5 minutes reading time (963 words)

SHUTTING UP

It was difficult getting the window to shut. Several envelopes were stuck in the hinges. But it has shut now.

Thank you! Thank-you to the writers who trusted me with their poems. It’s not an easy thing to expose your work to a critical reader, especially one who comments on verbs that are leaning, lines that are breaking and sonnets that are creaking. And towards the end that reader was very tired.

There are other thank-yous. If you spend a whole month reading like this, very little else can be done. So the ordinary functions of the press grind to a halt, which is risky. But many readers humbled me with their generosity before Christmas. They ordered publications, they sent donations, they sent stamps, they sent love. This secret fuel is amazing.

The window won’t open again in the same way. This was the apex, the peak, the nirvana of poetry reading. In May 2015 (still difficult not writing 2014) HappenStance will be ten years old. I will be nearly 62. And I plan to change things. How? Not quite sure yet.

But poets mainly create themselves. There will be, and always have be, people to whom making poems is important. Creating readers of poetry is harder. That’s what I’m working on.

Watching my fiendish work over the last weeks, more than one friend has said, ‘Why don’t you charge?’ Of course I have thought about this. The money, if some people paid for feedback, could be reinvested in the press. If payment were required, it would reduce the numbers dramatically. I haven’t ruled it out.

Still, I've a deep fear of poetry that’s by the privileged for the privileged. I am on the side of the garret and the baked potato. I am on the side of it is more blessed to give than receive. I believe, ridiculously, enough money will always arrive. So far, it has. Though only just.

***********************

Now here’s the ‘window’ analysis. I love figures.

162 poets sent in work. More than twice as many as the previous December. They sent between 1 and 29 poems, but it would average about 10 each. Most of them remembered the stamped addressed envelope. About 1600 poems, then.

Of these poets 107 were female and 55 were male.

I can’t comment on age range because I don’t ask people about that, though they sometimes tell me, but my unstatistical impression is that three-quarters were over 50 and only about 4 were under 25.

Nearly all the poets who sent poems were (hooray!) HappenStance subscribers. 17 were not. But they might yet be. I am an optimist.

About 30 took out a subscription just before sending poems in. (This is good if they also go on to buy publications, because it suggests they’re active readers. If they don’t buy anything subsequently, the postal subscription makes a loss).

Geography

  • 34 in Scotland
  • 3 in Wales
  • 2 in Ireland
  • 115.5 in England (of which 23.5 were in or near London)

as well as

  • 1 in Isle of Man
  • 1 in Sweden
  • 1 in Canada
  • 1 in Spain
  • 3.5 in France

I hope those numbers add up. This is me, not a spreadsheet talking.

I took 47 pages of (secret) notes. Most ever. These include notes on the bio, brief comments on the poems, and also comments on my comments and the experience of reading. Up to now I’ve done this by hand in large books, but this time I did it on the laptop because the books go back nine years and are hard to search. Many poets assume I’ll remember what they previously told me about themselves. I don’t. I get my Marys and Chris-es confused.

88 poets sent in poems for the first time, just over half. I rewrote the printed reply notes three times.

The level of guilt on my part was at 88% (I made that figure up. It means high). That’s because I made hardly any offers. I agreed to do two debut pamphlets in Spring 2016 (2015 was already ‘full’) but both authors already knew an offer was coming.

Normally I would have offered to do more in 2016. Two things stopped me.

First, it was the volume of poetry. It overwhelmed me. Second, I was astonished by how many possible debut poets, sending for the second, third or fourth time (so I was recognising poems I knew and loved), clearly merited publication in the next two years. I highlighted a group of 24 who fitted into this category. Twenty-four! If I did nothing else from now till 2017, I couldn’t manage that.

Fortunately, other things will happen for most of these poets. They’ll either win one of the competitions (as many who’ve send poems to me have done already) or find another publisher. I hope they’re all on the qui vive, spotting what’s going on in the sector, and which new imprints might be worth approaching. In the first three of four years of a new publishing business, a publisher is actively looking for new, good poets. After ten years, what she needs is not poets but readers. Or even better, poet-readers.

