An interview with Graham Clifford
AM: How did you reach the publication stage?
GC: I’d been sending out work to lots of good quality magazines and competitions and sometimes being lucky, often not! Michael Laskey invited me to attend a master class at Aldeburgh, where my poem was absolutely ripped apart by a visiting American professor! I attended the “Poetry Trust/Jerwood Towards a First Collection” seminar, reading again at Aldeburgh (with Philip Rush and Katrina Naomi). I kept writing and sending my work out. In 2010 I was published by Seren after winning the Poetry Wales pamphlet competition; Amy Wack, at Seren then invited me to send a full length manuscript.
AM: What is the best way to get a book published?
GC: Develop an online a presence. Facebook is an excellent way of friending writers and organisations, which can lead to sharing work, online workshops and other opportunities.
Abctales and Write Out Loud, for example are two good online forums for writers. Engage in online connectivity, link to sites and communicate as much as you can.
Each time you get a poem out there – either published in a journal or read to an audience – it is a forming experience and you are far more likely to be published if an editor can see your work is being enjoyed and appreciated.
AM: Who should publish you?
GC: It is important to know the kind of writers who are published by particular publishers. Seren for me was at the top. I knew before I entered the Poetry Wales competition that I was very impressed by their poets. Aim high, but be realistic. If you are aiming your sights high on the more prominent poetry publishers, prepare ahead of time, do your research – find out what they prefer.
AM: What input does the publisher have over your work?
GC: Collections benefit from close relationships between editors and writers. Think of T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, or more recently, Burnside and Robertson at Cape. Sometimes, the editing can be as flavoursome as the actual writing.
Seren and Poetry Wales were supportive and rigorous: Zoë Skoulding and Robin Grossman were back and forth with me over essential points of grammar and register. I had also been putting collections together (though not having them published) for a few years so had developed an eye and ear for its organisation. Many of my poems had been through the editing process with different editors from different magazines and journals.
My first full collection, The Hitting Game, is due in 2014. I expect the final version to be different to the initial submission. The publication process is an experience which has changed how I make decisions about my writing.
AM: Now you’re published, what comes next?
GC: It was extremely gratifying to have the assurance that comes with being published – someone is telling you your work is good enough, shouldn’t matter, but it does. An artist friend says it’s essential to meet your audience; in a sense art does not exist without an audience. Regardless of nerves, you need to do live readings. You also need to contact online and print magazines and journals to request reviews.
AM: How do you keep it going?
GC: Because of the effort I put in to connecting with the community of writers and readers my pamphlet, Welcome Back to the Country has been reviewed by Alison Brackenbury in PN Review, Londongrip, (an online cultural site) and several others this year. Both “real life” and online groups offer fun and exciting opportunities and can be equally important. After reading a critique of David Floyd’s Protest, I chased Londongrip for a review. I had met David at an abctales.com event and enjoyed his poetry, we got talking and he invited me to read at the Torriano Meeting House.
I have been writing for over a decade and read at many events, but my pamphlet publication is helping me to see opportunities in a new way and capitalising on them.
GC: A website is essential. Search for poets’ sites and see which ones you like, then steal their ideas! On layout, not writing. I bought a Mr Site site, which was easy to set up and looks professional. I use it as a kind of online CV.
I use Twitter to follow writers, artists and potential readers, then post links to events I am reading at, or new poems I have on my site. I have a blog which has morphed into a space where I can experiment with a range of writing and commentary styles. Blogging helps me work out if an idea is a poem brewing, or something else. I’m exploring LinkedIn’s communities of writers and literary enthusiasts.
Recently, I read at the William Morris Gallery along with several other poets. The museum has published an anthology from the evening and they’ve also agreed to stock my pamphlet. It’s a good example of how one thing leads to another, and how a poet can create a readership.
AM: Thanks Graham for sharing your journey; the road to publication can seem a very long one. I think what is key and what you mention is that poets must know the market. It is imperative to read titles on publishers’ lists before even considering submitting to them; there’s often a house style and preference and every poet needs to know what that is. The same is true of poetry magazines.
There’s a wonderful pamphlet by Helena Nelson (Happenstance Press) called How Not To Get Published; it’s well worth reading before sending out a manuscript.
What I Wrote
Do you remember what I wrote
on the back of my German book,
about Miss Moore, as some sort of joke?
And how she sent me to Fossey –
he had old elephant’s ears
and a tin in his heart.
When I proffered das Buch
he churched his fingers
and told me to read what I’d written
then read it again, but this time
so the words could hurt us both properly.
I read and he leaned back
away from me.
First published in Smiths Knoll
On a slope
Trapped for ever in this town
a green, open prison with too much sky,
too much surface area cooling quickly down
where spinsters and wealthy men who wear
ironed jeans scowl along supermarket aisles.
You serve them, burning up, desperate for
your share. Perhaps you have been forgotten
or the very best you deserve is a carnival
by the canal locks, featuring the local librarian
and her Silver Thread choir echoing into cul-de-sacs
through a P.A. system that plays
Devizes Hospital Radio simultaneously
while children that you used to be, drop their jaws
at the 70-something balloon-twister.
He has a fight with the puppet on his hand.
He makes them cry and rain darkens pavement and brick.
Swans refuse to be fed any more, to make givers happy;
what wring-able necks.
The supermarket clatters shut.
It’s light for hours yet.
You go to cross the street, stop on double yellows –
all these roads lead to relatives, or abattoirs
frantic through the night with pigs and cows, or worse,
bend back on themselves.
From Welcome Back to the Country (Seren, 2010)
Visit Graham’s site