Thursday, 29 December 2011

The year 2011

I was quietly confident about a short-list appearance at Bridport this year - poetry or Flash. No such luck. In other competitions I ended up with 2 commendeds. Magazine appearances continue to tick over.

No new venues, though not from lack of effort - I ended the year with 3 Rialto pieces in the post, 3 Magma, 2 London Magazine, 2 Triquarterly (from March), 3 Weyfarers, 4 Iota, 1 McSweeneys, 1 Riptide and a couple of competitions.

After the publication of "Moving Parts" I had trouble returning to writing. In Autumn I cannibalised my Flash Fiction attempts from earlier in the year, managing to create a decent short story or two. A raid of my notebooks sufficed to get some poems moving. The reception to "Moving Parts" has been fun to follow. Partly as a response to that I've been networking a little - Cambridge, Edinburgh, London - meeting dozens of people who I've only e-contacted before. I should develop this side of things. I'm intending to organise a HappenStance event next year.

I've been expanding my blog activity. A USB microscope Xmas present could be useful - it takes movies. Here's what happens if you analyse too deeply

video

Our Egyptian holiday was fun and it's beginning to get into my writing. This year I've also visited Italy and Scotland. Favorite books? I'm enjoying Burt's "Close Calls with Nonsense" and have caught up with Jennifer Egan's novels. Salt's Best British series are good news. "The Night of the Day" by David Morley might have been my favorite poetry pamphlet. "The Dark Horse" might be my favorite magazine of the year.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Torino

We spent a few hours in Torino as part of a holiday. It's more interesting than I'd expected. I found this old bookshop ("Gilibert "?) in an shopping mall which once hosted the Ministry of Finance. Nietzsche lived there for a while. The entrance sign - "Nuovo Romano" - refers to the cinema that's still running.

I took several books to read - "Notes for Lighting a Fire" (Gerry Cambridge), "I Sing the Sonnet" (Duncan Gillies MacLaurin), "Taking Account" by Peter Gilmour, "Egg Printing Explained" (Katy Evans-Bush) and "Close Calls with Nonsense" (Stephen Burt). Connections grew between these as I read them. MacLaurin's sonnets contrasted with Evans-Bush's; Gilmour's Poet/Persona interaction contrasted with the self-construction described by Burt; Burt's description of Tranter helped me when reading Evans-Bush; Cambridge's attention to natural detail made me wonder about the nature of close scrutiny as I peered down from the plane and saw the Mole Antonelliana.

I enjoyed Burt's book the most. It was written "for people who read the half-column poems in glossy magazines and ask, 'Is that all there is?'". It comprises reprints of articles and extended reviews about young US poets, non-US poets, famous US poets and the Ellipticals. They show people like me new routes into poems without sounding too preachy, pointing out the "flaws" I see (e.g. "all [Les Murray's] books include clumsiness and redundancy, masses of lines it's hard to take seriously") while also showing some strengths I'm blind to. A chapter about Wilbur follows one on Ashbery. Armantrout and Gunn each have a chapter.

The non-politician Italian government survived a confidence vote while we were skiing. Pavel and Kim Jong-il died. Nothing much changes in the place we've been skiing in for a few years - the same people behind the supermarket counters, the same barber. The Italians have more types of Panetone than can currently be found in England. Zuppa Inglese ("English soup") is trifle.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Edinburgh

On 10th December I attended the launch of HappenStance publications by Peter Gilmour and Gerry Cambridge in Edinburgh. Over 60 people attended, amongst them Rob MacKenzie and Colin Will. Though I arrived from Cambridge I wasn't the one who'd travelled furthest. I'd had trouble understanding people's accents so I was relieved that the readers spoke so well. Peter Gilmour (whose poems were described as having "lovely syntax" by the emcee, Helena Nelson) read mellifluously with interesting comments (for example, he suggested that mining the past to write a poem reveals memories that couldn't otherwise be recovered). I knew Gerry Cambridge as editor of the excellent "The Dark Horse" magazine ("it's an honour to be rejected by The Dark Horse", said Helena Nelson) but not as a poet. He said he was interested in Nature and Detail. Both readers seemed to know what an audience wanted and what they could cope with.
Edinburgh of course is associated with some famous writers. Conan Doyle worked in Portsmouth, my birthplace, after having been a medical student at Edinburgh, and JK Rowling started writing Harry Potter in Edinburgh. I explored Edinburgh, its vennels and wynds, finding some traditional little bookshops ("Edinburgh Books" and "Southside books" are illustrated here) amongst the impressive, imposing architecture. If you like traditional Christmas atmospheres - city centre fairgrounds, German markets, and snow - Edinburgh's the place to go. I explored the delights of Ratho Station too. I took "The Best American Short Stories 2010" with me to read - well crafted Realism without a hint of Barthelme, with at least half the stories featuring a death. I jotted a page or 2 of notes and started a story, so I'm happy.
The Scottish Poetry Library, just off the Royal Mile, was the venue for the launches. It compares well with the London counterpart. I picked up a copy of Northwords Now there, which is a good read. The Scottish Storytelling Centre is 5 years old - "the world's first purpose-built centre for storytelling". I think I'll be popping up to Edinburgh more regularly in future. An East Coast train trip's especially tempting.
You'll find more about the event on Helena Nelson's HappenStance blog.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Web statistics

My oldest blog is about 2.5 years old now, long enough for statistical trends to emerge. Low traffic, but it's interesting to see what's top of the charts.

Litrefs

Litrefs gets about 20 hits/day. The most popular pages have been

Fair enough - punctuation and publication will always be of interest to writers.

Litrefs Articles

Litrefs Articles gets about 40 hits/day. The most popular pages have been

"Metaphor and Simile" gets many Google hits in bursts. I suspect it's found by pupils doing assignments.

Litrefs Reviews

Litrefs Reviews gets about 20 hits/day. The most popular pages have been

The first and third are by authors who've been in the news recently (Masters for a new book and Sampson because of the Poetry Society). I suspect that those pages are picked up in random Google searches. Certain reviews seem to attract short-lived attention on the grapevine - BBP2011 was one of them.

Meanwhile, my Literary Quotes web page attracts about 40 hits/day. I'm surprised it's that low - review/article writers should find it useful.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Margaret Drabble

Long ago I read a few Drabble books. A writer friend of mine read her in his twenties too. I knew about students then, but I didn't know how graduates lived, or how the middle classes lived. I didn't even know women who worked. In Drabble's books I encountered emotionally articulate women (I imagined they looked like those in David Hamilton's photographs) experiencing London lifestyles, meeting people who were interested in literature. I learnt what growing girls thought about. I saw a dramatization starring Sandy Dennis.

So I thought I'd re-read them. I couldn't recall which I'd previously read, and hardly any of her books were in the library. I found "The Millstone" in a secondhand bookshop. I must have read it but now I feel it couldn't have contributed to my abiding impression of Drabble books. I finished it, but only just. The writing didn't propel me along. Is the main character, Rosamund, supposed to come over as snobby? Maybe. When she found out that her lodger has been writing a novel about her, she was more annoyed by the novel's attack on scholarship than the invasion of privacy. But maybe it's just that times have changed. No longer do mothers stay 9 days in a maternity ward, neither do unmarried mothers have a "U" at the foot of their bed.

The character has a Ph.D so we should expect some elevated, controlled writing - "Lydia, who had hitherto been accepting our devious comfort, suddenly turned on us with a wail of despondency", (p.9); "she wore her grief well: she spared herself and her associates the additional infliction of ugliness, which so often accompanies much pain", (p.135). It's not a style that appeals to me. In The Guardian John Mullan says "Often it is as if the sentences were being transcribed as they arose in the narrator's mind. … Her peculiar formality of tone is partly a matter of the class identity of which she is so conscious. … The intriguing coexistence of formality and informality also seems appropriate to its period. … Drabble's narrator is a creature of her times: free-thinking but proper; informal, but formal too". So I guess the idea is that one should try to interpret the at times awkward, faux-Jamesian tone as an expression of Rosamund's personality.

The baby's nameless more often than I'd have expected - "I remember, however, the night before it was born with some clarity", (p.87); "And so the summer wore away, and autumn set in, and the baby started to sit up", (p.112).

Perhaps I don't appreciate the significance of the decision she made to become a single mother, to control her own destiny. In those days it might have been a bigger deal than now. I think the plot is that she becomes more self-assured. At the start she thinks of the father that "He must be one of these bisexual people, I thought, or perhaps even he's no more queer than I am promiscuous, or whatever the word is for what I pretend to be. Perhaps we appeal to each other because we're rivals in hypocrisy", (p.27). When the child is born she has a funny feeling - "Love, I suppose one might call it, and the first of my life", (p.98). Later she's brave enough to talk to neighbours, she realises that "If I asked more favours of people, I would find people more kind", (p.156). At the end she invites home the unknowing father having not met him for 2 years. She likes him. He asks if she'd like to travel the world with him. She turns him down, sort of - "I asked him if he would have another drink. But I asked him in such as way that he would refuse, and he refused.
'I can't help worrying,' I said. 'It's my nature. There's nothing I can do about my nature, is there?'
'No,' said George
" (p.167). We're left wondering whether motherhood has changed her much. Before, she loved no-one and had a career planned. After, she has someone to worry about and has a career planned.

Then I found "Jerusalem the Golden", secondhand again. I'm sure that I'd read that too. The heroine, Clara, is affected by words that are "phrased with some beauty" (p.31). I wonder what she'd feel about the start of this book. Early on she uses big words in conversation - "And now you can see that I can substantiate my disadvantage" (p.24) The following extracts of narration (3rd person privileged though they are, and interpretable as expressions of Clara's personality) are too wordy to me.

