5 minutes reading time (995 words)

February

How did it get to February already?  Ah well, it's wet, it's driech and dreary, but the Spring is on its way. The pussy willow is budding. All the spring bulbs are well through in the front garden. Two little patches of snowdrops have survived the snow.

Meanwhile, on the HappenStance front, several publications have nearly made it into existence. Already with the printer are the Ruth Pitter Conversation, Chapter Four of the HappenStance STORY (yeay!), Robin Vaughan-Williams' The Manager and tomorrow, all being well, I'll take a surprise addition, Jon Stone's Scarecrows.

In Chapter 4, I talk about scheduling and how some things in the schedule always disappear (for good reasons) while other things appear that were unplanned. Scarecrows is one of the latter. I offered to do a publication for Jon ages ago. He had other plans at the time, plans which (for the moment) haven't materialised. So he mentioned this fact. I knew he was good. I've always known that. Send me some poems, I said. He sent his recent Gregory application set. Wow. Quickly I put a pamphlet together of some of these very 'finished' (but weird) poems and Gillian did some cover images yesterday.

I say "quickly", but nothing here happens quickly. "Quickly over about ten hours" is what I should say, though at least I don't get in such a mess with InDesign as I used to, the practical side of things being at last much more straightforward.

We're not quite done yet, but Scarecrows will go on sale at the same time as The Manager, and there's something very pleasing about that. Both deal with the surreal (in very different ways). Both are young male poets. Both have an intoxicating sense of energy surging through the work. (That, of course, is not necessarily a good thing. There's a lot of intoxicating energy about these days in poetry, some of it splashing all over the place in a wild and furious fashion. But these guys aren't like that. The work is controlled, intensely controlled. I think they're both gifted and unusual writers.)

Anyway, we'll see what you think, right?

Meanwhile, Sphinx 12 is nearly done. An interview by Chicken is in process: I bet that's a first ever. The review function has slipped behind but I'll be catching up within the next two weeks and sending more pamphlets out to reviewers, of which there are now a very large number. There needs to be a lot of them, in order to manage three reviewers for every publication. Most of them are Reader Bs (see below) but there are at least two Reader As.

So -- have you read Bow-Wow Shop 4 yet? Some fascinating comments from James Sutherland-Smith and Carol Rumens about the stage of good old British Po. Editor Michael Glover describes the mag as "an endeavour to bring poets together to talk, sensibly and intelligently, about the past, the present and the future of poetry. "

There's certainly some sensible, intelligent conversation in this issue and the Bow-Wow Shop index is unmissable! Great stats.

  • An estimated 50,000 unpublished poets in the UK. Is that all?
  • Most extraordinarily generous advance against sales offered by a publisher to a poet during the early 19th century: £3,000, by John Murray, to George Crabbe for Tales of the Hall (1817-19). Phew. Changed times.
  • Sum offered to - and rejected by - Alfred Lord Tennyson, poet laureate of England, to undertake reading tour of America in 1862: £20,000. Well, would you do it for that?

But it was the debate that drew me in most. Sutherland-Smith talking about reviewing. He thinks a lot of reviewing is a bit woeful. True. Poetry needs to be precise, he says, and should be "supported and advocated by a criticism that is both forensic and passionate. Without such criticism, good poets will continue to write unnoticed unless they are capable of putting themselves about in the current media circus."

I'm not sure that it's criticism that gets good poets noticed. Not unless the criticism is written by specific people in very specific places, although I do, very much, care about the quality of poetry reviewing (hence Sphinx's attempt to contribute to this in a meaningful way).

Martin Bax wrote to me not long ago and one of his notes (he has marvellously illegible handwriting but not quite so illegible as John Lucas) queried whether it's sensible to have all these poets reviewing other poets. It does seem illogical. Playwrights don't generally review other playwrights; they just get on with writing plays.

But then not all poets review. I'm of the opinion it's good for them to try: I think reviewing makes people read carefully (or it should) -- really carefully. And that then informs the writing, or should. I also think reviewing can improve a person's prose writing. And if they can't write good words in the best order, why would they think they can manage the best words in the best order?

Carol Rumens must agree with me because she says "too few poets write criticism". She talks a lot about Reader A and Reader B (Sutherland-S prefers the notion of a continuum). Reader A (this is Seren editor Amy Wack's terminology) is the "intelligent general reader". Reader B is "the specialist". In poetry terms, Reader B is a poet or wouldbe poet. When it comes to discussion of 'reaching new audiences for poetry' (sigh), what it means is trying to sell poetry to people other than poets. Not just popular anthologies but the more difficult stuff.

Most HappenStance publications go to Reader B: poets. Most of my subscribers are . . .  poets. But there are exceptions.

At this very moment, flyers (with poems on them) are going out for Clare Best's Treasure Ground in organic vegetable and fruit boxes despatched from Woodlands Farm. Let's see how many of them send for the publication. Reader A, Reader A, come in. Reader A, Reader A, where are you?

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Monday, 06 July 2020

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