One aspect of running a small press that specializes in poetry I have always relished is that the goal you're trying to achieve in bringing a large audience to poetry is virtually impossible. Almost no one has ever done it, even major publishers with vast resources they can bring to bear on finding that audience.
Have I enjoyed the challenge? Not particularly. Having one's aspirations and hard work met with crushing apathy is not an experience I can describe as pleasurable, or satisfying in any remote or even masochistic way. I really wanted to be successful. I wanted to do this thing that almost no one else had done.
Later this year I'll be publishing an as yet untitled book by a local poet named Dennis Gulling. I haven't begun design on the book yet, but I am envisioning it as a movie-noir type of feel with illustrations by my creative partner Jenny of Tiny Drawings and Rockford Illustrating. It's actually quite a good book in the Outlaw poetry tradition of Todd Moore, of whom Gulling admits to be a protege. I anticipate Jenny and I will have some fun when we get down to the work of designing it.
The difficult part of the process, as anyone knows, is marketing and sales. Poetry is a product people have been trained from early youth to believe they just don't understand, like, or want. Overcoming those preconceptions and resistance in a prospective audience is virtually impossible. Occasionally a celebrity will sell a few thousand copies of a poetry book, and on very rare occasions a poetry book will become a popular thing to be seen pretending to read in public, but poetry itself has never been particularly liked by the public.
So, you may ask the obvious: why not sell to poets? After I stop laughing long enough to type out a coherent response I'll explain poets don't buy poetry. Few of them even read it. This is readily apparent to anyone who has edited a poetry publication. I'd like to be diplomatic about this, but there is no group of people on this planet more underservedly convinced of their own grandiose and utterly unshared high opinion of themselves than poets. Even the bad ones, which is almost all of them, feel what they are doing is sanctioned by the gods themselves, and by the very virtue of scribbling a few lines in a notebook they have complete and lifelong immunity from showing even the remotest respect for the craft, let alone study it or, god forbid, buy a book. I have never made an attempt to sell poetry to poets because I'm not that particular brand of stupid. Fact is, I don't really care for poets, I have none on my Facebook friend's list, and I only know two in real life. The best poets I have met outgrow it and do something useful with their lives.
Yet knowing that after having undertaken the task of publishing a very complex book like Iced Cream by local artist extraordinaire Jesus Abraham Correa, and having outputted a spectacular product, that I am unable to find the audience I know is there for that work haunts me. That is my failure. These books I'm publishing, and am about to publish, deserve a better effort and result from their publisher. I can't allow learned helplessness to overtake me. I know the audience exists. I also know it is a niche audience, but they are out there. Jenny who does Mermaids of America will often see me hunched over the computer too many hours in a day and chide me that I'm wasting a beautiful day, and I'd really like to quit poetry. I mean that in the worst way. Like the Bukowski poem where he laments he'd rather be a good pool player or anything but a poet, I feel the same lament. Why me? I'm a relatively intelligent person. Had I spent this much time and effort on almost anything else in this Universe it's likely I'd be a much more successful person.
|Poet and publisher Thomas L. Vaultonburg punching a shark who didn't buy a poetry book|
The Muse doesn’t look
Up when I turn in
My final assignment,
A poem titled
Mollusks Are Forever.
As I turn to leave
I can swear I see
A flash of thigh
As she purrs icily
“You’ll be back
When you see
The Fall Schedule.”
It's probably quite a bit of the problem that I haven't asked you to buy anything in this blog. I know you can see there are links in the margins to buy things, but I just can't spend my days begging people to buy a product I knew they didn't want when I made it, then be constantly angry and bitter that they didn't buy it. I suppose I should put a link to something in here just for fun, but I'm not sure why. Oh, and a picture of something.