  • "Sometimes she wondered what would have happened if she had missed them, and whether a conjunction so fateful and fruitful could have been, by some accidental obtuseness on her part, avoided: she did not like to think so, she liked to think that inevitability had had her in its grip, but at the same time she uneasily knew that it had in some ways, been a near thing" (p.9)
  • In the following, the repetition of "right", "although" and "quite" seem accidental - "Although she was quite ignorant of the etiquette of such occasions, she rightly took this to be her duty; she could tell that she was right by the way that Peter, after introducing her, politely echoed her sentiments, although he had expressed quite other sentiments whilst sitting beside her in the auditorium" (p.10). How about this rewrite? - Though ignorant of the appropriate etiquette, she took this to be her duty; she could tell she was right by how Peter, after introducing her, politely echoed her sentiments, contradicting what he'd said during the performance
  • "Clelia was a name with which she had no acquaintance. She did not think it likely that she would ever need to use it, so she was not unduly uneasy about her ignorance". How about this instead? Again, it reduces the word-count by at least a third - She hadn't heard the name Clelia before, which didn't worry her because she didn't think she'd use it

The paragraph starting near the bottom of p.10 begins with a sentence containing "but". Successive sentences hinge about "but", "but", "but", "but", "but" and "nevertheless", "however, though", "though", "and yet" until the pattern's broken by the none too elegant "She liked to like things, if at all, for the right reasons. And all in all, she was glad".

Once the text has something to narrate and more dialogue interjects, the style loosens up. Naive, Clara emerges into a mileau she's longed for - the "Jerusalem the Golden" hymn elevated the heroine, Clara, "to a state of rapt and ferocious ambition and desire ... where beautiful people in beautiful houses spoke of beautiful things" (p.32). She trusts the first interesting family she meets - "Clara was impressed by the way they all managed to talk intelligently, yet without strain, without intensity, without affection" (p.136); "She took them on trust so completely, the Denhams, for as far as she could see they were never wrong" (p.156). She identifies with Clelia - when Clelia was 8 or 9 she once "confessed that she was weeping because she feared she would never be an artist" (p.137). Later, finding some of her own dying mother's letters, Clara identifies with her as she was in her 20s. In chapter 7 we have Gabriel's point-of-view. Later, Clara's and Gabriel's points-of-view alternate. At the end, events happen rapidly, and Clara, without experience, perhaps oversteps the mark. Coincidences play in her favour.

I like the last hundred or so pages - they are how I remember Drabble. I probably identified with her characters - heroines from a sheltered upbringing who have the basic brain power but lack cultural conversation and challenges to their beliefs. They meet someone who opens the door onto a new life, shows them London. They're not ready for it, they idealize their new friend, they run before they can walk, feeling there's so much time to make up.

In a Paris Review interview by Barbara Milton, Drabble says

  • "I was rather a lonely child when I was small. I made lots of friends when I was about thirteen or fourteen - when it became all right to be intellectual. But when I was a little child I was often ill. I had a bad chest and was always rather feeble - hated games. I make myself sound very pathetic, which I wasn't, but I certainly didn't feel I was part of the mainstream. I used to spend a lot of time alone, writing and reading and just being secretive"
  • the idea for her first novel ("A summer birdcage") "must have been related to my feelings at finding myself, at the age of twenty-one, free, unemployed, wondering where to go, watching my friends and contemporaries to see where they would go."
  • "Most people have a rival figure or model figure while some of us have lots of both. I suppose in my case this was either my older sister, or my best woman friend whom I've used again and again in my novels. The friend was very much a Celia figure to me in that she came from a more sophisticated background."
  • "The problem in my early novels was that I simply hadn't the ability to express the range of my feeling. I couldn't technically do it. When I wrote my first novel I didn't know how to write a novel at all. … In the fourth [Jerusalem the Golden], I tried to write (not very successfully) in the third person ... I'm slightly fed up with The Millstone, but I think that's probably a reaction against everyone else always liking it best. It's the most often translated into other languages. I get far more letters about it. I'm bored with it."

On enotes it says that

  • "The Millstone, and Jerusalem the Golden are semi-autobiographical"

So maybe my doubts about the books I've recently read match her own doubts, and the reasons I liked the books were to do with the reasons she wrote them, though I think I'd get on with her sister A.S.Byatt better.

In the Paris Review she says she finds it difficult writing

  • "about men. I used to find it difficult because I didn't trust myself to know what they were like. I still feel uneasy when I describe men's clothes and their offices. I have to do research, find out what they really look like, how they talk, and what kind of work pattern they have."
  • "about very stupid people. I'm aware that my characters tend to be not only intelligent, but intelligent about themselves."

I didn't notice a man problem, but the characters do all seem equally self-literate, plot turns tending to happen when a character becomes suddenly more or less self-aware than usual. Also on enotes it comments on style, saying that

  • "Her works have consistently been praised for their wry humor, their mannered style, and their uniquely literate approach to the culture of the twentieth century."
  • "Drabble is hailed as among the few living writers who continues to embrace the style of nineteenth-century novelists such as Austen, James, and Thomas Hardy. As Drabble bluntly stated to one interviewer, she prefers to participate at the end of a dying literary tradition that she respects rather than to join ranks at the forefront of one she dislikes."

However, Joyce Carol Oates in The New Yorker writes that "Drabble has joined the strengths of old-school realism with the playful detachment and blatant mythmaking of postmodernism". Jon Self on his The Asylum blog says "Drabble’s style remains similar through many of the stories: a subjective third person narrative which comes close to stream of consciousness in its detail and absorption of the characters’ thoughts (at times I was reminded of Mrs Dalloway). This enables her to impart her characters’ histories and impressions together, in a way which can tip from showing to telling"

I've seen little Drabblian postmodernism or stream-consciousness so far. Maybe I should read her later books. I'm surprised that she's written short stories, but she has a collection of those out, written over a space of 40 years. That might be interesting.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

1200 Literary Quotes

My Some Literary Criticism quotes page now has 1200 entries. Here's a selection

  • "You know I can't stand Shakespeare's plays, but yours are even worse", Tolstoy (to Chekhov)
  • "poetry gets to be the poetry of life by successfully becoming first the poetry of poetry", Hollander
  • "I am convinced that most readers, when they think they are admiring poetry, are deceived by inability to analyse their sensations, and that they are really admiring, not the poetry of the passage before them, but something else in it, which they like better than poetry", A.E. Housman
  • "What I like most about Eliot is that though one of his hearts, the poetic one, has died and been given a separate funeral ... he continues to visit the grave", Graves
  • "[poetry is news] brought to the mountains by a unicorn and an echo", Milosz
  • "the great changes in literature are non-literary in origin; and the same causes that produce the new work produce, in time, its audience. Wordsworth's poems did not produce Wordsworthians", Jarrell
  • "as civilisation advances, poetry almost necessarily declines", Macaulay
  • "a bad poem is one that vanishes into meaning", Valery
  • "to write a poem is to find a way from exile into pilgrimage", Gunn?
  • "Deprivation is for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth", Larkin
  • "Form is a straitjacket in the way that a straitjacket was a straitjacket for Houdini", Paul Muldoon
  • "We speak of understanding a sentence in the sense in which it can be replaced by another which says the same; but also in the sense in which it cannot be replaced by any other", Wittgenstein
  • "[Plath] was always a posthumous person, but it took her years to acquire a posthumous style", Helen Vendler
  • "We read according to an undeclared handicap system, to the specific needs of the author. We meet the novelists a little way, the poets at least halfway, the translated poets three-quarters of the way; the Postmoderns we pick up at the station in their wheelchairs.", Don Paterson
  • "magician and trickster are the 2 positions left once language slides from the world. The magician seeks to reconsile language and reality, the trickster accepts the rupture and exploits the resulting possibilities" - Adorno?
  • "Listen carefully to first criticisms of your work. Note carefully just what it is about your work that the critics don't like - then cultivate it. That's the part of your work that's individual and worth keeping", Jean Cocteau
  • "Gay men growing up in the mid-century in Scotland necessarily found tricks of concealment, and the 'avant-garde' offered an environment in which creativity could be engaged in without too much awkward self-revelation and without having to decide exactly how serious one was about what one was writing", D.M.Black
  • "The twentieth-century avant-garde liked to embrace boredom as a way of getting round what is considered to be the vapid 'excitement' of popular culture", Kenneth Goldsmith
  • "many poets of the following generation - the fourth after Lowell - who write nonmetered poetry no longer seem to have the example of metered verse within the ear, with the result that many of their lines appear flaccid and lack any apparent reason why a line is broken this way rather than that. Their lines often read like prose", Stephen Dobyns
  • "[Baudelaire's L'Héautontimorouménos] was long seen to be a sexual sadomasochistic poem ... it is now generally accepted that the poem is about writing poetry", Stephen Dobyns

Thursday, 3 November 2011

More links

Here are some poems by me that have recently appeared on-line. Also an article about my pamphlet

Friday, 21 October 2011

The Best British Poetry 2011

I've now read The Best British Poetry 2011 edited by Roddy Lumsden, (Salt, 2011) - my comments are on my reviews site. Here are some extracts -

This anthology picks solely from magazines (both paper and online), an idea I welcome - I subscribe to 7 of the magazines listed, and read several more. It's modeled on the US version, conceptually and visually, with nearly 40 pages of notes. I didn't find it an easy read. Even mainstream poets are represented by their more artistically engaged pieces, free from the distractions of unemployment fears, computer games, car accidents, mobile contracts, sleeze, comedy, and aging parents.

