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The Reading List, winding up

First: general ‘how I’m feeling’ stuff, feel free to skip down if you’re short of time

Apologies for the silence these last few days. The usual self-employed person’s dilemma of feeling like rubbish and simultaneously wanting to stay on top of work and not let people down.

Yesterday I had to leave early from John McCullough’s poetry workshop at New Writing South, for fear of irritating everyone with my endless coughing. Once home, I went to bed for two hours. And being a fast day was good, especially the no-alcohol bit. So the upshot is that I’m feeling much improved today (but not well enough to go to choir rehearsal tonight.)

The Reading List

My mini-review series ‘The Reading List’ has come to an end. It was just SO 2015! There are plenty of excellent other blogs featuring reviews, and looking at the stats for this site I could see that the initial interest in mine had levelled out. However, I’d like to assure you I’m still reading, and now and then I may well be moved to blog about individual poetry collections.

What I’ve enjoyed lately: Mark Doty’s Deep Lane, full of pathos, warmth and even farce – there’s a lovely tale of the narrator locking himself out of his house not once, but twice, and having to clamber through the window ‘which makes me think / this was what it was like to be born: / awkward, too big for the passageway…’ (‘Spent’).

I’m meandering my way through Mark Ford’s essays on poets, as gathered in This Dialogue of One (Eyewear). They are thought provoking, well researched and accessible (but not so ‘accessible’ that I don’t feel I’m being educated!) For example, this morning I read about the controversy surrounding the interpretation of Emily Dickinson’s work and how her editors disagreed about how it should be presented – as pure manuscript, or as ‘visual productions’. It made me think about her poems quite differently. If she’d been around today I think she would have wholeheartedly embraced everything from graffiti to video and sculpture in the course of expressing herself. Probably not a performance poet though, given her reserve. But a kindred spirit to Banksy, perhaps?

News of poetry rejections, submissions etc

Last week I spent a few days going over the poems I’ve been gathering for a next pamphlet. I haven’t entered the Poetry Business pamphlet comp for a few years now (since my over-confident days!), because I feel it’s the ‘big one’ as regards pamphlet comps, and the odds of winning are low. Also, I don’t feel I’ve had a strong enough submission, the time hasn’t been right, etc. But a funny thing happened as I was reading and ordering this latest group: they seemed quite good. So I thought I’d just do it, and enter. I ruthlessly ditched a couple that seemed weaker, although I like them. I’d also resurrected a poem that first saw light of day in The Interpreter’s House about 4 years ago, but that I’d been working on to improve since. In the end I had 21 poems. I wasn’t sure about the title, but I never am. Anyway, it’s sent now. Never to be thought about again, until I can try it somewhere else!

Are you currently sending out pamphlet submissions? What’s your feeling about them? I once heard a poet talking about how she wouldn’t send out her MS unless she’d first paid a professional poet to edit it. Is that usual? I just kind of naively thought you put it together yourself, did your best to order the poems, eliminate any stupid errors, and … send. And if someone liked it, you then worked with the publisher/editor to hone things up. Do share your own experience of this, I’d love to know.

Meanwhile I received yet another rejection last night, to add to the one last week. Talking about kicking a sick poet when she’s down. Still, not quite as bad as getting a £100 speeding fine three days before Christmas – Top of the Season to you, DVLA! Still, as regards the rejections (I prefer ‘DECLINED’ as a folder name) I console myself with the fact that several of the re*****d poems had been out so long I’ve since revised (and hopefully improved) them. We shall see, when I try them elsewhere. On the good news front, Charles Johnson of Obsessed with Pipework has found space for my 2 poems in the February issue, so I won’t have to wait until May to see them in print and settled down.

And MORE good news – Telltale Press has at last been accepted by the Poetry Library as a legitimate press, which means we will have a listing on their website and that all our forthcoming pamphlets will be available there. Another small but significant sign of recognition, and gratefully received.

