Monday, 9 April 2007

Feeding the beasts, Penelope Pitstop and Margaret Attwood

So Easter Bank Holiday was gloriously bright all day, and there was heat in the sun, a little frisson that summer is waiting in the wings. However, ‘N’er caste a clout ‘til May be out’ my mother would mutter in the face of April sunshine, worrying that I might prematurely have thrown my liberty bodice and vest to the winds of March. A friend has sent me a photograph of snow currently laying on the blossom of trees on the East Coast of America and as we all know America sneezes and we all catch a cold so best not to put the thermals in mothballs yet may be?

I have been wading through and re-reading the manuscript of THE definite Novel. Three agents sent to so far have loved the writing, loved the book, one goes as far as to say she thought it was a ‘superb mix of very dark humour and incredible sensitivity, I was glued to it’ but all say they are unsure of the market for such a book and hence no thanks. So I re-read it as best I can as if I am, ‘the market’, the person who is prepared to cough up money for a book. Of course I am Jo Public as I do cough up money regularly for books but my tastes are perhaps wide, weird, unrepresentative of ‘the market’, which seems to be referred to as if it is some huge beast that has to be fed just the right thing or it will spit you out or with one sniff turn its mighty back and amble away across the field towards some tastier offering. Of course I am aware there are a number of different ‘markets’ all of which are penned in their own little field, all needing to be fed absolutely the right thing. As the novel is about someone suffering from Alzheimer’s and her daughter I wonder whether I can turn it into ‘The Dementia Code’, some dark mystical secret at the heart of a mad treasure hunt/road movie. Could I turn the novel into forgetful Penelope Pitstop on a zimmer-frame being pursued by a toothless Dick Dastardly in a wheelchair. Peter Perfect coming to her rescue hobbling on his walking stick whilst the Gruesome Twosome and the Ant Hill Mob come careering round the corner on their motorized scooters. Would the market consume whole ‘Wacky Races, The Incontinence Years’?

I wonder then about the market for poetry, how many poets have been turned down solely on the basis that there may not be a market for their work, no matter how good the writing. Poetry is often a break even deal even a loss leader for many publishers (unless you belong to the revered dead poet’s society or the premier league of modern poets). I was told recently that the sales of books about DIY are ten times greater than sales of modern poetry All I can say is God bless the poetry publishers who as yet don’t seem totally driven to watch the market beast and drown under a tidal wave of submissions by the good, the bad and the handwritten in purple ink. I think poems about plastering, radiator replacement and how to strip floorboards could be a real winner.

I’ll leave you with one of my finds as I have become more and more a poetry archive junkie. Margaret Attwood is one of those rare writers that manage to juggle fiction and poetry, feeding the two beasts, very successfully. Her poem King Lear in Respite Care about her father beats any poem I could write about the elderly. Penelope Pitstop wandering the corridors of the Home for Retired Cartoon Characters looking for her Compact Pussycat car or Dick Dastardly calling repeatedly for Mutley, forgetting that he has died years before could make an interesting poem but then again, the King Lear metaphor does gives you a classier more artistic starting point.

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