My pamphlet, The Only Reason for Time, is out from HappenStance Press. There’s a link on the right-hand side. First pamphlet. It’s a strange feeling. Lying awake the other night I decided it’s like being a character in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, putting out branches or growing scales or feathers. Feathers as a metaphor for the oddness – nothing at all to do with poetic flight.
I wanted to write an account of the pamphlet-making process, but kept hitting a brick wall. So instead, here are some of the things I remember about it.
*** Most useful resources:
(a) the Aldeburgh advanced seminar. They are holding another one, again led by Michael Laskey and Peter Sansom, to coincide with this year’s Aldeburgh poetry festival; see here. It was wonderful, I wish I could do it again.
(b) a Poetry School download by Pascale Petit called ‘Towards a collection’, still available here, which contains lots of good advice on ordering poems, titles, editing individual poems, etc.
(c) a short Poetry School course on pamphlets with Roddy Lumsden, which made me realise how many aspects there are to a pamphlet beyond the poems, from endpapers to ISBN number to page length; and also had good advice on content and ordering, eg put a good poem on the third page.
(d) the HappenStance booklet, How
to get your Poetry Published, which is both illuminating and very funny,
with good examples of how not to go about it; and their download, DOs and DON’Ts of Poetry Submission.
*** Worst moment: July 2011. My SAE from HappenStance thudded onto the doormat well before the end of their month-long submission window – so surely it must be a rejection.
*** Best moment: 10 minutes later, when I opened the envelope.
*** Biggest problem: not knowing what impact the poems might have, collectively, on other people. I’d had plenty of feedback on individual poems, at workshops or in exchanges with friends. The only collective comments I’d had were at an Aldeburgh seminar (see above) on a small group of poems. This was very helpful for preparing the HappenStance submission a few months later, but didn’t answer my main concern, whether the overall effect was heavy – too many poems about my partner’s death – because I’d only included two such in the Aldeburgh dozen.
When I started to think seriously about pamphlet contents, a year ago, I sent around 35 poems to two poetry friends (yes, that’s a lot of poems, fortunately I’d done the same for them). Their responses had both differences, and points in common; the former were mostly matters of taste (which poems to leave out). They reassured me on the death question. But: they were friends, and friends tend to be supportive about such things…
So when I sent Helena Nelson (HappenStance publisher) the first draft pamphlet, I asked her the same question. She said that love and loss are the only two big themes anyway. But, said my inner demon, she’s my publisher, what about everyone else. And of course I still don’t know the answer. When Nell sent me the blurb for the back cover, I got a (very nice) shock; I couldn’t possibly have written it myself.
*** Where I spent most time: sitting on the floor, surrounded by poems, laying them all out, swapping ones in and out, changing the order, looking at shape and size and tone.
*** Most frustrating aspect: waiting to get published. I knew about this before I sent poems to HappenStance. Many poetry publishers have a queue. It wasn’t any longer than expected. But in 2011, it was hard having to say, I’m going to have a pamphlet with HappenStance… in 2013. Especially as I thought I was ready to do it then. Last year, saying Next year was much easier.
In fact, I wasn’t ready to do it in 2011. I wrote the last two poems in the pamphlet around a year ago – without any intention, but with the strong feeling that that’s what they were.
*** Most enjoyable aspect: the experience of being edited – having a dialogue about my own poems with someone very discriminating and perceptive. A dialogue that could never be quite that sharp, if publication wasn’t the end goal. That covered everything from ordering to first and last lines and the occasional comma. I was very aware that this is a luxury not everyone gets – not all poetry publishers edit.
*** Most difficult decision: the title. At the Aldeburgh poetry festival last year, I spread titled slips of paper on café tables, and got friends to sort them. Various people offered advice and ideas. The final choice was one I’d thought of early on, and some people liked, others said, ‘The what?’ Which is a fair question. It’s half of a poem title, which is a quote, supposedly by Einstein. It’s all over the internet as Einstein, and occasionally people recognise it as his, but I haven’t been able to track down a source. I asked a couple of scientist friends, and the hunt continues. As one of them pointed out, he may well have said it in German.
*** Irrational obsession: the endpapers (HappenStance does them in lovely colours, whatever the printer has available, to offset the cream paper). I longed for orange, because both the first and last poems, and two others, have orange in them; failing that, something dark. I could SEE my pamphlet in orange. Nell wasn’t so keen; and of course the design is up to her. The printer did have orange, a rather bright one, which takes me to the –
*** Biggest thrill: opening the envelope that contained a lone forerunner pamphlet. It looked so elegant (there were some poems inside, but never mind them). The cover design is lovely and endpaper colour gorgeous, though perhaps I’m a little biased. If you’re wondering what colour the endpapers are, you know what to do…