I've had a week of not being in college, a week in which the summer has been simmering, the garden burgeoning. It's been amazing. It's July, of course, so submissions have also been trickling in, a couple each day, and I've sat in the conservatory and logged them (hell's bells - I'm now blogging the logging) gently and quietly, listening to birdsong in the garden, admiring the purple clematis soundlessly asserting itself.
Some very interesting work coming in. Most of it is much more efficiently presented than it used to be when I started - some really professional-looking manuscripts - one with an amazing covering letter this week. If I was running a class in how to approach a publisher, I might use this one as an exemplar.
First: the poet knew my name (I hate being addressed as Dear HappenStance, or Dear Editor or -- worst of all -- Dear Sir.
Second: simple statement about what submission comprised.
Third: (under a sub-heading) 'About ............. (name of sequence)' - a summary of what I was about to read, rather like a synopsis for a novel. (Funny, I lost the word 'synopsis' there for a minute. My brain was going syllabus, syncopated, syllogism ...). This synoptic paragraph would have made a very nice back cover blurb, although it was a little bit too slick. No matter. The author is young (but gifted).
Fourth: (under another heading) 'About me' - brief bio and summary of writing projects worked on - some really interesting ones at that, making clear, without overstating it, that the poet has good writing connections (which would help sell his work, without a doubt). A bit of education did no harm to mention either.
Fifth: (also subheaded and this is rare) - 'Promotion' - a statement of intent - how the poet proposes to help promote the publication.
The cover letter slipped up in one regard only (but at least that proves the poet is human) by not explaining why HappenStance. If he had demonstrated acquaintance with a couple of my publications I would have sent him a small covering letter award.
Confession: I read this incredibly efficient approach with slight scepticism, the way you start listening to a remarkable new tenor thinking he's good, he's good, but wait till he tries to hit that note at the end of the aria. I am only a pamphlet publisher. I don't usually get that quality of pitch. And if you create high expectation with your opening gambit, your poems have such a lot to live up to.
However, they lived up. They did indeed. Shan't say more now, but it did remind me that doing this poetry job is actually rather exciting. Sometimes it's a whole set. Sometimes it's just one poem. But it does feel like panning for gold, with rather more gold than you could reasonably expect arriving through your letterbox. In fact, more than I can publish.
Which reminds me. James Wood (of The Theory of Everything) was blogging last weekend, ('Never been told') quoting Giles Coren who
has made the bold claim that no-one cares about or likes poetry because, in reality, most poetry is so terrible.
I actually know a poem of Giles Coren's by heart. At least I'm pretty sure it was by him. A delight. Here it is:
Ode to a goldfish
James neatly refutes Giles Coren's anti-poetry statements, with a reference (thank you James!) to HappenStance, and in particular to Matt Merritt and Tom Duddy. Matt's HappenStance pamphlet is sold out. Tom's (The Small Hours, one of my favourites) isn't - and that is partly because the poet is not a natural self-promoter. His poems are quiet. They sneak up on you sideways. But the deep, quiet excitement I felt when I first read him is with me yet.
Poetry World, alas, has entered celebrity culture. Sometimes I like the fun of that. However, I also lament the pressure it brings for poets to have to be glitzy and out there, blogging, slogging, hogging the limelight.
Some of them should be doing that stuff, no question. It's what they're born for (though celebrity should not be equated with genius).
Others should be doing it their own way, skulking between the pages. Let them be hard to find, verschmuggelt. Let them be a well-kennt secret . . .