Poetry Reviews

Poetry Reviews. What’re they good for? Absolutely… well, what? There have been some cracking reviews for Calder Wood Press titles, Gromit, but do they translate into sales? Sadly they don’t, or not all that often. And yet I keep sending copies out, as do most other publishers.  It’s what we do. I read reviews regularly, and I know the friends I publish value reviews as peer recognition, but do they sell books? I’d be interested to know, Gentle Reader, if you’ve ever been influenced to buy a collection by a review in a literary magazine.

Of course, reviews in broadsheet newspapers sell books, but it’s very hard to get a mention of a new collection in them, with the honourable exception of Lesley Duncan’s poetry blog in The Herald.

And what kind of reviews work best, for author and publisher? Speaking personally, I’m bored by highly analytical academic reviews; I prefer the ones where the reviewer’s enthusiasm (or dislike) is expressed directly, with concise and intelligible justification, plus examples. I suppose I’m saying that I like reviewers whose response to poetry is similar to my own – emotional recognition, delight in novelty of expression, unexpected glimpses into places and human experiences different from my own, the ways contemplation and action are both needed in life, the sound and musicality of the language.

My instincts are pulling me towards the digital world, where blogs, Facebook and Twitter are extremely useful (and freely available), but even here I believe I’m communicating within a like-minded community. What are the channels I can use to reach the occasional poetry buyer, or the non-buyer?


About sunnydunny

Poet, publisher, gardener
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9 Responses to Poetry Reviews

  1. Claire A says:

    I totally agree with you Colin — overly analytical/academic reviews in which every comma and allusion is picked over are rather tedious, and don’t tend to sell books to me. I do buy books after seeing them reviewed though, but mostly I find these reviews on blogs rather than in the newspaper/other print media. But I’m a book-buying obsessive, and if someone raves about a book to me, chances are I’ll go out and buy it. Casual-, occasional- and non-buyers are far more tricky, though. If someone’s not into poetry, it doesn’t matter how you say “you should read this poetry book” — whether it’s on Facebook or in the Guardian — they still won’t do it! It’s very frustrating.

    One thing I have seen publishers (and poets) doing recently though is “hiding” the book review in a video and posting it to YouTube. Salt seem very up on the video-posting side of things — I particularly like Tony Williams’ ‘Homage to Julian Metcalf,’ which could appeal to non-poetry-buyers, I reckon: http://blog.saltpublishing.com/2010/03/02/homage-to-julian-metcalf/

    There’s a huge audience on Youtube watching spoken word and poetry videos — the entire Def Poetry Jam series seems to be on there, for example, and they get a lot of views and good comments. Obviously, making videos takes a lot of time and effort… but maybe something to consider? Here are a few nice (and popular!) examples for you to peruse if you have time!

  2. sunnydunny says:

    Thanks Claire. That’s very helpful, and I think we’re on the same wavelength here. I’m not good on videos, but I know a couple of friends who are, so I’ll explore that one.

    I’ve spent the afternoon writing letters to editors and stuffing envelopes with review copies, so that’s what prompted the posting.

  3. My experience always was that reviews, good or bad, didnt sell books.

  4. Rachel Fox says:

    It’s hard because, as has been written elsewhere, there are a lot of poetry books (big and small) being published just now. Is the audience for poetry growing? Quite possibly…but then so is the range of books on offer too. I am quite gobsmacked by how many books some publishers put out – how can they possibly spend any time marketing so many (and selling involves at least some marketing…almost always…no matter how unconventional or imaginative that marketing is).

    I agree with a lot of what you say about reviews. I will often buy something if a blogger, for example, writes excitedly about a book and mentions one of my weak spot subjects (neglected writers, music, trash culture, mental illness, breaking down literary barriers…heaps of other topics). And I will often buy a book at a reading – you just do, don’t you? Same at a music event – you have a good evening, you want to give something back and a tenner is something you can give without upsetting anybody.

    I think poetry reviews in newspapers etc. are very often dull and printing a poem from the book is far more likely to (a) be read and (b) possibly get enough interest for a sale (a good interview is even more effective…but harder still to achieve unless you’re already A list). It’s a shame more papers and magazines of all kinds don’t print individual poems regularly…and I’m surprised they don’t really (it’s an easy way to fill up space as much as anything…it breaks up the page…lots of other boring journo reasons). Perhaps we should campaign for a new law to make every publication in the world carry at least one poem in every edition…

  5. I found two of my favourite poets through reviews – Eavan Boland and Gillian Clarke. It’s fair to say that I was mostly attracted by the subjects the reviewer said they cover, though.

  6. I am most likely to buy a poetry book at a reading or because I know the poet in real life or through a blog or Facebook, Myspace or Twitter. I do find that though book reviews on my blogs get the fewest comments, they very often include at least one comment from someone who is going to buy the book because of my review. Not that you can call them reviews really, they’re very short appreciations of books mostly.

    I know that after a workshop I facilitated that someone later bought a copy of a poetry collection that I had recommended.

  7. Jim Murdoch says:

    I suppose we need to take the question away from poetry and ask it in a different way. When are you ever going to hear about the joys of potholing? And if something did cross your line of vision, how long would it have to pique your interest before you got distracted? It’s hard enough to sell to people who are not only interested in but actively engaged in something to do to poetry without fretting about those who might be interested. Let them find you. The first time I sat down at a search engine I typed in the word ‘poetry’ and that was me. I followed my nose and no doubt I missed a lot but I found enough.

    I am interested in poetry but I rarely read reviews of poetry books. Is it because I’m self-centred? A bit. I think we all are. The main reason is time. I don’t have the time to do all the things I want to do right now and so something really has to grab my attention to get me to add another thing to that list. And yet I do and please don’t ask me to try and break down what attracts me and what doesn’t because I’m as contrary as they come. The real issue is what distracts me. And the simple answer there is: a lack of poetry. I don’t want to read screeds and screeds about what something thinks without being able to read what the poet says. I’ll be able to tell in half a dozen lines if the poet is one I might relate to. It’s like books on art with no pictures. What’s the point? Let me handle the product and then I’ll decide.

    I have to go with Claire though. The world is becoming increasingly visual. You need to stand where people are looking to be seen. People are interested in poetry. When I check my stats the highest reader figures always but always are for posts about poetry. So there is a potential market. And some of the YouTube videos are very basic, slideshows basically and they’re easy enough to do.

  8. Dominic says:

    “…even here I believe I’m communicating within a like-minded community. What are the channels I can use to reach the occasional poetry buyer, or the non-buyer?”

    I think communicating as extensively as possible with the “like-minded community” itself is a challenge. I imagine it sometimes feels like a collection of niches.

    As for the occasional buyers and non-buyers, it’s probably not just about channels but about what activities will attract their interest -i.e., it’s not just about the channel you create from what you’re doing to them, but what you do to create an interest in and appreciation of good, innovative poetry. They then become part of the “like-minded community”.

    In other words (and at the risk of sounding obvious), one answer is that rather than reach beyond the “like-minded community” one could seek to expand it.

  9. sunnydunny says:

    Thanks for all these extremely interesting comments. I’ve been thinking about sound for a while – putting sound clips of poets reading on the website, and I’ll investigate videos.

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