The most recent rejection slip I received said "I found these poems difficult to read. ... Try writing more simply and directly. Complex things _can_ be said in a simple, clear way". In what way do I find the poems in this book harder than mine? Some of the poets clearly don't like making things too obvious.

  • Abigail Perry rather gives the game away when she writes "It grew out of my revisions for another poem, one cluttered with clumsy polysyllables that were, nonetheless, semantically economical: they nailed the point I'd been trying to make. It was this that sounded the warning bell. A poem, I realised, should never 'get to the point'." (p.145)
  • Katharine Kilalea writes "On the surface, it seems a difficult poem, but it's only hard work when you try to make it meaningful" (p.134). It depends of course on what is meant by "meaningful".
  • Eoghan Walls wrote "I stuck to half-rhymes, and hid them from the eye by splitting the rhymes with a verse-break" (p.152). Why? What would have been wrong with rhyming couplets (though "rising/sink", and "cities/sky" are barely half-rhymes)?

In the olden days, writing poetry was a 2 stage process for some people. Poets had ideas that they dumdeedumdeed into a poem, choosing a title to pre-empt "What's it about?" questions. Even famous poets would to-and-fro between poetry and prose to clarify plot or sound. The 2nd stage was sometimes clumsily done (the meaning mangled to fit the form, words inverted, strange words used to satisfy the rhyme scheme).

Times have changed. Poems needn't pander to the masses or even to the non-poet intelligensia. "What's it about?" is no longer a question to fear. Moreover, there's no point anyone shouting "He's wearing no clothes!" because the masses aren't listening, and fellow poets are faced with too many vested Creative Writing interests. Some poets, consciously or otherwise, still write in 2 stages, the 2nd stage rendering the ideas to suit the expectations of the era. The aim is no longer to be easily paraphrasable - au contraire, the 2nd stage brings in language effects to disrupt the standard prose routes from words to meaning - Giles Goodland wrote that he "let the words play around".

But what is the equivalent of the beginner Formalist's clumsiness? Some poets in this book seem more to be avoiding simplicity than confronting complexity. They rough up the surface of their poems until their poem might be given the benefit of the doubt. My problem with many of these poems is that I didn't see what this 2nd stage added to the works; it obscured rather than augmented the effects.

Stephen Burt in his "Close Calls with Nonsense" wrote that he rather misses "in most contemporary poetry, the arguments, the extended rhetorical passages and essayistic digressions I enjoy in the poems of the 17th and 18th centuries". I rather miss those features too. And linguistic transparency. If readers can touch the bottom of a poem (rather than feeling out of their depth) it's not a disaster. If the water's clear enough for them to see their own feet, all the better. I think it's a viable form of poetry (indeed, Lumsden's written many good poems of that type in the past), but it's almost entirely absent from this selection, which after all, isn't supposed to be representative.

For those who want an update on "Identity Parade", or want to see the type of British poetry that becoming increasingly popular, this book is just the job. It's a book that looks ahead, rather than back, and ambitious and/or career UK poets would do well to read it. It's useful for non-UK readers too - they'll get a feel for the type of UK poetry that doesn't always reach foreign shores on paper.

Friday, 14 October 2011

3 poets to watch

When I wondered about which poets were underestimated, 3 names came straight to mind. It's perhaps unfair to single them out, but I can see why I grouped them together. All these poets have a body of work behind them, and depth as well as breadth. They've already achieved a measure of fame, and their names crop up in various contexts. I've met them and I've heard them read their poems.

Emma Danes

She used to be a member of Cambridge Writers and often attended our monthly meetings. New members sometimes start with a good poem or 2 then tail off. She kept delivering excellent poems. She appears in "Best British Poetry 2011". She's not published a book or pamphlet yet (though she's come close to winning pamphlet competitions - shortlisted in the tall-lighthouse pamphlet competition.).

I don't think she frequents the physical and virtual haunts of poets and publishers. She doesn't even have a web page. Perhaps her work tackles too few topics? Perhaps she's too busy doing other things? Time's on her side though.

Peter Daniels

At home I have a stapled heap of photocopies, the cover page saying "PETER DANIELS Seminars for Nomads". My guess is that his mother gave me this a decade or 2 ago. An early poem in the pamphlet is "A video of my father" (his father was a Cambridge Stats prof). He's an experienced poet with an impressive list of credentials. As it says on his web page "He has won first prize in the 2010 TLS Poetry Competition, and before that he won the 2008 Arvon competition, the 2003 Ledbury competition, and was twice a winner in the Poetry Business pamphlet competition."

He writes that "When I won the 2008 Daily Telegraph Arvon International Poetry Competition, Book Brunch referred to me as a "hitherto unknown poet" yet he's published "Peacock Luggage" in 1992 (Smith/Doorstop, he has 50% of the book - maybe my photocopies; Alvi has the rest), "Be Prepared" in 1994 (Smith/Doorstop), "Blue Mice" in 1999 (Vennel Press), "Through the Bushes" in 2000 (Smith/Doorstop, again through their competition), and "Mr Luczinski Makes a Move" in 2011 (HappenStance Press). Maybe he suffers from having published pamphlets rather than books, or not being in quite the right place at the right time. He took a break from writing, which may not have helped. He's London-based and he networks.

He's been involved with editing and creative writing - an MA in Writing at Sheffield Hallam University, plus involvement with Bow-wow and Poetry London Newsletter. He's involved with translating, Quakers, Jewish, and gay poetry, so he may be able to exploit niche markets unavailable to the other 2 poets I mention here. He's older than the other 2, but that might not be a problem - well over a decade ago I recall his mother (about 80 then) regretting having to give up her upholstery evening classes, though she was still going to read a French novel a month. If Peter Daniels has those genes his best years might be ahead, and he has an impressive back catalogue to draw on.

Judy Brown

I was on the same Smiths Knoll weekend workshop as her a few years ago. She's in "Best British Poetry 2011" and "Identity Parade". She's published a pamphlet - "Pillars of Salt", (2006, Templar Poetry) and a book "Loudness" (Seren; Shortlisted in the The Forward Prizes for Poetry 2011). She also won the Poetry London competition in 2009. She's been a lawyer, and spends some of her time in London. She has a page on poetry pf. She was involved with Magma, so has contacts in the trade. This might be her breakthrough year.

Problems

So why aren't they better known? They're all mainstream (and I suppose rather unadventurous far as poetic styles are concerned) so they're in a crowded marketplace - they have no unique selling points. On average they're roughly my age - too young (or late maturing) for Next Gen; too old to be part of the current new generation. They all have other things to do - they can't pop off and be a writer-in-residence for a year, or drift around until a creative writing tutorship becomes available.

I think all the 3 poets I've mentioned should be at least as well known as some well established poets. Maybe some of the 3 already are recognised as such by those who matter. We'll see.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Tania Hershman: an interview

I've been a follower of Tania Hershman for a while, partly because she and I both have science-related degrees. For years was a science journalist, publishing in magazines like WIRED and "New Scientist". Now she's had stories in "Nature" too. She's interested in the interaction of Science and Fiction. I was impressed when she appeared last year on a BBC Radio 4 discussion program called "Blinded by Science". I wouldn't be surprised if she does more media work. She's currently writer-in-residence in the Science Faculty at Bristol University and has just received a grant from Arts Council England to write a collection of biology-inspired short stories.

I've kept tracks on her also because she writes Flash as well as short stories. With her Flash Fiction Tania's managed to reach parts that I thought Flash could never reach - pieces in "London Magazine", and even a week of her stories on BBC radio 4! Her first collection The White Road and other stories (commended in the 2009 Orange Award for New Writers, and included on a list of "10 collections to celebrate the strength of British short story writers" compiled by booktrust) contained many Flash pieces (some as short as 50 words) and also short stories (3000 words or so). To me, she seems equally at home with any length. She's also been involved with adaptions of her work to video and the stage. She continues to appear in magazines big and small, paper and online.

When she's not writing she seems busy being on festival panels, workshopping, judging, and spreading information to other writers via her blog. Writers have further cause to be grateful to her - her (Non-Complete) List of UK and Ireland Lit Mags Which Publish Short Stories is invaluable, and she founded The Short Review, a review of short story collections - stories need all the publicity and critical attention they can get.

As an old cynic I find her enthusiasm refreshing and her willingness to explore new subjects and genres exemplary. This interview was conducted via e-mail in Autumn 2011.

