Wednesday, 28 July 2021

The Dark Horse (issue 43)

In Orbis 196, Philip Dunkerley wrote "Those of us who are white, middle-class, of a certain age and gender-conventional have to work hard at our poetry to find relevance in today's fast-changing world". I know what he means. I'm a middle-class computer programmer living in a semi-detached Cambridge house. I'm Caucasian and wear glasses. I have an allotment and ride a bicycle. I shop at Waitrose. I get mocked at comedy shows and in novels. And I'm not young. In an interview, Helena Nelson wrote - “Neil Astley will say openly that he wants poets with a future — young enough to build a profile”. So I'm not sending manuscripts to Bloodaxe.

It's becoming harder for me to find places to send work to. I feel I've had my chance, in conditions that favoured me, and now it's the turn of others. Magma magazine's next issue "will focus on Black poets", a wording which came as a surprise to me. Increasingly, there's a requirement for the poem's persona to be the poet - not so much an obligation to be confessional (that's last season's trend, which left a few victims in its wake), but to "write about what you know" without risk of appropriation. In the UK, an item can only be sold as a "Cornish pasty" if it's made in Cornwall. It's up to the consumers to decide whether this improves the quality of the product. In general I'd rather have a good cook than authentic ingredients.

At least I'm not very tall. Tall people have to bow when entering rooms. They lack leg-space in public transport. It's as if society wants to take revenge, making them cower, confining them. They can't help being tall. Why aren't there more 'mind your head' signs? Why isn't there a satisfactory minimum height for doorways? Tall people on average have higher IQs than short people, so perhaps the idea is that a few bumps on the head would even things up.

Two guest editors of a BAME background curated just over a third of the recent The Dark Horse issue (164 big pages). The prose attracted me the most.

Miguel Barretto García's piece about annotations, footnotes, bodies, and nationhood was good in parts but too bitty and flashy for me - phrases like "the colonised body is punctured of agency" don't help.

Karl Knights' 'The Face Not Seen': Disability, Staring and the Canon article made me think. It's cogent and informative. I can believe many of the points made, though sometimes I think he oversteps. Here are some quotes and my comments -

  • "The repertoire of disabled images and themes used in literature through history to the present is very small ... Firstly there's the bleeding heart, or what the disabled community calls 'inspiration porn' character ... Dickens' Tiny Tim is a prime example ... Secondly there's the bad cripple ... most James Bond villains come to mind. Finally there's super-crip ... Paralympians are almost always portrayed in this superhuman way"
  • "The disability scholar Tobin Siebers summarised that 'Disability has provided the public imagination with one of its most powerful symbols [...] but it always symbolizes something other than itself'"
  • "[Edwin Morgan's] 'In the Snack Bar' is, to me, a greatly overrated and dislikeable poem ... Morgan may have had the ability, but did he have the right? " ... "Nuala Watt rebukes Edwin Morgan in 'The Blind Poem'" - but even if (as in the Morgan case) there's evidence to match the persona with the poet, there's no need for the reader to. The character's response in this poem seems typical of the times - not an anachronism.
  • "[Louise Glück] used that voice to return to disability on numerous occasions to write what to me are badly-executed arid poems"
  • "[Ted Hughes'] 'Deaf School' achieves nothing but denigrating a group of children. They become merely another entry in the beastiary of Hughes' mind" ... "Raymond Antrobus writes two responses to Ted Hughes' 'Deaf School'". When I read the response that involved redaction it seemed a stale idea to me - not the first poem I'd seen to use the device that year. The book was interesting, though I'd describe it as a prose/poetry miscellany rather than poetry, which what it was marketed as. There are a lot of misleading labels around nowadays.
  • "Disabled speakers are often used as symbols of the writer's outsider status"
  • "Rilke and Glück participate in one of the most harmful hallmarks of the ableist poem: an imaginary monologue by a disabled speaker ... the author suffers none of the consequences of being in a minority group, and profits from the prestige that their masquerade brings. Meanwhile, actual disabled people experience the very real effects of being an outsider" - when an actor plays the role of a soldier they don't risk dying in action. I presume they get the job because it's thought that the film will be more successful with them in it than if a soldier performed. Indeed, the public may think the actor a more believable soldier than the soldier might appear to be.
  • "ableist poems abound in the tradition. More appear each day in periodicals, pamphlets, full collections ... Such a poet's overused metaphor of disability robs all meaning from the lived experiences of disabled people" - examples of Ableism provided in the article include phrases like "blind to criticism", "lame", and the use of phantom limb imagery. Poets shouldn't "rely on stale metaphors, images and ideas" (e.g. phantom limbs, which is a bugbear for disabled poets like Jillian Weise)
  • "As a visibly disabled person, being stared at is nothing new. Almost every memory I have of my life involves staring ... On the page, what is otherwise a brief annoyance or discomfort is immortalised ... I can hardly open a magazine or a collection without being stared at"
  • "Nothing about us without us, goes the slogan in disability activism"
  • "disabled literary criticism began in the form we know it today in the early 2000s. Queer criticism, the closest to disability criticism in age, began in earnest in the 1980s and has become a part of the academy"

