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September 06, 2011

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Anyone for a screening of "Twelve Angry Men"....or a Toad Hall sing along..."When-the-Toad-came-home There was panic in the parlours and howling in the halls..."

Fascinating.

327 individual $25 bets that generated $6675 for Word Works, once the $1500 prize and any other expenses, (judging fees?) were deducted.

It's amusing to read these pieces that blurb whatever book/MFA/prize/poet/competition/winner we are advertizing in as flattering a light as our eloquence can muster.

These (depending on where in the spectrum our opinion is) profit driven undertakings/incredibly necessary communal acts, presented as positive cultural contests; are of interest, to me at least, not because I think I'm going to discover the next Yeats, but because they reveal where the people competing in and writing about them, are coming from. Are at. The psychology of the entrant-judge's intellect and soul and what we are singing, laid bare.

Here, you are told, is the process of 'judging', that an undisclosed amount of people seek financial-poetic validation from, looking outside of our own centers of belief and regard, prepared to gamble $25 on making it past 16 pairs of first reader's eyes, then four second readers - further filtering gold from lead - until, should one's manuscript luck out and settle, with ten others, on a long conference table that fateful mid-morning - be adjudicated by a quintissential conclave of contest judges.

I am not trying to argue that the competitive poetry model is a bad thing; being responsible for creating the All Ireland Live Poetry contest I can hardly do that; but what I do think worthwhile exploring are the various options open to a poet, for self-validation, outside of the 'contest' system that I think has a place and part to play, but only as a secondary one to the primary method of attaining poetic belief that, I think, should (and does) come, not from outside oneself - from other poets and editors - but from within.

Reading from a distance, what has drawn the label of AmPo, the way the business of poetry is transacted in America, seems, in many respects, indistinguishable from the way it happens in Britain and Ireland. Validation is sought in publication and, especially, prizes; that has created an entire industry and theatre for poetical performers, in which the work itself often becomes subsumed by the hype and propaganda surrounding it.

With the regularity of clockwork, articles are written that lament the declining appeal of poetry in our consumer age; appearing as frequently as the ones claiming some revolutionary new modernist departure, or radical return to antique form, is happening, or lurks around the corner. A slew of new or old names are reeled off as supporting evidence by the critics and would-be taste-makers. We are led through the a-b-c of the arguments. Positions are took, poses are struck, babble is blathered, and major or minor truths declared, alleged or affirmed. Fact and fictions are seperated, mixed, tweaked, bent and/or distorted into a greater poetic good that we, the author, feel in our gut.

And, led framed and supported by the graceful adornment of a Yale Younger, Newdigate or Forward; or alone unpromoted and without patron or sponsor, poetry wends its merry way spiralling onward, upward or downward, onto the public stage to take its place beneath the hotspot glow of Parnasian light, its major and minor keys a purpose and gift-talent-vocation, in which we create our reputations, by a process of inflating them with whatever's to hand.

$25 is not a lot to lose, depending on the context. If you write the contest winning stuff, it's a fifty to one return. We are on the merry-go-round and one day may end up judging ourself, playing a part, knowing our place, what has been won, who has won more. How we 'judge' the poem of our life. Get that right and there is no competition, only a race with ourself, measuring from the inside out, "...like the bird of poetry at the glass pane of intelligence, seeing where it needs to go but unable to gain entry. But the window glass is miraculously withdrawn and deep free swoops into the blue pool.."

Achieved if a poet is gifted - out of the blue - full sight of your myth kitty, eternal image-symbol hoard, by whatever gods our gods swear by in the music of what happens in your career, as it ascends or nea, hears or not in the returning silence, ghosts that flit from the anima mundi, to us, who create the apparatus that gets you past a sludge pile, searching for the nut and bolt knowledge of song, sound-scapes whose form is revealed only to you who dig and swim to the deepest lambent flame of linguistic valency; where the aggregrate of language is at its least quotidian and the most fruitful routes to your unique word-crop, cluster as an ultimate poetic reward.

Hello "IrishPoetry." I appreciate your time and eloquence. It does my heart good to know that the time I've spent reading piles of manuscripts,arguing for those I believe in, then writing blog posts like these-- all things I do out of my love for poetry and the (perhaps naive?) sense that I have a responsibility toward the art that is wider than simply writing it-- is not wasted.

It's a complicated business, isn't it, despite our best intentions. Luck and timing are always factors in the contests. And even the winner is on his own once the book appears in the world. A few positive words by the likes of me, the chance to answer a couple of questions, the exposure a blog as widely-read as this can bring him-- these are good things. Mike's work deserves them. Ultimately, though, his reputation-- and yours-- and mine-- is out of his hands. It rests rightly on the work.

I've just one thing to add-- and I'd be grateful for your reply letting us know about the state of things in Ireland. Here in the US, the recession is wreaking havoc with our literary publishing. More and more small presses are asking the poets whose work they'd like to publish to contribute to the cost of producing a book. Self publication via any number of increasingly sophisticated options is becoming more common and more respectable. Is the same thing happening in Ireland?

