Young Scottish poets

There was much talk at StAnza about the dearth of young Scottish poets, or emerging Scottish poets, to be non-ageist. In talking to some fellow poet/publishers, I said I thought the creative writing courses in the Scottish universities would be one of the strands from which we might expect these writers to come. I even had the idea of approaching the Scottish Arts Council to see if they might co-ordinate a pamphlet publishing venture between the CW courses. I was told, and I can still scarcely believe it, that some of the lecturers on these courses discourage pamphlet publishing. ‘Wait until Bloodaxe or Carcanet approaches you for a full collection,’ was one quote I heard. If this is true, then some of our academics know hee-haw about the publishing scene, and how young poets come to prominence. The number who have taken this route is vanishing small. The vast majority have made it through magazine submissions (still essential) and pamphlets, before they get a full collection.

I was mightily impressed by Roddy Lumsden’s ‘Pilot Poets’ session, featuring Adam O’Riordan, Ben Wilkinson, Abi Curtis, Jay Bernard and Emily Berry. They now all have pamphlets published by tall-lighthouse press. I bought their work after the session (the stock sold out very quickly, by the way), and on reading them now I’m still mightily impressed.

Could we do something similar in Scotland? I’m damn sure we could. Further, I think we should.

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About sunnydunny

Poet, publisher, gardener
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30 Responses to Young Scottish poets

  1. Andrew Philip says:

    Yes, perhaps we should, Colin. I think we also need to bolster and co-ordinate the teaching/learning opportunities <>outside<> the university creative writing courses. Anyone for setting up a Scottish (arm of the) Poetry School?

  2. Sorlil says:

    At an event last year I asked Michael Schmidt, who heads up the creative writing course at Glasgow Uni, what he thought of pamphlet publishing. He seemed rather uncomfortable about the question and was quite negative about pamphlet publishing even though he admitted that before Carcanet he started out as a pamphlet publisher! So it doesn’t look like he’ll be encouraging his students to pamphlet publishing.

  3. BarbaraS says:

    No Claire, you can’t. I agree Colin, this seems right out of order and out of touch. Why the reluctance, when it’s such an essential part of the development further down the country? A pamphlet gives people a chance to sample your work and get you known to a wider audience. Having them at a reading is an excellent way to capitalise on the (hopeful) success of the reading. I don’t understand. It’s the first collection you don’t want to rush, not the pamphlet, surely! That’s for taking risks in…Could it be that pamphlets are somehow associated with self-publishing..? In college in Belfast, pamphlets are positively encouraged, although there aren’t many p-let publishers here. Maybe there’s a market…

  4. Rob says:

    I can’t fathom why the University lecturers should caution against pamphlets. Is it to do with control and ‘career’ management? They want their students not to publish anywhere until until they recommend them to Bloodaxe or wherever? They call the shots? Seems very odd. I can’t see the point, or what they would gain from that.I’d say a pamphlet for Claire, and others in a similar position, is the obvious way forward. It is, as Roddy (I think) put it, a “calling card” and also a valuable publication in itself. I see why tutors might advise against putting a <>book<> out too early. That makes complete sense. But a pamphlet means you don’t need to pad things out to book length and can build up material until you’re ready for a strong first book.My pamphlet didn’t do me any harm. In fact, it did me a lot of good.Obviously an Eric Gregory Award helps enormously if you want to publish a book with a prominent poetry publisher. But that award doesn’t preclude publishing pamphlets as well – as the list of Eric Gregory winners shows. As far as a Scottish ‘School of Poets’, I’d be up for helping in setting that up, but a lot would depend on the attitude of SAC. A pamphlet initiative like tall-lighthouse in Scotland might also have some mileage, and could be done, perhaps, as a cooperative venture between exisiting pamphlet publishers, SAC funding (maybe), and the input of other interested poets and publishers. If we’re serious about these things, we’d need to meet up sometime soon and decide on a strategy. It would mean loads of work and plenty of form filling, but it might be worth it in the end

  5. Andrew Philip says:

    Rob, see my comment over on < HREF="http://tonguefire.blogspot.com/2009/03/stanza-absence-presence-and-accuracy.html" REL="nofollow">Tonguefire<>: I’m suggesting exactly what you say at the end of yours.Feels like we’ve got a bit of a head of steam building up here, folks. Let’s do something about it. Facebook group as a first step (“nanogen”, perhaps)?Bizarrely, word recognition is “scotedb”!

