College textbook memories: 1986 “Introduction to Poetry” text

I’m a packrat by nature. You should therefore not be surprised to learn that although I graduated from college in 1990, I still have many of my college textbooks. 

I purchased the above text in 1986 for an English class (obviously).

The above textbook cost $25 when I bought it. If that sounds cheap to you, I’ll point out that this would be $65.58 in 2022 dollars. So perhaps college textbooks have always been overpriced. Also, minimum wage was $3.35 per hour in 1986, and $4 to $5 was considered a “typical” hourly wage for a student-level job.

I haven’t written or read much poetry since I took that class. 

Why? While I’m more than willing to tilt at windmills, even I have my limits. The market for poetry in the English-speaking has never been great…at least in modern times. The editor of the above text, X.J. Alexander, points this out in an essay near the end of the book. He describes a “poetry glut”. And keep in mind: the above textbook was published a decade before the Internet or Windows 95, back when people who wanted to write had to actually use typewriters or pens. Now we can write entire books on our cellphones.

Like most overly introspective teenagers through the ages, I wrote my share of bad poetry between the ages of 15 and 17, or 1983 and 1985. Teenage crushes, feelings of being misunderstood, and generalized adolescent angst all tend to produce bad poetry, like May weather produces dandelions.

No—you will never see any of those old poems of mine here. All of those old pages disappeared in the chaos of a move in 1988. This was no great loss, neither to me, nor to the American literary canon. 

Another nice thing about the pre-Internet era: the potentially embarrassing things we wrote, said, or did tended to disappear with the passage of time. As they should.

Kindle Vella: some reactions from writers thus far

I haven’t yet taken the plunge into Amazon’s Kindle Vella platform. This isn’t because of any principle-driven objection on my part. I actually like the idea of serial fiction.

What I don’t like are the genres that presently dominate serial fiction on sites like Wattpad: YA romance, teen werewolf fantasies, and (of course) endless stories about teenagers with super-powers.

Nothing wrong with any of these categories, mind you. But I’m a 53-year-old adult. I don’t play in those fields, and have no interest in starting now.

***

Vincent V. Triola is another 50-something writer. Having perused his online footprint, I suspect that his politics are a bit to the left of mine. (That’s okay, most writers have politics to the left of mine.) But we’re both old enough to remember the pre-Amazon, pre-Internet literary world. I suspect that Mr. Triola, like me, spent some time in mall bookstores in the era of Ronald Reagan and Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Mr. Triola is pessimistic on Vella, having dipped his toe into it. Writing on Medium, he describes Vella as “a writer-driven marketplace”. What this basically means (for those unfamiliar with Wattpad) is that most of the readers in a given literary marketplace are fellow (and competing) writers.

This is perfectly acceptable on Wattpad, which is youth-centric and mostly free. Wattpad also appeals to the generation that loves social media, and lots of step-by-step peer group engagement. My teenage years ended long before Instagram and TikTok, but I can easily imagine hormone-soaked, teenage brains lighting up with every social media “like”. We are all pack animals below the age of twenty-one or so.

But this community-based, social media-esque approach isn’t as appropriate for a paid platform like Amazon, where most readers aren’t hawking their own books and stories, too. There is nothing wrong with readers who are also writers, of course. But when that becomes the entire basis for a marketplace, the marketplace tends to become incestuous and spammy. (I’ve definitely seen this on YouTube, with all the “sub for sub” comment spam.)

As evidence for his claim, Triola notes that Vella has been almost exclusively marketed to authors thus far. This is a fair observation. I interact with Amazon as both a reader and a writer. I’ve received all Amazon’s communications about Vella so far via my writing communication channel.

Finally, Triola mentions that Amazon emphasizes the youth-centric genres that comprise most of Wattpad. There is only one tag for nonfiction. But “nonfiction” includes everything from historical biographies to automotive repair, to horticulture.

***

On the other side of this coin, some of the writers in several Facebook groups where I lurk are quite bullish on Vella. Almost all of them, however, write in the YA fantasy and/or romance fields. Back to some of Mr. Triola’s points.

Also, Amazon does now have a large banner ad for Vella on the front page of the Kindle store. So if Amazon isn’t exactly pushing Vella at readers, it isn’t exactly hiding it, either.

***

What is Amazon’s longterm strategy with Vella? Vella is obviously intended to be a Wattpad-killer, and Wattpad, as noted above, is all about YA fantasy and romance.

My guess is that Amazon realizes that YA fantasy/romance readers and writers tend to be “different” from readers and writers in other genres.

For one thing, the boundaries between readers and writers tend to be a lot more fluid in these genres. Note the prevalence of YA fan fiction. No one writes fan fiction based on the novels of John Grisham, Michael Connelly, or Clive Cussler. But there are online oceans of fan fiction for Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games—all of which are focused on a predominantly youthful market. The Wattpad format is appealing to writers of fan fiction because of the low barriers to entry.

Also, this group, being younger, usually has less disposable income. As noted above, Wattpad is a mostly free platform. Amazon is probably uncertain about the long-term monetization prospects for Vella, beyond the writers who are presently participating. (As an adult reader, I have very little interest in paying for serial fiction installments, for whatever that’s worth.)

***

We shall see. No one knows how Vella is going to turn out, or if it will even exist a year from now. After all, Amazon has in the past killed initiatives that proved unprofitable or unmanageable, like Kindle Worlds.

For now, I’m going to continue my wait-and-see approach with Kindle Vella.