on locking up poems

Poems locked up in hard-copy print editions only available for sale are struggling in new and serious ways, while poems delivered in multiple creative ways online have new leases on life and are reaching an ever-widening audience.

Nice article at the Best American Poetry blog on poetry collaboration & technology by Rachel Blarenbat. Short interview with me as part of it, and of course I had to make my favorite point.

‘Lent/Elegies’ – interview #3 with a nanopress publication team

As promised in this post about three nanopress teams, here is the third of three interviews with those teams. (Details on the nanopress publishing model here.)

Lent / Elegies by Nicolette Bethel, edited by Sonia Farmer and published by A Place Without Dust Nanopress.

1.Talk about the collaboration process as it unfolded for you – did this experience differ from any previous experiences you may have had of editing or being edited? What would you change about the collaboration process if you were to do it again?

Nico: The process was very easy. I have worked with Sonia before, on my small-run handmade chapbook Mama Lily and the Dead and so I knew what to expect. I simply sent the series of poems I had worked on to Sonia with a couple of questions–such as which ones to get rid of, whether the titles were working, and what she thought we should do about setting them up. She told me not to get rid of any of them, that the title worked fine, that we should present the title as it is written now–Lent/Elegies–and she laid them out for me as a book. Then she sourced the cover image, which was perfect, finished the layout, asked me a couple questions about font and spacing, and did some minor copyediting. Voilà.

Sonia: The collaboration was precipitated by Nicolette who asked me to come on board in publishing her latest book in a rather unconventional way. We had worked together before to publish Mama Lily & The Dead under my press, Poinciana Paper Press, so we had a level of creative trust and understanding which I think led her to ask me to get involved in her next book. Coming from a sort of specialized tradition where my books are hand-made through various binding, letterpress and printmaking processes, I nonetheless love the ways technology helps us rethink the book as an object, so the nanopress model excited me and I agreed to help edit the collection. I can’t think of anything I’d like to change–it was a fascinating exercise.

2.The nanopress model is flexible in conception and intended to evolve according to the individual needs of individual teams. In its first conception, it envisioned the editor providing ‘macro’ input, mainly focusing on the substance of the collection, with the ‘micro’ side – the technical legwork of publishing and marketing – being the responsibility of the author. How did the division of labor work out for you?

Nico: The division of labour worked just fine for me. It is the kind of thing I love, and building on it I am now working with a graphic artist for a more traditional self-publication–she is doing the layout for me, and I am doing the fiddly editorial work. I am now promoting Lent/Elegies, if you can call what I do “promotion”– I’m mentioning it every now and then and getting people to think about looking for it when the moment arises.

Sonia: Though we may not have followed the model–I think Nicolette had a very complete collection of poems that didn’t need any rearranging or many tweaks–I feel like we divided the labor fairly. In fact I wouldn’t say we divided any labors exactly–we exchanged a lot of emails about creative decisions like cover art and the name of the press itself and such so it felt more like a true collaboration that I really enjoyed. In terms of marketing I wrote an article about it and Nicolette arranged a wonderful reading this year to launch it, plus we shared the blog with our individual networks. However Nicolette undertook the recording process for the audio component on her own.

3. Talk about the numbers of readers you have been able to reach – did you do a lot of, or not so much, marketing? If you did, how did you market the poems? What statistics can you share – would you fill in the blanks in the table below?.

Nico: As I’ve said above, I haven’t done very much marketing at all. However, just last week (April 2013) I participated in a reading at the university bookstore, all arranged and organized by the poet who shared the reading with me, and sold several printed versions of the book (30 in one week, a very good week indeed). In all, 53 print copies have been sold, and there have been 146 downloads of the digital version. The original 23 books were given away as presents, so “sold” to the author, or featured at the Bocas LitFest in Trinidad and Tobago.

Sonia: Unfortunately I am not sure how to assess that exactly, being a luddite! I have no concrete stats, but I did write two articles to promote the book that were published in the Arts & Culture section of The Nassau Guardian–one in-depth piece about the work and its fascinating publishing process around the time it launched, and another revisiting it for her recent reading and informal launch of sorts during a Meet the Writer series at the College of The Bahamas earlier this year.

