Friday, December 07, 2007

Tanka Bestsellers at

Tanka Bestsellers at is becoming the de facto home of print on demand publishing of tanka. While tanka books continue to be published with small presses and other print on demand services, no publisher makes public the sales figures for their titles. Since each publisher uses his own method for establishing sales ranks (if they do it at all) it is impossible to compare from publisher to publisher.

The following ranks have been culled from the sales ranks, and are based solely on those rankings. Thus the list can capture only those works published through

1) Kei, M., ed. Fire Pearls : Short Masterpieces of the Human Heart.
2) Garrison, Denis M., & Michael McClintock, eds. Modern English Tanka 1.
3) Bacharach, Dave, ed. Ribbons : Tanka Society of America Journal, 3:3.
4) Garrison, Denis M. & Michael McClintock, eds. Landfall : Poetry of Place in Modern English Tanka.
5) Garrison, Denis M. & Michael McClintock, eds. Modern English Tanka 3.
6) Garrison, Denis M. & Michael McClintock, eds. Modern English Tanka 2.
7) Garrison, Denis M. & Michael McClintock, eds. The Five-Hole Flute : Modern English Tanka in Sets and Sequences.
8) Garrison, Denis M. & Michael McClintock, eds. Modern English Tanka 4.
9) Blankenship, Gary. A River Transformed : Wang Wei’s River Wang Poems as Inspiration.
10) Goldstein, Sanford, ed. Sixty Sunflowers : Tanka Society of America Members' Anthology for 2006-2007.
11) Garrison, Denis M. & Michael McClintock, eds. Modern English Tanka 5.
12) Woodward, Jeffrey. In Passing: Selected Poems, 1974-2007.
13) Burns, Roderick. The Salesman's Shoes.
14) McClintock, Michael, & Denis M. Garrison, eds. The Dreaming Room: Tanka in Collage and Montage Sets.
15) Millcock, Allison. pausing for a moment . . . haiga and tanga.
16) Garrison, Denis M. and Michael McClintock, eds. Landfall : Poetry of Place in Modern English Tanka.
17) Garrison, Denis M., ed. Haiku Harvest.
18) Rotella, Alexis. Lip Prints : Tanka Collection 1979 - 2007.
19) Garrison, Denis M., ed. Five Lines Down : A Landmark in English Tanka.
20) Kei, M. Heron Sea : Short Poems of the Chesapeake Bay.

Small press tanka publishers, editors, and poets are loathe to share publication figures. I have been able to obtain only a handful of numbers, and most of those under a pledge of confidentiality. Refusal to share number of units sold makes it extremely difficult to track which works are actually being sold, and presumably, read. Some critics argue that 'sales' differ from 'readership', and that readership is the more important criterion. That is certainly a valid point, but not many publishers are willing or able to give me readership figures, either. And how does one calculate 'readership', anyhow? A useful figure, it is far more slippery than units sold.

Units sold also performs a valuable function: it puts a monetary value on tanka poetry. I suspect that is why so many people are uncomfortable with it. Yet it's an important measure; if tanka is to sustain itself as a legitimate genre it needs financial support. It needs readers who are willing to pay out cold hard cash to support the small presses and self-publishers who are making the effort to publish and promote tanka.

As much as we might like to sit in our ivory tower and declare ourselves above pecuniary motivations, the truth is, poetry must be paid for. It is the readers that decide how it is paid for, and therefore, what kind of poetry gets printed. While the barriers to self-publishing are getting lower all the time, it still requires an investment of time, money, and skills, a combination that describes a minority of tanka poets. The skills referred to here is not literary skills, but practical skills: book design and layout, cover design, publishing software, marketing, sales, legal (copyright and copyleft), and related efforts, such as packaging and mailing. Does tanka belong only to those who can afford the investment?

The ordinary reader, by choosing which books and journals they buy, determine which poets and consequently, what kind of poetry is worth publishing. Or put it this way: how many poets are going to publish a second book if they only sell twenty of their first book?

Yes, the Internet offers the opportunity to publish for free, or nearly free publication, but you can't wrap up the Internet and put it under the tree. You can't write your own personal inscription to a beloved on the Internet's flyleaf. You can't take the Internet with you when you're sitting in a doctor's office, waiting for an appointment. And there is absolutely no guarantee that any given page or poem will still exist on the Internet tomorrow, next week, or next year. And worse yet, read the fine print on many of those Internet hosting sites — you will discover that by posting your material to that site, you have given ownership of copyright to the website, to do with as they will.

Support literature. Buy books. Buy books by poets you like. Take a chance on poets you're not familiar with. Subscribe to journals. This Christmas, when you're trying to figure out what to buy for all the people on your list, why not buy one of them a book of tanka?


M. Kei

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