OPEN THE WINDOW AND WHERE IS RUMPELSTILTZKIN?

20181114_102845

The reading window is about to open. Look back, look out, look forward.

On HappenStance's sister website, Sphinx review, this year we OPOI-reviewed 92 pamphlets. They came in through the front door. But we received far more than we OPOI-ed. 

The stated aim is to write about each and every one that's sent in, but it's an impossible aim. 

Besides, who will read all the reviews? Let's be honest. Reviews are not top of the reading list for most people, unless the review is of their own book.

Sometimes it occurs to me to offer authors an OPOI review of their publication provided they write one (of somebody else's pamphlet). But then some of the authors might write thoughtlessly or carelessly because their hearts weren't in it. 

Still, a mammoth number of poetry pamphlets now appears every year. Of course the authors like critical notice. But how is it to be managed? We did 92. I have 68 more pamphlets sitting here right this minute unwritten-about. I need Rumpelstiltskin.

Besides, there are more, far more. We weren't even sent copies of all the pamphlets that were produced. There must be 200-300 every year in the UK, at a guess. How would anybody ever know the real number? Many of them don't have ISB numbers. 

But the OPOI reviews are (yes, I am biassed) rather interesting to read, and writing reviews (especially OPOIs) is good for poets. I really think that. And if you've never done anything like this before, it's good training. You have a couple of kindly hands-on editors here to help. They're nice. 

This one is also currently sharpening her pencils for another purpose.

The poetry reading window is open from January 2nd to January 29th. Yay!

The window for offering OPOI reviews is open all year round.

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Helena Nelson
Making a comment on my own blog, it occurs to me how interesting it would be if a reading group took a particular pamphlet and eac... Read More
Monday, 31 December 2018 14:01
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THE NEED FOR GRAVY

ALAN_DIXON Christmas card woodcut by poet and artist Alan Dixon

Christmas is not so O-come-all-ye-faith-filled these days. I note a great many llamas on the cards this year. Things change. 

I don't mind the llamas, even the ones in Santa hats.

Over half a century ago, I was one of a generation of children who spent quite a lot of time in a church around December 25th. But we were not as faith-filled as you might think.

Children have a way of getting round the hugeness of religion, side-tracking it with their own take on things. Irreverence is a great asset when it comes to staying sane—though irreverence, too, is learned.

My maternal grandmother, who died when I was three, used to say (I know because my mother told me) 'There's an end to everything. Two to sausages.'

And my maternal grandfather, not famous for wit, allegedly said to my father at his wedding (it may have been part of a speech): 'This is the end to all your troubles, son. The front end.'

Then there was my close friend Jenny Green at school. She taught me a lot about subversion. At our school, everybody was issued with a hymn book. We had to make brown paper covers to keep them clean, and re-cover them annually. We carried those books dutifully to assembly each and every school-day morning. On the front cover most of us had written, as expected, HYMNS. But Jenny (oh how I admired her cleverness!) had written HERS.

Our favourite Christmas carols (all to be found inside HERS) were the ones we could subvert. Lord, how we need to subvert! 

(It is one of my favourite features of poetry too: sending the reader off with one set of expectations only to find the poem has overturned every one.) 

Our Father which art in heaven, Harold be thy name (one of my grandfathers was called Harold).

This very morning on the radio I heard a church choir singing one of our all-time favourites—'The angel Gabriel from Heaven came'. It has an undoubtedly beautiful tune, and lovely words too. But that's not why we liked it. We liked it because of the gravy.

The best kind of subversion is liberating because it undermines everything but nobody knows you're doing it. So shepherds washed their socks by night, and the Virgin Mary in that beautiful carol was not 'most highly favoured lady' but 'most highly flavoured gravy'.

On Christmas Day, we even got the gravy. 


Recent Comments
Helena Nelson
Keep 'em coming, my subversive readers! :-)
Sunday, 23 December 2018 16:28
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What to buy for Sebastian? And Robin? And Uncle Jock?

SHOP

There are four new HappenStance poetry pamphlets. Would your friends and relatives enjoy one of them as a seasonal gift? Which one? I don't know. love them all.   

But ever helpful, I thought I'd offer some buying tips. (All are the same price – £5.00, or £3.75 to subscribers.)

Bookmarks, D.A. Prince

A set of poems inspired by the markers we leave in books. It would appeal to the sort of person who loves reading, and leaves piles of books lying around (it comes with its own bookmark so that's a special touch). Poets should be inspired by it too: there's food for thought here about poem-stimuli. All D.A. Prince's poems have layers: you can read them for their surface meaning and immediate interest, and then go back many times over.

Honeycomb, M.R. Peacocke

This is a slender set, only 24 pages long. The poems inside are delicate, careful and emotive. The connecting theme may be age and ageing but the touch is light. It does make a good gift for the older reader, but I think those who love lyrical work would also take to it instantly, at any age. And for anyone who already knows M.R. Peacocke's work, it's a must.

