Guest Column: The Promise of Poetry in a Digital Age
The problems of poetry are many. It can be difficult to discover. It can be difficult to read and interpret. Are you reading it right? Are you interpreting it right? Are you sure? And for the poet and the publisher, it can be difficult to market and sell.
More than a decade ago, I was working on what would become The New York Times’ best-selling history book, “We Interrupt This Broadcast,” and realized that the mixed-media packaging that we’d created for that title (book plus audio CDs) might be part of the solution to one of the problems of poetry. And so, a few years later, when Sourcebooks published what would be the first of our poetry series, “Poetry Speaks,” it came with three audio CDs, where you could hear great poets (for example, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Sylvia Plath) read their own works. And it was remarkably successful.
Fast-forward to today, and there’s a family of “Poetry Speaks” titles, all of which come with audio CDs.
The surprise of these books has been their success. Poetry is not a best-selling category. It often is one of the weaker categories in a bookstore. And the question we had to ask ourselves was, “Why were these books so much more successful than other poetry books?” Was there a way to replicate that experience more broadly and actually grow the business of poets and poetry publishers?
The success of these titles certainly suggested that there were more would-be poetry readers than one might believe based strictly on the numbers of poetry books sold. Certainly part of the success was due to the care taken by incredibly active and thoughtful editors and advisory editors, but it also suggested that would-be poetry readers might respond to something a little different than what they’re usually offered.