The Space for Poetry

Lately, I’ve been re-reading a lot of Adrienne Rich’s poetry and essays, in part because I’m working on a field exam about the intersection between personal narrative poetry and social and political issues. Beyond my research, I’ve always enjoyed Rich’s theories and poetry and teach her work when I can. There are two essays/notebook entries of Rich’s I’ve been thinking about lately, “The Space for Poetry” and “What Could We Create?,” both available in What Is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics.

In both pieces, Rich addresses poetry’s dilemma in the U.S., namely that is not leashed to profit and consumerism, so it is pushed to the margins, given little space in public discourse. In “What Would We Create?” she states that poetry has been placed under house arrest and is irrelevant to mass entertainment culture and wealth, thus out of sight and out of mind in a hyper-capitalistic society.

In another essay/journal entry from the same collection, “Those Two Shelves, Down There,” Rich explores this idea a bit more while addressing chain bookstores and the fact poetry occupies very little space in such stores. She concludes the essay with the statement, “I’m on a search for poetry at the mall. This is not sociology, but the pursuit of an intuition about mass marketing, the so-called free market, and how suppression can take many forms-from outright banning and burning of books, to questions of who owns the presses, to patterns of distribution and availability.”

I keep thinking about Rich’s essays and journals on poetry and politics and this idea of accessibility and poetry under house arrest. I keep thinking of these essays as yet another report has surfaced that Barnes & Noble plans even more stores closures by year’s end. With the loss of the indie bookstores, thanks to Borders and Barnes & Noble, and now the loss of the chain stores, thanks to Amazon, what does that mean for the state of poetry and its accessibility? Sure, Amazon and other online stores offer countless poetry books, but don’t most people visit those sites with specific purchases already in mind? I find it quite unlikely a consumer is going to discover a poet by browsing Amazon.

There are certainly numerous poetry events happening in communities and countless reading series, but young poets only get better from reading, reading, and re-reading different poets and different traditions. As much as I’ve griped about Barnes & Nobles’ poetry selection, the closure of more stores means greater inaccessibility to poetry. What does that mean for the future of poetry? Will we continue to see the journals and magazines filled with names of recent M.F.A. and Ph.D. grads because they’re the ones most reading poetry? I don’t know, but I’m optimistic that maybe, just maybe, the loss of the chain stores will lead to the rise of more indie bookstores in communities again, run by people that stock not only the heavyweights, but also indie authors and small presses. We’ll have to wait and see how this all shakes out, and meanwhile, I’ll continue to ponder Adrienne Rich’s warnings.


Barnes and Noble Moving Forward with Closings

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about the trouble facing Barnes and Noble. Not long after that post, the company’s executive, Mitchell Klipper, told the Wall Street Journal that 20 stores will close every year over the next decade. The article points out that since 2003 15 stores per year has closed; however, the company opened more than 30 per year. During the last fiscal year, the company closed 14 stores and didn’t open any.

Without any new openings, the closures would reduce the number of stores by a third. As I’ve said in the previous blog post, all of these closings make it unclear how long Barnes  & Noble will be able to stick around, especially since the sale of print books is rapidly dropping (22 percent over the last five years, according to Nielsen Bookscan).

The irony of all this is that Borders and Barnes & Noble led to the closure of countless community indie bookstores, and now if Barnes & Noble ultimately meets the fate of Borders, then no bookstores will be left.



Some Positive News for Bookstores

The New York Times published an article today with some surprising news regarding bookstores. Their holiday sales have been far better than expected, which could be a sign that bookstores will somehow find a way to survive in the age of the e-reader. According to the article,”Barnes & Noble, the nation’s largest bookstore chain, said that comparable store sales this Thanksgiving weekend increased 10.9 percent from that period last year. The American Booksellers Association, a trade group for independents, said last week that members saw a sales jump of 16 percent in the week including Thanksgiving, compared with the same period a year ago.”

The article also points out that books still make appealing presents, despite the growth of the e-reader, though it does state Barnes & Noble and Amazon are expected to have enormous sales for new e-readers and tablets.

For me, this article was unexpected good news. I’ve always been a fan of going to a bookstore and browsing for new purchases. I like plucking a book of poetry off the shelf and being able to turn the pages to get a sense of the writer’s style and form. Furthermore, I enjoy the community aspect bookstores hold, how familiar customers often stop at the cafes to chat with each other or read. A lot of my writing in the past has been done at bookstore cafes, and I’d like to see them stick around for the long haul.