March 1 2013
Have faith in a publishing house and it will have faith in you. At least, that’s the opinion I offer to explain why Parthian has agreed to publish my first poetry collection. Its provisional title is Miners At The Quarry Pool and it’s being edited by Alan Kellerman, himself a Parthian poet.
I like the idea of a platoon of poets attached to a publisher, though the evacuation of its poets from the OUP and their dispersal to a series of modest foster homes was shocking until one realised that the OUP and other biggies were not the places where the most interesting poetry was to be found. The steady incursion of titles from small independent publishers into the literary prize lists indicates that the same might be happening for fiction.
As a trend, of course, all this may be overtaken or rendered irrelevant by the upsurge in desktop publishing – not the DIY sort but a process whereby the writer pays, or part pays, for a book to be professionally produced and marketed. Few books sell in the profusion of a packet of Weetabix, so this arrangement is likely to catch on. Its unscrupulous manifestation was called vanity publishing, but even VP’s critics acknowledge that something different is happening and that in future book publishing might become more of a commercial arrangement between writer and publisher. Many different skills are needed to get a book sold and read and there’s no reason why a writer should not learn and apply some of them, including the payment of cash to help pay for the deal. (Did I say that? Crikey – guess I did.)
Selling books of poetry is always difficult. Most are bought by the literary community; not just academics and students of English but people who are ‘into’ poetry. Even then, tastes may be narrowly circumscribed. It’s the same for fiction. Ask your neighbours if they’ve heard of Hilary Mantel or read any of her novels. For my regular view of reality I consult the audited bookseller lists then spend five minutes weeping into a Kleenex. Or I watch Pointless. This is the TV quiz programme that regularly features contestants, sometimes ‘yewnie’ students, who shamelessly revel in their ignorance. It’s not cool to know. They flaunt their lack of knowledge and, more to the point, the implication that their interest is never to be aroused.
Back to Miners At The Quarry Pool. I review poetry for Acumen magazine but have not yet managed to get a poem past its editor, Patricia Oxley. Thus does an opportunity ever present itself as a challenge, the condition everywhere of writers who want their work to be read and evaluated. I’ve got them past lots of other editors, as MATQP will acknowledge. I’ve already mentioned in this blog that finding one’s poetic voice is a struggle, the poems often illustrating the struggle rather than its outcome, if any. At the mo, I define poetry as ’the most appropriate form of words with which to say something specific and memorable’. Poetry is personal, as much for the poet as for the reader, who might think one’s efforts unmemorable or that a lack of memorability is their distinguishing feature. An aspiring magazine editor keen to spotlight short fiction was asked if poetry, too, was to be included in his publication. ‘Good god, no!’ he spluttered. Well, there’s lots of rubbish out there.
I wouldn’t say my poetry was experimental or innovative. But it’s brief. Not Selima Hill brief or Ogden Nash brief. But brief, Concise.