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Feeling Guilty

By A.E. Stallings

I’m guilty—because I quoted Wendy Cope.
I’d wanted something apropos and light—
Now suddenly I’m feeling like a dope.
I thought a credit was sufficient—nope;
I hadn’t asked permission. Now I hope
I haven’t trampled on her copyright!
I’m guilty—because I quoted Wendy Cope.
(I’d wanted something apropos and light.)


I was of two minds after reading this article in the Guardian (“You like my poems? Pay for them”) by Wendy Cope–on the one hand, I can completely understand her annoyance at people quoting her poems without permission. She is one of those rarest of rare birds, a best-selling poet who makes a living off her verses. Once out there on the internet, poems become easily Googleable, and thus accessible for free. Short poems, as she notes, are particular susceptible to this kind of copying, and short funny poems are even more of a temptation. It’s the kind of thing you want to share with people, which you can do now at the click of a button. And Wendy Cope is so damned quotable!
Then of course I felt bad because I realized–oops!–I was one of the perps in question. Hadn’t I used her squib on A.E. Housman as the lead-off of my Housman post? In the recent Sonnetude post I had gone to some effort to track down those poets and seek their permission (only Natasha Tretheway never replied), but for some reason I had not bothered to do that with Wendy Cope. Hmmm. Why? Had I felt she had already passed into some kind of public domain of popularity? That she would be hard to track down? That the poem was already all over the internet? That she wouldn’t mind? That she wouldn’t notice? I hope that my poor-Wendy-Cope-imitation triolet will serve as an apology.
But… I also disagreed with some of the logic behind the article. I am sure she is legally correct. But at the same time an internet chat board or blog or list serv is not an anthology out to make money. It is a conversation. Is not dialogue impoverished without recourse to quotation? Without being well-versed? Does not such quotation, when properly credited as to its source, constitute fair use? (though I imagine that is a legal concept that varies from country to country…) Imagine what it would do to poetry dialogue on the web if we hesitated to use real life examples.
I suppose I am one of those poets she mentions who does not mind having poems passed around in the aether. But then I don’t make a living off them. My theory has always been that people are more likely to buy a book the more good samples they have from it–to have it in that sensible and sensual form. The result of my enthusiastically sharing Wendy Cope poems with friends has been that they have gone out and bought her books. (Hmmm. Should I get a commission?)
I guess I would agree with Frost that the ambition is to “lodge some poems where they are not easily got rid of”–and the internet is one such place (in more ways than one–are poets now destined to be haunted by hastily-posted juvenilia?) Yet Is it not some kind of ultimate success to pass into quotation? To enter the language?
One part that I had more trouble sympathizing with was her complaint that poets should not read the work of other poets aloud at readings without permission. Is it not rather a generous act to share the work of other poets with a wider audience? To win readers and fans for them? Is it not in fact something there is far too little of, rather than too much?
The internet is changing the audiences relationship to poetry. As poetry is not by and large a money-making operation, the problem has always been access and distribution. That is no longer an obstacle. We are in fact returning to a future that looks a lot like the distant past–publishing without publishers. Different poets are reacting to this in different ways (see Bill Knott’s blog), even as the music business is trying to find a way to deal with the same problem. Is it an opportunity or a loss of control? Maybe both.
In the article, Wendy Cope’s partner jokes that on her tombstone she should have: “Wendy Cope. All Rights Reserved.”
It made me think of another epitaph–one by the Roman poet Ennius, which goes something like, “Let no one weep for me at my funeral. Why? Alive I flit through the mouths of men.”

Comments (26)

  • On December 11, 2007 at 3:25 pm Jennifer wrote:

    Thanks for this — I had the same conversation with myself when I read the article. I thought a lot about ownership vs. audience. A poet friend of mine once said — “the best that we can do, when we are fortunate enough to do it, is share and share and share.” Seems like the community I’d rather live in.

