I’m not immediately against Capitalism. Well, I guess I’m more against it now than I ever was before, but ultimately, it’s not the worst system. I do believe, to some extent, in the personal freedom that *ought* to come with Capitalism- in that you’re not living in some despotic Communist-in-name-only country. I figure if you want, you should be able to own a business and sell stuff you want.
Same goes for presses, of course. Publish what you want. You have more money; you publish more stuff you want. Sometimes it sells, which means you ought to sell it, right?
Not exactly. Looking back on some of the early Fashion Poetics posts, I got to thinking again about the analogous nature of fashion with poetry: there’s fashion that goes on the runway and fashion that sells at K-Mart. Some might argue that the “fashion” at K-Mart isn’t fashion at all, but rather a utility, but at some level, it was designed with an aesthetic in mind.
Of course, I’m hard-pressed to call something utility clothing, because by extension that means there’s utility poetry- poetry that serves a basic function and sells in high quantities just so people can buy some poetry for whatever reason (actually- why do people buy utility poetry?). To say that there’s utility poetry means there’s someone out there writing poetry in order to sell it, and maybe I’m just not that cynical.
But maybe I should pretend for a while. Maybe I should consider that beyond someone writing poetry in order to sell it, they’re writing poems they think are meeting a certain aesthetic, like the clothes on the rack at K-Mart (which, I should say here, I’m not knocking- do I look like I’m a high fashion guy?). You hope to meet a certain aesthetic and they hope you buy it, thinking you’re meeting that aesthetic.
But you’re not, and they’re playing you. They are crafters of a pseudo-aesthetic style that makes sense to the great majority of people. “These are jeans. They fit. I bet they’ll look good.” However, my guess is, for Fashionistas, there’s a lot more to even just basic jeans that maybe the average person wouldn’t give a shit about.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying poetry should attempt to be beyond the reach of the average person, but maybe what I’m saying is that it should not apologize for it. Poetry should not feel bad for being “difficult,” if anyone can define that term. Poetry shouldn’t attempt to play to any denominator because maybe it shouldn’t end up on a mass-consumption rack.
It might not sell. It’s not supposed to sell. It’s supposed to be pushing the edges of what we understand language to be. Well, maybe not, but your aesthetic ought to be whatever you make it, but selling it should not be your goal. If it is your goal, I suppose you’re what I’m railing against.
Back to the earlier question: why do people buy their poetry from Barnes and Noble or the other big chains? Is there anything interesting there? I think it has to do with poetry being viewed as some kind of higher level- some kind of elite tradition which, by not only shopping in the poetry section at B&N, but also having it on your bookshelf at home, you’ve now included yourself in. Poetry is considered, as Johannes once said, “high falutin’” and it’s something you’re into when you’re attempting to appear superior to others. However, all you’re doing is continuing to support the established set by considering it in that way and buying with that in mind.1
While I say poetry should not apologize for being “difficult,” I think that’s separate from what I believe most poets want to say about their work these days. Yeah, I’d say my poems are a bit weird, but there’s nothing to “get” about them necessarily, a common complaint I hear. “These are kind of cool, Amish, I just don’t get poetry.” Neither do I, to be honest.
This Fashion metaphor isn’t perfect. What I suppose I mean by it is that yes there are channels and options in poetry like anything else and simply because something appears not to have a practical use doesn’t mean it’s useless. Poetry doesn’t need to comfort or make you feel anything about a specific event. I’m reminded by a book of “Friendship Poems” that I have, given to me by David. Is it necessary to categorize poetry in that way? Aren’t all poems love poems or hate poems in some way? Aren’t they all about friendship and death and all these topics common to the “human experience?” Maybe poetry isn’t any of those things at the same time.
Art, I feel, has its own merit beyond its ability to sell, or at least it should. It should be more about the limits and pushing past them, which should not be tied to sales or even jobs. In fact, on the subject of jobs, I think poets ought to be hired for how far they are outside of the norm within a department, not how well they meet it. ‘Ars gratia artis’ and all that.
1 Do Non-Poets Buy Poetry Books?