A Collection of Poetry Friends
Nasty Piece of Work
I was born a collector (hoarder might be more apt) — it started when my dad introduced me to trainspotting and I meticulously underlined the numbers of the trains I'd seen ... and I did similar with things I owned — piano sheet music titles, music recordings on vinyl, cassette, minidisk, CD and mp3 ... you name it, I catalogue it! The positive consequence of this is that I can usually find out, pretty quickly, whether I have, or have had at some point in time, a copy of a written or recorded piece of work!
Sometimes the problem with hording is remembering what you've hoarded or, more accurately, what is in what you've hoarded. The number of times I look back at lines in my (electronic) ideas pad and have no memory of several of the lines is not even funny, and that's stuff I've apparently written! But, when I received the list of books in the Poetry 1 module reading list for my MA course, I was delighted to recognise names I know from the online world or have actually met in person :)
The Module Matrix
I never really understood a matrix, other than that the plural was matrices; modules I understand marginally better, though the reading list for Poetry 1 module is rather baffling: there is a list 1 and a list 2, and list 2 is further subdivided into required reading, suggested reading and recommended reading ... it gets trickier when some books are on list 1 and2, so it is quite hard to figure out in which folder to file the electronic copy of the text!
So, here in alphabetical order by surname only, is the list of books:
- Addonizio, Kim. Lucifer at the Starlite
- Astley, Neil (Ed.). Being Human / Staying Alive / Being Alive (any or all of these three anthologies)
- Atkinson, Tiffany. So Many Moving Parts
- Berry, Emily. Dear Boy
- Heaney, Seamus. Death of a Naturalist
- Howe, Sarah. Loop of Jade
- Jones, Richard James. Little Man
- Maxwell, Glyn. On Poetry
- Maris, Kathryn. God Loves You
- Miller, Kei. The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion
- Perry, Rebecca. Beauty/Beauty
- Stammers, John. Interior Night
- Stephens, Meic (Ed.). Poetry 1900-2000
- Sweeney, Matthew. Horse Music
Trévien, Claire. Astéronymes
That might look like a lot of reading but 9 of the books are in the Additional Required Reading category, of which only 3 need to be chosen. From what I've been advised, it is to make sure that all students have a good understanding of what contemporary poets are writing, which I heartily applaud.
Friends in High Places
A buzz of excitement tickled my ribs as I read through that list. Three of the poets have been Facebook friends with me for quite a while; I wrote a prose article for a website post for another; I saw Seamus Heaney reading at University College Swansea back in the mid-1990s, which I suspect was "Joy Or Night: Last Things in the Poetry of W. B. Yeats and Philip Larkin" in January 1993, and I have a long connection to the poet Matthew Sweeney.
My parents gave me a copy of Matthew Sweeney’s book, Blue Shoes (Secker & Warburg, 1989) as a birthday or Christmas present whilst I was in the middle of my A-Level studies — just as I was beginning to discover how much I loved reading and writing poetry. It was a signed copy and I enjoyed it so much that I bought myself a copy of his next book, Cacti (Secker & Warburg, 1992) which wasn't, at the time, signed. I was able to see Matthew Sweeney read in Swansea, which was the focal city of the UK Year of Literature in 1995. I took both of my books and he signed Blue Shoes for a second time and Cacti for the first time. In talking with him he asked me if I wrote poetry myself and, even though I had never admitted that before, I said it aloud for the very first time, “Yes, I do write my own poetry.”
Encouraged by this sequence of events, I subsequently used my word processor to print off approximately the same number of poems as were in Matthew's books, and I sent them off to Secker & Warburg, secured by one of those spines that you can slide onto a collection of 30-or-so sheets of A4 paper, with a covering letter explaining that I loved the work of Matthew Sweeney which they had published, and would they like to publish my first collection, titled Just Trains. These days the internet makes it so easy to track down a publisher’s contact information, but it wasn't easy in the mid-90s, but I still did not really expect to hear anything back from them ever ... but I was surprised; I wasn't surprised they turned me down, but I was surprised that they took the trouble to write me an encouraging letter and they also returned my submitted collection.
I had no knowledge of the way the poetry publishing industry worked at that time but what does surprise me is that, just a few months ago, I heard about a person who has just completed a creative writing MA course that includes a module on Creative Writing and Publishing, and that person had sent a collection to Penguin for their consideration. I wonder if that person was not in attendance at the workshop that mentioned sending a lengthy collection of poems to a major publisher like Bloodaxe, Faber or Penguin, is a waste of your time and most certainly theirs. Too often I think that people think that a writer’s job is to write and a publisher’s job is to publish, so there's nothing to lose by aiming for one of the big publishers, but surely there has been enough written on blogs just like mine, to know the chances of getting published in this way are less than next to nothing!
Read Me Up Scottie
It would have been handy if Star Trek had managed to transport book contents into a human brain before they figured out how to transport humans across deepest space onto the surface of a planet. I guess I best start burying my head in these poetry books ASAP because I will have 5 other reading lists to assimilate between now and the end of the course! ;)