Monday, August 29, 2005

Slick Says

So Slick tells me that Lyn Hejinian's book My Life outsells Bukowski, Jewel, and Billy Collins. Here's what he told me when I said I'd never heard of the book:

I'm surprised you haven't heard of "My Life" before. It's the book most often used to represent so-called "Language" poetry in conventional programs, circles. And it's often the book mainstream poets talk about as the one "good" book of Language poetry. And, it also defies the claims of mainstream poets and critics that "experimental" or Language or post-language poetry (or whatever you want to call poetry that doesn't fit the poetic conventions of the mainstream poetry world) is marginal (or academic) and should therefore be ignored--as of a few years ago, it had outsold all the big names in mainstream poetry. In it she explores the language of self-revelation, autobiography, the domestic. It's not my personal favorite. In fact, I find it a bit boring. I have this feeling, in fact, that, because the experimental poetry scene is so active, and active OUTSIDE the academy, that the biggest names in experimental poetry, publishing in small presses, probably sell fairly well. Of course, just like Black Flag, Husker Du, the Minutemen, etc., for every underground band that earned or made a national reputation, there were hundreds that fadedinto obscurity. Anyhow, I'm just rambling now. I see potential for the blog, but you need to get lots of people involved. For years, there's been a Poetics listserv hosted at Buffalo that served as, I don't know, a national bulletin board and discussion forum for experimental poetry. This certainly has helped unify and publicize non-mainstream poetry and probably helped grow its audience over the last couple decades. Despite the huge number of outlets for mainstr eam poetry--magazines, journals, prizes, etc., there doesn't seem to be a central clearinghouse for discussion or information. In fact, all the established journals are established enough to limit discussion, except in the terms they set, even as they try to maintain territory, readership. If you get enough people involved in the blog, (and I'm not thinking hundreds, I'm thinking ten or twenty), you might get some discussion going, some promotion for yourself and others. (By the way, all the above musing about mainstream poetry outlets is just me thinking as I type--though I suspect I might be, I don't know if any of it is correct.) Anyhow, I'm all for it. Definitely try to get your old MFA-mates involved, and what about your Arizona mentors? slick

I replied: I'm intrigued by this My Life book. Here's what it says on Amazon: "Upon its first Sun & Moon publication in 1987, the book began (and continues to be) taught in hundreds of college and university courses." Which might be the reason it outsold (if it did indeed outsell) Billy Collins, Charles Bukowski, and Jewel. Who are not sanctioned by the academy, I can assure you. Books by independent presses do not sell well. Because you can't buy them without going way out of your way. I've tried to buy several books of poetry at the local bookstores and from Albiris and Powells and couldn't. They are simply not distributed. Unless a poet gets major press (Billy Collins) or is a rock star (David Berman) then I don't see how they sell anything. Unless they're a fluke beat or someone like Hetijian whom the academy requires thousands of kids to buy for their classes.

I've already broken my promise of short posts.

A survey: Had you heard of "My Life?"
Have you bought any poetry in the last year? What was it and how did you find out about it? I get a lot of my music news from the internet--is there any source you like for poetry news?
Remember: I'm all for anonymous posts if you'd rather.


At 1:45 AM, Anonymous Sheila said...

"My Life" is actually one of my favorite books of poems... it was assigned in a post-modern poetry class I took while in grad school. It's got the rambly language-poet associative thing which I can see how at times be tedious for some, but something about her rhythms and imagery just rang true and clear for me (whereas other lanuage poets are hit and miss for me, like Ashbury). And the structure of it-- one section for every year of her life-- I found very poignant.

At 2:09 AM, Blogger tina said...

Never heard of "My Life."

I've bought at least a couple of poetry books over the last year. What were they?

James Tate, "A Worshipful Company of Fletchers", and another one of his, but which? Will have to look.

Found him in an old bookshop.

Can't remember if I bought any other poet's books - I'll look around and jog my memory.

At 3:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As for the poll, never heard of My Life. Last poetry book I bought was a used Ogden Nash paperback a few years ago.

