Nobody I know ever buys a volume of poetry.
Me. I bought two volumes of poetry just the other week – Getting the hang of it and Singing the city, both by Colin Watts (who brought them along to a reading I attended). I can recommend both of them, despite the unfortunate fact that the city in question is Liverpool (is there any city in Britain less in need of celebration?)
Modern poets aren’t saying anything anyone wants to read. Pop music has pushed poetry into obscurity. The only people who buy poetry are students, forced to do so for their courses, Eng Lit graduates, and people who themselves write poetry.
Well, all right – Ellis isn’t actually wrong as such. (I’m a folk singer and, in a small way, a performance poet; I’d gone along that night primarily to do one of my own pieces, and was pleasantly surprised that Colin’s work was actually worth listening to and reading.) But isn’t this a bit like saying ‘the only people who read blogs are people who themselves write blogs’? In other words, even if it’s true, is it a problem?
I used to take poetry very seriously indeed; I used to aspire to be another Browning – or Tennyson at a pinch – with my poems appearing in the broadsheets and my collections selling the way celebrity biographies do now. Perhaps needless to say, I used to look on the poets who actually achieved success and gained a wide audience – from Pam Ayres right up to John Cooper Clarke – with the grestest of disdain: performance poetry? what would that be? It came as a disappointment to realise that, by and large, poetry was read by people who read poetry magazines: the conversation that was conducted in poems was no longer happening in the mainstream press, and the sheer brute genius of my poetry wasn’t going to make it happen there. But the point is – the point always is – to find where there’s a conversation happening and see if you can contribute to it. If you want poetic conversations, you can find them; they may not look like you expect them to, though.