Monday, November 24, 2008

Poetry and Good Looks

If you’re a poet, does it also help to be fantastically good-looking?

Clearly, it doesn’t count so much as in the rock, television or movie industry where so much depends on looks. The best poets vary greatly in their aesthetic appeal. People buy their books for their words and don’t care what the poets look like.

Or is that entirely true? In these days of live literature, YouTube, poetry on DVD, and increasing pressure to form an image around one’s work to provide a selling-point, would it help if you looked like the young Brad Pitt or Michelle Pfeiffer (photo)? Do people pick up books and pay more attention to them if the author photo appeals to them?

12 comments:

Andrew Shields said...

Surely a good-looking poet does sell a few more copies than one who does not look like Michelle P. I'm not saying I think that's fair, but looks continue to be one of the ways in which people are simply unfair, often in completely unconscious ways.

Claire A said...

Someone once said I'd get a long way in poetry because I'm "young and pretty", and as you can imagine, I wanted to punch him. However, I do think that it helps to be memorable in poetry, and how you look can make a difference. People seem to be more likely to remember that I have red hair than to remember my full name (more than one person has told me that in order to find my poems after seeing me at a reading they Googled "red haired poet edinburgh" or something - as a result I often mention it in bios these days). So I think the way you look is definitely a factor, for better or worse!

Anonymous said...

Dunno ... my tendency would be *not* to buy the books with a glamorous looking person on the back. I'd find it harder to take them seriously. So my prejudice works in the opposite direction.

Much more impressed by the photo of Geoffrey Hill on the back of his '85 Collected in which he looked like a miserable old tramp. Or Selima Hill posing with a turkey.

ABJ

Colin Will said...

I'm having problems commenting today ...

When I used to build the StAnza website I got a lot of author photos, and then at the festival I'd meet the authors. Sometimes a 25-year old publicity shot doesn't match up with the reality.

Rob said...

Interesting responses. Thanks. Looks must have an effect, but quite how deep that effect goes is another matter.

There must be more of a (subconscious) effect, I think, if the poet is new or unknown.

deemikay said...

A friend of mine used to have an irrational hatred of Ted Hughes because he was sure a picture he saw was of him. "He looks like Arthur Negus!" he told me. "No he doesn't," I said. And then he went and bought his forty quid collected poems.

Works the other way as well. Especially to fools with too much money. :)

Claire A said...

Colin -- I agree!! Carol Ann Duffy (bless her heart) got a seriously talented photographer to take the photo on the back of her Selected... either that, or some liberal Photoshopping went on. I've come across others who've done that too - it's a bad idea! Your readers are only going to think you're a total narcissist once they finally see your eye bags in all their glory, I reckon!

roddy said...

I know two young writers who put 'unattractive' photos on the back of their second books because they felt they had had too much focus on their looks / unwanted attention of various sorts after their firsts.

Need;less to say, neither of them was myself (though I do look rather dashing on my first book shot)

Pearl said...

A too polished image that doesn't resemble the author still might hook to sell books I expect. It's part of polish - word, phrase, page, binding, cover and author shot. That unconscious programming communicates something of tone that should match the style.

The last issue of www.mipoesias.com goes into the whole visual packaging of poet aspect.

RHE said...

Rob,

I am neither young nor pretty. May I use that as an excuse for not appearing on the Times best-seller list again this week?

David Floyd said...

I think, as Claire suggests, a distinctive look can be helpful.

It might not sell books in itself but it helps people remember who you are, which then ultimately helps you sell books if your poetry's halfway decent.

More broadly, being fantastically good-looking can potentially help with anything but if you were a fantastically good-looking person aiming to make full use of the opportunities that this gives you, you'd probably go into something a bit more lucrative than poetry.

Rob said...

Thanks for the comments again, everyone.

Maybe looking 'distinctive' is just as handy as being classically beautiful. Geoffrey Hill would qualify as distinctive, as would Selima Hill.