Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Notes for a style vs content workshop

The notes I used to run a workshop on style versus content in prose are online now - see Style and substance

Wednesday, 25 September 2019


We had 4 days in Krakow, staying in a place whose staircase reminded me of Edinburgh tenements. We saw the Salt mines, the lively Jewish Quarter, and a few Museums. Being with the younger generation opened my eyes to how things are nowadays - useful for updating my story-writing. I took my first Uber, stayed at my first airbnb, learnt about reviewing, and watched while the rest of the family hired scooters for little trips.

From the tower in the square we got a good view. We've been to Prague, and noted a few similarities. Wedded couples were being photographed around the town. Drivers were good about stopping at zebra crossings. I saw no betting shops. There were a few (sometimes chic) second hand shops, lots of "Alcohole" shops but no public drinking.

At the foot of the tower is a popular photo-opportunity - people poke their head through the eye hole.

I realised that my knowledge of Polish culture is close to zero, I've read MiƂosz, Szymborska and Herbert a little, and Conrad. A visit to the national museum helped me catch up with 20th century art. I also visited the modern art gallery by Schindler's factory.

Friday, 13 September 2019

Dark Horse issue 41 and reputations

"Dark Horse issue 41" has 96 pages, nearly half of them devoted to the editorial, essays, an interview and bios (just one page of them). There are essays about the role of the internet in damaging the reputation of living poets, and articles examining the reputation of dead poets. Was Anthony Hecht a misogynist? Was Whitman?

I've wondered before about how writers' reputation are affected by their deaths. For some, it's as if the literary world is waiting for them to die so they can be written out of the records. A poet can write good poems, they can help keep a poetry institution or magazine going, but if others write better in a similar style, if someone can step into their vacated role, they'll soon be forgotten.

Then there are the larger-than-life writers, those who are for some reason memorable. There's a risk that when they die, their poetry will go down with them, sometimes undeservedly.

Karl Knights' essay "Three Palsied Poetry: Poetry and Disability" looks at the reputation of 3 poets who had cerebral palsy. Because of their disability they were all physically memorable. I suspect people found it hard not to think of the poet when they read the poetry. This can work both ways.

  • Larry Eigner (I've never heard of him) struggled to type with 2 fingers. He wrote little about his disability. He was in seminal Black Mountain and L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E publications. Though championed by William Carlos Williams, Bukowski, etc, he received little recognition in his lifetime. He's beginning to receive acclaim. Knights thinks that "By focussing on form and experimentation, he made a posterity for his work likelier."
  • Vassar Millar (I've never heard of her) wrote much more often about her disability. She wrote religious poetry too and was rigorously formal. James Wright admired her work. She was nominated for a Pulitzer in 1961. Knights thinks that "Since her death, her work has been almost entirely forgotten."
  • Christy Brown's "My Left Foot" was published when he was 22. I've read it and I've seen the film. Brown later thought the book was 'immature juvenilia'. He spent 17 years writing "Down All the Days", a novel which received much acclaim - "the most important novel since Ulysses" said an Irish Times reviewer. Knights thinks that "Brown's novels have come to be seen as frivolous novelties". They're now out of print, though "My Left Foot" is still around.

Later Knights writes that "The only instance I can think of where a disabled person attained an editing post is Judy-Lynn del Ray". As he points out, this infiltration into the institutions is important. I think it's why cultural changes can take years - first there were more woman writers, then more women editors, then there were women writers who grew up in a world where there were more women editors.

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

What non-poets need to know about poetry

  • There are no poets - Nobody earns their keep merely by writing poetry.
  • Poetry's not often a special language - Read it first as if it were prose, ignoring the line-breaks.
  • There are many types of poetry - True, there are many types of music too but you don't often have Abba and Beethoven on the same CD. A poetry anthology can have a crazy mix. Don't expect to like it all.
  • Not all poetry was written for you - Some poets perform only for poets, writing books only for poets. They don't feel the need to justify their poems word by word to unbelievers.
  • Books aren't everything - Book runs don't often exceed 300. Running a workshop for a day will earn a poet more than years of royalties. Most poems appear in magazines you'll probably never see.

