Tuesday, 23 May 2017

MANCHESTER

This blog started in 2005, and one of the first things it had to respond to was the terrifying series of attacks in 2005.

12 years later, and terribly, a mass terror attack has struck the UK - killing over 20 people, and dangerously harming many more. That many of the victims were kids and teens out to have fun at a summery concert, is all the more reason to be horrified. This was classic terrorism, meant to inflict great fear, and sorrow, and loss, on innocent people, for maximum publicity for their cause.

One does not have to be political to recognise that it is wrong to kill people, except in self-defence (if even then). Politics is not going to solve this problem, however, so long as a small group of radicals seek to destabilise, weaken, even destroy, democracy in Western countries.

While it is true they are unlikely to destroy the West, these acts can certainly tilt the West radically to the right, as we have seen of late. There is no tit-for-tat that can justify killing these people in Manchester. Trump's bombs are not a sanction or excuse.

Britain may need to look more closely, as it has done before, at its history and relations with America, and a legacy of colonialism in the middle east, but surely, today is not such a day. When killers are prepared to take the lives of even the most innocent of our people, it would appear, even if we were all spotless, we would still be targets.

I will resist complaining about tweeps who made jokes as the deaths mounted, or who thought this massacre was about their pop idol Ms Grande, and not the victims. Nor will I quote (here) any Manchester bands, or seek for some hope or good from this event. I will not forgive Morrissey, but chose to for now ignore his latest semi-racist rants as delusional sad bleats from a once great god.

There is no good in this event. It was a terrible thing to happen, and it has darkened our day, our year, and the election to come. I am heartbroken. So are you. Manchester is a great city, culturally, athletically, and historically, and its people are creative, industrious, and decent.

Ms May has claimed she provides stability and safe hands.  We are not safe at the moment, though. Not in the least. I would offer prayers, but some of the dead may not want my prayers. Why presume? I can offer my thoughts, but so what? Who am I to seek to corner the market on grief or grieving? All I can say is, I am so sorry this has happened, to you, to us. To Manchester.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

POETRY AND MONEY

Eyewear Man plotting to make billions
It is true, Eyewear Publishing has adopted some elements of the "American model" that uses Submittable more than other small presses have done in the past in the UK - though Submittable is becoming increasingly respected, in the UK and the USA.
 
Competing with so many digital platforms now means we have to try our best in a very robust climate. The agents and poets who work with us, and other authors, are usually impressed and comforted to know they get three things with an Eyewear contract a) business nous; b) unimpeachable editorial and aesthetic intelligence and sensitivity; and c) a commitment based on genuine love of literature.

Eyewear is about the opposite of money - it is about culture surviving, even thriving, despite financial pressures - and about working within the system to bring the best looking books possible, with the best writing in them, to the widest audience, across the world.
 
However, so long as poets and authors think that publishers' main role is to grant them some sort of credibility by "taking all the risk" they will fail to see a new ecosystem emerging, where author and publisher can work better as a team, than as adversaries. And of course, not all "risk" is financial.
 
It is often an artistic or ethical or political risk (especially these days) to publish some books.  Our book on Trump could easily have led to a Trump lawsuit that would have crushed us; we went for it anyway. Eyewear has taken many risks to ensure its authors know they are valued. But the idea that seeking to discover models by which a publishing house's platform and brand can be sustainable is somehow suspect or underhand, is simply financially illiterate.
 
We work with banks, PayPal, businesses like Amazon and Waterstones, as well as UPS - and they rightly expect us to pay our bills, on time. To sum up - the art of poetry and literary writing should not be confused with the business skills used by publishers to create a viable company that can professionally, and with integrity, publish and promote, those arts. Eyewear's many and varied, worthwhile, titles, speak for themselves.

