The Economy of Poetics: Creating Art out of Language

Joshua Hewitt

Judith Beveridge

Judith Beveridge

The hand of technology is constantly transforming our lives. We are interconnected unlike ever before and move at an almost unrelenting pace. We consume everything; almost nothing appears able to repel the consumerist pull of the 21st century; poetry may just be one medium able to buck this trend.

Publisher of the award-winning Giramondo book imprintProfessor Ivor Indyk, of the Writing and Society Research Centre at the University of Western Sydney, says, “Poetry readers aren’t consumers. You can’t consume poetry. You’ve got to read it a number of times. You’ve got to get into it. You’ve got to savour it.”

The idea of spending time with poetry doesn’t appeal to everyone, but reader numbers are of little concern to Professor Indyk. He says the number of readers of poetry in Australia has never been large and that it’s even smaller today than anytime in the past. A typical print run for book of poetry in Australia is 700 copies.

“Poetry is literary and really requires a different kind of reading. The numbers of people who can perform that kind of reading is very small,” he says.

Roma Dinah

Filipino poet and academic Dinah Roma agrees that poetry reader numbers aren’t large. She says initial print runs in the Philippines are as little as 500 copies, an amount unlikely to turn into viable sales, even for a well-established poet.

It is undeniable that poetry, like other art forms, has been transformed by the advent of technology. The Internet is littered with poetry, poetry sites and so-called poets. The ability to self-publish has never been easier. At first glance this could be a disaster, that it may devalue the work of the poet and create an excess of writing, that there is little or no filter to weed out the good from the bad.

Ivor Indyk

Ivor Indyk

This transformation does not appear to alarm Ivor Indyk. “Of course, anybody can go online and do it. But it quickly becomes apparent which are the good sites and who are the good writers,” he says.

Dinah Roma says technology may have brought us many things that now appear integral to our lives, but they are eroding our ability to focus and reflect.

She believes that poetry can counteract this. “Poetry becomes more vital if seen as a realm where we can all slow down, listen more closely to words, what they say of ourselves, and how that self can remain connected to the human world, even in silence,” she says.

Having fought your way through the melee, the digital world of poetry has created deeply connected communities. Places where poets and lovers of poetry can engage and freely share their work and ideas.

“It has opened up the space for publication, and not to mention the productive exchange that is happening online,” she says. “Although there is still a huge bias for the hard print as a measure of productivity and success, the digital environment is definitely more expansive and reassuring.”

Poet and essayist Dr Martin Harrison, of the Writing Program at the University of Technology, Sydney, says, with a tinge of uncertainty, that technology has meant that almost all of his work and that of many other Australian poets is now accessible online and that readers no longer have to buy it in book form.

This, of course, begs the question of the future of print and the bookstore.

“I don’t think anyone knows the answer to that one yet. You would think that the answer would be, yes it would discourage buying a hard copy, but I am not convinced of it,” he says. “I think it may have the opposite effect, that what people may want is to have the work in a more permanent form.”

Almost everyday, across Sydney alone, poetry readings, events and launches are taking place. Professor Indyk sees this as evidence of the richness of the poetry scene. He says these events bring together 20 or 30 people, be it in a bookshop, a pub or in someone’s home.

While this may not seem like a lot of people, award-winning poet and academic Judith Beveridge makes the point that the lack of numbers is made up for by passion.

“I’d much rather have a small passionate, dedicated audience, than an audience 10 times the size but not that passionate,” she says.

This passion for poetry appears to be the driver that sees poets today, as they have in the past, tackle the significant issues and challenges of our time.

Dr Harrison says, “Poetry is an art form that deals with the deeper truths. It is the love, life and death territory.”

He believes that many poets are interested in documenting their experiences as kind of evidence of the times. “Evidence that hopefully will sit around so that we can say here we were and these are the kind of things we talked about, felt and that we saw as important. This is how we registered the changing world around us.”

For Professor Indyk, the desire to continue to publish poetry lies with the poets’ need to constantly push the boundaries of language and form. “You are not trying to stretch the readership in any other terms than intellectually,” he says.

He insists that the creation of poetry is not driven by the financial economy, rather that poetry has its own distinctive economy, an economy that is intellectual and embedded in the connectedness of the poetry community.

Ms Beveridge agrees. “Poets don’t make any money out of it, so there is no economic imperative to do it. You simply do it because you’re in love with the art form.”

So what does the future look like for poetry?

Judith Beveridge says,”There is a human need to create art out of language.”

And Dinah Roma says, “There’s something reassuring reading powerful poetry in which grit and beauty coalesce to hand you back your humanity.”

Dinah Roma will appear in:
Open Words and Worlds
Thursday 22nd May, 1.30 – 2.30pm
Philharmonia Studio, Pier 4/5, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay

Judith Beveridge will appear in:
Poetry and Music Salon: Do poets tell the truth?
Saturday 24th May, 4.30 – 6pm
Sydney Dance Lounge, Pier 4/5, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay

Real Worlds/Imagined Worlds
Sunday 25th May, 10 – 11am
Philharmonia Studio, Pier 4/5, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay

Professor Ivor Indyk will appear in:
Real Worlds/Imagined Worlds
Sunday 25th May, 10 – 11am
Philharmonia Studio, Pier 4/5, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay