And come to that, why read them? If I pick up a magazine that mixes poems and reviews, will I turn avidly to the reviews? Nope. Unless – just possibly – I know there’s something controversial in one of them. I will start by reading the poems: first the poets I know, then the ones I don’t. I may get to the reviews later. Maybe.

There’s only one type of review people turn to immediately with an adrenalin spurt — yes, it’s the one that features their own poems. In fact, it may be the only thing they read in the magazine.

Poets generally like to get reviews of their books, though they don’t always like the reviews they get. They’re far less keen on the writing side, that is to say writing reviews of other poets’ books. A few, however, do take on the review task regularly, uncomplainingly and reliably. They are usually – but not invariably – unpaid. Reviewers are the Cinderellas of poetry. There are no national prizes or shortlists for them (fortunately). Occasionally, of course, a review does draw considerable attention by upsetting people, generally unintentionally.

Between 2005 and 2017 I ran Sphinx Review: an online publication offering short written responses to poetry pamphlets. I had a co-editor (Charlotte Gann) and a team of 14 – 25 reviewers. Each time a set of reviews was ready, an email newsletter went out. We had just over 400 subscribers; the ‘open’ rate was about 33% and the click rate 45%. People also arrived at individual reviews through FaceBook, Twitter, email and word of mouth. Some were widely read. Some were copied onto other websites. Some were hardly read at all. But since they’re online, they’re there for as long as the site lasts. They help make a poet googlable.

Running Sphinx Review cost masses of time and a growing sum of money. So finally I have stopped. My bones are creaking.

But why start it in the first place? I thought it was important. I still do. I’m a publisher. I put out books and pamphlets and I want them to be noticed. I want there to be a conversation. And I believe in putting your money, as they say, where your mouth is.

The Sphinx approach to reviewing has always been unconventional, and bound by certain principles. We reviewed nearly all the pamphlets that come in, not just the classy ones. We ran more than one review for a pamphlet, provided we had more than one copy. When we had new reviewers, we worked with them to build confidence and sharpen style. Our reviews were short – hopefully too short to be boring. Our editors (Charlotte Gann and myself) were dedicated and painstaking.

I believe it’s good for poets to write reviews. It makes them better readers; it makes them think things through. It makes them look closely, makes them re-read, check references and examine their own prejudices. It teaches them poetry tricks they can use themselves and poetry faults they can avoid. Writing good, accessible reviews is an art worth working at.

Ah but I find it easier to say why poets should write reviews than why they should read them. I’d like to think people might read interesting and original reviews for pleasure. But do they?

On Saturday 5 November, 2022, I took part in a poetry panel as part of the Push the Boat Out festival in Edinburgh, a live event. We were wrangling over the ins and outs of reviewing. And the very next day, on Sunday 6th, HappenStance poet D A Prince was on a panel in Poetry in Aldeburgh doing something similar, a live event with a live-streamed option. So these topics are topical and lively. Do you read reviews of poetry books and pamphlets? And if so, why?

What to buy for Sebastian? And Robin? And Uncle Jock?


There are four new HappenStance poetry pamphlets. Would your friends and relatives enjoy one of them as a seasonal gift? Which one? I don’t know. love them all.   

But ever helpful, I thought I’d offer some buying tips. (All are the same price – £5.00, or £3.75 to subscribers.)

Bookmarks, D.A. Prince

A set of poems inspired by the markers we leave in books. It would appeal to the sort of person who loves reading, and leaves piles of books lying around (it comes with its own bookmark so that’s a special touch). Poets should be inspired by it too: there’s food for thought here about poem-stimuli. All D.A. Prince’s poems have layers: you can read them for their surface meaning and immediate interest, and then go back many times over.

Honeycomb, M.R. Peacocke

This is a slender set, only 24 pages long. The poems inside are delicate, careful and emotive. The connecting theme may be age and ageing but the touch is light. It does make a good gift for the older reader, but I think those who love lyrical work would also take to it instantly, at any age. And for anyone who already knows M.R. Peacocke’s work, it’s a must.

The Lesser Mortal, Geoff Lander

This is a great gift for scientists —perhaps in particular scientists who don’t think of themselves as poetry readers (also a good gift for artists who don’t think of themselves as scientists) — or young folk planning on science degrees. The contents are beautifully formal (rhymed and metrical) and fun to read, though far from trivial in their preoccupations. Geoff Lander is meticulous in his footnotes too, added value and pleasure here.

Briar Mouth, Helen Nicholson

An unusual first collection by someone who hails from the west coast of Scotland —some of her more eccentric Scottish relatives feature here, as does her experience of growing up with a stammer. Helen Nicholson, (a founder member of Magma) writes with wit, subtlety and charm. An especially good gift for those with Scottish connections, or interested in communication (Helen is now afundraiser for a Dundee-based charity for children and young people with speech, language and communication difficulties).

And what about Now the Robin by Hamish Whyte, published earlier this year? There’s a seasonal bird on the front cover, and two festive robins on the last page too (see illustration below). One of the finest feats for a poet is to write simply: Hamish Whyte does it with bells on. Now the Robin will appeal to anyone who loves sitting in a garden. And of course people called Robin.

Last but not least, there’s a HappenStance poetry party next Saturday at the Scottish Poetry Library where you can see these publications and decide for yourself. Do come if you live near enough — but reserve a place because space is limited. There’ll be cakes from Alison Brackenbury’s Aunt Margaret’s Pudding, something festive to drink, and of course some poets and poems.



They have switched the Christmas lights on in our town and the shops (those of them that are still in business) are full of tinsel and elves.

Here at HappenStance HQ, two elves are busy putting bits of paper into envelopes. Tomorrow a mailshot goes out to the 310 postal subscribers and 100 or so electronic ones.

We have four new pamphlets out (or will have by tomorrow) and are hoping that some people will want to buy some as seasonal gifts. Poetry needs all the help it can get to find its way into people’s houses. But assuming you buy one, the little folded, staple-stitched publication you will hold in your hand has weeks and weeks and weeks of activity behind it. It’s the claws of Art, which extend to many activities.

First there’s the acreage of time that the poet put into each line: the thought, the revision, the doubt, the risk. In some cases, this takes years. Well, you know about that.

Then there’s the discussion of the poems one by one with me, the fate of the semi-colons, the ones that didn’t make the cut, the titles that were changed, the order of contents — all of that business. Hours, rather than weeks, but then subsequent weeks of email exchanges about drafts (with four different poets at the same time).

There’s the image on the cover and the discussions with Gillian Rose who draws them between fighting off small children. There are the images she and I rejected, and the days spent in In-Design and Photoshop trying (and frequently failing) to make the jacket look like I want it to. 

There’s the title registration and uploading of jacket images to Nielsen Bookdata, and then, after an interval to allow them to be processed, the giant Amazon (oops, I haven’t done Amazon yet — so add that to the list of things to do today, 21 and counting).

There’s the trip with the pamphlet pages to be printed to Robert and Liz at Dolphin Press in Glenrothes, about a mile from here. Yes, this is very old-fashioned. I print them and take them. There’s the review of what endpapers we have left or can use from Robert’s stock. 

Then, for Robert at Dolphin, there’s the making of the lithographic plates, the printing, and this time round there’s the day the stapling machine broke and Robert spent three and a half hours fixing it (I think that was part way through D.A. Prince’s Bookmarks, but it could have been Geoff Lander’s The Lesser Mortal).

But before the stapling, there’s the collating of pages (usually Robert and Liz’s daughter Nicky does that), the filling of boxes. There’s me driving there to pick up boxes, and me and Matt staggering along to the house with them (the hall is full of cardboard boxes and we haven’t even picked up Meg Peacocke’s Honeycomb or Helen Nicholson’s Briar Mouth yet).

And the flyers. Each new pamphlet has a promotional flyer, so those take a while to design and make, and then they’re printed by Robert in time for the mailshot, into which (this time) goes not only four flyers but a bookmark, a postcard, a Bardcard, a newsletter and (if it applies) a subscription renewal slip. The postcard was printed by Moo (costs a fortune but they do a good job), the bookmark by Solopress (cheaper and not bad). Designing and uploading and ordering these – a day for each one.

The newsletters take an age to write. Each time I’m fearful of forgetting to mention something or someone essential and obvious. The brain gets too full. Some days I could forget my own name. And there has to be a product page in the online shop for each pamphlet, and an updated poet’s page for the poet, and an electronic version of everything in the right place at the right time for the online-only subscribers. All that stuff is ready now: I spent a couple of days on it last week, but it’s not yet visible. (Don’t publish the product till you’re ready to sell it!)

Besides, first I had to update the  publications in print list, and the subscriber list, making sure as I can that the second of these is accurate and that the address labels correspond with the list (there are always anomalies because some people renew by cheque and some online, and the two systems need a human being to bring them together). That takes another half day. Then finally I print the address labels.

Matt collates all the bits and pieces for the mailshot, gets very grumpy, tells me whether we have enough envelopes of the right size, fills the envelopes and sticks on the labels, and checks them off on the list one by one, adding in reminders to those who are due to renew. He usually discovers (and brandishes) at least three mistakes I’ve made somewhere. The whole process takes him three days and quite a bit of backache, and I am not allowed to interrupt except with meals. Finally we put them in sacks and drive them in a pony and cart (not really – it’s a small red car) to the sorting office on the other side of the town. (NB We haven’t even sold one pamphlet yet.)

Then there are copies to be sent to the authors (they get twenty complimentary pamphlets), and copies sent to the copyright libraries, and Scottish poetry library, and Southbank Poetry library, and complimentary copies to old friends and supporters, and review copies hither and thither, and there’s the bemused expression on the face of the lady in the post office when I arrive to buy another three hundred quid’s worth of stamps. Yes, the cost is scary!

In fact, the cost in time and money and elves is all upfront. It takes faith. By this stage, the bank account is at rock bottom so we wait anxiously to see what will sell and when. New publications help to sell the ones that are already done and dusted (literally) and sitting hopefully. 

Oh, I forgot to mention the publisher’s blog. That is this VERY document, which has failed miserably to do what promotional text should do – mention the most important thing first.

Well, let me see. What was the most important thing? Oh yes, the titles of the four new publications. Here I am talking about making them and the key fact of selling them and I haven’t even told you anything about them. 

Nor have I mentioned the reading window NOT being in December, but in January now. That’s important too. Oh bum.

Watch this space. I have just spent four hours writing the wrong sort of blog. I’ll be back tomorrow. 


They look quiet. But they’re not.

The language isn’t doing anything special. Or so you think. This one isn’t even about much, so far as you can tell. You read quickly, turn the page, and then . . .

Hang on. Read again. What was that?

A half-heard question. A voice you once knew. A forgotten world. Bottom of the pond. Sticklebacks and minnows.

I like this sort of poem, though what sort it is I can’t really say. Only that D A Prince writes them. They look quiet, but they’re not.

‘Soup’, for example. What kind of an opening line is this: ‘At the end of the month it’s often swede but even this’?

Austerity. Who wants to know? Swede soup, with not much else except ‘maybe that carrot dried out in the fridge’. I know that carrot. You pick it up and it bends in the middle. Maybe it’s the carrot that gets me. Or maybe it’s the parsley with ‘its winter-watery smell’. Winter-watery. Or the way another word out of context surprises: ‘The pepper cosies up.’ Cosies.

Oddly I’m seeing the vegetable drawer in the fridge downstairs, and thinking about my mother. There is a half pepper lurking, a red one. The phrase ‘waste not, want not’ comes to mind, and my mother saying it.

And then, though this is an austerity poem it slips into a rich slice of iambic pentameter, ‘a thicker warmth to insulate the house’. Maybe it’s a sort of sonnet, eked out. Here’s the whole of the last section:

                                 Or when it’s leeks
down to half-price, and potatoes left
from weekend baking, or sweet parsnips, there’s
a thicker warmth to insulate the house
against hard times, rooted in winter, lasting
longer than you think.

And it does. It lasts longer than I think (I love the line-break after ‘lasting’). How many times have I gone back to this poem? Each time I find the bendy carrot, or the wilting parsnip, I remember it. Maybe it’s because it comes out of a world I know, making soup out of not much, taking care of the pennies so the pounds will take care of themselves (some chance!).

But maybe even without that, something in me would want that soup. Something thick and warm and ‘rooted in winter’. Maybe it’s about what winter means: comfort, warmth, cosying up, and not forgetting the chill outside.

Nothing special. Just a soup poem that sticks in my mind. But it isn’t the only one that works this way. How does D A Prince do it?

For example, there’s ‘His poems have been aired on BBC Radio’, which is on the book page for Common Ground in the HappenStance shop so you can read the whole thing there. I love this one too. The title makes it funny for a start, and funnier somehow because it’s ‘his’ poems, and because the contributor’s note must be true, and because you can see precisely how that phrase made the poet think about the word ‘aired’. Aired?

She continues quietly and domestically. ‘I bring them in: the sheets’ but this time it’s not sheets of paper, it’s the kind that come off the bed. And aren’t they lovely: ‘flecked with apple blossom’. You know this really happens? It did in our garden in spring on windy days. Little flakes of petal from the apple tree (to which one end of our washing line was attached) blew onto the washing. And though I said her language was often plain, ‘creased to a map of the wind’ is anything but. Cotton sheets, ready to be ironed, with their contours of creases.

I remember when my mother discovered nylon sheets. She was overjoyed. It was going to cut her ironing load by hours. For years our beds became nooses of nasty nylon, often in lurid colours: there was a lot of yellow. It wasn’t the same. Besides, ironing was good. It was the only time she stopped and stood still for long enough to talk to us.

And in the poem, the sheets have made the poet think about her mother, ‘loading the kitchen line each night, trapping / the coal’s last heat in pillowslips’. And that reminds me of the line in my grandmother’s kitchen – or actually the pulley, so you could hoik the washing up above your head and still eat supper on the kitchen table. Why does the past pull at us so?

But the poet is back into the present at the end. Herself, her mother, ‘Between us / we know all there is to know about airing’. These two women have put that ‘contributor’ in his place. Talk about airing poems. We could tell you a thing or two about airing. This is the old world of rivalries, the gender war, these men who think they know everything and need to be put in their place in a quiet (but not that quiet) way. And with humour. The smell of the sheets is a wine label (‘a grassy nose, hard gooseberries, / an undertow of nettles’) and this precisely describes the tone of the last line (‘we know all there is to know’).

The downside of publishing books of poetry is that you don’t get to review them yourself (you’re obviously biassed). So you don’t get to write in detail about the contents, even though you could write a book about each book. But Common Ground has been shortlisted for the East Midlands Book Award (hurray!) and that gave me an excuse. There are 66 more poems in the book that I could write about, and you nearly got me on ‘A Real Cat Poem’ and ‘Ridding’ and ‘Not to Be Loose Shunted’ and ‘The Only View’ and. . . .

But there are other reviews in other places for you to read, especially Noel Williams on Antiphon, who notes the apparent quietness. And D A Prince is reading from the book for Saltmarsh Poets in Norfolk tomorrow evening, if you happen to be anywhere near.

I had better shut up now. There are chocolate eggs downstairs.





“As to the Adjective: When in doubt, strike it out.” So said Mark Twain in Pudd’nhead Wilson – and he knew a thing or two.

b2ap3_thumbnail_c-ground-SMALL.jpgStill the little bastards creep up. If not inside the poems, they cluster on the book jacket like fruitflies.

Here are some examples from recent book titles. These are all drawn from noble imprints, and the adjectives were harvested from poets, no less.

