On Choosing the Wrong Name

If I had another life, and was choosing the name of my imprint again, I wouldn’t go for ‘HappenStance Press’. Before I tell you why, I’ll explain how the name HappenStance first came about.

Back in 2005 I was thinking a lot about poetry publishing, turning half an idea over and over in my head. I was on holiday, and on holiday I sleep deeply and I dream.

So I had a vivid dream in which I had set up a poetry publishing imprint called ‘Happenstance’. Next day I wrote my sister an unusually long letter. I told her about my dream. I’m going to go ahead with it, I said. I’m really going to do this. I was excited.

But was ‘Happenstance’ the right name? I liked the sound of the word, but not its connotations. I wanted an operation that was deliberate, carefully planned. The more I thought about it, the more I kept remembering W H. Auden’s ‘poetry makes nothing happen’.

My press could reverse that, Mr Auden, I thought. It could make poetry happen. And I could take a stance on the way it happened.

But it wasn’t just happenstance. It had to be HappenStance. The second half of the word had to be capitalised and italicised because that … was the whole point. And so I began.

There was, however, so much I didn’t know. So much.

For example, I failed to see that I was the only person who would ever care about that distinctive detail: the capital S, the italicised Stance.

For everybody else it would just be Happenstance Press (there are at least two bands with the same name, as well as a Rachael Yamagata album and a brand of footwear, not to mention a dozen or so novels).

At first I used to remind people about getting the format of ‘HappenStance’ right. Especially my own poets. Most of them cocked it up, and still do. I ve stopped reminding them. I see it wrong in bios everywhere, in books, in magazines. Reviewers of HappenStance books almost invariably write ‘Happenstance’ (why should they care?).

And then, worst of all, I was forced to get it wrong myself. That’s because in some online software, the heading styles won’t accept a mixture of regular and italic font. Often, it’s one or the other, unless you save the heading as a graphic, and you can only usually do that in banners. Sigh.

So some of the headings on the HappenStance website have the Stance italicised. Others don’t. I expect if I forked out enough money it’s all fixable, but the circumstance of HappenStance has never been lucrative and the website mostly uses freeware. This is poetry, after all.

I see new presses popping up all the time, and the imprint names always interest me. When ignitionpress sprang into existence, I chuckled hollowly. All one lowercase word, right? Two words squashed together. Bold font for the first word only? Ha! Asking for trouble.

And right enough: check it out. Sometimes you see Ignition Press. Sometimes you see Ignitionpress. Sometimes you see ignitionpress. On the home page where everything ignites, there’s both ignitionpress and ignitionpress, but then the second version is white on black, and it’s hard to mix bold and regular characters in WOB.

Anyway, such is life. All I’m saying is: if I had my time again, I’d keep it simple. A nice regular font; a word with a pleasing shape and sound. That would do. Be easy to remember. Be easy to spell. Be easy to fit inside a URL.

As for Auden, that troublesome quotation about poetry not making things happen is drawn from his 1939 work ‘In Memory of W. B. Yeats’. The whole poem is well worth revisiting. But here’s the relevant bit, and it doesn’t say quite what I always thought:

[ … ] poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

So poetry, after all, ‘survives / in the valley of its making’. Hands off, you poetry executives! It’s a river: it flows on, it survives. It is, as much as anything else ‘a way of happening’. I like that. (Valley Press might like it too.)

But ‘HappenStance’ is the name I did choose, eighteen years ago. I have completed my main phase now, the determination to make books happen. I’m on my last titles, and although this ‘way of happening’, the poetry thing, sits central to my life, I won’t make many more publications. The launch of one of the last is next week, Tuesday 7 November at 7.00 pm at the Devereux in central London. The magical book being launched is Matthew Stewart’s Whatever You Do, Just Don’t. It includes twelve poems about a football team, something I never in a million years thought I would like. But I do. Details of the event are on the events page of the website.

Please come along to the London event and say hello if you live near enough. (Spell ‘hello’ any way you like.)

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.



Over the last few years I’ve seen quite a lot of it.

I’m talking about poetry that isn’t prose but isn’t quite poetry either (whatever ‘poetry’ is). Something in between. I don’t say this as a criticism. I like it when text slithers in and out and won’t be pinned down.

