Some very well-meaning people are soliciting poems for a poetry anthology to sell to raise funds for Oklahoma tornado victims. Please don’t.
Say you manage to sell 100 of these books. The cost of making and shipping them will take up the biggest percentage of the money you get for the books. For a $15 book, you might make a profit of $1. Believe me—I know—I’ve done a lot of self-publishing. So, if you sell 100 books (very lofty goal), you will make $100.
Say 100 people submitted poems for the anthology. What if those 100 people, instead, submitted a $10 donation? Then, you would make $1,000 instead of $100. It’s cheaper, easier, and more efficient to donate money instead of poems. Even a well-known poet like Billy Collins would have a hard time making a donate-able profit on books of poetry.
Imagine if you will the kinds of poems you will get for people who lost every material possession they had in the tornado. It will not be pretty. Poets will pour out from every burg and rural address and city apartment and dirt road and people who have never written a poem but know they can do it will put pen to paper and the poetry will flow. Or will it?
Most of what passes for poetry in popular society is not poetry. I am not being elitist to say this. There is simply a difference between verse and poetry. People who write verse write it for other people—even though they say the opposite. They really want other people to understand their “emotions,” and they use the form of poetry as a weapon to blackmail their audience into seeing their pain. Do not be fooled by people saying they write poetry to express their emotions. They write poetry to commit crimes against other people’s conceptions of them.
Poetry is not written for other people. It is written because it has to be written. An image has to be conveyed. An experience has to be illustrated. A condition has to be developed with the language, the tone, the persona, and the craft that create art. Emotions are not art. But if a work of art evokes emotion in you from the experience it conveys, then so be it. It cannot, however, be the other way around.
Lest you think I am discouraging people from writing poetry, let me clarify. I think everyone should write poetry. I think everyone should read it. I think the world would be a better place if these two things occurred. However, bad poetry should not be used in service to people. Just open your pocketbook: That’s what tornado victims need. They don’t need your emotions. They need your money.