Does Poetry Sell?

I’ve been debating releasing a collection of erotic poetry I’ve been adding to for the past…nine years? And as I’ve been thinking about it I  wondered..do you guys buy poetry? I do on occasion, but more and more I have begun to wonder if poetry only sells if you are lucky enough to end up in the New York Times. Plenty of other writers have had success as poets, and poetry publishers.

Nikki Grimes,whose published 50 books over the course of 30 years, had a pretty honest perspective about selling poetry that I find very realistic:

To be fair, if you are a poet, it is highly unlikely that you will become wealthy working in this genre, no matter how well you hone your craft. That much is true. But chances are, you already know that. I would wager that most writers, keen on this particular genre, aren’t looking to make a killing in the marketplace. They simply have a penchant for the lyrical line, and a passion for metaphor. Like me, they pen poetry because they, quite frankly, can’t help themselves. Poetry is in them. It’s part of their DNA. Poets don’t value their work in terms of fiscal weight, and that’s where we differ from agents and editors.

No one alive should ever expect to break bank via publishing. It’s just not how it goes, but you can be comfortable. Besides poetry is about the feeling, the intent, and inspiring others to feel and see in new exciting ways. But here is the catcher. I am a poet who likes to have food and ,ya know, live.

As I’ve researched poetry publishing it is becoming clear that it’s a gamble, no one knows either way how it could go, but ya know what? Don’t act like you’ll make money. Act like you’ll do what you love. That’s…hard to do sometimes.

Still the world would be lesser for a lack of poetry than an overabundance. Poetry, like music, can do things in a line that thousand page novels fail to do in 400 pages not because those 400 pages are ineffective, but because the minimalist nature of a poem can do things in ways novels simply can’t do. In that way poetry offers an exceptional learning opportunity for writers of all kinds…which I will detail in my next post. For now let me say that poetry is incredibly important for writers to read and comprehend. You don’t have to like all poetry, but reading a diversity of poetry can sharpen your skills at conveying feeling, producing imagery, and understanding line structure.

I am proud to say I write great dialogue because I read and wrote poetry starting from 10 years old. Actually maybe even younger I remember reading Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings at some point with my mother’s help. How did poetry help me write dialogue? A good insult should be as sharp as a good poem and just as heavy with the punctuation. A proclamation of love that, I believe, has the most effect can be as simple as one line when you craft to context well. Poetry has done a lot of me as a writer, as a human being, and I know I’m not alone.

So why do we let it go so under appreciated? Why do people hesitate to spend $5 on a book of poetry that could effect them as deeply as 400 pages? Times are tough for many people. Yet even still there is so much we could do if we embraced poets more.

No one should ever expect to get rich off of writing. If you read those “I made a Bajillion $$$ Writing Ebooks” articles and believed them I’m sorry. There’s a reason a ton of those articles reference Stephen King or J.K Rowling, and not hundreds and hundreds of other writers. There’s a million of us. Yes, some are better than others, but this field must be about passion. Whether you write to market or no you must display some kind of passion because $$$$ doesn’t just fall into your lap; because you may write 30 good books before ever making $500; because so many authors haven’t been “discovered” until after their deaths. Writing is a cold hard mistress, and I’d say poetry holds a steel tipped whip.

But we can make it softer.
If we consume each other. If we’re willing to take that risk and buy a random book of poetry, if we’re willing to say our emotional and mental labors are worth something.

We have to create and contribute to the market as both buyers and writers. We have to recommend books and poets to build excitement and appreciation for poetry.

 

Check out my two releases:

Suffer too Good and Dirty Honey on Amazon.

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In Response to: “Racism and Intersectionality in YA Fiction”

I found this thoroughly interesting Post from The Paige Turner Blog featuring an essay on Young Adult lit and feminism written for their class…and I couldn’t help but read and write a response to it! Give it a look over if you like.