  • What came first - Science or Fiction?
    Definitely fiction! I started reading at a very early age, apparently, according to my mother (yes, she does say I was a prodigy, she is my mother) and stories were a big part of my childhood. Science came later, I have vague memories of reading some children's book about Famous Scientists but have no idea when that was. It was at school that I fell for maths (gosh now that sounds odd). I just loved solving equations, loved the right-or-wrongness, the lack of greyness, although now I understand far better that science and the scientific endeavour are full of grey areas. I didn't get on with English at school, I didn't like deconstructing stories, didn't agree with my teachers' assertions about what Dickens, for example, must have been thinking when he named Estella in Great Expectations. Perhaps it was a nascent rebellious streak, or some foreshadowing of my own path, but I couldn't help thinking, Well, maybe he just liked the name? I just loved stories, but found that I wasn't really allowed to write what I wanted to write or read for pure pleasure. Science at school was the fun part. I got to university and it got rather more serious - and difficult. That's when I discovered I wasn't the scientist type!
  • If you were 18 now, would you be thinking of doing a Creative Writing degree?
    At 18 I had absolutely no clue what I was doing, I think I had vague thoughts about a career in science (see above) but didn't imagine that, although it was a childhood dream, I could be a Writer, that that was a career option. I suspect my parents, both very academically minded, would have shoved hard away from a Creative Writing degree, but I can't be sure. I'm not sure either that that's the way to do it. I took a circuitous path to fiction-writing - via degrees in Maths & Physics, Philosophy of Science and journalism and a career as a science journalist - and I am glad for it. I got to a point where I found I couldn't not write fiction, that the voice in my head wouldn't stop nagging. I think it's valuable to find that out, and had I gone so young into a CW degree, I might not have left the space to know that.
  • I notice that The White Road is available on the Kindle. Has it changed your life? Will it change all our lives?
    I am assuming you mean the Kindle and not my book! I am of two - or perhaps more - minds. Everywhere I go now, someone whips one out and declares that they read more, they buy more books, which has to be a good thing, right? But I despair that you can't share books through the Kindle - and, as someone pointed out the other day, you can no longer see what someone's reading on the train, for example. It seems another step in the move towards only reading/buying what you think you want and an end to browsing and stumbling upon things you didn't know you wanted. But it is definitely opening up markets for short story writers who, I see, are beginning to publish single stories or sets of stories straight to the Kindle. I don't have one but have the app on my iPod (can't believe I use these terms sometimes... ) and have purchased a few stories. That's got to be a good thing, right? Not necessarily a changing-lives thing, but an enrichment, I hope.
  • You don't seem to be an SF addict. Have you ever been? Do you have any favorite SF authors or stories?
    I was brought up on Star Trek from a very young age, and Doctor Who, and loved them both, the sense of adventure, of limitless worlds and possibilities. But I never read SF until founding "The Short Review". I asked for some review copies of short story collections for myself, the kinds of things I wouldn't normally read - the Logorrhea anthology edited by John Klima, Kelley Eskridge's "Dangerous Space" - both described as SF, and I found new writing worlds opening up to me. I really felt, "Who has been hiding this wonderful writing from me for so long?" That simply by not visiting those shelves in the bookshop or in the library, I'd been missing out on all these incredible, imaginative, magical stories. More recently, being introduced to Carol Emshwiller's work was one of those experiences, where you feel that your writing will never be the same as before you read a particular work. I love her writing, am terrified to think I might never have read her books, what an enormous tragedy. What else am I missing??
    I would rather not say whether any of my own work is SF, I don't feel qualified for that. I call some stories "science-inspired" and for me that is purely a description of the process not the end product. I prefer to stay away from labels. I've now had a short story published in Nature's Futures section, which I believe is called SF, so who knows? All I know is that I will never dismiss an entire section of a bookshop again. I've recently been turned on to crime, too (ahh, Fred Vargas!). It's all about great writing, great stories, great imaginations, isn't it?
  • So when are you going to start writing novels?
    Nice one. You should be a stand-up comedian!
  • Stories like "Hands" (from "The White Road") are more poetic than many a poem I've read. Do you have any plans to focus more in that area? Maybe it's just a matter of sending the same work to different magazines?
    First, thanks so much for saying that. Funnily enough, yes I do have plans in that area. I recently went on an Arvon Foundation course in Writing for Radio and one of the tutors was Simon Armitage. I deliberately chose this course in order to meet him after hearing him read at the TS Eliot Poetry Prize readings and being struck by how close his newest collection is to flash fiction. I am really interesting in writing radio plays too, so it seemed a great opportunity to explore both. Simon was very encouraging about some of my work actually being poems and recommend some reading material including James Tate, the Pulitzer-prize-winning American poet. His work was a revelation - surreal, funny, wonderful! That has made me take a look at a number of what I thought were flash stories and rethink them. And I have sent a few out as poems - just had a very short poem and a prose poem published. We will see what happens in that direction but I am very excited. I was nervous of poetry, felt I wasn't "qualified" to talk about it, to claim I might be writing it. I am feeling a bit bolder now.
  • Sorry, but I have to ask - who's your favorite scientist?
    It's a little clichéd, but it's a toss-up between Einstein - a large picture of him with the caption "Imagination is more important than knowledge", hangs here in my writing shed, just by my side - and Richard Feynman, what a character. And also all the researchers in Paul Martin and Kate Nobes' lab at Bristol University where I have been writer-in-residence, they are all wonderful, and were very patient with me!
  • The story of how you got published is already online. Are things getting harder or easier for budding prose writers?
    Hmm, well, if you are talking about within the short story world, I think things are easier in that there are more and more publications calling for prose submissions. There seem to be more and more lit mags, each with their own specific likes and dislikes, which has really helped me find places that like my particular brand of oddness, and I am sure it's helpful for others too. And there are loads of new print magazines too. But when it comes to short story collections, things are definitely not easier, from what I can see. Even some of the small presses who championed short stories are finding it so hard to sell them that they are pulling back. It makes me deeply sad, since to me short stories are purely sources of joy, and I am talking about the dark depressing ones as well. I love to read them, they make me feel better, they make me better able to cope with life, I think. Ali Smith said at Small Wonder recently that she believes the short story is intimately tied up with mortality, because it is so much about its ending, and perhaps that explains its appeal, to a certain sector of the reading public - and maybe its lack of appeal to the majority! I would encourage budding writers to read magazines and send their work out to places whose writing they love and where they feel they might fit. And to understand that rejection is an essential part of the process.
  • The recent Forward poetry prize all-male shortlist raised again the issue of gender bias in the literature world, and science is supposed to be a male-oriented profession. That said, this year's Hugo awards shortlist had 4 women and one man. Have you noticed any particular problems?
    This doesn't really come up in the short story world at all, and the lab I was writer-in-residence in, a biochemistry lab, had an every-changing population, sometimes with more women than men and sometimes the reverse. But it seems that things haven't changed much in the UK in Maths and Physics since I studied those subjects, 20 years ago, when there were 20% women. I have heard that the majority of the Italian physicists working at the CERN particle accelerator are female, which is thrilling! Re writing and gender, I haven't run into problems myself, that I know of, but I do wish that these prizes were judged anonymously. I know it's hard with book prizes - but surely it should be about the writing?
  • Job interviews sometimes end with "Where do you see yourself being in 5 years' time?". Well?
    Ha! Urgh. Still writing, I hope. If it's what I am supposed to be doing. I can't plan ahead. I have a booking to teach an Arvon course in Nov 2012 and that freaks me out. I'd like to just think about today, this moment. I'm not writing as much as I want to be, I am not very good at carving out the time, I feel so lucky to get wonderful invitations to do short-story-related things, and many of them pay well, but it's hard to reconcile that with writing. And if I don't write, well... the invitations will dry up, won't they? Was this a job interview? Oh, oops, not sure I got the job then...

Thanks Tania!

Here are some forthcoming events where Tania's taking part. If you're down Bristol way, you've no excuse -

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Freeverse Poetry Book Fair

The Poetry Book Fair in London at Exmouth Market today was launched by the "legendary" Michael Horovitz. I met several people I'd only read about before, including Jon Stone and Kirsten Irving of Sidekick Books (I bought their "Coin Opera"), Matt Merritt, Jane Commane of Nine Arches Press (the last 2 and Jon Stone are in "The Best British Poetry 2011" which I bought from Salt's Chris Hamilton-Emery), and Sue Guiney. Amongst those I've met before were Katy Evans-Bush (whose "Egg Printing Explained" I brought), Peter Daniels, and HappenStance's Helena Nelson (from whom I bought Michael Loveday's "He said/ She said"). I sold 7 books (one of them mine, though I only told the buyer afterwards) while looking after the HappenStance stall for an hour.

It was good to see that poetry books are still being bought. I was struck by how nice people were about each other - especially behind their backs. The small press scene's a funny old world. The most common phrase I heard was "you don't look like your poetry".

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

"Reality Hunger" and "Close Calls with Nonsense"

Yesterday I managed to browse through Stephen Burt's Close Calls with Nonsense and read David Shields' Reality Hunger. These books have been on my reading list for a while. Both are worth reading. Burt's is probably worth buying, though getting it in the UK might not be easy.

Close Calls with Nonsense (Graywolf Press, 2009)

This has sections trying to explain the work of some supposedly difficult poets - contemporary US (e.g. Armantrout) but also WC Williams and GB poets (Denise Riley and Muldoon). His name's associated with the term "Elliptical poets", those who "broke up syntax, but reassembled it; they tried (as had [Jory] Graham) to adapt Language poets' disruptions to traditional lyric goals (expressing a self and its feelings), and tried (as Graham did not) to keep their poems short, song-like or visually vivid". In his introduction he points out that one needs to keep an open mind

  • "Some of the most celebrated "difficult" poetry of the past ten years seems to me derivative, mechanical, shallow, soulless, and too clever by half"
  • "In pursuing certain virtues - colorful local effects, personae and personality, juxtaposition, close calls with nonsense, uncertainty, critiques of ordinary language - the current crop of American poets necessarily give up on others. I miss, in most contemporary poetry, the arguments, the extended rhetorical passages and essayistic digressions I enjoy in the poems of the 17th and 18th centuries (and in WH Auden and Marianne Moore)",

The explanations he gives are helpful, as are his tips - "Look for self-analyses or for frame-breaking moments when the poem stops to tell you what it describes". His writing style's approachable. As usual, Minimalism seems hard to explain, and I sometimes had trouble seeing why less ambiguous/challenging alternative methods weren't used by the poets. For example, on p.331 he quotes from "To a Poor Old Woman" to show "how Williams's line breaks work"

They taste good to her
They taste good
to her. They taste
good to her.

