There is a point, in the middle of buying 400 first class stamps at 46 pence each, that you wonder . . . why.
There are answers of course. The stamps are for posting out the annual chapter of the HappenStance Story, which goes to HappenStance subscribers every year as part of the intricate marketing strategy I’ve set myself. As a strategy it is insane, of course. But then anyone who sets out to purvey, to provide, to peddle poetry has to be peculiar.
HappenStance subscribers currently pay £7.50 per year (more if overseas, but really this scheme only works for people in the UK or possibly Europe) and for that I send them one pamphlet of their choice, a couple of mailshots with flyers and new PoemCards during the year, and the annual Chapter. I lose on this, unless they also purchase a couple of things during the year.
The point of the Chapter is to give a bit of the backstory, so the subscribers feel ‘involved’. They are literally involved, of course, because I rely on 20-30 of them purchasing each publication, and by and large they do. (At the moment there are about 220 subscribers altogether.)
Originally I spoke about the publications one by one in the annual Chapter: a bit about the process behind each. Now there are too many publications to do that. Besides the format had got too predictable. So now there is also stuff about the mistakes I have made during the year, the business of poetry, the Sphinx stuff, the money side — that sort of thing. I want it to tell people the things you don’t usually get to know (though there are lots of things, like most publishers, I don’t tell anybody). Quite a few subscribers tell me they enjoy reading it – and they continue to subscribe, so I tend to believe them. For poets who want to get work published, either through me or another small press publisher, it’s educative – I hope.
Recently I got Krax 48 from Andy Robson, who writes to me from time to time, and to whom I quite often send pamphlets. He did not love Chapter Five of The HappenStance Story.
I admire Andy. He is a magazine editor of the old style, cranky and self-driven, and his magazine has been going since 1971. His publication is old style too. Each poem has the title in capitals, then the poem, then the name of the author slightly to the right. All of this is in a bold serif font: probably Times Roman. It is saddle stitched (two staples in the middle) in traditional chapbook style and far too packed with pages to lie flat. It has no page numbers. There are some illustrations, all monochrome, some funny line drawings, all credited, and some black and white photos which may be of the authors of some of the poems.
You’ll find very little information about Krax in this ethersphere (it is only issued once each year). I interviewed him about the magazine in Sphinx 2008 and this is what he said about modern methods:
Nothing has changed since the early days. Production is on a tighter-than-tight budget. We use the equipment we have. Half the fun is trying to imitate time-consuming software effects with scissors, paste and some photocopied image off the back of an envelope. I don’t have a computer, and if I had, then I wouldn’t have time to use it. . . .
I think he may have a computer now, though he still sends hand-written letters, all of which I keep. In the middle of KRAX, there are several pages of reviews presumably by the editor, separately stapled. These are in tiny typeface – probably about an 8, but in a sans-serif, maybe Arial, and they’re separated into sections: Fishing for Freebies, Zine it All Before, To Frisbee or Not To. . . ?, Chat an’ Chew, Chew, Chew the Fat, Homeward Trails. I think Andy comments on everything anybody sends him.
I send him stuff from time to time, though his responses are never what I expect. He praises some things I don’t expect him to like, cordially dislikes things I think he might take to, and is completely consistent in his responses. That is to say: he says precisely what he thinks, without (as they say) fear or favour. I admire this, even when it makes me squirm.
A lot of the time I don’t pass on his comments to authors because they might find them painful. Many of them are, of course, warm comments but that sometimes worries me too. I was cheered that he noticed and liked Alan Dixon’s cover for the Ruth Pitter Selected, for example, and remarked it was the same Alan Dixon who had featured in Smoke. But his descriptive adjective for Ruth’s writing was “jolly”. Jolly? In the middle of Andy’s reviews, I have marked my place with a shopping list that reads ‘Cherries, semolina, parsnips, washing up liquid, butter’. This does somehow reflect the pages I was reading.
Which brings me to the washing up liquid. Andy is warmly complimentary about the final issue of Sphinx but oh dear, when he comes to the HappenStance Story Chapter 5, it won’t wash:
Clearly publishers will find it interesting and be bemused by the priorities and be green with envy at some of the material acquired. Not of much interest to a casual browser, sadly. One for the trade.
But the HappenStance Story doesn’t go to publishers! It’s written mainly for subscribers and they aren’t publishers (with the occasional exception). They’re mainly poets or folk interested in small press ventures. Some of them are actually poetry readers. But Andy’s comment does at least make me think hard. I think Chapter Seven, if there is one, may need to change format. Get different. And it would be useful to have back chapters on the web as downloads.
In reviewing Laurna Robertson’s Sampler, which I’m glad to say he likes, Andy remarks that the Samplers seem to be “a quirk of the press . . . possibly a left-over set from a collection or even surplus submissions for the HappenStance Poetry Cards (a rare breed only obtained on subscription as a perk for collectors). Or simply just pieces that don’t seem to fit with anything else.”
Help! The Samplers aren’t left-overs! They’re brief collections – a taste of the poet’s work. Martin Parker’s Sampler preceded a pamphlet. Eleanor Livingstone’s and Andrew Philip’s came after their first pamphlet: just enough poems for a twenty-minute reading. And the PoemCards, of course, can be had by anybody from the website or by post, although it’s true subscribers get one free with every order.
I must have been mulling this matter for the last ten days or so because now it has got out in this blog. I assume everybody knows what I do and why and how, simply because I’ve written it several times somewhere or other. But these days I am beginning to forget what I’ve already said and where.
Having said all this, I have just saved the original Krax interview as a pdf and it will go onto the new Sphinx site imminently. I recommend Krax although, as Andy tells me in his letter, it has no Scots poets in it this issue – there are plenty of Americans (their state of origin is mentioned) and presumably English and Welsh, perhaps even Irish – why are the Scots not sending?
Krax is not all light verse but the emphasis is often on light, and some of the light pieces in it are well worth their salt. It’s fun to read, and different. It doesn’t compromise. Some poems are by names you know (K V Skene, Christopher James, Alan Dent, Richard Bonington, Richard Titman). Others are names wholly new to me, but I enjoyed meeting their poems. There’s prose too. In this issue a dramatic scene in Athens General Hospital Emergency Room during the 2005 Olympic Games (Roger Freed, Colorado) and a story by S M Bates ‘The Case of the Sticky Wellingtons’. No editorial. I can’t even find the name of the editor in the publication.
Go on – send Andy Robson a fiver for at least one issue. This publication has been appearing for the last 40 years. Help make it 50!
And now I’m back to posting out Chapter Six, like it or lump it! Watch out!
KRAX magazine, c/o 63 Dixon Lane, Leeds LS12 4RR, Yorkshire U.K Editor: Andy Robson: £4.50 ($9) each. Remittances to A. Robson