Sales of poetry books are down
screamed the BBC news website on Wednesday last week, before exhorting us all:
but one way to reinvigorate this traditional art form could be to make it functional
and going on to suggest that we could re-engage the public with the art of poetry by turning the instructions on how to wire a plug into poetry. Give me a break. Not that I'm against using anything as the material for a poem, but I just can't help groan at this kind of stuff. I mean, poetry does have functions, for goodness sake.
In recent years, there has been a sharp fall in sales - from £12m spent in 2005 to £8.6m in 2008, according to Book Marketing Ltd.
How peculiar, then, that Jill Pattle, who runs The Linlithgow Bookshop, should be telling me on the platform at Waverley station today that their poetry sales have "risen exponentially" and she is now revamping the poetry shelf to make more space for poetry books. The last time I looked, the space that the shop devotes to poetry would probably, as a proportion of the shelving, equate to something like three whole floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in any of the Edinburgh Waterstones stores. That's an extremely rough estimate, but you get the picture; when was the last time those Waterstones stores had one such shelf full of poetry? Jill's poetry section is also at the front of the shop.
Likewise, when I was in Eyemouth last week, I was delighted to see that the wonderful wee bookshop Crossing the Bar had a small poetry shelf, with an unusual selection of books, including a beautiful Michael Longley book, Out of the Cold, illustrated by his daughter that I came that close to buying.
Is there a lesson here? What would happen to poetry book sales if, instead of hiding the poetry sections away at the back of the basement and shaving stock from it like a döner kebab, the big shops were to put it out front, with offers, staff recommendations and displays? Will we ever find out?