Saturday, September 08, 2012

Poetry Submissions: Pinning the Tail on the Donkey

AN ASTONISHING NUMBER of unsolicited manuscripts received already since we posted a notice online some months ago saying that this year we're only going to read unsolicited material during the month of September, if only to try to come up for fresh air now and then.

What continues to be most disappointing about the process of dipping hopefully into the great unknown is just how quickly hopelessness creeps in: how utterly unsuitable so much of it is, either for publishing in general (take my word for it) or for publication by Dedalus Press specifically.

It amazes and disappoints me that so many of those who evidently would like to find a home for their work don't care enough for that same work to bother to see where it might belong or be sympathetically received.

And, perhaps inevitably, the writer who doesn't give his/her work even that small amount of objective attention is as unlikely to come any closer to finding the right home for it as all of the monkeys in all of the world, pushing to get at the last few typewriters left, are likely to ... well, you see where this is going.

In short, if you're one of those poets thinking of gathering your poems to send to this or indeed to any editor or publisher, do yourself a favour (and me, and the ozone layer, etc etc) and read something (anything!) that publisher has published, ever. Whatever else editor/publishers are (with all their faults) they're not people who hide their tastes or preferences, or weaknesses. The clue is in the word 'publish': it's all out there for anyone and everyone to see.

Of course there's good writing hereabouts too, neatly set aside for a better, brighter, quieter morning. But — and here's an odd thing — it's never the authors of the really good stuff that are on the phone two days later, wanting to know immediately when we intend issuing their latest masterpiece. Funny that.

Oh, and which masterpiece might we be talking about here? Well, there's a good chance it's the one covered with thickly markered copyright symbols — just in case this embattled editor might be tempted to steal for himself that wonderful idea for a suite of sonnets on the early recordings of Procol Harum, or a series of limericks treating of the most significant deities of Hinduism.

However it works (and we'd all like to know how to do it, or do it again) the making of poems is as fundamentally related to the process of reading or otherwise ingesting as the making of music is related to partaking in other music. Bad poets, and lazy poets, and chancer poets and simply bewildered creatures who think poetry might help them (and perhaps it might, but no guarantees) can protest for all they're worth, but the truth is: if you're not reading, and reading carefully, you're just playing pin the tail on the donkey, and until you open your eyes you'll always have the sneaking suspicion that the donkey is likely long since gone.

And the reason your friends have nothing much to say to you about it all is that, so long as you're waving a sharp implement around in the air, they're thinking it's probably wiser and safer to keep well back for the moment, thank you very much.

And now, with that off my chest, here's looking forward to next week's express delivery from Parnassus. With all the poetry accumulated in the world over the last few thousand years, there's always the hope (and the possibility) that something new and deserving of attention (maybe even publication) will come along. And even if this particular editor misses it (which he well might), there's always that ideal reader/editor, waiting, listening, wishing, somewhere up the road.


Sue said...

You know, trying to find a publisher is exactly like pinning the tail on the donkey, but it takes two to tango Pat. You are a writer, you know what it's like, what are publushers doing to help!? Despite, or perhaps because of, the plethora of advisory courses, literary magazines, the Yearbook etc, looking for representation and publication is exactly like being spun around blindfolded and trying to find the spot...... its a competitive and ruthless business, lots of people just figure they might as well take a shot in the dark........

PB said...

Yes, Sue, agreed that it is competitive out there (not sure about ruthless though). But I think publishers like ourselves already do all they can by publishing and trying to publicize books (often with only tiny resources to speak of). The unnecessary element of the workload would be greatly reduced, and perhaps lead to more effective representation of writers, if those circulating dozens of copies of manuscripts, almost at random, just took the time to do a little basic research. The country music station is unlikely to play the reggae outfit's latest heavy dub offering, no matter how it's packaged. In any case, good luck with the work!

Unknown said...

My only comment: Comes wit the territory. Don't worry, I won't be adding to your burden. One question though. What sort of back slap comment are you making about Procol Harum? Didn't get that one bit.

PB said...

Not entirely sure that Unknown understands this is an attempt to add some levity to a serious and sometimes seriously disappointing fact: many of those who spend their time looking for publishers for their work would be better off spending a little more time on the work itself. And far from being a 'back slap' at Procol Harum (and many people out there have no idea what we're talking about now) I was simply illustrating a point by example. There's nothing (much) wrong with Procol Harum; what is wrong is that anyone would fear the idea of a sonnet sequence based on their songs would be likely to attract thieves.

Unknown said...

Sorry about the unknown - I logged in with my google account & figured my name was attached to it. I think I sort of understand where you're coming from but not really. It is absurd that folks would be worried about their stuff being stolen. I just wonder if my stuff is read half the time. Still curious what's wrong with PH and how it relates. See the September issue of Bluestem Magazine's online quarterly for my latest - Satch Dobrey

PB said...

Satch: One might say that the challenge is to be good enough that other folks might now and then WANT to steal from / imitate you. Chance would be a fine thing, as they say around here.

Of course I'm not trying to be hard on people trying to get their work published. I wouldn't be doing this in the first place if I didn't want to find good things. But sometimes one wonders if there's not a little reality missing from the recipe. For example, I read a submission earlier this week from someone who assured me (though he'd gotten my surname wrong - first clue perhaps?) that his collection of poems could make us both a lot of money. It was, and I quote, something I could 'invest in'.

And the really amazing thing was that at that very moment I heard a noise outside and looked up. And there was a pig flying past my window.

Anne Nolan said...

Hi Pat I've tried unsuccessfully to find an Irish publisher who will publish funny poetry (Pam Ayres type)
If you can point me in the right direction I would greatly appreciate it.
Thanks Anne Nolan

PB said...

Anne, it probably has a lot to do with fashions and changing tastes but, to the best of my knowledge, there is no publisher who has any real amount of what used to be called 'light verse' on their list, either in Ireland or the UK. Pam Ayers is very much the exception rather than the rule in the past few decades, and her audience was won first on TV and then translated to print, a process which rarely works more than once in a generation. The truth is, I think, that there is no real demand, in print at least, for 'light verse' as such, though huge numbers of people do continue to write it. On the internet, however, the situation is very different and there are any number of websites and organisations dedicated to such work. (One has to be careful, though, of companies suggesting success and large sales for 'light verse' online or elsewhere: if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
On a personal level, I'm inclined to think that there 'funny' writing, in all genres, gets a hard time of it in Ireland. (Think of the way Myles, for instance, is so often ignored when it comes to the lists of the great Irish writers.) The best 'light verse' though always has something distinctly 'un-light' about it, and feeds off the tension between the two extremes. We've published Tom Mathews and Iggy McGovern, for instance, considerable parts of both of which might be termed 'funny' or indeed 'light verse', but I think they have to be more than resolutely upbeat if they're to hold a modern audience's attention for long. Think of Billy Collins in the US, for instance, or Wendy Cope in the UK, both of whom can be very funny and neither of which when they're on top form could be dismissed as 'light'.
My advice would be to look for internet publications, to talk to local radio stations, and to see if there are other 'non-traditional' outlets that might well have a warm welcome for the kind of work you're writing.