Information about the history of poetry publishing
June 15, 2016 6:13 AM   Subscribe

I would like to study the history of the business of poetry publishing. Where should I look?

Inspired by this piece about Borges, I'm looking for any and all resources about the history of publishing of poetry from any era but especially since the invention of mass production and paperbacks. I want to know as many specific business details as possible: How much was Wallace Stevens paid per poem? How much did William Blake sell his handmade books for? Was Christina Rossetti under contract? Etc.

General history of publishing is OK, but often leaves out the niche business of poetry. I am not interested in the history of novel publishing. So if you know a great history of the business of publishing with details about poets I'd love to hear about it!

Especially would love it if there was a book or books about it, but other resources like podcasts, documentaries, websites, or whatever else would be welcome. Also any specific poet's biographies or histories of poetry that you are aware of that spend time on how they actually made money and how publishers sold books and other business concerns would be cool too.

Meta-commentary also welcome: where or who else should I ask about this? Specific research libraries? Magazines that might have searchable archives? Individuals you know that I should email (Feel free to Memail me as well)?

Thanks in advancement!
posted by Potomac Avenue to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
To clarify, I'd appreciate either the perspective of how poets made money from their work throughout the ages, or how the business of being a publisher of poetry books worked in the past (or present) or both! Cheers.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:16 AM on June 15, 2016

This article on Wallace Stevens and the biography it refers to may be a place to start.
posted by chavenet at 6:52 AM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

There is a tonne of work out there pertaining to book history (remember, the novel is a very young genre). Try to start with a primer in book history (Routledge does a great one) and start playing with their bibliography. You will probably need to look at people like Jerome McGann and Roger Chartier, but that's off the top of my head. Even something like Milton's Areopagitica would probably be a good starting point (copyright & licensing is obvs related to income!).
posted by kariebookish at 7:15 AM on June 15, 2016

You may want to explore the SUNY Buffalo Poetry Collection.
posted by Riverine at 7:16 AM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Another point: mass production of publishing (ARGUABLY) started happening in the 15th century whilst paperbacks are the 20th century. To clarify/narrow down your search, just read the first few essays in Finkelstein's Introduction to Book History and figure out where you need to go.
posted by kariebookish at 7:21 AM on June 15, 2016

On your specific questions:

G.E. Bentley, Blake in the Desolate Market (2014), attempts to calculate Blake's book prices and lifetime earnings.

Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 'Copyright and Control: Christina Rossetti and her Publishers', in David Clifford and Laurence Roussillon, eds., Outsiders Looking In: The Rossettis Then and Now (2004), gives an overview of Rossetti's business dealings with her publisher Alexander Macmillan, and shows how determined she was to retain control over her copyrights.

A good way into this topic would be to look at some of the publishers specialising in poetry: Humphrey Moseley and Henry Herringman for the seventeenth century, Jacob Tonson for the eighteenth century, John Murray for the Regency period, Edward Moxon for the Victorian period, Faber & Faber for the twentieth century, and so on. Some suggestions for further reading:

Stephen Dobranski, Milton, Authorship, and the Book Trade (1999);
David Foxon, Pope and the Early Eighteenth-Century Book Trade (1991);
Wiliam St Clair, The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period (2004);
June S. Hagen, Tennyson and his Publishers (1979);
John H. Willis, Leonard and Virginia Woolf as Publishers: The Hogarth Press 1917-41 (1992).

For the twentieth century, the history of poetry publishing is, in large part, the history of small presses and little magazines. The Modernism Lab is a good online resource for information on magazines like The Egoist, and the British Library website has an introduction to the world of little magazines (with a useful bibliography).
posted by verstegan at 8:20 AM on June 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

A subject search on WorldCat for poetry publishing turns up some promising leads. You might try futzing with 'history' and related terms.
posted by xenization at 11:05 AM on June 15, 2016

Verstegan has (as always) provided a great road map of the existing literature. Another approach would be to look at case studies, biographies, and published letter collections of individual poets. A good example of the former (for the postwar world of the American small magazine) is Greg Barnhisel's James Laughlin, New Directions, and the Remaking of Ezra Pound.
posted by Sonny Jim at 1:24 PM on June 15, 2016

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