poetry, Uncategorized

The Poet as Peddler

I’ve never considered myself much of a salesman. As a kid, I sold a few candy bars and other fundraisers for school, but other than that, I’ve never had much of a knack for getting people to part with their money. Truthfully, it feels kind of dirty. Even when I’m selling a product that I firmly believe in (like my own writing), I find it difficult to persuade others to buy.

This past weekend, I had the benefit of participating in the Polk Authors and Illustrators Festival, a downtown marketplace-style gathering of writers and artists in Lakeland. There I was, hawking my wares to Joe Public, having the grandest of conversations about poetry, Florida, and a thousand other topics. I fell into sort of a groove at one point where people were buying books left and right, not because I was pushing my product on them, but because I engaged their natural desire to talk about themselves.

As they spilled their guts about their childhood or their daughter-in-law, I found some kind of remotely related tie-in to my work. I opened the book up, showed them a verse or two that had to do with our conversation, and by George, they bought the book. I’m sure that those of you in sales have a name for this kind of approach, but far be it from me to know such things — I remain a poet and schoolteacher at heart.

The lesson, I guess, was just this: If you show up to a place all worried about how many books you’re going to sell (or not), then you reap the results of your anxiety. If you just take it easy, talk to the people like a normal human being, and do your best to be a good listener, the sales take care of themselves. Events like the Authors and Illustrators Festival help me to remember my place in this world; I’m not a pitch-man or a carpetbagger, thank goodness. I do, however, know good-sounding words when I come across them, and I’m a pretty fair peddler of free knowledge. I might do the festival again next year, but for tonight, there’s writing to be done. Time to close up shop.

poetry, Uncategorized

Bookstores, Amazon, and Other Such Things

So, I went to my local bookstore today to purchase one of the texts I need for my MFA readings. This book happens to be by our newest poet laureate, Natasha Trethewey. I perused the one measly section of poetry books tucked into a single section of a poorly lit aisle, only to discover that, not only was Trethewey’s work unavailable, but so was work by other established and well-known poets. This lackluster selection inspired me to visit the “customer service” desk of the establishment in question.

“May I help you sir?” the somewhat bothered clerk asked.

“I believe you can. I’m looking for a volume by Natasha Trethewey, the poet laureate.”

“Who?” she hooted, blinking repeatedly from behind extra-large lensed glasses. “Oh, let me look it up.”

Her fingers dashed across the keyboard, entering letters then backspacing furiously in frustration.

“Can you spell that?” she finally requested.

“T-R-E…” I went on, giving her the name in its entirety, letter by carefully pronounced letter.

“Oh, Natasha!” she said, as if the two of them had been classmates in another life.

Here came the kicker: “We had two copies by her, but they’ve both been sold.”

SERIOUSLY??? The woman is the poet laureate of the United States, and you have TWO copies of her work in inventory? Now, mind you, this so-called bookstore can boast countless aisles of Twilight toys and fairy princess bookmarks, but GOD FORBID they actually carry work of literary value. I maintained a poker face, took a deep breath, and then administered some kind advice:

“You may want to think about getting some more. She’s very popular right now,” I said.

“Oh, well uh, would you like to order one?” she offered, still rapid-fire blinking.

“No, that’s okay. Just thought I’d check,” I answered. “Thanks anyway.”

As brick-and-mortar bookstores bemoan the loss of business to megalithic online entities (Amazon, etc.), encounters like these only encourage consumers to seek out alternatives that are less inconvenient, i.e. internet buying. Listen up, literature vendors: If you want to sell books, stop sitting around sipping lattes and whining about how the big, bad capitalist machine is eating up your sales. Stock your shelves, know your stuff, and offer service with a smile. For today, I’m ordering the Kindle version of the book I needed — cheaper, faster, and easier.