Sunday, May 14, 2006

Poetry Publishing

Poetry Scotland have a “guest appearance” by HappenStance editor, Helena Nelson (you have to click the “guest appearance” link at the site – no direct link is possible). It’s a good read. She talks about why book and chapbook publishers like poets to have a ‘track record’ before taking them on board, about how each new publication can be crucial for the reputation of a small publisher, about how a publisher chooses who to publish, and about why poets should read poetry (amazingly some don’t).

I liked:

Good poets write bad poems and seriously flawed poems. They do it all the time. The main difference between good poets and bad poets is that good poets sometimes write good poems.


I can only make new publications happen, if readers buy the last lot—and approve them. Readers have the power. Readers can make a publication a success. They can make a publisher’s reputation. They are the pivotal centre of the whole operation.

Poets sending in submissions are also readers. Their power to buy is very significant. If they don’t buy from that publisher—and from other poetry publishers—how on earth do they think somebody else will buy their publication? Those of us who care about poetry, all need to buy some. Not a lot. A little bit, but regularly. Then more poetry will be published. Some of it might be yours.

There is no crisis in poetry publishing. That crisis is a myth. The crisis is in poetry reading. And the solution is simple. For every poem you write, read 50 and buy one book, or chapbook, new or second-hand.
Poets need lots of readers and one publisher. Publishers need a handful of poets and thousands of readers.

In her list of factors that can influence why a publisher chooses to publish a poet or not, I enjoyed:

5. You included 3 villanelles. The publisher loathes villanelles.

I liked this because in the initial manuscript I sent to HappenStance, I included one villanelle (not three, I’m glad to say) and I still have the copy I sent with Helena’s pencilled comment at the top, which is probably best not shared on this blog in case anyone of a nervous disposition is reading.


Harry said...

Obviously a woman of excellent taste. Villanelles are the most stupid form ever. I don't even particularly like Do Not Go Gentle, let alone all the other ones.

Eloise said...

I think that the first strophe and last of a villanelle are often very good, as they contain the 2 lines that the poet thinks are strong enough to carry an entire poem. The middles are often a bit dodgy.
I'm amazed that some (real) poets don't read poetry, what exactly do they do then? How did they learn to write?
Maybe I am showing my naivety but it is like a painter never going to a gallery, how does one construct the artform in a vacuum?

Aisha said...

My God, you are quick, romac. I am already linked to...going back to return the favour, as this blog is full of advice for poets:
Do Not Go Writing Villanelles Again:/
Road Rage Will Be Your Fate, Publisher-Slain/

Cool, will be back for more.

Aisha aka Sorella

Rob Mackenzie said...

Heh. I've written 3 villanelles or so, and none of them have quite worked. I have seen the odd good one (William Baurle [Urizen at Pffa] wrote one called At Wounded Knee, which is as good a villanelle as I've seen, and has just been published in Candelabrum magazine), but often I feel the poems would have been better if they'd not been villanelles.

I've realised that's true of one of mine and am trying to revise it out of its villanelle prison.

Eloise - I think many people submitting to magazines read little poetry. They want their poetry to be read, but don't subscribe to any of the magazines they eagerly contribute to.

For proof, look at the sales figures for poetry books and the subscription numbers for poetry magazines.

The point you make is correct. Most people who write good poems now and again do read poetry and have learned to write by reading it. I expect that the majority of submissions editors receive are complete rubbish and are written by non-readers.

I know that in the National Poetry Competition a few years ago, one of the judges complained about the number of submissions typed badly, full of spelling mistakes, on pink paper with cat-borders. And he wasn't joking.

Aisha/Sorella/Shisa - good to find your blog. I couldn't wait another year for more of your crazy poems and insights!

Scavella said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Scavella said...

(trying again ... can't edit comments ...)

can't stand villanelles either. I can stomach Do Not Go Gentle, but otherwise, give me a gun.

Jee Leong Koh said...

Not even Bishop's "One Art"? Not even my incredibly clever take on the form, "What's Left", that will soon be published by Crab Orchard Review in Sep? And you call yourselves poetry readers? Bah! Humbugs.

Rob Mackenzie said...

Most villanelles suffer from a) having one good repentend that works well, but a second that can't quite cut it through the whole poem, and b) becoming hostage to the form so that they end up as an exercise to get through rather than a genuine exhibition of the writer's intentions.

I agree about One Art though, Jee. That's an excellent poem, and I like Do Not Go Gently too. I also like Marilyn Hacker's Villanelle (the first line is "Every day our bodies separate" - it's online, I'm sure). I guess there must be other good ones, but I can't bring them to mind.

I'd like to see your "What's Left", Jee. Will the Crab Orchard Review be published online?

Jee Leong Koh said...

No online copy but online guidelines for submission of individual poems and first books.

Rob Mackenzie said...

Ah well. Jee, how about sending me your villanelle by email? I'm unlikely to find the Crab Orchard Review in my part of the world. Well done on getting the publication.