Every book we have published has meant something to Eyewear - and its relationships are the furthest thing from being cynical money-grabs - our books are created carefully, and lovingly. It is true we have an ethos of collective awareness and responsibility, where we try to share the business realities with our authors - we tell them the truth about sales figures, and challenges. This is because, the people who work at Eyewear are writers themselves, and know that being informed is better than being in the dark.
Poets, especially, who grumble at presses for trying to make ends meet to cover costs of operating, do not understand the 21st century pressures, including Brexit pending, on small and even larger publishing companies, in this digital age. While it its true book sales are up marginally this past year, most sales are not for poetry, but celebrity, comedy, and cookery books, as well as novels. The average poetry book sells only 200 copies in its lifetime. It costs more to publish a properly edited poetry book than can ever be made back by 200 sales of a book. Therefore, all publishers "underwrite" their loss-making literary, and especially poetry, lists, by also publishing prose and more commercial books. They sometimes also run prizes, or hold workshops and other events.
In an ideal world, micro-presses like Eyewear could agree to read every manuscript sent to them, for free - but even a small press like ours receives dozens of manuscripts a day. It is impossible to find the time to do so, for free. No press can afford this, and some use interns to do all this reading, which can be unfair to authors also. In an ideal world, each book we carefully edited and published would sell at least 1,000 copies and break even or turn a profit. But that does not happen. Sales figures reveal that even award-winning Faber & Faber/FSG poetry books by famous poets may only sell 600 copies.
Small presses survive by a combination of hard work, savvy business acumen, patronage, arts support, grants, personal investment - but mainly, a huge labour of love. Each press' signature is somewhat unique. But the goal is the same - to get their books sold, to support their poets, authors, and allow the press to remain profitable enough to keep trading.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

THE WINNER IS ROBIN RICHARDSON


WITHOUT A ROOF

Good god I'm gorgeous, open
     on the operating table, so impeccably pink
pearl you could drape me on a hotel heiress,
     make a mint. It is a costly transformation:

girl to goddess, curve to cosmic pin-up,
    star-strong in my homemade aristocracy.
The ring, I mean. The one he gave me days
    before I lifted like some unfeeling winged

thing on a plane that didn't crash.
    What's worse I'm well, not huffy, hidden
from the day, not having ended anyone,
    unsympathetic in the most exquisite way.

Nude, open on a billboard in the Amazon
    as pythons crawl inside to please. He disapproves:
the carefree sovereignty of solitude,
    almost anorexic silhouette. They say

it's tactless to be happy, living is an exercise
    in letting go, existence as a river runs
its course regardless of our ripples, but
    they're wrong. I'm running with it wrapped

around me, a translucent, minnow-print
     kimono, full of flow and following
a pathless cut through woods. There's freedom
     in what no one knows.


- winning poem by ROBIN RICHARDSON

Robin Richardson is the author of two collections of poetry, and is Editor-in-Chief at Minola Review. Her work has appeared in Salon, Hazlitt, Poetry Magazine, Tin House, Partisan, Joyland, The North American Review, and many others. She holds an MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. She has been shortlisted for the CBC, Walrus, and Lemon Hound Poetry Prizes. Richardson’s latest collection, Sit How You Want, is forthcoming with VĂ©hicule Press. Poems from the collection have been adapted to song by composer Andrew Staniland for The Brooklyn Art Song Society, and premiered in 2016 in New York. Richardson’s Memoir “Like Father” is represented by Samantha Haywood at Transatlantic Agency.

whip-smart as Emily Berry

Judge's comments: Of the over 350 poems considered, this one (along with that by Emily Osborne, my runner-up, and someone any press would be happy to snap up) particularly stood out for seeming to combine the unlikely elements of eroticism, environmentalism, science and myth, with wit and surprise. Readers in North America will not be surprised - Richardson is a rising star there, and this poem shows why - its contemporary twist on metaphysical poetics is as dark as P. Lockwood's, her self-examination as Algonquin Round Table whip-smart as E. Berry's; there are perhaps a dozen younger women poets now writing in English, vying to be our age's Plath. (Hera L. Bird also comes to mind). Here we have Canada's answer to that seemingly futile, morbidly appealing quest. But this poem is far more than that would imply - its own glamorous volatility, medical weirdness, and brilliance of metaphor, is rather original. - DR TODD SWIFT, London, 18 May, 2017

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

14 POETS SHORTLISTED FOR THE FIRST FORTNIGHT POETRY PRIZE

Every two weeks a fortunate poet wins £140 - 14 poets get shortlisted, and one selected the winner... the winner's poem appears at this blog, along with their bio and photo... and the best poems from the shortlist become an anthology in time... Here we go...