I find it reassuring that despite the economic, historical, and even cultural circumstances, poetry finds its way into the world.

appreciatively,
Leslie

Hi Leslie.

Here in Ireland the boom was inflated by reckless banks, the prime offender AIB. The financial tragedy came about through Fianna Fail politicians being in bed with the developers and banks. In the course of a few years property prices quadrupled and the Irish economy was seen as a global miracle, but the truth was it was all funded by cheap, borrowed money from the European Central Bank, and now Ireland is on track to be 250,000,000,000 (250 billion) euros in the red by 2011.

Because the politicians had so much to feel guilty about when the crash first happened, Brian Lenihan, the then finance minister (now deceased), gave a blanket guarantee on bank debts, even though he didn't know what they were, and Fianna Fail lost the last election, losing 57 seats, plummeting from 77 to 20.

This Irish Times article from May this year, caused quite a storm when it appeared, because it delivered a damning assessment on what had happened. For the last few years of Fianna Fail in power, they were in denial, like the lasy year of Bush, and the recent election hinged on letting the people know the unvarnished truth about the unbelievable scale of the bank gaurantee. When Lenihan announed it he gave a figure of zero, saying it would cost the taxpayers nothing, and over 3 years it was a drip drip of escalating bad news.

Basically the Irish gift for imagination and the power of belief, is a double edged sword. Great for spinning yarns, poetry and fiction but, unfortunately, make-beleive being the national pastime pervading all areas of life, this means that we can all delude ourselves that black is white and vice versa, and coupled with the historical clan system where local issues take precedent over national ones, and the rebel psyche that was cultivated as a result of our relationship with England, the end product is a nation of individuals who are great at dreaming, having fun and feeling important as social magicians, but less so at taking responsiblity.

As regards publishing, I think we have arrived at the democratic playing field that was, until the last few years, always just around the corner. When I started writing in 2001, falling, more by accident than design, into a Writing Studies and Drama B.A. in my home town, at Edge Hill University in Ormskirk, Lancashire, I spent three productive years under the eye of Robert Sheppard, in the English equivalent of the Langpo school, whose acolytes have much less presence and prestige than they do in America.

I remember thinking then, that eventualy what has come to pass, would happen. Now a poet has all the tools to present themselves and their work to the world, in the best light possible.

I've also always thought that there are three strings to the poet's bow. There's the poems working on a page, the poems alive and spoken, and then there's the prose conversation about poetry. Very few do all three well; most can do one or two with any proficiency, and by default, should you have a talent for doing all three and develop these skills equally, you will stand out from the rest.

As regards publishing books, it is now possible to do so on your own. In 2008, an interesting development occured. Ted Smith, a guy in England who runs the YouWriteOn.com website, with Arts Council assistance, ran a print on demand project that began with him offering to publish the first 5000 people who sent him a manuscript. He would then sell the books on his site. For £40 or so, he would add an isbn to your book and it would be available from Amazon and all the other online marts. There would be no editorial input, he would just publish what he received, as long as it was a genuine book.

What was interesting was the firestorm of outrage this caused among a mass of appalled bloggers, who all but denounced him as the devil. What caused them most disgust was the fact that work was going to be published and available to buy, that hadn't been appropriately judged or 'chosen', as they saw it, by the relevant literary authorities and gatekeepers keeping at bay the raft of substandard writing that, should it come into the world, would pollute the cultural pool, and, most importantly of all, offend their incredibly sophisticated artistic sensibilities.

What I found most fascinating was, that the people most upset were the ones occupying minor roles and low levels on the literary ladder. Poets with one book out, bloggers who had worked in publishing for twenty years and were familiar with the workings of a slush pile. They all claimed it was vanity publishing, that the books would be substandard, that they wouldn't be available on Amazon, that it was a crime against humanity, etc, etc. Like 15C scribes raging against Caxton, writing utter guff and nonsense, trying to sound the voice of reason but, as it turned out, all wrong. What was noticeable was that when they were proved wrong by events, they just ignored their mistakes and carried on talking as if they were not idiots. Basically all the fualts they attribute to others, they themselves have.

I had a great time defending Ted Smith and winding up the know-alls. In the plain English contract with YouWriteOn.com, Smith was offering something like 60% royalties 'less costs', which, once the scheme played out, ended up in the region of a 12-15% royalty.

The following year a Malaysian poet freind of mine, Susan Abraham, bought one of the published books and it transpired that it was published on the presses at Lightning Source, and are the exact same books as Salt Publishing sell, zero difference, because Salt have their books printed off the same press.

She then decided to go with Smith, paid her £40, sent off a manuscript of poems, Call The Ships of Dar es Saalem and now they are, as you see at the link, available to buy in any online mart in the world. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, The Book Depository, and lots of places in the far east. Basically as long as people are buying a few copies, they are advertized as being in stock in shops all over the world.

You can hear three">http://soundcloud.com/poemoftheweek/sweeneysue-silence">three short poems of hers recited by Tipperary poet Noel Sweeney, on Soundcloud, with original music by Ingus Pakrastins, a Latvian composer who works with a lot of rappers and poets in Dublin.

