Thursday, 16 August 2012
A holding post, a thing of bits and pieces.
Above is a bookfair display shelf I knocked up the other day. One hour, pretty much, inclusive of the trip to the hardware shop, and a tenner for all materials. It comes apart and folds flat, almost. I should market these. One of the delights of running a press, a tiny one, is that, in addition to the text, there is manual labour involved – lifting, carrying, lugging boxes from one place to another, the envelope-stuffing and the trips to the post office, with the above as an optional extra. This may be why I have no interest in ebooks. (I’m not against them. That would be plain silly. Everyone please enjoy them. It’s just that I can’t see I’m going to get any pleasure at all from producing them.)
(The increasing absence of physical labour in most people’s lives – it’s why sport has taken the place it has in the culture, no? Why we pay the footballers millions. Sweat, physical exhaustion – Villiers de L’Isle Adam: ‘As for living, our servants will do that for us.’ Now the athletes. Yeats quoted that in an essay from which here’s another quote: ‘We have grown jealous of the body.’ The stereotypical English suspicion of ‘intellectuals’ is not something I laugh at: why aren’t they carrying things, making things?)
The autumn issue of Poetry Review is almost to bed – some proof queries to be resolved, the cover to be approved – and the Poetry Society has started Facebook come-on posts. It’s by no means perfect, and it’s certainly not a revolution, but I’m pleased with it. To say that editing it has been a form a journalism – deadlines, frustrations with time and wordcounts – is not to put it down at all. All jobs (prime minister, roadsweeper) are there to be done well, or not. I’ll just mention here that the lead poem – a spot traditionally given to X or Y, some known name – is in this issue by someone I’d never heard of before I opened his envelope, and who is not primarily a poet. This is not a conspicuous thing, and I don’t want it to be, but it pleases me.
Free Verse 2012: the poetry book fair. Countdown is now in weeks, days. Those who’ve been following will know that this got started last year: a late-night hunch that it would be nice to get the presses affected by the Arts Council cuts together in a room, to show what they were doing, and which ended up with 22 presses crammed into a church hall with an impromptu set by a busker from the street outside and a readings programme put together by Chrissy Williams. Somehow – not by deliberate intention – this year’s event is set to be biggest of its kind in London for some time, perhaps ever. 50 publishers, the national poetry organisations, readings, workshops. Chrissy has been magnificent. We have some ACE funding, most of which has gone on travel costs for the presses travelling from afar. (Neither Chrissy nor I are taking a cent: no nobility here, it’s simply that this is how most of the presses themselves operate, and to have the event run by paid administrators would be counter to the spirit.) The fearsome thing is this: because we don’t have previous access to the venue, at 9 a.m. on the 8 September there will be nothing, not even tables or chairs, no posters or signs, and by 10 a.m. there will have to be everything. Whether this works or not will depend on, first, volunteer helpers (we have some wonderful ones committed, but more welcome; email firstname.lastname@example.org; £10 expenses paid); and, second, whether folk come along and stick around and chat and buy.
CB editions. A poem from Stephen Knight’s new book, The Prince of Wails, will be in Saturday’s Guardian. In November there will be three pamphlets, exclusive from the website, to mark the odd fact that CBe will have been alive for five years – again, not by deliberate intention: there was never a business plan, and there still isn’t. Given a fair wind, six manuscripts now on my desk will make it to book next year. No more, please.
Last year I sent a short story to a friend for comment. The last line was a character saying, ‘I have other things to do.’ He told me to cut that line. I have done. But I do have other things to do, such as earning a living. Or writing. Or reading, or listening to music, or staring at the ceiling. Much of the above – CBe, the book fair – is distraction activity; this is a luxury position, I know, but much of what I do to earn money feels also, even while being financially necessary, like distraction activity. Jobs, ‘work’, need some redefining, way beyond the unemployment statistics. I keep meaning to read more Richard Sennett.