Shortlist for the FORTNIGHT PRIZE, NUMBER ONE, May 3-17

 

1.    ASHLEY-ELIZABETH BEST, ‘Alignment’ (Canada)

2.    AUDREY MOLLOY, ‘A Gradual Eden’ (Ireland)

3.    CLAIRE CROWTHER, ‘Pets Don’t feel Pity’ (UK)

4.    EMILY OSBORNE, ‘Brute Facts’ (Canada)

5.    ERIC SIGLER, ‘The Panther’ (USA)

6.    FRANCINE WITTE, ‘Charley Explains Baseball To Me’ (USA)

7.    GLEN WILSON, ‘Rented Flat’ (Ireland)

8.    IAN DUDLEY, ‘President’ (UK)

9.    KATE NOAKES, ‘Edward’s Memory’ (France/UK)

10. MARC BRIGHTSIDE, ‘Influence-A’ (UK)

11. ROBIN RICHARDSON, ‘Without A Roof’ (Canada)

12. SILVIA GRADINARU, ‘Beginner’s Luck’ (Romania)

13. SIMON MIDDLETON, ‘Trev’ (UK)

14. SUZANNE MAGEE,’ Cross-section of a Stairwell’ (NI)

 

Brief judge’s comments – with over 350 poems from around the world, from well-published figures to first-time poets, the prize has already gotten off to a great start – but this made it a genuine challenge to find only 14 poems to represent the shortlist. There were probably 25 poets with some claim to be here, and maybe 50 or more poems almost good enough to make this list, but these stand out – either in terms of freshness, or intelligent reworking of the tradition, or in terms of simply being satisfyingly imaginative forays into language. I will decide the winner and announce them by Friday.  I am going to find it a genuine challenge. The next competition will begin soon, and I hope it is as successful as the first!

 

Saturday, 13 May 2017

CATCHING UP

HE VOTED TRUMP, ALAS

Sorry for having been away. The world's tumult continues. Notably, and for the better, Macron beat Le Pen in France; the tide of hate was briefly halted. In America, Trump edged closer to Full Nixon, with this throttling of the very tall FBI director, and odd references to taped conversations.

Nixon, as an aside, had a drink problem, mental health issues, BUT - and this is a big but - for all his errors and personality problems, and troubling ambition, and disrespect for the law of the land - was an educated legal mind, with a strong sense of right and wrong, a keen intellect, and a very clear economic and foreign policy objective - to defeat Communism. That Nixon fell well below his ideals and values is his personal and political tragedy and legacy.

Disastrously for America now, and the world, Trump appears to have no moral compass, no worldview worth speaking of, no intellectual capacity - just the ambition, personality disorder, and lack of respect for the law of the land. He is, if you will, Richard III to Nixon's Julius Caesar. Both presidents, and men, are deeply flawed; one was a political monster (Nixon) - the other is an evil man edging towards becoming a despot.

In the UK, the right-wing media agenda is to argue that Labour's election manifesto is left of Stalin; it is not. In Canada, it would be viewed as normal mixed-economy socialism, of the kind the NDP adopts. Wanting free tuition for students, a well-run postal and rail service, lower energy bills, and more fairness in terms of pay, is hardly suicidal or insane. But that is how they destroy you in the UK - they ignore you, and if they cannot make you invisible, they make fun of you, or cast you as beyond the pale.

Labour's Corbyn is a weak leader, a dithering leader, and an oddly vain man; but he is not evil, or stupid. He is stubborn, and he is an idealist. This is a flaw, but it is not inherently wrong. Sadly, he lacks the charisma to elevate his Sanders-like arguments above the fray. Many of his hopes for the UK would be welcome by a majority. But he has let us all down badly by being vague on Trident, Brexit, and, indeed immigration. His moral compass works best when it tacks closest to communist, not socialist, ideologies, and that is not the majority-commanding way forward. Moderation is best, and his is an immoderate plan for Britain, in the end.  Too extreme, and too punishing of those different than himself.

No less immoderate is the Lemming-like PM May, who would throw the nation(s) off the cliff just to follow a bizarrely rigid definition of Brexit. You would think that the Brexit referendum had become the new Magna Carta or Constitution, so fanatically is it now defended as the main defining instrument of the land. In her own way, Theresa May is as revolutionary as Trump or Macron - for she seeks to be swept to power on a tide of support, to seek curiously personal, rigid, and even over-determined ends.

A few years ago, to suggest that Canada, France, Britain and the USA - the four strongest allied winners of World War 2 - would each have unexpectedly divisive, new or unusual leaders, voted in on large mandates - each following their own agendas, might have been surprising. But Trudeau and Macron are admirable, so far; May and Trump, much less so.

Corybyn might just win this election, but that is far from likely at this point. Brexit looks likely, and an impeachment looms in the US. In the end, it is The Donald who will usher in the 70s again, not The Jeremy...

THE WINNER OF THE 9TH FORTNIGHT POETRY PRIZE IS...

Kierstin Bridger! Congratulations, she wins publication of her poem on this blog, and £140 to be paid immediately via PayPal. ...