Thursday, 8 October 2009

The Forward

The Forward Gold Cup was won by Rain, ridden by Don Paterson, owned by Faber; the Silver Cup for yearlings by The Striped World, ridden by Emma Jones, owned by Faber; best individual horse, Robin Robertson.

I was, obviously, favouring Christopher Reid for the Gold Cup and J. O. Morgan for the Silver, and though I’ve packed away certain emotions in a box and sealed it up, some sense of waste lingers.

The Forward defines its job thus: ‘to bring contemporary poetry to a wider audience’. Small-press books have little opportunity to reach a readership of any size. Some of the poetry magazines take note of them, but to reach beyond that tight circle the small presses need another platform. The books pages of the national newspapers are hardly going to provide that: the lit eds, busy folk, take short cuts, judging by covers – do they recognise the author’s name? Are they familiar with the imprint? No. Then it can’t be much good, can it, because if it was it would have been published by one of the big imprints. There was a chance last night that the Forward could have recognised the worth of small-press poetry, could have given it the platform it needs far more than the big publishers, and the chance went begging.

Nice to see J. O. Morgan’s name mentioned by one of the judges in the Guardian today as one of three of the also-rans ‘who would have graced the winners enclosure in another year’. Still, if I’m told again I should be proud to have published a book that got on the shortlist I shall hit someone.

Another race starts today: J. O. Morgan’s Natural Mechanical is on a shortlist of five books, from an entry of 92, for the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize. Also on that shortlist, books published by Salt, Yew Tree Press and Templar. No Faber, no Cape, no Picador.

I was steered home to West London last night, by the way, by Michael Horovitz, who has been in this game for decades longer than myself, and I salute him.


J.M. said...

Yeah, it does seem kind of inevitable. JO Morgan's is one of the best debut books I've read in years. Hurrah for the Aldeburgh shortlist. But - I do wonder if houses like Faber can win in some ways. We all gripe about the sameness and the inevitability of awards nights but one thing you can say for Faber in the last couple of years is that they're widening out. There are the new poet series of pamphlets, there was Daljt Nagra's debut a few years back, and now Emma Jones, who seems to have come out of nowhere and is a young woman - not the usual Faber demographic. And she doesn't seem to be writing mainstream poetry, more of a lyrical-surreal-modernist type of poetry as far as I can tell. I for one am relieved to see a big house steer clear of the rote anecdotal/confessional stuff that's passing for poetry in the mainstream these days, and am surprised Faber published her to be honest. Don't know if the usual criticisms stick here. But, that said, it would be good if the awards could get opened out in some way. I think the pool of judges needs to be widened if there's going to be any change. Why not get some poetry critics from universities involved in the judging process? Then it'd be less likely that the same sort of poetry by the same people would be rewarded, and more stuff in the modernist/postmodern vein would get a look-in. Or poets from other countries who are less likely to be biased because they know the person or have the same publisher.

Fingers crossed for 'Natural Mechanical' in the Aldeburgh - great news.

charles said...

Thanks, J.M. I do think (well, I would, wouldn't I) that Natural Mechanical is one of the very few books of new poetry that, with the right nudge or push, could find a readership well beyond the usual poetry-reading circle. First of all, it's simply a wonderful book; that it happens to be poetry is secondary; and though the shortlistings are more than welcome, I'd love to see it getting attention alongside books in other genres.

Meanwhile, the Faber pamphlets do show a willingness to find a way of bringing new poets to market. Sometime in the 90s there was a magaziney-type book of new poetry, but it never got beyond beyond the first issue. Before that there was the Faber Introduction series, from 1969 until the early 90s (there was also a fiction series). The first Introduction included work by David Harsent, one of this year’s Forward judges. These things have to re-invented in each generation.