Friday, 27 July 2012

Publishing days

About time I praised the postman, and the whole UK postal service behind him. On Wednesday afternoon I posted a copy of BBB’s White Sheets to an address in Wales, on Thursday morning I got an email from the addressee: ‘It’s very good and I’m ½ way through it.’ For various reasons Royal Mail – like the NHS, the schools, you name it – seems to be generally viewed as in crisis. But it works. And my postman is friendly and so are the folk at the post office and as far as I know the system has never, ever, lost anything I’ve sent or been sent. And of course it’s responsible, in an earlier incarnation, for arguably the best poetry commission of the last century, Auden’s 1936 ‘Night Mail’ – link to YouTube here.

Reviews. There’ll be many people who’ll be disappointed that their book isn’t reviewed in the autumn issue of Poetry Review. It’s odd how most authors assume a review will be a good one. The one review to date, in the The Warwick Review, of Miha Mazzini’s The German Lottery, isn’t going to sell many copies: ‘. . . an interesting comic novel. And it will make an excellent film.’ It’s worth more than that.

More than a year and a half after its publication, J. O. Morgan’s Long Cuts has a review in this week’s TLS, concluding thus: ‘Long Cuts is a book of human connections and missed opportunities, of love and missed opportunities to show love, and is as compressed, free-flowing, rambunctious, tender and at times unapologetically unrefined as its predecessor.’ (The predecessor being, of course, Natural Mechanical.) Much better. Thank you, Rory Waterman.

Will that review help to sell the book? What does sell copies? What is the meaning of life? I’m ticking the don’t-know box. Prize shortlistings? Last year, when D. Nurkse’s Voices over Water was shortlisted for the main Forward prize along with some well-known names, Waterstones immediately phoned the warehouse and ordered the 90 in stock and I was scurrying around. This year, when Beverley Bie Brahic’s White Sheets was also shortlisted for the main Forward prize, but among (apart from Geoffrey Hill) some far less-known names, no phone call, no surge in sales. Booksellers (whose job is to sell, not read) tend to like lists of familiar names, maybe spiced with the occasional unknown.

This morning I took two boxes of books to the Central warehouse in Hackney Wick, across a canal from the Olympics site. A couple of police cars were cruising the empty streets, a man drunk at 8 a.m. was looking for someone to argue with. Quiet days.

I arrived back home as the postman was delivering the programme for the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival in November, which will feature CBe poets Nancy Gaffield (winner of last year’s Aldeburgh First Collection Prize) and, over from the US, D. Nurkse. Also Christopher Reid and a screening of the film of The Song of Lunch, first published in book form by CBe. Aldeburgh, like the post, works. White Sheets on the Forward shortlist comes out of Christopher Reid and Beverley Bie Brahic happening to have breakfast together in Aldeburgh a few years ago, and the name Francis Ponge coming up in conversation, which led to BBB’s CBe Ponge book and then her Apollinaire book and then . . .

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