Vivid and sensual.
Deceptively quiet. Disarmingly tender.
Translucent. Beautifully crafted. Clear, graceful, word-perfect.
Particular, precise, potent.
Visually evocative. Slightly breathtaking.
Dynamic and refined. Stunning.
Gripping and moving.
Intense, exact and absolutely engaged.

It’s easy to mock. It’s less easy to know what to do about it. And what if you have published a book of poems and you want people to know about it? You’ve spent a lot of time and money making it. You believe in the book, and now it’s time to sell it. Roll up. Roll up.

But the world is full of grand statements. And actually some of you might not like the book. You might not even like the sliced bread since which nothing has been better.

Also what if this book of poems is by an understater? What if the work isn’t visually evocative and slightly breath-taking? What if it’s plain? What if it includes lines like “Her eyes search for scraps, for something more / but only the old bread made proper crumbs”?

Anyway, there are other titles to sell too. It’s like peddling your own children. Which one do you love best this week? Aren’t they all, in their different ways, lovable?

Yes, well.

There’s a new HappenStance hardback book. It’s called Common Ground and it’s by D A Prince. My task today is to write about it without using any adjectives.

The book has an adjective in its title. But it’s a kind of anti-adjective. The title poem (‘Common Ground’) is about a funeral. Death is the (great) leveller and what we all have in common. If I were allowed to use one adjective (I have just given myself permission), I would say what this poem is not, which is comforting. Here are the last three lines:

We must meet up at other times, we say,
weaving good-byes, fingers crossed against
the M6, rush-hour tailbacks, evening rain.

You might know some of D A Prince’s poems already, so you might have an idea what she does and doesn’t do. You might have read her in some of the magazines. She is a practising-poet who practises. She works at it. She writes poems and she sends them out. They’re always popping up here and there. They don’t shout much. Often they stick in your mind. My mind, anyway.

So how to peddle this book? How to promote?

I honestly don’t know. She didn’t even want her photo on Nearly the Happy Hour, so we settled for a monochrome snapshot of her as a little girl. There is one on the jacket of Common Ground, but it’s hidden inside the back flap. There are no blurbs or endorsements on the back cover but there is an eight-line poem called ‘Sea Interlude’.

There are a few adjectives inside the front flap from Tom Jenks, but I can’t quote them here because adjectives are banned today.

I can reveal that Common Ground contains a sestina, and those of you who know my preferences may experience shock equivalent to sixteen adjectives on hearing this fact. You may, indeed, send for the book just to read that sestina. Or you could come to the Free Verse Poetry Book Fair at the Conway Hall in London on September 6th, where the poet might read that very poem at the book launch. But then she might not.

Only one more thing to say really. Here’s the poem from the back jacket, ‘Sea Interlude’. I can’t even explain why I like this so much. Well, I could. But instead I thought I’d just publish a whole book by the person who wrote it.

A lucky morning and the sea
flat from shore to sky
and that line of clouds, tight
as a line of fine knitting.

Or possibly braided rope. One day
I won’t be here to ask
Would you ever write that?
You, looking up puzzled, saying What?


Sometimes I feel almost like a real publisher.

Actually, I’ve never felt quite like a ‘real’ anything. In the olden days, when I was introduced as a teacher, I would often say, ‘Yes, but not a real one.’ Same with youth worker. And playleader. And pastrycook. Same with poet. Definitely not a real poet. I have been a real mum and now a real grandma, but that’s different.

(I might be a real writer. Possibly.)

Anyway, back to the point. I felt like a real publisher this week because I sent the electronic files of D A Prince’s second collection, Common Ground, to the printer. This will be HappenStance’s fifth book (most of the 120-ish publications so far have been pamphlets). But more importantly, it’s D A Prince’s second whole book from this imprint. The first, in 2008, was Nearly the Happy Hour.

