I don't mean Li Po, though I might well have done.
No – it's what I was thinking on the train on the way back from the Poetry Book Fair at the Conway Hall in London last Saturday. Free Verse, as it is also called. And it was free – and much given away and many things purchased. A day with a buzz. An event that more and more feels a necessary part of the business. So many lovely people turn up and chat. Some marvellous connections, snatched cups of tea in the park, postcards, events, principles, values.
On the way home, on a very long and slow Sunday train between London and Fife, I read right through the Poetry Almanac 2016, a book of about 250 pages generated for the book fair by its organisers. I should probably say it's 'curated' by them, although that word makes me think of cured bacon, which is the wrong connotation. This nice fat yellow book is precisely what it claims to be: 'a Most Excellent Guide to the Year's Poetry & Poetry Publishers'.
I remember poring over the Writers and Artists Yearbook, or more precisely, poring over the poetry bits of years and years of yearbooks. Same with The Writer's Handbook: I got it for the poetry section and all the rest came along as well. But this Almanac volume is ALL poetry and so – for a poetry obsessive – just the ticket. I like the essays at the front (not just because one of them is a chapter from my own book) especially John Clegg of the LRB bookshop 'On Selling Poetry', a subject I am somewhat obsessed with).
I read right the way through pages 154-245, which is the publisher listings, the pages where publishers say whatever they say about themselves. An amazing range of poetry publishers. In fact, quite extraordinary.
I remember when the editors of Poetry Almanac returned my HappenStance section to me for checking. I was appalled by what I had written and cut it right back, and I'm glad I did. But it's so hard to write about what you do and why you do it, what you publish and what you look for – when it comes to poetry, of all written forms the most impossible to define. If I could define what I was looking for, then people would send that thing to me – and that would be terrible. If I could define it in advance, how could it surprise me?
The unexciting phrase 'new and exciting' does get into these publisher entries quite a lot, and those who have read my new book Down With Poetry! will know how I feel about that, even though I understand how and why it gets where it gets. But this really doesn't matter. To anyone interested either in getting work published or in publishing the work, this is THE handbook of the year. It has poems in it too – an added extra. The poems, in style and form and reader pay-off, do not vary as much as the publishers might think they do, I think. But that's a topic for discussion another day.
Anyway, I'm going to quote two bits from the Almanac that I specially like. One is from zimZalla:
zimZalla publishes poetry objects, with recent releases including badges, poems in styrofoam with free chips and sauce and a pair of poetic garters.
The other is from Tony Frazer at Shearsman:
What I do not like at all is sloppy writing of any kind; I always look for some rigour in the work, although we will be more forgiving of failure in this regard if the writer is trying to push out the boundaries. I tend to like mixing work from both ends of the spectrum in the magazine, and firmly believe that good writing can, and should, cohabit with other forms of good writing, regardless of the aesthetic that drives it, and regardless of whether the practitioners are happy about such cohabitation.
Would you like a copy of the Almanac? Want to know what is going on in the poetry scene -- who is doing what, where, why, and what they have to say about it? I think clicking on the book image below should take you to the purchasing page.