Tuesday, February 09, 2010

A Sensitive Man

Seems to be a lot of poetry in this blogger realm these days. I wrote some bad angsty teenage poetry back in the day. No, it's never seeing the light of day here. But here's one by Canadian poet Al Purdy that I first heard when Bruce Alcock did an animated short set to Purdy's reading of the poem. It was online briefly, but seems to be gone again. Well, there's this I suppose. There is a lesser live action version with Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip playing the role of the poet -- it lacks the artistic flair of animated one.

Regardless, the piece stands on its own, painting a picture of a tough-guy poet in a dive bar, contrasting images of yellow flowers with bloody fisticuffs, and lamenting the lack of understanding of this "sensitive man" and the value of a poem.


Sadly, it seems Mr Purdy's publisher is unhappy about any of the works of this great poet to be out there without permission and has asked me to take it down. So I've done so. It's shame, because it means that less people will discover how awesome this piece, and this author is. After all, just MY recommendation is hardly enough to spur sales or exploration of his other works, where a single poem posted as an example of his entire body of work could have a more significant effect. But who am I to tell old media how to get their clients' work to a modern audience and insure its continued popularity? There are enough modern authors out there who can make the argument more eloquently than I.

Go look for some books of Al Purdy's work, I'm sure they're readily available. Go search for the Gord Downy video of it. It's at least got the full text. The CBC archives also have some Purdy material worth a look/listen.


DrChako said...

Dude, that's just brilliant. Thanks for sharing.


Rocky said...

I knew Al very well and I can tell you it is his wish the publisher is carrying out. The way Al figured it, he made his living from book sales, and he had about two dozen best hits that drove his sales (At the Quinte Hotel, subject of three films, is his no. 1 hit)People were always trying to cadge permission to use these poems for good causes that they thought would bring attention to Purdy, but he always questioned whether unknown, small circulation productions had the ability to bring him attention, or was it more likely to all run the other way? He became rather hard-nosed about declining offers by unknown people to make him famous and was especially resistant to bloggers, who he feared could make his best known poems so ubiquitous few people would ever need to purchase a book to read them. So he laid down a policy to all his publishers and agents: no goddamn freebies, especially for use on the internet! You may call this "old media" but what exactly would you recommend Purdy's 85-year-old widow do to make up for lost book sales? Take to the road with a soft-shoe act to take advantage of the immense fame your blog would bring to her husband's name? You have to look at this from the writer's side. They currently live by sales of old-fashioned books and for now they have to protect that income. Maybe some sort of digital replacement for book royalties will take shape in the future, but for people who have rent to pay right now that promise is little more than pie in the sky. As you might have guessed I am also a writer who depends on "old media" economics to ply my trade.

Astin said...

Rocky - I hear your argument. It isn't new, and I understand where it comes from. As I stated, there are many successful authors out there, and some just starting out, who have addressed this issue more eloquently than I can hope to. Please, look at Cory Doctorow, John Scalzi, and others (who you will discover from them) for examples of people who realize the net benefit to their work being promoted by their fans. Some of these people are quite happy with their books sales even though they have offered every word they've written for FREE online from day 1.

If I had posted the poem in the hopes of some commercial gain, or had passed it off as my own, then I'd have been in the wrong. Instead, I posted it as a means of sharing the work of a poet that my readers most likely wouldn't have heard of. Even so, when asked to remove the piece, I did so. I respect Mr. Purdy's wishes, I just happen to believe they are wrong.

Movies, music, and the like can be copied easily. Words, however, are transcribed. I didn't photocopy the piece from a book and it magically appeared on my screen. No, it was typed. As nearly every piece of literature that is available out there is. That shows a dedication to exposing people to this work that doesn't exist with other media.

