Friday, January 21, 2011

Finding New Poets

Interesting article by Don Paterson in the Guardian on ‘Finding the Best New Poets’. I’ve read enough hopeful Facebook updates from people “seeking publisher for my new manuscript” to know that seeking publishers isn’t the way it works for poets. A good few years ago, someone said to me, “Don’t look for a publisher. Let the publishers look for you,” which seemed more than slightly optimistic, but the title of the Guardian article bears that out.

The background here is the Picador poetry prize, won in its inaugural year by Richard Meier. It’s partly a matter of what style of poems you like, of course, but Meier looks like a worthy winner. A prize is only one way for publishers to find their poets. While Don P exaggerates just a bit in suggesting that a new talent will find themselves linked into poetry networks from only “one casual appearance at the most obscure local workshop,” he’s right that “you really have to work at being a recluse of a rare and dedicated variety to avoid being on the radar.”

Probably, poets fret too much about publicising themselves. There are thousands of poets all competing for the tiny poetry market, and the tendency is to feel you have to shout pretty loud to be heard. Increasingly, I’m not so sure about that. Strong work, activity in support of a book (readings, interviews etc), a little word of mouth from other people, and a growing sense that there’s something distinctive about you is mostly sufficient. Some books sell far more than others – not always the best books (Wallace Stevens’s first collection, Harmonium, sold terribly when first published, for example) – but the hope is that, in time, at least some of the best books will keep selling while the others fade away.

Interesting that Don P picks out blogs and Facebook as ways of “helping enormously” in maintaining good networks. I was at a reading he gave not so long ago when he said (tongue-in-cheek, of course), “What is Facebook anyway?” Nice that he picks out Baroque in Hackney as an example of good poetry blogging (it certainly is). As for “many anonymous others which resemble farty wee boys' gang-huts, and where membership is conditional on hating the right people,” I suppose the advantage of blogging is that the only farts you can actually smell are your own. The others are all scentless cyber farts. I would like to see the list of the right people to hate too, so that I can send them all a special Surroundings Valentine card. Anyone on that list is a friend here.

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