Thursday, June 21, 2007


So I, in my capacity as publisher of Meritage Press, was processing paperwork from a BIG publisher requesting permission for reprinting a poem in one of the books I publish. It would be for an anthology that would receive wide, global distribution in not just book but electronic format as a teaching aide, which is to say, it no doubt will be a money-maker for this publisher. They sent me a permission form.

I read the permission form.

I follow up briefly and politely, "Any permission fee?"

After all, this wasn't some 1 1/2-person small press on some mountain (ahem) but a BIG New York house.

I get this reply: "For a permission fee, you'd have to fill out a different form, which is attached."

Transparently lame, isn't it. It's not like I'm the one choosing which permission form to receive.

The permission fee? $1,000.00. That's right: a thousand bucks for this one poem.

See, I've sort of heard about this situation before -- where, when permission is requested, most poets just say Go Ahead without asking about fees because they're just pleased to see their poem get more play out there.

Which is all to say: you small poetry indie publishers out there -- AND YOU POETS -- ask. We need not be the ones to perpetuate a cultural belief that our poems are not worth anything. No, Sirreee, we don't.

I got a small percentage of the money for administrative purposes, but the bulk of the permission fee goes to the poet. Because the poet created the poem. When there's money to be made by a poem, it should mostly go to its creator -- something easily forgotten in a world where poems generally aren't given their due.

This publisher got off cheap at a paltry thousand bucks. A poem is priceless. Even the shitty ones.

That's right -- even the shitty ones. They're the bricks for that one Keeper-of-a-Poem shining brilliantly at the end of, not the road but, where the fork paths onto a new road.

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