The Lesser Mortal, Geoff Lander

This is a great gift for scientists —perhaps in particular scientists who don't think of themselves as poetry readers (also a good gift for artists who don't think of themselves as scientists) — or young folk planning on science degrees. The contents are beautifully formal (rhymed and metrical) and fun to read, though far from trivial in their preoccupations. Geoff Lander is meticulous in his footnotes too, added value and pleasure here.

Briar Mouth, Helen Nicholson

An unusual first collection by someone who hails from the west coast of Scotland —some of her more eccentric Scottish relatives feature here, as does her experience of growing up with a stammer. Helen Nicholson, (a founder member of Magma) writes with wit, subtlety and charm. An especially good gift for those with Scottish connections, or interested in communication (Helen is now afundraiser for a Dundee-based charity for children and young people with speech, language and communication difficulties).

And what about Now the Robin by Hamish Whyte, published earlier this year? There's a seasonal bird on the front cover, and two festive robins on the last page too (see illustration below). One of the finest feats for a poet is to write simply: Hamish Whyte does it with bells on. Now the Robin will appeal to anyone who loves sitting in a garden. And of course people called Robin.

Last but not least, there's a HappenStance poetry party next Saturday at the Scottish Poetry Library where you can see these publications and decide for yourself. Do come if you live near enough — but reserve a place because space is limited. There'll be cakes from Alison Brackenbury's Aunt Margaret's Pudding, something festive to drink, and of course some poets and poems.

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THAT PESKY READING WINDOW

READING-WINDOW

So yes, for HappenStance subscribers, there really is an offer of detailed feedback on up to six poems twice a year. And the first window used to be December.

But look at the picture.  I believe the window is shut. That's because the reading window month has changed. It's now January, which gives you all of December and the beginning of January to think about it.

Please don't send poems early. The reading elf (see last week's blog) is knackered.

Of course, January is a cold month for having the windows open, but never mind. I have a log stove, several really warm pullovers and super-thick socks.

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THE POETRY ELF FAILS TO WRITE THE RIGHT SORT OF BLOG

MAILSHO_20181118-122706_1 HappenStance mail in waiting

They have switched the Christmas lights on in our town and the shops (those of them that are still in business) are full of tinsel and elves.

Here at HappenStance HQ, two elves are busy putting bits of paper into envelopes. Tomorrow a mailshot goes out to the 310 postal subscribers and 100 or so electronic ones.

We have four new pamphlets out (or will have by tomorrow) and are hoping that some people will want to buy some as seasonal gifts. Poetry needs all the help it can get to find its way into people's houses. But assuming you buy one, the little folded, staple-stitched publication you will hold in your hand has weeks and weeks and weeks of activity behind it. It's the claws of Art, which extend to many activities.

First there's the acreage of time that the poet put into each line: the thought, the revision, the doubt, the risk. In some cases, this takes years. Well, you know about that.

Then there's the discussion of the poems one by one with me, the fate of the semi-colons, the ones that didn't make the cut, the titles that were changed, the order of contents — all of that business. Hours, rather than weeks, but then subsequent weeks of email exchanges about drafts (with four different poets at the same time).

There's the image on the cover and the discussions with Gillian Rose who draws them between fighting off small children. There are the images she and I rejected, and the days spent in In-Design and Photoshop trying (and frequently failing) to make the jacket look like I want it to. 

There's the title registration and uploading of jacket images to Nielsen Bookdata, and then, after an interval to allow them to be processed, the giant Amazon (oops, I haven't done Amazon yet — so add that to the list of things to do today, 21 and counting).

There's the trip with the pamphlet pages to be printed to Robert and Liz at Dolphin Press in Glenrothes, about a mile from here. Yes, this is very old-fashioned. I print them and take them. There's the review of what endpapers we have left or can use from Robert's stock. 

Then, for Robert at Dolphin, there's the making of the lithographic plates, the printing, and this time round there's the day the stapling machine broke and Robert spent three and a half hours fixing it (I think that was part way through D.A. Prince's Bookmarks, but it could have been Geoff Lander's The Lesser Mortal).

But before the stapling, there's the collating of pages (usually Robert and Liz's daughter Nicky does that), the filling of boxes. There's me driving there to pick up boxes, and me and Matt staggering along to the house with them (the hall is full of cardboard boxes and we haven't even picked up Meg Peacocke's Honeycomb or Helen Nicholson's Briar Mouth yet).

And the flyers. Each new pamphlet has a promotional flyer, so those take a while to design and make, and then they're printed by Robert in time for the mailshot, into which (this time) goes not only four flyers but a bookmark, a postcard, a Bardcard, a newsletter and (if it applies) a subscription renewal slip. The postcard was printed by Moo (costs a fortune but they do a good job), the bookmark by Solopress (cheaper and not bad). Designing and uploading and ordering these – a day for each one.

The newsletters take an age to write. Each time I'm fearful of forgetting to mention something or someone essential and obvious. The brain gets too full. Some days I could forget my own name. And there has to be a product page in the online shop for each pamphlet, and an updated poet's page for the poet, and an electronic version of everything in the right place at the right time for the online-only subscribers. All that stuff is ready now: I spent a couple of days on it last week, but it's not yet visible. (Don't publish the product till you're ready to sell it!)