4. In its first conception, the nanopress model envisioned that resulting poetry would be provided to readers either free of charge or, in the case of print versions, at base production price with no mark-up. Did you go with this model, or choose a different one? Why in either case?

Nico: The digital versions of Lent/Elegies are entirely free and can be downloaded in various formats from Smashwords, or read online on WordPress.com. The print versions have a slight mark-up of about $1.50. The main reason for this is that I have had to order the books myself in small bulk numbers to distribute to local bookstores, and I wanted the online price to be comparable to the bookstore prices in an effort to support those bookstores. I didn’t want to undercut local bookstore prices. Landed, the books cost me about $7 a copy, and that is what I sell them to the bookstores for. My suggested retail price for the books is $10. The Lulu price for the book is $7. The idea is that if one orders a copy online and one is in the Bahamas, one will discover that, once one has paid shipping and handling and duty, one could’ve gone to the local bookstore and bought a copy for the same basic price and far less trouble.

Sonia: We went with all possible models. From what I recall, the decision was really Nicolette’s which I was happy to back up.

5.How many publication formats did you choose to work with? Why?

Nico: I chose all the available formats because I wanted to see how they would be consumed. It’s been fun looking at the stats. I’m pretty chuffed with the numbers, even though they’re technically tiny. The only format still unavailable is the audio version, which takes time to prepare. I’ve begun recording the poems but haven’t yet achieved the quality that Nic wants me to, so that project is still unfinished.

Sonia: This is a similar answer to the previous question. For me really I was excited by the idea of providing as many choices as possible to readers, which is something the digital age can afford us. The idea of audio was intriguing to me and had me thinking–what’s next? A soundtrack to books that unfolds as we read? Why not?

6. Would you be willing to undertake another nanopress collaboration in the future, as either editor or author? Why or why not?

Nico: I would certainly consider it. I’d much rather be the author, though! Write the poems, the work is done.

Sonia: For sure–but for me it would have to be with a writer with whom I know I share certain creative sensibilities with. As an editor I like to have close relationships with the writers I publish so I can help them realize their vision in all its glory.

7.Is there anything else you would like to say?

Nico: I’ve always loved this idea. I really buy into the liberation being offered by digital publishing and Nic has tried to bring quality to the mix. Kudos to her.

Sonia: This was an inspiring experience that actually helped me overcome my technological prejudices as an avid chapbook publisher. I thought technology could only help print die, and but instead I see it opens up exciting alternate realities and I’ve started to explore what they can do for my handmade process in the future.

_________

Previous interviews with nanopress teams:

- Diagnostic Impressions – poems by Dana Guthrie Martin, edited by Donna Vorreyer, published by DNA Nanopress.

- Omer/Teshuvah – poems by Shifrah Tobacman, edited by Rachel Barenblat, published by Omeremo Nanopress.

‘Omer/Teshuvah’ – interview #2 with a nanopress publication team

As promised in this post about three nanopress teams, here is the second of three interviews with those teams. (Details on the nanopress publishing model here.)

Omeremo Nanopress published Omer/Teshuvah by Shifrah Tobacman, edited by Rachel Barenblat.

1. Talk about the collaboration process as it unfolded for you – did this experience differ from any previous experiences you may have had of editing or being edited? What would you change about the collaboration process if you were to do it again?

Rachel: I don’t think this experience differed from my previous experiences of editing, at least not experiences of editing poetry. There’s always a challenge in balancing one’s editorial sensibilities with the voice of the poet, wanting to be a helpful force for refining without overwhelming or overwriting what makes the poems unique in the first place.

Shifrah: This is the first time I have published a collection of my poetic work, and the first time I have worked with a poetry editor. I found it very valuable and was very grateful to have Rachel’s discerning eye on my work, and felt she did a very nice job of maintaining the balance she describes above.

2. The nanopress model is flexible in conception and intended to evolve according to the individual needs of individual teams. In its first conception, it envisioned the editor providing ‘macro’ input, mainly focusing on the substance of the collection, with the ‘micro’ side – the technical legwork of publishing and marketing – being the responsibility of the author. How did the division of labor work out for you?

Rachel: I focused both on the substance of the collection and on the technical legwork of publishing: manuscript layout, working with CreateSpace, etc. I set up the book’s website. Shifrah worked on marketing.

