It’s a gorgeous thing when a poem arrives at a felicitous rhyme, a choice word that pops up by happenstance.

It’s a gorgeous thing when a poem arrives at a felicitous rhyme, a choice word that pops up by happenstance.

At least so it seems to me. It’s a popular misconception that rhyming verse is ‘out’. It’s not. It just has to be done with beauty and grace. It’s a matter of balancing the expected (the chime, the echo) with the unexpected (the word not anticipated).

Of course, these days, the concept of ‘rhyme’ in poetry has stretched. Now the word is often applied to the most minute assonance, the half-rhyme that’s only a quarter, or the uneasy pairing of a stressed and un-stressed syllable.

Like King John and his feeling about getting nuts for Christmas, I do like perfect rhyme (I mean ‘perfect’ only in the sense that the same stressed syllable and the same vowel sound match completely.) And yes, it can sound tired and all too guessable. But that’s why it’s difficult, though still, I think, not impossible to achieve with a degree of panache. And no, it’s not in the least ‘fashionable’ in serious poems, but someone in me – call her Matilda – does it even more, because of that.

All of this is by way of prologue to more words on Wrapper Rhymes. ‘Wrapper Rhymes’ are, you may remember, poems written 
on wrappers, following the example set by Ted Hughes, 
who wrote a Tunnocks wrapper poem in 1986. Ted on Tunnocks rhymed, and so do most of the examples being collected and displayed by Nick Asbury at

I became obsessed with these delights in the summer. ‘Obsessed’ is probably not too strong a word’ since I wrote about 23 in the space of a month, almost enough to qualify me for NaPoWriMo without even trying. But it’s not just a matter of coming up with a couple of verses that match a product. The Wrapper Rhyme has to be written on the wrapper. I had to acquire special pens, because many wrappers refuse to accept ink, as you’ll see if you go to the site to view some of the contributions. But that in itself becomes part of the point.

At the Scottish Poetry Library – where a busy book fair was held yesterday with some marvellous people and wonderful conversations – there was a discussion about poetry publishing on Friday evening. The word ‘demand’ came up. Stuart Kelly (writer and literary editor of Scotland on Sunday) suggested, rather neatly, that today’s poetry publishers were better at publishing ‘on demand’ than ‘creating a demand’ for their products.

I’m not convinced it’s a publisher’s job to create demand, though it’s certainly in the publisher’s interest to do just that, were it possible. The discussion did not go on to explore this idea but many of us assembled at the book fair  in the same venue the very next day spoke about it. Would poems be ‘in demand’ if downloadable from i-Tunes? No, Kevin Cadwallender tells me i-Tunes is less than cool with the young. Would they be in demand if it was illegal to download them? Would they be in demand if read by the author and listenable to on line? Would they be in demand if printed on cakes? (Don’t scoff, it’s being done.) Would they be in demand in holograph and framed?

Possibly. It depends who wrote them. If the writer (like Ted) becomes a scion of Literature or is en route to scion-ship, there’s something to be said for the ephemeral poem, the verse written by hand and almost (but not quite) thrown away. This idea is preserved on WrapperRhymes, where you get the poem and you get the wrapper on which it was written, by hand, in a unique, once-and-forever format.

So this week, if you want to, you can see one of mine, done on a box of Jelly Babies. I am a little too fond of Jelly Babies, so it was a very large box, half-price, bought last February (left over from Christmas). But Nick’s editorial comment brings the work a smidgeon of gravitas. Yep – naming the Jelly Babies was perhaps not the best ever marketing decision for Cadbury.

If you’re a HappenStance subscriber, this is a good point to remind you about my chocolate appeal. I’m hoping, in the distant future, to do a pamphlet or small book on a chocolate theme. There aren’t, it seems to me, enough poems about chocolate, and very few celebrating it. I’d like some. It doesn’t matter whether or not they rhyme, though it would be nice if some did, but they mustn’t be too long because each one has to fit inside a page. 16 lines or under would be good. This mouthwatering opportunity is only for HappenStance subscribers, I’m afraid, but anybody can become one.

