When my fifth poetry collection, Time Slip, was launched at the end of May 2010, I had a good time at the launch and sold a few books. Afterwards felt like an extended morning-after, during which I was reminded of the words of Archy and Mehitabel's creator Don Marquis: "Writing a book of poetry is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo." Poetry is so far from the center of what's currently considered "hot" in cultural commodity trading -- say, Justin Bieber's movies, or the lastest albums by Lady Gaga and Eminem -- that Marquis's words are as true as ever. My book got one laudatory review several months later.
Part of the reason for this lull was the books' publishing date, which had twice been bumped later. I'm not blaming the publisher, as issuing poetry titles is a money-losing business heavily dependent on cultural subsidies and publishers' and editors' volunteering their time. However, my initial plans for organizing a moderate "tour" of readings had to be canceled when it was evident that the book would not be ready.
But now, an appropriate nine months of gestation later, my various attempts at landing readings have paid off -- in spades (although I am still unclear how I can spend "spades"). In late February I was a featured reader in the Plasticine Poetry Series in Toronto, along with Priscilla Uppal, poet-in-residence at the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games and Paralympics. Over the next few months, I also have Toronto readings booked at:
* The Art Bar (Canada's longest-running poetry-only reading series) on Tuesday March 30
* Poetry NOW, a unique event at which 20 randomly-drawn poets with books issued over the last few years read for five minutes each at Harbourfront, the winner getting a reading slot at this fall's International Festival of Authors
* two National Poetry Month events with my writing group The Long Dash: at the Parkdale Library on April 21, and another poetry-meets-visual-art collaboration at the Women's Art Association of Canada Sunday April 17
* a celebration of writers from my current publisher, Guernica Editions, Thursday, May 5 at the Black Swan Tavern
and, 200 km to the east, a reading at the Prince Edward Authors Festival on Thursday, May 12, where I'm on the same bill as Dennis Lee, first Poet Laureate of Toronto, and beloved writer of poetry both for adults (Civil Elegies) and kids (Alligator Pie).
Plus, slightly off topic, my first solo photo exhibition opens March 18 at the Paper Images Gallery, also in Picton, Ontario.
That's a lot! It feels like my various efforts are culminating in a good year of readings and (I hope) selling a few more copies. Just like jobs when I free-lance, poetry events seem to arrive in feast or famine as far as my own work goes.
If there's a moral here for other poets, it's: don't give up. Keep plugging. As they say in the photofinishing business, some day your prints will come.
Causes John Oughton Supports
PEN International, Amnesty International, League of Canadian Poets, POR AMOR, Greenpeace