Anne: getting your poetry published…. a weekend with Peepal Tree Press

3 Sep

I went to an advanced poetry weekender in Epping Forest this weekend, run by Inscribe and Peepal Tree Press. Peepal Tree Press publishes Caribbean, Black British and some South Asian titles. This weekend was designed to support writers who are considering publishing a chap book, a pamphlet, or a full collection.

“What’s a chapbook?” I hear you ask… generally speaking this is around 16 pages of poetry, often quite simply produced, and some have illustrations and art work included, whereas a full collection would be a minimum of 60 pages (usually around 80). Which means a pamphlet is somewhere in between (see Pigeon Party by Debris Stevenson as an excellent example of a pamphlet) something a publisher would work on with you.

I picked up a load of hints and information, as well as generating some new pieces and getting excellent feedback from all the other participants on some older pieces that have been lying dormant for a while.

We had a session with Peepal Tree Editor, Jeremy Poynting, in which he outlined exactly what the role of an editor is and talked us through an example of a first poem as it came to Peepal Tree, through editing to the final draft. It showed the amount of input an editor has and the importance of finding an editor you feel in tune with (or you think is in tune with you)… so note the name of the editor in collections you read and see if a pattern emerges.

A word of advice from Kadija George, and Dorothea Smartt, who organised the event: publishers will look to see if you have had any poems published in journals or anthologies when you submit your work to them… so get submitting to journals and anthologies!

READ READ READ… this is a piece of advice that applies to writers of all genres… Roger Robinson, one of the tutors on the course, reckons that you should be reading at least 4 collections a month (yes… I know… 4). You should be reading 20 poems before you write a new poem of your own… he’s a tough task master…

So, a little maths…
Adhering to Robinson’s Theorem, how many months would it take a poet to write enough new work for a chapbook?
If you want to produce a chapbook of 16 pages, that could be say 13 poems. To write 13 poems, according to Roger’s rule (Robinson’s Theorem), you will need to have read 260 poems by published writers (20 for each of your pieces). That’s 5 or 6 collections (if we reckon on a collection to have an average of 50 poems). If you are reading 4 collections a month that means you should have enough material for a chapbook in just over a month. If you aren’t reading 4 collections, then you are slowing the process down.

If you come across a poet you admire in an anthology, check if they have a collection, or if they have poems anywhere else, this will lead you towards the kinds of publication where you would like to see your work. Don’t just send out a poem to any old journal, read back issues of the journal first and see if you fit with their kind of work. Subscribe to the journals you like and support them so they are still around to support you when the time comes!

The weekend made me realise how vital it is to work with critical friends to edit and refine my work, and actually, how important it is to step out of my comfort zone and seek out the company of new ‘critical friends’. Having a poem critiqued by a group of people who have no prior knowledge about my life was really helpful, as the only clues they get to what I’m saying, are the words I write on the page.

So, given that I am working hard to publish my novel myself as part of Big White Shed.. would I self-publish my poetry? NO WAY. Even the poems I thought were finished, aren’t! I know I need a lot of support from fellow writers and mentors before I’m even half way close to publishing and I still feel that self-publishing my poetry is not the way to go just yet.

So number 1 on the To Do list…. GET READING.


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