  • On December 11, 2007 at 7:19 pm Susan McLean wrote:

    The Internet has certainly encouraged a sense of entitlement in many to copy and share everything that can be copied and shared. Some arts are easier to do that to than others, so musicians, poets, and others who deal in short formats are more affected than novelists, dramatists, etc. It seems harmless and may create a certain amount of awareness of writers who would otherwise not be as well known (how many people actually sit down and read poetry books for pleasure?). But when publishers can’t make any money selling poetry books, they are less and less likely to publish them at all. So I think it is getting harder for poets to get a first book published (and maybe the second, third, etc.). We could be facing a future in which almost no one gets published in books, yet it is hard to imagine that equal prestige will then pass to online publishing. Will poetry turn into a harmless hobby, like blogging?

  • On December 11, 2007 at 8:08 pm Robert Schwab wrote:

    Unlike Jennifer, A.E., I’m of an opinion more like Cope’s.
    I have set up a poetry website (www.robertschwabpoet.com) on which I sell my poems for the very reason you ascribed to Cope: that poets should be paid for their work, and that the freebie market of poetry today, less than community, is more like a ripoff if people indeed do like the poet’s work.
    I think the freebie market for poetry is why poetry is not a money manking proposition for hundreds of thousands of poets. Small journals pay in copies of their journal, which makes the poet nothing; and making the poet nothing prevents him or her from living off the proceeds of their work. Academic journals publish poets, but as has been said in other blogs on this site, academia has pretty much taken over the poetry market. Few people who don’t have academic reputations get published by paying journals. (I admit, I don’t have any documented evidence of that, but would do the research as a journalist if I knew I could get paid for my work.)
    Most admittedly amateur poets (and I could probably be included since I have not been widely published) post their poems on their own websites hoping to find an audience — and most usually don’t.
    Perhaps it’s because of the quality of the poetry; but I really don’t think, having worked as an editor of a magazine website, that people go to individual’s websites hunting for poetry to read even if it is for free.
    I think you could talk to the Poetry Foundation about how much they have invested in this website for what probably is a minimal monetary return, if there is any. And it would be interesting to learn what kind of audience return they are getting (unique visits, average visitor time, etc. the new demographics of web marketing) despite the considerable investment.
    Again, the foundation, I think, does a service to living poets by publishing dead poets work, but unless they are remunerating live ones for the work they do for the site, I think the live poets won’t be able to make a living unless supplemented by an attorney or doctor spouse’s salary or an academic position. (Again journalistic research would be handy if it were available to back up such an assertion. Blogs, however, are not journalism, they trend toward immediate response.)
    I thank you, too, A.E., for the post. I think it brings up an issue that should have as many comments from poets as your earlier discussion of women’s records for publishing poetry, which ran away with commentary, as you are aware.
    If you want to try my poetry, and help me let the market decide whether it’s any good, go to that website and download some poems. They’re cheap and will take many, manyt sales to make me a living, but you can’t say I’m not trying, whether the community answers or not.

  • On December 11, 2007 at 10:39 pm Matt wrote:

    A “money-making proposition”. Uh, yeah, I wish I had an executive producer of my poems telling me to change a stanza because a test audience thought it was too weird. Jeez Louise.

  • On December 12, 2007 at 10:25 am Jean wrote:

    I suppose, as a poet, it depends on what your goal is. For most, poetry is a labor of love and the desire to express, and to be heard – so for most, and me, the idea of a poem gaining a life of its own, without “permission”, seems like the ultimate payoff. That payoff comes with no literal payoff, but for most poets there is never, ever, a literal payoff.
    I would hope we’ll never enter a world full of such permissions. It just seems to go against the grain of the art itself.

  • On December 12, 2007 at 4:02 pm Collin Kelley wrote:

    This is great post, Alicia. I had the same reactions to reading Cope’s column as you did.
    I take exception to Mr. Schwab’s comment on only amateur poets put their work on blogs and websites. Obviously, he’s not on in the loop on the number of great, published poets who ARE putting their work on websites, often in rough drafts to show the progression of their writing and craft.

