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So my third book of poetry, ‘Island Songs’, was officially published by Ignite Books yesterday. I’ve been selling copies for a few weeks already, at gigs and readings, and via the Ignite website, but now it’s official you can also wander in to your local bookshop and order a copy from them if you’d prefer to do that.
I’m really proud of the book – it’d be a strange author who didn’t feel chuffed to bits at seeing their work in print – but I’m under no illusions about the challenges ahead. Sales of poetry books are generally measured in tens rather than hundreds, and simply breaking even can be a major achievement. Most poetry collections never get that far. Very few poets make a living from their work. Which rather begs the question: why bother doing it at all?
The obvious answer is that we do it for love. But obvious answers aren’t always the most honest ones. The truth is that all through human history, as soon as humans have sorted out the basics – shelter, food, fresh water, and something natty to wear – then they start to make art. They write stories, make songs, draw pictures on cave walls or chapel ceilings, and so on. It’s a compulsion, a drive that makes no sense when viewed through the distorting mirror of pounds and pence. Writers, composers, musicians, painters, sculptors and photographers will often make investments of time, materials, and money which they can never hope to see repaid. Yet still we do it.
It all sounds wonderfully romantic, this refusal to be bothered by something as mundane as earning a crust. Artists, according to popular myth, are never more content than when they’re starving in a garret, or suffering for their art.
Not true. Artists make art because in doing so we find an engagement with the world, and a way of making sense of it. We want other people to share that. There isn’t an artist I know who wouldn’t want to sell more books, or more paintings, or have more people come to their gigs. Too many artists have to turn their back on their art because the brute force of economics mean they simply can’t afford to carry on giving up the time and energy and money necessary to pursue their passion.
And I think the world is a poorer place when that happens.