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. . . .


Three new pamphlets are cooked to a turn for July reading, but also read on for a post script to last week’s J C Squire entry.

Three new pamphlets are cooked to a turn for July reading, but also read on for a post script to last week’s J C Squire entry.

Lydia Fulleylove’s Notes on Sea and Land really does have a lot of sea in it, in the best possible sense. And the sea is subtle, personable and female: “I wait for her, stroked by early heat, / an arrow dance of seagull feet.”

Crossing the Ellipsis, by Lorna Dowell, stretches the boundaries. Do you, like me, ever swim in your local pool? If so, you mustn’t miss the vicious early-morning swimmer in ‘Measures’. There’s preoccupation with communication, and the lack of it in most of these poems: “you lie in your sleep / in a speech bubble / it’s too dark to read.”

And then there’s Michael Loveday, editor of 14 Magazine, who presents his first collection: He said / She said. The tension of opposites is at the forefront: male/female, English/Polish, secret/public, forgetting/remembering: “have you got / the can’t forget / don’t forget / the can’t forget.”

So don’t . . . forget. You’ll find these in the online shop (with sample poems), or send for all or any by post if you prefer, enclosing a cheque (they are £4.00 each):

21 Hatton Green

And on another tack – the J C Squire blog entry last week produced some lovely responses, D A Prince pointed out that the ‘one liner’ I mentioned is in fact a line from a whole comic poem, The Ballade of Soporific Absorption, which happily can be found on line, because I can’t find it in any of my Squire volumes. Wonderful.

Another response was from George Simmers quoting ‘If Gray had had to write his elegy in the cemetery of Spoon River instead of in that of Stoke Poges’. It’s originally from the volume Tricks of the Trade, a satirical collection in which 10 poems are grouped under the title ‘How they would have done it’.

The poem George quotes (thank you, George!) is also titled ‘If Gray had written Spoon River Anthology’, and like all parodies, it partly depends not only on your knowledge of Gray (which is probable, since the elegy is still widely anthologized) but also on your acquaintance with the American poet Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology (1915) – perhaps fairly unlikely. Squire almost certaintly didn’t think much of Spoon River (though parody can be a form of compliment), and you may note he has a passing swipe at Masefield, whom he also held in dubious regard, see his parody of ‘The Everlasting Mercy’ in the same volume (it’s actually a parody of how Masefleld would have written Dorothy Heman’s poem, often known as ‘The boy stood on the burning deck’).

It’s a sad (to me, anyway) thought that Squire, who was a brilliant parodist, could write in the style of practically anybody, and produce huge mirth. Now it’s hard to believe a) anybody could do this and b) readers would be sufficiently well-read to get the joke.

In any case, Hemans’ poem celebrates the tale of young Giocante, son of the French commander Casabianca, who heroically remained at his post on deck of the French ship Orient, during the Battle of the Nile in 1798, as his father had instructed him, until the ship blew up.

Here’s a bit of Hemans:

The flames rolled on he would not go
Without his Father’s word;
That father, faint in death below,
His voice no longer heard.


He called aloud ‘Say, Father, say
If yet my task is done?’
He knew not that the chieftain lay
Unconscious of his son.


‘Speak, father!’ once again he cried,
‘If I may yet be gone!’
And but the booming shots replied,
And fast the flames rolled on.


And here’s a bit of Masefield:

Up go the winders, out come heads,
I heard the springs go creak in beds;
But still I heave and sweat and tire,
And still the clang goes “Fire, Fire!”
“Where is it, then? Who is it, there?
You ringer, stop, and tell us where.”
“Run round and let the Captain know.”
“It must be bad, he’s ringing so,”
“It’s in the town, I see the flame;
Look there! Look there, how red it came.”
“Where is it, then? O stop the bell.”
I stopped and called: “It’s fire of hell;
And this is Sodom and Gomorrah,
And now I’ll burn you up, begorra.”

And finally, here’s Squire doing Hemans in the style of Masefield:

Dogs barked, owls hooted, cockerels crew,
As in my works they often do
When, flagging with my main design,
I pad with a descriptive line.
Young Cassy cried again: “Oh damn!
What an unhappy put I am!
Will nobody go out and search
For dad, who’s left me in the lurch?
For dad, who’s left me on the poop,
For dad, who’s left me in the soup,
For dad who’s left me on the deck.
Perhaps it’s what I should expeck
Considerin’ ’ow he treated me
Before I came away to sea.

[You might want to know that Masefield shocked readers when ‘The Everlasting Mercy’ was published because it contained words like ‘Damn’ and ‘Bloody’, as well as passages in the vernacular. And though I am a Masefield supporter, Squire has a point. Several, actually.]

ps For your homework this week, rewrite the first section of In Memoriam in the style of one of the following:


But sometimes you can get a bit too much of it.

For example, last December I published a pamphlet by Tim Love. I’m always interested when a poet incorporates in his or her name a word that is ‘loaded’ when it comes to poetry. No single word is more pregnant with emotional cargo than ‘love’.

So what does ‘love’ mean for Tim Love when he includes it in a poem? It can’t not resonate with his own name. Not that this matters all that much. I was at school with a girl whose surname was Darling, and I always envied her that. But that was before Alistair.

Anyway, sometimes synchronicity creeps into the equation. This week I took three new pamphlets to the printer. One was by Michael LOVEday. A second was by Lydia FulleyLOVE. Thankfully, the third author, Lorna Dowell has no love in her name, but she does begin with L and end with A, like Lydia, and she also has two Os, a key vowel in love.

None of this matters in the least bit, except when you get tired.