Shifrah: I am curious to know how Rachel might have felt about our division of labor. Since book publishing was new to me, and my expertise was limited when it came to the technical end of nanopress publishing, I leaned on Rachel a good deal for support in this area. She graciously took this on, although it may have been more than that for which she originally bargained.

One disadvantage of our particular division of labor is that some of the technical control of the CreateSpace account ended up as Rachel’s responsibility, and out of my control, which I think is challenging for us both.

In addition to marketing, I spent a good deal of time considering the art work used, finding an artist to work with, considering how I wanted the words to fit on the page, the amount of white space I thought matched the sensibility of the collection, etc… in other words, a number of aesthetic issues which needed to be considered and re-considered as we went along. Rachel was an excellent advisor, but these were decisions that were and ultimately needed to be mine to make as the artist. This may be an advantage of the nanopress model, where the artist is closer to the production than she or he might be in a traditional publishing approach.

3. Talk about the numbers of readers you have been able to reach – did you do a lot of, or not so much, marketing? If you did, how did you market the poems? What statistics can you share – would you fill in the blanks in the table below?

Rachel: We’ve sold 227 books in total, 32 via Amazon and the rest via the Createspace e-store. The only marketing I did for the book was to create its (very simple) website and to share that website in a publication announcement on my blog. I also mentioned the book, and linked to it, in the collection of Omer resources I made available to my congregation.

Shifrah: This is probably the most difficult and frustrating part for me about this model of publishing. Marketing is not my strong suit. I think this is less a matter of ability and more a matter of time. I would love to have hours to devote to blogging and making Facebook entries, contacting book stores and calling synagogues that might be interested in selling the book, offering readings and workshops to promote it. But the truth is I only have a very limited amount of time for these activities, so sales remain lower than I would like. I could definitely benefit from teaming up with someone who could assist with this aspect of the project.

4. In its first conception, the nanopress model envisioned that resulting poetry would be provided to readers either free of charge or, in the case of print versions, at base production price with no mark-up. Did you go with this model, or choose a different one? Why in either case?

Rachel: We opted to offer the collection with a very slight mark-up — each copy costs $7, which is close to what CreateSpace makes them for. My memory is that we opted for a slight mark-up because we wanted Shifrah to receive some compensation, however nominal, for her creativity. We offered a selection of poems from the book online, but not the whole manuscript; my memory is that Shifrah wanted the book to be out there in print form, to be touched and held and used as a physical object in the world, but not as a digital download.

Shifrah: Actually, I would be happy to also have the book available as a digital download, but have not made that happen yet. I have wavered about what format to use for that.

Rachel is correct. We opted for a slight mark-up, partly for compensation purposes, but mostly to cover costs I incur in the process of marketing the book (making flyers and buying snacks for events, buying supplies for workshops, covering car travel, etc.) When I sell hard copies myself, I sell them for $12 to cover shipping and handling and yield a small profit.

Needless to say at the rate we have been selling these, profit margins remain low, which is fine. This collection is meant to enhance people’s spiritual practice, not to be a big money maker.

5. How many publication formats did you choose to work with?

Rachel: Just the one: a print book.

6. Would you be willing to undertake another nanopress collaboration in the future, as either editor or author? Why or why not?

Rachel: I would definitely be interested in doing this again, from either side of the table. I enjoy the creative collaboration which arises in a good editorial relationship. I like this model so much better than pure self-publishing (in which there are no checks or balances for the author’s sense of what’s best for the work.) And given that we live in an internet age, the age of the long tail, this is a great way for authors to get their work out to people who would enjoy that work, even if the manuscript in question isn’t going to win the Yale Younger Poets prize or what-have-you.

This actually isn’t my first nanopress, or not exactly, anyway. I’ve done two similar projects. In 2006, my short collection chaplainbook (a collection of chaplaincy poems) was printed via print-on-demand after undergoing editorial input from several literary friends. I posted about that experience on my blog at the time: the chaplainbook story.

And in 2009, I released my chapbook Through, a collection of miscarriage poems, also via print-on-demand, after putting it through the editorial refinement of working with, again, several literary friends whose judgement I trusted. (Here’s my post about it.) Through is available at-cost, and also as a free download; I wanted those poems to be available to anyone who suffers miscarriage, regardless of their ability to pay. (You can find both of those in my lulu store.)