Poets sometimes propose work that is like this. And several times people have suggested I might publish a pamphlet of poems with complementary art work. HappenStance doesn’t do illustrated work (Diana Gittins’ Bork! has been the only exception), so I say ‘No’ to that. Simples.

But I don’t by any means rule out a mixture of text forms, morphing in and out of whatever you might want to call them. Clare Best’s Treasure Ground had prose sections at start and finish, and there will be a pamphlet by Kris Evans next year that will mingle its forms magnificently.

And although I don’t personally publish art work with poetry, I like the idea. I like the way Ambit has always done this. I like the mixture in The London Magazine. So when people ask about it, I always want them to find a way to make it happen, even if it’s not through me.

So I was specially interested to read Estuary by Lydia Fulleylove, with artwork by Colin Riches. I published Lydia’s debut poetry pamphlet, Notes on Land and Sea in 2011, and knew something about the collaborative work that has underpinned this new book. It’s a paperback volume from Two Ravens Press (an imprint worth supporting) with eight laminated colour plates in the middle. The text itself, to quote the introduction, ‘has three elements: diary observations, poem meditations, and voices of those who work the land’.

The narratives in their various forms weave several threads into the whole. There’s the life of the farming world – human, plant and animal. There’s the poet’s father, who is ill. There’s the river estuary – the water, and the water creatures. There’s the weather, and the movement of the day from light to dark. There are the inmates in the prison, where the author is working part-time, and they too are writing and responding to the environment. There are people in the local community, which whom the author is also working: the High Tide poets and the Drawing Ahead artists. It sounds an impossible combination!

However, Lydia has cracked it. It works. This is a fascinating, moving, unusual piece of art. It is not expensively produced, nor without some minor flaws, but it is a marvellous demonstration of a project achieved. Matthew Stewart’s recent review on Rogue Strands gives more quotation and more of an insight into how it works.

Anyone who is interested in cross-art projects, or poems with pictures, or poems that aren’t necessarily ‘poems’, should take a look at this. It can be done. More people should think outside the poem-a-page book. More people should be determined to find a way to bring it into print. A pleasure to read, and to recommend.




And is there a blogjam? Probably, yes.

And here’s another entry floating downstream and contributing to the probblog. Do I care? Not particularly. Bloggers don’t. They scribble away merrily, part of the hubbub. Nobody has to read them. It costs nothing but time.

Which is, of course, the most precious thing we have.

Should poets blog? Does it help them to be successful, to get their poems read? It depends. It can do the opposite. If you launch a blog, it’s hard to undo it.

When I was at school, our English teacher said we should keep a diary. She said it would improve our style. So I kept a diary for about twenty years – maybe more. I don’t think it did anything for my style, but then I wrote it for myself, not for anybody else. It occurs to me that prose style is improved through writing for readers. I expect there are exceptions, but still the desire to be readable, to be engaging, to communicate – that’s worth fostering, isn’t it?

Who reads all the blogs? Lord knows. They become part of the Twittersphere, the FaceBookspeak, the vast network of communicators on the internet passing on links and connections. Something that interests one person, even slightly, is passed to another, and so on.

I can’t read all the good books that are being generated right now: no-one ever could. I can’t even read a fraction of the poetry. But I do read poetry bloggers: they make connections for me, and guide my reading. Some of these bloggers are also poets I’ve published; some are not. I’m always finding new ones. It’s like being at a huge party where you go back to the drinks and snacks and meet another person on your way. Or one person introduces you to another. Better than a party, really because you can go home whenever you want.

Recently I’ve had a great time reading Anthony Wilson’s ‘Lifesaving Poems’. It’s not just the style (open, personal and unfussy), it’s the introductions to actual poems I might never have read – and you get them in full. The recent blog on Sian Hughes led me to a poem and then into the poem, and now I shan’t forget the blog (or the dog either).

John Field’s Poor Rude Lines is splendid too, and he includes pictures – beautiful photos and graphics, which light up the lines. The blogs I like best are unashamedly personal. This week John shared his personal response to Fiona Moore’s The Only Reason for Timeand this is not a devious way of getting a friend to help sell the publication. No, he loved it and wrote about it, and I have never met him.

