How to get your pamphlet reviewed

 ‘Is it true – what Shelley writes me that poor John Keats died at Rome of the Quarterly Review?’ [Letter from Byron to John Murray, 26 April 1821]

You have a poetry pamphlet in print. So what next? Poets both crave and fear reviews but mainly they needn’t lose sleep. ‘Publishing a volume of verse’, as Don Marquis notably remarked, ‘is like dropping a rose petal into the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo.’

I think it’s easier to get echoes than it used to be, though not all echoes are as desirable as people think.

Why do people want reviews? 

  • They want a genuine reader response (as opposed to praise from their friends).
  • They believe reviews will help sell the publication (usually they make little or no difference).
  • They want attention.
  • They want to trawl them for useful blurb to go on their next book jacket (or current web page).
  • They think it’s what’s supposed to happen after you publish your writing.  
  • They want to learn. (You can learn from what some reviewers say.)

The number of poetry readers, relatively speaking, is small. The number of poetry pamphlets published every year is big. (I have no definitive statistics but it is a fact that more come to me every year than I can manage to read. At my left elbow is a pile of unread pamphlets, about 25, and 3 more arrived yesterday.)

Maybe an attention-catching review for one of these, shared on social media, would bump that pamphlet to the top of my ‘To Read’ list. It might. So how would you accomplish that?

Frankly, it’s of little use posting your pamphlet to every magazine you can think of in the hope of generating a review. It will just cost loads and you’ll end up feeling bitter. Why was Last Year’s Dead Leaves by M. J. Petticoat featured in a review when yours was ignored?

Magazine and newspaper editors have skyscrapers of books and pamphlets staring at them beseechingly – more than could be reviewed in a month of Sunday blogs. It’s a mug’s game adding your humble publication to that pile.

So what’s to be done about all this? There are really interesting reviews all the time on the web, and some on paper. If one of them is to be yours, what do you need to do?

First, spend a little time finding out how it works. Don’t send your pamphlet to a magazine editor if the magazine doesn’t publish reviews. If the magazine does do reviews, find the correct procedure. If in doubt, email the main editor and ask. Many magazines only review books, not pamphlets. It’s reasonable to suppose you stand a better chance of a review in a magazine where you’ve previously placed poems or contributed as a reviewer yourself.

When did Poetry Review last review a set of pamphlets? When did the Times Literary Supplement last pay attention to pamphlets: it has happened – but when? Have you ever seen a pamphlet reviewed in The Guardian? Does Best Poetry of 2016 (in any publication where such a round-up exists) include reference to any pamphlets?

Let me be more positive. Is your pamphlet listed on Amazon? It may or may not be. It’s certainly possible to get it there. If it’s there, has anyone posted a reader review?

Look at Shelley Day’s The Confession of Stella Moon, published earlier this year. Forty-five customer reviews – so far. More people read novels than poetry, but novelists are much better at courting customer reviews than poets. Look at Fiona Moore’s Night Letter, currently shortlisted for the Michael Marks Award for Pamphlet Poetry. Not one customer review on Amazon.

Fiona Moore’s pamphlet has received review comment, not only in a couple of paper magazines but also here and here and here. More for Moore than many. But please note that this poet writes reviews herself. She blogs at Displacement, where (among other things) she writes about poets she admires. She also regularly reviews elsewhere.

By and large, poets don’t try very hard to get reviews on Amazon. It’s a moot point whether they should. Perhaps they think responses will just pop up. Generally they don’t. You have to solicit attention. If an articulate friend really loved your pamphlet and tells you so in an email, ask them to post a few comments on Amazon (unless you’re ethically opposed to Amazon, in which case consider GoodReads, a site I like very much – although since 2013 it has been owned by … Amazon).

Some webzines accept pamphlet nominations for review – and offer them to their review team. Sabotage Reviews, which reviews pamphlets but not (usually) books follows this procedure. So the issue might be whether someone on the review team would take an interest in your publication. Is your name familiar to them? If you’ve already published poems widely, it might be. Get your name out there!

In my experience, most poets think more about getting their own work reviewed than the role they might play in reviewing other people’s. Pamphlet poets regularly ask about OPOI reviews at Sphinx Review. It is rare indeed for one of them to send an OPOI response to a pamphlet recently enjoyed.

Ink, Sweat and Tears has ‘no resident reviewers’ but accepts ‘unsolicited reviews for poetry and short story collections.’ The guideline word count for a pamphlet is 500 words. So here a reviewer would have to offer the review. The editor doesn’t organise it. You can’t review your own book (though sometimes I wonder why not).

There are blogger reviewers: Matthew Stewart at Rogue Strands.  Tim Love’s LitRefs. Dave Coates at Dave Poems. Emma Lee at Emma Lee’s Blog. John Field at Poor Rude Lines. There are lots more… You could be one of them. You can set up your own blog, or you can go to GoodReads and simply select a book and write about it.

