When I agreed to host a week on the theme of serial poetry, jjhunter
mentioned that she admires how I deliberately cultivate a dedicated audience for poetry, both mine and other people's, and how other poets may wonder about doing that themselves. So today I'm going to talk about promotion and audience interaction.
First, understand that we're in a lousy environment for poetry. It goes in and out of fashion over the centuries, and right now, the mainstream has a very low opinion of poetry. A large part of this problem is because academics have painted themselves into a corner of the ivory tower by writing poetry that isn't very good on technical grounds and doesn't appeal to many people on aesthetic grounds. Teachers will point to bad poetry and claim that it's good, but the students often decide that either 1) their tastes are somehow wrong because they don't like the canonical poetry, or 2) the teacher and the poetry are stupid. Neither of these gets people excited about the great poetry that really does exist. ( Read more... )
So that's what we're doing here, when we teach people to read and write poetry, to love it and celebrate it. We're changing the world, because "poetry sucks" is stupid.
So now let's apply this to serial poetry. A series extends over time, so it provides more opportunity for interaction and development than a stand-alone work does. While it's possible to write a whole series and then publish it, many serial writers prefer to publish a piece at a time so they can incorporate audience feedback. The poet starts the ball rolling with some interesting characters, a promising location, and a challenge that is not completely resolved at the end of the first installment. Then the audience gets a turn. They may say, "I want to see more of this person," or "I'd like to see the tone go darker." They may ask questions based on details and hints in the poem. They may request a favorite poetic form. This is a key difference between fiction and poetry in series, because form has a huge influence on poetry but very little on fiction. Thus if you look on my Serial Poetry
page, you can see that my Asian-inspired series tend to use forms such as haiku verses, while Fiorenza the Wisewoman uses some Italian forms. The poet takes some of these ideas from the audience and weaves them into the series as it goes along, and the process continues. What poets can do to make this happen:
Write the kind of poetry that you think should exist. It doesn't have to follow anyone else's rules; it just has to express your ideas and intrigue your audience. Experiment with new ideas. Share your poetry in public venues. Encourage people to talk about it and make requests. What readers can do to make this happen:
Search for contemporary poetry. Talk with the poets. Tell them what you like and dislike, and why. Ask for things you aren't seeing that you want to see. Point out problematic elements and explain why they should be avoided. Follow your favorite poets or poetic series. Recommend those to your friends, link to them, and help promote them. If you have spending money, use your folding vote to support the kind of entertainment you like and the people you value, not some faceless megacorporation that keeps jerking with your rights. When you sponsor poems, choose thoughtfully the ones you think most deserve to be put before the public eye.
Now think about our previous discussions of structure in serial poetry. A writer can choose to make all those decisions personally. However, the serial format invites collaboration. The author and audience can share
those decisions. This tends to produce less technical, more organic material. It may not be as smooth as something completely planned from the beginning, but is likely to be a closer match for the tastes of the people involved and it can take advantage of unexpected discoveries along the way. If you don't like the way that series usually go, you can go somewhere else. It's kind of like the difference between painting with oil and painting with watercolor. By giving up some control, serendipity comes in to take the series places that nobody could have imagined before starting. Of course, this works best when both the author and the audience understand
the nature of poetry, the structure of serial entertainment, and the process of collaboration. Then they can work together effectively.
As in all things, there are advantages and disadvantages to writing poetic series rather than individual poems. When I first started the Poetry Fishbowl
project, I wrote stand-alone poetry. I did have some prior experience writing related poems -- check out Queen Choufa and the Rebel Drones on the Serial Poetry
page -- but it didn't immediately occur to me to try that. It was my audience who launched the serial work, when people started requesting the return of favorite characters or asking what would happen next after the events in a given poem. This highlights some of the main advantages: a series has more room to explore ideas than a single poem does, and can readily incorporate input from more people, so that fresh things happen. A series can respond to follow people's current needs, without abandoning what has gone before. It can even factor in contemporary events. Monster House has repeatedly drawn on American economic upheavals, starting with "Eviction, Noticed
" which dates from the housing collapse of 2008 and continuing through "Dissonance and Consonance
" which highlights teacher layoffs. A series fixes one of the main problems in poetry vs. fiction: how to capitalize on an established audience. I had been envying some of the other crowdfunded projects for their continuing support from fans. But the serial poetry made it possible to achieve similar effects. The disadvantages mainly concern organization and coherence. Series stretch over time, so people can forget what's already been established; it's easy to make continuity mistakes, and not all of those can be fixed. A series can also flounder if the primary person(s) motivating it should happen to disappear. With poetry particularly, some people just don't want to read large amounts of it, and will avoid a series for that reason.
Something else I've discovered is the development of series-specific rules. This can happen with fiction too, but I've noticed it most clearly in my serial poetry. Anything is possible -- but individual series make different decisions based on their characters, settings, and themes. For example, most of my series can move around in time; Fiorenza the Wisewoman and The Origami Mage both added prequels earlier than the first written poem. But Path of the Paladins has a very firm rule about not doing that, as expressed in "Stained
" -- "We can only look back; we can never go back. We can go only onward." I found that one by running into it when someone prompted for an earlier event; it turns out this series will only allow those as flashbacks. Monster House doesn't name the main characters in the household, and consequently, that places some limits on who can be a viewpoint character. Trying to write from the perspective of the children's mother doesn't work because it's too confusing; the only exception has been the inscription in a Mother's Day card in "Mending Fence
." The Adventures of Aldornia and Zenobia has the kind of rule I almost never set, because that just invites trouble; but these are my live, sane lesbians and they are going to stay that way. So if you're writing or reading a series, especially several of them together, watch for the rules to evolve. Those help distinguish each series from others.
Finally, please check out the crowdfunding
business model if you're not already familiar with it. Crowdfunding connects creators and audiences directly online. This is an effective way to break the bottleneck in publishing that lets people get away with nonsense like "There is no money in poetry." Sure there is: in the hands of people who are dissatisfied with mainstream material. Offer them something different, better, and more suited to their needs and you will get their money. Repeatedly, if your series themes match their perennial interests. For fans, conversely, this means you get to read and buy whatever you want, not what somebody else thinks you should get to see. If you're interested in something that is rarely portrayed positively, or at all, then writing about it or sponsoring it can make a notable impact in that small field. This applies to all
series poetry, because there isn't a whole lot of it yet. Everything in this field that you make, buy, read, comment on -- it all has influence and minimal competition. So make it count.
Are you a poet, a fan, and/or a patron of serial poetry? How do you get involved? What do you think about audience/author interaction in this field? Further Reading Communicating with Peers: ArtistDickens and His ReadersHow to Boost Your AudienceHow to Make Constructive CommentsHow to Recognize BAD PoetryHow to Review a Crowdfunded ProjectHow to Support Your Favorite AuthorThe New Slush Pile: How Readers Are Choosing The Next BestsellersNon-Cash Support Methods for CrowdfundingThe Power of PatronageResources for Editing PoetrySo You Want to Be a Poetry EditorTelling a Good Poem from a Bad OneThoughts on Rhyming PoetryWhat is contemporary poetry?