  • On December 12, 2007 at 5:33 pm Emily Warn wrote:

    All poets should go on strike. We should stop publishing poems on broadsides, chapbooks, broadsides, books, and subway posters. We should stop circulating them in email, stop copying them for the classroom. We should stop all readings and all reciting of poetry at weddings and funerals. Once we’ve stopped the means of production and circulation, we should form a poetry police force and take down all illegally posted poems on the Internet.
    Laws regarding intellectual property and copyright are in large part shaped by what’s fair in the marketplace. Except for a handful of poems and poets, poetry has no market value. Even established poetry presses very rarely make money off a new title. They rely on permissions and backlist sales to publish new work. If it has no value, let’s clear it from the marketplace until people beg us for it. In exchange for it, we’ll haggle for health insurance and time to write and food for the table, and uh, err, something like a paycheck.
    P.S.
    Previous Harriet bloggers tackled this subject here:
    http://poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2007/05/goldsmith_on_poetry_copyright.html#9

  • On December 13, 2007 at 10:28 am Rose Kelleher wrote:

    Emily Warn wrote, “If it has no value, let’s clear it from the marketplace until people beg us for it.”
    That’s a joke, right? It makes me picture a hermit who hasn’t spoken to a soul in twenty years, muttering to himself as he commits suicide out in the desert, “I’ll show them!”
    I’ve bought two of Wendy Cope’s books, and I would never have done that if I hadn’t “overheard” poets talking about her on the Internet. Even then I wouldn’t have spent good money on them without a few short quotes to spark my interest. Short quotes aren’t a copyright violation anyway. Ms Cope should be grateful for the publicity.
    Now what was that expression an English friend of mine used recently…I believe it was “jammy cow.”

  • On December 13, 2007 at 11:43 am Steve wrote:

    Very few poets have situations like Cope’s (the poems are so short that they’re easy to put on the Internet, and so popular that she can make money from their sales). Many pop musicians do, though. Her complaint about performing rights to her poems (she wants people to pay her when they read her poems to an audience), which seems anomalous, even bizarre, in a poetry context, would be unsurprising were she a songwriter (say, Elvis Costello) complaining about nonpayment for cover versions.
    Many of us have been on the other end of the copyright stick: we’ve had to fork over hundreds of dollars, over and over, to Faber (Cope’s publisher) in order to quote twelve lines of (say) Philip Larkin in a book that, at best, a thousand people will read.
    Some of us, though, know musicians who are sad about declining CD sales, and about the declining ability, in general, of musicians to make money by recording their work. The analogy makes me less than entirely hostile to Cope’s position– but it doesn’t push me over the bar into sympathy. On balance, I’d rather expand than contract the public domain.

  • On December 13, 2007 at 12:38 pm Ange wrote:

    It seems to me that Cope’s anxiety is tied to the kind of verse she writes. Difficult poets whose books reward multiple readings are giving their readers a long-term investment. Can she say the same?

  • On December 13, 2007 at 2:37 pm Ange wrote:

    Here’s another thing. Are complaints about the availability of used books, via Amazon and elsewhere, legitimate (authors make no royalties on used books)? Ethically speaking, should we always buy new books?
    Does Cope object to public libraries?

  • On December 13, 2007 at 3:14 pm Robin Kemp wrote:

