It’s been a fever of folding and labelling and stamping, and more folding and more printing. And then — disaster!

It’s been a fever of folding and labelling and stamping, and more folding and more printing. And then — disaster!

I always think I’m well-prepared, and this time I was particularly good with the address labels. That is to say, I updated the subscriber list (which I’m happy to say keeps expanding, even in times of blizzard) and made up new address labels with exquisite care.

Nearly all the flyers were done by Dolphin Press, because it’s too time-consuming these days to print as well as design them. However, the letter to subscribers, the updated publications list and flyers for my own book were my job.

Which was fine because my HP2055 printer works beautifully and I had an extra toner cartridge sitting there if needed.

When the current toner ran out, and multiple shaking proved it really wouldn’t do any more, I felt an ominous shiver. The spare cartridge was a recycled refill. It ‘only’ cost fifty quid. But it fitted into the machine neatly. Oh ye of little faith!

And then . . . each sheet of paper stuck resolutely half-way round the cylinder. The machine did not like the toner cartridge, though the error message was blaming the paper. I needed to print 400-500 more documents. Grrr.

I went to Misco and ordered three new toner cartridges, full price. What’s money? They’ll arrive too late, but they’ll avert the next crisis.

And meanwhile, ever resourceful — I had ANOTHER PRINTER. A new one. I shouldn’t have this printer, but I got it when I bought the new Imac on which I’m now working, because if you bought the printer with the Mac you got seventy quid back, and so the printer itself (which is also a scanner and probably boils eggs) cost only twenty. And it was colour. I hadn’t got a colour printer. (For very good reasons which some part of my brain temporarily deleted.)

So I paused the mailshot. No, actually that’s not true. The mailshot paused itself because I ran out of price lists at about letter E.

These new machines are so clever they make you feel neanderthal. It took me a while to find the right pressure of ‘touch’ to make the tiny touchscreen operate, but I did it in the end. And then everything found everything else by whatever remote wireless magic these things function. And the printer worked.

But multi-function as it is (Photoshot 1100 series) it doesn’t like two-sided printing. It seems to be designed for people printing colour photographs at home. And of course the toner bundle it came with hasn’t got much toner in it, has it? I forgot that bit. Printing about 80 sheets worth of price lists — with some difficulty because front was okay but back was not — has more or less used up the black.

I ordered another toner ‘bundle’ for the new bijou scanning, faxing, carol-singing printer. That’s only £250 on toner in a week. It’s an investment.

Back to folding the Christmas cards and Poemcards, getting more stressed. I know why. It’s a touch of SSD (Seasonal Stress Disorder). Meanwhile, the Accounts are nearly done. Not quite. And neither are the personal Christmas cards. I need to fold at least another 100.

When I woke this morning, it was snowing again. I am up to letter L.

This time the blanket of white and the blurred flaky sky looks reassuring. It’s getting darker by the minute. The blizzard is  getting thicker. Snow calms things. You can make footprints without a printer.

The HappenStance Accounts




‘Oh now I have hit it,’ said Don Quixote; ‘thou wouldst say thou art so docile, tractable, and gentle that thou wilt take what I say to thee, and submit to what I teach thee.’

Except there are many Sancho-Panza Poets that don’t and won’t.

‘Oh now I have hit it,’ said Don Quixote; ‘thou wouldst say thou art so docile, tractable, and gentle that thou wilt take what I say to thee, and submit to what I teach thee.’

Except there are many Sancho-Panza Poets who won’t.

But who am I to bludgeon people into submitting appropriately? I printed a whole booklet on the subject — How (Not) to Get Your Poetry Published. That is not to say people must read it.

From this you will gather we are in the submissions ‘window’ again. Christmas cards are tumbling through the letter box and so are large brown envelopes stuffed with poetry. Some splendid poetry has arrived, in fact.

However, I must select. As the politicians would say, difficult decisions must be taken. Lessons must be learned. There is only one of me, and money and — even more significantly, time — is limited.

Lessons have been learned by many of the submitters too: some of them are good. They do the right thing in their covering letters. They present the poems well, in a normal-sized type-face; they do not bind them; they have a name and address on every sheet.

I am quite stressed when I open them, however. I am thinking, Oh my God, what shall I do if this one is marvellous? A good bit of me is hoping it’s not, because I am wearing thin.

So let’s see. What is the poet asking when she or he sends in this submission? It is a request for publication. Please like my poems enough to publish them. I have made this request of others, so I know the uneasy position all too well. Nobody wants to be a groveller, and yet it feels like grovelling.