So far, very few chocolate poems have arrived on my desk, though a couple of those that have made it are winners. The deadline is . . . er . . .  when I get enough good chocolate poems to make a full box. If your poem’s selected for this box — I mean book — , I’ll send you some copies AND a small amount of first-class chocolate – that’s the deal. And then you can write a wrapper rhyme on the wrapper. . . .


HappenStance has an open submissions policy for poets. There are two reading ‘windows’ per year. The next one is July. Please don’t send them in June!

HappenStance has an open submissions policy for poets. There are two reading ‘windows’ per year. The next one is July. Please don’t send them in June!

Generally I like poets. I know they’re all potty to some extent or other, but that’s okay. I’m potty in just the same way myself.

Like most (but not all) editors and publishers, I’ve been on both sides of the business. I’ve sent my own poems away and felt, to varying degrees at different times, embarrassed or inadequate when the response was returned. I wasn’t an expert. I made a lot of mistakes.

But just now I’m stuck on this side of that process. So if you’re thinking of sending poems to me, you need to know something about my expectations before sending your valued cargo in my direction.

I have written a lot about this already, so the first thing to do (please, oh please) is to read it. Think of it as entering a competition. If you break the rules, it’s not going to augur well. So read the submission guidelines carefully. If the ‘window’ for reading is July, don’t send the poems in June, even though it also starts ‘Ju’.

You could also search back blog entries, using the Getting Your Poetry Published category.

Several submissions have arrived already, but I don’t read them in June. If they arrive in May or June they will go to the bottom, not the top, of the pile. (Actually I’m also away on holiday the first week in July and I’m not taking them with me). Best time to send is second week in July.

There is a document called 33 DOs and 13.5 DON’Ts of Poetry Submission available as a free download in the shop. It would be a good idea to get it and check the boxes as appropriate. Different publishers have different expectations. These are mine.

If you haven’t already read it, get How (Not) to Get Your Poetry Published. I wrote it because I had run out of energy to tell people all the things that are in it. I think you should read it, even if you think you know it all already. But I would think that.

Chris Hamilton-Emery’s book 101 Ways to Make Poems Sell is depressing in many ways, especially if you’re a gentle, modest, reticent person – the kind of person I like. But you should read it.

Bottom line: I spend most of my time worrying how I’m going to find readers for the poetry pamphlets I already have in print. I don’t make money from these publications, I lose it – and I am not rich.

I will turn down nearly all the submissions I get in July perforce, although I will give feedback, provided people include an envelope large enough to return the poems in (I invariably write on the poems in pencil as I read, and even if I accept the submission, that feedback has to go back to the author). If the submissions are from HappenStance subscribers, it will be detailed.

There are other pamphlet publishers too. I am not the only one. Check out my list of poetry pamphlet publishers – also in the shop. I keep updating it, though it is never comprehensive.

And bear in mind I am working two years ahead. If you want your poems published, in a specific set, sooner than that, enter one of the competitions. If you’re starting out, take a look at Iota Shots. Or look out for this year’s Poetry Business Competition. Hedge your bets.

Actually, there are lots of lovely people not reading this at all. And they are packing up poems to send to me at this very moment. Sigh. And it is starting to rain.

Meanwhile, I am putting together, in much more cheery mode, pamphlets by Michael Loveday (who edits the splendid little magazine 14), Lydia Fulleylove, who lives beside the sea, and Lorna Dowell, who is an expert on chocolate brazil soft-baked biscuits. I have been communicating with all three for years now, but the first approach from each of them was an unsolicited submission.

That’s why I continue to welcome these – and even to look forward to reading them. In July.

ps If you’ve already sent them, don’t lose sleep over it. Worse things happen at sea.



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!!!