    I am very wary of publishing online because I don’t want some mega-corporation to sell my work without paying me for it. It may be worth pennies on the dollar, but pennies add up over time. These companies, some of which I’ve written for, pay writers little or nothing for electronic rights, which are extremely profitable for them. (I got royally screwed doing “work-for-hire” pre-Tasini.) In recent years, I’ve noticed large publishing outfits offering less and less over time for reference entries. These small checks sometimes don’t cover the cost of copies and research time, but you can renegotiate the terms of whatever boilerplate contract they send. (However much something pays, I always insist on at least one copy of the finished product for my own files.) Some editors are brazen enough to ask you to do the work for free, regardless of your expertise. It’s hard to stay motivated on a project when your time, training, and effort are devalued. That’s why I raised my prices.
    When it comes to poetry, one is not likely to get rich. The poetry is the point, not the money, but that in itself is no excuse to accept less than whatever the going rate may be for the amount of work that you’ve done.
    Frequently, it is more profitable to self-publish and hand-sell. The downside is that not everyone has those skills. Sadly, in some quarters, self-publishing still carries a stigma. The arcane world of academic hiring may accept a self-published book as “counting the same as” a book from a small press, but give greater weight to a book from a university or established commercial house. Should that be the case? Maybe that depends on the quality of the work–and the competence of the evaluator.
    I have two or three poems in online journals, but I won’t put draft poems on my blog or link mass quantities of my own work. Some poets find that a helpful or satisfying choice; I just don’t. I do link a couple of previously-published sample poems from my work website for any interested readers.
    Kalamu ya Salaam is adamant (and always has been) about never signing away any rights to your creative work, ever. No doubt that’s why he established Runagate. One of these days, I’d love to run my own publishing company, but I don’t think I’d use it as a vehicle for publishing my own work.

  • On December 13, 2007 at 4:36 pm KateBB wrote:

    I’m horrendously guilty of “borrowing” poems for use on my home site, where I hold them up for high praise and appreciation or gentle mockery ( though I only mock the dead). My understanding has always been that it doesn’t violate copyright to share poems for educational purposes, and this is my purpose and the purpose of many boards and blogs. Is there a lawyer in the house? If so, perhaps that person can give us the scoop.
    My feeling is that if my use of the poems poses a problem, I’ll be asked to remove them and then, cheerfully, I will.
    As for my own writing, unless the use was egregious (many poems) or disrespectful, then I can’t imagine feeling anything but pleasure. Wendy Cope’s blanket condemnation of internet “appreciation” of her work seems quaint to me but then again, as someone suggests above, obviously she regards her light verses as commodities.

  • On December 13, 2007 at 9:44 pm Michael Gushue wrote:

    As someone who runs a poetry reading series 99% of which consists of reading poems by other people, I guess I’m in for a big whopping infringement lawsuit. But isn’t it customary, as in a custom, for people to share poems? Isn’t that part of a poem’s eidos, its shape–that it makes people want to share it? We read poems at funerals, weddings, personal and national occasions. Ms. Cope should certainly make as much money as possible from her art, what could be nobler? And it would be ungallant to begrudge her doing so. But she seriously misunderstands how poems function in the real world, if I understand her argument. And whenever I hear the words “market” and “poetry” in the same sentence I reach from my beta-blockers. Please.

  • On December 14, 2007 at 8:28 am Alicia (AE) wrote:

    It’s funny Emily should bring up strikes, since there was a general strike here in Greece on Wednesday, and I announced to my husband that I was on strike–and indeed I did not write a word of verse. Since my son’s preschool was also on strike, however, that may have had something to do with it!
    I’m not sure that Cope’s anxiety is tied to the kind of verse she write, but her popularity certainly is, and without she likely wouldn’t be in such a pickle. (I don’t think difficult verse is necessarily harder to pull of than light verse–there can be very glib “difficulty” and surprisingly dark or even deep light verse, as I’d imagine Ange would agree…) And I’m all for good light and humorous verse. (Kenneth Koch may be one of the funniest, and the best parodist going.)
    A lot of this seems to boil down to the weird public/private nature of the internet–or of blogging itself. Is posting a poem on a blog or an on-line common-place book the same thing as pinching it for an anthology? I guess I don’t think it is.
    Good point about libraries and second-hand books. There was a flap over that a while back wasn’t there?
    Perhaps Steve’s point about just who it is who does get money for reprint permissions etc. should disturb us more. It usually isn’t the poet or the poet’s estate who gets those anthology permission fees, is it? Often a poet has sold that right for a song to the publisher. (OK, not to demonize the publishers, who, after all, don’t usually make a profit on poetry either.)
    I’m always happy to see a poem take on a life of its own. Sometimes people approach me for permission to post something to a blog, and that courtesy is nice too. I don’t know. I guess my concern is more that if a poem is on the web, I hope it is error-free, seeing how they replicate! It makes me think of the copying of ancient texts.