In my case, because I am a pamphlet publisher, it is not such a big request as it would be, say, to Bloodaxe. In my case, it is Please like twenty-eight pages-worth of my poems well enough to print them.

No-one can LIKE to order. That’s obvious. Some of this is personal. But some is not.

Offering to publish someone’s poems means a number of things.

It must follow, as the night the day, there will be a working relationship, so it needs to be a person one feels one can get along with (covering letter and perhaps previous interaction significant here). It’s going to cost serious cash to do this — for a pamphlet I allow about £350.00 all in, which may be on the conservative side. It’s going to cost time (I spend at least the equivalent of a week’s full-time time on each publication and sometimes two.) It’s going to mean promoting the publication to everyone I know, including my friends, so I’d better believe in it. It’s going to mean putting multiple copies in multiple packages to multiple people, often early in the morning before trauchling off through the snow to one of my paying jobs. It may eventually cover its costs. Many of the publications do not.

Publishing poetry makes me poorer. So why. . . ?  Well, obviously if you believe in poetry at all, you know that’s the deal. It makes you poorer in pocket and richer in perception. It can make some people feel rather powerful too, though this power, like all other earthly power, is a mixed blessing. We are — make no mistake, Sancho — servants of the mill, not masters of the muse.

Back to the submissions. When I tear open the envelope and start to read, I have a mental checklist. I have considered returning some submissions with this very list attached, since it would allow people to know how they ‘scored’. However, the fact is if they pass on the final criterion, you can forget about the rest.

In reality, it’s likely to be a combination of factors. Also, I may yet make it an absolute requirement to take out a subscription to HappenStance.

One last thing before I share my list. I have many pamphlets waiting to be worked on, and much unsold poetry filling what was once the ‘spare’ bedroom. Anyone submitting to me for the first time now is looking two years ahead, even if I think their poetry is the best thing since sliced wasteland. It is far quicker to win one of the pamphlet competitions.

Now I’ll share the not very secret checklist, but first please note, I always acknowledge submissions by post and usually reply in more detail later, unless they are sent, without prior agreement, from outside Europe. I never acknowledge by email. In my case, it’s snail or sink.

1. Is there an SAE big enough to return the poems? (I ALWAYS return the poems with scribblings, whether or not I make an offer.)

2. Is there an articulate covering letter, with a date on it? (Sorry, I am an English teacher.)

3. Are the poems clearly presented in a normal-sized and consistent type-face?

4. Is name and address on each sheet?

5. Are poems loose-leaf, so I can shuffle them at will?

6. Has the person got a reputable track record of publication?

7. Is the person active in Poetry World? Are they likely to be able to sell more than 10 copies?

8. Is the person interacting on the web, with friends who will respond to email flyers and use an online purchasing facility?

9. Does this person know something about HappenStance? Have they read any of the publications? Can they say something reasonable about why they have chosen to send poems to me?

10. Is this a subscriber?

11. Have I met them?

12. Have they been recommended or mentioned to me by one of my other poets?

13. Have they submitted before? (I keep notes)

14. Do I like the poems?

15. Do I LOVE any of the poems? How shall I love thee? Let me count the ways . . .






I wish I didn’t find it deadly. But I do.

I keep meticulous little files of monies paid in, monies paid out. I have all the cash receipts in clear polywallets, labelled by month. I file the bank statements for all three accounts, and the credit card, and the PayPal statements, and the pay slips (paper and electronic), and the P60 and the invoices and so on.

At the moment that means two fat ring-binders, one purple and one yellow. One of my procrastination techniques is buying new ring-binders or wallets or cardboard folders to keep things in. Then I have a nice black box for packing things up to take to the accountant to get checked. And special books for recording income and expenditure, all divided into columns so I can see what costs what.

But in the end, I have to sit down and DO it. You can’t sell poetry without a reckoning. So I begin.

At this point, I find I’ve lost some essential document or other, and go into panic mode. I hate this moment. All my careful filing is pointless because X is missing. And X, usually, is not missing at all. X is just mis-filed, or staring me in the face.

The problem is simply I haven’t done this stuff for a long time so I’ve forgotten how. I completely forget from one year to another, as though my brain conspires in the obliteration.

So I have to teach myself all over again — slowly at first, then gradually approaching a speed that’s acceptable. It’s going to take days but it is going to get done.

And then I see all the neat little columns of handwriting, and the bits I highlight and the bits I underline in red, and the sums that add up, and I start to feel quietly pleased.

