all about poetry pamphlets

Spineless, short-lived and easily overlooked, poetry pamphlets are thriving against the odds.”   Paul Batchelor, in The Guardian

Michael Laskey’s name may be familiar to you for all sorts of reasons. He’s a poet, of course, with several collections to his name, the most recent of which was Weighing the Present, Smith/Doorstop 2015. He founded the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, directed it for its first decade, then chaired its board for several years, and was a key member of the festival team thereafter. With Roy Blackman, he edited many issues of the magazine Smiths Knoll, continuing it after Roy’s demise, until its final issue, with Joanna Cutts. Michael Laskey is an Arvon tutor, mentor to many, friend to poetry and poets. But he’s also a pamphleteer.

Laskey and pamphlets go back quite a way. In fact, his first ever publication – as a poet in his own right – was Cloves of Garlic (1988) – a pamphlet he shared with Steven Waling. They were joint prize-winners of the Poetry Business competition in its third year. Perhaps those cloves stayed in the mind when, 15 years later, Garlic Press sprang into existence, its first publication being Dean Parkin’s Irresistible to Women (2003).

But let me look back before I skip forward. What did that first pamphlet publication mean to Michael Laskey? In fact, what did pamphlets in general mean to him back in 1988?

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These are short responses (300-350 words) to poetry pamphlets. A kind of a review, but not quite the usual kind.

Each one deals with only one point of interest (OPOI). Read a couple and you'll soon get the idea.

There may be more than one OPOI for any publication. In fact, soon, I very much hope there will be.

OPOIs do not attempt to rate or evaluate the publication as a whole, just to pick up on whatever the reviewer found interesting. They may not always praise, but they will never patronise or employ a superior tone. They will be respectful, and hopefully written in a lively, accessible way.

If you would like a poetry pamphlet OPOI-ed, it should be currently in print and available for purchase. Send to OPOI reviews, HappenStance, 21 Hatton Green, Glenrothes, Fife KY7 4SD.

If you would like to write an OPOI for publication on this site, contact nell at happenstancepress.com (you should be able to work out the email address from that, but a computer won't).

Mike Barlow set up Wayleave Press for poetry pamphlets in 2014. Here he answers some searching questions:

Mike, as a poet-publisher you’re a poacher turned game-keeper! ‘Wayleave’: permission granted to cross or enter territory from which one has been previously excluded (explained on your website). Is publishing the territory you’ve given yourself permission to enter? Or does Wayleave let in poets who might otherwise be shut out?

A bit of both, really. It all started with self-publishing. I had a collection of poems of a particular nature, cryptic and slightly elusive, which I thought went well together. I doubted, however, that many editors would be interested and anyway didn’t want to have to submit and wait endlessly for rejections. I believed in the poems and decided to use our local printer to produce a pamphlet with an illustration of mine on the cover. It was well-received by those I sent it out to, and the whole process felt relatively straightforward and satisfying.

The next step was to try and do the same for others. I had in mind one or two fellow poets with a good body of work who hadn’t had any success in the major pamphlet competitions but whose work I admired. The title ‘Wayleave’ seemed apt for them. I liked the idea of giving permission for work to be out there despite competitive arbitrariness.

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Robin Houghton of Telltale Press explains some of the background

Telltale Press is a new poetry publishing imprint, and it’s a collective. For people who don’t know, could you explain what that means in practical terms?

As it says on the website: We publish primarily short, first poetry pamphlets and help develop and support one another to move forward with our poetry careers. The aim is for all members to be involved in the press, for collective benefit, rather like a co-operative, if that makes more sense.

What was the spur to starting the enterprise? What tipped you into action?

A few things. I was on a masterclass at Ty Newydd with Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke, and the question everyone wanted answering was ‘how does one get published in this day and age?’ Carol Ann suggested we formed a self-publishing collective, citing a number of successful poets who had started by doing something similar, or self-publishing a small ‘calling card’ pamphlet. Personally, I really needed to be proactive rather than passively waiting for a press to publish my first pamphlet, which was draining my confidence, creativity and energy. I wanted to get those first few poems out and done with, in order to move on, write more, and have more time and enthusiasm for poetry projects. I also knew it would help get my name and work known, bring more reading opportunities and so on. There are huge numbers of poets getting published in the good magazines and winning the odd prize but struggling to get a first pamphlet published. It made sense to get together with them and do something collectively. I met Peter Kenny through Brighton Poetry Stanza and was delighted when he agreed to come in on the project, so that’s how it started.


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