  • On December 14, 2007 at 11:27 am Alicia (AE) wrote:

    PS–thanks Emily for posting the link to the previous discussion. I’m much of Kenneth’s mind on this.

  • On December 14, 2007 at 5:39 pm Diane Arnson Svarlien wrote:

    I’m surprised at the backlash against Wendy Cope in this venue (and glad to see some support for the points she makes). She is a creative artist trying to make a living, and there are laws protecting her interests–laws that include “fair use” provisions. People who enjoy poetry should respect these laws; it’s a small price to pay for what poets and other creative artists contribute to society. Certainly if a poetry reading is charging money for admission, the organizers should have permission, and pay permission fees if necessary, for all the material included. All of the arts endure some piracy, and yes, I frequent libraries and used book stores, but at least someone at some point paid for that book. For a convincing demonstration that poets are not really over-rewarded in our society, see Cope’s poem, “Engineer’s Corner” in _Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis_. If you can’t afford the book, please ask your local library to order it!

  • On December 14, 2007 at 6:03 pm Emily Warn wrote:

    I was making a joke, Rose, but to make a point. Poetry is used and valued by our culture, but that value remains largely unacknowledged both monetarily (in terms of book sales and paychecks) and culturally (in terms of rank or visibility). The new technology of the Internet is, as Cope, Alicia, Schwab, KateBB point out, disrupting that situation by blending traditional means of production, distribution and consumption of poetry. The Internet is creating more monetary and social value for poetry in two ways–through blogging and advertising.
    As a place of unmediated “self-expression” (quotation marks are for Ange’s benefit), new blogs, MySpace, and Facebook pages arrive and fade away every day. All those “writers” need a way to express themselves; they often GOOGLE poems and arrive at our site, poets.org, poetry.com, poemhunter.com, or other major archives of legal and illegal poetry. Then they post a link, or cut and paste to their blog. I watch and trace these tributaries everyday and it’s fascinating. We pay for the right to use a poem on our site, and depending on the publisher, estate, or rightsholder, some of that money makes its way back to the poet. (As Robin Kemp notes, poets don’t generally know the percentage of copyright payments that end up in publishers’ vs. poets’ pockets.)
    The two most popular poetry sites on the Internet—poetry.com and poemhunter.com—have high traffic because they deliver what thousands of people want–to be published poets and to socially network with like-minded people. You can pretty much upload any poem you want to these sites and instantly become a published poet. Because people also upload classic poems, many teachers link from their syllabi to poems on these sites. Both sites, I’m guessing, turn a profit by selling advertising and through prizes/publication that “recognize” the people who’ve submitted their poems. They didn’t create the demand for writerly fame, or for selling advertising. They’re just capitalizing on it.
    While these are the two most prominent sites, there are literally millions of other sites, pages, blogs, that aggregate content so that the Google, Yahoo, MSN, AOL can sell advertising, generally keyword advertising. Here’s my favorite this week: http://www.poetrysite.com/.
    We’ve had to pull articles off of our site because SPAM and advertising aggregators find them, sending thousands of hits and SPAM our way. The hits are most likely generated by web robots and spiders. (Ironically, the aggregators always seem to find Kenneth Goldsmith’s articles, proving his point that we’re word processors rather than writers.) If we don’t take this content down, we have to spend hours clearing SPAM and have no way of knowing which poems and articles people are reading. Someone is making money off this content, but it’s not the poets; most likely it’s Google, et al.
    So while I agree that poetry’s value cannot be measured in or by the marketplace, it is increasingly being measured and garnered there. And, bloggers who post poems to express themselves and connect with others are valuing it as social currency. While that might be a simplistic use of poetry to some poets, millions of people use it in that way. And using it in that way means more people are reading it, rather than working at their jobs, or watching videos on YouTube of Mentos being dropped into Coke (or is that Pepsi) bottles to create backyard geysers.
    If we all went on strike and pulled it off the Internet stage, would the culture start to value it differently?
    (It is illegal, by the way Katebb, to post poems for educational purposes. Even if you’re a non-profit that exists for educational purposes, you still have to acquire the right to use it in that way from a rightsholder)
    Emily

