Dealing with Indifference
“Poetry? I don’t know anything about poetry.”
“He wants to be a poet? Why doesn’t he do something useful?”
“We regret to inform you that your submission is not a good fit for our magazine. We do not publish poetry.”
“I hardly ever read books. Sometimes I read murder mysteries, but usually I just watch DVDs. . . . Poetry? Forget it.”
“Regrettably, there is no market today for books of poetry. Therefore, we are returning your manuscript . . .”
Does any of this sound familiar? The poet, like any artist, often experiences indifference to his work — not only from publishers or the general public, but also from friends and family members. Few poets are able to publish their work except through self-publishing, in the form of chapbooks, or through limited-circulation magazines like WestWard Quarterly. The principal audience for the work of a poet today seems to be other poets — those few people in our culture who are not indifferent to poetry.
We could list several reasons for this situation. One might be the “dumbing down” of our North American culture, in which literature in general receives less attention. Electronic or film media seem more accessible and interesting to most people. Another reason could be that poets, themselves, have made their work less accessible or attractive by abandoning traditional forms or writing in a depressing, obscure, or crude vein. At the other extreme, writers have put out trite and repetitive doggerel in the guise of poetry — though this is probably less of a factor in its neglect, since, as P. T. Barnum famously said, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.”
What is the aspiring poet to do in the face of this indifference? For one thing, recognize that such indifference has often plagued the creative artist. For instance, certain symphonies of Franz Schubert, Anton Bruckner, and other composers that are now part of the standard concert repertoire did not receive their first performances until some time after their composers’ deaths. As to poetry, Emily Dickinson’s work was rarely published during her lifetime. Today’s frustrated poet is in good company.
Second, develop a personal backbone about the matter. If people are indifferent to your work, acquire an indifference to their indifference! We write poetry because that’s what we do — not because somebody else appreciates us. As our pastor said recently in a sermon, “Faith is doing what God has called you to do.” Your calling to create poetry is a reflection of your trust in your Creator, in whose image you were made. Keep on keeping on!
If you have your own way of dealing with indifference to your poetic work, send us your suggestions. We may incorporate them into a future Workbench article.
©2011 Laudemont Press