Tim Love did a fascinating analysis of what happened to his pamphlet, Moving Parts, with the reviewers. Tim has been around for a long time in little magazines as a poet, reviewer, letter-writer; on the web as a poet, short-story writer, reviewer and blogger; in real life as an organiser and contributor to poetry groups and events. It helps.


Ten Reasons for NOT reading today’s HappenStance blog

1. Because you could read Fiona Moore’s blog instead.

2. Because I considered the topic of rejection but here’s Jeff Shotts on The Art of Rejection and he’s done it better.

3. Because you’ve read enough blogs for one day.

4. Because these sort of lists are hardly original.

5. (You don’t need to read the rest of my reasons. Anyway, there are only ten because the entries that list ‘ten of’ get more hits

6. which is why I’m thinking of stopping at five)

7. or maybe extending it to six in order to say I’m rewriting How (Not) to Get Your Poetry Published and I’m up to the chapter headed ‘Should poets blog’ which ends ‘or you could go and write a poem instead’. (This book is killing me.)

8. Because you could go and write a poem instead.

9. Because there are only nine. Pay some attention to the nine muses, especially Euterpe. I’m simply an interruption.

What is poetry FOR?

That was the question I couldn’t answer.

There are answers, of course. I waited for one of them to come to me but it didn’t. Instead, a memory arrived, an unsuitable memory.

This was at the launch of Vishvāntarā’s pamphlet Cursive, and Fiona Moore’s Night Letter at the London Buddhist Centre last weekend. Before the two poets read, there was a short discussion/ interview with all three of us. The ‘What is it FOR?’ question was put by poet and host Maitreyabandhu who had the whole session filmed. So you can see what we said, if you want to, though you can’t see what I was thinking.

Which was this. About 25 years ago, I was teaching in college and officiating in what we called a FLU (a flexible learning unit). In the FLU people could do many things with the support of a tutor (me) – from basic English to (you guessed it) creative writing. We had study packs which people opened, read, and then got on with. In between I talked to them, and they talked to each other. We went off and had long coffee breaks together. This was before SMART targets and it was very civilised.

One week a small woman with very long hair turned up. Very long, right down to her bum. She wrote poetry, she said, and could show me some of it because she took it with her wherever she went. Poetry was an unusual arrival. I was curious. So were the other students in the room.

Do you recall that sort of toilet paper called Izal? It was hard and slightly shiny. Using it as it was intended was not a pleasant experience but it was cheap, cheaper than the soft kind, and definitely better than no toilet paper.b2ap3_thumbnail_izaltoiletpaper.jpg

Well, what the poet produced what looked like a roll of Izal toilet paper. Izal was never easy to write on. From this distance in time I can’t be sure it was Izal. But what she had with her appeared to me, and to the other people in the room, to be a roll of toilet paper, each sheet of which was covered in tiny writing. She proceeded to unroll it in long loops. Her poems, her tiny poems, went for miles.

I read some of the poems before she rolled them up again. They did not appear to be great literature, at least not on the first twenty or thirty sheets, but she put them back into her bag them with pride. She was intense and serious and sweet, so no jokes were made then, or at any other time, about poems on toilet rolls and their potential uses. However, those thoughts were in my head and in the heads of all the other people in the room.

And this was the image that popped into my head when Maitreyabandhu asked ‘What is poetry for?’. It was closely followed by another memory, the recollection of a thin booklet written by the late Evangeline Paterson titled What to do with your poems? , which always struck me as an unfortunate title. Somehow the two have bonded in my head.

What is poetry for? It has numerous functions. But what’s it for?

I still don’t know ‘the’ answer.

However, I know what I use some of it for. (No, not that.)

And in particular, since I want to write a little about Night Letter and Cursive, I’m going to say what they do for me. Is that the same as what I use them for, or what you might use them for? Possibly.

Vishvāntarā (in the same filmed discussion) spoke of poetry as a kind of portal, a way between worlds like the wardrobe in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, and she has something here, yes, because I know I use the poems of these two poets to take me out of myself. It’s one of their functions, and a vital one.

It’s like the line from Tom Duddy’s poem ‘Racing Festival’ in The Hiding Place: ‘I am elated, light-hearted, beside myself.’ Reading these poems takes me into the same mental space as writing, those rare moments in which words are magical and transformative, and existence is pregnant with meaning, and the burden of my own ‘self’ evaporates.

I can like poetry that doesn’t do this – doesn’t take me out of myself but only into itself. But the work I value most takes me out. Fiona Moore (same discussion) said something about how in reading and in writing poetry we are at our most alive. Not all poetry gives me that feeling of walking on the edge, the precise and beautiful edge between life and death where readiness is all – but this poetry does.

The two pamphlets are not ‘like’ each other. But they share this quality of purity, discipline, dedication. If I want to stop the world and be still, I can read these. I can use them ‘for’ that. They take me out of myself.