  • On December 18, 2007 at 5:32 pm Robin Kemp wrote:

    Emily,
    Should anyone see fit to do so, he or she may purchase a letter to the editor that I wrote to Poetry for $5.95 from amazon.com . (Actually, it may be for letters that I and others wrote that particular issue.)
    Do I see one cent of this? No. (Has anyone bought it? Dunno.) Does Poetry? Likely not, but it’d be interesting to find out.
    How did this happen?
    I’m guessing that whichever electronic publishing megacorp–in this case, Thompson Gale– indexes Poetry sold those rights to amazon.com .
    While I doubt that anyone would ever pay $5.95 for said letter, readily available for free in local libraries, I do wonder whether poets whose individual poems are sold thusly get a cut, get a say, had their rights hijacked, or what.
    Now does writing a letter to the editor–or even this blog?–indicate all rights given over to the magazine? How might that stifle the free exchange of ideas? Should letter-writers be compensated if published now? The whole thing is quite problematic.
    Here ’tis, the evidence:
    Editorial Reviews
    Book Description
    This digital document is an article from Poetry, published by Thomson Gale on March 1, 2006. The length of the article is 2372 words. The page length shown above is based on a typical 300-word page. The article is delivered in HTML format and is available in your Amazon.com Digital Locker immediately after purchase. You can view it with any web browser.
    Citation Details
    Title: Letters to the editor.(COMMENT)(Letter to the editor)
    Author: Robin Kemp
    Publication: Poetry (Magazine/Journal)
    Date: March 1, 2006
    Publisher: Thomson Gale
    Volume: 187 Issue: 6 Page: 532(7)
    Article Type: Letter to the editor
    Distributed by Thomson Gale
    Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
    Dear Editor,
    Frequently those who feel wronged politically, as in having been underrepresented in a canonical anthology…[excerpt snipped here]

  • On December 19, 2007 at 11:25 am bill knott wrote:

    . . . but why is that Cope has not been published in this country?
    Wake Forest Press loads the shelves with every second-rate Irish droog they can find, while great British poets go begging for an outlet here . . .
    why can’t some USA publisher do a Selected Craig Raine, a Selected Carol Ann Duffy, a Collected Cope?
    yes, I can and do order their books from Amazon.UK.com . . . but!
    why won’t that wine travel?
    I read Roger McGough with more pleasure than most of his USA contemporaries—
    Oh, yes: pleasure. The one sin most USA poets are afraid to reckon—
    To me sometimes it seems as if our country’s poetry is still Colonial . . . or still Romantic. Back in 1985, Poetry (Chicago) published a very interesting piece by John Bayley, in which he states that the difference between contemporary British and USA poetry is that the former is Post-Romantic, and the latter isn’t . . .
    I agreed with him then, and don’t see that anything has changed since.
    . . . I wish Cope well in her effort to Webwipe her work,
    but I must say that one virtue of reading poems online is that I can increase the font size—
    for geezers like me much bookprint is Squintsville . . . this morning I’m trying to read Oxford Press “A Century of Sonnets” with eyestrain for my pains . . . the Sonnet Central site is friendlier than Oxford to readers my age.

  • On December 19, 2007 at 1:07 pm bill knott wrote:

    continuing my previous comment:
    despite ostensible differences
    the one thing that most factions of USA poetry
    seem to have in common
    is their puritanism . . .
    hence the prevailing impatience with
    and disdain for
    (and as I see it, the fear of)
    Brit poets like Cope who
    actually seek to provide immediate pleasures
    for their readers . . .
    maybe one reason British poets are so ill-read
    and undervalued in this country
    is our ongoing Colonial sense
    of belatedness and inferiority . . .

