The audience for "serious books . . . really doesn't want to be marketed to. But if you don't market to them, they don't know what to read."
- Sara Nelson, editor in chief of Publishers Weekly
To which I say: the answer lies on the road to Mandalay!
What a quandary, eh? I guess it's true - at Poetry we keep learning more and more about who likes and wants to read poems, and sure enough: you don't want to beat people over the head with poetry, but you certainly do hope they'll want to read it. For which you can get called a dumbing-down populist and/or elitist, a crass money-fed salesman, too-well connected and/or completely out of touch - and things I can't repeat here. If you don't get the word out, nobody gets the word, but if you proselytize, people think you've got an ideology to smack them with. You naturally feel that if you're doing things right and believe in the work you help put forward... they will come! But it isn't that way at all.
OK, I know I sure don't want to be "marketed to," myself. So imagine my delight at discovering a format that eliminates the quandary altogether. It's called "The World's Largest Book," and it's pictured above. You know the expression, "it isn't set in stone?" Well, here's a book whose text is, literally! If you go to the Kuthodaw pagoda in Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma), you can read it. Not including travel time, this might take you a while: there are 730 leaves (that is, pages with writing on just one side) and 1460 pages. And those pages are three and a half feet wide, five feet tall, and five inches thick. Not only that, but each stone tablet has its own roof, and is (or was at one time) capped by a precious gem on top in a stone box.
Here how Wikipedia describes this book's - for lack of a better word - publication:
"The marble was quarried from Zagyin Hill 32 miles north of Mandalay, and transported by river to the city. Work began on 14 October 1860 in a large shed near Mandalay Palace. The text had been meticulously edited by tiers of senior monks and lay officials consulting the Tipitaka (literally - the three baskets, namely Vinaya Pitaka, Sutta Pitaka and Abhidhamma Pitaka) kept in royal libraries in the form of peisa or palm leaf manuscripts. Scribes carefully copied the text on marble for stonemasons. Each stone has 80 to 100 lines of inscription on each side in round Burmese script, chiselled out and originally filled in with gold ink. It took a scribe three days to copy both the obverse and the reverse sides, and a stonemason could finish up to 16 lines a day. All the stones were completed and open to the public on 4 May 1868... Thirty years later in 1900, a print copy of the text came out in a set of 38 volumes in Royal Octavo size of about 400 pages each in great primer type of letters." (Can you imagine copyediting and proofreading that thing??)
All this talk about the disappearance of the book... Well, here one that isn't going away any time soon. And marketing: this thing draws a lot of attention to itself, that's for sure.
You know, we keep trying to envision ways of bringing poetry, and Poetry, to readers beyond the printed page. At the Harriet blog, there's some hope for building a community around poets and their readers; there's social networking; Kindles (TM) and iPhones (TM) and BlackBerries (also TM); podcasts and videos and poems-in-motion for your commute. But I like this thing. It stays put, demands attention, has survived desecration and political disaster, and probably won't become obsolete. So long as there are folks who can decipher the Burmese script, that is: nothing's perfect.