Shifrah: Ditto for me on the collaborative and co-creative process. I love that, and this was not exception.

_________

Previous interview: Diagnostic Impressions – poems by Dana Guthrie Martin, edited by Donna Vorreyer, published by DNA Nanopress.

Interview coming up soon: A Place Without Dust Nanopress, which published Lent / Elegies by Nicolette Bethel, edited by Sonia Farmer.

‘Diagnostic Impressions’ – interview with a nanopress publication team

As promised in this post about three nanopress teams, here is the first of three interviews with those teams. (Details on the nanopress publishing model here.)

Diagnostic Impressions by Dana Guthrie Martin, edited by Donna Vorreyer, was published by DNA Nanopress.

1. Talk about the collaboration process as it unfolded for you—did this experience differ from any previous experiences you may have had of editing or being edited? What would you change about the collaboration process if you were to do it again?

Donna: It developed rather organically. Dana began posting the “impressions” (the smaller poems) on Facebook, and I made the comment that they would make a wonderful chapbook. When Dana began to consider putting together the pieces as a collection, she asked if I would be willing to participate in the nanopress model as editor, which I was thrilled to do. I have been an admirer of Dana’s writing for quite some time, and, as an educator, the topic was also one that I knew was important to bring to the public. Serving as a sounding board to bring the project to life was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

Dana: I had seen Nic’s post calling for others to take part in the nanopress model, and I wanted to try that out. I’ve had work published more conventionally (i.e., in literary journals and through independent and boutique presses) and wanted to see what would happen when working within the nanopress model. Donna is one of the few poets I would have trusted in the editor role, and I was eager to collaborate with her. The only thing I would change is that I would make it not be a one-off undertaking. I would love to see our roles switched so that I might serve as editor on a work of Donna’s, still using our signature DNA Nanopress name.

2. The nanopress model is flexible in conception and intended to evolve according to the individual needs of individual teams. In its first conception, it envisioned the editor providing ‘macro’ input, mainly focusing on the substance of the collection, with the ‘micro’ side – the technical legwork of publishing and marketing—being the responsibility of the author. How did the division of labor work out for you?

Donna: I would say that we definitely followed that model. Dana did ALL of the work of creating and publishing the website, while I focused on how to present the work in its different incarnations. Dana originally had a different idea for how to make the impressions “jump” from the original poem, but it proved technically challenging. As she wrestled with the typography issues that would make the reading experience unique, I recorded the impressions section, at first to hear how these pieces sounded as individual poems. I felt it was necessary to see if the short impressions worked as a series of short poems, if they had a sensible progression or arc of their own outside the realm of the home text. Deciding how to read them made that process easier for me.

Dana: We did follow the model, and Donna is right about the frustrations that arose. Presenting the poems with parts obscured/deemphasized was not as easy as I thought it would be. Compounding the problem, a presentation that would work across multiple formats, including mobile apps and in print, as well as on the site itself, was impossible. We finally decided to drop the mobile version, and the print version is still in the works.

The other issue that I didn’t anticipate was how much the process would aggravate my dyslexia. That’s funny, given that the collection deals with my dyslexia. Presenting the poems in the manner we eventually agreed on—using different font sizes to signal foregrounded and backgrounded text—made formatting the poems on the site much more difficult (you should see them in html view!) and made proofing nearly impossible. Actually, I’ll show you an excerpt of what the poems look like in html view, just so you have an idea of how gnarly they looked:

code image

I mean, yuck. And then, to make things more complicated, dealing with one poem that has twelve overlays meant that extremely careful editing was needed to ensure that these texts, which looked so similar but were so different, were each treated accordingly. It would have been so easy to improperly format a word or punctuation mark without realizing it.

The print version of the collection is actually still in the works because I don’t trust my editing on it. I don’t know if I will ever trust my dyslexic eye enough to let that piece go to print.

3. Talk about the readers you have been able to reach – did you do a lot of, or not so much, marketing? If you did, how did you market the poems?

Dana: I know a number of educators and counselors who work in the area of dyslexia assessment and support. I also belong to several dyslexia groups on Facebook. I put the word out through those channels, as well as letting friends and poets know about the collection. We received a lot of support but I don’t know that the collection has made its way into the dyslexia community in the way that I would like. There are still ways to try to accomplish that, such as editorial coverage in publications that focus on dyslexia, making organizations that deal with learning disabilities aware of the work, and getting it into more K-12 classrooms.