(No, I am not using spreadsheets. I have thought about it, and the reckoning bit would be quicker, but it would mean more hours at a screen, and I’m already spending enough. ‘Spending’ — ha! – how the imagery of finance creeps into every single concept of time.)

This week the snow helped. It was calm and white and irrevocable. It sat there waiting for me to get the accounts moving (I started and then stopped again during the October week’s holiday). The accounts were at the top of my ‘to do’ list, where they’ve been for approximately two months. So I began, looking up from time to time at the gleaming icicles.

It’s not so bad. If I completed the accounts records every month, they would never get so huge as to LOOM over me. I say this every year.

I’ll give myself a treat later today and start folding the Christmas cards for the subscriber mailshot. . . or read some of the submissions pile. Some really lovely poems have come in this week. NO, NO, NO POEMS!!!



Check out latest interview with pamphlet publisher, Ian Davidson.

Have you forgotten the Sphinx FEATURES AND INTERVIEWS section of the website? Check out latest interview with pamphlet publisher, Ian Davidson.

Pamphlets are where it’s at.

Except where’s it’s at is not where it’s at either. It’s always somewhere else.

That’s the whole problem with poetry, and apostrophes.


Or so, allegedly, said Oscar Wilde. As snow gusts past my window, so does the flurry of tasks for this morning.

However, the new Imac (thank you Michael Marks), which has what seems at the moment to be a huge screen, (custom shrinks things) is up and running. So far I don’t seem to have lost anything vital.

Moreover, the two Po-Lites are printed and ready to send out.


Every publication, I am convinced, has a mistake in it. In fact, when I pore over the pages for the last time before taking them to the printer, I KNOW there will be something I don’t see. If it’s just one mistake, I’m always relieved.


In Martin Parker’s pamphlet No Longer Bjored the error was more significant.


When I set a publication up I put the working title in the footer, and that’s also what goes in the author contract. Then there’s an extended discussion between me and the author about what the final title should be. In this case, I thought the first title (Enough is Enough) might well cut the mustard. However, the draft front cover graphic was a picture of a bottle of wine lurching sideways in the sand, and Martin thought it might give an impression that . . . he’d rather not have.


So there was a title discussion, which ended up in the fjords with some dancing birds. And everything was resolved very happily, except I forgot to change the footer. And I failed to see it in the proofs. And the whole publication, therefore, was printed with the wrong title at the foot of every page.


I considered reprinting, despite the moral and financial pain. However, Martin came up with a better idea and now the verse erratum slip, telling the story of the wrong-footed footer, is such a delight that it is possible, as he has suggested, that everybody will want one.


In Graham Austin’s Fuelling Speculation there is, needless to say, also a mistake, though not in the footer. But I’m not going to tell you what it is. More importantly, it is a lovely, wayward collection, written by a chap who sees things from angles other poets do not.


Often an intrepid performer can make a bit of creaky Lite work brilliantly for an audience. But on the page? That’s harder. When I use comic verse with students in my other life, what makes six of them howl with laughter will leave another six looking completely lost. And that’s another problem. Printed light verse is for canny readers. But there’s a few of these around. You could be one of them. . . .


As I type, the snow outside has turned to an amazing blizzard.  I don’t think the planned trip to buy the bathroom mirror is happening today. The door of the washing machine has just refused to un-click, so everything is stuck inside. There’s another mundane challenge. Oh hell.


Meanwhile, with a bit of luck and no thanks to the Hotpoint washing machine which I have grown to hate and one of which I will never ever buy again, Tim Love’s pamphlet, Moving Parts, will be finished today.


The plan is to get it to the printer this week and it will be the last publication of 2010. Tim is not generally funny and this is not light verse. However, he has something in common with Graham Austin that I find difficult to put into words. It’s something to do with his angle of perception. I have been following Tim Love poems in the small press for over ten years and he is completely unpredictable. I used to type out his poems to try to work out what was going on in them. What he does in one is so different from what he does in another that you could be forgiven for thinking there were at least four of him.


Putting together Moving Parts has surprised me in ways I didn’t expect. The astonishing variety is there — but there are also more connections than I had anticipated. The set feels integrated. The title (which Tim chose initially and which remains) is exactly right. Parts of these poems are very moving, in terms of human emotion. But all of them are on the move: they don’t stay still easily. They often have lines you can read two or three ways. The tone changes radically from one page to another and sometimes from one phrase to another. I said this wasn’t light verse, but it is playful. He has always been a playful poet, watching himself at his own game, and sometimes discovering something that seems to surprise him too. In terms of poetry, he’s not like anybody else. That sounds a simple thing to say, but increasingly I think it’s one of my main criteria. It applies to Martin Parker;  to Graham Austin too.


