Thursday, 19 March 2015


Friends sometimes ask unpublished writers why they don't just self-publish nowadays. After all, an e-book's so easy to produce. Why involve a publisher?

One answer is that being associated with a publisher connects you to other writers. You can put on readings together. Another is that if you're lucky, the reputation of the publisher will enhance yours.

Sean O'Brien's review of Tony Williams' "The Midlands" isn't just great news for the poet, but for the publisher Nine Arches Press too.

My other publisher, HappenStance Press, is also active. Most recently, a video of Helena Nelson in conversation with Lindsay MacGregor has appeared in which Creative Writing students are given tips about getting published. Amongst my HappenStance stablemates are 3 generous bloggers who I always read - Matthew Stewart, Matt Merritt (who's also a Nine Arches Press poet) and Fiona Moore (Saboteur's "Best Reviewer 2014").

HappenStance has a subscription scheme so that those who haven't been published can still feel they belong.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Does writing prose affect my poetry production?

Below are graphs showing how many poems, stories and Flash pieces I've written and had published since 1991.

I was curious about whether writing lots of Flash suppressed my poetry or story writing. Though a peak in the production of one type of writing often coincides with a trough on another graph, it as often coincides with another peak, so although there's a relationship it's not a simple one. I guess Flash and stories are most nearly the inverse of each other, which isn't such a surprise.

If one views the blue lines (how much I wrote) as quantity and the red lines (how much I published) as quality, I'd say I've not improved over the years. Nor has my quality control changed - the more I write, the more I get published, though my volume of output (which is never high) is patchy to say the least. Some years I produce no examples of a mode. Stories in particular don't come naturally - I have to commit myself to writing them; the temptations of Flash/Microfiction are too great. Increasingly my stories are episodic, a sequence of related flashes.

Or perhaps earnings should be the measure of quality. I hope not, but for completeness, here's the data.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Some recent story successes

  • A New Start (Cortland Review) - Written in 2014. It'll be interesting to see which of its non-mainstream features people have the most trouble with.
  • Death and Deception (the Honest Ulsterman) - Written in 2009. Flash-length Creative non-fiction?
  • "Out of the Blue" (written in 2004) will be in Cambridge Writers competition anthology e-book later this year - highly commended (i.e. not in the first 4 of the competition's 18 entries!)
  • Correspondence (Necessary Fiction) - I wrote the first draft of this back in 1992. Subsequent drafts varied in how easily they could be treated as SF.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Poetry about poetry

In Hans Christian Anderson's story, "The poet who was born too late", previous poets have used up all the subject matter. The poet goes to a fortune-teller who tells him to try her spectacles. He discovers that potatoes, bees, and passersby all have stories to tell. But when he takes the spectacles off he hears nothing. "Write about poetry and you'll be rich," the fortune-teller says.

"We very rarely publish a poem about poems ... There is a kind of self-absorption which is not very appealing" (Tom Clyde, editor of HU). This seems to be a common view amongst editors - I received the following on a rejection slip: "in the main I'm not interested in poems about poetry. Let the poem exemplify poetry by its technique & register, & be about something else". Poets and readers often distrust the genre too - "Above all, I am not concerned with poetry" (Wilfred Owen). I think that several factors are involved in this bias

  • an over-reaction to the dreaded "sonnets about sonnets" that were all the rage centuries ago
  • a trend away from "essay poems", especially if they have a didactic component
  • a feeling that people only write about poetry when they have run out of things to say
  • a lack of interest in technique, and a wish to hide devices
  • a wish that poetry could transcend words, escaping from the page into the real world.
  • a trend towards confessional poetry and the lyric

Edna Longley has said that every poem worth its salt is in part about poetry, but I see no harm in occasionally using poetry more blatantly as a subject, writing about what you know. Unlike "Custer" say, or a Biblical event, it's a subject with which an international readership might fairly be expected to be familiar (and be interested in). With so many styles, theories and schools of poetry around there is no shortage of subject matter. If nothing else, at least the poem might be educational.

In 2000 I produced 4 issues of Poetry about Poetry. I contributed Closure. I started making a list of Poems about poetry. The "anyone can write" tutors who tell pupils that they can write poetry about anything, anything at all, tend not to suggest that people write about poetry technique, though there's an increasing amount of poetry about poetry workshops, and poetry about writing poetry.

Other resources

Monday, 12 January 2015

Submitting to UK prose anthologies

The Bath Short Story Award, the Bristol Short Story competition, the Bridport Prize, and the BBC National Short Story Award all have associated anthologies containing their short-listed stories. Below are some non-competition prose anthologies that you might aim for -

Magazines like the monthly Writing Magazine have calls for submissions to less regular anthologies - usually themed. Vanessa Gebbie pointed out that there's an open call for story submissions for an anthology to be published next Autumn by Freight books, on the hundredth anniversary of Einstein publishing his Theory of General Relativity - see the Call for entries (closing date 28 Feb, 2015)

A word of warning - in the poetry world people sometimes invite submissions for an anthology, printing most of what they receive and expecting contributors to buy a copy. Prose is far less prone to these money-making schemes, but it's worth sticking to the established publishers if possible. And of course it's a good idea to buy their books.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

A busy 2014 for Commane, Marshall, Nelson, and Gebbie

Some people were so busy during 2014 (and deservedly so) that even reading about their exploits tires me.

  • Nine Arches Press: Review of 2014 - Jane Commane lists the happenings of a very busy year. And it doesn't end there - yesterday, Daniel Sluman was listed as one of Huffington Post's 5 British Poets to Watch in 2015 (chosen by Robert Peake)
  • Becoming a poet - Roy Marshall writes a tongue-in-cheek (maybe completely true) account of what becoming a poet is really like (he should know - he's in many of the magazines I read)
  • Shutting Up - Helena Nelson reports on reading the latest batch of HappenStance submissions ("162 poets sent in work. ... 107 were female and 55 were male ... About 1600 poems ... 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 ... I took 47 pages of (secret) notes")
  • 2014 round up, with special mentions - Vanessa Gebbie recounts her year.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Call my bluff

My Litrefs Articles site is looked at over 100 times a day, but some of the articles are rarely read. It's just dawned on me that most of the unpopular pieces try to expose the tricks of the trade. At how many poetry workshops are poets told to muddy the water by throwing in some obscurity if a poem doesn't sound deep enough, or add loads of white space if a poem's too short or simple? If the poets decide not to use these devices, at least they'll be more able to identify their use when reading poems, so I think the articles are useful.

The situation where these devices are more likely to succeed is when there's no penalty for over-use. Unless more critics are prepared to say that they don't understand something, or that 8 words scattered across a page are unlikely to work, then these devices will continue to be popular.