Monday, January 11, 2010

Nikki Reimer : But is there a market for that? Or, please write to your minister

Should poets be concerned if poetry is considered a “specialized interest”? Do they need to worry about whether their poems warrant “consumption”? Does poetry deliberately resist its own marketability, and the idea of culture as commodity?

I’d been musing over the ramifications of the following exchange:
P: So tell me about this book you wrote?
Me: Well, it’s a book of poetry...
P: Poetry? Is there a market for that?

Then this throwaway-line from a Globe and Mail article on the film industry grabbed my attention: “This past year made it clear that what used to be called “cinema” ... is either an anachronism or a specialized interest along the lines of poetry readings or philately.” (Emphasis mine).

I’m trying to consider public perceptions of poetry, and the idea of poetry as a specialized interest, against the backdrop of drastic cuts to arts funding in my adopted province of British Columbia, where we are facing a whopping 92% cut to funding by 2011.

Amidst ‘consumers’ of culture, like my friend P. above, knowledge of the esoteric art of poetry, and the work that poetry does, ranks terribly low, which shouldn’t be news to poets, and which may reflect a wider mainstream disengagement with art. As Arts Advocacy BC mentions on their website, “We are told that the arts do not even appear on surveys of public interest.”

In economic terms, as this Georgia Straight article reveals, British Columbia not only has the largest percentage of working artists of any other province in Canada, but their average yearly wages were $21,069 (2006), which is “significantly lower than the average income of $36,000 for the entire labour force.”

Even prior to these cuts, the BC arts and culture sector received almost the least arts funding of any Canadian province, a miniscule 1/20 of 1% of the provincial budget ... No other province has cut arts funding during this recession. Many provinces have actually increased funding ... we cannot afford not to stimulate culture.

The effect that cuts to arts funding tends to have is not that people stop making art, or writing poems. Rather, access to art is reduced for all people, including artists, many of whom are among the working poor to begin with. The cost of books adds up.

But what do we mean when we talk about “support” for the arts? Are we referring simply to financial support from our government(s), or are we talking about visibility to “mainstream” society? Does poetry want to be thought of as something other than a “specialized interest” long the fusty lines of stamp collecting? Does poetry need stimulation?


Nikki Reimer blogs and plans arts events in Vancouver, where she is a member of the Kootenay School of Writing and a board member at W2 Community Media Arts. Her poetry has been published in such magazines as Matrix, Front, Prism, BafterC and filling Station. A chapbook, fist things first, was recently published by Wrinkle Press and a book, [sic], is forthcoming from Frontenac House. She has never been to grad school.


Lemon Hound said...

Hey Nikki,
Welcome aboard.

Rob Taylor said...


Even as a BCer I wasn't aware of some of the elements, or the depth, of the cuts. The Liberals are doing their best to confuse the hell out of us.

So, thanks!

p.s. You've got a problem with your links right now - you need to delete everything before and after the web address (including the quotation marks).

p.p.s. Low blow to the stamp collectors, dontcha think?

nikki reimer said...

Thanks Lemon Hound! Pleased to be here.

nikki reimer said...

Rob, thanks for advising about the links. They should be fixed now.

Total low blow to the stamp collectors. I was also going to mention that a friend from school's father owned a philatelics shop in Calgary years ago, but thought it detracted from the issue at hand...

Rob Taylor said...

Is a future blog post coalescing before our eyes? One can only hope...

Skylar Smythe said...

Couldn't agree more. Because there is no tangible financial return on "the arts" it is difficult to find funding and stimulus to market them.

Perhaps there will be a resurgence of the arts in virtual worlds? Second Life, for instance, hosts a thriving arts community for music, mixed media, performance and particularly poetry. I have met and networked with poets from all over the world in the virtual platform, and participate in organizing Spoken Word Events.

Second Life is, by the way, free to use and access. Perhaps that accounts for the growing arts community?

If you are interested in taking a look, I am always willing to give the "dime tour" for other writers interested in the platform.


Skylar Smythe
The Guerilla Poetess (c) 2009

blert said...

Nikki - nice work, as always.

Part ONE.