Back then, I wasn’t sure whether I would do any more books. It felt hugely risky: books are expensive things to make – at least they can be. They can equally be surprisingly inexpensive to print, but Common Ground won’t be. It will be sewn in groups of 16 pages, printed on good quality paper, and held secure and safe in a hard backed binding, with a dust jacket.

Scary. Real publishers don’t get scared. They know what they’re doing. (I am still finding out.)

Common Ground has all sorts of poems in it, including (and this really is astonishing considering my declared bias) a villanelle and a sestina. Some of D A Prince’s poems are complex; some are formal; some are free as the wind. Many of them are apparently simple.

And here is one that looks almost inconsequential. But it fits perfectly with my blog of three weeks ago, What Kindle Can’t Do. When I get to the end, the sadness of mortality washes over me in swathes. The poet (a real one) has some background in librarianship, and loves books. Can you tell?

Heroes of Our Islands

Dust jacket: faded (sun)
and water stained; torn,
front and back, repairs
(amateur); cracked spine
and wear to corners.
Cover (linen) worn.
Dog-eared, furring on all sides.
Maps partly crayonned in
and marginalia (juvenile).
Some illus., black and white; defaced.

Inscribed: To dearest John,
to speed you in their footsteps,
from Auntie Joan,
and kisses, Christmas 1959.



Picture of old book by Jörg Busack



On Sunday evening, there will be a most unusual event. Probably unique, in fact.

About 25 HappenStance poets (I have lost count) will be reading at the Torriano Meeting House, in Kentish Town in London. Here’s the link: http://torrianomeetinghouse.wordpress.com/events/

We kick off at 7.30 but if you want to sit down, it would be a good idea to be there earlier than that. We’re going to tell the HappenStance story via poets and poems. I will be doing the links, and reading a couple of bits and pieces.

So the poets will read in order of being published, starting with Eleanor Livingstone and ending with D A Prince, whose second book-length collection, Common Ground, is due out this summer.

I think it will be entertaining, varied, fun, and it will never happen again. So come if you can! And come early to get a seat.



This is cheating. I am really thinking about StAnza.

And this morning it’s snowing and around me all the trees are white and I’m not even there. I’m working. But this is a space between yesterday (when I was there) and today when I’m working.Snow in the garden

When I went to bed last night my head was full of the space between the stanzas, which for me was the space between the events at StAnza. The events are many, marvelous and magical, of course, and you can read about them elsewhere.

The spaces between the events are just as remarkable, and somewhat more mysterious because completely unpredictable, and not on the programme. When you run an arts festival, you create spaces for unexpected concatenations, correspondences and coalescences. I know that’s just alliteration, but how do you describe it?

On your way to hear a poet read, someone you may never have heard of, perhaps even in a language you don’t know, you stop for a coffee and fall into conversation with  Michel (?) from Belgium, there to present a film poem event, and whose job it is to co-ordinate and run literary events in  Antwerp – such a charming and interesting young (to me) man. And then we are joined by poet Paula Jennings and Jenny Elliott. Jenny is an old friend (we were once StAnza trustees together) and also a poet and originator of the Shed Press (in her garden shed). Together we sorted out European politics and then moved on to discuss our mothers, over soup and sandwiches (it’s not just poetry). As the table filled up with friends, I moved the flowers onto the floor. Out of the corner of my eye I could see people I knew and wanted to speak to, and others I dimly recognized from their dusty photos on book jackets.

Then an event and then the poetry book fair and then more chats with Tony Lawrence, who has redefined poetry according to laws of mathematics, and the man from Monifieth whose name I can’t remember but who has come to the festival every year for eleven years, and D A Prince, and Karin Koller, and Robyn Marsack and Sheila Wakefield and Stephanie Green and a long conversation – the longest we have ever had, (a GREAT conversation about the late David Tipton and his wife Ena Hollis, taking in John Lucas, Tony Ward and Alan Hill) – with Martin Bates; and another with the lady at the second hand book stall – shop in Newport – I forget her name but it will come back to me; and of course Gerry Cambridge and briefly Rob Mackenzie.

