces around them, I suppose.

So, there was a lot of academic experimentation with theory and with poetry
and there was a lot of publishing along those lines here in Australia after
the introduction of creative writing courses to universities into academia
but it also produced a generation of writers, new writers, who knew what the
histories and issues and theories of writing and how they had developed from
the time of AD hope until the present. They knew of movements in the United
States and their effect on Australian writing. They knew of how Australian
writing fitted into a global literature scene because they were studying
this in their creative writing courses and so they were not only
experimenting with form, they were introducing and allowing their practice
to be determined by the theories that they had learned and the movements
they had learned about. So we got a very high quality of poetry being
produced and there is still an extremely high quality of poetry being
produced in this country but the avenues for its publication has become less
and less and less. Self-publication is increasing. Regional publication is
still happening. People are moving to the Web to publish. There are
established work journals. There are established poetry magazines, ezines,
xxxx xxxx poetry on the Web where people can publish these days but apart
from self-publication, publication by newspapers, literary journals and
occasional anthologies, are limited. University of Queensland Press brings
out the best of 2005 poets. They are chosen from things that have been
published in journals and poems that have been published in literary
journals and the same with Penguin, I believe.

So, instead of having twelve single authors' publications coming out a year
as they used to have before 1995, UQP is now one anthology with the best of,
for the year and at least you're getting a slice of what's happening in the
publication scene at least anyway. There are other publications like Paper
Tiger which is, I suppose, a truer representation of what's happening across
the scene of poetry in Australia in terms of the areas of digital
publication, print publication and sound publication and audio-visual. So,
the reading of poetry, as I say, no-one reads poetry any more. What some
people have realised is the tremendous benefit to themselves of writing
poetry and it doesn't seem to matter too much these days if it's read or not
or bought to be read as long as the person who's written the poem gets some
sort of acknowledgement for it for being a poet which seems strange because
it seems like the whole industry has changed from being something that
people appreciated what an author did to something that people appreciated
for something they can do and they do. So, whilst there is a large
writership, there is a very little readership of poetry in 2005, people are
doing it, people are now listening to it, people are buying it, people are
publishing it, people may occasionally read it but not in the way they used
to do it in 1985 or prior to 1995.

komninos zervos


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Joined: Wed Sep 20, 2017 8:35 pm

Re: nobody reads poetry anymore

Post by Sunde » Thu Sep 28, 2017 2:22 am

That's interesting komninos.

"There are no more readers of Australian poetry, only writers of poetry."

That is poetic by itself.

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