Sunday, 20 January 2013

‘I’d prefer not to’

The received wisdom is that, as a publisher of poetry (and other stuff; in fact, more of the other stuff), I’m not going to sell more than the occasional copy or two unless the poet puts herself/himself about and does readings. Another route to sales of the kind that deliver back on the investment is a PBS recommendation – which guarantees a given number of sales, but for their seasonal bulletin requires an author photo and some paragraphs from the author about the book.

Author photos, statements and (for the books that CBe puts out) public readings have nothing, absolutely zero, to do with the quality of the published work. Nor, of course, do the author’s age, gender, religion or non-religion, career history, academic qualifications, sexual preferences and who they know.

So when a bookshop offers a reading slot to an author I’m about to publish, or when a newspaper or other organisation asks for an author photo, and the author gives the Bartleby response, that’s fine. It’s more than fine. It’s a statement of a kind in itself. It’s a reminder that the skills required for public reading, or teaching, or just generally getting on in the world, are different skills entirely from those required for good writing, and there need be no correlation at all.

It’s a statement that’s not going to be heard. For a publisher, this is cause for for worry, but at the level CBe operates not much. The bigger the publisher = the more money invested = more cause for worry, but that’s their problem. It’s still a statement worth making. (Next Thursday, in London there are five different poetry launches/readings. Madness.)

1 comment:

excaliburcottage said...

This is an interesting question you raise. There are poets who, having welcomed readings from the start of their careers, have now developed a certain flair and recognisable style when it comes to reading aloud - I'm thinking of people like Don Paterson or Michael Donaghy or Robin Robertson - poets whose 'routines' are consummately delivered and frequently hilarious (does the cult of the 'reading' force our contemporary poets to borrow tricks from the stand-up comics?). Then there are those poets - like Geoffrey Hill, or Heaney, or Ted Hughes - who were simply gifted with unearthly speaking voices and bucketloads of personal charisma in addition to their, well, not rather ample poetic talents. What is a shy, unassuming, unprepossessing, painfully average poet to do?

- By the way, when's your next collection of poems appearing?