Friday, December 21, 2012

NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS (and publishing scams!)

Getting close (hah!) to winding up the year, I just now received a query about submissions from a poet in South Africa who, by way of background, told me she had recently published work in an anthology of animal poems published by Forward Poetry.

Now I know a little bit about the Forward Arts Foundation, which gives annual prizes and publishes an annual anthology drawing on book publications in the UK and Ireland. But I'd never heard of them publishing a themed anthology so naturally decided to investigate further.

Turns out that Forward Poetry ( has NOTHING whatsoever to do with the Forward Arts Foundation (FAF) or the Forward Prizes for Poetry. Forward Poetry, it turns out, not only publishes themed anthologies but it also runs a variety of competitions (with VERY modest prizes and, crucially, some form of publication for the winners). The contrast between Forward Poetry and the Forward Arts Foundation, however, could not have been better differentiated had FP threw up their hands and styled themselves Backward Poetry.

Now of course there's nothing illegal (though, frankly, little to be praised) with a company 'encouraging' new writers into print though anthologies such as 'Animal Antics' or, given today's Mayan prophecies, competitions such as 'End of Days'. Themed publications often produce nice surprises and themed competitions are often a helpful spur to the writer who finds it difficult to commit to ink.

But it would, wouldn't it, be a darker thing altogether if this particular incarnation of FP had anything to do with the company at the centre of last year's shameful story of a  scam perpetrated on Spanish schoolkids ( and literally dozens of similar anecdotal references doing the rounds.

It's Christmas in a few days, and New Year shortly afterwards, and if you're like the rest of the writing planet you'll probably resolve to send out your work more often, to take your light out from under its winter bushel, to play a more active part in the literary conversation of the world of print and digital poetry. If so, be careful when choosing a home for your work: it deserves that much at least. Organisations such as Poetry Ireland and the Poetry Society in the UK, and similar others farther afield,  carry lists of reputable poetry publishers and journals and magazines on their websites and in their various publications and newsletters. Use them. Study them. Seek out sample copies or spend some time online, not just clicking through but studying, evaluating, making tough decisions on behalf of your work. If you don't, it's highly unlikely anyone else will.

And be a little suspicious of immediate acceptance. Of course it may well be that there is a team of Santa's little helpers lined up to deal with the 'millions' of poems websites such as FP claim to (and very likely do)  receive, but in all likelihood the almost immediate near ecstatic response – CONGRATULATIONS WE ARE HAPPY TO PUBLISH YOUR WORK.... YOU ARE NOW A PUBLISHED POET.... etc etc – means that no one at all has so much as glanced at your writing and you are now being seduced, slowly and step by step, by nothing more than an automated email reply service (give or take a tweak of the NAME and POEM TITLE fields to give you that sense of a personal relationship).

Poetry Ireland Review, The Stinging Fly, The Moth, The SHOp, Cyphers... Despite the horrors of the recession there are still half a dozen regular and a few more irregular poetry journals on this island alone and dozens more across the water. And there are, it would appear from the latest copy of Poet's Market, thousands of outlets in the US and Canada. Many of these outlets are relatively small; many of them are in part staffed or otherwise supported by interns and volunteers; a very small subset have professional full-time staff members. But, no matter what one might think of the styles or 'flavours' of work published by any one of them, by their very existence all of them have dedicated themselves to poetry, have placed their trust in it, and must therefore believe at some level that it is something important, that it matters. All of them have put their shoulders to the wheel.

We must support such publications not just with our work but with our patronage. We should read them and, when and if we can, occasionally buy or subscribe to them. Around such publications are meaningful communities formed. And around them, not just for our own writing but for the writing of our sisters and brothers, our collective generation and era, we must stand in solidarity.

For one thing is sure about the year ahead: it will be tougher than ever for such organisations and small endeavours to survive. And there is not now, nor is there likely to be, any shortage of predators, glimpsing the possibility of profit in our loss, of forward motion in the backward slippage of our culture.

A Merry Christmas and happy and creative New Year to all our readers and supporters. (Watch out for our 1-day only New Year's sale, soon to be announced). And wishing you all, in the year ahead, inspiration and application, "the best words in the best order". Poetry Matters: Spread the Word.

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