Powerful Resentment

Via Homunculus, I see that the poet Wendy Cope avers that she resents the fact that after she's dead someone else will be collecting the royalties on her poems:
In the long run - if our poems survive into the long run - we'll be in no position to benefit from royalties or permission fees. All poets hope that their work will outlive them. I'm no exception. Even so, I sometimes feel a bit annoyed by the prospect of people making money out of my poems when I'm too dead to spend it.
She is obviously making a lot more money from her poetry than I make from mine, though that's not even the point. This just seems like a crazy relationship to have to one's own work. The main point of Cope's piece in The Guardian is that people should not download a poet's work from the internet. And that it shouldn't be posted there in the first place. It's true that the sort of poetry Cope writes is the sort more likely to be passed around for a laugh via email, but Cope has a narrow & ultimately self-defeating view of copyright & distribution. I'd be happy to have a few of my poems turn up on the internet, even without my permission. Cope nods toward the idea that online copies are "free publicity" only to dismiss it out of a desire to "monetize" every copy of every one of her poems. "Money is a kind of poetry," Wallace Stevens noted, but if poetry is also, conversely, a kind of money, we must put the emphasis on the phrase kind of. Cope does have a point, I think, about performance rights:
Another beef concerns literary festivals. These days they often invite actors or anthologists to come along and present a programme of other people's poems. I'd like to be sure that they have cleared permission to read the work to a paying audience, and I know that in many cases they haven't. So the people who wrote the work are getting no benefit from the event. For most poets, fees for doing readings of their own work are an important part of their income. So, if festivals invite actors or anthologists instead, and the poets are not paid for the use of their work, poets have cause for complaint.
But what comes across most powerfully in Wendy Cope's essay is resentment toward those who read her work. I don't begrudge her making a living, of course, but this possessive attitude toward each copy of her work -- in an age of mechanical reproduction (Benjamin, 1936) -- seems a little neurotic & imaginatively narrow.

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.