Meanwhile, Fiona Moore herself blogs too. She’s a terrific writer about poetry (being a poet doesn’t necessarily mean that you write about poetry well). This time last week she wrote about the experience of having that selfsame pamphlet published. Fascinating. Well, I would say that, wouldn’t I? Yes. But it is.

When you read a blogger you like, they lead you to others. That’s another of the lovely things about the blogjam. You get drawn in and before you know where you are, you’re back to Margaret Thatcher and Katy Evans-Bush writing brilliantly about her. Then off to check up on Tim Love, whose literary references were an education to me long before I published a word of poetry (my own or anyone else’s), and now he has a sub-blog (bloglet?) about the experience of his HappenStance pamphlet, Moving Parts. Check out the poster on his local library door!

Then there’s Sonofabook, Charles Boyle’s CB Editions publisher blog. He’s funny and he has a kind of addictive raspy edge. He’s also expensive because I want to buy the books. All of them. He’s a role model to roll with.

So many great blogs. How does anyone ever get bored?

As for whether poets should or shouldn’t (blog), far more of the poets I have published don’t blog than do. One blog isn’t like another blog, nor used for the same reasons. Chrissy Williams’ is mainly promotional. Matt Merritt often reviews books or pamphlets on his, but also writes about birds: that’s Polyolbion. Rob A Mackenzie blogs at Surroundings: he writes about a huge range, ineffably. Matthew Stewart blogs at Rogue Strands – a blend of comment on poetry, reviews of his own work, and experiences in the wine trade. Jim C Wilson, a newer blogger, is personal, anecdotal and amusing – a kind of update for friends. Andrew Philip (Tonguefire blog) is a diarist: life events and publications.

I know poets who have started to blog and stopped again. In fact, now I think about it, I started several before this one. You live and learn. I write this every Sunday morning, unless a life crisis stops me, and that’s been true for several years. Why? Officially, it’s a publisher’s blog: it’s here to promote HappenStance and its poets.

The real reason? I am a writer. I like the discipline, I like the practice. I’m dead strict with writers I’m editing. This is where I get strict with me. Brief is better. No pictures this week. I’ll stop now. 




The CB Editions Free Verse publishers event took place yesterday in London.

Two floors of small press publishers, a fabulous reading venue, a delightful little open air cafe on hand, a baking hot day — and free wine and ham with every HappenStance purchase, thanks to Matthew Stewart’s role as wine exporter and voluntary ambassador for the Extremadura region of Spain. So the HappenStance stall got a lot of interest.

Christopher Reid kicked off the action (you can just see him above, in the middle) with charm and brevity and panache.

The day included music, workshops, conversation, book buying, book bartering, book swapping, wine and ham. And a first-rate series of readings throughout the day, organised by Chrissy Williams and announced by CB Editions publisher Charles Boyle with a very large bell (see above). CB managed to look relaxed even in the middle of this mammoth feat of organisation.

You may spot Fiona Moore (above) assisting with sales, beside Matthew Stewart in his green stripey, ham-cutting apron. People talk about the unlikelihood of pigs flying. Well, part of one did — from Spain to London — and there it is on the ham stand. You can just see the cover of Marion Tracy’s The Giant in the Doorway in the right hand corner of the photo above — the one with what look like cut-out dolls. There was a fabulous reading space (see below). Couldn’t have been better.

Marion Tracy launched her debut publication, Giant in the Doorway, with a riveting reading, in front of that glorious mirror and red drapes. I didn’t photograph her in action because I didn’t want to put her off with paparazzi flashes, but I wish I had. I am a coward with a camera.

Matthew’s reading from his second pamphlet, Tasting Notes, required two voices, so I had the opportunity of being a marketing blurb persona. This, too, was accompanied by wine and ham. You can taste the wine yourself (links from the HappenStance shop to an online wine supplier).

The day was very friendly — lots of people to talk to and everyone in that sunny good humour that accompanies an extra bit of Summer when you’re not really expecting it. Food for mind, body and spirit.