They taste good to her (you might not like them); They taste good (not merely adequate); she tastes them, taking them into her body, rather than merely contemplating them.

To me, italics would have made the points better (if indeed these were the points). Breaking the line after "good" is rather like putting a dash there - it emphasises "to her", thus making the statement more subjective. He reads it as if "good" is emphasised (because it's at the end of the line, I suppose). But at least Burt has expressed himself clearly; it's possible to agree/disagree rather than merely feel baffled. I'd recommend the book to anyone who feels that the current crop of young poets are unreadable.

Reality Hunger (Penguin, 2010)

A plea in 618 numbered paragraphs for fewer standard novels. He begins with "Every artistic movement from the beginning of time is an attempt to figure out a way to smuggle more of what the artist thinks is reality into the work of art" (p.3). He mentions that "extended aphorisms [Ecclesiastes, Confucius, Heraclitus] eventually crossed the border into essay" (p.8), that "essai" means "experiment", that "fiction" derives from "fingere" meaning "to shape", that according to Coetzee, the word "novel" "meant the form of writing that was formless, that had no rules, that made up its own rules as it went along". He likes a return to these original notions, where facts can be experimentally shaped. He likes mixed-form novels that combine essay, memoire, reportage, fable, etc (he mentions Sebold, Brian Fawcett, Bernard Cooper). He likes sampling (in this book he doesn't separate quotes from his own words, and he sometimes adjusts the quotes. The last section of the book lists the sources)

He distrusts the supposedly factual, quoting Marshall - "Autobiographical memory is a recollection of events or episodes, which we remember with great detail. What's stored in that memory isn't the actual events, but how those events made sense to us and fit into our experience", adding that "As a work get more autobiographical, more intimate, more confessional, more embarrassing, it breaks into fragments. Our lives aren't prepackaged along narrative lines and, therefore, by its very nature, reality-based art - underprocessed, underproduced - splinters and explodes" (p.27)

He dislikes chronological narrative as the principal structuring device - "The grandfather clock is the reflection of its historical period, when time was orderly and slow. .. By the 1930s and 1940s, wristwatches were neurotic and talked very fast. ... Next, we had liquid-crystal watches that didn't show any time at all until you pressed a button ... Now, no one wears a watch; your phone has the time" (p.123)

He likes Proust. He points out that Marcel plays a similar role to the "I" in poetry as regards the stance viz a viz the author. He writes "The poem and the essay are more intimately related than any two genres, because they're both ways of pursuing problems, or maybe trying to solve problems - The Dream Songs, the long prologue to Slaughterhouse-Five, pretty much all of Philip Larkin and Anne Carson, Annie Dillard's For the Time being" (p.202)

He likes short-shorts (Jayne Anne Phillip's "Sweethearts", Jerome Stern's "Morning News" etc) because they focus on the essentials. He likes novels that are more short story collections. He's not keen on books like "The Corrections", preferring "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men", "Nadja", "Letters to Wendy's" etc.

I guess he feels it's more psychologically honest to show that there's an author, to follow the twists and turns of thought rather than fake objectivity and watch the clock

  • "Serious nonfiction removes fiction's masks, stripping away monuments to civilisation to arrive at truths that destroy the writer and thereby encompass the reader - the last shred of human expression before silence seizes all words", (p.149)
  • "The beauty of reality-based art - art underwritten by reality hunger - is that it's perfectly situated between life itself and (unattainable) "life as art"", (p.166)
  • "It was exciting to see how part of something I had originally written as an exegesis of Joyce's "The Dead" could now be turned sideways and used as the final, bruising insight into someone's psyche. All literary possibilities opened up for me with this story. The way my mind thinks - everything is connected to everything else - suddenly seemed transportable into my writing", (p.173)

Monday, 12 September 2011

Small press review sites

If only everyone who wrote poems bought them too. But here I want to make a different plea - if only people who read small-press publications (especially poetry) reviewed them too. By "review" I include little write-ups in a blog as well as printed articles.

Even if only a few per cent of people put their reviews online, the reader/writer balance would change, and small-press publications would receive more attention. On-line magazines tend not to have a reviews section, and the paper-based literary magazines that do print reviews (Acumen, for example) don't put them online.

When I put write-ups online nowadays I try to add links to online reviews. It's disappointing how few there are, even for publications by bigger presses (e.g. Bloodaxe). And quite often the personal reviews are full of praise. Some bloggers do take this side of things seriously, writing about books they don't like as well as those they do, using "review" as a blog keyword so that the reviews can easily be found. And there are review sites where a small group of people post reviews. Here's a list of sites worth a look if you want to find reviews of UK small-press pamphlets and books - contributions welcomed

Charles E. May's recent blog post on why he didn't review Valerie Trueblood's book makes interesting reading.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Which competitions are worth entering nowadays?

I don't think that the UK has quite the same competition culture as the USA, but we're catching up. Here's how I decide which competitions to enter

I look at the fee/prize ratio when I enter competitions, and try to see where the money's going. I take into account the prestige of the competition, the judge, and the judging process. I only bother with poem competitions where the 1st prize is more than 100 times the fee. I'm more lenient with story competitions.

We're beginning to have magazines that charge reading fees, which is essentially a competition. I think that's fair enough for prose, especially if the fee includes a copy of the magazine.

We have a few (far fewer than the USA) competitions where the winner's book is published. I'm sympathetic to the established ones - they offer one of the few routes to publication; faster and much less hassle than submitting to publishers.

For the bigger UK competitions (Bridport, National Poetry Competition) not only is the fee/prize ratio good (Bridport's poetry/story 1st prize is 5000 pounds for a 6 or 7 pound fee; the Flash prize is 1000 pounds for a 5 pound fee), but the lesser prizes are worthwhile too. Getting on the short-list is noteworthy, and there's a good chance of anthology/newspaper publication later.

After a bit of naming-and-shaming a few years ago in the UK there's been a trend towards transparency of the judging process. For example, the Bridport rules say "Experienced readers assist the named judges in selecting the shortlists, headed by Jon Wyatt for short stories and Candy Neubert for poems". In the National Poetry Competition's FAQ they say "Unlike many poetry competitions, we do not implement a sifting / elimination round. Each entry is seen by at least two of the judges."

So I end up entering a big competition every year or 2. I enter a publication-prize competition every 2 or 3 years. I enter about 8 small competitions a year - more prose than poetry. I guess I've come out about even overall, and I feel I've helped out some worthwhile magazines and organisations.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

My next booklet

Usually when I go on holiday I try to return with something literary. This time you'll have to make do with the shadow of me in Egypt's Western Sahara. Well before going to Egypt I'd set some of my pieces there (including "Escape" from my poetry booklet, a pivotal piece according to a reviewer). I've written no Egyptian-based pieces since returning - the experience hasn't soaked in yet.

Back home there was good news when I started catching up with the mail - "By All Means" (my booklet of short stories) should be coming out later this year, published by Nine Arches Press. I suspect about half of it will be previously unpublished material.

Marketing will be tough - pamphlets are harder to push than books, and short stories are harder to push than poems. Still, having a poetry booklet and a story booklet out together might be mutually advantageous. I think one piece was in my original submission for both of the booklets.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Music and Writers

C. K. Williams said "in poetry the music comes first, before everything else, everything else: until the poem has found its music, it's merely verbal matter, information". Alfred Brendel's published poetry books. Some song-writers are poets. Some poets write lyrics and librettos or (like Don Paterson) are accomplished musicians. Many others like writing with music in the background. However, sensitivity to music is by no means a requirement for successful writing.

  • "I must confess ... my utter failure with music. I’m sorry to say it but it’s true. Maybe there’s something wrong with my ears. I can’t listen to music, especially classical music, except with pained bewilderment. I’ve never been to a concert, or even played a classical CD right through" (Kathleen Jamie, New Statesman, 25 October 2007)
  • "Music, I regret to say, affects me merely as an arbitrary succession of more or less irritating sounds ... The concert piano and all wind instruments bore me in smaller doses and flay me in larger ones." (Vladimir Nabokov)

My performance skills were limited (at the bottom of my recorder-playing certificate it wisely states "This certificate does not imply ability to teach"). Though I listened to rock/pop music in my teens and tried to widen my appreciation after that, I only went to a few concerts (Tangerine Dream, Roy Harper, Blondie, Janis Ian, Jon Martyn and the early Human League might be complete list) and went to some jazz evenings at a local pub. I've fewer than a 100 tracks in my iPod - many of those nostalgic. I like the odd bit of plainsong, Barber, and Bartok but prefer songwriter classics.

In my writing do I lack a good ear? Maybe. Has my work been described as "unmusical"? Not yet, though I think it's fair to say that my writing isn't the sort that aspires to the condition of music. It carries an argument and remains mostly referential. It can be picked apart without the parts losing their value.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Stories: how short is short?

Over the years I've been writing, the UK short-story magazine market's dried up and Flash has emerged. The remaining outlets/competitions often have word-limits of about 2000. My drafts come out shorter than they used to. I've not written a 3000 word story for years - what's the point if no-one takes them and hence they're not read? If you're famous or you publish short-story collections maybe you're ok, but I'm maxing out at about 2500 words nowadays.

