Friday, 22 May 2009
Salt Publishing, Being Zorro and Exploding Ornamental Duck Houses
So Salt Publishing has its back to the wall and the firing squad is already checking that the safety catch is off on their rifles but the blindfold has not yet been placed over its eyes to consign it to the dark and the presiding officer has not raised his arm. There is still time for the poetry reader, like Zorro, to appear on the walls of the oppressors fort, swirling his cape and brandishing his credit card.
With just one swipe the firing squad could be sent scurrying to the barrack room to cower, the evil Don, could be defeated and you dear reader could emerge a hero because there isn’t just one of you but hundreds and each small act of heroism of purchase, when financial times are hard for everyone, can create something powerful and real.
I think I was brought up on a diet of American TV hero serials where right always triumphs in the end. Of course some may say it is it right that an independent press of quality like Salt should collapse because the market is always right, it weeds out those that have no right to survive. If the product is not being bought then this is a hint that the product is either trying to find a niche in an already saturated market or is not able to hold its own against other products. Poetry and short stories is a product, there is no way you can get round the fact that the work of the writer does inevitably come down to something that you have to market and sell. Small independent presses are vitally important as they are the real risk takers, the people that on a tight budget are willing to gamble on and nurture new talent. The ‘big boys’ take on so few new poets amidst a growing pool of up and coming talent that it is inevitable that if these smaller publishers bite the dust that pool of poets with real talent will grow bigger and bigger. One could argue that real super talent will always get published in the end or that other means of finding and reading new poets and writers such as on the internet, self publishing and co-operative presses etc will take up the slack. Maybe, it is certainly the case that the poetry world has to become less snobby about online publishing but the joy of a real book, holding it, savouring it, reading and re-reading it is not just an experience for the real bibliophile but is an experience many want to retain. Being published, someone saying, ‘I want to help more people read your work’, is a gift beyond the price of rubies to a writer, it validates what you do and who you are in a profound way. It also ensures that as a poetry reader I can have access to poets whose work I may never have read and which has been a valuable part of my life.
BBC 2 kicked off a poetry season with a programme that asked whether poetry matters, of course modern poets will say it does, the people who read it regularly will say it does, some will say that old dead poets matter and as for modern poetry they can take it or leave it, there will be some who were never turned on to it at school and who in fact had terrible experiences of poetry at school who will say it’s not important in the great scheme of things or to their lives. Asking if poetry matters feels a bit like asking whether being able to swim matters; ultimately it may only really matter if you are about to drown but it can be a huge pleasure and also great fun and one day it could just stop the waves closing over your head and help you strike for some distant shore. Poetry of course doesn’t necessarily bring comfort and aid it can offer you a challenge, a wake –up call, something to exercise the mind, a raft of questions.
And here is something of what poetry can do to speak of something that matters and make it matter just a little more perhaps to someone listening.
Being a bit of a sci-fi fans I keep thinking of the final scene at the end of the film V for Vendetta when thousands of people, all dressed as the anti-government hero V, march through London and watch as Parliament is blwn up. Fantasy drivel maybe but I still have faith in the power of ordinary people to bring about change if they care enough, but then as I say I am a romantic. Although as an aside, who would have guessed it would be The Daily Telegraph, the most staid of papers that would send a few fireworks whizzing through The Houses of Parliament, and put a rocket under the odd ornamental duck house.
Go and browse the Salt website, I’m there and I make no bones about having a vested interest but even if they didn’t publish me I have read poets they have published for years and thus I feel a real affection for it as a press. When Jen and Chris say times are hard you can be assured that they are the first to tighten their own belts and suffer financially, no plasma TVs or duck houses for them. There are also scores of poets and short story writers there that deserve to be read, even if you don’t fancy my book, something may float your boat. One book is what they ask you to buy, the price of a cheap round for four people in the pub, can’t be a bad exchange and you get to be Zorro into the bargain.
There's a piece about me on the Peony Moon blog this week on Wednesday I go on local radio to strut my stuff, who knows if someone listening might decide that poetry might matter, just a bit, well enough not to turn the radio off.