Saturday, 29 May 2010

Why do books of poetry matter?

Would you rather follow a TV series or go see a movie? Would you rather discover a gem on YouTube or take your chances at the theatre?

Like other forms of human performance, poetry publication comes in many forms. There is the private villanelle written on a serviette and given to a friend. There are shared forums like print and online journals. There are rudimentary and sophisticated zines and there are slick apps. There is Facebook and myspace and blogsites. There are chapbooks and CDs and public performances. These are all ways in which we publish and receive poetry.

With so many possibilities of having one’s poetry seen and heard why does it still matter for poets to be published in book form?

It is clear at least that it matters to the dozens of poets who submit their work to Fremantle Press annually, hoping that they will be one of the few we are able to publish in a book.

It seems to me that a book of poetry is still an important milestone in a poet’s career. Books allow ‘emerging’ poets to be formally introduced to the world. Subsequent books allow a showcase of the poet’s development across time. And selecteds and collecteds allow for retrospectives, an opportunity to acknowledge the evolution of a poet, shifts in direction, and accomplishment.

As for the reader, they may buy a book knowing that it has gone through a process of consideration, guidance and cohesion – it is polished and refined by author and editor, and has come to represent a careful architecture of form and content. It is an artefact in its own right, and captures something of the poet in this moment. It values the static in a dynamic world!

It might be that the perceived value of book publication will diminish over time. I applaud the many methods by which individual poets can and do share their poetry with an audience. A poet’s career needs to be built on as many aspects of ‘publication’ as possible. It is a fact that there is not a huge market for poetry in Australia and poets must do what they can to be in the public eye (if this matters to them) with little expectation of financial reward. Writing and publishing poetry is never about the money! It is always about the love of the form.

Will publishing in book form always be so important? A book is something a reader can pull off the shelf with the expectation of enjoying a serendipitous encounter. Dipping into a book of poetry is like bumping into an old friend. I believe that while our affection for the artefact of the book continues, then being published in book form – being bound, packaged, and presented with name and title and a spine! – will continue to matter to poets.

Georgia Richter, Poetry Publisher, Fremantle Press