Full Title: “Celebrating poetry in its mass-market moment ahead of 2018 Griffin Prize gala”
“Poets are among the hardest working writers,” says Kevin Williams, who would know first-hand: As the publisher of Talonbooks, he’s worked with 2017 Griffin Poetry Prize-winner Jordan Abel and 2018 nominee Donato Mancini and is familiar with the challenges faced by those who make poetry their chosen vocation.
“Jordan was on tour for 90 days all across the country the spring before the Griffin Prize,” Williams says. And yet, “he always jokes when I show him the royalty statements: ‘poetry dollars!’”
The royalty cheques for a poet are often small, which makes the Griffin Poetry Prize’s $75,000 windfall for two winners “a life-changing amount,” Williams says. “Absolutely huge.”
But as poets and publishers look to celebrate the Griffin winners when they are announced on June 7, they should also take time to celebrate what has been a quantifiably great period for the genre in Canada. With book sales on the rise and “bestselling poetry” now a reality, this is poetry’s mass-market moment.
Canadian poet and Instagram sensation Rupi Kaur has much to do with this. She has been a fixture on bestseller lists for more than two years and has sold around five million copies of her two collections, Milk and Honeyand The Sun and Her Flowers. Those are astonishing sales numbers for any writer, and an unprecedented amount for a poet. (“Poets in Canada are generally looking in the neighbourhood of 500 to 1,000 copies for a printing of their first book,” says Lesley Fletcher, executive director of the League of Canadian Poets.)
According to BookNet Canada, which tracks sales data, poetry sales in Canada were up 116 per cent between 2016 and 2017. (Over all, poetry makes up 1 per cent of the Canadian English-language market.) People are not only buying and reading more poetry – they’re writing and publishing it in greater quantities, too, with BookNet tracking 25-per-cent more poetry titles in 2017 than the year before.
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