Poetry Publishers and their Mortgages

The poetry world often displays an implicit ambivalence around publishing: it would consider poetry to be above the petty concerns of money whilst simultaneously bewailing the fact that no one will pay for it. Whilst poets continue to see traditional publication as the only legitimation of their work they will continue to willingly ignore that publishing is capitalism and little else, and we will continue to blunder about in our strange relationship with the literary culture industry. (Blackwell’s Oxford shop recently tweeted “Buy book. Read book. Feel good. Repeat.”, which would be considerably more unsettling if referring to, say, bubble bath or toasters.) Publishers, who otherwise exist (as publishers) entirely in the logic of capitalism, would frame their lack of sales as a symptom of a cultural decline. And poets, who otherwise exist precariously outside the logic of capitalism, seem unwilling to disseminate their work any other way.

This isn’t to say that publishers are Bad or capitalism is Bad; this is not necessarily to portray all poetry publishers as Harold Skimpole; this is to say that a lot of the attitudes which have reappeared following the news of the end of Salt’s single author collections are weird.

Sadcore Dadwave: Albion Beatnik, Oxford

I went to the Albion Beatnik in Oxford on Wednesday night for Sadcore Dadwave and heard poems by:  Sian S Rathore, Diane Marie, Paul Askew, Emily Harrison and Luke Kennard, then Dan Holloway, Lucy Ayrton, Joe Briggs, someone whose name I regretfully forget, and a chap called Lysander, and someone called Molly. In honesty it was mostly Luke Kennard who I wanted to hear but the others were entertaining. I’ve only ever been to the Albion Beatnik for music before (or, you know, books), but it’s a great venue.

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Representations in Skyfall

  • Skyfall as a film about British national identity and the empire. (The bulldog.)
  • Skyfall as a frank assumption of the implications of the Daniel Craig reboot of the Bondverse: the acceptance of something like third-order simulacra: the Bondverse rejecting the burden of representation of the ‘real’ world for representation of the Bondverse.
  • The Aston Martin as the symbol of this assumption.
  • M as the main character.
  • The ‘Skyfall’ manor as James Bond’s ‘unresolved childhood trauma’ (he “always hated this place”); the ‘Skyfall’ manor as Balmoral; the ‘Skyfall’ manor as imperial guilt. (Silva was handed over, or betrayed, with Hong Kong.)
  • Scotland (but only here, for its other symbolic richness) as Bondverse, as “back in time”.
  • Skyfall as a defense of Baddies. Baddies as a legitimate mythologising of terror in the post-9/11 world. Skyfall as a rejection of complex fears. Skyfall as an admission that in the ‘real’ world the threat is too much (fight it in Scotland instead).
  • M as the Queen; Skyfall as a rehearsal for her death.
  • The Olympics Opening Ceremony is important for a lot of this. (i.e., parachuting Queen and UK’s ‘post-imperial’ acceptance.)
  • China as a rehabilitated location: China as more modern than the west, blue lighting, the “brave new world”, as Bond says before it cuts to Shanghai. (The security guard confronts the assassin, rather than confronting Bond.)

Also, what is this trope of the captured nemesis who, we later discover, wanted to be captured.

Poetry and Power

I recently went on a residential writing course in Christchurch, and at one point we decided to recreate the ‘Team Photo’ of the Bullingdon Club on the stairs:

Go forth and legislate.

A startled and apologetic builder came out of the door behind us and it felt like something significant. But anyhow, I have been thinking about POETRY and POWER.

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c.f. ‘Why Critics Praise Bad Poetry

Editors (either in the mainstream media, or as far mainstream as these things get, or in small journals) generally (and understandably) take publication as a poet as a requisite qualification for publication as a critic; poets generally (and understandably) write criticism to promote their new book of poems and to take part in the community. This situation leads to issues which I have been thinking about.

Few published poets write good criticism, as they are often prone to comfort criticism which is either affective or overly and comfortably formal. Of course, a sizeable number of talented poets are talented critics, but it doesn’t always correlate. This is because criticism is a separate skill, and although there is the best chance of finding this skill amongst ‘published poets’ than amongst any other demographic, it isn’t certain. Additionally, few poets wish to damn rather than praise, as in the small poetry world any target is a possible future reviewer of one’s own work (if they are not a friend already). And furthermore, few editors of small magazines want to either intimidate readers with ‘hard’ criticism — in the sense of negative, or in the sense of difficult — or to alienate poets (who make up the majority of their readership). Whilst these are all sensible reasons, it still seems a shame that so few published reviews seem willing to embrace a little danger.

I was talking with someone last week about how anti-establishment, if it is successful, becomes establishment, and how once one is inside the building one feels less inclined to throw stones at the windows. Most discussions of contemporary poetry overstate the presence of a mainstream, or of an inside and an outside; however, I do think there is a need for sufficient distance between poet and critic which is not being served at present.

Formatting Poetry for Kindle (with OEBPS Template)

n.b. The possibilities for Kindle formatting have been increased with the introduction of KF8, although at present these options are only available on the Kindle Fire. It is uncertain how this will affect e-ink Kindle devices. Fixed layout would (in theory) remove the problem of Kindle-broken lines, but we are not quite there yet. This guide works on the assumption of reflowable lines, with as much consistency across Kindle devices (Kindle Fire, Kindle readers, & Kindle for iPad & iPhone) as possible. Different screen sizes/resolutions causes some problems here, but we shall do the best we can. I will work on a post on what the new KF8 formatting options could do for poetry, & how we can work with better html markup & css media queries to improve backwards compatibility.

Contact me if you have any suggestions or comments. (Thanks to @tadaja & @cdcasey for some proof-reading & suggestions.)


The Kindle is not kind to poetry. For those who want to self-publish their poetry on Kindle, formatting your poems is a gloomy prospect, & one that requires reducing your expectations. If you want your poetry ebook to look at least acceptable, the best chance is by doing the conversion to mobi yourself. The workflow which allows the most hands-on control is to create your ebook in oebps format (a predecessor of epub), & use Kindlegen to convert & package your files into a mobi ebook. This is not as difficult as it sounds, & this guide will go through the process step-by-step, along with code examples and a full sample ebook of some of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Teaching you about basic html, css & xml is not a part of this guide, as you can find enough about this elsewhere. The knowledge required for putting together an ebook is very small, & you should be able to see most of what you need from the example code.

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