I absolutely loved this post and I wanted to do a thorough response to it, a sorta “Dear author” moment because this essay demands proper attention and response. I pick apart a lot of the arguments here and take issue with many of them, but that serves to point out the thought provoking nature of this piece. There are a lot of good points here that simply don’t satisfy me….but I love this piece regardless. I hope the author doesn’t think I’m just shit talking because I’m an asshole because I’m trying to give their arguments the time, dedication, and attention it deserves even from an opposing and critical viewpoint because that’s how we all grow and engagement on these topics matters to me and my life as a woman and a feminist. I will also add I wrote this with my hands shaking from a sugar crash.

Here’s what I wrote in response:
Wow your essay is absolutely fascinating and I’d love to pick your brain abit because as a recent grad I’m totally missing the college world…

You say “Collins thusly reinforces the detrimental effects of having a character that, on the surface level, seems to be an inspirational character, but falls short of the racial divide.” I think you make some salient points, but miss some of the goals. Here the suggestion is Katniss being read as white is the problem as is her relationship to the black characters of the book. I think the stronger argument is that in the movies “olive skin” becomes a very specific type of white manifested via Jennifer Lawrence. But addressing the book writing you are most certainly right that Katniss becomes a white savior, which is especially fascinating in the context of the backlash of so many readers being forced to realize there reading Rue as white was wrong.

A minor weakness in your argument is that you acknowledge this while still claiming it is the genre and thus the authors fault for the audience assumption of Rue’s race. YA or any genre is not so much as fault as you can say the industry around it, and your argument would have been stronger if you clarified that the industry and its standards are different than the genre and both are different from the audience, while they still inform each other. The author attempted to bring diversity into YA, but the problem isn’t YA but the assumption of whiteness as the default state of being in every story. Though Rue’s depiction is still problematic in some ways, the author did something write in casting Rue as innocent, hopeful, and pure when black skin generally means that won’t happen. In a way that’s why the audience didn’t make that connection, society and the industry simply don’t do that. Innocence is pure and purity is white, and this book said “No” and the audience didn’t catch it because of media in all forms and genres saying Black people aren’t as innocent and pure and sweet as white people.
The biggest failure of the first book and film is a lack of time characterizing people outside of Katniss, which is one part the narcissism often present in YA, but very much is a reflection of white hegemony. Rue’s life only gains meaning in relation not only to Katniss, but being a representation of Katniss’s sister Prim, which truly denies Rue’s existence. Much like how women are shoved in the metaphorical refrigerator(just look up women in refrigerators if that reference eludes you). This is the most recurrent problem I see in YA literature, where most often characters of color are simply an extension of white protagonists. Even in things like The Princess Diaries white side characters are more likely to be described as individuals than non-white characters whose primary function is to be there for diversities sake more so than to have their own life and character. Rue exists to die for Katniss to rebel. It’s a shame because it eerily mirrors the now-outdated but still impactful 1930s and 1950s film/book An Imitation of Life where the light skinned and dark skinned black women are sort of sacrificial lambs, where their significance only occurs under white protection and approval which manifests as a black woman’s ideas being credited to a white woman and that black woman serving the white woman under the guise of being friends. Its sad that things haven’t changed so much.

As a fellow writer, I’d say avoid statements like “Bella Swan, again, a white female character, who has zero redeeming qualities, is put in the middle of the conflict between the vampires and werewolves,” unless you explain why you feel she is this way. You have to prove everything you say and back it up, and this is a opinion that is written in a way that lacks academic authority. I’d recommend say “Bella, again a white female character, who is written as being passive, lacking strong characterization in her personality, having a life beholden to two men, and ultimately is just an author/reader insert is put in the middle of the conflict between the vampires and werewolves”. The book is popular for a reason so when you write a bit more authoritatively and point out specifically what you mean you can really convince people of that opinion. And this would set up a great argument too. I’d respond to the Native Americans as Werewolves point, by agreeing, but also saying that it is in a way an exotification teetering on positive stereotypying, which still has a negative impact. The werewolves are almost more “spiritual” and consider themselves the protectors of the “natural”, which is an obvious stereotype…but it is presented as almost alluring via what’s his nuts(sharkboy). Yet even his being a jealous guy is a manifestation of a “savage” emotion.

