Friday 1 May 2020

Visibility in the literary scene

Writers as famous as Tartt can go years without producing a book and still be part of the scene - they're talked about in their absence. Other writers aren't so lucky. One might think that the situation's easier for poets than for story writers - they can place single poems in magazines, ticking over - but there aren't that many opportunities available in good magazines, and lead times can be many months. Meanwhile, new graduates from Creative Writing courses flood the market. Consequently there's a temptation to manage one's image. If you stand still you'll get left behind.

In The Poet Tasters Ben Etherington wrote about the Australian scene, pointing out that "a lingering sense of hobbyism can afflict the vocation. Just about anyone who has decided that poetry is their thing, and who has enough private means and persistence, can be confident of edging their way into a scene like Australia’s. Even long-established poets can be nagged by the feeling that the aesthetic communities from which they gain recognition only reflect back the effort they put in; miss a few readings, take a break from publishing, leave an editorial post and you and your work might disappear."

I can think of a few poets for whom that nagging feeling was confirmed by what happened after their death.

In a world where "who you know" matters, you don't want your prospective publishers to express surprise that you're still around. Even if you manage to get a book published, it's hard to get reviewed and make a splash if you don't already have a following.

Blogs or review writing might help in this respect if you're too busy to teach or judge. Also useful are appearances at launches, festivals and readings even if you're not performing. It's worth trying to maintain a local reputation even if the national scene is beyond your reach.


  1. Ah yes, la scène. Never been able to break into that. Never quite understood it. I had hoped that putting myself out there online—which I did something rotten at the start—might lead to me being adopted by the cool kids but it was harder than I expected. And I expected it to be hard. It doesn’t help that I’m not exactly the pushy sort; hell, I’m barely nudgy. I have tried to make inroads in the real world but never found the groups I approached exactly welcoming. There was a… a snootiness about them. I kind of thought when I finally met my peers I’d be… maybe not embraced but at least slapped on the back: “So you finally made it, you old goat. What took you so long?” But, no. Now it’s too late for that. They say man is a social animal and I’m sure on a basic level that’s true. I do suspect, however, more people lack social skills than excel in them and writers head that list.

    1. Many poets surely do ok without being their own PR agent to ensure that their name keeps popping up. And not all poets have eventful lives to write about. If you just produce poetry you can get by, but it's a struggle. It helps to have fellow sufferers, pupils, followers, and people entering competitions you judge - captive audiences.

      Poetry groups vary a lot in tone. Round these parts we have Uni ones, Performance ones, Poetry Society ones, etc. A poet who has the social skills to deal with uni people might well struggle at other meetings. And it seems to me that you have to become a regular before people open up. I don't have the time to try them all out. Besides, I've only written one poem this year.