I’ve been really busy over the last few days, mainly with work, but also with one or two poetry-related things. Oddly, despite me not posting anything, the number of visitors to this site has reached an all-time high. I’ve no idea why. Maybe I should stop posting more often!
Anyway, I was thinking about the so-called “gatekeepers” of poetry, those who decide who gets published and who doesn’t. Thanks to James, Andrew, Roddy, Steven and Jane for getting me thinking on the issue by commenting on a previous post. Some people feel that the most prestigious poetry publishers (by which they mean Faber & Faber, Cape, Picador etc) have a very limited view on what constitutes good poetry and make it impossible for anyone who writes anything ‘different’ to be published.
For example, Todd Swift, in an article in the Oxford Forum refers to:
“…the new generation that emerged in the 90s and was a hugely successful promotional campaign claiming ‘poetry was the new rock and roll’. This attempt to brand poets created a new landscape for poetry and poetry marketing in the UK…
House styles emerged, as the poets became ever more branded. Where once there had been “the movement” or “the group”, there were now “publishers’ poets”. Investing in these few, carefully-groomed authors, the poets who were selected to be promoted and published, needed to be seen to be not simply exemplary of the best of their generation, but rare.”
However, in a comments box on this blog, Roddy L. said that the reasons publishers give for rejecting manuscripts are
“that they are not good enough, that the poets have failed or negated to establish themselves in any way, that the work is adequate but unoriginal.”
So on the one hand is a vision of a marketing ploy, a few poets flying the flag for a publisher’s style. On the other hand is a vision of publishers opening their doors wide to original and brilliant work.
It seems to me though that if someone wants to be published ,and if their work is good enough (“if” being the key word), he/she will find a way. Personally, I like several of the poets on Cape and Picador and don’t find them all part of a uniform brand – John Burnside, James Sheard and Robert Crawford are all on Cape, for instance, but they are all completely different. And if you add in Anvil, Bloodaxe, Carcanet, Salt, and plenty of other publishers (bluechrome, Shearsman, Arrowhead, Enitharmon, Seren and others), there are certainly opportunities in the UK for good writers of many different styles to be published.
It’s not easy. There are many more good writers than publishing slots and some excellent writers are bound to be passed over. Mistakes are made. Great poets are ignored in their lifetime. Trends come and go. But that’s the case in every country and in every generation. Don Paterson says that there are too many poetry books being publsihed in the UK, inferring that there simply can't be as many poets of sufficient quality out there. In fifty years time, I'm sure we'll see the truth of that. The only problem is that in the here and now, it's hard to identify the unworthy publications with any great certainty, and although we might think we know how future readers and critics are going to view things, none of us will be right all the time. So I support the excess even if it does turn out to be an excess.
It’s possible I will feel differently about this if I send my MS out and it gets rejected by every editor in the UK. Maybe I’ll take up crochet or stamp-collecting. There are worse ways of spending one’s time.