3 minutes reading time (551 words)

Sphinx Po-rating

It seemed like a good idea at the time. In fact, I've been nurturing it for ages, working on the rating sheet and thinking it through.

Now, as usual, I'm beginning to wonder.

I spend quite a long time brooding, you see, and one of the things I brood about is awards and prizes. If you publish primarily pamphlets, as I do, it is quite hard to attract much attention to them. There is a quarterly Poetry Book Society 'choice', for which I always submit pamphlets in triplicate, but none of mine, so far, has merited being chosen.

Then there is Writer's Forum Choice (which is nice because you get a logo, and nice because at least one of my pamphlets so far -- Cliff Ashby's A Few Late Flowers -- has been selected) but I regret to say the  effect on sales is negligible.

And there's the Callum McDonald Memorial Prize for pamphlets (Scotland only) which is a nice annual event, and one of my pamphlets (Margaret Christie's The Oboist's Bedside Book) was shortlisted for that last year, but again -- only six worthy publications can make that shortlist annually. That's not a lot of scope, especially when you consider how rarely pamphlets are reviewed and how widely they are not read.

Having said which, some pamphlets are read at least as widely as full-collections. But it would be nice for the best of them to get a bit more of an opportunity for accolade. So I decided to invent the Sphinx star-rating system, which then became a stripe rating system and now I'm not sure what it will be at all.

I may be influenced by working in a criterion-referenced (or at least it used to be) educational system. It often irks me that judgements are made about publications but nobody can see on  what basis the judgements were made. So I decided to draw up a set of criteria and then ask a whole group of people (not just three readers) to apply them and come up with a rating.

Does this not sound reasonable? Admirable, even? I think so.

But YOU try drawing up a set of criteria for judging a pamphlet of poetry, especially a set that have to be applied inside 20 minutes because otherwise nobody would have time to rate all the publications Im sending them...

I was quite pleased with the final rating sheet, actually. But now I've tried applying it myself and already I see another problem. I created 10 criteria with a rating of up to 5 for each. But the trouble is they are not all equally important. The typography, for example, is not as important as the words (unless it makes the words illegible). I am too weary to go into this in detail. Anyway, you're already bored.

However, some of my long-suffering reviewers are about to receive requests in the post to take part in the pilot. I'll write more about how it works, or doesn't, later.

If you're reading this, and you think you might be prepared to help (I'm not sure how yet), drop me an email. It is proving complicated and Sphinx 10, which is already behind its schedule, will probably drop even further behind as a result.

Nil Desperandum! Let's see what the Sphinx thinx.

Poetry Nottingham rules OK
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Friday, 25 June 2021

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