When it comes to gov't funding, I can't help to agree with our esteemed friend Jason Christie when he says, 'let it burn.' Do we really need to keep pandering to these funding bodies that ultimately do not care about what we produce, but, paradoxically have a hand in dictating the content and frequency of our production? There has to be a way that we (and I speaking of writers here) can circumvent these funding systems, or, simply not rely on them at all.

As individuals this tact seems to be realizable. I know many poets who work as chemists, postal carriers, teachers, lawyers, and so on. Now, I am not denying that the carrot of 5-20 thousand does not mean a *great* deal to all of us but let's take a moment to see what actually happens when we align ourselves with these funding bodies.

The writing of the grant itself and how it is 'judged' often produces a kind of 'dark night of the soul' as we must sit there and create a project that (all of this has been told to be by BC Arts and Can Cow) - 'makes sense' - 'fits with the cannon' - appeals to a 'wider audience.' While I agree that this is just a hoop to jump through and that all professions have these hoops, the stakes are perhaps higher for us as we are now almost (they never follow up to see if you have completed your project, but it's the principle) contracted to produce a book we have little to no intention of writing. At least not how it is written in the grant application.

I also agree that creating a proposal that does all of the aforementioned ‘things’ juries are asking for are not incredibly devilish. However, the fact remains that when we are writing grants we are entering a genre which demands that we adhere to certain conventions, in this case, in order to receive financial gain.

Capital has set in, hook line and sinker. Yes, we can ‘do what we want with the money’ – but I wonder if the negative implications outweigh the excuses of ‘just taking the money, but not *really* participating in the system.’ As my finance Summer and I are quickly finding out as we plan our wedding – when the parent’s are paying. Doilies and baby slideshows ensue.

Further, these granting systems reward CVs, not the content of books, and there is a big fucking difference between the two. I know several incredible Can Poets who have never received any kind of Gov funding or Can Cow readings simply because they are not interested in the economy of constant networking, publishing, and other "people have to hear about me or I am not relevant” activities. Can you think of any other answer? Is it that these well read, fabulous writers are not able to put pen to paper? Can they not write grants or is it that they simply will not design a project that will ‘look good to the juries.’ It seems to me that this is the dance: no grants, no cc readings, no cc readings no grants, no CV.

What then does such crucial financial importance placed on the almighty CV do to our communities, our friendships, and our work?
If we did not have to apply to these funding bodies, would it matter if we published a book every four to six years with little to no public activity (publishing / readings) in the interim? What kinds of books would emerge from a post funding world?

blert said...

Part TWO

Reliance and worship of these funding systems, in my opinion, creates *same, same* - the same kinds of poets who, at the bar, cannot simply say, "you know what, I'm not sure what I'm working on, I'm just writing." But must follow in the familiar refrain: "Yes, I am working on project that I will now sum up for you in a delicious accessible sound-bite."

On a micro level, do we really need to apologize for not concocting marketable products? On a macro level, do we need to stand outside of the Art Gallery in downtown Vancouver and explain to the politicians how the Arts does indeed *make money* and therefore should keep receiving money.

I for one have had it, up to the hips and maybe a little higher. For the record, I have been very well funded for a while now, so this is not a bitter rant guised as a hope for more money. I have one more Can Cow app in the mail and after that I think I may cease to apply. "How will you have time to write!?" You may ask. Again, I go back to what Jason Christie mentioned in a conversation last week, "maybe it's time that I change my relationship with writing." Yes, I am tired after work, yes I would like more time off, but I want to accomplish this without relying on vapid a system that I believe contributes to the mediocrity, ‘publish or perish’ and hyper capital atmosphere of the current Canadian poetry scene.

jason christie said...

I vote for bailing out the banks again! Oh wait... Wrong article.

Lemon Hound said...

This post makes me miss Vancouver.

Or the force that is, once more, attempting to be squashed in Vancouver.

Waves and waves of attempts to dampen artistic impulses and privilege an ever-increasing divide between art as commodity and socially driven art...

Yes, it's *same, same* in the commercial publishing world and *same, same* in the funding or funded world...