So Who Reads Poetry?

Posted on April 10, 2016

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Who reads poetry?
Mostly other poets.
Some years ago a writer who’s published frequently in poetry and literary magazines nodded affirmatively and countered, “Well, I never read engineering magazines.”
Poets read poetry publications, engineers read engineering publications. The same holds true for politicians, horse breeders, gourmet cooks and hair stylists, each of whom read publications focused on their specialties. Many of each also read novels and a certain amount of nonfiction, particularly self-help and how-to. A few perhaps also read poetry and of those few even fewer contemporary poetry. Which brings us back to poets reading other poets.
It’s not a small readership. And there’s plenty out there to read. Among newpages, Poets & Writers and Duotrope listings for over a thousand poetry publications exist, most of them online. Practically every university, college and junior college in the United States now publishes a literary or poetry journal, most of them edited by their English and/or creative writing departments. If each online or print journal publishes ten poems annually—most publish more—that means that at least 10,000 new poems appear each year, many more than most poets are able to read.
So whose poems do poets read? Those of friends one presumes, associates, poets published in the same journals in which one is published. If it’s a print journal there’s a high probability that the published poet will read the other poems in the journal. If it’s an online journal the probability is less. One can keep a print journal beside one’s desk or easy chair, on a bedside stand, in a backpack, browse through it over a period of time. The same is not true for online publications. It’s not easy to read poetry on a mobile device and many writers having spent hours on a computer shy away from reading non-work online. On the other hand, few print journals issue more than 500 copies, a real limitation to readership that online journals don’t have.
So who reads poetry? A poet I know who’s been teaching creative writing for over thirty years punned, “Why, creative writing students, of course!” There are thousands of them, he added, in the hundreds of college and universities that have creative writing programs.
And who reads engineering journals?
The written word is a strange and wondrous thing.

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Posted in: Poetry, Uncategorized