Saturday, November 26, 2011

Why the Coverage of Poets Matters

Among other attributes,  a major literary award can bring winning poets increased media coverage. Just ask Nikky Finney. Over the last couple of weeks, she has received substantial attention in various media outlets after she won the National Book Award for Poetry for her volume Head Off & Split.

[Related content: Why Poet Awards Matter]

Poets rarely receive coverage in mainstream magazines like Time such as a recent piece on Finney or in newspapers. Perhaps journalists have a hard time explaining why writing poems or publishing a volume of poetry constitutes news? But winning a major award? Well, that's newsworthy.

On the one hand, the recent news coverage of Finney brings her to the attention of readers who were previously unfamiliar with her and her work. At the same time, the coverage solidifies Finney's base of longtime readers and supporters. For years, Finney has actively nurtured a communal, if not familial, atmosphere among her supporters and in the communities of artists that she belongs to; thus, her big win and appraisals in the news must feel like a collective achievement to those in her circles.

One subtle downside of the increased media coverage is the implicit suggestion that poets and the work they do is only newsworthy when they win awards.  What about all the significant yet non-award winning work that poets do over the years? It's telling that many of Finney's supporters remark that she is "finally" receiving recognition, a suggestion that such acknowledgement was long overdue.

It's clear then that the coverage and lack of coverage on poets matter. The good feeling some of us get seeing a poet receive substantial media attention is notable in part because it happens so rarely.

Related content: A Notebook on the work of Nikky Finney

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