Monday, 19 August 2019

Publishing - Web or paper?

Speak to science academics and librarians and you find out that the paper/electric choice is a big issue more generally, particularly for periodicals. Why publish anyway?

  • Announcing - To announce that you've written (or discovered) something - the web's good for this.
  • Distributing - So people can read your work. Online publications are read far more than paper ones, especially amongst the young. But will prospective readers be able to find your work? Web magazines tend to disappear.
  • Archiving - So your work can be preserved. Books may be kept by libraries but do copyright libraries take many paper magazines nowadays? Are e-book repositories reliable?
  • Ambition - To gain status. The gain depends on the status of the publication, which in turn depends on longevity and the quality of the contents. Paper publications from a university used to be reliable, but they're disappearing fast. Academic journals often have an "impact factor" indicating how worthwhile publication in them is. Some online academics journals are gaining fast on the established ones. The same could be said for literary magazines. "Best British Short Story" pieces come from online and paper sources. Some paper sources (Stand?) seem rather neglected. Clifford Garstang's list is a literary start at building an impact league table of US magazine.

All in all it's not clear to me that paper publication is much more reliable than web publication either in terms of impact or archiving. One option for archiving is to store your work in the cloud. It's free, and you can use it as a backup. You can keep it private, putting alongside your will some instructions on how to make it visible to all. If that's what you want.

Monday, 12 August 2019

Oxford visit

We visited Oxford on Sunday morning - a good time to do so, though tourists were were out en masse. The walls are higher and the roads wider than those of Cambridge, but there are pedalo punts. We didn't do the Inspector Morse walk, nor did we visit scenes from films, though we did seek a few Tolkien haunts (apparently there were Narnia vs Middle Earth arguments in The Eagle and Child pub). I didn't realise that Hardy's "Jude the Obscure" is partly set in Oxford - there's a pub in the Jericho area named after the novel.

We joined the queue waiting for Blackwell's to open. I followed the signs upstairs to the Poetry Corner and was impressed to find a shelf or two devoted to poetry pamphlets, HappenStance amply represented. I should have bought more books while I was there.

They also have a dedicated short stories section. I ended up buying "Best British Short Stories 2019". I buy that anthology each year (the Poetry one I often don't buy).

Friday, 9 August 2019

Another UK guide to getting your poetry book published

You may have been interested in poetry for years, read several collections (though perhaps not recent ones), gone to evening classes, build up a little collection that's no worse that some books you've seen. You've tried a local poetry group, and they said nice things. You'd like get a book published. You know that sending something straight to Faber is daft, but what options are there? You may be a successful professional, used to navigating through systems. You may be new to the country with poetry successes elsewhere. All you need are a few pointers to how the UK poetry world works.

This page assembles some information without offering anything new - see the "See Also" section for more comprehensive alternatives.

Your aims

Why do you want to be published? A typical poetry book has a print run of 200 - are you sure it's worth all the effort? Perhaps self-publication on paper and/or the WWW will satisfy your ambitions. Perhaps you're more of a performance poet. Perhaps writing poetry is a form of therapy for you and merely writing the poetry is enough.

If you want interaction with the poetry world, attending workshops and festivals may be a better approach. Publishing a book may lead to nothing. Publishing in some WWW magazines may get some feedback from readers if the magazine's set up that way, but don't bet on it.

Short cuts

  • Get famous - An Arsenal player or TV celebrity probably has 100% chance of getting a book published.
  • Have an interesting/personal topic with possible tie-ins - Norfolk Churches, Recovery, etc. Don't hesitate to exploit your current profession.
  • Win a pamphlet competition - several well established competitions exist where the winner gets a pamphlet published. Entry fees can be as much as £25. I've not noticed previously unpublished poets winning these, but they could. See Pamphlet Publication in the UK
  • Join a mentoring scheme - for example, the Primers scheme run by Nine Arches Press gives unpublished poets a chance of publication, and opportunities for live events.


