Thursday 29 November 2012

Peppermint green

X came round this morning – early, before I was dressed – to buy four of the David Wheatley pamphlets for Christmas presents. Earlier this week I went up to north London to take three of the Nick Wadley pamphlets to Y, who doesn’t do email. Coffee is made, gossip is swapped. This is pleasant, in an olde worlde way. I am a purveyor of quality literature to the gentry. The books should be priced in guineas.

Whether the practice is sustainable in its present form I doubt. This week was another of those (many) weeks in which more submissions pinged into my in-box than orders from the website. If CBe is known about at all it’s as a personal, idiosyncratic venture, and that’s fine, because that’s what it is, but somehow the books have to be sold – therefore today’s application to ACE for support for paying someone with a bit of marketing and sales know-how to come into the frame. Next year will be, I hope, a little different. More professional, you might say; while not doing without the coffee and the gossip.

It’s easy to start feeling old. The first CBe book for next year is a book of essays, anecdotal memoirs, poems, in celebration of Michael Hofmann, and the first piece, by James Lasdun, begins thus: ‘In the early eighties I was employed as one of half a dozen in-house readers at Jonathan Cape, in their old Bedford Square offices. We were all writers and it seemed to be understood that we would spend as much time keeping up with our literary pals as we did reading manuscripts. Poets and novelists would drop in for coffee, or we’d spend hours nattering with them on the phone …’ There’s that coffee again. Not just a job, and as an ‘in-house reader’ at that, but a job in which you got paid to sit around and chat.

In the bibliography in the Hofmann book, this is conspicuous: that he has published just four collections of poetry in thirty years. The first was 48 pages: slim is the usual adjective. (That’s it up above, with a review-copy slip: publication date 7 November 1983 and typed, remember typewriters? The cover colour background to the ffs is pink; the spine has faded to, as one of the contributors to the book says, peppermint green.) Nor did the other collections really test your shelf-space. Compare and contrast today: poem-writing as an academic growth industry, the Facebook groups where you sign up to writing a poem per day for a month. Is it too late to – as well as disinventing the database – start a slow poetry movement?

The mention of Christmas presents above was intended as a hint: three pamphlets for a tenner, send them as cards, they’re barely more expensive. The Nick Wadley drawings one for those who have read either everything or nothing. The Dai Vaughan poems one: love, hardly an exclusively seasonal activity but don’t rule it out. The David Wheatley one: slow drinking. The pamphlets page; or you could buy a book, a whole book.

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