The first time I saw her after she'd read the fever almanac, my aunt, who is a reader mostly of John Grisham and Nora Roberts, good naturedly asked me, pointing to the enjambment in some of the poems and stanzas, how I could "get away with that." Apparently most of the poetry she’d read (I didn't ask her what this was) was always end-stopped, metered, rhyming. Anyways, my response was a brief mention of the last 150 years of innovation starting with Emily Dickinson and that it was important to think about why I might have done that and what effect it had on the poem as a whole. But by then, I think I’d lost her.
I've been thinking a lot about audience lately. I'd like to think that the fever almanac is pretty general in its appeal—traditionally lyric with a slightly innovative edge, not difficult at all or opaque, but I've heard various family members comment on how hard the book, and poetry in general, is for them to understand. They're supportive, but most of them have thrown up their hands and given up a few poems in. (The exception being by Uncle Ron, my dad's oldest brother , who said that he’d read it swiftly cover to cover, and owed it all to a really great high school teacher who had run them through the rigors of poetry interpretation. I'm not sure how much of that was medication and the cancer creeping into his brain (we lost him just this Monday), but it was probably the best response I've gotten.
Who am I writing for, I wonder, as my work becomes less and less accessible to the people I know (not counting other poets..)? Granted, with the family, at least the ones older than me, we're talking about a non-college educated bunch (most of my younger cousins have at least BA's in things like business and education). Most of them are pretty voracious readers of various things--romances, crime novels, history, mysteries, memoirs, news, so they're not exactly illiterate. I have friends who are sci-fi geeks, film geeks, theater geeks, all very smart, intellectual, creative, and yet, the subject of poetry comes up and I lose them.
I'm beginning to wonder how true that statement is about only poets reading and buying poetry. (which goes with my whole golfing vs. team sports theory). I can maybe think of one person I know who likes and reads poetry that doesn't write it. Maybe a couple of others who have dabbled in poetry but write mostly in other genres. Other-wise, its all fellow poets reading and buying poetry books, going to readings, etc....Yesterday, someone asked me, "But how does anyone make any money?" And the truth is probably no one is. I know that with dgp, what isn't eaten up in production costs, I typically wind up using buying stuff from other presses, supporting other poets, and I imagine that's true in alot of cases. Maybe we're passing around the same $20...Maybe that's not necessarily a bad thing..