The Onion recently published an article—for those who may be unfamiliar with The Onion, it is a scathing and often gut-bustingly hilarious satirical newspaper—with the headline “Sellout poet makes over $150 in 2023 alone.”
As with all good satire, the article uses irony and hyperbole to ridicule its target (poets), but it is also loaded with nuggets of truth. The piece reports on a fictional poet named Cullen Quinn Roberts—a pitch-perfect name for a pretentious poet—who is accused of selling out his art after his chapbook “Anagram Arpeggio”—another dart—earned him an eye-popping $153.50 in 2023, reaching a massive audience of 35 readers.
But here’s the thing: this isn’t really satire for me. Most poets would consider $153.50 and 35 copies sold to be a pretty good haul for a book of poems.
Last summer, I had a new book of poetry titled “Born on Good Friday” published by a small press, and without sharing my tax return information, the satirical statistics aren’t that far off. “Born on Good Friday” is my fifth full-length book of poems—I’ve also published four chapbooks—and the sales and royalties have been pretty consistent for each of them.
Why? Because very few people read poetry these days.
Of course, there are certainly some poets—take the young poet Amanda Gordan, who read at President Biden’s inauguration, or the Instagram sensation Rupi Kaur—who sell impressive quantities of copies and sign with major publishing houses. Former poet laureate Billy Collins also signed a lucrative six-figure book deal with Random House in 1999 and even cracked the New York Times bestseller list.
However, the vast majority of poets working in either academic or underground circles will create their art inside a thunderous void and will be met with vast indifference from the general public.
Unless they happen to look like the actress Megan Fox.
In case you missed it, Galley Books—an imprint of Simon & Schuster—recently released Fox’s first collection of poetry titled “Pretty Boys Are Poisonous,” and her book is currently in the Top 100 list on Amazon.com.
It is also the bestseller in “Poetry,” ahead of “Dr. Seuss’s Beginner Book Boxed Set.” For those of you keeping score at home, Nathan Graziano’s “Born on Good Friday” is currently topping out at 12,392 in “American Poetry.”
So while this might seem like sour grapes, that is not my intention.
Full disclosure: I’ve only read snippets of Fox’s poetry, but I’ve read enough to make an informed opinion that is not…well, poetry.
To Fox’s credit, she is tackling some heavy topics with her “poetry”—for example, her physically and emotionally abusive relationships with men—and just putting those words down on a page for others to read requires a certain amount of courage. But if Coleridge was right, and poetry is truly “the best words in the best order” then Fox’s poesy leaves something to be desired.
Take, for example, a poem titled “i didn’t sign up to compete in your bullshit beauty pageant” (everything is apparently in lowercase to appear more poetic on the page) where Fox writes: “like every woman / they refuse to listen to my words / instead / they criticize the shape of my mouth / as I speak them”.
While the title is catchy, the poem itself reads more like a wry observation or a journal entry with some line breaks thrown in. And granted, when virtually no one is reads or analyzes poetry anymore, this is more than enough to bamboozle the untrained reader.
Which is fine. But for those of us who have spent years honing the craft, reading the works of the world’s great poets—throughout history and into present day—the fact that this can pass as a fine art is a swift kick in the Richard.
Similar to some of Fox’s plastic assets, this feels like another form of fraudulence in a culture already wrought with it.