Sometimes people talk about ‘voice’, as though that’s what makes poets distinctive. That doesn’t seem to me to be the right word, especially for a poet who can change voices at will. The distinctive factor might be to do with perception and playfulness. But it might not. It might be do with mastering that odd business of poetic register. We no longer have a standard way of mustering language that automatically feels like ‘poetry’. Each person has to sort this thing out for him or herself. And then that person’s ‘poetic’ register has also to be a way of using language that’s consistent with his or her individual mode of thought and expression. They have to sound like themselves, even when they’re being someone else.


Did I say there was a blizzard outside? It’s snowing in my head.






It is Alan Hill’s birthday today and it is also the official publication date of his pamphlet No Biography.

I have never been keen on syllabic verse forms, but I like this. It’s beautifully understated, delicately done.

The pamphlet presents the poems as a sequence, two tanka per page, and they offer moments from a number of decades. Even though they’re so short, somehow the sense of a whole life comes through. I found them curiously moving to work on, despite the fact that they’re so elegantly reticent. Or perhaps because of that fact.

Alan will be launching No Biography formally at the Scottish Arts Club in Edinburgh on Saturday December 11th, at 11.00 am. It’s an RSVP event but please let me know if you are in the area and would like to come — just email me on nell@happenstancepress.com.


As in you can’t see it for. As in hit the, bite the, cut the, kiss the, gather the. As in when the dust settles. As in not see somebody for. As in dust yourself down and.

As in you can’t see it for. As in hit the, bite the, cut the, kiss the, gather the. As in when the dust settles. As in not see somebody for. As in dust yourself down and.

Plot and Counterplot is in a box in the boiler room beside the front door. Alan Hill’s No Biography is partly behind the sofa and more of it beside the french windows in the lounge. Also behind the sofa are the new PoemCards, racked in sets, the leaflets ready for No Biography and the two Po-Lites and Plot and Cop.

Plot and Counter-Plot

Behind the stairs are more pamphlets. In plastic boxes with the lids firmly on.

Because of the dust. The dust is created by Sandy Kelly. Sandy Kelly is refitting the bathroom upstairs.

There is nothing grand about this house. It’s ex-Council or GDC, can’t remember which. It’s pleasant inside, a bit eighties. Every single bit of it needs redecorating. The conservatory (but at least it has one) leaks in four places. Bits of fitted wainscot fall off every now and again all over the place. Scraps of wall-paper are peeling. It is a national spider protection zone.

But it is about to have a nice upstairs bathroom, and Sandy Kelly is the man. He has been working on the job now for three weeks. The shower is done. The wall tiles are done (but the grouting’s not finished). The floor tiles are not in place yet. Nor is the toilet, the washhand basin, the cupboards that go around them. And my mother is coming to stay on Friday for the launch of Plot and Cop in the Scottish Poetry Library.

I’ve been hoovering and dusting every couple of days (not like me) because of the layer of fine dust that has been settling over everything. It floats down the stairs and then permeates everything. Upstairs, the other pamphlets are in the spare room with the door firmly shut. So are all the bits and pieces that were in the bathroom before, or at the bottom of the stairs gathering dust. How mum will get to the bed in there remains to be seen.

It’s only dust. People’s houses disintegrate in earthquakes. In Scotland, one of the safest countries in the world, so far as natural disasters go, there’s really nothing to complain about.

We are but dust and to dust we shall return. Just not quite yet, I hope.


Plot and Counterplot, my own second collection, is in the HappenStance shop. You can buy it from here via PayPal, or by post, or go to the Shoestring Press website and purchase using their downloadable form. One of the poems inside is also available as a PoemCard.

Plot and Counterplot, my own second collection, is in the HappenStance shop. You can buy it from here via PayPal, or by post, or go to the Shoestring Press website and purchase using their downloadable form. One of the poems inside is also available as a PoemCard.

The launch of this Shoestring Press volume is at the Scottish Poetry Library on Saturday 20th November, 3.00 for 3.30. John Lucas, Shoestring Publisher, will be there, and he’ll also be doing the Scottish launch of two books of his own, both published by Five Leaves.

If you’re in Edinburgh, do come. Not only will Ross Bradshaw (Five Leaves Publisher) be there in person, but it’s not all poetry. One of John’s books is Next Year Will Be Better, A Memoir of Life in the Fifties. So if you’re old enough to remember life back then, or even if you’re not . . .