Too long a sacrifice
Makes a stone of the heart.
A light rain is blowing past the window, and I can hear the Grateful Dead, playing in Doubleday Field. I'm thinking about a friend of mine, far away, who is a poet. He has had a long journey, holding fast to the arranging of words, but now he has changed.
He has fallen into silence.
Why? He feels the lack of the strong support that readers give to the poet, the sense that there is someone out there and that the poem is not a tree falling in a dead forest. He feels an ebbing of the support that bookstores give--the knowledge that the poet is welcome to read in his home region. Even with all the wonders of the internet, he feels too solitary. (I should add that poets can use another kind of support; that is, their publishers need the encouragement of book purchases saying that others find the poet worthwhile. Without that encouragement, a poet may soon go unpublished no matter how much the publisher loves the work.)
Here's a piece of a letter from my friend. He has published many, many books and chapbooks of poems, but here is what he says:
If I were really rich I’d just buy thousands and give’m away [. . . .] I know it’s a rough business now, but I remember those glory early days of the independent bookstore and their championing of local authors, poetry, and the small press. Not any more.
It really is one reason I haven’t been able to write since retirement. It seems so fruitless. Hardly any way to reach an audience – and though one would like to think the glory is in the doing (I can remember my youth when I wrote endlessly and didn’t care) but you do want to feel like someone is listening, can listen, has access to listen and ultimately after 50 years it has deadened me.This poet has been published in book and CD and on the internet, and his words have been lauded and set to music; he has had the affection of many publishers. He is at an age when he ought to be honored and welcome in his home region, often invited to read. Yet he is discouraged, "deadened."
Surely there is still a place for face-to-face encounters with a mature poet who has achieved and published widely, particularly in his home region. Surely there is still a place on our shelves for the book. Part of making the world we want to see and cherishing the best of what already exists is supporting the work.
I'm going to order some books of poems. In the words of another poet, "I shan't be gone long.--You come too."