  6. Colin Will says:

    Many thanks to all for your comments. There appears to an emerging consensus here on two points: that a pamphlet publishing initiative is possible, and that a Scottish version of the Poetry School would be worth exploring. (It would have to be separate from the PS because of devolved funding in this area) I’m prepared to seek a meeting with the head of literature at the SAC to explore the issues, but I’d like to meet up with some of you first (and soon) so we have an outline on paper to take to a meeting. I’m also happy to discuss it with fellow publishers. BTW Claire, when’s your pamphlet due out?

  7. Ben Wilkinson says:

    Really glad to hear you’re enjoying the tall-lighthouse pamphlets, Colin. It was brilliant to have such a receptive crowd at StAnza, and for many people to kindly fork out for the pamphlets afterwards. Thoroughly enjoyed the whole festival.If I might add my penny’s worth – from what was said at the poetry breakfast I took part in, and from the comments here, I think a Scottish version of the Poetry School would be an excellent idea (this was the thrust of my comment that morning re the affordability – or lack of – as well as the time commitment needed to take part in MA courses as a younger poet). A pamphlet scheme could be a positive step, too – the Pilot scheme has certainly been very successful (three Gregory winners last year).As for pamphlet publication damaging your chances, I can’t make sense of that – a good number of my fellow Pilot poets have books forthcoming or serious interest from major publishers on the back of their pubblications. Or take Frances Leviston, Jacob Polley or Daljit Nagra… the list of quality, recent ‘big press’ poets who published a pamphlet first goes on…

  8. Roddy says:

    Yes, there are a few dedicated anti-pamphletists out there. There are a couple of understandable points – but mostly it’s snootiness.Those points though:– some first pamphlets are too long and you end up with half a book. This can effect sales when a first collection appears. Years ago, Bloodaxe took on a poet whose recent pamphlet had sold very well, but the book nosedived;– some publishers want to tie down poets to doing a full book with them; some poets avoid pamphlets for this reason;– some publishers insist on entering a pamphlet for the Forward first book prize (a pamphlet has never won though a few have mad the shortlist) and this makes a first book ineligible.Les and I discussed all this before doing Pilot – our pamphlets are always around a third of a full book, we don’t tie anyone down and we don’t submit for the Forward. We actively send copies of the books to any leading editor who wants them. The series has been very helpful in spreading the name of tall-lighthouse as well.Faber have of course just started a pamphlet series – partly influenced by Pilot. I think there are many good reasons for young poets to do them – not least working with an editor for, often, the first time.

  9. deemikay says:

    To take things from another field… surely a pamphlet is like a single or an EP? No-one objects to them, do they? Pamphlets are a good thing. I don’t really see where any objections could arise.The idea of a poetry school is something I’m a bit more wary of, though… I’d be worried that, rather than encourage individuality, it’d encourage conformity. And I don’t want to read a series of clones of one another. Hopefully that wouldn’t happen though…

  10. Roddy says:

    Colin, are you sure that devolved funding would mean Poetry School could never move into Scotland? From being quite a London-based organisation some years ago they (or we, I’m a core tutor, after all) have spread widely and now have a second hub in Manchester – so why not Edinburgh too? David – people are always inevitably concerned about possible ‘normalisation’ processes which can come from poetry tutoring, but good tutors and editors (and we do exist!) are aware of these pitfalls. No clones allowed in my groups!

