Tuesday 29 August 2017

Tania Hershman and prose/poetry

A while ago I wondered why not many writers wrote both poetry and prose, and why few if any of them published books combining poems and prose. Then it dawned on me that many so-called "Poetry" books actually contained Flash, vignettes or micro-texts. Think of Hugo Williams, parts of Lachlan Mackinnon's "Small Hours", "Citizen" by Claudia Rankine, etc. Some books are an assortment of several categories, classified as poetry for marketing/Award reasons or because of historical inertia.

I suspect that people whose work spans a broad spectrum don't care much about where in the range a particular piece is, until submission time. Readers care most when the advertized category doesn't match their assessment. Roughly I'd suggest to reader-friendly writers that -

  • If the line-breaks (like any other features/words) are doing little or nothing, leave them out, especially if there's a risk that they might look like an attempt to divert attention from weak content
  • If the context might make readers skim over a text that would reward careful reading, it might be worth adding line-breaks as a hint that a different reading strategy is recommended. In this situation a common ploy is to make each stanza into a similarly sized rectangle to show that the particular positioning of the line-breaks doesn't much matter.

Tania Hershman's a particularly interesting case. She's almost simultaneously published two books - a poetry book "Terms and Conditions" (Nine Arches Press) and a prose book "Some of us glow more than others" (Unthank Books). Reading the two books together it's not always clear why a text should have been printed in one book rather than another. Indeed, a text called "What is it that fills us" appears in both, the poetry version being a slightly shorter version of the prose version.

Reviewers have applauded the genre-free approach (and the science/literature, mainstream/avant-garde mix) of these books. It's interesting to see that despite the challenge that this diversity might pose for readers, there's an emerging consensus about which pieces in "Some of us glow more than others" are best.

One day maybe, books won't be classified as "Poetry" or "Prose" but as "short texts". To do so now will reduce the chance of being reviewed and will reduce sales. "Poetry" is currently the safest option if there's a wide variety of content.

Wednesday 23 August 2017

Publishing and luck

Authors will sometimes say how a lucky break led to their breakthrough publication - being in the right place at the right time. But I often suspect that if they hadn't have been lucky at that moment, they'd have been lucky later, because they were trying to put themselves in the right places anyway. They made their own luck.

I've been lucky with my publishers. Writers sometimes get published by people who soon go bust. It's gone the other way with me, my publishers' growing reputations doing me no harm. They made their own luck too.

Nine Arches Press is going from strength to strength. It's become an ACE "National Portfolio Organisation" for 5 years, and it's been awarded money for a shorter project. Jane Commane has led many writing workshops, co-edits "Under the Radar" magazine, and is co-organiser of the Leicester Shindig poetry series. In collaboration with The Poetry School she runs Primers. These activities feed into each other - running workshops and magazines helps to discover talent and increase readership, and the more people who become involved with these activities, the more that sales increase, which in turn attracts bigger writers and more reviews. The icing on the cake is that Jane has a collection out with Bloodaxe in 2018. How does she find the time? There's an interview online

Nell Nelson's Happenstance won The Michael Marks Publishers’ Award for pamphlet publishing and is gradually publishing more books. Like Jane, there's a strong talent-spotting element to much that she does, and much networking. She's involved with several other activities - writing articles/reviews for Dark Horse and PN Review, judging, tutoring with Writers' Forum, etc - and hasn't given up writing poems yet. There's an interview online