I've got a little change in my pocket going jingle, ingle, ingle...

Wendy Cope's article: You like my poems? Pay for them.

A.E. Stallings' response on the Wendy Copy article

* * *

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.

Cope writes:

"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.


  1. Somebody ought to tell her that the PoBiz isn't the music biz. Hell, she should be happy that anybody's reading her work. Ahhh...nevermind!

  2. Kelli:

    While I totally understand the rare exceptions to the economic fact of poetic life, I really see a lot differently.

    Evidently Wendy Cope has managed to eek some financial gain from her work. To quote a Wikipedia source, "Despite her slight output, her books have sold well and she has attracted a popular following..." Still, this is beside the point. My point is poetry, music or any other artistic endeavor that is a product of our own creativity is intellectual property which we have a right to control the extent to which the content is used.

    If someone wants to use something I've written, and asks, I’m with you, and chances are good I'm going to say yes. But it is my right to withhold such permission and for someone to not ask first is just plain rude and disrespectful. The money aspect as nothing to do with it. I find it hard to understand when others, especially other artists, do not recognize this as a very simple moral conduct issue.

  3. I love the Jasper Johns quote, which I hadn't seen before. I do think that if someone is going to be a poet -- if they're going to make that the most important thing (or one of the most important) in their life -- they need to come to terms with the possibility of failure, whatever that means to them -- to accept it, as Johns did, or to remain defiant of it, or to decide failure is irrelevant or beside the point, or whatever else.

    Really remarkable creative work can be possible if one can get past the fear of not being able to do it.

    I haven't read Wendy Cope's poetry at all, really, and don't really have a take on what she's saying about poems and money. I got curious and googled her, and a couple of short bio blurbs I found mention that she taught for a living for a while, then in 1986 started doing freelance writing while continuing to teach part-time. It looks like she's had a couple of editor jobs over the years too.

    In one of the bios it said that her first book of poems had sold, so far, 180,000 copies. Not on the scale of Tom Clancy, obviously, but most of the poets I know would be giddy at selling a tenth of that number of copies of a book.

    I think it would affect one's ideas about getting money for writing (poetry or otherwise) if one were in fact making -- and depending on -- income from writing. Most of the writers I know who do make some of their income from freelance writing tend to take a pretty businesslike attitude about the money part of it.

    I agree that making real incoming from poetry might start affecting the kind of poems one writes. It's easy enough to see this in the academic world, with people churning out vast quantities of poems cut to fit the tastes of university literary magazines, in order to build up a publication record with the hope of getting tenure, a better-paying teaching job, etc.

    Thanks for posting this.

    (Word verification is "iolycuhw," which for some reason strikes me as just a wonderful word at the moment.)

  4. um, to prove a point, who the heck is Wendy Cope? :)

  5. I would love nothing more than for one of my poems to gain a life of its own without my permission.

    If it's money your after, don't be a poet. The two don't mix.


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