  11. Jan Wolke says:

    Pamphlets are pretty crap, if you wannabee poets really think about it. What have you published? Oh, a pamphlet. It’s pretty pathetic if you really think about it.Have you guys many pamphlets on your bookshelves? Can you find any of them? Poetry books are obscure enough – pamphlets are like strings of air. Unnoticed except by fellow wannabee poets.

  12. Background Artist says:

    Hi Jan.Great to see someone with so much passion adding to the debate.~*Pamphlets are pretty crap* – is a statement to set the cat amongst the ferrets alright and the less charitable part of one’s makeup can empathise with it, and I cannot deny there are the odd moments when – emotionally – I would find myself whole heartedly agreeing with you in private. We only need look at the invective Larkin created in the little of his torment and hatred which survived the shredder, to understand that we are all capable of being less than kind on this issue.We have all read plenty of pamhlets which don’t contain the quality of Yeats, and if we are honest, i suspect, are capable of thinking (and writing) how rubbish they are. Ultimately however, my own take on it, is that it would be incorrect to claim Pamphlets per se, are pretty crap.And I say this because I have pamphlets in my possession which I find far from crap. The contents of Kerry poet James Kelly’s pamphlet being the perfect example.TED HUGHESLike poems, the landscape comes alive in death,in your poems, the rabbits blood in evening sunhas wobbled to set for Plath’s moon.Alive behind these fine poemsthere must have been a powerful lonelinessthat crept like some great darkness,Like the thought fox with his clever eye.You are he thought fox trying to escape the cageof disturbing consequences, or feminist rage,Ready to pounce on these platitudes of prey,Sylvia a victim of that day.Now innocent too poets are,With all our deep and hidden heartslike all true Lovers of the arts.Now I know who these women are,How they hold their heads at nightand sought a reclusive soul for light.(After the death of Ted Hughes)~Now call me an old romantic Jan, but I believe Kelly occupies a unique position in Irish poetry, and his chapbook takes pride of place in my own library, just looking at it I am thinking, thesepoems one day will have an audience far beyond the streets of Dublin – as what Heaney once said – *only half in joke, is that everybody in Ireland is famous* – because of people like Kelly, who Heaney knows, (along with another unknown legend who is also very much underknown yet the equal of not only Heaney, but everyone else – Patrick Finnegan, a native gaelic speaker who also puts Yeats into Irish) – are just the same as he in poetic spirit and ultimately, worth.Heaney is referring to they whose gift fate, luck, choice and chance meant they didn’t develop a career which led to the spot the Mossbawn magus has got – and aware that history and fate play their part in the Irish tradition, is intelligent and modest enough to make explicit that which wouldn’t be so if a poet of his stature with less good grace, were more given to dismissing others in the causal way we all are capable of doing when in a Larkin type *bumhole* mode, effing and blinding and displaying (in private perhaps) the less serene aspect of our natures.Ultimately, pamphlets are only as good as what’s between the cover, and so it isn’t pamplets that can be pretty crap, but the poems in them. But we all start at the bottom, and as was said and written by a 19C American poet and philosopher:“Every artist was first an amateur”~No doubt there will be people who know more than me about these things, who could reel off a long list of pamphlets which first brought a praiseworthy voice to public attention, but what I feel is a potentially dangerous waste of time for the positive development of a poet, is pointing out the obvious duff, because what happens is we end up focussing our energies into writing the negative and get into the habit of appearing as a misanthrope, which – unless (and even if) there is a genius wit to make the barbs and slags laughable, our music becomes a righteous hollow ring no one will choose to read because, why bother being told things are crap? It’s bad enough hearing this when things are good, and especially in a world whose cycle is swinging to the crapper location as many claim it is now? But that’s just my opinion, don’t let the crap poems get you down Jan !