He doesn't address the d/Disabled (D/disabled?) issue, which I presume exists.

The advice is -

  • "If you're desperate to write about your crippled aunt, think twice" (which seems a little mean)
  • "Don't use what you imagine is a disabled person's experience to fuel your poems". Are disabled poets allowed to use what they imagine is a non-disabled person's experience to fuel their poems? I suppose so, because they're a minority, and because they once might have been abled themselves.

I know wheelchair users, and I have dyslexic relatives. One reason that few disabled people appear in my pieces is my worry about getting things wrong - risks outweigh benefits. When, years ago, I read that to a person in depression the self was like a phantom limb, I was impressed by the analogy - I'd seen the phantom limb image used before of course, but not in this way. I'm going to have trouble avoiding Ableist phrases in my work.

There's a trend in poetry towards writing about self-identity and social unfairness, where the poet is the persona pointing out issues. Worthy though much of it is - important even - it's not my type of poetry - the subject matter tends to displace the kind of poetry I'm looking for. Wallace Stevens isn't my favourite poet, but in times like these I turn to him. Or Hart Crane. Or Michael Donaghy.

Sunday, 18 July 2021


Cambridge's University Library is a copyright library - a very tempting place to browse. Books are roughly sorted by size and subject. They're sequenced by acquisition date, so all the new books on a topic are on one shelf.

I've never visited the British Library though I've passed it many times. Behind these gates somewhere lurks my book.

There was talk of shutting down the National Poetry Library on the South Bank. I popped in whenever I was in London to catch up with current magazines.

Libraries are turning into hubs. Within reason, students can snack in my department's library. There's a library within the library where old habits like silence still apply.

I've been around Pergamon, Turkey - the place-name that "parchment" derives from. The library was second only to Alexandria in its prime.

These mini-libraries are common in the nearby villages

Just outside my house the mobile library sometimes parks.

A community library in Sweden which looks like a wooden shed.

Monday, 5 July 2021

The changing world of reviews

Given the limited interest in poetry and short story books, the reviews/adverts need to be targeted. Small press magazines may have a limited readership, but at least it contains a significant percentage of book buyers. So in the olden days review copies were sent to many magazines. It was costly to send copies out with no guarantee of a review. Publishers tend to send out queries and PDFs nowadays.

I've heard publishers say that reviews don't sell books, and reviews sometimes took a year to be published. Sales are not the only purpose of reviews. All the same, it does no harm explore other options. There are mass audience sites for reviews nowadays, and "influencers". These methods work for novels. I don't know how useful they are for poetry and short story books -

  • In a Twitter announcement by Dahlia Books about a book release they said - "Please get in touch with us via DMs if you'd like to receive an ARC. Don't forget to include a link to your blog or review site." On Goodreads and blogs I see many reviews that begin by thanking the publisher for a free copy of the book.
  • I heard on a podcast how Jen V Campbell (story writer and Bloodaxe poet) reviews. She's a booktuber with 50k followers. She uses Patreon to attract donations. Here's part of her "REVIEW POLICY" - "If you would like to contact me with a review request, please ask your publicist to email me with an AI sheet. As I receive over 40 requests a week, I can only take on a couple"

An alternative targeted approach is to do a blog tour.

Sunday, 20 June 2021

2 poetry hatchet jobs

  • "Bad and ungenerous reviews are necessarily more subjective than positive and generous reviews, because as with any other manifestation of ill will, the bad reviewer is indulging in an egotistical display of some state of mind that is supposed to enhance the reviewer's status at the expense of the subject of the review" (Jane Smiley)
  • "one cannot review a bad book without showing off" (Auden)

Yet there must be more to reviewing than appreciating the books you like, and being silent about the others. In Hatchet jobs: Agony for the author but bliss for us to read John Walsh writes "The best hatchet jobs are wholesale demolitions, performed without any judicious weighing of strengths and weaknesses, and carried off with murderous glee." I don't know how good the review articles in "Areté 22" (2006) are, but neither have much judicious weighing. Adam Thirwell in "On Bad Poetry" quotes extensively from Daljit Nagra while Craig Raine takes on Don Paterson.

