Book Sales

While today poetry may be valued in song lyrics and as well-executed public performance pieces, why don’t its physical books have wider sales? Is it still a hangover from decades of classroom teaching dating back to my day as a high school student 60 years ago? Too often poetry on the page was treated as something to analyze, even a puzzle to solve, rather than to enjoy. I still remember the typical assignment “Identify three similes and explain how each supports the author’s purpose.” Apart from the questionable assumption of even being able to read the author’s mind, this approach reduced a poem to a mechanical scavenger hunt, rather than a vibrant expression of human experience.

Over subsequent generations, new forces have come into play. The widespread adoption of TV, then computers, then cellphones has encouraged a steady shift in mentality from analytical, to tactile, to visual, and from sitting alone, book in hand, to large group interactions online. Through such public and social forms of address, poetry can readily inspire, guide, arouse, soothe, and more. A question is how to bring the music, colour, and passion of media into the solitude of print? Apart from linking a book to other art forms, as described in the previous Poetry Note “Interplay”, some day could “read and listen” books have audio built into the physical page—think of greeting cards where a few-second soundtrack plays on opening—as part of the answer?