Posted by: Viola | March 7, 2015

The current #1 Amazon bestseller for African poetry

The current number 1 bestseller on Amazon for the category of African poetry is this book: Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, by Warsan Shire

Actually, what I should say is that the current bestseller on Amazon is the above *chapbook* (not a book). I think it is remarkable that a chapbook tops the list of bestsellers for African poetry. It says a lot about the publishing world. It’s not just that Warsan Shire is an amazing poet, and that her poems touch so many readers. It’s also that her poems are available in a small book, a chapbook, and this means they are affordable and accessible, easy to get and easy to read.

Easy to read does not mean these are easy poems. No, that is not what I mean. What I mean is that the poems are not shoved at readers in a huge tome, a fat and unwieldy book of poems that people have to slog through. This makes all the difference in a world where readers have their pick of what to read and how to read it and where to read it. Readers are often inundated with tons of options and more and more and more words. So the fewer (or smaller) the better, seems to be the way to go.

A clue to this is also in the fact that other top bestsellers in African poetry tend to be books of very short-form poems, poems that are a few lines and almost like quotations, poems that don’t drag on and on, but are relatively quick reads. Most notable are the books of Nayyirah Waheed, which are also at the top of amazon’s list for African/African-American poetry.

I confess that I, too, am very drawn to short books and of course, to short poems (though I tend to write rather longish poems most of the time). My attention span can only go so far and then I lose interest and have to push myself through a book of poems, especially if it is a long collection.

My question: What’s the point of publishing a book of poems if people will not be able to read it? What is the purpose of going through all the trouble of placing such a book on the market only to have readers slog through it, bored out of their minds?

I have been reading quite a few books of poetry since the spring and summer of 2014. I generated my own reading list and worked through it. I finished most of the poetry books on the list. Some were hard to get through, others were easy. But overall, for most books, between pages 20 and 30, I would begin to nod off. I would get bored. I would sometimes feel like the poet was just not giving me any steam to keep on with the reading.

To help myself power through each book, I would read backwards–I would skip to the end and start reading from back to front, after reading from front to back for a while. I would switch back and forth, reading from both ends of the book, until I found myself somewhere in the middle and relieved to be DONE!

Sometimes, even books by very famous and “genius” poets would bore me. Not only young or unknown poets, but well known poets couldn’t keep my attention. This has been kind of alarming to me. To realize that poems and poetry collections can be this difficult to read through, even for someone like me who is passionate about poetry and wants to read just about every poem I can get my hands on.

I am worried because I wonder if this means, when I put out a full-length book of poems, readers are going to get bored with my work barely halfway into the book. I now realize how pointless it could be to work and work to make a full-book that few people will actually read or enjoy. I’d much rather publish a short book, a small book, a chapbook, and have that be read and shared and talked about, than push for a full-length book that people will not read.

I am going to keep reading poetry books and slogging through them, if necessary. I will read. I need to keep reading, no matter how bored I get. I will honor the poets who worked to put out these full books of poetry. I will do my best to read them. But when it comes to my own work, I would very much like to avoid torturing readers in this way. I want readers to have fun reading my work, or at least not get bored too quickly and lose interest. I want readers to read my book cover to cover, without feeling like there isn’t enough energy to make it through to the end.

Something to think about, I suppose, as I forge ahead. Do I want to be published, or do I want to be read? And what is the point of being published, if I will not be read?


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