6 minutes reading time (1132 words)

Getting and spending

What a week. Ooya-hun -- what a week! I warn you -- this blog entry is much too long.

No post last weekend because it was the fifth birthday party. Family were staying, including my sister sleeping in the study where I write this blog on a Sunday morning. It was the most complicated event I've ever attempted to organise. Mid-preparations, Gina Wilson's pamphlet was in its final stages -- I took a mock-up to the party itself to give to her for final checking.

Gillian (artist daughter) made an amazing cake. More than 60 people, about 20 of these being HappenStance poets, came along. Robin Vaughan-Wiliams did a Risk Assessment. Poems were read from past pamphlets, recent pamphlets, pamphlets out of print, pamphlets in process and pamphlets which haven't even got as far as a contents list. Jamie Rose of Reeds (son-in-law made music and sang one of the poems, a ballad).  I nearly cried. I was able to say my bit about poetry, whatever it may be, being less about the art of the individual than the mystery of language (to which all poets subscribe). I think I said it less pretentiously than that.

At the party, I didn't mention being shortlisted for the Michael Marks Award for the second year. However, on Monday there was a mysterious email from PBS about jpgs.

On the Tuesday, there was an email to check whether I was coming and if so, bringing how many guests. I replied to say I couldn't come -- working flat out in college -- but that two of 'my' poets would be there.

On the Wednesday (day of the award ceremony) there was another email, asking me to call as soon as possible, and even including a mobile number. And a similar message left on the message machine (not on my mobile though). I didn't get home on that Wednesday until 7.45 (the college work really is driving me demented just now and it's end of term next Friday) and when I picked up the message I thought, hm, that's interesting (see post of 5th May).

About ten minutes later I got a text message which read: Congratulations! Hope your ears are burning!

Even more interesting. I wasn't sure who the text was from (changed my phone recently and not all my contacts, for reasons not understood, transferred from old phone to new one). So I texted back: Congratulations on what?

And it was Davina (D A Prince), who was at the Michael Marks Event in the British Library, and with her Clare Best, who also texted me. And we had WON. So there was much jumping up and down in the HappenStance household, phone calls hither and thither. Descriptions from Davina and Clare on the phone. Tessa Ransford had picked up the cheque on my behalf and made a nice speech.

Anyway, I won't go on about this further, except to remark that five thousand quid is a huge sum of money in terms of pamphlet publishing. My annual turnover is about eight thousand pounds. Last year there was a loss of about two. For 2008-2009 I should have come closer to breaking even but I haven't done the books yet. So five thousand extra?!  I will be thinking very carefully how that money can be spent, apart from upgrading my Imac which will be step one. And I'll report on that too, in Chapter Five of the Story, which goes out to subscribers.

I feel proud and pleased to get this money. And at the same time . . .  pamphlet publishing is obviously important to me, and although I willingly entered this competition for cash and kudos, this niche of publishing is not competitive in the ordinary way (except with itself, in the desire to get better and better).

The other publishers on the short list (and many who either didn't enter or weren't short listed) are not competitors; they are -- what is the word? Not exactly 'colleagues' but close to that. Perhaps fellow workers, slogging away in slightly different territory. I admire the work of Templar, for example, very much. And Oystercatcher who won last year. I know little about Veer Books, would like to know more, but nothing of theirs has come in for review by Sphinx even . . . And there are some wonderful people who won't have entered, doing remarkable work (see all the stories told in Sphinx over the last four years).

Think what a difference the Smith/Doorstop pamphlets have made over the last decade! And the publishers of the short-listed poets -- tall-lighthouse, Roncadora Press, Flarestack (whose Selima Hill took the prize), Nine Arches. So far as I am concerned, there is something terrific about the activity, the dynamism that represents a small press. Without the inspiration of James Robertson's Kettillonia, I would never have started. In Scotland alone, think of the late Duncan Glen's Akros imprint, the very much alive Hamish Whyte's Mariscat and Colin Will's Calder Wood Press, and Koo Press in Aberdeen!  Think of the work of Hansel Press and  the amazing letter press-artist-poet Len McDermid! Think of the gorgeous pamphlets done by Sally Evans and Ian King of Diehard Press last year! Think of the marvellous range of publications celebrated on the Scottish Pamphlet Poetry Website!

There is plenty of celebration of individual poets -- prizes galore.  This publisher's award isn't about an individual -- it's about the whole process of bringing the work to readers, bringing it into the light.

So it does occur to me that such sums of money, rather than going to a single prize winner, should perhaps be shared round a bit. What I want is to support this kind of activity, uphold high values of production and enterprise, increase good opportunities for aspiring and established poets, keep this bit of poetry activity vibrant and interesting. Winning is not about me as an individual -- at least I certainly hope not. It's about all the poets I've worked with and am still working with, the two excellent printers I use, the local post office, the man who sticks the stamps on the envelopes, Sarah who does (among other things) the website and email newsletter, Gillian who does the cover images, the subscribers -- the hugely important subscribers, without which the thing wouldn't even keep afloat.

Which is where I will stop for the moment. Much more to be said, but not yet. Thank you to all those people who have enthused, supported, helped. Thanks to the Sphinx reviewers who carry out this activity without recompense, except in appreciation and respect. Thanks to the amazing poets I've had the privilege of working with. And of course boundless thanks to Lady Marks for munificence and generosity towards this area of the arts.

Party preliminaries


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Tuesday, 07 December 2021

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