An Open Letter to Dispossessed Poets

23/05/2013 17:38 | Updated 21 July 2013

Dear Poets,

The announcement that Salt Publishing will no longer bring out new single-author collections of poetry sent shockwaves through our community. The hundred-or-so poets abandoned by Salt represent some of the UK's finest, and Salt itself was hailed by many as a saviour of poetry in modern times. Every one of us feels the effect of losing such a prominent publishing outlet. It is hard not to despair.

The truth is, the modern world we live in does not appreciate poetry. Not like it ought to, not like you and I do. We get it. We eagerly await that new journal or book of poems, smuggle it like contraband into our grey morning commute. We find the one poem that, as Emily Dickinson put it, takes the top of our head off. And it stays with us all day, as we go about our work counting beans or emptying waste bins. It changes who we are and how we see the world. But nobody else really gets it, and the lack of money is there to prove it--in Salt's case and elsewhere.

But poetry has already changed the world--yours, mine--irrevocably in altering how we see it. And so we go on reading and writing, having great conversations late into the night, walking through the gentle drudgery of everyday living with this secret knowledge, this little spark that could light the whole world on fire--but doesn't. Perhaps never will.

Maybe we're doomed. But we are doomed in good company--you and me--which is to say we are blessed indeed. Ask anyone. The poets always throw the best parties. They dance like they have nothing to lose, because it's true. And you and me, we've made it this far somehow, getting by, doing our thing, making life just about work.

John Keats died largely unrecognised. But ask his friends at the time, and he meant as much to them then as he does to many of us now. Do we really expect better for ourselves than the respect of a few respectable peers?

The audience is dwindling. Fine. If you need someone to write for, write for me. I mean it. I need your poems as much as I ever did--the ones I can carry around with me, the blue flame, the chip of ice in my heart.

Want to build a larger audience for poetry? Live your life with such pure ferocity and rollicking panache that people beg you to tell them your secret. Then slip them your favourite book of poems.

Can we really pretend to be surprised that a world so laden with paradox and ugliness, drone wars and misery, ignores this refined art form? But precisely because of this, I need your best poems more than ever before. And you need them too. Someone gave you the power to see the world differently, and--even better--to share it.

We've been given fire by the gods and now we're arguing over its market potential. Really? Let's stop. We'll make ends meet as we always did. And a little salt in the wound sometimes helps with the healing.

So go on now. This is the party. This is the gift. You're here. You're in it. One day we'll look back and call these the good old days. So I say this for all of us, including me--who perhaps needs to hear it the most--with love and respect: Stop worrying. Stop bickering. Just go write.

A version of this article was originally published on

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