March 4th, 2011 12:41 EST
Would Capitalism Work Better If We Screwed The Poor Even More?
One of the loonier aspects of journalism is that it`s possible to over-caffeinate readers and viewers on the wisdom of experts only to see their expertise fly in the face of common sense and firsthand witness.
But the press blathers on, indulging the usual sages, unaware that their audience`s own experience stands in abject contrast to all that`s being said so splendidly. And so the press whoops and hollers when the stock market climbs, seemingly unaware most of us have trouble paying our bills.
I`m one of those writers who likes noise and commotion around me, so I write in wi-fi cafÃ©s, often barn-like bookstores. When I say noise and commotion I don`t mean exhibitionists. I hate them. I just like the clamor of ordinary life around me.
I read a lot of sententious palaver about publishing. I`d no doubt read less of it if I were published more. Sometimes I think I have a handle on the publishing industry, sometimes I think nobody does. But there is always this constant refrain: there is only a hummingbird-size market for poetry, so poetry has to be fed us with a dropper. Really? Well, where`s the dropper?
Here is my witness, as a bookstore habituÃ©. The bookstores that give a damn about the thousands of poetry presses in the world are as rare as white tigers. And the book barns, they always have their reasons for paying lip service to poetry, and the reasons always boil down to money. But the truth is they`re perfectly willing to build towers of crap at their doors, ninety percent of which they return. They blame it on public taste, they blame it on critics, on distributors, on the economy, but the ephemera and doodads multiply while their poetry shelves look like grandma`s college reading list.
The book barns do a little better by literary journals, but not much. They use them for dressing, cover glitz, but they`re not giving any thought to content, and they certainly exhibit no cultural responsibility to help the small presses and lesser known poets gain readerships. They could have a small-press poetry shelf, but they don`t. Or at least most of them don`t. The exceptions are so notable that they`re famous in literary circles, like City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco or Saint Mark`s Bookshop in Manhattan.
I frequent a book barn in my area because I like the ambiance, the cafÃ©, the people I meet. And I keep an eye on its shelves. I spend some respectable change there. Last year at this time the poetry shelves represented a few local poets, myself included. Today there are none. Nor are there any small presses, and yet the region has a number of respected small presses. Why should it be so difficult for this store to represent its own reading area`s presses and poets? Why, if the very small presses elude them, should they be unable to display the books of Copper Canyon, Wave, Gray Wolf , Alice James, Milkweed and many other famous poetry presses? Why should they be unable, in other words, to open a window on contemporary poetry?
There are small press book distributors such as Small Press Distribution and Consortium, but they haven`t made a dent in the past year on the chain bookseller I frequent in New York`s well educated Hudson Valley. Yes, the store will order your book for you, but why should you pay them to do that when you can do it yourself online? If their function is ambiance and display, then poetry obviously doesn`t count in their scheme of things. What does is an ever-expanding array of doodads and gimcracks. They are becoming kitsch barns decorated with books.
Oh, it`s a distribution problem, it`s a paperwork problem, it`s a return problem. It`s a problem. Culture is a problem. Responsibility to the culture from which they expect income is a problem. It`s also someone else`s problem, never the stores` or the distributors`.
I get it. This is capitalism, meaning we don`t give a damn about the culture as long as we can squeeze it for another dime. So here`s the larger question for all of us: Is this the only kind of capitalism possible? Is the only working model of capitalism essentially piratical and amoral? Is it even working? Would it work better if we screwed the poor even more? Would we be better able to compete with a rising China and South America if we behaved just a little bit more despicably towards our workers? Would there be so few readers of poetry if it were easier for it to reach buyers?
When did you last hear the experts raise these issues in the nightly news? You won`t hear these issues because it is the pirates who support the media with advertising. You won`t hear these issues raised for the same reason you weren`t forewarned about overbuilding and predatory lenders "because the media that were supposed to raise these issues were bought off by advertising revenue from the culprits, just as so many of our politicians are bought off by lobbyists.
Frustrating, isn`t it? And here am I, adding to the blather without a clue about what to do. But I claim this one thing for myself "I`m trying to suggest the issues, because sooner or later we have to ask ourselves if the kind of capitalism we`re supporting with our sweat and blood and sacrifice is good for anybody but the super rich. We have to ask ourselves if capitalism can be retooled to serve the rest of us. And I think the sooner we ask ourselves, the better we`ll be able to handle the challenges of the new century.
Djelloul Marbrook is a retired newspaperman. His second book of poems, Brushstrokes and Glances, will be published by Deerbrook Editions on December 20, 2010. His first book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. It won the International Book Award in 2010. His novella, Artemisia`s Wolf, will be published by Prakash Books of India in December. His novella, Saraceno, was recently published as an e-book. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal LattÃ© first prize in fiction in 2008. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999.
Del`s book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm
New review of Far from Algiers: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/05/far-from-algiers-by-djelloul-marbrook/
Artists Hill, Literal LattÃ©`s fiction first prize: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/djelloulmarbrook/
His blog: http://www.djelloulmarbrook.com
His mother`s art: http://www.juanitaguccione.com
His aunt`s art: http://www.irenericepereira.com