What are some creative ways to promote poetry?

By Michael Marcinkowski

In the Spring issue of American Poet (put out by the Academy of American Poets) Lyn Hejinian gave an interesting answer to what is by now (especially around these offices) a rote question. She was asked, "What are some creative ways to promote poetry?" to which she responded:

Poetry doesn't need promotion. People need time. A revolutionary way to promote poetry might be to criminalize capitalism's theft of people's time.

It's an answer that brings to bear the issue of poetry's place in our wider culture and one which raises lots of terrific questions. Should poetry be something that is sold to consumers just as any other product, or is it indeed something special, something that carves out space in our daily lives, apart from all the buying and selling that seems to occupy us today?

It's interesting to look at the answers provided by Sharon Olds and Carl Phillips, who were both offered the same question as Hejinian. Olds points to outreach workshops in schools, prisons, etc. as a way to promote poetry, while Phillips notes that poetry should be taught to the young. Both seem to push the "poetry as product" angle. Are these types of answers incommensurable with Hejinian's push for a more dramatic shift in our society? Or can one attempt to apply both? I'd like to think we can.
With its focus on teaching poetry to people living in marginalized situations (in the hospital, in prison) Olds's (and to a lesser degree Phillips's) answer offers a way to have poetry itself apply pressure for the type of cultural change favored by Hejinian. The hope is then that such cultural pressure would not only uplift those who are currently marginalized, but also create an alternative to the ever-present capitalist culture.
Hejinian's position is especially notable in that it calls on us to not only look for some way to convince the public at large of the value of poetry, but also modify our culture so that it is able to sustain something, such as poetry, separate from the circulation of capital.

Originally Published: August 22nd, 2007
  1. August 23, 2007

    thank you so much for not leading me to jump into the "either/or" rabbit hole in order to think about the marketing of poetry. why can't we begin to think of poetry as both a commodity AND a culture, since it is both ... and more than both?

  2. August 23, 2007
     Accordion to me

    There's a conversation in response to this post happening right here. Worth checking out.

  3. August 23, 2007
     Aaron Fagan

    Wallace Stevens said, "Poetry is a kind of money." It has often been observed that the opposite is also true, that Money is a kind of poetry. There is a certain humorlessness in your post and others like it that is garden variety insane. Have you read what you wrote out loud to yourself or another person.? Hejinian said clearly, "Poetry doesn't need promotion." I used those same words in another post I made on the If No One Can Find My Book, Does It Exist? post:
    This is all reminiscent of what came up
    surrounding the “What To Do About Poetry?” post back in February. In fact it reiterates many of the same questions asked then with nothing particularly new to offer now. The solution for poetry is to get in the game. Getting poetry in the game, this late in the game, would be very expensive. By “late in the game” you would have to look at the history of
    publishing and book marketing. My guess is that novels were more expensive to produce by virtue of their size…more words, more paper, more editing. That all adds up and means more marketing dollars to gamble that
    you will make back what you invest. I’m no expert, but its seems to me that the fiction team has just had a better PR game that poetry because the stakes were higher. It’s not
    about aesthetics. It is about human behavior.
    We are behaviorally conditioned as a public to respond to fiction over poetry. Poetry have been kept private. It is a question of sheer visibility. So if you want poetry to be a commercial viable commodity--I don’t have any feelings about that one way or
    the other–publishers or authors need to learn how every other product is marketed: be on TV, be adapted into films, and reviewed and advertised in newspapers and glossy magazines. All very expensive. The genius of
    American advertising is its spirit of friendly fascism: it is the art of taking something absolutely useless and fills every home with it as if the customer’s life depends on it.
    Or . . . we can have trust that poetry is actually just fine. That this "issue" is just another illusion that keeps people employed. You are just "Gilding the Lilly." Or so it would seem.
    Poets: Trust attraction over promotion,
    principles over personalities. As Pope said:
    Wit shoots in vain its momentary fires,
    The meteor drops, and in a flash expires.

  4. August 23, 2007
     Aaron Fagan

    Former POETRY Editor Joseph Parisi wrote an article in The Common Review Winter 2005 titled "Poetry and the Embarrassment of Riches"
    I highly recommend this article to anyone who would prefer to have a sound and human perspective on all of this nonsense.

  5. August 23, 2007
     Aaron Fagan

    My mistake. Stevens said, "Money is a kind of poetry."

  6. August 23, 2007
     Aaron Fagan

    Parisi's article concludes:
    Ours is a material culture, not soon to change. But in the face of the colossal lies of governments and the rapacious greed of the powerful; despite the dehumanizing methods of industry and calculations of corporations that would reduce everything to the bottom line; for all the manipulations and phony promises of advertising and artifices of popular culture that whip up the desire to consume “goods” that can never completely satisfy . . . there remains poetry: to remind us how we are still all too human, irreducible to the formulas of the financial markets,
    and capable of deeper emotions and understandings. Poetry which creates meaning, a sense of the uncanny and the mystery of the universe, and reminds us of the values that make life truly worthwhile–all those things that money can’t buy.

  7. August 24, 2007
     D. Doodle

    Just for perspective, Mitt Romney's personal wealth (as reported recently by The Washing Post) exceeds the worth of the entire Poetry Foundation.

  8. August 24, 2007
     Robert Schwab

    I am a poet who has barely been published and yet has been writing poetry for 40 years.
    I have submitted to Poetry magazine over and over and been rejected over and over again.
    So last July,2006, I launched my own poetry website, at the url listed above, where I am selling my poems in small batches for not very much money at all.
    Crass commercialism? I don't think so. I consider the Web a tool that is now available to writers who can't seem to break through the hurdles to publication that the poetry establishment (now made extraordinarily wealthy by Ms. Lilly, and more powerful by virtue of its wealth) presents to unpublished artists around the globe.
    I have been a journalist all my life and never made more than a lower middle-class salary practicing the craft, which, because of the necessities of making a living to support a family, kept me from pursuing my poetry for too much of my life.
    Capitalism, much as it is disparaged in your posts, remains the American way of doing business, and so, I think, poets must do business in order to get themselves published.
    I'd love to have some of your staff review my poetry, but they will have to buy the poems in order to see them, except one, which I would like to change out more often than I am now capable of doing because to change out the featured poem on the site, which was recently published in the spring issue of the Wazee Journal, an online Denver-based literary journal, it costs me money to make the changes. Capitalism still drives even poets trying to do business on the Web. I don't mind that; I just need some more buyers to purchase some poems in order for me to improve the product as it is.

  9. September 12, 2007
     Harriet Whelan

    Is anyone interested...
    I work as a volunteer camera operator at public access TV channel 56. A community member, Bozana Belokosa, does a monthly poetry program "Spending a Little Time with Poetry". Any poet can read her/his poetry and the program is broadcast on public access TV. The quality of the poetry is uneven but the program itself is a testament to Bozana's love of poetry and a way to promote poetry. I have CD's of the readings that I have shot.
    I can be reached at my email address. Thanks, Harriet

  10. April 8, 2009
     Sylva Portoian

    Poet should be paid by their goverments.\r
    ________________________________________ \r
    Poetry…! \r
    Poetry is a soul, cannot be sold\r
    Poetry is a love\r
    Can you buy love with wealth you have?\r
    Poetry is a feeling \r
    Can you measure the unmeasureless?\r
    Poetry is a faith \r
    If you believe, none can take out \r
    Even after sigh.

  11. June 7, 2009

    I have spent many years on this project, but now I am trying to find a way to generate traffic. The Land of Grimney website is a unique world of creativity. It also allows others to participate and add there own work.