  13. Colin Will says:

    Roddy. I agree that pamphlets should be kept short. I haven’t put any of mine in for the Forward etc, but I have entered for the CMMA, which is a publishers’ award rather than a poets’ one. The issue of devolved funding is something I can explore with Gavin W – I don’t know the answer. If it doesn’t apply, do you think the PS would be interested in discussing a Scottish centre?BA: Thanks for your (over-long) comments.Jan: I publish 8 pamphlets per year, and neither I nor the authors think they’re ‘crap’, but I don’t know what standards you’re applying…

  14. Andrew Philip says:

    Colin, as I mentioned in the earlier discussion on Rob’s blog, “Scotland” is a search option on the Poetry School’s website. It turns up nothing. However, it might be worth inquiring whether there are plans or aspirations to expand north of the border. (Roddy, do you know?)

  15. Michael Peverett says:

    This comment is of no relevance to poetry careerists, – but for mere readers, this was something I wrote a couple of years ago about Thomas Kinsella (were there no others, a formidable all-pamphlet poet) (I suppose mentioning such slightly-known figures as J.H. Prynne would seem to some beside the point – but note that it didn’t stop all his poems turning up in a Bloodaxe Collected!)For the past thirty years Kinsella has committed himself, admirably and presciently, to the pamphlet form. The burning desire to publish a “full-length” collection – ultimately this is a publisher’s conception, not a poet’s – used to be fuelled by the belief that books broke into market-places where pamphlets didn’t, but that doesn’t make any sense now. Unless you live in a very privileged spot indeed, it’s not possible to buy interesting books of new poetry from a shop. The pamphlet is therefore no less available than the book and is as often as not the more credible artefact; what I mean is, we more easily believe that it has a purposeful shape, a topicality, an intention. And besides, it marries better with the wave of online publishing that is giving us everyday access to large samples of what current poets are doing, which will certainly lead to a generation of better-informed purchasers who aren’t at all moved by the publisher’s implication that “this is a real book, therefore the author must be worth reading”.Certainly at IS if nowhere else we review pamphlets (and indeed eBooks) as seriously as “proper” books… Obscurity beckons!http://intercapillaryspace.blogspot.com/2006/06/thomas-kinsella-marginal-economy.html

  16. deemikay says:

    Roddy: good to know! We don’t want something whereby people expect RADA, but end up with the Sylvia Young Stage School. Yikes… :os

  17. Cadwallender says:

    Red Squirrel Press Scotland publishes books and pamphlets. We are always interested in finding young writers.Pamphlets are ‘crap’ is just not true.They are the first step in engaging young poets (and indeed older poets) coming to terms with publishing and finding their own voices.I agree with Roddy Lumsden that pamphlets are sometimes too big, hence in Scotland a 30 page rule is in place for the competition that Colin Will mentions.We at Red Squirrel Press are totally behind a Scottish version of the Poetry School or as an extension of the current one.I have had feedback from various Universities to the same end, that publishing pamphlets with small presses somehow is bad for a poet’s career. Yet considering how many young poets are in Creative Writing Courses how are they all going to be taken on by Large publishers who don’t seem to be exanding their lists?Tall Lighthouse pamphlets sold out in minutes at StAnza. They are a commercial and accessible sampler of new writing and writers. Another point is that MA’s are not the only way that young poets develop, not everyone requires that route. Some need to be encouraged outside of the academic world or choose not to explore that entry door.

  18. MairiS says:

    I am really interestsed in the discussion here. And may I also say very glad that young is considered under 40.As a young poet, who is just starting her carear I would very much welcome the sort of initatives that are being talked about.It is hard working on your own, I let my mistakes and weaknesses get out of proportion, I become over critical of myself and my work, I am sure you all know the cycle…To be able to meet with other poet, of varying degrees of expereince would be something I would find invaluble.Another of my problem is that I have a young child, and work in a fast moving PR/PA agency, not leaving much time for anything outside of work and home. However I think what we are talking about is really needed, so if there is any way I can help please let me know.Mairi

