Wendy Cope's article: You like my poems? Pay for them.
A.E. Stallings' response on the Wendy Copy article
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Okay, I've been meaning to comment on this. First, when I read Wendy's article my first thought was I completely understand how she feels and wow, I feel completely feel the opposite.
First if you've come to poetry because you think it's the moneytrain pulling into the station, a long time ago, someone mislead you in a very fantastic way. Sure, it would be great if some wonderful arts donor sent us a check every year to live on or gave us a fabulous ridiculous amount of money for the work on my poems, but in most of our lives as writers, it doesn't work that way. We hope for a genius grant, an NEA, but we continue writing whether we get one or not. We hope our books sell well, but we continue writing if they do not. We hope for a book, and sometimes we get one, sometimes not.
I may be in the minority on my feelings here, but if you find a poem of mine on the internet and want to forward it to your friends, feel free. If you like a poem of mine and can't find it on the internet and want a copy of it, drop me an email and I'll mail it to you so you don't have to buy my book. It's all good.
Then again, I'd be one of those bands allowing others to bootleg my music at concerts. I'd encourage sharing, just like I do with poems.
"Often the offending websites are the responsibility of well-meaning enthusiasts, who have no idea that they are breaking the law. Neither do the people I meet every now and then who say: "I liked your poem so much that I sent copies of it to all my friends." I'm supposed to be pleased. I've learned to smile and say thank you and point out very politely that, strictly speaking, they shouldn't have done that. They should have told their friends to buy the book. Or bought it for them."
If for some reason someone found my writing compelling enough to share it with another, feel free to be one of those wild law-breaking citizens who puts my poem on the Plagiarist. Feel free to cut and paste my poem off the internet and include it with your Christmas cards.
Cope also writes:
One argument that often comes up in relation to all this is "But it's free publicity". Well, it's true that there are poets who are happy to see their work anywhere and everywhere, just for the sake of the attention. But for those of us who make a little bit of money from royalties and permission fees, and depend on that income, it's different. Free publicity has no value if all that happens is that even more people download your poems from the internet without paying for them.
****This is where I feel for Wendy because unlike me (who will sell her stuff on eBay for extra cash); it sounds as if she's truly trying to make her living from her art. For me, I sort of separate the two. While I'd love to be paid big bucks for my poetry, I don't write with the idea that I need to make X amount of dollars this year. It’s not my source of income, if it was, I’d probably be very resentful of poetry. Poetry would be causing me to write things I didn’t want to write to get paid. I’d be the commercial poet writing what sells instead of what I want to write about.
I disagree on her feelings about free publicity. Because there is really is no such thing as a “famous poet” (truly, it’s an oxymoron), for a poet to have their name out in the world, I believe will only help in the long run. And I think free publicity only helps sell more books. Even her article will sell more books for her because people will want to see what she's writing that's so important that it needs to be kept in a vault with a $14.95 combination lock. (Of course, I'm sure more people will google her poems first.)
I think it's less about attention, but for me, it's a feeling of for some reason I have always felt the need to write, this weird inner desire that it's what I'm supposed to be doing. I have a Charlie Brown/Jasper Johns attitude about it too. Johns was quoted saying, "I assumed that everything would lead to complete failure, but I decided that didn't matter - that would be my life."
And I feel the same way, but my writing time never feels wasted because even if it the poem doesn't work out or ever get published or no one sees it, the satisfaction came out of creating, of putting something in the world where there was nothing.
But I do understand her perspective and it’s refreshing to see someone who values her poems like that who will say, “these poems are worth $X to me.” And I’m more appreciative that it’s a woman with this attitude given that so many women do not value their time or art. So I can definitely see both sides here. But I never went into to poetry to "get rich." I put that in parenthesis because "get rich" could mean so many things to others, but I didn't start writing poetry because I believed that at the end of the rainbow there was a big pot of gold with my name on it.
If one day, I could live comfortably on royalty checks and money from poetry then that would be ideal. But I'm not going withhold my poems from anyone who wants to read them to make that happen. I am truly thankful for the people who buy my books and I am thankful for the people who read my poems on the internet or in a literary journal. I’m thankful to the people who share my poems with others, especially thankful to them. I feel “paid” if I receive an email from someone saying “I loved your poem.” No, it won’t pay my mortgage, but it will make this house a little warmer and a little more livable for the time being.