My concern with the collection being taught by middle- and high-school instructors is that some might not know how to approach the topic because they don’t fully understand the various manifestations of dyslexia. It’s hard to be comfortable with presenting material you don’t comprehend. The challenge with regard to teaching Diagnostic Impressions is larger than the collection itself; an awareness of dyslexia is needed before it can be taught. However, it’s that very lack of awareness that makes texts like this important. So where do we start—with the texts or with awareness? We need a way in, but a lack of awareness presents a barrier to these texts, while a lack of texts makes it harder to achieve awareness.

Donna: I originally shared it with colleagues and friends in both teaching and poetry circles and got positive feedback. I think that Dana’s comments above are accurate—even as an experienced educator, understanding dyslexia and its different manifestations is a challenge. This is why I felt so strongly about getting the collection out into the world.

I recently used the collection in my own middle-school classroom as a part of a unit about identity and labels. I started with some of the teaching suggestions on the site and the students’ own perceptions of what dyslexia meant. Not surprisingly, many were convinced that it meant that people “switched their b’s and d’s” and other common simplifications. We first discussed the long version of the poem “(diagnostic)” in order to discuss the emotional impact of something that makes you different than others, something you can’t control. They responded with great empathy and many questions, which led to our readings of the impressions.

As a culminating activity, I gave the students copies of “(diagnostic)” to create erasures, therefore forcing them to experience text in a nonlinear way. Their erasures were so mind-bogglingly perceptive that we may end up putting some of them on the site as companion pieces. Hopefully, because of the fluid nature of the nanopress model, it will continue to both grow content and grow an audience.

4. In its first conception, the nanopress model envisioned that resulting poetry would be provided to readers either free of charge or, in the case of print versions, at base production price with no mark-up. Did you go with this model, or choose a different one? Why in either case?

Donna: We thought, especially with the importance of the topic, that this model was ideal for getting the collection into the hands of as many people as possible, especially teachers who often don’t have the budgets for something “extra” like a poetry collection.

Dana: The site is open to anyone, and the PDF and Issuu files can be downloaded for free. The audio component Donna recorded can be heard or downloaded for free as well. When we complete the print version, it will be made available in accordance with the model defined above.

5. Would you be willing to undertake another nanopress collaboration in the future, as either editor or author? Why or why not?

Dana: As I said, I would love to work as an editor on a nanopress project with Donna. She and I have shared work with each other for a long time now, and I feel like I could be of service to her in an editorial role. However, having seen all the issues we encountered during the production of Diagnostic Impressions, I am not sure Donna would want to enter into a nanopress undertaking.

Donna: Well, it was not frustrating on my end at all, so I would love to try the model again. Dave Bonta’s recent collection that involved poems and photography intrigued me very much, and if I decide to pursue another nanopress project as the writer, I would certainly want Dana to be the editor. She is a perceptive reader of my work, and everything she gives me feedback on is better in revision as a result.

6. Is there anything else you would like to say?

Donna: One of the best things about working with Dana is her wide-open heart. Her writing is honest and intensely personal, yet always universal at the same time. In a world where people are isolated by and judged for their differences, Dana’s work is an excellent reminder that differences are what make us unique and able to love and be loved.

Dana: One of the most beautiful things about this collection is the fact that Donna ended up reading my work in the audio recordings for the site. That choice brought a new layer to the project. I was honored to have her read my poems, to hear them in her voice as processed by her mind and heart.

Also, I would like to say this: You can be anything you want to be. With the right support, with unwavering love, and with dogged determination, we can all live free from the drowning stigma of labels and the obstacles those labels often imply, enforce and justify. If anyone labels you and attempts to turn that label into a prison, find a home outside those confines. Stake claim to your own place in the world, then find a world inside your heart, and you will be just fine.

_________

Interviews coming up:

Omeremo Nanopress, which published Omer/Teshuvah by Shifrah Tobacman, edited by Rachel Barenblat.
A Place Without Dust Nanopress, which published Lent / Elegies by Nicolette Bethel, edited by Sonia Farmer.