But also it’s important not to keep on doing the same thing in the same way, even if that thing has gone well up to now. Creativity thrives on change.

Also there’s Chapter Nine of the HappenStance Story to be written, three pamphlets urgently needing attention, StAnza tickets to buy, two new books nudging my collar, and the other 13 items on my list. And I had better get dressed.

Thank-you again. Huge thank-you. Thank you poets, blog readers and poetry buyers and supporters. You are not a vast community, in Harry Potter terms, but individually and en masse, you are . . . supercalifragelisticexpialidocious.

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TEN REASONS FOR SENDING YOUR POEMS TO MAGAZINES
THE THICKNESS OF THE THICKET
 

Comments 18

Guest - Rachel Mann on Sunday, 04 January 2015 12:44

Great blog. Thank you for continuing to be generous.

Great blog. Thank you for continuing to be generous.:D
Guest - Antony Mair on Sunday, 04 January 2015 17:19

You're right about readers/poet-readers. As a result of reading Pamela Johnson's article about Poetry Reading Groups (http://www.poetrybooks.co.uk/projects/14/) via a link from the Poetry Book Society, I've been mulling over the idea of setting one up in Hastings. The only thing that holds me back is the fact that I already belong to another book group and attend two Stanza meetings each month, so wonder if I have the energy! But if as many poets spent time reading poetry as they spend trying to write it, and if those who don't write at all but are interested in poetry and/or baffled by contemp po could overcome their diffidence, it could help to advance the cause of poetry in general. Views from any of your subscribers would be welcome!

You're right about readers/poet-readers. As a result of reading Pamela Johnson's article about Poetry Reading Groups (http://www.poetrybooks.co.uk/projects/14/) via a link from the Poetry Book Society, I've been mulling over the idea of setting one up in Hastings. The only thing that holds me back is the fact that I already belong to another book group and attend two Stanza meetings each month, so wonder if I have the energy! But if as many poets spent time reading poetry as they spend trying to write it, and if those who don't write at all but are interested in poetry and/or baffled by contemp po could overcome their diffidence, it could help to advance the cause of poetry in general. Views from any of your subscribers would be welcome!
Guest - Nell on Sunday, 04 January 2015 17:35

Couldn't agree more, Antony. I also toy with the idea of having one here, but since I haven't enough time to make dinner, I know I can't. But I'd love to. I'd come to yours... if I were a few hundred miles nearer.

Couldn't agree more, Antony. I also toy with the idea of having one here, but since I haven't enough time to make dinner, I know I can't. But I'd love to. I'd come to [i]yours[/i]... if I were a few hundred miles nearer.
Guest - Linda Goulden on Sunday, 04 January 2015 23:32

When I was just edging my way back to poetry after a long gap I joined a U3A poetry reading group. When it looked a bit uncertain to continue I gingerly volunteered to be coordinator. It has nourished me much more than it has ever wearied me and continues to introduce me to poems I may not have found otherwise. We all enjoy reading and discussing though only two of us also write. As often before, I shall be taking at least one Happenstance poem to our next meeting.

When I was just edging my way back to poetry after a long gap I joined a U3A poetry reading group. When it looked a bit uncertain to continue I gingerly volunteered to be coordinator. It has nourished me much more than it has ever wearied me and continues to introduce me to poems I may not have found otherwise. We all enjoy reading and discussing though only two of us also write. As often before, I shall be taking at least one Happenstance poem to our next meeting.
Guest - Tim Love on Monday, 05 January 2015 10:21

Linda wrote that she'd be taking at least one Happenstance poem to a future meeting. *Maybe* HappenStance could host what some other sites have - a few poems with notes for reading groups.

Linda wrote that she'd be taking at least one Happenstance poem to a future meeting. *Maybe* HappenStance could host what some other sites have - a few poems with notes for reading groups.
Guest - Nell on Monday, 05 January 2015 10:34

Excellent idea, Tim. Added to list. ;-)

Excellent idea, Tim. Added to list. ;-)
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