In a recent article about Salt's decision to drop single-author poetry collections, The Guardian gave the following statistics:
"Official figures from Nielsen BookScan show a sharp decline in the overall poetry market in the last year. There was growth of around 13% in 2009, when the market was worth £8.4m, followed by small declines in 2010 and 2011, and then a major drop of 18.5% volume and 15.9% value in 2012, when the overall value of the market fell to £6.7m."
I don't doubt these figures for a moment. However, they miss out the core of U.K. poetry - its readings. These are mainly run by commited volunteers, often poets themselves, and play a key role in introducing new poets to readers. As a consequence, they are the driving force behind many sales and are not included in Nielsen's statistics.
Let's take myself as an example: Buzzwords in Cheltenham last weekend was the latest in a number of readings that I given all around the country in the last two years. It went excellently - there was an attentive audience who encouraged me throughout and bought lots of my books (a dozen, in fact!). I was also delighted to meet Angela France, Alison Brackenbury and Stephen Payne at last.
The above event followed on from other lovely readings where I've been warmly welcomed:
Poetry at the... in Edinburgh (run by Rob MacKenzie)
Nightblue Fruit in Coventry (run by Antony Owen)
Shindig in Leicester (run by Nine Arches Press and Crystal Clear Creators)
Tongues & Grooves in Portsmouth (run by Maggie Sawkins)
Days of Roses in London (run by Declan Ryan)
Plus one-off readings in Nottingham (thanks to Robin Vaughan-Williams) and London (at the Poetry Book Fair)
I'm incredibly grateful to all these people for providing me with a platform to present my books. What's more, if Inventing Truth (my first HappenStance pamphlet) is almost sold out, that's in no small part down to these opportunities. I've sold books at every single event, thanks to member of each audience who love poetry.
In other words, there's a thriving live poetry scene out there beyond slams. Week after week, people turn out in numbers to hear poems being read, to encounter new poets and buy their books. This scene is growing, it's healthy, it's the heartbeat of U.K. poetry.
And one more wader from Minsmere, the eternally nervy Redshank, although this one laid off with the alarm calls for a while to preen and sleep on a fence...