To understand how poetry books are faring at the Book Fair, Dhaka Tribune spoke to two publishers and two poets.
Robin Ahsan, publisher at Shrabon Publication, said they have launched seven poetry books – notable among them Mohammad Nurul Huda’s book “Ami O Rohingya Shishu” and Roushana Mukta’s “Keno Dolonchapa.”
Robin said: “The sales of poetry books have been declining after the 1990s. Before, book sales at the Ekushey Book Fair used to be determined on the basis of how many poetry books were being sold.
“What with the death of famous poets like Shamsul Rahman, Rafiq Azad and others, now the sales have hit rock bottom in comparison. After 1990s, there was a social change; the corporate and capitalist culture took over. People do not have time for poetry and they are compelled to run after money. They have little time on themselves to keep the poetry movement alive.”
He added: “Another reason behind the decline could be the advent of technology – use of mobile phones and social media – for example, youngsters no longer rely on buying books of romantic poetry or writing letters for their beloveds to express their feelings, they can just send texts or chat online.”
Robin, however, appreciates the use of social media. He believes many poets can now easily share their works online and get feedback from readers and critics.
Regarding the shift in writing styles, he said a few poets have transitioned into new styles. “But this shift can only be noticeable if one reads the poems, buys the book,” he added, “There has been a big shift in poetry – its language and other aspects – with time. Since the sales are low, less people are noticing it.”
Poet Nazneen Khalil, whose book of poems “Guptodhanuki Othoba Mangsho Bikreta” published by Choitonno, was launched at the book fair this year. Her previous book “Bhul Doroja Ebong Purono Oshuk” was published and launched at the Book Fair in 2014. To her, publishing books is a matter of documentation, “keeping her words and thoughts stored” just like one does in personal journals. Not interested in popularity, she publishes her work so that readers can read her thoughts through her books.
Choitonno’s publisher Rajib Chowdhury revealed that they launched 35 books of poems. In total, the house launched 110 books this year. However, Rajib credited their branding to the poetry books and said they have received a good response from buyers.
Author and poet, Shamim Azad, said it would be unfair to say poetry book sales have only declined in Bangladesh and added: “It is a global phenomenon. In comparison with other books, poetry books are not that popular anywhere.”
Shamim, who published her first poetry book in 1983, said: “Sales depend entirely on poets’ popularity and visibility. People tend to buy books of people they know. I have been writing fiction, non-fiction and poems for years – however, people know me as a poet.
“The sales depend on how readers can be attracted. To make poems more popular we need more scopes to perform, recite and discuss our work so that the readers can be familiar with them.”
Shamim has co-edited “British Bangladesh Poetry An Anthology” with Stephen Watts – which brings together wide-ranging voices of British Bangladeshi poets. Agamee Prakashani launched its first edition last year and the second this year. Most of Shamim’s poetry books are published by Agamee. She launched an autobiographical novel “Bongshobij” published by Shomoy Prakashani this year.