I know my experiences are far from universal. For example, the Missouri Review's guidelines say "While there are no length restrictions, novella-length manuscripts (i.e., 30,000 words or more) or “flash fiction” manuscripts (i.e., 2,000 words or less) must be truly exceptional to be published". Eh? 2000 word Flash?? I think even 1500 is too long for Flash. The Bridport Prize Flash limit's 250 words. Their word limit for stories is 5000. They have no minimum, but the Wells festival competition does - they want stories in the 1800-2200 range. Short story limits can be less than that though - I entered a story competition recently (not advertised as Flash) where the maximum was 1200 words.

E-magazines don't have the cost of paper to worry about, so you might think that they'd have longer stories. There used to be a feeling that online pieces have to be short to suit online reading habits. I suspect these habits are changing, but E-magazines haven't yet had the time to establish themselves as prestige sites, so the best stories whatever their length tend not to go online (or if they do, they're under-appreciated. In the US, though magazines like TriQuarterly have become online-only, online magazines aren't not considered for the O. Henry prize. They're beginning to be recognized by the Pushcart Anthology).

Of course, I'll continue to write stories without regard to word-count, but however much I claim to let my pieces reach their natural length, I have to worry about word-count when I send pieces off, and it wouldn't surprise me if market forces have affected my notion of what "natural" is.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Arranging poetry readings

So you've done your launch - what's next? If you're trying to arrange a poetry reading in order to raise your profile or sell books, several options are available. There's little point going it alone. The options below try to tap into existing publicity systems, which can help a lot.

Poetry venues

If a nearby town has a venue running a series of readings, you can try open-mics to gain experience. You'll struggle to get an evening to yourself unless you've published a few books.

OutReach

You could take advantage of some skill or interest of yours other than writing - if you work in a big establishment (a hospital for example), you might try to arrange a lunchtime meeting in your workplace. Publicity shouldn't be a problem.

Writers Circles

There are Writers Groups in most cities (poetry groups are fewer). They tend to plan their programmes a year ahead and are used to having known authors, so don't expect them to welcome you in unreservedly. Unless you're famous you'll probably need to do more than just read - you could run a workshop or judge a competition. They often pay, but you might prefer to appear for free, telling them that you'll bring some books for sale. They'll handle the publicity.

Festivals

Nowadays there are many Arts festivals and Writers/Poets festivals. Unless you've published several books you're unlikely to appear in the main programme. Some festivals (e.g. Kings Lynn) have fringe events, which might be more suitable. You'll have a better chance if you team up with others. Festivals have bookstalls, which can be useful, but the biggest advantage is that they'll handle the publicity. It will help if you've previously attended the festival (or other festivals). The festivals needn't be Arts-centred - organisers of festivals about Food, Cromwell, Gardening, etc might welcome the chance to offer something a little different. Contact the organisers as early as possible.

One-offs

Publicity-wise it helps to have a reason for doing a reading - an anniversary, launch of a new group, etc. As a venue try a library or a bookshop - they'll both help with advertising (publicity will otherwise be a problem) and might offer their services free. If your town has a venue often used for poetry readings, you could try that. Again, teaming up will help improve the size of your audience. If you have a publisher you could find out if any fellow-authors live nearby. If you know a musician, you could ask them to do a half-time stint. The more performers there are, the more friends they'll bring, especially if nibbles are available.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Short-list or short straw?

Two disappointments this week. I was runner-up in the purple moose poetry pamphlet competition and on the short-list (but not a prizewinner) in the Frome short story competition. Oh well. Better to have loved and lost I suppose, but sometimes I think I'd rather go unnoticed than appear on a short-list only to have hopes dashed.

The disadvantages aren't just psychological. Sometimes in competitions the short-listed pieces are published. When (as in the Bristol short story competition or the Templar poetry pamphlet competition) the result is a well produced book, that's good news, but some other competitions just produce a pamphlet or put the pieces online. I think I'd rather send a good poem somewhere else than have it appear on the web. I've already sent my Frome entry elsewhere.

For some competitions (the Bridport Prizes and the Forward Poetry awards, for example) being on the short-list is a reward in its own right, something to mention on a book cover. Publishing "long-lists" dozens of entries long has become fashionable. I suppose they increase interest generally, but they don't interest me. There are publicity merits of being on the Frank O'Connor short story book award long-list, but prospective buyers might not realise that "All eligible titles constitute the long-list, which is read by the jury".

Monday, 27 June 2011

Short stories and our modern lifestyle

"The short story form is better suited to the demands of modern life than the novel" wrote Simon Prosser, Publishing Director of Hamish Hamilton.

I used to think so too, but over the years I've changed my mind. Yes, there are sites where you can download stories but printed novels are easier to dip into. As Lorrie Moore wrote "that is often how novels are read, fifteen minutes at a time. You can't read stories that way."

Rather than read before I sleep I sometimes listen to things like itune the New Yorker stories (that include a commentary) or PRI selected shorts but I have to concentrate on them. I don't listen to them while driving in the way I'd listen to downloaded music.

I'm told that sites like Shortfire press are becoming more popular, offering e-shortstories in various formats (mobi, epub, pdf) for 49p or 99p. Random House plan to set up something similar in autumn 2011. This is a facility I'm likely to use, but I don't think they'll catch on until the short story widens its appeal. If anything, short stories are becoming harder to read

  • unlike the novel, the short story is "invariably literary." (Joyce Carol Oates)
  • the "well-written short story is not suited to the sound bite culture: it's too dense; its effects are too complex for easy digestion." (William Boyd)
  • "the commercial slick story has largely died out, the stories we are left with are almost always all serious art." (Lorrie Moore)

If this is the case, what went wrong? In a recent essay, Sarah Whitehead blames the golden age of the magazine era, when "The Strand" sold over half a million copies a month.

  • "The unprecedented and unrepeated growth of the magazine industry, which underpinned the growth and popularity of the short story genre, was the catalyst, if not the source of twentieth-century critical dismissal of the form."
  • "The magazine story has imbued the short story genre as a whole with the value of the disposable, the appeal of the marginalized and the inexorable link between literature and consumer culture."

After the bubble burst, only literary and genre stories survived. Is Flash Fiction the answer? I used to think so, though in another recent essay Holly Howitt-Dring says that "Because [Flash] could be viewed as stories working solely by implication, I feel that they have been mistrusted and sidelined in literature".

Is the short story going up or down? Do you listen to MP3 story stories or Flash? Are e-books the answer?

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Poem drafts

"Smiths Knoll"

I recently send a poem to "Smiths Knoll". The editors replied saying that "We ... had a couple of doubts". I could have addressed those doubts by tweaking a couple of lines. Of the 18 lines I ended up leaving one line alone. One line in the re-write is new, the others have been tweaked, sometimes reversing their meaning. It was a recent poem - I felt no resistance to re-writing, it was a continuation of what I'd stopped doing only a week before.

"Making Poems"

This week I've been reading "Making Poems", edited by Todd Davis and Erin Murphy (State University of New York, 2010) in which poets have a chance to write about the development of one of their poems. I found Shara McCallum's explanation (p.89) the most interesting, bringing up several issues that occurred to me during re-writing

  • The first draft was entitled "The Unreliable Narrator Speaks to her Audience"
  • The second draft, written on the same day (May 5th 2003), had an alternative title of "Penelope Refigured" ("The uncertainty partly reflected my discomfort with the self-consciousness of the first title ... Penelope, a figure of myth I'd long been interested in ... seemed capable of the kind of utterance that comprised the first drafts opening lines ... Formally, the poem began as a single stanza but in the second draft migrated to quatrains, which were present as a unit of sound and rhetoric to my ear even in the first 'block' version"
    Already there are interesting developments - the sentiments have found an embodiment that was waiting to be used. And we have an explanation for the poem's shape
  • "By the time I moved from my journal to the computer (draft three, on May 9), I changed the stanzaic structure again, trimming it to tercets. Playing with stanza lengths has, for the past ten years, been a revision tool to help me refine language. Determining a fixed length is not an arbitrary process but one governed by the dominant stanza length I see emerging as I revise the poem. Working with a defined stanza forces me to make difficult decisions about which images, word, and lines are best for conveying a poem's idea or feeling"
    I like the idea of using stanza lengths as a revision tool - a way to focus on different words, see the poem in a new light. Because revising involves reading the same poem many times, it helps to have a device that stops you becoming over-familiar with the text. She lets the dominant stanza length force regularity on the poem. Why? I'm not sure. She write that "the couplet offers the most space for pauses and reflectivity in a poem, the tercet a bit less, and so on. Because I favor a controlled pacing and tempo, I almost always select a fixed stanza length" so perhaps this poem has an unchanging pace and tempo?
  • "'Penelope' was published in tercets in the Fall 2004 issue of the Antioch Review". Here are the start and the ending.
    I know I am losing you now
    when I need you to hear me the most,
    speaking across this barrier of time.

    Listen, if I am not an ocean,
    I am nothing. If I am not a world
    unto myself, I have to know it.

    Lemon rinds in the dried brook-bed,
    fireflies in the face of uncertain evil -
    ...
    Nothing left
    but me scratching out these words,
    waiting for you message in return.
  • A poem's publication often ends its development, but not this time. "When I began putting together my third book, weaknesses in the writing became glaring to me ... [the poem] underwent another ten or so drafts over the course of the next two years. .... In November 2004, it became 'Dear Country' ... The title change, I hoped, would make it possible for the poem to 'fit' into that sequence ... By late 2005, I dropped that idea and went back to 'Penelope' ... I began to be ruthless with the poem, cutting any line or stanza that seemed weak or disconnected in the least. Stanzas one, four, five, and seven [the last] went onto the chopping block in their entirety ... I was left with a muddle of language that could not be reassembled in the old way ... The poem begins with a series of images, which I think renders it less emphatic in tone at the outset ... Three years after the poem began, on May 23, 2006, it came to rest in its final form.". Here are the start and the ending
    Lemon rinds in the dried brook-bed,
    Fireflies in the face of uncertain evil -
    ...

