Thursday, December 14, 2006

Poetry Pamphlet Party and Fair

Yesterday evening, I was staffing the HappenStance stall at the Poetry Pamphlet Party and Fair in Edinburgh along with Eleanor Livingstone.

The “party” element was free wine. The fair itself was quite busy, despite the stormy, miserable weather, and the HappenStance stall sold fairly well. There were lots of poetry reading sessions, each poet with a two-minute slot. As always at these events, some read well and others really need to stand in front of a mirror and take a long, hard look at themselves reading poetry.

I bought a few chapbooks and exchanged several. Namely:

23 Poems – Michael Mackmin (HappenStance)
The Theory of Everything – James Wood (HappenStance)
The Small Hours – Tom Duddy (HappenStance)
Under the Threshold – Dorothy Lawrenson (Perjink)
Landing on Eros – Tony Lawrence (Tiplaw)
The Faithful City: Visual Poems - Stephen Nelson (afterlight)
Pillars of Salt – Judy Brown (Templar)
Peeling Onions - Apprentice (Tyne and Esk Writers)

Also, I can report that the new edition of Sphinx (number 5) is just out, and looks very interesting, with articles on Shoestring press, Dreadful Night Press, and Donut Press, along with a hatful of chapbook reviews, including my review on Here, a chapbook by Shetlandic poet, Lise Sinclair.

In addition, a cute publication titled The HappenStance Story: Chapter 1, by Helena Nelson, is hot off the press. It tells the story of HappenStance and all its writers from the editor’s point-of-view. It gives an insight into the workings of a small publishing press, and includes an example of work from each chapbook. A good, entertaining overview.

I bumped into the editor of a Scottish literary magazine on the way home, and we took the bus to Princes Street. We’d both had a few glasses of wine, and…let’s just say the editor was forthright on the dire state of Scottish poetry today. I don’t agree, but it made me think on whether the top Scottish poets today will still be so admired in 20 or 30 years time. It’s hard to know, of course.


Matt Merritt said...

As an outsider, I certainly don't think Scottish poetry is in a dire state. Quite the contrary. It seems to me to be far less worried about 'schools', groups and other labels than a lot of English poetry, and all the better for it. And in the same way there's less concern for what's in poetic fashion, which encourages a far more eclectic approach.
It sort of reminds me of how, in the 80s and 90s, Scottish indie bands were far less in thrall to the NME/Melody Maker idea of cool than English bands, so you got the likes of Teenage Fanclub ploughing their own very individual furrows.
Long may it continue.

apprentice said...

What did he mean by dire Rob? Was he specific? I certainly noticed that there weren't many young folk there.

I don't know who the reader was last night, the man who did the "weather" poem, but he made the point that he'd like to see more people tackling the big issues of the day.

It was an interesting evening for me as I'm pretty new to it all.
I'd have liked to buy the Pen publication, but couldn't find the stallholder.

Rob said...

The editor was saying that most poetry published in Scotland is very mediocre, and that the current crop of leading Scottish poets were nowhere near the standard of the previous generation e.g. Norman MacCaig, Sorley Maclean, Edwin Morgan etc.

I really like MacCaig and Morgan (who is still writing - a new collection due in February 2007), but I find it hard to compare relatively new, contemporary writers with those who've built up a lifetime of work over many collections. I like Don Paterson, John Burnside etc, but 15 years in a short time. Norman MacCaig published poems over a 50 year period. Edwin Morgan has now published for over 55 years.

Matt - you could be right. What do you think is in fashion at the moment? The short personal lyric with an epiphany at the end?

apprentice - that might have been Alan McGillvray who wanted to see more poems tackling political realities.
The PEN representative was A.C Clarke. You could maybe ask about it at the Scottish PEN website. Someone there might know.

urquart said...

It must be very exciting rubbing shoulders with all these movers and shakers in Scottish literature. How did you go about getting published first?

Unknown said...

I think that you're always going to hear people giving out about the 'state that poetry is in.'

From one generation to the next, things changes subtly, fashions come and go.

The test of any writer and their work, is endurance -does the work still stand up, does it work as it should, does it communicate to the reader, and does it do that little something that no-one else's does... but that's just me

Rob said...

urquhart - I don't know that "movers and shakers" is the right phrase. The people at the fair were more publishers of tiny poetry presses, and a number of self-publishers - very much grass roots operations, but with little power or financial security. I wish more of the real "movers and shakers" had turned up to see what was going on.

How did I go about getting published? I took the traditional route. I submitted poems over several years to small literary magazines who published the kind of poetry I liked to read, and built up a "track record" of publication. Then in 2005, I read about HappenStance Press starting up, went to its launch, and a month or two later send a manuscript in. To my very great surprise, the editor, Helena Nelson, wrote back with an offer to publish a chapbook/pamphlet, which came out in December 2005. I got paid a small sum, and 300 copies were printed. A year later, we still have plenty to sell, but we (the press and I) are trying hard.

Barbara, you're right on that. Eleanor Livingstone and I were talking about how sobering it is to pick up old copies of major poetry magazines, and see poems from people who were popular at the time and got published all over the place, and have now sunk without a trace. Some, of course, are left to sink undeservedly.

Matt Merritt said...

It's not so much that there's necessarily only one thing in fashion at a time - after all, mainstream ideas of fashion and cool are always going to differ greatly from avant-garde or 'innovative' ideas of the same. But I think, from what I see of Scottish poetry, there's far less interest in perpetuating that division, or even in accepting that it exists, and more of a concern with making the best use of all the approaches to hand