Further, while it may serve you paper you suggest having insults thrown on the basis of “dog and mongrel” is reinforcing hegemony, which inadvertently suggests acknowledging bias and the hatred bread from it is inherently problematic, whether you intended it or no. You say “These subtle messages that are being sent in YA fiction are extremely harmful to the audiences, because it shows them that this type of behavior is acceptable and goes beyond the realm of a fantasy book; that it can be repeated in real life.” But this is a great leap without context. Showing that it happens doesn’t make it acceptable, and it can be repeated in real life. Pretending it doesn’t leans towards the far more harmful “I don’t see color so how could I ever be biased” willfully ignorant mindsets that allow bigotry to truly propagate. This argument  feels contradictory.

While I truly do like this essay there is a certain judgmental nature to it, and I don’t mean that as an insult, but the bottom line of this essay is feminists don’t write YA, read YA, and if you’re a feminist you should stand opposed to it. The nature of literature of any kind is far more complex than that, and I sense the author know that, but is sacrificing it for the sake of this paper. The core belief of feminism is female choice and rights…and to be judged fairly, but it seems unfair to say Kristen Stewart or any actress playing Bella could never be a feminist. I don’t know it feels like if I said Leo DiCaprio must be a racist for playing Colonel Candy in Django Unchained. It feels like the suggestion is every feminist must not read/like/or  recommend Twilight and other YA series, which is a problematic argument and ultimately unfeminist in itself by dictating  the choices of other women and feminists. Ultimately this essay begins to fall apart because it falls into the trap of promoting restricting stories which many anti-feminists and racists take as what progressives want. You suggest that having two women fight each other is anti-feminist, which is suggesting that every woman should sit around and sing peace to the world. That seems reductionist and ultimately consigns women to limited roles in text. Ultimately this essay does a lot, but it  drops to ball with broad sweeping statements in order to prove its point which hurts its own arguments. I say this because As a bisexual woman of color I find myself repeatedly saying “No that’s not the problem because that puts women in as much of a box as anything else” and I don’t say it because your wrong…but because you say X is inherently wrong. The Allegiant series is wrong for having two women fight against each other, is your assertion, but saying that is problematic too. The question is how these things are done and handled.

Much like the problem of Rue being there to bolster Katniss, the problem is a lack of characterization, motive, and principle. Men fight men all the time and it isn’t a problem because men are often depicted as just being people with motives, passion, and ambition. They are complex characters not obligated to stand together or alone, and that’s how all characters should be. The solution is saying this troupe or plot is inherently anti-feminist. That’s reductionist and can be anti-feminist in itself. The solution is saying “This is why this doesn’t work. This is what makes these ideas bad”. That’s what I want to see more of and that’s what I wish this essay like so many others did more of (hence why I stopped reading The Mary-Sue unfortunately).

In short this essay and its arguments would be more convincing with specifics about why these things are problematic instead of saying they’re wholesale problematic. By just saying this white girl saves this black girl, that YA is the problem without separating the industry from the author from the audience, by just saying women fighting each other as men watch is the problem you make broad sweeping statements that limit stories and are honestly a wee bit offensive to other feminists, and quite frankly miss a lot of what is wrong about these issues. It is not that they exist. I’m a black woman the white hierarchy exists and I live it. Acknowledge it. That doesn’t mean the author is endorsing racism or anything by recognizing it. It fact I welcome it because that is my lived experience, and so long as it is done in a thoughtful way it is usually fine. The problem with YA is ignorance, and a fascination with white cis-gender femaleness so when authors do try to do more they make exotic Native American beasts, they make a black girl a symbol not a character, and we all lose. When you refuse to acknowledge people as characters, as feminists, and feminism as complex, as how women/other marginalized people relate to characters as complex you ultimately cripple a good portion of your argument by doing the progressive version of what you critique. And to be honest a lot of this paper reminds me of talking to white people who just don’t get the difference between showing black people all as the same stereotypes and acknowledging that there are black people who live in the ghetto. If this was acknowledged as a core issue this essay would have soared.

BUT the fact that you were willing to tread in these waters at all, and dig into many of the problems of the YA industry, genre, and audience demonstrates a thoughtful intelligence that makes me excited to read more. The wonderful thing about the internet is being able to engage with so many wonderful thinkers and people.

