Saturday, June 16, 2007

Poetry Bestsellers

C. Dale Young linked to this list of current bestsellers in poetry. I thought it would be interesting to edit the list as follows:

a) take out any dead poets (Bukowski, Plath, Larkin).

b) take out any poets who appear more than once (Collins, Oliver, Bukowski again, Berry).

The first bit of editing seems to go without saying. The second is less clear, but perhaps it's like taking Rowling off the bestseller lists so you can see what else is doing well. This is the list I ended up with after editing:

1. Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey (Houghton Mifflin)
2. Delights and Shadows by Ted Kooser (Copper Canyon Press)
3. Averno by Louise Glück (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
4. The House on Boulevard St.: New and Selected Poems by David Kirby (Louisiana State University Press)
5. District and Circle by Seamus Heaney (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
6. The Human Line by Ellen Bass (Copper Canyon Press)
7. Present Company by W. S. Merwin (Copper Canyon Press)
8. Queen of a Rainy Country: Poems by Linda Pastan (W. W. Norton)
9. Sleeping Upside Down by Kate Lynn Hibbard (Silverfish Review Press)
10. After by Jane Hirshfield (Harper Perennial)

A few remarks:

a) Copper Canyon is doing well. I am delighted to hear it!

b) Five books published by relatively large publishing houses, three by Copper Canyon, one by a university press, and one by a very small poetry press.

c) It's not a bad list, is it? Sure, one can argue about one or two of the poets on it according to one's taste, and some people might see all these writers as being more or less the same (card-carrying members of the "School of Quietude"), but really, the poets I know from this list are quite distinct: Kirby, for example, is not at all like Heaney, who is not at all like Merwin, who bears a slight but superficial resemblance to Hirshfield—and none of those are at all like Kooser or Glück.


D'Anne Witkowski said...

Interesting. Thanks. :) By any chance do you know what it "takes" to be a poetry best seller? What numbers are involved? Who decides? Just curious.

Andrew Shields said...

Perhaps one could write to the Poetry Foundation to find out what the numbers involved are. But they do say "who decides":

"Our poetry best seller lists are based on data received from Nielsen BookScan, which tracks sales from more than 4,500 retail booksellers. Retailers included in the list include both large, high-volume retailers such as Borders and, and more than 400 smaller, independent bookstores."