Friday, December 21, 2012

NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS (and publishing scams!)

Getting close (hah!) to winding up the year, I just now received a query about submissions from a poet in South Africa who, by way of background, told me she had recently published work in an anthology of animal poems published by Forward Poetry.

Now I know a little bit about the Forward Arts Foundation, which gives annual prizes and publishes an annual anthology drawing on book publications in the UK and Ireland. But I'd never heard of them publishing a themed anthology so naturally decided to investigate further.

Turns out that Forward Poetry ( has NOTHING whatsoever to do with the Forward Arts Foundation (FAF) or the Forward Prizes for Poetry. Forward Poetry, it turns out, not only publishes themed anthologies but it also runs a variety of competitions (with VERY modest prizes and, crucially, some form of publication for the winners). The contrast between Forward Poetry and the Forward Arts Foundation, however, could not have been better differentiated had FP threw up their hands and styled themselves Backward Poetry.

Now of course there's nothing illegal (though, frankly, little to be praised) with a company 'encouraging' new writers into print though anthologies such as 'Animal Antics' or, given today's Mayan prophecies, competitions such as 'End of Days'. Themed publications often produce nice surprises and themed competitions are often a helpful spur to the writer who finds it difficult to commit to ink.

But it would, wouldn't it, be a darker thing altogether if this particular incarnation of FP had anything to do with the company at the centre of last year's shameful story of a  scam perpetrated on Spanish schoolkids ( and literally dozens of similar anecdotal references doing the rounds.

It's Christmas in a few days, and New Year shortly afterwards, and if you're like the rest of the writing planet you'll probably resolve to send out your work more often, to take your light out from under its winter bushel, to play a more active part in the literary conversation of the world of print and digital poetry. If so, be careful when choosing a home for your work: it deserves that much at least. Organisations such as Poetry Ireland and the Poetry Society in the UK, and similar others farther afield,  carry lists of reputable poetry publishers and journals and magazines on their websites and in their various publications and newsletters. Use them. Study them. Seek out sample copies or spend some time online, not just clicking through but studying, evaluating, making tough decisions on behalf of your work. If you don't, it's highly unlikely anyone else will.

And be a little suspicious of immediate acceptance. Of course it may well be that there is a team of Santa's little helpers lined up to deal with the 'millions' of poems websites such as FP claim to (and very likely do)  receive, but in all likelihood the almost immediate near ecstatic response – CONGRATULATIONS WE ARE HAPPY TO PUBLISH YOUR WORK.... YOU ARE NOW A PUBLISHED POET.... etc etc – means that no one at all has so much as glanced at your writing and you are now being seduced, slowly and step by step, by nothing more than an automated email reply service (give or take a tweak of the NAME and POEM TITLE fields to give you that sense of a personal relationship).

Poetry Ireland Review, The Stinging Fly, The Moth, The SHOp, Cyphers... Despite the horrors of the recession there are still half a dozen regular and a few more irregular poetry journals on this island alone and dozens more across the water. And there are, it would appear from the latest copy of Poet's Market, thousands of outlets in the US and Canada. Many of these outlets are relatively small; many of them are in part staffed or otherwise supported by interns and volunteers; a very small subset have professional full-time staff members. But, no matter what one might think of the styles or 'flavours' of work published by any one of them, by their very existence all of them have dedicated themselves to poetry, have placed their trust in it, and must therefore believe at some level that it is something important, that it matters. All of them have put their shoulders to the wheel.

We must support such publications not just with our work but with our patronage. We should read them and, when and if we can, occasionally buy or subscribe to them. Around such publications are meaningful communities formed. And around them, not just for our own writing but for the writing of our sisters and brothers, our collective generation and era, we must stand in solidarity.

For one thing is sure about the year ahead: it will be tougher than ever for such organisations and small endeavours to survive. And there is not now, nor is there likely to be, any shortage of predators, glimpsing the possibility of profit in our loss, of forward motion in the backward slippage of our culture.

A Merry Christmas and happy and creative New Year to all our readers and supporters. (Watch out for our 1-day only New Year's sale, soon to be announced). And wishing you all, in the year ahead, inspiration and application, "the best words in the best order". Poetry Matters: Spread the Word.

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Tony O'Dwyer said...

Poetry Ireland Review, The Stinging Fly, The Moth, The SHOp, Cyphers...
I assume the three dots stand for magazines west of the Shannon, or maybe for magazines not propped up by the arts council, or maybe a magazine like Crannóg, going for ten years now continuously but obviously unheard of inside the Pale!

PB said...

Yes, and for Irish Pages in Belfast, West 47 up the road from you, Southword in Cork, ... Ah, those dots again... Rather than presume there's some conspiracy, it might be better to explore ways to improve Crannóg's visibility "east of the Shannon". You might find the reality far more welcoming than the caricature you present.

Tony O'Dwyer said...

West 47 has been defunct for many years. Southword has gone online. Irish Pages is in a different jurisdiction.
It is difficult to improve Crannog's 'visibilty' while in competition with amply publicly funded magazine's such as the ones you list. However a quick bit of research such as Googling Irish literary Magazines immediately throws up sites listing Crannóg. One site put us number three in the top ten of Irish lit mags. If I were writing an article on literary magazines that's what I'd do, rather than propagate the status quo. Nothing will ever change while writers and journalists take the easy way out. I don't mean to sound negative about this and I don't presume it's a conspiracy but I am genuinely concerned about the possible effect on the quality of poetry that the promotion of a select few by various interests can engender.

PB said...

PB said...

I shouldn't have thought that being based in Belfast (another jurisdiction, as you helpfully point out) means that Irish Pages cannot be included in a (partial, hence the ellipsis) list of poetry publications "on this island".

And given that the original article explicitly references "print and digital" publications, Southword has a perfect right to be there too. (I might also have mentioned Moloch among a number of others.) The Moth, to the best of my knowledge, receives no financial support from The Arts Council or any other funding body or agency. As for West 47, I'm afraid news of its demise hadn't yet reached me, partly because it was never the most regular of publications and many such publications do come and go, often with long periods between issues. (Among other 'occasional' publications one could mention the annual Stony Thursday Book from Limerick, which seems to bridge the gap between book and journal, between local and national ambition.)

My point of course is that I did not intentionally overlook Crannóg, and the original article clearly suggested there was lots more going on in these and other parts.

Perhaps you missed the fact, but the article is not simply "about literary magazines" but about the communities that form around and, hopefully, between them. Your evident sense of exclusion is sadly far from rare among publishers, and writers, including among many of those in receipt of some but never ample levels of funding.

It seems a pity to end your effort to highlight the work of one journal by employing the crude device of casting doubt on the value and worth of others. All of the journals and publications mentioned I'm sure believe in the work they publish. Why else would they come into being and continue to exist?

Your accusation concerning "the promotion of a select few by various interests" might be made by any would-be contributor rejected by any journal or magazine, here or anywhere. For what it's worth, I am not and never have been a journalist: but given your evident interest in the subject, perhaps you should yourself take on the job of writing an article on small magazines and journals, on how they get by, how they reach readers as well as writers... It might do more for fine small publications like Crannóg than spending time puzzling over imagined slights.