And Richie McCaffery and Stef, and Sally Evans and how lovely to see Ann Drysdale, who has written a whole book about Newport and thus a long conversation about W H Davies and other matters, and briefly (hug interval) Lyn Moir, and Lydia Harris (well met, for the first time) and Christine Webb, and Robert Minhinnick on Dylan Thomas, and Joy Howard and Alan Gay.

And many more. Many more, and some sought for but just missed. Deus ex machina (I’ve just realised that’s a double dactyl) Eleanor Livingstone slipping in and out carying strange objects and messages and inspirations. And others glimpsed in the distance or pausing to share treasure, or say ‘see you later’.


The sun has come out and lit up the snow.

And now back to work.


Usually I don’t go, but this time I went.

Usually I don’t go, but this time I went.

Things happen in Scotland, and it’s possible to get there and back in a day. Things happen in London, and it means asking friends for a bed for at least one night. It means effectively three days away from the business. Then there’s planes or trains, and Oystercardless tubes or busses that stop and ditch their passengers. It’s a trip to a foreign city where I’m just the little iron on the Monopoly board, with no houses and no prospect of a hotel.

Nonetheless, Charles Boyle’s invitation to take part in his CB Editions Bookfair was so warmly extended, I thought I’d do it. Just for once.

Three times now I’ve missed Book Fairs I very much wanted to get to. There have been, for example, two Leicester BookFairs organized by Ross Bradshaw of Five Leaves Press, (Ross is also author of one of my PoemCards) in the States of Independence series, and now there’s States of Independence (West), next Saturday in Birmingham. At these events, Robin Vaughan-Williams has been a noble HappenStance author in independent residence, and he’ll be flying the flag, as they say, on the 8th (Gregory Leadbetter is going along too).

I have, however, managed to take part in a number of the colourful poetry pamphlet fairs organized by Scottish Pamphlet Poetry, but there’s a special attraction about being part of a book fair. And while on that subject, HappenStance will be at the splendid By Leaves We Live annual Poetry Publishing Fair at the Scottish Poetry Library at the end of this month, and I’ll be doing on of the short talks (in our case a bit of a conversation) with Gerry Cambridge.

But back to Charles Boyle’s CB Editions event last week (which has been blogged about a lot. Already I feel I should have prefaced all of this with a hyperlink alert). It was held on a beautiful day – not quite as hot as it’s been in London this weekend, but still sunny and warm, so people could sit and chat outside at the various venues along the little street that calls itself Exmouth Market.  You don’t do that in Scotland in September!

The book fair itself was held in exactly the sort of church hall you would find anywhere in the UK. Slightly dilapidated but spacious, with a kitchen at the back where worthy ladies must have made teas for generations.

Book Fair (early)

There were Christmas lights (unlit, alas) trailing from the roof beams, and tables assembled all round the edges of the hall. On the stage at the front, Michael Horowitz did a weird and wonderful introduction to events, accompanied by kazoo and his own personal sound effects. Later, a singer from the street outside came in and did a few songs. Upstairs, there was a little room in which readings went on throughout the day, non-stop – and although I only made it to a couple of these, I can confirm it was a friendly little room and I should like to have heard a whole lot more of them. Not a bad place to read either, despite interesting noises from the street outside – crashes of a million bottles landing somewhere, the street singer resonating up through the window, the chiming of a clock at regular intervals.

Fiona Moore (who is to be a HappenStance poet in 2013) has described it all beautifully in her Displacement blog. I hadn’t met her before, and one of the lovely things about this day was having the opportunity to hobnob with poets, who obligingly stepped off the paper into human form. Jon Stone and Kirsty Irving, for example, were sitting beside me for most of the day being Sidekick Books, but they also read in the HappenStance relay-race slot. Kirsty has her own account of events here.