Wonderful. And did I mention the wine and ham?

Balanced, rational, reasonable, sensible, sane, sound . . . .

Just look at those respectable adjectives!

They line up like nice little soldiers, reliable and trustworthy. Then see what happens with their anonyms (of which there are many more):

Aberrant, bananas, barmy, batty, bonkers, cuckoo, daft, deluded, demented, gaga, insane, kooky, loony, loopy, lunatic, mental, nutty, psycho, rabid, raving, senseless, screwy, unbalanced, unhinged, unreasonable, unsafe, unsound, unstable, wacko, off your rocker, out of your mind, away with the fairies, lost the plot.

Mental illness isn’t funny. But all those describing words? They mock it, stick it in a safe place on the back shelf, where we keep things we don’t want to contemplate.

Because of all that, it’s hard to write about—hard to evoke that reality where the brain doesn’t work properly—without inviting horror movie scenarios or enlisting the sympathy vote. Marion Tracy’s début pamphlet, Giant in the Doorway, steers a bold course between these torturous extremes.

Giant is about childhood with a mother who lurches from ‘normality’ to insanity. Some of the poems (in the voice of the child) struggle to make sense of what’s going on, but there’s no self-pity. The narrator is (like most children) a tough little individual. At one point she herself becomes the friendly giant, protecting her older sister from the terrors.

In the second half of the collection, the poet looks back on her childhood from the point of view of an adult. She’s still trying to make sense of the relationship with her mother, in the way most of us do all our lives. Through the chaos of past events emerges a strong, clear voice. To describe confusion plainly is, in some sense, to take control:

I’m ten the bowl of stars I breathe in move my arms
up and down then out is something I have
no name for and none for this but I know it’s wrong

Giant in the Doorway will be launched next Saturday (8th September) at the Candid Arts Trust galleries in London (the Poetry Book Fair). Matthew Stewart will be launching Tasting Notes at the same time, with wine and a tapa of Iberico Ham. Both new chapbooks will be in the online shop within the next week or so.


Do you believe in synchronicity?

It was Jung who coined the term, of course, and ever since I came across it, I’ve liked it. My mother’s a great believer in meaningful coincidence (which is much the same thing) and has some extraordinary examples.

My favourite’s the story of how she met Herr Buchholz. We were on holiday in Austria in 1966. We had never been abroad before (my sister was 10 and I was just 13), and my mother was determined to practise the German she had been studying in night school. She fell into conversation with a couple who were staying with their daughter at the same hotel. Naturally they asked where she came from and discovered it was a part of England one of them already knew. Mr Buchholz had been a prisoner of war, and was detained in Cheshire, near where my mother grew up. I don’t know what he was doing: perhaps he was a land worker of some kind.

Over the days they stayed in the same hotel, they continued to chat. They discovered they had, unknowingly, been in the same location together before, albeit not in Austria. It was over twenty years previously. My mother was a young woman in her teens and was working for a GP in Bowdon. Word came round that the King (George VI) was passing through. Not one to miss the opportunity of seeing royalty go past, my mother nipped out to view the royal progression (traffic moved slowly in those days). The streets in her part of Bowdon were deserted. She was the only person standing at the roadside apart from a man she didn’t know and didn’t speak to.

That man was Herr Buchholz, and here she was talking to him, nearly quarter of a century later at a hotel in Austria. Now there’s coincidence for you! Later his daughter Charlotte came to stay with us, to improve her English, and eventually I went to stay with them, to improve my German. Charlotte and I are still in touch.

All of which brings me to this week’s happy coincidence. I went to pick up Matthew Stewart’s new pamphlet Tasting Notes from The Dolphin Press. (It isn’t listed on the website yet).

Tasting Notes is, as the title suggests, about wine. The author works as a wine exporter for a Spanish co-operative in Extremadura. He’s also, of course, the originator of Inventing Truth, which came out in 2011 (Matthew blogs at Rogue Strands). Tasting Notes is very different from Matthew’s last publication. This time, the language of wine tasting and marketing merges with something delightfully unexpected. Each of four Zaleo wines has something to say for itself, and not quite what you’d expect.