There's probably no point sending a manuscript to a publisher unless you have a record of publications in magazines, or prizes. Magazines (or at least samples) are online, and the National Poetry Library on the South bank has hundreds of current issues for you to browse through. Look at the magazines' bio pages to see what type of people appear in them. For some of these publications, 1 in 30 submissions are accepted. For others it's more like 1 in a 1000.

Look amongst the acknowledgements of a poetry book you like, or the yearly anthologies to get ideas for where it's worth sending pieces. Here are links to some reviews of recent anthologies -

  • The forward book of poetry 2015. All but 7 poems came from books. PN Review, Kaffeeklatsch, and London Review of Books were amongst the magazines represented.
  • The best british poetry 2014 (Salt). At least half of the poems came from only 4 magazines - Poetry London, Poetry Review, Kaffeeklatsch, and London Review of Books

Very roughly, the best places to be seen in, market-impact-wise, are The TLS, The LRB, Granta, PN Review and Poetry Review. I've been in none of them. Then there's Stand, Rialto, London Magazine, Manchester Review, Oxford Poetry, Poetry London, Magma, Ambit, North, Envoi, Agenda, Poetry Wales, The Dark Horse, High Window, Compass, Brittle Star, Antiphon, Atrium, Acumen, South, Interpreter's House, Orbis, Prole, Fenland Reed, Lighthouse. And many others.

There are specialist magazines too - MsLexia and Artemis (for women writers), the Grey Hen press anthologies (for older women), Wasafiri (for "writers from African, Caribbean, Asian and Black British backgrounds"), The Long Poem Magazine, Modern Poetry in Translation, Shearsman (late-modernist), Tears in the Fence (late-modernist?), etc.

Of particular interest to you for book publication might be PN Review, Under the Radar, Envoi, (and to a lesser extent Rialto and Acumen) because the editors also run a press (Carcanet, Nine Arches Press, and Cinnamon respectively). They might notice you.

Both Orbis and Acumen have pages of readers' letters (Orbis lets you vote on the best poems of an issue!) which might offer you a way to get yourself noticed.

Note that you'll be in competition with people who've had Creative Writing experience (as a student or teacher), or who need poems published to further their Creative Writing career, so you'll need stamina and dedication. It's always a good idea to read a magazine before sending poems to them.

  • Editors - Poetry Review changes editorship every 3 years or so. Most of the other magazines have a stable editorship (Orbis and Acumen have had the same editors for decades). Magma is themed with different editors each issue.
  • Styles - They nearly all accept rhymed and unrhymed pieces. Fewer accept wildly experimental pieces. For practical reasons, many prefer shorter pieces. Rialto has an A4 2-column portrait format which makes it easy for them to print long, thin poems. Stand has a landscape format.
  • Submitting - A few magazines still require paper submissions. Many use Submittable - an online submissions system. A few (e.g. Ambit) charge for submissions. A few want covering letters addressed to the editor by name, some others dislike covering letters. A few want a photo and expect you to have a web-presence of some sort. Most (though not Acumen) expect a bio. "South" has an anonymous submission system. Magazines increasingly accept simultaneous submissions and have submission windows. See their guidelines for details. Keep a mix of submissions on the go - ambitious ones along with more routine attempts. Keep at least 20 pieces in circulation, and of course keep a record of what you've sent.

Be prepared for long waits then disappointment. Some magazines have a policy of not sending rejections - if you've not heard from them after a certain time you assume the worst. Don't expect any feedback. Send the poems out again as soon as you can.


Sometimes publishers ask for submissions for a particular forthcoming title - sometimes charity-based, sometimes for an important book like "The Faber book of ...", sometimes a scam. Some of these books may never appear in shops - only the "successful" poets end up buying copies, the publisher having accepted as many poems as possible.

See Also