Getting Published 2 – The New Math of Poetry, courtesy my friend, poet and publisher David Alpaugh, whose essays on The Professionalization of Poetry appeared in Poets & Writers.
[Note: David’s New Math article is still being researched and does not factor in the many hundreds of “Single Poem” contests.]
1) A cursory investigation on the Internet turns up 158 full collection poetry book contests and 172 poetry chapbook contests. That’s 330 contests a year–and though just an approximate figure, it’s a conservative one.
2) If the figure holds at the current level there will be 3,300 poetry book contest prize awards each decade–33,000 by the end of this century.
3) Everything leads me to believe that the figure will not hold–that the current trend and history of exponential growth will continue and that the figure will double, triple, quadruple, perhaps even ten-tuple as technology proceeds.
4) We could easily be looking at over 100,000 poetry book awards by the end of the century! Each book chosen from hundreds, in some cases thousands, of entries by “distinguished” poet/judges–and published by supposedly selective, credible presses, trying earnestly to bring the best poetry available to the reading public.
5) How could a 22nd century English professor be confident that he had a handle on the best 21st century without carefully reading these 33, 000 to 100,000 “prize-winning” books? And how about the tens of thousands of books that didn’t win prizes? How about the tens of thousands of self-published ones? Shakespeare self-published his Sonnets. Blake self-published Songs of Innocence and Experience. Whitman Leaves of Grass. Would scholars have to specialize, say, in the first three days of June, 2042, to make certain that they weren’t missing a “great” poet?
6) As for individual poems, we have two popular internet zines that publish a daily poem: Poetry Daily and Verse Daily. And we have Garrison Keillor reading at least one poem daily on The Writer’s Almanac. There is little duplication, if any, between these three daily reads. 365 x 3 gives me 1095 poems a year. Let’s round it off to 1000. That’s ten thousand poems per decade and 100,000 by the end of the century (assuming that someone picks up the ball for Garrison when he leaves us for that great anthology in the sky).
7) Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, Writer’s Almanac are all highly “selective.” They are choosing poems from respected publishers, and literary journals. Each of those collections, journals, anthologies is full of poems presumably just as good that don’t make it onto the net or radio. Assuming that the publications they draw from average 60 pages of poetry each and we have 6 MILLION poems to add to our 21st Century “new math” total! Of course that figure is high because although the 3 entities almost never duplicate poems they do draw on many of the same publications, presses, journals, etc. So let’s be conservative and cut it in half. (But, remember, there are at least as many fine anthologies, journals, and collections that never get the nod from VD, PD, or GK and would need to be added in).
8) And keep in mind that so far we have only talked about hard-copy publications! For Poetry Daily and Verse Daily only select from print, never from the internet where hundreds of journals are now up and running with more coming on line almost every day!
9) Certainly it is conservative to estimate the number of poems to be published during the 21st century as exceeding 10 million. It will probably be many times that!