My friend Joe just had a book come out. It is a biography of Paul Lynde. Say what you will about Amazon (and I don't disagree), Pete, but it is interesting to look at their sales numbers. For example, in the category Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > Arts & Literature > Actors & Actresses, here are the top 5 sorted by Bestselling:

1) Confessions of a Video Vixen
2) How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale
3) Down Came the Rain : My Journey Through Postpartum Depression
4) My Horizontal Life : A Collection of One-Night Stands
5) Center Square: The Paul Lynde Story

The #1 biography about actors and actresses is about someone who was in music videos. #2 is by pron (sic) star Jenna Jameson. #3 is Brooke Shields' book, which is a positive sign as she fights the good fight against Tom Cruise. #4 is the old fashioned humerous view of sex as reported by some comedian I do not know. #5 is my friend's book, and I did a top 5 so as to plug it. Anywho, we can ask what this says about our society when Karrine Steffens (who I guess appeared in videos with Jay-Z, R. Kelly, and LL Cool J) is a better selling topic for a celebrity bio than Jane Fonda, Goldie Hawn, Lauren Bacall, and Greta Garbo who all have recent biographies or autobiographies out. If Jenna Jameson were #1 I wouldn't be surprised, but some chick from rap videos??? You better hope she doesn't come out with Collected Poems of a Video Vixen. It would fuckin' dominate.


At 5:56 AM, Blogger Brikin Blog said...

The last poetry book I bought was by a friend - Denver Butson's triptych (Commoner Press). He lives down the street from me in Brooklyn and I often see him at the health food store with his daughter Maybelle, named for Ma Carter. I have not heard of "My Life" though I do know Lyn Hejinian as the editor of one of those Best American Poetrys. Also, do you know Ugly Duckling Press?

At 7:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i have not heard of "my life" but i don't know a lot about poetry. well why the heck are you reading this blog then, you ask? to learn more, and because pete is a friend of mine and he's the best poet ever. anyway i bought some ted kooser books because he's from nebraska and so am i. but i haven't read them yet.

At 8:43 AM, Anonymous Slick said...

Check Small Press Distribution:

I've never looked through the catalog, but they carry (as the name indicates) lots of small press books, including poetry.

At 6:14 PM, Blogger Ron Mohring said...

I bought Hejinian's book on the recommendation of a prof (David Wojahn); though I can't say I'm terribly into it, I haven't yet given it away to our local poetry library either. Glad to hear someone mention Denver Butson's gorgeous book _Triptych_- I bought a copy 2 summers ago in the Village when I was in NYC for the day. I buy LOTS of poetry books, less in the past couple of years because I'm not making much $$ as an adjunct, but at least 15-20 this year: Ben Lerner, Brian Teare, Patrick Phillips and about ten chapbooks too.

At 7:46 PM, Anonymous RK said...

before responding to the survey and post itself, I'd like to second the mention of ugly duckling presse. they've published a cool book by Tomaz Salamun, so they get a big thumbs up from me.

As far as "My Life" goes, I had a great poetry teacher in college who had us read it. At the time, it was not up my alley at all. However, out of a sense of sentimentality and respect for the teacher, I held onto it for years. Recently, I went back to it, and find it much more to my sensiblities nowadays, and I feel like I can appreciate what she does.

It's fun (nerdy fun, but still, fun) to think about the books I've bought this year--I'm sure there are more, but these are the ones that come to mind right now:

Bill Knott, Unsubscriber
Norman Dubie, Ordinary Mornings of a Coleseum
Jean Valentine, The Door in the Mountain
Jon Anderson, Day Moon
Bob Hicok, Insomnia Diary (and Animal Soul)
Barry Spacks, Spacks Street
Phillip Lamantia, Bed of Sphinxes

Generally, I hear about people through friends, leafing through bookstores (luckily, I live in a big city with good bookstores), or, occasionally, in journals. Or, in the case of that last one, it took the writer passing away (and Pete informing me of that fact) to turn me on to his work.

I feel like I could write a handful on each of those titles--I really liked all of them--but this comment is already way too long...

by the way, thanks for starting this blog...


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