In the end, literature and other media can be easily found illegally in this world. Coming after the fans who promote the work in good faith does NOTHING to stop this. Authors who have embraced this fact find that their sales increase once they stop chasing after their fans as if they were common criminals. Perhaps Mrs. Purdy would see MORE income if this network of fandom was used and expanded. The majority of my readers, small as that number may be, are from the US, a place where Mr. Purdy's works are even harder to come by than in his native land.

Does this event lessen my appreciation of Purdy's work? No. In fact, the takedown request was polite and professional, and not at all heavy-handed. This was appreciated. But it will likely stop me from speaking of his work in this forum again. I might not even be a blip on the Web, but I can't imagine that current sales of Al's books are so huge that a few dozen interested readers wouldn't be appreciated, especially when some of them could reach a much larger audience than I.

Finally, it was one of those people Al so opposed that turned me on to his work. Bruce Alcock's short was stopped by Mr. Purdy for a long time, and only through the filmmakers persistence was he allowed to use an old CBC recording of the poem for his piece. It remains one of my favourite pieces of short film AND poetry. Without it, I would have never heard of Al Purdy, despite him being dubbed Canada's greatest poet, and it would be one less fan of his work, and therefore, none of the readers here would have learned of him from me. We are perhaps all lucky that Bruce Alcock was able to convince Al Purdy to change his mind.

Sean D said...

Amen Astin, if you hadn't posted it, I would have NEVER seen it.

And I would be poorer for it.

If he can't accept help from fans of his work, then he is lost to those who only goal is to share the joy of reading his works with those he cares about.

Does the lawyer want you to stop talking about it to friends and strangers when you are in public? All that a blog is, the written thoughts of a man or woman that he would tell a friend.

Thanks for sharing it and pooh pooh to those, heavy handed or not, can not look a helping hand without scorn.

I will not read anymore of his works nor purchase any of his works.

The damage has been done.

Jim Mitchem said...

Wow. Great arguments for both positions. I'm no poet, but I'm hopeful that one day some of the things I've noticed and put into words make their way into the hearts and minds of others. And yes, maybe even help my daughters (and their children eventually) one day. And I'm all about the idea of growing networks based on *non-traditional* word-of-mouth (social spaces.) But Purdy has a great point - what's to stop people from capitalizing on his ideas? Well, for one thing the Copyright Law of 1976 which (simplistically) states: If you think it, you own it. (just be prepared to prove it.) Does that mean everyone follows the law? hahaha, right. And *because* they're *just* words, they're more easily transferrable than any other form of art. But if musicians make music for sales only, then no one would be allowed to walk around whistling their songs. It really is a conundrum. Words.

If it were me, I'd make sure I had a ton of material before I went public w/my poetry. Use some of it as a way to attract the right network/audience via social media, and save the other stuff for sales in books.

Falstaff said...

You might be right that Cory Doctorow is more eloquent, but no more heartfelt, in his explanations of this issue. It's a tough one, as all writers are trying to figure out the new and evolving revenue streams. Just take a look at the Amazon/McMillan dustup of a couple weeks ago to see how confused everybody is about how writers and publishers are going to make money in the new world.

Alyce said...

It's sad that in this copyright world, fandom hurts terribly. Astin is 100% right. Without seeing or hearing the poem, there is just no way anyone is going to go out and buy it. And those that read it and don't pay up -- they never would've bought the books w/out the post.

Since Purdy has passed away and there's no big marketing push to get his voice out there, it's left to fans, and silencing a fan silences his following and will help it die along with its author.

Rocky, Astin published the most well-known, and well-recited poem, that lives well beyond Purdy's books. His commentary contributes and expands on that fandom. It's like a quote that gains a following outside its work. Had he published a rare poem, or all of the poems, a case could be made, but this is nothing more than interfering with the spread of appreciation for Purdy's work.

And SeanD: You think you'd be poorer for never seeing it, and now refuse to read anything else by the man? That's the silliest thing I've seen all year. It sounds more like using copyright fanatics as a reason to exclude yourself from blame over the exact piracy they're trying to fight against.