The Bridge Over the River Po

In How (Not) to Get Your Poetry Published I write about having a ‘strategy’. A plan for getting work into print, finding new readers for your poems.

For ‘new’ poets, sometimes a pamphlet publication is one of the stages in the plan, a bridge that leads to a boofull colour picture of the Forth Railway Bridge between Fife and East Lothian. The bridge is red and could be made of meccano.k. This immediately reminds me of The Three Billy-Goats Gruff who lived, appropriately, on a ‘bluff’, and soon encountered the troll (troll, troll, troll-de-roll) lurking just below the bridge that led to the ‘green, green grass’ and ‘red, red roses’ on the other side.

And indeed there are trolls a-plenty, though the green, green grass and red, red roses may not actually exist. For warnings and general advice, please see the new area of the website dedicated to How (Not) to with its own connected pages. 

However, some pamphlet bridges work brilliantly for some poets. And although getting poetry published isn’t easy, a first pamphlet is easier to accomplish than a first book.

The Rialto (also, of course, a magazine) publishes a whole series of Bridge Pamphlets), ‘designed to cross the gap between magazine and book publication for new writers or, for established writers, that between collections’. It can work. Look how many writers published in that particular bridge series have gone on to do one or more full collections.

Lately I have been especially pleased to see three HappenStance pamphlet poets crossing the bridge. Each of these poets has done much work between the pamphlet they did with me and the book that has just appeared, and the time taken from pamphlet to bridge has varied between four years and eight (please note, those of you with five-year plans). The three first collections are from different publishers, two relatively new, one in business since 1992.

There are many routes into publication and the journeys for these three poets have been different: all have had poems published in a range of magazine, but there are only a few overlaps. When you work with a poet on a pamphlet and later see him or her appear in book form, it’s very like seeing your own children achieve something rather grand. It’s even better when you read the books and think YESSSSSssssss, as I did for all three. These are good, good books.

The first is Janet Loverseed’s The Shadow Shop, published Cover of The Shadow Shop, which is predominantly green. It's green and sunny grass, over which the long shadow is cast of perhaps a woman on a long dress. Above the title in lower case italics red, and below the italic name of the author in dark Oversteps Books. Janet is a witty, subtle, gentle poet. When she first sent me poems, there were so many I liked I didn’t know where to start. But The Under-Ripe Banana (long sold out) was a favourite, and its title poem (still a favourite) is in this book. Many of the poems capture moments out of lives, the sort of moments you can’t forget like ‘The Man in the Middle’, which can change your experience of travelling on the tube forever. Or ‘An Interviewer’s Story’, which could make you think twice about talking to cute small children. So much here is lovely. I wouldn’t know where to begin with quoting, and there’s the issue, too, that the poems are small completenesses. To take bits out of them doesn’t quite work. You just have to read ‘Old Pianist’ and ‘Another Year’, and keep them safe to cheer you on dark days.

Then there’s Marion Tracy’s Dreaming of Our Better Selves, published by Richard Skinner’s Vanguard Editions. Marion’s 2012 pamphlet Giant in the Doorway was one of the stranCover of the book, which is unusual, being mainly white, with a strike of illustrative deign across the middle in black, white and red. Here there are women's faces looking weird, zigzags, stripes, trees maybe, fields maybe, leaves, squiggly bits, possibly african-isa face masks. Above the title in bold lower fast. It stretches from one side of the cover to the other. Below the author's name, fairly small, in italics. The imprint name small, black and bottom right hand corner.gest and most arresting sets of poems HappenStance has published. Its central sequence told the story of a child’s struggle to make sense of her mother’s mental illness. It sold out quickly. Since then Marion has worked tirelessly at the art. She has developed an approach and unpredictable way with words that’s totally her. Often there’s an element of the surreal, combined with a sense that what’s she’s saying is absolutely REAL. Unflinching, even. Her poems are unpredictable shape-shifters, poems to return to, to talk about, to worry away at. You never quite know what she’s going to do next. But you know she’s on the move, alert, alive and challenging. These are poems that wake you up.

And the third new book is by Theresa Muñoz, whose 2012 pamphlet Close (no copies left) touched on her experience of moving to Scotland as a Canadian. But only touched An unusual cover. The first thing you see is that it's snowing right over the cover, white blobs. At the bottom in huge lower case letters is the title SETTLE. at the top the author's name much much smaller in pale blue lower case. In the middle there is an image of a yellow circle inside a red shape. The shape is like dumb quote shape -- I don't know how else to describe it and I don't know what it is. The bottom quarter, behind the title (which is pale orange, is a strip of white that blurs into a much bluer section that then, in turns shades back towards a whitish gray at the top of the page, so that the blue of the author's name is the blue of the middle of the page. There is a tiny logo top right of a vagabond in an oven, the logo of the imprint.on it. These were spare, emotive poems, using white space to suggest much more than they said. And in the years since she wrote them, she has, in every sense, come a long way. So the new book, Settle (from Vagabond Voices), takes the issue of immigration, one of the huge concerns of our age, and deals with it head-on. It’s divided into two halves: poems about crossing cultures (dealing with her parents’ experience as Canadian immigrants and then her own in moving to Scotland), and poems inspired by digital existence, where crossing continents is as easy as the click of a mouse. There’s an essay, too, about ‘Moving to Scotland’ that enriches the context of the poems themselves, fills in the gaps. This is an intensely readable book, more than ‘just’ a book of poems. It’s about all our lives.