    If I am not an ocean,
    I am nothing.

    If I am not a world unto myself,
    I have to know it.
  • But the story doesn't end there. It eventually appeared as "My Mother as Penelope" in her 2011 book "This Strange Land". In an interview with Geoffrey Philp she says "In my most recent book, personal experiences with mothering and marriage are set against historical narratives and myths. Still, writing autobiography is not what I am after as a poet. The details of my life are important to my poems but must be transformed to serve the poems' ends: they must enact the struggle for self-knowledge that is at the core of poetry. ... When I write, I often find myself grappling with issues of language and identity, as well as the interconnection between the two; but when I think about what I hope most for my poems, it is that they will approach these concerns (and any others) in a manner that is translucent."

The poem's been on a long journey - from a block to couplets; from an anonymous voice through a myth (Penelope) to a particular voice (the mother). The new context has given it extra meanings. The issues of appearance and content interacted as the drafts progressed, though I remain unconvinced that the layout is as beneficial to the reader as it's been to the writer. I think the poem's best lines are mostly those that were in the first draft. In particular the first stanza of the Antioch Review version sounds like a tacked-on intro. Perhaps I should change my older poems too, even if they have been published.

"Poetry as Research"

Also this week I read "Poetry as Research" (John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2010) in which David Ian Hanauer reports his finding on the development of poems (which he says confirms other research). He identifies 4 stages -

  • Activation - real world events; generated ideas, sensory images and sound, intertextual influences, poetry writing intention
  • Discovery -
  • Permutation - replacement was preferred followed by deletion and addition which suggests that poets rework within the existing framework.
  • Finalization - decision to view poem as a finished object

The Discovery and Permutation phases cycle around until the poet's satisfied. Nothing very new here, though the nature of the rewrites is interesting. Armstrong ("The Poetic Dimensions of Revision", 1986) reports that expert poets delete more often than they add, and replace more than they delete. Armstrong ("A Process Perspective in Poetic Discourse", 1984) found that experts spend far more time revising than novices do. Also interesting are the decision processes involved at the end, the moment when it becomes a product.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

"Short Fiction in Theory and Practice"

Short Fiction in Theory and Practice (Vol 1) has some interesting articles. I'll mention 2 that offer reasons for the devaluing of some genres

In 'Making micro meanings: reading and writing microfiction', Holly Howitt-Dring says that the classifications of poetry, prose poetry and Flash (which she calls microfiction) are blurred, mentioning that Forché's "The Colonel" has been in both Flash-fiction and prose-poem anthologies. But she also thinks that at the core of microfiction is a discernable genre - "Stealing poetic techniques, truncating those of prose, it seems like the offspring of some ill-fated alliance, but in fact microfiction uses the best parts of both genres and is a genre in its own right, as it functions and speaks in a new and different way to both" (p.57). She tries to identify some common features of pieces that are classified as Flash/microfiction. As well as being formatted as prose,

  • "Microfictions usually start in the middle of an action, or, in some cases, a thought.", p.53
  • "Microfiction is often only about a small idea, and the relevance of the miniscule of the major, and focusing on an image, which is, in this case simple, highlights the consequence of the small thing.". p.54
  • "microfictions are ... small, and subtle, epiphanies ... reached not by some narrative trick, but by a realisation that the moment depicted in the microfiction has changed everything, that there has been a shift in what the reader believed or expected, and that this has had significance.", p.54

She writes that the lack of space for prolonged character development has led to the use of the punch-line as a way to make the reader experience the large consequences of small things, but over-dependence on this may devalue the genre. Even reliance on the more subtle ways of hinting at (rather than showing) change may be detrimental to the genre - "Because microfiction could be viewed as stories working solely by implication, I feel that they have been mistrusted and sidelined in literature" (p.56)

I knew that popular magazines used to publish lots of stories (by Conan-Doyle, etc). Sarah Whitehead's 'Reader as consumer: the magazine short story' points out that even Joyce, Borges and Mansfield were published in strange places (Joyce had 3 stories published in a farmer's magazine ("The Irish Homestead"), Borges was in "Playboy", and Katherine Mansfield's stories were published alongside ads for furniture and face treatment). The article suggests that magazines influenced the development of the short story. Here are some quotes

  • "At a time when virtually every piece of short fiction was initially and often only published in a periodical, the short story was just one of the many texts including articles, advertising and illustrations ... tempting both impulse buyers and faithful subscribers who would be lured by fact and fiction through pages of advertisements", p.72
  • "by the 1890s The Strand was selling more than half a million copies a month", p.74
  • "The unprecedented and unrepeated growth of the magazine industry, which underpinned the growth and popularity of the short story genre, was the catalyst, if not the source of twentieth-century critical dismissal of the form.", p.79
  • "The growth of the magazine industry at the turn of the nineteenth into the twentieth century maps the most important chapter in the history of the short story and has directly influenced the nature of the form as it exists today ... The magazine story has imbued the short story genre as a whole with the value of the disposable, the appeal of the marginalized and the inexorable link between literature and consumer culture.", p.82

Thursday, 2 June 2011

A short history of UK literary paper magazines

Here's a compendium of articles I've written over the years, reprinted here for historical reasons, and as nostalgia

December 1997

I like the world of literary magazines. I submit and subscribe to many and have access to more at the University Library and local bookshops. In this piece I'd like to cover the progress of these magazines over the last decade, not in a comprehensive way but through my dealings with them, mostly in the form of rejection slips.

My first accepted story appeared during 1986 in Momentum, a small A5 magazine run by Wrexham Writers Workshop that lasted 11 issues or so. Summit by Coventry Writers came and went at about the same time. Such magazines (that begin small but aspire to greater things) no longer exist. On a glossier scale but in the same era was Jennings. Whether they accepted a piece or not the 3 editors cluttered an A4 page with entertaining comments. It paid, as did Dream, an SF magazine that encouraged reader participation. I treasure a readers' voting table from 1987 which puts a story of mine 4th and one of Stephen Baxter (1996 Arthur C. Clarke prize winner) 14th. They've all gone, along with newer publications like Raconteur and the revived Words International, each of which appeared in newsagents/bookshops and lasted about 2 years. Looking back through early contents pages of these defunct prose magazines one sees now familiar names like Sophie Hannah. It's hard to see where budding prose writers can begin nowadays. Perhaps the genre magazines offer a stepping stone. In its time as a quarterly the SF magazine Interzone published Angela Carter as well as many newcomers. Now it's a monthly also available at newsagents with over 110 issues to its credit. It's a quality publication which has taken care to grow slowly while others have grown too quickly and burst. They sometimes sent me 2 page rejections slips.

I started subscribing to Panurge with issue 2. The editors always replied with a comments or two, even when the stories didn't deserve it. Comments like "all the best and stick at it" helped. I finally got published there not long before it folded in 1995. Jon Murray in the final issue wrote "for a 25 hour week rising to 50 hours near publication date, I pay myself a wage of 11 pounds a week." He was getting 4000 submissions a year in the end. Its departure (and that of Metropolitan which ceased publication for similar reasons in 1997 after 10 issues) leaves a gap in the market. Quartos and Acclaim merged into The New Writer. Granta's been closed to newcomers for quite a while. From them I got my most irritating rejection - "in its own right it is very good work, unfortunately it's not right for Granta right now", supporting Jon Murray's view that Bill Buford never accepted anything from the slush pile no matter how excellent his colleagues thought it. Of course, since few prose contributors can appear per issue, it's hard to hold on to subscribing writers. I think a prose magazine needs at least a letters page so that more subscribers can see their names in print. As well as satisfying readers' egos, magazines must satisfy their tastes. Whereas a poetry magazine has a good chance of having something for everyone, a magazine with half a dozen stories might satisfy too few readers. This in part explains why genre magazines like Interzone which cater for narrower audience have a better chance of survival than general fiction publications. Editors of prose magazines have said that distribution via highstreet outlets is difficult, which was why the later issues of Panurge were disguised as books, a trend that other magazines would do well to follow. In January 1998, World Wide Writers appeared, looking much like Raconteur. Its awareness of the WWW might just aid its longevity.

My first poetry acceptance was in Folio International in the late 80's. It was one of several magazines whose demise closely followed my appearance in them. There's quite a rapid turn-around at the lower or more radical end. Even excluding these there are poetry magazines to suit all tastes - the market's glutted. In contrast with the US there are few UK University-based magazines - Cambridge is especially lacking. The austere but worthy Poetry Durham wound up 3 years ago. Oxford Poetry stopped last year, leaving Thumbscrew as Oxford's only poetry magazine. Verse is now US-based but under Robert Crawford was open to all. His "could you send us some more please" made up for many disappointments. Along with the Honest Ulsterman and Rialto it gave one the chance to rub shoulders with big names (I've been with Les Murray and R.S. Thomas). Other Poetry (revived after a few year's rest), Smiths Knoll and Seam are well edited by established poets, showing that new magazines can emerge. Orbis, Envoi (115+ issues), Poetry Nottingham (150+ issues) and Weyfarers (75+ issues) have been going for decades. Weyfarers rotates editorship. The others, for periods at least, have been decisively led. Iota, with nearly 40 issues under its belt, is small but action packed and keeps arriving on time. I suspect that many of its subscribers have appeared in it. This was the approach of Outposts before Roland John took it upmarket so that it looked like Agenda but it seems to have lost its grassroots support. Perhaps that's deserted to the emerging, populist Forward Press titles like Poetry Now and Rhyme Arrival, which are the largest circulation, non-funded poetry magazines in Great Britain. In quality Poetry Review and PN Review lead the field. Competition at this level is intense. Poetry Review get 30,000 poems a year of which they print 120. They seem to reply ever more quickly and decisively to my submissions.