Published inAngstBlogCompetitionsInspirationPamphletsSubmissionsThe Reading List


  1. Peter Raynard Peter Raynard

    Hi Robin, great post as usual. Shame about ‘The Reading List’, as I enjoyed your reviews, but understand the commitment this takes. Interesting about pamphlets. First, I wondered whether you had thought about a putting a full collection together and approaching a publisher. I’m sure there would be a lot of interest in it (btw when are you going to drop ‘fledgeling’ from you twitter bio – I’ve told you before 🙂 ). There is also a time issue as well with doing something like that; meaning if you submitted now it probably wouldn’t be published for two years. I am on an inverse path to yourself in a way. I have a full collection coming out with Smokestack in early 2018. In some ways I feel that I have jumped the queue, or not followed the path mainly taken, to publish a pamphlet first. But I am in the Smokestack queue and feel comfortable about the timing because it allows me to ‘strengthen’ my poems, as well as add to the number. Ironically though, it has made me think about whether I should put a pamphlet out in the meantime, as a way of a lead into the collection (as an established poet told me, ‘a pamphlet is your calling card, it is something physical to show people’). Not sure though. Thanks as always for your openness to your process, I get a lot out of it. Best wishes, Peter

    • Robin Houghton Robin Houghton

      Hi Peter, you’ve done so well to get a collection accepted by Smokestack, congratulations! I don’t think there has to be a fixed way of getting to a first collection, there seem to be myriad ways. But for myself, I don’t yet have enough good poems to fill a collection, so the pamphlet is my chosen route, but having said that I’m very poor at approaching publishers, ie I don’t do it, other than the odd pamphlet comp/submission window. Which I know is probably not the best way to go about it. So I’m very encouraged by your story! Sadly I still feel very much like a ‘fledgling poet’, and probably will do so until a publisher puts themselves on the line for me. The calling card idea I do believe in, and that’s what we say Telltale is all about. Having a Telltale pamphlet has done wonders for me, that’s for sure. I just need to ‘work it’ a little more I think! Thanks so much for your comment and for the positive encouragement 🙂

  2. people keep doing this…on-, or off-line. Sort of telling me how they’ve been sort of flirting with this or that competition, and then, well, lastminute, you never know, why not, actually these aren’t half-bad, go on you know you want to…they’ve entered this or that competition. And I think (because they’re always better writers than I am).bugger…there’s another I could have saved my entry fee on. Anyway. The best of luck with the Poetry Business Pamphlet. The ne plus ultra. Nirvana. The poetry multi-rollover jackpot. Win that and die happy. It occurs to me that maybe there should be a sort of omerta when it comes to competitions. No one tells anyone they’ve entered. Then we can live in a little cocoon of unknowing, unaware of the superleague team you’ve been drawn against in the first round. Wotcher think. And thank you for the consolations of your posts. Look forward to them, me. xx

    • Robin Houghton Robin Houghton

      ha ha John! you do make me laugh. As if you didn’t have AT LEAST as much chance as me at ‘winning’ (DAMN THAT WORD) any pamphlet comp… Thank you for your good wishes. Love the idea of a poetry rollover jackpot, except of course any comparison to the LOTTO is a depressing one, as the odds of winning there are now substantially worse than they ever were! Actually I think everyone should declare when they’ve entered a comp, rather like a horse race – we need to see the whites of the competitors’ eyes!

  3. Brill bit was getting Tell Tale in Poetry Library!.
    Comps. did a lot two years ago and then thought do I really want to spent my modest pension on the impossible!
    But long listed in this and that and Cinnamon told me that was good considering the size of submissions. Did not know about prestige of mags but had had some in writers news etc.
    Been on two ‘prepare own pamphlet courses’ in London, both of which were useless, tutor (no name or pack drill) had fellow students sitting around ‘helping’ each other!
    Decided I should be able to do that here, but after 7 years on the south coast it has taken ages to get to know anyone, let alone caring sharing poets with whom to share work and despite four years on the door at Pighog! (I went in early originally to get out of the rain and was seized upon) Stopped Piggy middle of last year!
    Newish to poetry and find the poetry world all a bit cliquey!
    Arvon has been best for me even if they have had to take the place of any other holiday twice! Usually someone is happy to share several poems and tutors are helpful too, if have good teaching experience as well as being wonderful poets!
    Started to look into arts funding to branch out a bit…not sure how… but know fellow poets who have done really well from having the extra dosh, for mentoring etc and able to make more contacts etc..
    There is no answer in my opinion, just keep at it, get help paid help if and when you can afford it!
    I had some mentoring for my own self publish and have just re-edited it again. I also go on courses which offer decent feedback! I couldn’t stop writing if I tried, good bad and indifferent! But it’s all an industry these days….and as know you know, it’s partly luck and being in the right place at the right timeX

