Monday, June 04, 2007

Too Much Wine & Too Little Money

Too Much Wine, M'Lud

I went to a London party thrown by a poet last night, something I don't think I've ever done before. I anticipated meeting other poets there, as well as 'normal folk' and I was not disappointed. We had the usual smoky delicious offerings from the barbecue, fabulous warm dry weather, and far too much wine - I think everyone who came brought a bottle, including myself, and we did not stint ourselves in the drinking of it. (At least, I certainly didn't, and my fragile head this morning is testimony to that sad lack of forebearance. But I almost never go to parties, so I guess I'm allowed.) And the bulk of the conversations that I rolled into and over were about poetry, poetry publishing and other poets. In reverse order.

It was great fun, though I said some things I shouldn't have said - nothing new there, then! - and ought to have been led gently away by my husband after the first bottle had been consumed. But alas, that didn't happen, and I was only lured away in the end by the promise of chocolate on the long drive home ...

Poetry Book Society & the Rising Cost of Poetry

In a rush of extravagance, I recently re-joined the Poetry Book Society after not having been a member for nearly ten years. Today I received my first posting from them: a Selected by Geoffrey Hill, absolutely free, which was the tempting offer that had encouraged me to re-join, a £10 book voucher to be used when buying more poetry from them in the future, and this quarter's Choice, which is Sarah Maguire's new collection The Pomegranates of Kandahar (Chatto, £9.00), officially published on Thursday June 7th.

The new Maguire book looks intriguing, so I shall be trawling through that later this week (along with a whole deskload of new poetry that I've been buying recently, most of it as cheaply as possible, as poetry is steadily becoming more expensive) and will report back at some point on that acquisition. I shall also enjoy sitting down to admire Hill's Mercian Hymns at leisure, which I've only read in passing before. His Selected is from Penguin and costs £8.99.

But talking of the cost of poetry, at nearly 300 pages, I have to question why Geoffrey Hill's hefty and rather beautifully designed Selected is a penny cheaper than Sarah Maguire's new collection from Chatto, which may also have a beautiful cover but only weighs in at 72 pages.

No doubt it's distasteful of me to question the rising cost of poetry, or to make these potentially odious comparisons between book prices, but as I said to someone at that party last night - on the topic of whether or not it's in bad taste to accept reviewing work if you aren't able to praise the book in question to the skies - I don't have the luxury of being able to ignore such delicate matters and just stump up for the poetry or turn down an offer of paid work, on principle.

I do worry though that poetry is beginning to be priced out of the range of the average reader's pocket (if there is such a thing as an average poetry reader). Popular novels can be found at knockdown prices in supermarkets everywhere, following the demise of the Net Book Agreement, and most new non-fiction can be found online at reasonable prices via Amazon et al. But supermarkets don't stock poetry and if you buy it online at a discount, it usually means either the publisher or the poet is going to suffer for your gain.

As an example of this, the Sarah Maguire 'Choice' from the Poetry Book Society is available currently on Amazon at only £7.20, a saving of 20% on the retail price. And the collection's not even officially out yet! That price will, I'm sure, drop even further once it's been released, and after a few years, like most collections of poetry that have been kicking around the scene for a while, it will be available for only a few pounds at the most. Some poetry collections from earlier than 2000 are now available online for as little as a few pence, plus p&p.

I want to 'do the right thing' in this context and make sure money gets circulated round the poetry scene, which basically means back to the people who wrote the damned stuff in the first place. But with recommended retail prices reaching up to and beyond the £10 mark for most new collections - and often a great deal more for the larger Selected and Collected editions - that desire to do the right thing by poets has to compete with the very real fear of not being able to pay my own household bills if I buy too much undiscounted poetry in any given month.

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