  19. Dat says:

    As someone who has tutored Creative Writing at university-level for the last 10 years (firstly at Glasgow/Strathclyde, latterly Edinburgh), I thought a few facts might be useful here. I can't speak for the other courses, but as far as our own work here goes, I object to Stuart Kelly's completely misinformed idea that we are somehow "failing" new Scottish writers.At Edinburgh, since the course was set up in 2002/3, we've had 25 students specialize in poetry. Of those, only 9 were UK residents, the majority coming from the US. It's not that we don't accept Scottish or British students, they just don't seem to apply.Of that 9, 3 have published (or are about to) full collections (Jane McKie, Sam Meekings and David Troupes) and all the others have published in chapbooks, antholgies, journals and or magazines. Jane won the SAC 1st book award in 2008, and has a second collection due soon. 2 have had Scottish Arts Council Writers Bursaries. One – Ryan Van Winkle – has gone on to work at the Scottish Poetry Library and is very involved in the small press world, and has recently launched a chapbook series through the Forest which will feature some of our writers. Ryan too will publish a collection soon, I'm convinced – I have the typescript right now.Re support for pamphlets within the academic world, I have twice – personally – put forward detailed plans (2003/4) & (2005/6) to the university's Small Grants fund to establish a pamphlet press here at the U of E and have twice been turned down.Those of us writers who work within the academic world have faced the task of trying to convince the 'old guard' that this new subject area – Creative Writing – has both merit and validity. This has been, at times, a tough and tiresome task. Support from the creative community outside Academia is not always forthcoming, and the old chestnut about whether writing can be taught is trotted out year after year by lazy journalists who haven't even bothered to check facts before spouting off in public situations.

  20. MairiS says:

    DatI have read some of your pupils work and very much enjoyed it, you must feel rightly proud that you have helped these young poets develop their talents.One of the issues for me though is that we can’t expect all poets to come through academia. I’m sure you don’t, but if this is the only real point of entry into the poetry world, Scottish poetry runs the danger of becoming elitist.Are there any poets out there who arn’t univerisity educated? Perhapse there is a lack of diversity in Scottish poetry? Perhapse if there was more diveristy poetry would find a wider audience? I’m not sure about these questions but just some ideas that bubbled up after reading your post.I’m currently in a niche carear, that has taken me a long time to get into, so taking a masters is at least twenty years away for me. Childcare commitments make it difficult for me to consistently take evening classes. However I do desperately want to improve my writting.There needs to be an environment that can also fostering the talents of people like myself who are not able to enter the poetry world from an academic setting. Perhapse a competition only open to not-yet-published poets?Perhapse the best solution is for everyone who is concerned with the state of affairs to meet face-to-face and talk through some possible solutions? Afterall we wouldn’t want Scottish poetry to stagnate like a royal blood line.Mairi

  21. Dat says:

    Quite agree, Mairi, that the academic route is only one of many. There are many good poetry writing groups throughout the country, writers-in-residence, competitions, many fine poets and a number of excellent small presses. Personally, I feel what’s missing – in Scotland – is a substantial, dedicated poetry press akin to Bloodaxe, say, in the North East of England, or indeed the aforementioned Carcanet. It seems to me a serious omission in the array of things Scottish, if we are talking about a healthy, fully-formed ‘culture’.If the SAC and other funders want to do something truly useful for poetry, they might help set up such a press, and give it the kind of support required to help it flourish. In terms of cash, Fred Goodwin’s pension alone would do 😉

  22. Anonymous says:

    Interesting to have more statistics re developing younger poets in Scotland, and it would be useful to know how many of the 9-out-of-25 from the UK who have studied poetry on the Edinburgh Creative Writing course are Scottish?

  23. Dat says:

    Useful in what sense, Anonymous?