‘mine, the great spread of wings’

Got an idea for a project from this post, involving Helen in Egypt.

In other news, I was lucky enough to be interviewed by Erica Goss at Connotation Press, on videopoetry and other matters, right behind the amazing Swoon.

In separate but related news, Swoon and I also just collaborated (with Swoon doing much the heaviest lifting) on a film-poem for Dave Bonta’s latest project. More on the latter soon.

trompes loude and clarioun & Chaucer interviewing Margaret Atwood

Yesterday I posted a terrific reading from the Knight’s Tale by UPenn Professor David Wallace at Voice Alpha, and today found this at Geoffrey Chaucer’s blog, one of my all-time favorite blogs.

In other news, I’m a ‘bits and bobs’ teaser at the Best American Poetry blog, where I start my blogging week this Sunday. It’s going to be poetry out loud, intensively, in all my posts throughout the week, so be warned…

The De-Cabbage Yourself Experience continued

mackenzie_rob_a

Very Like A Whale is tickled pink to present the second part of  the interview we conducted with Rob Mackenzie for his De-Cabbage Yourself Experience – his virtual book tour for The Opposite of Cabbage, his debut collection from Salt Publishing. The first part of his Very Like A Whale interview is here.
Photo: © Gerry Cambridge, 2009

6. A small group — perhaps five or six out of the 44 poems in the collection – have some of the cerebral ‘observer’ quality of the majority, but at the same time give a strong sense of personal involvement by the narrator and have poignancy for that reason. I’m thinking of poems like Light Storms from a Dark Country, Voices , Married Life in the Nineties and Plastic Cork, which all seem to be “relationship” poems. Describe the genesis of these poems. Do they feel different from the rest to you, and if so, how?

These poems are all about different people and were written years apart from each other. I suppose they do have a strong sense of personal involvement and, apart from ‘Married Life…’, an immediacy about them. The unfolding of the action seems almost synchronous with the pressures on the relationships. But they don’t feel too different from the other poems to me. I’m not in the least a ‘confessional’ poet and I try to find other strategies to draw readers into my poems.

7. You are quoted here as saying: “I wanted to find ways of writing about politics, religion and nationality that would engage, provoke and entertain people.” Not all the references in Fallen Villages of the North were clear to me, but it is precisely and compactly-written and seems to touch on all three of these themes. What were you trying to achieve thematically in this poem?

The poem began with place names. I was travelling by car up the A1 to Edinburgh from the English Midlands and noticed how odd some of the place-names were. The places in the poem like Longhorsley, Pauperhaugh, Cockle Park and Shilbottle (on the road signs to Shilbottle, the –l is often graffittied to a –t) are just villages. Much of the terrain is moorland and farmland but it was punctuated by small fairgrounds at regular intervals. I’d been reading Milton’s Paradise Lost and I also thought of Blake’s Jerusalem as I looked onto the green, rain-soaked landscape. All of these images and influences came together in the poem, which went through a large number of drafts.

Environmentally-questionable farms grow alongside merry-go-rounds. The hail falls. The priest is summoned to curse rival villages and to bless his home turf. Wind and rain play havoc. Messiahs drop in like bombs. Blake’s hymn shakes coconuts from the shy. A parochial and self-serving politics and religion vie with the landscape’s decay.

There’s no single theme, which I suppose makes it a complex poem to get a handle on. I wanted to hang a personality on the landscape, which would exert a pervasive effect on the surrounding human endeavour. The people look to God in a rather self-serving way, and God sends them what they deserve, I suppose.

8. Many of these poems are funny in a great way – if not laugh-out-loud funny, definitely wide-smile funny – and some (such as The Look, Slimming, Benediction and Sky Blue) are pretty Kafkaesque, also in a great way. Talk about the importance of humor and the surreal for you as poetic devices.

The kind of humour I like best in poetry is when it’s used as a counterpoint to seriousness. I think of Zbigniew Herbert, whose poems deal with important themes and yet engage their complexities with what appears to be a light touch. Humour is a big part of that. Many writers I enjoy do this and it’s a feature of the work of many 20th and 21st century Scottish poets.