Tim Love took over the stall while our reading was going on upstairs – Tim was around for most of the day. Marion Tracy arrived (she is a forthcoming HappenStancer) and Christina Dunhill (ditto). And Peter Daniels and D A Prince and Lorna Dowell and Clare Best and Mike Loveday. Oh, and Matt Merritt was there too — here is his blog on the subject: he now, of course, represents Nine Arches (opportunity to meet Jane Commane for the first time). And Chrissy Williams, who will also metamorphose into a HappenStance pamphlet in 2012, organized  the programme of readings and was around to greet us. There was even Geoff Lander, my old friend from university, living proof that all roads meet in the end. He was a chemistry student once – now he’s turned to verse! Oh and Nancy Campbell, whom I’ve wanted to meet for years, and who brought me some beautiful postcards celebrating her newly launched How to say ‘I love you’ in Icelandic. A joy.

HappenStance poets reading

So there was something of a party spirit in the air. In fact, several parties were going on in various parts of the hall. Here is Tom Chivers’ account, for example. Katy Evans-Bush calls it a Renaissance. Ken Edwards on Reality Street gives it a mention. Honestly everybody who was anybody was there. (Well, you could be forgiven for thinking so. Some of them were actually at The London Art Book Fair, as mentioned in the Sphinx feature about Sylph Editions posted recently. In fact, as I travelled back to Vauxhall on the tube, the man sitting opposite me had a huge transparent carrier bag full of publications from that very event).

Other blogger accounts included Sue Guiney (who also read — and I actually HEARD her read, with particular pleasure), and Hilaireinlondon. Rack Press, who was there, has a paragraph about it too. And there’s Andrew Bailey, whom I didn’t quite meet. There were people matching faces with FaceBook friends, one of today’s most amusing party games. Why are people never the same height they seem to be on FaceBook?

The previous night, Chris H-E had launched the new Salt Best British Poetry 2011, and many of the poets in that volume were around, as well as Roddy Lumsden, the noble editor. It was pretty busy, especially between about 11.30 and 2.30.  Chris blogged about the event afterwards – a lovely commentary. He calls Charles Boyle “deliciously grumpy and adversarial”, a great compliment. I wish somebody would call me that. It’s so much better than “the Delia Smith of poetry”.Charles Boyle

I feel I should say Charles has been very charming to me and not at all grumpy.  His own CB Editions books were modestly displayed on a stylish little bookrack to my right, and although this corner was not always manned, people kept coming and buying his attractive books. We slid notes into the money pouch of our rival without demur. He is running a fascinating book enterprise. His books are worth buying.

Chris  Hamilton-Emery talks in his blog about the dark side of such events, how they “can be downright depressing experiences when a (seriously) amateur world collides with different levels of professional delusion and, well, trajectories of intention: from the technically proficient to the anarchically crappy.” How true this is!  I was worried it might even be true of this event, but happily it was not. There was an air of cheery professionalism about it all. Fellow publishers were, as I have found ever since I commenced on this crazy venture, undeniably friendly.

And yes, people did spend money, though not, at my table, as much as Chris suggests (“. . . people came in droves. Really. Not only did they come, they spent money; lots of money.”) A great many of the people in the hall, so far as I could tell, were poets, or aspiring poets. It would have been nice to know how many could have been classed as common readers, the species that poetry so very much needs to win back. And poets are not, in my experience, particularly wealthy. In fact, I worry periodically that poets from my own list are impoverishing themselves trying to support my enterprise: about £120.00 worth of HappenStance publications disappeared on the day, which is not half bad for these events. But I think a number of my own poets bought stuff (they are such nice people)!

So from the money side of things, going to the event did not – could not –  be rational. There was the fee for the taking of a table, there was the (in my case) plane and train fares, the car parking in Edinburgh, the tubes and so on. And most of all, the time investment.

But the meeting of the poets, the taking part in the hubbub, the learning experience –  these factors made it worth it. I wish I had spent more time talking to publishers: I didn’t really manage that, though it was great to meet Andy Ching of Donut Press, whose table was near mine. I wanted to talk to others, didn’t really have time – not even to talk to my own publisher, John Lucas, who was sitting at a Shoestring Press table himself.

Back to country mouse existence now. . . .