But this brings me to the synchronicity. When I picked up the pamphlets this week, they were all packed in . . . wine boxes! Naturally I loved this detail, and saw it as particularly auspicious. I am, I think, the only poetry publisher who regularly dispatches boxes of books in car parts boxes (my other half works in a garage). I’ve always delighted in the inappropriateness of the packaging — this time it was the other way around.

Matthew’s Tasting Notes, when it finally makes it into our website shop, will have a link to a site where you can buy the wine to go with it, if you’d like to. This has proved a bit complicated, so it’s not yet accomplished. But not only will you be able to buy wine, you can get some free.

At the Poetry BookFair in London, on September 8th, you’ll see we’re opening the readings with the launch of that very pamphlet and wine tasting! There will, in fact, not only be wine but, just as delicious, a chance to sample the Iberio ham celebrated in one of the poems. And afterwards, a whole complimentary glass of the blushful, if you make a purchase from HappenStance. It’s beautiful drinking, I’ve tried it, so it’s to be hoped I will be coherent. (Joke.) The event is at the Candid Arts Trust, near Angel Tube Station, easy to get to if in or near the capital. Do come along if you can: the programme for the whole day is fabulous.

Besides, there are actually two HappenStance pamphlets launching at the London Poetry Book Fair. The other is Marion Tracy’s Giant in the Doorway. More about that next week. . . .


Last Sunday my iron gave up the ghost.

Last Sunday my iron gave up the ghost.

I almost invariably do the ironing at some point on a Sunday evening. I put it off, like I used to put off homework when I was at school, but as Monday approaches, so does the prospect of the ironing basket full of clothes and the clothes full of wrinkles.

Besides, my mother used to iron on a Sunday night. It was one of the few times she stopped rushing around and stood still for long enough to have a conversation. I could sit and learn my French verbs while she stood at the ironing board, pressing and folding.

I must be able to remember – I think – a time before steam irons became ubiquitous, because I’m sure she had a little jug of water, from which she flicked drops across the garments. Thinking about this has led me to a fascinating website I didn’t know existed – ‘Old and Interesting’. (Our iron did not, thankfully, plug into the light fitting.)

And I recall being taught to iron – imagine longing to be allowed to iron! – and practising on my father’s handkerchiefs, because they were easy. The only hard bit was folding them so the monogram appeared on the corner.

And then there were steam irons and the comforting hiss of the steam, and the button you could press to send a fine spray over the garment if you wanted to. And it was warm in the room where the ironing went on, because my mother plugged in the iron beside the coal fire, and I curled on the settee with my work, and we chatted.

My memories of Mrs Tiggywinkle and my mother are very close together, and this perhaps, is the source, the ‘urquell’ of the ironing poem genre:

Lily-white and clean, oh!
With little frills between, oh!
Smooth and hot – red rusty spot
Never here be seen, oh!

Now that preceded the steam iron: you had to be good and careful in the days when carelessness could lead to rust and burns. Mrs Tiggywinkle was an expert and a heroine of domestic achievement.

No wonder I don’t mind ironing. It remains a comfort activity for me, and a harbinger of doom when the iron finally dies, as they do now and again. Ironing and irony are indissolubly and irrationally linked in my mind.

But there is an ironing poem genre. I have been watching them pop up over the decades. I have written at least three myself – not intentionally, but by accident. And lots of people will know the remarkable Pauline Prior-Pitt’s ‘Ironing with Sue Lawley’.

You would think ironing poems might always be authored by women. I have a feeling there was no Mr Tiggy-Winkle, though it is impossible to be sure. However, these days domestic tasks are less gender-connected. Women carry in the coal (except the coal, too, is running out and soon there will be none for them to carry) and men iron their own shirts. This is one of the reasons why I particularly liked finding an ironing poem in Matthew Stewart’s HappenStance pamphlet, Inventing Truth. It is called ‘La Despedida’ and it is rather sad. Before I go out and buy a new iron, I will share it:

There’s a regular slopping of water

up and down the iron. He juggles it

with all the collars, cuffs, pockets and sleeves,

shrugs blouses onto hangers, places them

in wardrobes, his hands precise and routine

as if he weren’t about to leave at last.

