Having dipped my toe in Poetry World UK again I starting to get my bearings.

Here a online statistics crib that may tell some of the story:

Poetry book sales in the UK

  • In the UK, poetry book sales generate over 12 million GBP in a year as of 2018.
  • During the same year, over 1.3 million poetry books were sold.
  • Poetry book revenue in the UK increased by 15% in 2018 over 2017, which was already 13% bigger compared to 2016.
  • The average poetry book in the UK costs around 9.46 GBP as of 2018.
  • 66.7% of poetry buyers are under the age of 34.
  • 41% of poetry readers in the UK are girls and women aged between 13 and 22.

Source: https://wordsrated.com/poetry-book-sales-statistics/

It not great. The biggest news to me as a 65 year old male is that the demographics of actual purchasing are heavily slanted at under 34 and female (I knew female make up 75% of all book sales as Neil Astley (Bloodaxe) kindly filled me in about that in 1993 at a Norwich book fair as he handed me back my poems and it fair to say that he has produced more books with female authors than just about anybody in the UK ( pays the mortgage I guess). To be fair he also used that income to generate a list with some decent poetry and especially translations. Ditto Carcanet which although terribly embedded in selling to academic library shelves and students ( count the number of mid range OK academic authors on its list and you pretty much in 80% territory). In fact you probably not get an academic job in poetry in UK these days without a Carcanet/ PNR seal of approval. Like a snake eating itself academic authors then ensure academic students on the PHD production line get published its a revolving door.

SO what world do you live in?

There are several overlapping poetry worlds to deal with which roughly speaking are:

  1. Traditional male-dominated publishers
    These have been around since the first time I wrote poetry in 1980s. Despite the advances in equality I am guessing they still fed and maintained by pretty much the same Oxbridge educated elite that runs everything else apart from a few shitty art centres. To pretend otherwise is absurd. The in brackets are who actually run them.
    Faber  Farrar, Straus and Giroux (FSG), Cape(Penguin), Carcanet (ACE) Bloodaxe(ACE)

    2. Performance/Slam/Therapy
    Heavily dependent on ACE funding and Academic support just about every niche genre catered for from Peformance to Black Lives Matter to Goth to Trans and anything betwixt and between. A very healthy scene at present fuelled by the democratisation of the internet and phones. Spawned some well-funded (for now) new kids on block like Bad Betty and Broken Sleep who have instigated some breaths of fresh air into the scene amid a lot of bullshit and posturing but have affected a genuine diversification of both reader and audience.
    Better that than the next bunch.

    3. White Middle Class Hobbyists
    This is a huge new area of what I can only describe as life-writing disguised as poetry. Heavily dependent on feelings and self analysis ( motherhood, death, mid-life crises,) basically all the First World trials of people who have very secure post employment or rich partner incomes. When I worked in academia I jokingly called the M.A. students Cash Cows as they provided a nice earner for the art college. That applies to anybody over 25 (under that they were grant funded now everybody no matter how rich can scoop a student grant). They are now flooding creative writing courses UK which advertise themselves as the moonshot to the stars as long as you pay their fees (which now around £12K a year as student loans siphoned off by the universities).

    That in itself not the problem life-long learning should always be supported BUT these usually articulate and narcissisitic well-heeled baby-boomers (lets be fair most poets are to some degree) are very good at creating ring-fenced cosy little worlds of poetic certitude where they publish each other create promo blurbs for each other and generally ignore most decent poetry and anything but themselves.
    In my research I found one hilarious bunch mutually publishing and boosting each other and sharing blurbs with each other all the way from the Creative Writing course on. Fabulous …poetic quality and depth forget it..

    There an app online called twitter circle just run some of these people through it you will se how nepotistic and chrony based their precious little scenes are..it is fabulous:-) X starts a review- reviews Y – Y starts a press publishes X then X and Y start a academic funded conference lets call it ‘Call of The Wild’ and then they meet other small circles of self-boosting people like them and hey presto an anthology published by Z (who actually was at college with X and Y) happens.

    It beautiful and it is utter crap…..mostly.

    Oh and the richer they are the whiter they become and the further right their views. Generally speaking they mix with Oxbridge circle people not your performance and slam riff raff.


    I would post mine but I so shit at networking it just sad…some poets I am surprised manage to write anything such is their dedication to posting their breakfast and any other trivia to raise an audience.

    Apart from being turned down smartly by one particular magazine I not really had time to investigate but the statistics above drawn from USA suggest hard times ahead as they generally ahead in their brand of poetic capitalism. Reading stats are down and the switch from paper to digital far advanced stateside probably because demographics increasingly younger and phone based.

So where do I pitch old-fashioned slightly adventurous but well-crafted white male verse at these days?

Well it not a total disaster as amidst the floods of drivel there are some solid slightly dull places for solid slightly dull poetry which may actually be about something other than feelings and or Dolphins. Larkin would approve types.

Also not all academics are CV boosting narcissists and a few can actually write and probably would rather not be checking their Google Scholar ratings every day.
Academia is a bit like an open prison plenty of trips out if a good academic but break the rules you in solitary or worse assigned to a failing course and made to promote it.

I not given up entirely but I do feel low when wading through the poetry worlds out there now.

To make things better I would suggest banning all people over 30 from creative writing courses that would help. By then they probably never get any better and they could do something else useful to society instead of sitting in coffee shops discovering Joyce and Wolf.