"On Bad Poetry" by Adam Thirwell

  • His method is a cute amalgam of e e cummings and Dylan Thomas. From cummings, Nagra has inherited a habit of inverting words' grammatical status ... From Thomas he has borrowed obscurity
  • it is not enough simply to allude to another poem ... as if the borrowing will confer significance
  • I am not sure if it would be possible to write a more obscure sentence. It would certainly not be possible to write an uglier sentence. Nor would it be possible to discover a sentence which is more over-written. The reader of Daljit Nagra longs for a verb to be left alone, for it just to be simple. But no verb is left unturned.
  • The sentimental is Nagra's constant mode
  • This is Nagra's favourite style - in which word order is inverted, where adjectives and verbs are unexpected. It is meant to represent an outsider's freedom with English - but it simply sounds clumsy
  • As always, the situation is clear but the language is not

"Little Big Man: The Poetry of Don Paterson" by Craig Raine

  • The two great, natural enemies of poetry are exaggeration and euphemism
  • Paterson is serious - if not literal - about his melodramatic, metaphorical scenario. Alas. There is no ironic gap between the actuality and the image
  • exaggeration, a kind of immodesty that relies on no one calling your bluff ... Why would anyone credit this baloney, unless you were Jeanette Winterson? ...The absurd paper currency of runaway poetic inflation
  • That last line is a minor miracle of ugliness. You want to take it to Lourdes.
  • The tendency to exaggeration is endemic in Paterson's poetry and not restricted to the subjects of love and sex. This is partly cultural. Paterson comes from a culture that prizes the anecdote and the exaggeration that goes with it.

Thursday, 17 June 2021

A prose/poetry submission schedule for Jul-Dec 2021

The second half of the year seems to have fewer competition and magazine-window opportunities for me. I'll update them as the year progresses. Here they are -

Wednesday, 2 June 2021

"Acumen 100"

Acumen has reached a milestone. I've been in it a few times - poems, articles and letters. The poems are more accessible than in most other magazines. I've always admired the reviews, and the articles can be instructional - this issue has articles on Ihor Pavlyuk as well as Denise Levertov. Here are some points that caught my eye -

  • Levertov's "The Rainwalkers" is quoted from by Fred Beake - "An old man whose black face/ shines golden-brown as wet pebbles/ under the streetlamp is walking/ two mongrel dogs of dis-/ proportionate size, in the rain,/ in the relaxed early-evening avenue". She "learned to move away from the metrical while writing with precise controlled musical phrasing, related very closely to the breath and its movements", though I don't understand the line-breaks in the quote.
  • Elaine Jarvest Miller's "How important it was" is a poem about jigsaws as therapy and a source of analogy. I've written such pieces too. Importantly this poem begins with "When I offer you the jigsaws in their faded boxes,/ I won't tell you when I bought them". I should try to add more interest to my analogy-poems in this way.
  • John Miles' "Pandemic Pantoum" is a neat idea - no doubt used before, but fun.
  • Gordon Scapens' "The Weight of Time" ends with "Time will tell you/ when it's time", which I like
  • Jeremy Young's "The Temptations of Boars Hill" looks like prose
  • Shanta Acharya poem has "If we accept the world as a gift,/ not take the gifts of the world for granted,// we may still learn to cherish what we have, thankful for things we never had, never needed" sounds too pat to me. Several other poems have similar pearls of wisdom
  • Sean Hewitt uses "Short, powerfully propulsive lines whose ending cut against the grain of the syntax" - Edmund Prestwich

Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Some UK Magazine news

  • The Alchemy Spoon is a magazine that's particularly interested in poems from new phase poets. These are poets who have come late to poetry, often following retirement, or a life-change. See "Body" is their next theme
  • The Friday poem has interviews, articles, reviews and the odd poem. See
  • Northern Gravy is a new UK magazine (funded by ACE, etc) that pays £100 for publication. It welcomes Fiction, Young Adult and poetry. See
  • Dust, a Cambridge-based poetry magazine, has several theme-based issues per year. See
  • Tamarind magazine wants science-related prose (articles and stories) by 30th June for their next issue. See
  • Acumen's 100th issue is out (Alison Brackenbury, Martin Crucefix, Mimi Khalvati, Roger McGough, etc. 238 pages!). See