The Distraction of Writing.

Writing can be a very good distraction from life. That can also be a bit of a problem, but right now I find it to be rather enjoyable. When you write it allows you to step away from yourself even if you’re right about you. Your just surrendering to the moment and the act of creating something wonderful. There is nothing more awesome than the exchange of ideas and we’re lucky to live in an age where we can do it from virtually anytime or anywhere.  Since about 2pm I’ve been reading different articles on writing and marketing on different blogs. It’s been very enlightening and I’ve realized that writing is a source of power when used correctly. Regardless of what you write you begin to step away and just go for your thoughts and getting them down on paper or screen. You manage to keep yourself going. Lately I’ve been struggling with my life. I’m not unique. I won’t claim I anything is special about me. I’m smart. I’m talented. And unfortunately that isn’t enough. It doesn’t matter how hard I work or for how long. Sometimes life just doesn’t go in your favor or how you plan. That’s not sad. It is just life, and our goal is to take a step towards what we want with every single day. I got rejected from two literature magizines and the Bitch Media internship I applied for, but does that mean I am bad at what I do? Not at all. What it means is those things didn’t come through. Nothing’s changed and I just have to keep trying. I write. I spend hours on reading marketing, reading in general, and then I spend at least three hours a day writing.

It is a great distraction.

I create worlds and build characters. I make epic action scenes and intensely romantic works that make me smile, and I hope you smile one day. I’ve accomplished a lot in the last two months.  Suffer too Good and Dirty Honey were written and published. I have a few older stories I’m slowly working through. I’ve edited stuff for another author. I’ve been trying to engage more with the world around me and that makes a difference. Depression doesn’t always care, but all of that means something in holding back the tide. I just wish I had a few more bucks in my pocket, but don’t we all.

A lot of times I hesitate in posting these reflections because so often people look at millennials and call us complainers because we should just swallow everything and pretend things are fine. But truthfully I guess I don’t care. If I’m being wholly honest I only care to preserve my image. Yet I will say here I do feel like I’m standing in a realm of possibilities without any chance of getting to move towards any of them. College debt, lack of job prospects, my current job not actually letting me work, and my floundering sales do a lot to damage my sense of self both as a person and a writer. Worse they make me feel unstable. Sometimes I wonder if I should just call it quits. Not because this is hard, but because I don’t know how long I can live with the state of things because I don’t know if anything I’m doing is worth a damn. No one really does know until someone else tells them, and they say the definition of sanity is doing the same thing repeatedly, which sucks because writing is a repeatable practice. The best writers can do is try and recognize that we could be the next Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, or Arthur Miller but never get our break. BUT we could. Any day now someone can swoop in and pick up your book, click your blog, or hear about your journey….and turn you into the next big thing. Someone could find value in all that you do, and that can revolutionize your entire life.

I hope for being seen, read, and loved. Any writer who tells you they don’t want that is a damned liar and you can tell them I said that. We write to connect if not with others than ourselves. The irony of that is that is what makes writing such a great distraction. Regardless of whether I get my big break or make some cash to pay for my studies I will always hold a pen in my hand. So I work on building my character, my life, and my world into a better place and me into a better self. Writing allows me to think both in and outside myself. It allows me a distraction from the crippling doubt and the depression that makes me wish I wasn’t going to wake up tomorrow. When I can’t sleep from the thoughts in my head I distract myself with stories and writing. The worst nights and days are the ones where that doesn’t work, but luckily those are few and far between. In today’s world every person has to be there best advocate, their best friend, their kindest listener, and in world of creatives their strongest mentor. More than all of that we have to be willing to distract ourselves with our writing because that keeps us going. It pushes us to evaluate, to debate, to think critically, and hopefully come to understand our best assets.

As time goes on I hope to find my place in the world. I don’t want to be rich. I just don’t want to stay poor. I don’t want to be happy. I just want to be content. Until I am able to get to a place where those things I want come true all I can do is write and pray for the best. We all must push forward….the problem is knowing where forward is and how to get there. That’s what no one ever tells you.