No one who cares about British poetry would have been happy to read the news, widely facebooked about yesterday, that Salt was announcing a cessation of single-author poetry collection publishing. This is big news, because Salt had been publishing 30+ such volumes a year of late, under the editorship of Roddy Lumsden, a Scottish Bloodaxe poet with claim to being the formally inventive master of these isles; along the way, Salt championed many debuts of brilliant poets, including two major figures, Jon Stone and Luke Kennard. In all, they'd published around 400 such titles. Last year Salt was shortlisted for a Man Booker Prize for prose, which is also big news, and changed their fortunes.
Salt saw that the prose world was more open to their brand of indie brashness than the poetry world, which had rather noticeably not prized the Salt list as much as might have been expected, given its talent-rich offerings. Of course, the immediate reaction was a little ugly - poets angered, feeling let down. Laundry got aired that wasn't lily white. Okay, but hold on. Salt did a lot, and paid a price. I am glad to be a director of a publishing house because now I know a terrible truth that keeps me up at night, like some Lone Gunman from the X-Files.
The truth: poetry books don't sell at all well, unless they win or are shortlisted for a big prize; or are by a famous poet that is often on the BBC. You can tweet, and hype, and pop up, and bang tambourines, but you'll likely sell 200 copies or less of most debut poetry collections. As Keats did. The universe has a few rules, and that is one of them. Poetry sells 200 units if you are unknown. The world is cruel, but given most people have more than 200 friends and family members these days, it is also fickle and lacking money. Salt would still be selling poetry collections and publishing them if YOU were buying them. So, while you can, consider ordering a poetry book today, by a British indie press. Eyewear will do. And cut Salt some slack.