  • On December 19, 2007 at 1:32 pm Don Share wrote:

    Fans of British poetry might like to know that in the last few months alone, Poetry has published, you guessed it, Wendy Cope… along with poems and translations by Roddy Lumsden, Anne Stevenson, Fiona Sampson, Siobhan Campbell, Robin Robertson, George Szirtes, Don Paterson, Kathleen Jamie, Michael Hofmann, Clive Wilmer, Geoffrey Hill, Alice Oswald … and in 2004, we devoted a double issue to contemporary British poetry featuring again some of the aforementioned, along with Christopher Logue, Maura Dooley, Jo Shapcott, Miachael Donaghy, Gillian Allnutt, Philip Gross, Robert Crawford, John Glenday, Anne Rouse, and Helen Dunmore. Cojuld we have done more, excuse the pun? Perhaps. But we, at least, do not undervalue our colleagues from the UK.

  • On December 21, 2007 at 2:39 am Alicia (AE) wrote:

    Bill, I agree about the Puritan streak in American letters… It goes quite deep–surely it is one of the reasons that flat tropeless language is associated with sincerity and authenticity (take seven out of ten poems read on Writer’s Almanac for an example of what I mean) and “artifice” (a source of pleasure) is suspect (rhyme most of all), and shunted to the edges–be it avant or derriere garde.
    I am a huge fan of the New British Poetry and delighted Poetry is actively promoting it.
    Robin and Steve, you might check out this article on the subject of permissions and the responsibility of presses to make important works available at reasonable rates:
    “What We Owe the New Critics” from the Chronicle of Higher Education. (I’m addicted to Arts & Letters Daily.) The meat of the matter is halfway through the article.

  • On December 26, 2007 at 8:41 pm Robin Kemp wrote:

    Thanks, Alicia, for the link to Bauerlein’s blog entry (been reading all the Chronicle blogs on and off lately). Far be it from me to price valuable scholarly work out of reach of libraries–and the idiotic e-mail bureaucracy pseudo-conversation he describes is perhaps the most irritating experience possible for any person of both letters and common sense. How do we define what “reasonable” means, though? What is “reasonable” for Harcourt (or any publisher) may not be “reasonable” for the author. Writing is work that producers, publishers, and marketers value–but only AFTER they get control of it. (Consider the ongoing WGA strike.) Writers are consistently asked to give away our product for free or next to nothing by those who parlay said product into big profits. Think of it this way: who’s going to notice a poem (or a penny) here or there? Hardly anyone. Bundle together lots and lots of poems (or pennies), and the person doing the bundling gets rich. Add compound interest and, well… poets and most writers are being robbed today in much the same way that early blues/R&B/jazz musicians were ripped off by recording companies/distributors for most of the previous century. We have to educate ourselves about how our work is valued beyond the occasional royalty statement.
    I don’t work for magazine editors who don’t pay the going rate. I have a lot fewer headaches as a result. Any author, regardless of genre, must know what “reasonable” is before signing the contract. Poetry may never make one rich–but whatever one’s creative work is worth, the person who did the work of creating it should get the lion’s share–no matter how small the literary lion. (And a dead author has difficulty managing his or her literary estate, which should put “getting a will done” on the procrastinating poet’s to-do list.)

  • On January 18, 2008 at 9:11 am karren alenier wrote:

    I publish other poet’s poetry on my scene4 magazine blog The Dressing at scene4.com. I ask permission and so far no one has said no. One poet asked for a copyright symbol. I also am invovled with pubic poetry programs and publishing. Making poets known is how I help fellow poet’s. When a person buys poetry, the poet most likely has made a personal connection to the buyer. The Internet helps build a poet’s readership.

  • On January 28, 2008 at 9:25 pm Michael Wells wrote:

    It seems to me the economics of poetry is irrelevant to the debate. There are two principals involved here. One is the law as it applies to creative property rights, the other is simply respect for author/owner of creative property.If you are an artist, poet or otherwise, I would think that you should have the courtesy to show respect for the efforts and craft of their trade.
    I think many poets will usually consent if someone wants to post their work under most circumstances, but it is disrespectful to the individual and the greater community of artists as a whole to simply ignore an owner’s right to make that call themselves and make it for them.


Posted in Uncategorized on Tuesday, December 11th, 2007 by A.E. Stallings.