Sunday, 18 March 2018

Some poetry aphorisms

  • Poetry tries to restore the damage done to thoughts by putting them into words. Failing that, it exposes the wounds.
  • Artifice deforms language, but language has memory - you can feel it wanting to spring back.
  • Poetry is what falls through the sieve. Sometimes it's what you want to throw away.
  • If writers are the fish who can see the water, those who drown are the poets.
  • Writing a poem's like opening curtains; first you see more but, as night falls, others can see you. By then it's too late.
  • What gravity does for sculpture, sound does for poetry.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Cambridge Writers

Cambridge Writers has been going for a long time. I expected it to fizzle out with the growth of the Web, but it has almost a record number of members - over 80 - with subgroups for travel writing, novels, etc. I attend the poetry and short prose meetings. Members of the poetry group have pieces in current/forthcoming issues of Stand, The Dark Horse, High Window, The Compass, and Magma, so our workshop evenings might be quite daunting for newbies, though we try to be welcoming, giving away spare magazines at the start of evenings. Members have had pamphlets published by HappenStance and MsLexia. I suspect more book/pamphlet success is in the offing.

The prose evenings are probably less scary - after all, everybody's got a few interesting tales to tell. There's more Flash than there used to be and consequently the number of acceptances has risen.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Quality versus Quantity

Some poets don't produce much. In 1988 Faber published Ian Hamilton's "Fifty Poems". This included just about all he'd previously had published, and six new poems. In the preface he wrote: "Fifty poems in twenty-five years: not much to show for half a lifetime, you might think". Amongst novelists, Harper Lee produced little.

In the "Bridport Prize anthology 2017" one poet's bio mentions a single success - being commended in the Ware poetry competition. For the author of the Flash winner the anthology appearance was their first published work. However brilliant their Bridport pieces, these writers aren't going to break through unless they have worthwhile portfolios. For small-press writers I think quantity matters - it helps keep your name in circulation. The difference between a relatively well-known writer and an unknown one is not necessarily in the quality of their best pieces of work (an unknown's best piece may be superb) but in the quantity of good work produced.

Producing more will mean that your worst pieces will be worse than before, but can trying to write more lead to your best pieces suffering too? Perhaps. The easiest way to increase output is by lowering standards, by being less self-critical. If this policy is adopted uniformly, a writer's best work will suffer.

But there are grounds for believing that a writer's best work will be improved. In "Art & Fear", authors David Bales and Ted Orland describe a ceramics class in which half of the students were given an A for producing fifty pounds of pots, whereas the others were judged on quality, needing to turn in one—albeit perfect—piece. The best works came from the group being graded on quantity - "It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work - and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay."

I've often seen this experiment quoted. I'm unsure how generally true it is. Pots can't be re-edited - poems can. Photographers used to be encouraged to take many snaps, but now re-touching solves many problems. That said, just as you need the photos before you can use Photoshop, so you need first drafts before you can re-write, as Robert Lee Brewer points out. It's easier to improve a piece than start one from scratch.

So perhaps having more raw material helps. How can one write more? NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) and NaNo (National Novel Writing Month) are initiatives to help improve the amount produced by writers. Books like "52: Write a Poem a Week. Start Now. Keep Going" by Jo Bell can help too.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Blurbs and reviews to tempt you?

On the strength of these blurbs/reviews, would you look forward to reading the books? I imagine some people would. Certainly I have moments when the 2nd of these would tempt me.

  • potentialities of memory and sensation are nuanced, subtle, and limned in relationship to suffering, betrayal, and loss. Fluidities of image and rhythm create an individual and musical voice to carry the reflections and echoes the poet shivers across the mirroring surfaces and abysses of her ghostly, visceral, and unflinching poems.
    (from a back cover)
  • These are poems created while parents are dying and the poet herself is undergoing cancer treatment against the backdrop of ecological crisis and several American wars.
    (from NY Times)
  • the three fine volumes published since 2009 ... raise [Clive] James to the level of quite possibly the best established poet of this admittedly rather weak period. Alice Oswald aside, James is more or less unique among contemporary established poets in consistently writing on major themes
    (Fred Beake, Acumen 87)

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

A UK poetry submission schedule for early 2018

I shall try to submit to several of these (mostly UK) competitions and submission windows -

Friday, 5 January 2018

About Jason Guriel's "What Happens When Authors Are Afraid to Stand Alone" article

In What Happens When Authors Are Afraid to Stand Alone Jason Guriel points out the risks of networking - "Writing as an individual pursuit has been replaced by “community”—and literature is the worse for it". Here are some quotes -

  • Apparently Thom Gunn had a “strong dislike” for “literary gatherings.” ... Christopher Middleton was “incapable of schmoozing, and his career suffered accordingly.”
  • In recent years, thoughtful poet-critics like Stewart Cole have made an eloquent case for the distinction between community and scene, and the desirability of the former over the latter.
  • while no one is truly isolated, writers have become more entangled than ever. Workshops, readings, book launches, conferences, artists’ colonies, and other glorified mixers increasingly press literary types upon one another. Creative writing instructors urge their charges to get out there and network. Social media ensures we’re always connected.
  • Literary controversies are now less about aesthetic feuds and more about group outrage.
  • literary community can have a deadly impact. The most obvious fatality: your critical faculty.
  • The American poet Kay Ryan, one of a few one-offs still around, has written eloquently about the need for writers—especially younger ones—to develop a carapace against what she calls “camaraderie.” For Ryan, this means avoiding the delivery systems by which literary community, like a virus, transmits itself: workshops and conferences. It means shrugging off the endless obligations that other writers will foist upon you. It means siloing yourself in silence.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

A UK prose submission schedule for early 2018

As more magazines introduce submission windows, and competitions increase their significance, it's worth planning ahead. I shall try to submit to these (mostly UK) competitions and submission windows -