    • Robin Houghton Robin Houghton

      Hi Ann – thanks for your long and thoughtful comment! I love meaty comments, they make the whole blogging thing worthwhile. Really interesting to hear your story. I’m sorry you find the poetry scene a bit cliquey in Brighton, I know what you mean BUT there’s nothing stopping you from starting your own ‘clique’ – well, at least what I mean is doing your own thing. You have a talent for humour, for a start. Check out Jill Munro as an example – she’s done marvellously with her style of funny and acerbic poetry, in quite a short period of time. I do sometimes think all we need are mentors, rather than endless courses. One person who understands what you’re trying to say, gives you honest and actionable feedback and who points you in the right direction and helps open a few doors. Too much to ask..?? Maybe!

  4. I got three rejections in one day (yesterday)! My record is five, but then I am a submissions wild thing, like a mushroom sending out spores willy nilly. I also got my first paying acceptances of the year *phew!) and had a comp win too, so that’s very cool.
    I always enter the free comps if they’re fun, reputable and I actually want the prize. There is absolutely nothing to lose. With the paying ones, I feel rather as John Foggin does – particularly if he’s one of the entrants!
    Many congrats on getting into Obsessed with Pipework – a quality mag. Brilliant that Telltale Press has been acknowledged by the Poetry Library too.
    With both my poetry collections, I edited and proofed them myself and then worked with the editor to get collections with which we were both happy. I wouldn’t get a professional editor. Even with my novel, I worked with the publisher’s in-house editor and that went very well. I suppose that if one has very dubious English skills then an editor might be useful – loads of typos would put some publishers off.

    • Robin Houghton Robin Houghton

      Hi Cathy! Great to hear from you and congratulations on your awesome track record in comps and submissions! I probably need to peruse your site a bit more for tips – I like the idea of only going for free comps that are worthwhile, and I agree one has to be careful not to waste one’s money… a constant stream of submissions is something I aim for, so that when the ‘nos’ come in there’s always something pending… the only time I get nervous is when there’s nothing forthcoming 🙂 Thanks for the insights! Much appreciated.

  5. Hi Robin, hope you’re feeling a lot better by now. Very interesting post, and great news that the Poetry Library has recognised Telltale Press!
    I keep missing deadlines for pamphlet comps. I think about it, sometimes I start looking through my poems and trying to put them in some kind of order, and then the doubting, unconfident side of me kicks in and I give up. The sensible thing for me to do would be to set aside a bit of time and sort poems into themes or some kind of order that hangs together – to do this work without thinking about a specific competition – and see whether I have enough strong poems that fit together and would work as a pamphlet. And then from there, seek out small presses or competitions that I think might be suitable, and tailor my submission accordingly. Have I done this? No. I keep putting it off as the urge to actually create something new (another poem, a story, even a blog post) is stronger than the desire/need to get my stuff out there. Hm. I’m not sure that’s completely true, but the writing is within my control, and I can get some immediate satisfaction from it (however fleeting), whereas putting stuff together and sending it out – submitting it – is disproportionately painful and difficult (for me) with no guaranteed good outcome. Though not sending stuff out is, one could argue, the ultimate (self)rejection. Thank you for opening this little space for me to give myself a good talking to!
    Keep on writing, keep on sending!

    • Robin Houghton Robin Houghton

      Hi Hilaire, and thanks for sharing that! A lot of what you say does sound familiar. I have had all sorts of plans to query small presses, rather than wait to be prompted by competition deadlines, and have several started-but-not-finished lists with names of editors and notes on what they publish. But I tend to get sidetracked by new (creative) projects. And although I enjoy printing out poems, getting them all formatted in the same font (!), playing with the order etc etc when it comes to the actual sending I usually have a crisis of confidence and file them with an optimistic note like ‘ready to go’. I also don’t send the exact same entry out more than once, probably because if it gets rejected I then can’t help but fiddle with it or take out certain poems etc. And yet there’s evidence that persistence pays off. I’d seen Mona Arshi’s “Small Hands’ on 3 or 4 competition shortlists before it was eventually published, by a small press, and look what happened to it. PS am feeling much better now, thanks!

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