Saturday 22 January 2011

The worlds of Academia and Literature

There are several parallels between the milieu of literature and those of specialist academic subjects.

  • Scale - poetry print-runs might be in the low hundreds. Some academic publications would be happy to reach even those figures.
  • Isolation - they both have their cliques and conferences (or festivals). They're both misunderstood by the public.
  • Journals - academic paper periodicals were becoming very expensive - several hundreds of pounds a year - and were failing to perform their broadcasting function. Nowadays they're available online, but still at a cost. The periodicals still have to fund publication, archiving, and peer-reviewing. One option is Pay to Publish - to have free access to the publication, but making authors (or submitters) pay. It means a change in grant applications, but dissemination of ideas will improve (poor readers not disadvantaged) without quality control being compromised.
    Some literature magazines work a little like this - they're not free, but submission is at least in part by competition, subsidising printing costs (see Glimmer Train, short Fiction, etc)
  • Peer Review - For specialistic publications, reviewers are likely to be friends or rivals of authors. Objectivity is at risk. Poetry's not so different. Anonymity doesn't always help.
  • Reception - Whereas in the past reaction was slow and localised, discussion can now be global in hours, thanks to Twitter and blogs.
    In academia, the importance of papers is measured by their citation impact - where (and how many times) they're cited. Funding is affected by the results. People are now trying to extend this to cope with online mentions. Poetry could have the same mechanism were there the funding to set it up. In the States I believe something like this exists, with creative writing tutors getting points for poetry or story publication in approved magazines.
    I'm surprised how few poetry reviews are online (outside of Amazon). When I did a write-up of Don Paterson's Landing Light I found several reviews. For Carol Rumens' Blind spots I had trouble finding any, which makes comparisons difficult.
  • Money - The value of publication is that it gets you a job which can earn money (workshop tutor, lecturer).

Tuesday 18 January 2011

Litrefs Articles

I've created another blog - Litrefs Articles - to store my articles. Currently it contains about 70 articles, about 10 of them published.

Wednesday 12 January 2011

More on line-breaks

  • Over Xmas I read Stress Fractures (Tom Chivers (ed), Penned in the Margins) a collection of essays I'd recommend. "The Line" by Katy Evans-Bush will have the widest appeal and is amongst the longest pieces. I don't think it needed to be so long: the tight-rope sub-plot doesn't earn its keep and there are longeurs - a half-page quote by AS Byatt on pleasure belongs elsewhere. When there's a list of "pet peeves ... combined with examples of excellence" that "runs down a spectrum of enjambment" the essay's at its most useful, but by then there's too little space left to discuss why "Many poetry tutors don't like to discuss [line endings] at all; there is such a taboo on discussing this most personal aspect of poetry" (p.194). This quote raises important, unanswered questions - why is it considered personal? Is there a taboo on all other personal aspects?
    I think I need more convincing before I can believe the discipline of WS Merwin, or the effectiveness of Bunting's breaks. I'm also not sure why in a book of this type we need to be told that "Used well, [end-rhyme] has an amazing galvanising effect on a poem" (p.200).
    What I found most useful was how others might respond to line-break usages. E.g. Putting the important words at the start rather than end of the line in some readers "creates a sense of urgency as well as hesitancy, and disorients the reader, who then grabs for the emotional content as for a lifeline". Maybe so - it's a personal thing - but one that, I feel, isn't beyond the scope of experimental psychology. Maybe it's an acquired habit that only poetry-readers suffer from. How does putting heavy words at the start of lines produce more breathless urgency than unbroken prose?

    And I'd still like to know how we've reached a situation where gratuitously tidy line-breaks producing regular, boxed stanzas is considered preferable to irregular shapes or even a prose layout.

  • Iota 88 arrived. George Ttoouli's review of an Elisabeth Bletsoe book discusses some line breaks.
    buoyant ashstems &
    quick silver-
    dark hollythorn
    equivocal, the
    fields of plover;

    Here the line is chopped in order to double sense in multiple ways. The breaking over "quick silver- / dark" gives both the quicksilver and the silver-dark of the hollythorn sitting in the same charged couplet. Similarly, are we to take "equivocal" as referring to the hollythorn, or the fields of plover? It is both, simultaneously, and also neither: the accumulation of lines that demand alternate readings also gives the phrase "equivocal, the", the indefinite definite article of an implied dusk, where shapes are both known yet imprecise, solids liquids, objects both shaded and shining. There is something overwhelmingly wonderful at work here

    I'm unsure about some of this. "double sense" is ok, but the extra meanings need to be worth having. What is "hollythorn"? I couldn't find info online. If it's not sometimes silver then that's one imprecision solved. I suppose the 2 lines form a couplet, but is it "charged"? What's wrong with the single-line "quick-silver-dark hollythorn"? Perhaps the poet wanted to make the vowel repetitions clearer - "ant ash" and "quick sil". Do the lines demand multiple readings or is the poet hoping that if she throws in enough possibilities the reader will bother selecting those that made some sense and politely ignore those that don't? Why the line-breaks after "hedgerows" and "the"? Is it really "overwhelmingly wonderful"?

  • "I found the variety of shapes that the poems make on the page refreshing; a factor in keeping my interest and attention" (Angela France, Iota 88). I don't find that variety interesting, per se.
  • I've just heard about "The Art of the Poetic Line", (James Longenbach, Graywolf) In the light of the above points I think I should read it.

Saturday 8 January 2011

From the Dawn of computers to the Twilight of chapbooks

A long time ago when computer games were on audio cassettes and computers had 32K of RAM, I wrote a game that got mentioned in the Guardian

It was with a small company, Peaksoft. According to the potted history of Peaksoft it got some ok reviews

  • Remarkable ... Fantastic Detail ... Graphics 100% ... Value 100% - "Home Computing Weekly"
  • Ingenious ... Brilliant - "Personal Computer Games"

That's not how I remember it (I'd taught myself how to program and was learning as I wrote). I got about half a year's pay from it (that I was going to get money for something I enjoyed came as a shock) and I had the chance to see my game at a stall in a Computer Game show. Pirated versions are online somewhere. Computer games have moved on since then, with multi-million dollar budgets (though the emergence of Apps has helped return games-writing to being a cottage industry).

Now, when computers in the form of Kindles and iPads are threatening to take over the publishing world, I've jumped ship and have a paper-based pamphlet out (with HappenStance). Again it's with a one-person company run by a likable character who understands the product from the inside, grows a customer base, and knows the manual labour involved in selling by post. Again I'm unqualified (I've an "O level" in English) and learning as I go along. It won't pay my bills for 6 months or attract teenagers to a stall saying that they played with it for hours on end. It might get 100% for Graphics, but there the resemblances end. The game was pre-web (1984, I think). The pamphlet wouldn't have existed without the marketing resources that computers and the WWW make available for small-scale sales (Amazon, Facebook, etc).

Tuesday 4 January 2011

Litrefs Reviews

I've created another blog - Litrefs Reviews - to store notes about books I'm reading. Some of the notes are one-liners, some are published reviews and some are longer articles.

Currently it contains notes on magazines (14 items), novels (75 items), other (11 items), poetry (155 items), short story collections (61 items), and theory (44 items) - most of what I've read in the last decade.

Sunday 2 January 2011

My pamphlet "Moving Parts"

"Moving Parts" (ISBN 978-1-905939-59-6) is out now, on sale at the HappenStance site (and Amazon).

The average poem is 11 years old and earned 9 pounds. 27 of the 28 poems have been previously published in magazines.