Poetry and the Economy

The EconomyI had the poignant duty of sending out the email newsletter announcement last night that the 2009 Ojai Poetry Festival has been cancelled. The current financial situation has affected our founders, our prospective donors, and our hopes for ticket sales considerably. So, the committee is conserving its resources in hopes of reviving the festival in 2011. Having already sent hundreds of emails and made numerous updates to the website in anticipation of such a great lineup, I am, needless to say, disappointed.

And yet, I am heartened by the absolute flurry of poetry events passing through in recent weeks. A small but formidable group of women poets are hosting a reading in a beautiful backyard just around the corner from me. The names of two fellow students from long ago found their way to me in announcements of their separate readings. Others seem to be driving up and down the California coast reading poems associated with their recent prize, or book, or just because there seems to be a hungry market for poetry right now.

In some cases, the marketplace of poetry does intersect with the financial marketplace. Those poets who have managed to in some way cobble together a lifestyle of writing and teaching poetry are likely influenced by the recent economic downturn. Yet there exists a separate marketplace for poetry wherein supply can be measured in willing voices, and demand in eager ears. This marketplace seems to work almost inversely to the financial marketplace, in that difficult times bring us back to the necessity of art.

Writing poems is, in many senses of the word, “free.” And during times when it can be difficult to be generous materially, opportunities to be generous with one’s time and creativity seem to represent an outlet for hope. Attending readings, buying and borrowing books of poems, is generally inexpensive. Yet the payoff is significant. From a small investment of time, an enrichment of perception. Therefore, as the stock markets, and other markets, continue to rattle and roll, I say let us all invest our human currency–in reading, writing, and listening to great poems.