Is poetry failing?

Jeremy Schmall argues that it is…

“If you’re willing to argue with me when I say that nearly every poetry book published in the last 30 years is an abject failure, it’s likely you’re among the small group of people across the country who consider themselves poets…

In almost every measure we use to gauge success—money earned, books sold, widespread popular relevance, public recognition—poetry today is an absolute failure.”

And he backs that up with… and that is a good thing.

Well, he got my attention straight away. Indeed I am one of those people who consider themselves a poet and am definitely a passionate (in fact almost exclusive reader) of poetry, so of course, I was intially outraged by the statement that every poetry book of the last 30 years is an abject failure, but after reading on, he puts together a good argument… teasing out the concept of success is a world driven by the ‘capitalist bottom line’.

Schmall examines the argument of many critics,

“that poetry owes its irrelevance to an increasingly insular, excessively experimental practice; that if it were more accessible, more comforting, it would then be accepted into the mainstream.”

as being the key to poetry’s success as a ‘functioning site of resistance’ to the increasing pressures of globalisation.

In fact Schmall argues (and I tend to agree), poetry would more likely move toward the light of extinction, if it became ‘more acceptable’.

It is an article well worth reading and left me with the bigger question, how do you define success as a poet? A question I have no real answer to, but I know what it is not (for me anyway) and that is books/poems published, sales, paid gigs etc… 

Facts and figures do little to measure the satisfaction of the connections I have made with people all across the globe; the dialogue that has been opened up through this incredible art called poetry.

As always I would love to hear your thoughts… after all, success is a word that many of us are uncomfortable with, yet in some way, shape or form, we all seek it.


Filed under poetry & publishing

10 responses to “Is poetry failing?

  1. ashleycapes

    I really must read that article! It sounds like you’re right, Graham – any dicussion of this idea requires some sort of explanation of the word ‘success’ in this context.

    Like in a renku – the process becomes almost more important than the finished product…I’d agree with you that what we get as writers out of poetry is the human, social interaction. no failure there.

    (of course, it’s not actually possible for me to stop writing in any event. it’s like an illness.)

  2. I have a long winded answer to your question Graham, resolving the apparent conundrum using a left wing politic. Shall I email it to you and then you can decide if it makes any sense before I scribble on your blog? That’s a plan.

  3. Oh but I know one poetry that isn’t failing. Yours! Your book arrived and it is fantastic. Thankyou.

  4. Samizdat! Samizdat! Samizdat!

  5. two of my favourite folks on success:

    “success is the last refuge of the failure.”
    – oscar wilde

    “she knows there’s no success like failure / and that failure’s no success at all”
    – bob dylan

    don’t you just love (and notlove) the truth (and…) of paradox now? i reckon we almost always know when we’ve succeeded (as artists), and are not just sucking on cess…

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