Poetry, writing

A Question of Our Time

I am (almost exactly) halfway through the process of going over the initial proofs of my new novel. If you haven’t done this before, it is a very tedious, time-consuming process. Therefore, this week’s post will be somewhat abbreviated.

Last Saturday, I was privileged to participate in the 9th Annual Port Orford Poet’s Roundup, a day-long series of readings by poets and writers from Oregon’s south coast. It was very good. Each author/poet was given about ten minutes to read and many were very good. I took the opportunity to read a passage from the forthcoming novel.

The day was fun and impressive and the event unofficially marks the beginning of my personal book promotion season. There is only one problem.

No one attended.

Well, not exactly no one, the poets and authors were there, of course. But almost no one who wasn’t scheduled to read from their work attended. As far as the general public was concerned, it never happened. There was zero interest.

I’ve seen this phenomenon before. As an organizer of the South Coast Writers Conference, we have had a great deal of trouble getting more than perfunctory support from the local community. And the local bookstore has given up hosting book signings because, despite numerous posters, notices, and advertising in the local paper, no one ever showed up for them. It wasn’t worth their time or expense.

There seems to be zero local interest in any literary event anyone wants to hold. What I don’t understand is why.

Granted, these days most people aren’t readers, especially of poetry. But some are. It’s a minority, but a sizable minority. Why aren’t they interested in coming to listen to the local authors? Aren’t they a little curious what the writers are working on? Don’t they want to show some support to all the poets’ hard work?

The apparent answer is no. I still haven’t figured out why.

Maybe it has to do with the area I inhabit. It is quite honestly, a scarcely populated rural area. There is an arts community, but the artists are vastly outnumbered by folks fascinated by monster trucks. However, that cannot be the entire explanation, because even the minority interested in the arts don’t come out to these events.

Another possible explanation is that people don’t consider the written word as appropriate performance art. This is possible, though that implies people are disregarding a long, rich history of poets and writers delivering their work verbally, in readings.

Maybe it is a symptom of our modern age and mentality, our need for action and immediate gratification. Maybe the modern person, even the modern reader, does not feel attracted to the thought of sitting for even ten minutes, just listening to someone.

My brother suggested pairing the readings with something more likely to draw the public, like wine tastings. It’s not a bad suggestion, but kind of avoids the underlying question.

Maybe it’s always been this way. I don’t know.

Again, I don’t know. What I do know is how nice it would be if people would celebrate someone publishing their poem like they do scoring a touchdown.


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