As you approach exhaustion, suddenly Lydia and Lorna start to sound remarkably similar, and the ‘L’ at the end of Michael shouts accusingly. You get fearful that you’ll end up with a front cover brandishing poetry by Lorna Fulleylove, or Lydia Dowell, and Michael Dowfull looms ominously on the horizon. . . .


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 teach loads of adult students who loathe poetry. Sometimes I hate it more than they do. I look at books of it piling up around me and I feel sick. I feel like the miller’s daughter locked in a room of straw without the faintest hope of Rumpelstiltskin.

I teach loads of adult students who loathe poetry. Sometimes I hate it more than they do. I look at books of it piling up around me and I feel sick. I feel like the miller’s daughter locked in a room of straw without the faintest hope of Rumpelstiltskin.

I’m not a creative writing tutor. That’s different. People who want to write poetry often love it. I teach literature (some of the time) in further education. Many of the people who arrive there read novels and enjoy films. But mention the big Po and a troubled look comes over their faces. I wish I could suggest a few hours in my classroom transforms their feelings. Sometimes it’s the reverse.

Pomophobia is normal. Why? All sorts of reasons. School has a lot to do with it. We get Poetry, like an attack of flu. To get rid of it, we have to analyse it. We don’t understand it and this makes us feel stupid. We don’t like feeling stupid and we tend to dislike people and things that make us feel that way. So. . . .

And yet there are bits of verse (stuff the word ‘poetry’) that people do like. They’re memorable, frequently rhythmic, sometimes funny and, as you get older, and especially if you’re a boy, frequently rude. You can skip to them, sing to them, stamp to them, sigh to them, get revenge on them:

Helen Curry is no good (substitute name of victim).
Chop her up for firewood (you have to say ‘fy-er-wood’).
When she’s dead, stamp on her head
And make her into currant bread.

So it’s okay to rejoice in that kind of thing. I wish I dared share some of the rudest examples. I do collect them. ‘The Good Ship Venus’ is a winner.

But back to hating poetry, before I work myself back into an inadvertent lather of liking the stuff.

All those books piled up staring at me. Three more arrived to review yesterday. There are at least ten waiting unread already. I have books of poetry that people sent me as gifts. And I have small collections waiting in coloured folders waiting for me to read through and make them into HappenStance pamphlets.

The trouble with poetry is that it is so bloody demanding. It has one assertion only and it is this: READ ME. Total attention. Nothing less will do. READ ME. And then – READ ME AGAIN.

Coupled with this is the unstated promise: I WILL REPAY. The idea is that you read the stuff and it does something magical for you, something you won’t forget. Isn’t that so? But somewhere in there, there’s a secret, like the name of Rumpelstilkskin or Tom Tit Tot or Whuppity Stoorie. If you can’t come up with the secret name, the whole thing will stay straw and you’ll be stuck in that room with it for the rest of your life.

So how do you feel, when you read it and the spell doesn’t work? Horribly cheated, that’s how. Vengeful. Especially since the thing you didn’t understand a word of, or were totally bored by, is supposed to be important. The person who wrote it is hugely significant and has the key to the whole of life: it says so on the back cover.

But there is quite a good thriller on the bookcase and it won’t make you feel like that. All it demands is:



It will be easy. And a bit of fun.

All this I understand all too well.

However, on Friday, I sat quietly in a room full of poetry and a little bit of prose (some prose is necessary, like pasta, rice, bread or potatoes with your dinner). And the magic worked again. I had Mike Horwood’s book Midas Touch – not one poem made me feel inadequate. Lovely first collection. And August Kleinzahler’s New and Selected – a bit more nervous about that, and there were bits I teetered over, but some whole poems were okay. And Tim Liardet’s Shoestring pamphlet – oh hey – it even tells a story, a beautiful, sad story. And did you know Brian Aldiss, the science fiction writer, did Po too? I didn’t, but he does. Perhaps not the best poetry I have ever read but hey, it caused me no pain at all to read the lot. And I sailed through the one by Gail White practically singing.

But even better than this. I went back to three folders of PIPs. That, for the uninformed among you, stands for Poets In Progress, and these PIPs are the next three HappenStance pamphlets. They are Mike Loveday, Lorna Dowell and Lydia Fulleylove. Oh my goodness! I haven’t read them for ages, not properly, not since I said Yes to the pamphlet possibility. I slowly perused the poems that had been sitting in my yellow box beside the dining table for months, and I came out of the reading calm, happy and enriched.

And excited. It was the same with Ross Kightly and Kirsten Irving, only a few weeks ago. This is why I do it. I’m only the miller’s daughter. The magic has nothing to do with me, but these poets have transformed paper and scratchy words to gold. I want to share them and there’s nothing I’d rather do.

Meanwhile, I’ll inflict a poem of my own on you, no matter whether you hate it or not, because it’s relevant and I’d forgotten I’d written it until I came to do this morning’s blog. It emerged ten years ago, as a direct result of three lovely adult students who came to me woefully after I had forced them to read Shakespeare sonnet 138, ‘When my love swears that she is made of truth’. One of them really did say to me, ‘We’ve tried and we’ve tried and we can’t like it.’

The Challenge of Literature

(‘We’ve tried and we’ve tried and we can’t like it. . . .’)

I gave them the sonnet I always used.
‘You don’t have to like it,’ I conceded
when hardly a single one enthused.
‘Shakespeare can grow on you. Go on—read it.’

I was convinced it would do no harm
to meet the best of the best. Great art
is good for exams; it keeps you calm.
Some people even learn it by heart.

On the last day, in no mood for sighing,
I tossed them a titbit by Wendy Cope:
some nice little lines, a kind of test.
What would they think? Well—I dared to hope.

The bastards. They liked it without even trying.
I might have guessed.