  24. Anonymous says:

    In the context that this follows on a discussion about younger Scottish poets and whether, and in what numbers, they are emerging from the Scottish writing programmes. ST

  25. Dat says:

    So there is no particular ‘use’ of this data to follow? Alright then … for a moment, I thought you might be a journalist in disguise, perhaps even S.B. Kelly himself .. 😉It’s difficult to be precise about this – UK residency is an official fact which I can quote, but ‘Scottishness’ and ‘youth’ are not so readily defined: e.g. Jane McKie, who has a Scottish father, has lived in Scotland most of her adult life, yet grew up on the South Coast of England, gazing out to France – how shall we categorise her? She isn’t in the 18-30 category either. Or indeed the excellent Claire Askew, who is 23 and currently a student on our programme, whose life (as I understand it) has been spent in Scotland, though her parents are English? The Scottish writing programmes are Scottish because they are based in Scotland. By that definition, all our writers could be classified thus, even the Americans who come for the course (quite a few stay on), and all would be eligible – for instance – for SAC funding, submission to New Writing Scotland and all other similar opportunities.The Edinburgh programme is an international one – this year’s poetry workshop (which I didn’t include in the earlier figures as they are only halfway through their coursework) includes poets from Greece, Mexico and the US, as well as from the home countries (inc. two unmistakeably Scottish poets, one writing partly in fluent Scots). If you’re interested in sampling this range, you may like to obtain a copy of our five year anniversary anthology, in which the international range is quite striking –http://www.englit.ed.ac.uk/vflier.htmlOverall, at this point in time, halfway through year 7, we’ve had students from over 20 different countries. We don’t see this as a negative. In our view, this meeting of the national, however defined, and the international is a very fertile mix, and to be welcomed. Indeed, in a supposed ‘World City of Literature’, anything less would be disappointing.I hope this goes some way to answering your question.

  26. Dat says:

    One further point – your use of the word ’emerging’. We don’t make poets, they are poets – to some extent – when they arrive, otherwise we wouldn’t accept them.We try to help them to perfect their process and polish their work – but we can’t make poets out of people who aren’t interested or motivated, and who don’t show some aptitude for the art in the folio they submit as part of their application.

  27. Anonymous says:

    Perhaps the question should have said studying in the Scottish university creative writing programmes, rather than emerging from them. Interesting information re Edinburgh, and that there are statistics for other countries involved but no statistics on the number of “Scottish” poets included – ie those who were “a product of the Scottish system, whatever that means, education, culture, etc” ?AN

  28. Dat says:

    You answer your own point in the phrase ‘whatever that means … ‘ … for instance, someone growing up in England (or anywhere), educated in a non-Scottish system but with Scottish background must inevitably be, to some extent, accultured in a Scottish way. Similarly, the level of Scottish acculturation even of those living in Scotland will depend on many factors specific to family and place.Personally, where a poet comes from is of minor concern – what matters is the quality of the work. National divisions of literature, while perhaps interesting and informative to an extent, leave out the fact that we are all readers of work from all over the world (or, ideally, should be) via translation. Literature does not observe national boundaries, any more than language does.Btw, in my earlier post, that should have read ‘UK residency at the time of applying’ … (not quite awake when writing)

  29. MairiS says:

    RightSo reading through the threads it appears there are three actions that people think are necessary.1) A strong press in Scotland (such as Bloodaxe.2) A dedicated pamplet (or series) for young/emerging poets.3) Some variation on the Poetry School.If we really want to try to lobby for this to happen, instead of just talking about it, then we will need some sort of co-ordinated effort, with a strategy.There are other supplimentary efforts that could support this such as encouraging poetry nights to hold young or unpublished poet evenings (nice marketing opportunity goes along with this). Perhapse starting a competition specifically for un-published poets.However if we are going to do this then some sort of group needs to be set up.Who’s for it?Mairi

  30. Dat says:

    Today’s press release may be relevant – obviously, we need to make sure poets are well-represented – and that not all the seats are filled by critics (or indeed academics ;-))http://www.scotland.gov.uk/News/Releases/2009/04/02102252

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