Wednesday, November 02, 2005

In the latest issue of Poets & Writers, Joseph Bednarik asks the question: "would you prefer a beautifully produced physical book, with the guarantee that it would find two thousand engaged readers, or no physical book, but the guarantee that through various means of publication--anthologies, newspapers, magazines, the Internet, and so on--the poems would find an audience of twenty thousand engaged readers. . . . Either choice has equal effect on job security and advancement, review attention, and financial rewards." He was surprised to find most writers he asked this question of informally wanted the physical book. You can take the opinion poll online at Poets & Writers, where currently the vote is running about 54% to 46% to publish via alternative means and reach a larger audience. I dunno . . . I think I would want the physical book most of all. Though I love all the alternative means of getting poems into the world as well.

I am reminded of something James Merrill said once about poetry, and its small audience, and if he wished he had a larger audience for his work. His answer went something like: "Think what one has to do to get a mass audience. I'd rather have one perfect reader. Why dynamite the pond in order to catch that single silver carp?

8 comments:

Ivy said...

Oh, geez, that's a good question.

"Please, sir, may I have both?"

A. D. said...

hmm . . . are we assuming i'm writing the same poetry for each choice? if so, i'd choose the book . . .

the other way seems like so much more submitting and marketing, and so much more work.

David Vincenti said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
David Vincenti said...

Interesting. I don't know if my habits are typical, but even though I spend a lot of reading energy online, I still head to the bookshelf first for research, for recollection, and especially when reading for pleasure. I'll take the book.

Justin Evans said...

I would take the book hands down. 2,000 people reading my poetry is good enough. I am of the opinon that nothing can replace the balance of a fine book.

Collin said...

I'm a big proponent of publishing poetry online, because it's certainly widened my reading audience, but I also loving holding a printed book in my hand. Old fashioned I guess...

:)

Anne said...

I think I read more carefully when I'm reading something in a book than when I'm reading something online. Online, I tend to multi-task, to skim, to get distracted. On the off chance that I'm not just a lone weirdo, I think I'd rather have my own words in books where they'll be read more carefully.

Although I'll take any readers I can get. I ain't picky. ;)

Matthew Thorburn said...

Great Merrill quote. On a similar note, I remember reading Philip Roth once talking about his diminishing readership. He said something like, 2000 readers might not seem like a lot, but if they came through your living room one by one they'd leave you in tears. (Of course, for us poets, 2000 readers IS a lot....)