Her clothes will wait their turn till none remain,

just the hangers drooping like empty yokes.

Clothes hangers desin


Two new pamphlets this week, and two new PoemCards. A frenzy of packets and packaging!

Two new pamphlets this week, and two new PoemCards. A frenzy of packets and packaging!

One was Kirsten Irving’s What To Do. Kirsten is one of the remarkable young editor/poets at the helm of Sidekick Books. (Jon Stone is the other one.) Anyone who has even glimpsed the recent Birdbook 1 will be agog to see her own first poetry collection. She has a full collection already scheduled from Salt next year but this is a chance to get a taster. She is a smashing writer. Read her!

Then there’s the irrepressible Ross Kightly, author of Gnome Balcony. Decades divide these two poets, insofar as age is concerned, but they have energy and unpredictable bounce in common. And this is Ross’s first collection too. An Australian by birth, he mixes voices and methods and sometimes mayhem. There is no holding him, and in fact, at several points he seems to be about to escape his own pamphlet.

On top of these, two lovely new PoemCards. At least I think they’re lovely. Tom Vaughan’s The Mower is a winner for Spring gardeners, lawnmower lovers, and anyone who can’t stop working. The illustration is perfect.

The other card, Stewart Conn’s, was originally devised for Valentine’s Day but it would be lovely for any romantic occasion. And it has an insert. Titled Cupid’s Dart, the dart itself (with another copy of the poem on it) is folded inside the card, ready for hurling at the heart. Really neat.

Behind the Scenes
That was the official bit. Behind the scenes, a frenzy of parceling and packaging and bone-folder folding. This is what had to be done:

  • Twelve author copies of What To Do in four different packets to author.
  • Twelve author copies of Gnome Balcony in four different packets to author.
  • One packet of fliers for What To Do in packet to author.
  • One packet of fliers for Gnome Balcony to author.
  • One box of 23 additional copies of What To Do in lieu of payment to author (packaged in a Suzuki drivebelt box, very useful)
  • One box of 23 additional copies of Gnome Balcony in lieu of payment to author (packaged in Suzuki drivebelt box)
  • Twenty author copies of The Mower to be folded, packaged and sent to author, with another twenty he had ordered and some copies of his Sampler, also ordered.
  • Twelve author copies of Cupid’s Dart to author: cards to be folded and inserts (much more complicated) to be folded.
  • Three copies of What To Do, Gnome Balcony, Michael Mackmin’s From There to Here, Peter Daniels’ Mr Luczinski Makes a Move, and Matthew Stewart’s Inventing Truth to Poetry Book Society for consideration for pamphlet choice (six years so far without a recommendation: can our special moment ever happen?)
  • Five copies of Gnome Balcony and What To Do to Agent for Copyright Libraries with accompanying letter.
  • One copy of Gnome Balcony and What To Do to British Library with accompanying letter.
  • Two copies of Gnome Balcony and What To Do to National Poetry Library with invoice, as well as copies of new PoemCards.
  • Two copies of Gnome Balcony and What To Do to Scottish Poetry Library.
  • Copies of cards and poems to Webmaster Sarah Willans, to Gillian Rose (who does the cover images), to two members of my family who get everything, two friends who get most things, and several other people.
  • Copies of Gnome Balcony and What To Do to three Sphinx reviewers.
  • Six other assorted orders despatched to customers and authors.

The Cupid’s Dart PoemCard is a labour of love. I want you to know that the folding and preparation (by hand) takes a considerable time, though it costs no more than the other cards (because I am nuts). So if you can think of anyone for whom it would be appropriate, please send for one. (You’re unlikely to get this one slipped in with an ordinary order.) And by Valentine’s Day next year, I expect a run.

I purchased all the new William Morris stamps from our local post office and had a cheery conversation with the Evil Postman, whom some of you will know of old from Chapters of the Story. I arrived on Saturday at five to twelve, and the ladies at the poet office made him wait for my two drive belt boxes to be duly labeled and put into his bags, by which time it was two minutes after twelve and he was snarling (he snarls with evil charm).

