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Verse's missing business line
Big publishers, albeit with a heavy heart, have declared poetry a dead art. VK Karthika, chief editor of Harper Collins India, says: "People don't read poetry nowadays. We don't get any revenue to promote upcoming poets. At most, on an average, 600-800 copies of poetry books are sold in a year. The numbers are that small. "
Poetry is the section that is least visited in bookstores. Mirza Afsar Baig, owner of popular Delhi bookstore Midland, says, "Sale of poetry isn't comparable with fiction. While we do maintain a stock of old and new poets at most times, Dante, Ogden Nash, Neruda are the ones that sell. Indian poets seldom do. Unless, of course, they've bagged an award or have received a great review. "
Chitrasenan, owner of Modern Book Centre, Thiruvananthapuram, points out that while modern poets still come by the dozens, they are mostly self-published authors who bring out 200 to 300 copies at their own expense. "The new poets are mostly read by their family and friends. "
Umesh Gupta, manager at the Landmark bookstore in Gurgaon, says it's only the established authors who tend to sustain high readership. "We receive demands for authors like Neruda and Ghalib all the time. People tend to gift poetry books on occasions such as Valentine's Day. There aren't any serious followers of poetry. "
Subhash Chandra Dey of Kolkata's Dey's Publishers reiterates the same, sad tale. "Names like Subhas Mukhopadhyay, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Shankha Ghosh, Joy Goswami or Srijato always sell. But readers are reluctant to experiment with new comers. "
R Sivapriya, senior commissioning editor and manager of Penguin Classics, says, "William Radice's translation of Tagore's poems is a steady seller. A collection titled Love Stands Alone of classical Tamil poetry from the Sangam period sold 1, 600 copies in 2010, the year it was published. Poetry isn't a thriving business segment, though I've seen a minor proliferation of poetryrelated activities (poetry festivals, essays in magazines) in the last two years. "
A budding poet and an employee with Oxford University Press, Farzana Quater, says other factors, like promotion and marketing, have compounded the tragedy of poets. "Extremely talented regional poets lose out in the market due to lack of promotion. While few organisations are doing a great job at canvassing certain works, mainstream audiences don't care much. "
S Anand, publisher of Navayana, the first and only publishing house to focus on the issue of caste from an anti-caste perspective, says the market for poetry books is skewed. "A Kamala Das or Pritish Nandy book of love poetry, even as a reprint, is preferred by mainstream publishers compared to the difficult exercise of translating, say, the powerful Dalit poetry of ND Rajkumar from Tamil. Similarly, our former president Abdul Kalam, a terrible poet would have sold 15, 000 copies of his poetry book as acclaimed poets like Namdeo Dhasal languish far behind. At the 2007 London Book Fair, one of the judges asked me why I even cared about poetry since it sold only 0. 04 per cent in the world market. There is no art funding for poets. How many people here know of a remarkable lyricist from Telengana called Ande Sri?"
But there are those who dismiss numbers and say the art of poetry goes beyond business. One of those, Prabhakar Shautriya, who is guest editor of Sahitya Akademi's Hindi journal Samkaleen Bhartiya Sahitya, isn't deterred by lack of readers. "Poetry is the core base of literature. It is the essence of all good writing and its death is highly improbable, " he says, with conviction.
Quater, too, who despite knowing well the pitfalls of being a poetry habituê, says she will continue to write verses. "If you ask me, publishers are slowly warming up to the idea of giving space to experimental authors, " she says. "Publishers tend to pick poets devoid of clichês - someone who has a fresh perspective, who doesn't adhere to lyrical imagery or hyperbole. "
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