Saturday, 17 April 2010

Sphinx and pamphlets

I've picked up many poetry pamphlets through the years - some from Alternative bookshops like "News from Nowhere" (Liverpool) and "Mushroom bookshop" (Nottingham), a few bought by mail, and some as the result of entering pamphlet competitions. I have a few A6 booklets from the Merseyside Poetry Minibooks Series (Windows, Liverpool) - Raymond Tallis, Lynne Greenway, etc. I have "A Static Ballroom" by David Morley and "Apocalypso" by Tim Cumming, both published by Scratch, and I've "The Scrap Heap" by Other Publications and Pork Pie Press (in dialect). I've several from HappenStance, Templar, Leafe and The Poetry Business too. If the choice is between a pamphlet and a book bloated by sub-standard poems, pamphlets make a lot of sense.

People have observed that pamphlets are on the rise of late. During this phase Sphinx magazine from Happenstance has been documenting progress. Issue 12 of Sphinx arrived today - the last paper issue. It's a shame that it's going, but as the editorial says - think "Fawlty Towers". In 60 pages it deals with Templar, Salt, Gerry Cambridge and several other big players. Not surprisingly, the contributors differ in many ways

  • "I've spoken openly before about not being a poet", Alex McMillen (Templar)
  • "I want to carve out more time from Salt to get back to my writing life ... That's what I'm here for, really, the writing", Chris Hamilton-Emery (Salt)

Looks aren't always everything

  • "Design and production are a core aspect of our publishing practice and we strive for excellence as well as originality in this", Alex McMillen (Templar)
  • "readers won't mind if their poetry comes in the form of a stapled bundle of A4 sheets with a plain cover ... The format is irrelevant; the integrity of magazine and editor paramount", Kevin Bailey (HQ magazine)
  • "average text can be redeemed by the sheer beauty of lettering if it's elegantly used", Gerry Cambridge
  • "acknowledging good design as an important concept in print publication is a big step forward", Gerry Cambridge
  • "An occasional pastime of mine in bookshops is trying to guess typefaces used in books ... Trying to guess a typeface is like a form of typographical birdwatching", Gerry Cambridge

Some commonly held assumptions aren't always valid

  • "it became clear that bringing the magazine out quarterly was an editorial straitjacket. I decided it was better to wait for a critical mass of good poetry to come in before publishing an issue", Kevin Bailey (HQ magazine)
  • "most advertising, inserting, leafleting. launches have little commercial value ... Reviews are super, but they're not really sales drivers", Chris Hamilton-Emery (Salt)

Technology in the form of the Web provided the small press with an advertising and selling opportunity, but the emergence of e-books is a potential threat.

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