A few poetry magazines (Smiths Knoll for instance) contain nothing but poetry. Others, especially the more frequent ones, have articles, reviews and encourage reader participation through letters. Acumen is like PN Review in this respect but more readable. Some magazines go further still, attempting to cover both poetry and prose. Stand and London Magazine keep going, maintaining high standards on very different budgets. The recently deceased Iron was lively and variagated. The North is too. Both have publishing arms. Staple is still going strong and is perhaps the most under-estimated of the magazines here. I'm surprised that they don't attract bigger names. It prints only poetry and stories. They pay, and they're now producing about a book a year. There are dangers that a magazine becomes too much of a publicity leaflet for the press. I think Staple's free of that but I was worried to read in Gortschacher's book (p. 644) that in a sample of PN Review's he'd read, 39% of the poets had been published by the related Carcanet press.

Editors tend to be mature males - people with time and money. Sometimes their pre-occupations show through in their choices (lots of parents dying, children leaving home, etc). Most of them are poets whose work appears in other magazines. From what I've seen, they are a sincere, committed and enormously dedicated bunch. With annual turnover of subscribers sometimes as high as 40%, the struggle for survival is endless. I feel more sympathetic towards them the more I hear how strange some writers are. One of their motivations is to have a piece accepted in yearly anthologies. Both the various Best Short Stories anthologies and the Forward Book of Poetry perform the role that the US equivalents do, though we have no equivalent of the Pushcart Prizes especially for small press publications. Editors are so often on a hiding to nothing. Misprints are one danger - few magazines send out proofs. One of my poems contained 3 misprints, including a missed "not" in the final statement. Some editors go to the trouble of commenting on rejected poems - a well meaning but dangerous practise since the volume of submissions (there's often well over 50 times more submissions than space) means that editors sometimes miss the obvious. A few editors ask for changes. One editor suggested the removal of 2 verses. I fought him down to one. The poem's better than it was originally.

December 1999

This week I received the latest issue of Staple magazine. Usually it prints poetry and stories, but this was a poetry-only issue, because the editors said that they had to save money and by producing such an issue they could publish as many writers as usual in fewer pages.

Some publishers have tried to encourage short stories. In the last few years, magazines like Panurge, Metropolitan, Word International and Raconteur have come - and gone.

December 2002

Thumbscrew's going, which is a shame. Some other magazines which looked to be folding (London Magazine, Stand) seem to be on the way to recovery. There's a trend amongst the smaller magazines (Other Poetry, Staple) to include more critical material. Envoi has recently invited poets to add a few pages of prose if they want. More magazines have magazine reviews (Poetry Nottingham International, etc). PQR (Poetry Quarterly Review) has comparative studies of magazines (M/F ratios, grant status, page allocation, etc). Magazines are looking smarter - covers are more likely to be glossy and illustrated (e.g Acumen, Iota). Also more magazines are setting up pamphlet publication on the side.

There have been some notable changes of editorship. Poetry Review's longstanding editor Peter Forbes has made way for David Herd and Robert Potts whose first 2 numbers have sought to bring the avant-garde into mainstream view. Poetry Review is by far the highest circulation poetry magazine, so this is a significant move. The smaller Staple, Iota and Orbis have been run for years without a change of editorship until recently. In the case of Iota the magazine has changed beyond recognition. Roy Blackman's death in November 2002 is bound to affect Smiths Knoll.

As a genre, Short Stories is sinking ever further from view. I think London Magazine, Stand, Ambit and Staple are the only magazines with circulations over 300 who accept non-genre unsolicited contributions from anyone - that's maybe 30 published stories a year. MsLexia, QWF and Writing Women accept stories only from females. World Wide Writers is a magazine that publishes competition entries. Interzone is a monthly short-story magazine available in newsagents, but it's Science Fiction only.

March 2007

3 factors are currently affecting UK magazines

  • Postal charges - changes in 2006 have affected non-letter postage
  • Funding Policy - uncertainty continues. In 2007, Arts Council England said that "We have been open with all our regularly funded organisations that it is going to be a difficult spending review and we could be looking at a very difficult settlement", particularly for specialist literary publications like The London Magazine, Acumen, Dreamcatcher, etc. The London Magazine gets more that the others, but it's only about 30k I think, so we're not talking big money.
  • The WWW - competition continues. For speed and production values, paper can't compete with the WWW, and WWW magazines can include audio/video clips too. Most mags have web-pages now. A few (Iota, Magma, and most recently Acumen) are using the WWW as an interactive adjunct to the paper version. The poetry library now have some full-text back-issues of magazines.
How long will paper magazines last? Arts Council England's 2007-2011 vision statement for literature ominously says "While not disregarding the benefits of traditional production and distribution methods, we want to see these presses and magazines take a lead in developing new methods of distribution and explore new uses of technology for both publishing and distribution. We believe that our funded presses would benefit from developing creative clusters."

There's no sign yet of a general decline except with short stories.

When a small-press magazine gets a new editor, the changes are so big that it's as if a new magazine has been launched. 3 stalwarts of the small-press world have recently been revamped

  • Envoi - 50 years old. Poetry Now published by Cinnamon Press, it has a WWW page and allows email submissions
  • Staple - c.20 years old. Poetry and Prose. A new ed has just taken over but hasn't yet produced an issue.
  • Seam - not so old, but has a WWW page now, and has relocated to Cambridge.

Also more magazines (most recently Smiths Knoll) are setting up pamphlet publication on the side.

The Short Story (a campaign site for the genre) currently lists 67 magazines outlets but they include the "TLS", "Your Cat Magazine", "The War Cry", etc. The revived Salt magazine is taking prose though. Prospect accepts previously published authors only. I suggest you try US magazines.

December 2010

I tend to stick to the same stable of magazines, but I thought I'd take a look around this year. What's changed?

  • I have access to the online magazines that the University subscribes to - the full text of hundreds of literary magazines (Poetry, PN Review, etc)
  • My local Borders has closed. They stocked many US and UK literary magazines
  • WWW magazines have improved in quality and status
  • Some magazines have gone. Others (e.g. Iota) have changed beyond recognition.
  • I read that book publishers care less about slush piles nowadays. I don't know whether this means that they take more notice of magazines. Even if they do, I suspect that only a few magazines matter. More likely they're influenced by networking (of which online discussion boards - some associated with magazines - play an increasingly significant role).

What affects my choice of subscriptions?

  • Brand loyalty
  • Chance - I've tried renewing subs to 2 magazine lately but something's got lost in the post, so I might not try again. And chance encounters affect choices - what tipped the balance towards The Dark Horse was Hannah Brooks-Motl's article in the Summer 2008 issue
  • I try to support prose-only magazines - Riptide, short Fiction, etc.
  • I get magazines that supply something I can't get elsewhere
  • I get magazines if it improves my chances of getting acceptances

Beneath it all though lies a feeling that paper magazines are doomed. In the UK the main poetry publishers and major magazines seem less influential now (to me and my peers, I guess I mean). There's more small-press infiltration of prize-lists, and more pamphlets are being published. Perhaps the Web has helped smaller magazines more than large ones - the small mags benefit more from the networking and wider visibility that the web provides. Magazines that I've unjustly neglected in the past are Magma (whose contents I like), and Poetry London (whose poetry I'm rather less sure about). I haven't seen Tears in the Fence for years - it's changed a lot, and is a good read. And Brittle Star has done well lately. Importantly for me, these latter 2 magazines publish short fiction. At the other end of the spectrum there are 2 venerable magazines I've never been in - Poetry Review and PN Review. Though PN Review has a few interesting articles, I have trouble with most of the poetry and some of the chattier essays. I like its reputation more than its contents. But I'll keep posting to Poetry Review every two years or so.

I imagine many of these publications are under pressure. Now that US magazine are often easier to submit to than UK ones I wonder how many UK writers sent their work straight to the States. Besides, for fiction there are hardly any UK markets anyway, and Rialto tells people to expect to wait 6 months for a reply to a submission.

But all is not rosy for US magazines either. I'm told that Story and New American Review have gone, TriQuarterly has become WWW-only and Southern Review is shrinking.

As the water-hole dries up, strangers rub shoulders. On "Poetry Publishing" Amy De'ath suggests that both Carcanet and Salt cut through the mainstream/avant-garde divide, though Carcanet tends to print older, "established" avant-garders. On the more purely innovative side, Shearsman remains impressive and Barque keeps going. Magazines like Tears in the Fence are less mainstream than I'm used to, but not beyond my range. I need new challenges

In consequence of all this I think I'm going to adjust my magazine subscriptions a little, now that I can't buy off the shelf. I'll also send stories to the US rather than the UK, and take WWW magazines more seriously. But I still have trouble evaluating WWW magazines. I'm sending Flash pieces off, but I don't produce many so I don't want to waste them. I know of a few established outlets - Smokelong, etc - but keep finding other possibilities. Even London Magazine's starting to print them. Time to take a few chances I suppose.