I don’t want to make poetry pamphlets sound like mystical texts. They have laughter in them too, and puzzles. You can worry away at them: what’s going on here? what does that really mean? did she really say that? But here are two poets you can respect and learn from. I have learned and been enriched, and will go back again and again. The lines, the forms, the shapes – these are hard-won, thoughtful, joyous, distilled, life-enhancing.



What IS a poem? 

There are probably as many definitions as well-known poets. I’ve put a download in the HappenStance shop that shares some thoughts on this topic. It’s a lure, needless to say, to get more people into the new shop which has all sorts of advantages over the old one. But if you’ve bought from HappenStance before, and want to do so again, it does mean you have to re-register. It’s quite easy.

And it’s worth it because at the same time you can take a look at the sample poems for the two new pamphlets, Fiona Moore’s The Only Reason For Time and Chrissy Williams’ Flying into the Bear. 

Very shortly, there’ll be a third. Diana Gittins’ Bork! is probably the only poetry pamphlet full of poems about chickens, and certainly the only poetry pamphlet about chickens also to feature Lacan, Foucauld, Prynne, Ginsberg (by implication) and Kentucky Fried Chicken. 

Watch this space. More will be revealed soon.



Dear Santos38pe, Correia9g, Castro22cl and Oliveira30jw


and Cavalcanti5, Goncalves8m, Victorj0b, Lavinia0h7g, Almeidarc21, Larissa37pe and Vitoria65ql, and your many hundreds of relatives with curiously South American sounding names, greetings!

And in particular, I would like to mention Vsaegwe Upyours (user name Bvasdva) using a disposable email address, (a DEA), who ordered a single copy of The Pied Piper of Hamelin (I don’t think you would have enjoyed it much, Vasaewe) to be sent to 53 Vasdvddsv, in the UK city of Lalal, using a phone number with a Kelso code. Alas, there was a wee problem with the payment of £2.75, which didn’t go through. Such a shame.Unsuitable Poems cover image

Dear zombies, you electronic identities with no souls who register on the HappenStance website in flocks, with the intention (such a shame to mention it) to break into the site security, to ransack whatever is of pecuniary benefit to you there (email addresses? phone numbers?), you have educated me.

I now know, for example, about which provides “free, receive only, temporary, throwaway email accounts”. It is all above board. They even provide alternative domains, also above board, though they sound somewhat below board to me, namely [anything], [anything], [anything], [anything] Easy to see, perhaps, that people registering on certain kinds of website for certain kinds of information, would not want their emails tracked. It is perfectly legal (or legally perfect, depending which way you want to look at it.) “ is a free, anonymous, temporary email service . . . not necessarily a fake email address.”

Such sites are helping fight spam, they are the “anti-spam weapon of choice”. There is And spamgourmet (2000) and Trashmail (2002),  And perhaps the most interesting,, which dates back to 2003 and was clearly created by a somewhat brilliant person, Paul Tyma, for engaging reasons.

Besides, Paul Tyma can write. In a blog based in 2006 he recalls the origins of Mailinator and its mission, that mission being mainly to survive, especially to survive the daily onslaught of spammers. Yes, the facilities that help people resist spam are themselves attacked by “zombie networks” of spammers (i.e. machines, not real people).

His Mailinator FAQs are very funny, witness:

What is Mailinator’s official privacy policy? Privacy is a serious issue, and we want to be clear. We think Mailinator can provide pretty decent privacy, but we can’t and don’t promise it. A promise like that would require lawyers, money, and probably guns – and we don’t have any of those.

So if the government issued a subpoena to Mailinator to divulge emails or logs, you’d rat me out? Holy crap, yes. I’m not going to jail for you, I have a boyish face and very (very) supple skin.

So websites like Mailinator give you temporary email addresses that help you resist spam – except they themselves are targeted by numerous spammers, most of them zombies, trying to put Mailinator out of business.


Ultimately, it’s about money. Spammers spam for money. Some of them are (allegedly) college students raising money to help them with fees. Hackers and spammers overlap, because hackers want to get into websites in order to spam registered users for the aforesaid reasons.

Because of all this, we are currently working on, and changing, the HappenStance website shop which is currently Vmart but about to be HikaShop. Frankly, I don’t understand any of this but fortunately Sarah at Zipfish, does. She is the one who monitors the changes, the weaknesses, the security and the spammers.

This is going to mean that loyal online customers will need to re-register – but not yet. Wait till it’s all up and running. There will be special offers and attractions! At the moment the current shop is fine and no security is compromised. It’s just being bombarded with ever increasing numbers of false registrations. Those people (except they are not actually people) won’t be able to register with the new setup.

So next time you get annoyed by the various ‘captcha’ systems (copy this to prove you’re not a robot), remember why. It’s all in order to keep your information safe, especially if you’ve given a real email address, as I myself do when ordering online purchases.

AND there are about to be two new pamphlets to order, and two new cards. Watch out for Paul Lee (card), Fiona Moore (pamphlet) and Chrissy Williams (pamphlet). More news about those next week.


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. . . .