Saturday, 2 May 2009
A Season of Small Insanities
So the poetry collection is out and available from Salt and Amazon; all I have to do now is publicise it, sell it and get the readings. This involves a great deal of buttock clenching moments on my part as proactive self publicity or networking is not my forte. I have this image of myself as one of those old stereo type spivs who sidled up to people in pubs in a long overcoat which he whips open to reveal row upon row of watches pinned in the lining whilst muttering out of the corner of his mouth, “Want to buy a watch gov?” I could adapt a coat to carry paperbacks and try the sidling up business, “Want to buy some poetry, gov?”
I could try the ‘well good work will sell itself’ approach and indeed works of genius might by word of mouth perhaps but real life isn’t like that. I also feel this added responsibility not to let my publisher down. Salt is an independent publisher, run by a husband and wife team who have virtually sold their souls and their children’s financial future to the devil in order to promote new poets and new short story writers. If the books they bravely choose to publish sell well they might get to sleep more easily at night. So I am managing to do the deft mind-speak trick of telling myself any self publicity is not me being a ‘show-off’. I come from that breed of working class stock that thinks talking about your achievements or wanting acknowledgement from others of your achievements counts as showing-off, this was an attitude sewn into your genes from birth. Nowadays of course, showing –off is regarded as allowing children the opportunity to validate their self esteem and celebrate their achievements.
One boy the other week proudly showed me his, ‘I am brilliant’ sticker which he told me he had been given for sitting on the carpet and not poking anyone for a whole story. Wonderful I tell him, “I get five minutes on the computer for every sticker I get but if I’m too good I’d be on the computer all the time but I’m supposed to get good just because that’s meant to make me feel better before that happens.” Here was a boy of shrewd intelligence who had already worked out that external validation only works so far and after that it’s every man and his internalised validation for himself. Selling your poetry , novel or any creative work feels a bit like shopping around for external validation, the equivalent of getting a sticker from the teacher, if people buy it then I have done well, if not, well I haven’t. A healthy level of self –esteem should of course remain if absolutely no-one wants to buy it, other than kind friends and relatives and people in the same town who are just nosy and want to find out about the inner life of the woman who they happen to know from years of just existing in a small town together. However poetry as product is so intimately bound to the poet as person that perhaps it is difficult to separate the experience of one from the other. There is a dark niggle at the back of my head that says, ‘Well if you don’t try too hard to publicise it etc then its lack of sales can be put down as my failure to do the promotional stuff rather than any failure on the poetry’s part’. I am a marketing man’s nightmare, I am the stuff of which returns from bookshops is cobbled.
My mother was always of the ‘Well as long as you did your best.’ school of comfort after exams, driving tests, job interviews, any situation where you or what you produce felt on trial. If you feel you didn’t do your best Part II of the comfort response kicked in. ‘Well you’ll know better next time,” thus turning a potential no win situation into a learning one. Every poem I write that gets published may on reflection have been better written, one changed word, a moved comma even, could improve on it but then the comfort statement Part II takes over and I may not make the same mistake again. I also rely on a healthy ego to ensure that I still publish and make further mistakes I can learn from rather than stop trying to publish altogether so I can never make any mistakes in public.
Other poet friend tells me they too have had the strange feeling that kicks in after post publication euphoria has dissipated. One poet told me that suddenly he looked at his collection and realised that these poems now took on a life of their own, went out into a world in which he had no control and became something of themselves once they were inside the cover of a book. ‘It’s as if I didn’t write them’ is a phrase uttered by three or four poets I have asked about this post publication feeling. ‘I’ve got them out of my head, onto a page, out in the world and now I can get on with new poems and the old ones just have to fend for themselves,’ is what one poet told me. It’s interesting when discussing this with poets that often the poem was referred to in some way as a child or some sort of young, something you give birth to, nurture, take care of, introduce to the world and then you let it go out and become something apart from you, although within it , it contains all the history and experiences you impressed onto it when it was growing. One poet even found herself reading a poem at a festival from her collection that she had no sense of ever having written and began to worry that in fact she had read it somewhere, ingested it and then perhaps later reproduced it unknowingly from somewhere deep in her memory as her own work. ‘I don’t remember writing this’ is I have found when I asked quite a common experience. Perhaps creative people have a capacity to let go that amounts to block out at times so that new creative work can find room to grow. Perhaps there is a creative dissociative state that can sometimes occur but then for every poet who may experience this there are probably two that can recall not only writing the poem but what clothes they were wearing and what they had for tea on the day they finished every poem they have ever written. It would be interesting to do a straw poll though and find out if feeling you haven’t written the poem that has your name on it in the book is common or just strange isolated incidents amongst poets I happen to know, which might say more about me and my circle of poets I come across that poets in generals.
So my collection is out, I am up for promoting it and available for; interviews, publicity shots kissing babies, newspapers, radio, TV, blogs, festivals (hippy, musical, literary or unspecified), reading to poetry societies, WIs, readers groups, church groups, Wicca bar-b-cues , hustings, race meetings ( horse or dog), christenings, weddings, any small gathering where a poet might come in useful, bookshops ( independent , dependent , chain, second-hand ), hen nights, pub quizzes ( what is the next line of this poem written by me etc?), virtual forums, real forums, chat-rooms, quiet rooms and waiting rooms, residencies in places, trains, prisons, museums, shops, motor-way services, zoos, breweries, hockey clubs and rugby clubs, all night petrol stations and market stalls.I have taken the oath of the media whore on the address book of Max Clifford( I swear to uphold the right to self promotion in all forms of media outlet). I am steeled to ask, beg and generally crawl for readings to anyone that has a reading in their gift. I will become hardened to the not today thank you's or sorry we have already got an old woman poet booked we are looking for a young bloke poet at the moment.A sensitive poet may suffer death by a thousand cuts but I shall carry sticking plasters around at all times and be prepared, like the ex Brownie I am. I shall not mind people in the town coming up to me and asking whether the poem about buying the vibrator is true, I shall own the poem about the sex chat-line worker to relatives who thought I was doing home piece work in the eighties.I will fight them on the beaches.....no ....hang on wrong speech....cut the Churchillian background music please.
I have been taking part in the Like Starlings website project that pairs up poets and asks them to respond to each other poems with new poems. I have been paired with the Tall Lighthouse Poet Heather Taylor. You can see the series of six poems we have completed here . There are some other very interesting pairings of poets on the site so do have a browse there sometime.
It is a mixed week for women poets. There is the death of U A Fanthorpe, who’s work I much admired for its humanity and perceptiveness about how we tick She was fifty when her first collection was published so she was the living example of the fact that the late starter doesn’t have to be the also ran. Carol Ann Duffy confirmed as the Poet Laureate, first woman, the week-end broadsheets are full of her, interviews, comments etc. Strange job really to promote poetry as if great poems themselves are not enough but of course they aren’t, we need a face to fit the art to, a person to attach to it and look to as being a shining beacon of what poetry is worth in a society. Even the ancients created the concept of the Muses to personify various art-forms so a Laureate doesn’t seem a bad idea, especially if they are persuasive, articulate, media friendly, street smart, committee smart and have a vision of what poetry can offer society. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that Carol Ann has a vision and the drive. Perhaps she can be the new Captain of the Poetry Enterprise Ship that will boldly go where no poetry has gone before, Warp Factor 9, “Make it so, Ms Duffy, make it so.”