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Wednesday, 21 July 2010

The Writers Handbook 2011

The Writers Handbook is an invalauble source for British-based writers and poets, and I have most of its issues for the last decade. 2011 is quite a departure - at least in one way.  Chris Hamilton-Emery's poetry section provides an extraordinary list of the ten best things in poetry of the "noughties" - which I found somewhat eyebrow-raising, to be sure.

Among the people and events and developments selected as the most important of the last decade are Andrew Motion, for being a great poet laureate (which he was); a key figure at Faber & Faber; and Keston Sutherland - the only poet singled out as such - for all he has done and does, etc.  Also mentioned are the publishers Salt and Shearsman, and the appearance of digital networking communities.

The article goes on to predict that in "ten years" there will not be much in the way of printed books of poetry, in the UK, and they will not be sold or marketed in "bricks and mortar" ways.  Instead, almost all poets will self-publish in digital formats - he predicts there may even be a Don Paterson Inc. - and seek audiences of mutual aesthetic interest.  Poems, not poetry collections, will be bought or acquired, and in fact, most ebooks will be free.

Hamilton-Emery was not the only evangelist for digital and online poetry - I was, along with many others.  Dan Mitchell and I started the first Facebook Poetry group, for example, and now have over 22,000 members. So I feel I can add to this debate. I think his article is wrong, in some ways, though correct in others, though it is a bit dramatic.

Luke Kennard seems to be more influential on his generation than Sutherland, who, though brilliant, has not had the same aesthetic impact on how most young British poets actually write.  Giles Goodland is a more intriguing hybrid poet, anyway.  Or Tom Chivers.  Roddy Lumsden has done more than Sutherland as editor and mentor to shape the current climate.

More to the point, I don't think poetry books (printed) will disappear in ten years.  I think ebooks will be part of the market, but people who love poetry will continue to want collections.  I think poetry is a strange market, to be sure.  Faber had 80% of the UK market in 2000 - has that changed?

To my mind, the five most important developments in poetry of the last decade in the UK were:

1. The rise of Facebook, Myspace, and digital networking and electronic dissemination of poetry;
2. Post 9/11, the rise of a new politicisation of poetry, and interest in eco-poetics, and consequent return of an art-for-art alternative;
3. The YBP wave, heralded and supported by a new respect for pamphlets, and Creative Writing MAs in Britain;
4. A rise in hybrid/ fusion poetics that avoid the us-and-them divides of mainstream-experimental
5. Fiona Sampson as editor of Poetry Review

I do agree that the death of Michael Donaghy was galvanising and important, as was the death of Mick Imlah, an equally talented poet, and the Bloodaxe anthologies have done a great service to new readers of poetry.  Hopefully, this list of his will get people talking.  But for someone who sells books, it is worrying to hear the looming demise of the physical print book being tolled so soon.  Hold them bells!
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