The marketplace for poetry

Into our e-mailbox comes word from a "shocked" reader that Yankee Magazine has decided to drop its "venerable Poetry Page."

This has prompted some thought on the state of poetry publishing, especially as we move toward April, National Poetry Month in the United States. It seems poetry, and poets, may be doing better than poetry publishing, at least if we mean publishing on paper.

The loss in Yankee may be offset by a gain in The New York Times, which last month reintroduced poetry into its Sunday Book Review.

From her perch as editor of Poet's Market in Cincinnati, Nancy Breen sees the poetry market in mainstream publications as holding pretty steady over the past 30 years. "So many poets think they're going to get into magazines and books ... but big publishers don't publish books of poetry by unknowns." The small presses and literary magazines are where most poetry gets published. But a few mainstream publications run poems – including this newspaper, and magazines such as The Atlantic Monthly and The New Republic.

What's changed, she says, is the Internet. "It's broadened the poetry community. It's had a big impact. It's so easy to start up an online magazine. There's no pay for the poets, of course, but there's no pay for them in literary magazines anyway." If there is a "community" that benefits from being held together by the electronic gossamer of the World Wide Web, it is surely poets.

Still, I somehow want to connect Shelley's reference to poets as "the unacknowledged legislators of the world" with Jefferson's preference for newspapers without government over government without newspapers. Would we be more wisely governed if we had more poetry in our daily papers?

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