As regards publishing books, it is now possible to do so on your own. In 2008, an interesting development occured. Ted Smith, a guy in England who runs the YouWriteOn.com website, with Arts Council assistance, ran a print on demand project that began with him offering to publish the first 5000 people who sent him a manuscript. He would then sell the books on his site. For £40 or so, he would add an isbn to your book and it would be available from Amazon and all the other online marts. There would be no editorial input, he would just publish what he received, as long as it was a genuine book.

What was interesting was the firestorm of outrage this caused among a mass of appalled bloggers, who all but denounced him as the devil. What caused them most disgust was the fact that work was going to be published and available to buy, that hadn't been appropriately judged or 'chosen', as they saw it, by the relevant literary authorities and gatekeepers keeping at bay the raft of substandard writing that, should it come into the world, would pollute the cultural pool, and, most importantly of all, offend their incredibly sophisticated artistic sensibilities.

What I found most fascinating was, that the people most upset were the ones occupying minor roles and low levels on the literary ladder. Poets with one book out, bloggers who had worked in publishing for twenty years and were familiar with the workings of a slush pile. They all claimed it was vanity publishing, that the books would be substandard, that they wouldn't be available on Amazon, that it was a crime against humanity, etc, etc. Like 15C scribes raging against Caxton, writing utter guff and nonsense, trying to sound the voice of reason but, as it turned out, all wrong. What was noticeable was that when they were proved wrong by events, they just ignored their mistakes and carried on talking as if they were not idiots. Basically all the fualts they attribute to others, they themselves have.

I had a great time defending Ted Smith and winding up the know-alls. In the plain English contract with YouWriteOn.com, Smith was offering something like 60% royalties 'less costs', which, once the scheme played out, ended up in the region of a 12-15% royalty.

The following year a Malaysian poet freind of mine, Susan Abraham, bought one of the published books and it transpired that it was published on the presses at Lightning Source, and are the exact same books as Salt Publishing sell, zero difference, because Salt have their books printed off the same press.

She then decided to go with Smith, paid her £40, sent off a manuscript of poems, Call The Ships of Dar es Saalem and now they are, as you see at the link, available to buy in any online mart in the world. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, The Book Depository, and lots of places in the far east. Basically as long as people are buying a few copies, they are advertized as being in stock in shops all over the world.

You can hear three">http://soundcloud.com/poemoftheweek/sweeneysue-silence">three short poems of hers recited by Tipperary poet Noel Sweeney, on Soundcloud, with original music by Ingus Pakrastins, a Latvian composer who works with a lot of rappers and poets in Dublin.

So we are there already, anyone can put their work into the world and compete with the exact same quality book, with any major press. With the rise in technology, you can also record your work to radio quality, and the world can hear you.

The old systems are becoming more and more redundant, people are seeing through the arguments that hold no water but worked in the past because technology and information was held in the hands of a rich few. The entire premise of the old publishing system is the courtier-poet model. There is a King or Queen (publisher) who a lot of kiss ass courtiers compete for the attention and approval of, and the publisher-king doles out small sums of 'winnings' to the 'best' minions who we like the most, and a whole world is created in which whims and subjective opinions are codified as objective truth. Such a poet is liked by the publisher and our work becomes accepted as 'good'. Then the rest of the courtier-poets frantically competing and never saying what we really think and feel about all this, adopt that trait, we bend ourself to the taste of another rather than following our own nose and making the unique note within that is our true self's song in print, I think, Leslie my deepest, dearest, darling McGrath.

Poetry being a minority art form, much misunderstood, a lot of it being sameyish and leaving the average reader wondering, is it me being uncultured and lacking in perception and taste, or is this 'poetry' just not very good; hence the point above hilds water, I would suggest.

There's the whole PR industry sprouted up that's there solely to support the choices of one or few people in the publishing houses who decide on what 'real' poetry looks like. Taken over by the money, and it is, for some participlants, more about the kudos of A, B, or C thinking X, Y or Z, are this that or the other, rather than the writing and reciting of good poems.

If I had a dollar everytime I've read a debut collection investigating the spaces of the modern, yet remaining fathful to the structure of a past commons, or the lines of poet X remind the blurbist from the same stable, of early Eliot or later Auden, or they are gonna be the next whoever, or that buying there book will make me four inches taller, ten times better looking and a millionaire; I would have a few dollars, my darling Les.

The lowest form of showbiz, poetry can often seem a game for people with no discernible talent for much apart from sounding self-important, and you are right, at the end of the day, all we need is a pen, paper and imagination.

Grá agus síocháin.

(sorry Les I wrote this out and it wouldn't take it because, I eventually worked out, it were too long, as tha say oop norf)

Oh dear, the link above is broken. This one will take you to Susan Abraham's The Silence, Fried Egg and The Dancer, recited by Noel Sweeney, who you can watch and hear at this link, reciting his own poem, I Want.

Thanks very much.

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