I think most presses will publish a first collection if they are wowed by the poet, but it seems there are more competitions for pamphlets (Cinnamon, Poetry Business, Pighog) that then publish the winners (Flarestack has a competition and only publishes pamphlets). There has been a big rise in pamphlet publishing and competitions generally. From my reading around, it seems there are more debut-only presses in the US.
Why set up a poetry press?
I’d been thinking about it for a couple of years and was finally moved to when Salt closed its poetry imprint. I felt there were lots of poets not being published who really merited a first collection or pamphlet (if younger/less experienced, etc). I almost felt, as a poet myself, and someone who didn’t have to rely on public funding for the first few books, that I had an obligation to set up a press! Only publishing debuts and pamphlets means I’m launching the poet and then they go for their next collection with someone else. So, I don’t have to commit beyond one book for each poet – I think it will leave me free to publish more people in the long run.
Yes, the submission guidelines state that you have to have a track record of print publication in some of the better known journals. Shortlisted or prize-winning poetry is also a bonus. I’m not so keen on only online publishing because so few are respected editorially. I’ve seen dreadful typos, etc. online.
The publication track record shows that you are able to polish your work to a certain level and that you’re not a beginner. I’m not in a position to mentor anyone – though I think that’s a great route for beginners if they can afford it and have the time.
What are you looking for in a submission?
I want to be surprised by unusual, fantastic, imaginative use of language. Beginner-poet giveaways are clichés that haven’t been edited out and line endings that have no meaning. Sometimes subject matter might initially put me off, but the writing will redeem it. I believe that nothing is off limits as a topic for poetry – it just depends how you write it. If I like someone’s submission I will find myself thinking about it all the time. Sometimes I’ll read something and the proverbial hairs go up on the back of my neck. With both Sarah Sibley and Jill Munro’s work I was surprised, amused and kept thinking about their imagery and ideas.
What kind of writing interests and surprises you?
I am often surprised by good writing on subjects that don’t interest me. I know it’s possible to write good poetry about anything, but rarely do I find poetry about professional sports, young love, dreams or menstruation interesting. I know lots of people write about these things and if the writing is good, I’m interested! I like to be proven wrong. The kind of poets I’m interested in and can read again and again are Elizabeth Bishop, Frank O’Hara, Lowell, Heaney, Michael Donaghy, Carol Ann Duffy, to name a few.
Many thanks for your time Jennifer.