I’ll put them in the SLOW bag. That’ll mean they’ll take at least a week to get there.

I don’t believe him. He has a gleam in his eye when he says (as he always does):

You should get up earlier”.


Shakespeare said it first. Or at least Don Paterson’s version of Shakespeare’s sonnet 102 did:

That love is merchandized, whose rich esteeming
The owner’s tongue doth publish everywhere.

Shakespeare said it first. Or at least Don Paterson’s version of Shakespeare’s sonnet 102 did:

That love is merchandized, whose rich esteeming
The owner’s tongue doth publish everywhere.

Which leads DP into:

Oh yes – overpublication is a terrible thing in a poet, and only arouses suspicion. It looks like it’s coming way too easily, meaning either it’s not costing you enough, or you’re insincere, or you’re probably repeating yourself. (And it’s all too easy to do: readers like to read their poetry as if it were something rare and precious. A poet can saturate his or her market just by publishing every three years.)

Yes, it’s the opposite of ‘tell everyone if you plan to go on a diet’. The quotation is, of course, from DP’s recent commentary Reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets, which, among other things, includes tips and advice to poets from One Who Knows. Not everyone will agree with him here, needless to say – though I do.

That’s because the pile of poems and anthologies at my elbow grows daily and there is a point at which it all becomes like too much pudding (not padding, pudding). You only look forward to dessert as a special thing, if you’re going to be able to get up and walk after you’ve eaten it.

This creates a wee problem for those poets who are hugely prolific, and possibly for  those who are currently writing a poem a day for NatPoMo. Well – it does if writing and poems and sharing them with the world are seen as hand-in-hand activities, as they are by many.

This week, on Facebook, poet and publisher Peter Daniels shared Book  Business comments from someone called Neal Goff (great name) of Egremont Associates, a firm that helps publishers sell stuff. And what does he say?

. . . in order to succeed in selling books directly to consumers . . .  publishers are going to have to step back and nurture gatherings of consumers in the consumers’ interest areas before creating content that those gatherings want. This is the antithesis of what publishers were once able to do, which was publish content and then create audience interest.

Oo-er missus. I was at one of Colin Will’s book launches yesterday – lovely readings from Geoff Cooper, Eddie Gibbons and Lyn Moir to support their new pamphlet publications. Was that nurturing gatherings of consumers? I suppose it was in a way.

As is Rob Mackenzie’s Poetry at the . . . Store this very evening, at which one of ‘my’ new poets, Matthew Stewart, launches his new pamphlet (32 pages of poems compiled carefully over several years).

But I don’t think we can nurture enough consumers to beat the book battle. Nurturing people is very time-consuming. It’s hellish trying to nurture folk and produce poetry publications at the same time. Are you being nurtured as you read this? If not, email me. I will send chocolate.

Jon Stone suggests “alternatives to the single author volume” may be the answer. More anthologies. Anthologies do seem to reach more common readers, or readers who like their theme, which can counteract the Fear of Po. The two big sources of income for poetry activity, in the days of vanishing AC funding, must surely be competitions and anthologies (take a look at Bloodaxe’s top ten titles).

This gives me a nice opportunity to work in a mention of the new Grey Hen volume, out this week, Get Me Out of Here! Poems for trying circumstances. Quirky (often funny) poems by “older women poets” of whom I am one.  A very enjoyable read and probably going to be marketed to a nurtured gathering of older women readers (there will be noteworthy exceptions). We older women (OWs) are still, I imagine, the main poetry-book-buying group in the UK. (YWs reading this: you can be an OW eventually. If you want to know what it’s like, read this book. YMs: tough.)

And there’s another excellent new anthology from Leicester-based Soundswrite, this time women from aged 25 to 98! A pleasure to read. If I were in the area, I would want to be involved with this group: a place where nature and nurture are combined. (YMs: sorry.)

But Mr Goff suggests that “the internet is the best marketing medium ever invented”. Maybe so. Maybe no. It connects with a vast number of people, theoretically, but that vast number of people is having a vast amount of stuff marketed to it every second of every hour of every day of every. . . .

Therefore, like her [Philomel], I sometime hold my tongue,
Because I would not dull you with my song.