Besides, first I had to update the  publications in print list, and the subscriber list, making sure as I can that the second of these is accurate and that the address labels correspond with the list (there are always anomalies because some people renew by cheque and some online, and the two systems need a human being to bring them together). That takes another half day. Then finally I print the address labels.

Matt collates all the bits and pieces for the mailshot, gets very grumpy, tells me whether we have enough envelopes of the right size, fills the envelopes and sticks on the labels, and checks them off on the list one by one, adding in reminders to those who are due to renew. He usually discovers (and brandishes) at least three mistakes I've made somewhere. The whole process takes him three days and quite a bit of backache, and I am not allowed to interrupt except with meals. Finally we put them in sacks and drive them in a pony and cart (not really – it's a small red car) to the sorting office on the other side of the town. (NB We haven't even sold one pamphlet yet.)

Then there are copies to be sent to the authors (they get twenty complimentary pamphlets), and copies sent to the copyright libraries, and Scottish poetry library, and Southbank Poetry library, and complimentary copies to old friends and supporters, and review copies hither and thither, and there's the bemused expression on the face of the lady in the post office when I arrive to buy another three hundred quid's worth of stamps. Yes, the cost is scary!

In fact, the cost in time and money and elves is all upfront. It takes faith. By this stage, the bank account is at rock bottom so we wait anxiously to see what will sell and when. New publications help to sell the ones that are already done and dusted (literally) and sitting hopefully. 

Oh, I forgot to mention the publisher's blog. That is this VERY document, which has failed miserably to do what promotional text should do – mention the most important thing first.

Well, let me see. What was the most important thing? Oh yes, the titles of the four new publications. Here I am talking about making them and the key fact of selling them and I haven't even told you anything about them. 

Nor have I mentioned the reading window NOT being in December, but in January now. That's important too. Oh bum.

Watch this space. I have just spent four hours writing the wrong sort of blog. I'll be back tomorrow. 


Recent Comments
Oliver Comins
Dear Nell - if I had some sparkly lights in your town, then I would switch them on for a short while each day...to celebrate being... Read More
Sunday, 18 November 2018 23:31
Helena Nelson
Dear Oliver -- If you came to visit, then we would get a double set of lights and have them on constantly until you went away. As ... Read More
Monday, 19 November 2018 09:41
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Remembering Jack

JACKCARD

Since my early twenties, I've owned a little brooch, a gold 'true love knot' dotted with tiny pearls. My mother gave it me, but it belonged to my father's mother, and was given to her by her first boyfriend Jack. Jack went off to the war and didn't come back.

So that was the end of Lizzie Wray's boyfriend Jack's story. I never knew his second name. 

Meanwhile, Annie Wray, her younger sister (my great-aunt) also had a boyfriend who went off to fight. He was called Hamlyn Radford, and he went to France and did come back. He came back because he was shot through the chest in 1916. He survived that, and mustard gas, which he told me had made his hair fall out. He was indeed entirely bald.

Lizzie married someone else: Joseph Curry. And when her son to that someone (my dad) was ten, that husband died too, though of natural causes. And she married for a second time: Harold Essex (I have a silver lapel button with a tiny photo of Harold inside it). 

But she kept Jack's brooch, because I have it now. I've just cleaned and polished that little eternity symbol for the first time in nearly half a century. It seemed appropriate on Remembrance Sunday.

But recently something else happened. I was going through photographs of my mother's (she died at 91 in 2015) and I came across a yellowing card: a sort of postcard with an embroidered panel, and the lacy panel has a flap, beneath which something presumably once went.

The card is marked and dirty. You couldn't wash the embroidered section because it's firmly fixed to the paper frame. Should I keep it or ditch it? I was in the mood for throwing things out. Then I turned it over and saw the handwriting (I have never noticed it before). It says, in faded letters, Yours Jack.

Do you ever feel as though you've had a little nudge? As though someone, not here, is sending a tiny hint that you should pay more attention?

Of course it could be any Jack. Any Jack could have written this on the card. But he's also dated it, and the date is 26/7/17.

Does that mean he was killed at Ypres not long after? Maybe. 

In tiny print, I can see the card announces its provenance as Paris, though the red, white and blue of the embroidery makes me think it was made for the British. I always assumed Jack had bought the brooch in England and gave it to her before he left. But perhaps he bought it in France and posted it to her. Either way, I think the brooch may once have been pinned to the card, and may have sat beneath the flap that says BEST LOVE.

Who were you Jack? How old were you when you died? What was your second name? You might have been my grandfather – or at least somebody's grandfather – had you only survived.

All the people who might have known about my grandmother's first boyfriend are long dead, and Jack even longer. I would have shared this with my sister, but since last year she's gone too. So here's to the memory of Jack. To Jack, and all the other Jacks.

If I were to wish anything for my own grandchildren, and for all the other children in the world, it would be for human beings to find a way to stop making war, to put all that behind us. Isn't war the single most stupid thing an intelligent species could ever make?

Recent comment in this post
Jane Wheeler
oh, surely that is/would be if you had time a very good poem?
Thursday, 29 November 2018 09:33
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