I don’t think of myself as a surreal poet. My poems cohere too much for that, despite an initial appearance of fragmentation about some of them, but surreal techniques have influenced me. I use them in different ways: to view a scene from a surprising angle, or (similar to metaphor) to layer an image with unexpected connections. Also, there can be a political dimension – absurd images can reveal the absurdity of a situation better than any argument. That’s one thing I learned from Eastern European poets like Herbert and Holub.

9. Name your top five poetic influences and the nature of their influence.

Well, I’ll name five books I read almost exclusively while writing around half of the manuscript. I was consciously courting their influence, and read them slowly and carefully, and didn’t read anything else for months. I didn’t want to sound exactly like any of them, but if anything from their output has seeped into my poems, it will have been all to the good:

Harmonium – Wallace Stevens: his first lines are always remarkable. He never wrote anything in the least ordinary. He reminds me that whatever poems are, they shouldn’t be dull. Stevens is about as far from prose as poetry can get.

The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nation Millennium General Assembly – Denis Johnson: Johnson is better known as a novelist these days. He is a flawed poet, but never a bland one. This ‘Collected Poems’ contains some fantastic poems and the most extraordinary images and ideas. He’s never cited when poets mention their influences – another good reason to be influenced by him…

Collected Poems – James Schuyler: again, this big book is a mixed bag, but Schuyler’s best stuff is passionate and brilliantly observed. His writing often feels informal and is also really moving.

New Collected Poems – W.S. Graham: like Stevens, sometimes he mystifies me, sometimes he loses me, but Graham is one of the most innovative writers of the 20th century. The odd syntax, the sinuous clarity of thought struggling to find expression, the varied approaches to writing a poem – unparalleled.

The Great Enigma – Tomas Transtromer: he can transform a landscape with a word or phrase and make me look at something simple in a very different light. He compresses his poems without them becoming ponderous and creates the most surprising metaphors and similes (often overused in poetry, but not by him) of any writer I’ve read.

10. You are one of what seems to be just a handful of UK poets familiar with and comfortable in the US poetry blogosphere as well. Talk about that cross-over experience. There doesn’t seem to be as much US-UK poetry blogosphere cross-over as one might expect, given the internet and virtual-ness in general – is that a good or a bad thing for poetry? What are the broad-stroke differences between the US and the UK poetry worlds as you see them?

These are huge and potentially controversial questions! My feeling is that many poets (and therefore, many poet-bloggers) aren’t much interested in poetry or poets from outside their own country. I guess some see blogging as a form of networking and don’t see any need to network beyond national boundaries. There’s no po-biz advantage. However, the Internet has made it possible for those who are interested to find out what’s happening throughout the world of poetry on a previously unimaginable scale. I know the work of many American poets I wouldn’t have heard of in pre-Internet days and am in touch with several U.S. bloggers.

As I see the U.S. poetry world (from a great distance, so I probably have it very wrong), there’s more acceptance of innovation in mainstream circles than in the UK. I know some U.S. post-avant poets might laugh at that, but much of the American mainstream would still seem quite avant-garde to many people in UK mainstream circles. This year, the Forward Prize nominees for Best Poetry Collection (published in Britain) included one U.S. poet – Sharon Olds! She is your representative! That’s where we are… A great deal of excellent British poetry is being written, but the best stuff isn’t always given the recognition it deserves.

American poetry is such a huge world though, it’s impossible to scratch more than the surface. I recently read through an anthology, Legitimate Dangers, of U.S. poets, most of them from the ‘elliptical’ side of things. It was a fascinating read, great for an overview of emerging American poets. Like all anthologies, I liked some poems better than others. I have quite wide taste. I really enjoyed Rick Barot, Stephen Burt, Matthea Harvey, Lisa Jarnot, DA Powell, Natasha Trethewey, C Dale Young and a good number of others, but some writers were indistinguishable from one another. Reading so many poems in a row employing an elliptical writing style brought to mind a prose poem by UK poet, Luke Kennard, called ‘The Elements’ (from one of the best books to emerge in recent years, The Harbour Beyond the Movie) which includes an ‘Interview with a Clod’. The poem concludes:

‘Your work often concludes in paradox,’ I say. ‘Is that intentional or do you genuinely not know anything?’

But I like a lot of American writing and read more of it than I do English poetry. Scottish poets have often looked across the Atlantic for inspiration, so I’m only carrying on a well-worn tradition by doing so.