(Originally published as a comment on the Facebook of Welsh poet Brett Evans, co-founder and co-editor of independent literary journal, Prole. Also published at the Irish Poetry Blog.) *** Although
he later deleted and blocked me from his Facebook for not agreeing with
him that Carol Hughes was somehow awf for not allowing a biographer
access to all her dead husband's papers; the best advice I ever got was
from Bloodaxe Books founder and Editor, Neil Astley; in Conway's pub on Parnell Street, Dublin, after the
joint launch at the Irish Writer's Centre, of the Selina Guinness edited
New Irish Poets (Bloodaxe, 2004) and Leanne O'Sullivan's debut, Waiting
for my Clothes (Bloodaxe, 2004).
At that time, I think in September 2004, I had recently graduated in May of the same year, from my home town Edge Hill University (Writing Studies and Drama, 2:1) and had been living in the Iveagh homeless hostel in Dublin for three months.
a short several minute chat he advised me to get out and recite live in
public as much as possible; and that the biggest mistake people make is
sending out a collection of poems for consideration before they are
ready, and that they should first build up writing experience,
publishing credits in magazines, and work work work, write, write,
write, and wait, wait, wait until they've enough experience and what
that time I'd been writing for three years and my conception of what
poetry and Publishing was all about was very different to what it is
now, because I had very little experience of writing or publishing and
viewed the process thru the lens of the novice, at best at bardic grade
two (of seven) MacFirmid (son of composition) thinking that becoming a
published poet was a semi-mystical process similar to that of finding
fame as an actor; in that it was all very opaque and mysterious.
poems would be spotted by a fairy godfather of poetry publishing who'd
take me under their wing and do all the hard work and all I'd have to do
is show up and star reciting (at that time only from memory) the poetry
I'd accumulated on the page up to that time.
think just meeting and getting the real gen from one of Britain's most
knowledgeable independent poetry publishers was in itself a very
valuable lesson, because for the first time I'd spoken with someone at
the top of the tree and the whole thing had been humanised and I was
imparted something no amount of reading about publishing could ever do.
that point I had been methodically sending out poems for about a year,
beginning sending out in the third year of the writing and drama course,
and getting published here and there. In that short time what struck me
is that you'd never know what an editor would want to publish. Stuff
you thought strong was not picked and poems you thought had no chance
the spring of the following year I lost all interest in seeing my poems
published in small magazines, and playing what I increasingly viewed as
a psychological game of submit-reject/accept, in which the submitter is
seeking affirmation and validation for what can often be a lonely and
unrewarded business of writing poems for the purpose of seeing them
published by others in the mags they edit.
I was having a good publication hit rate I was increasingly bored with
the novelty of seeing my poems and name published in small circulation
magazines. A short sugar high followed by business as normal and a
return to writing and studying the mass of Irish mythology that makes up
much of the bardic curriculum.
that at that point was still a voluminous sprawl of confusion, the
skeleton of the poetic that came around year five/six, still yet to firm
up and appear in the mind. And so in a very real way, trusting that by
just studying the material on the fourteen year course would in itself
reveal what I hoped to find.
because of my thoughts about the future of publishing in the online
age, at that time the consensus still very much an old-guard gate-keeper
mindset, was beginning to view the process of submit-accept/reject as a
redundant one, in which both sides are seeking affirmation in what
vision of poetry we have and what we are doing, for the purpose of
accumulating and increasing our sense of contemporary poetic relevance
and (minor) cultural importance.
is because some editors would write back rejecting what I'd submitted,
not with a simple, thanks but no thanks, but a note that made it plain
that, on their part, they were playing a different game with themselves
to the one I was, making their intellectual confusion unintentionally
comedically plain in pretend pretentious toff voices not their own.
own thoughts where that in the near future (ie, now) we would all
effectively be publishers on an equal footing able to reach anyone in
the world with an internet connection, and so, I reasoned, the thing to
concentrate on was not getting published by other people, but cleaving
to the idea that I was a student with ten years learning the material
from the fourteen year writing course that trained forty generation of
filidh poets, and trusting in that process to teach and deliver the
lessons and experience with which to publish one's own writing on my own
terms when the time was right. Knowing I had another ten years as a
student, a decade before I'd need to publish anything, meant I felt zero
pressure to get published, even though for most this would be a
laughingly far too long time to try oneself out having a crack at the
aul poetry game.
I was very lucky to have had the first three years of my writing life occur at home in Ormskirk bygone times,
in the very best and most supportive place it was possible to evolve
creatively and intellectually, and without which I would perhaps not
have been laughing at the amadán poetry editors up their own holes we
all know and are familiar with from experience, but getting depressed by
their exclusionary spirit and sense of being custodians of only the
most special and greatest English poetry that appears between the pages
of the few hundred copies of their rags.
this is not the reason I lost all interest in playing the
submit-reject/accept game. The final nail in the coffin that sealed the
deal and made all interest evaporate, was chancing across online,
Washington state Ogham expert Erynn Rowan Laurie's English translation
of a 120 line 7C Old Irish text, that states an in-depth and
comprehensive definition of what poetry is, where it comes from, and how
it works, 'in the body and soul of a person.'
a druidic voice from the earliest founding mythological bard of
literate Ireland, Milesian poet Amergin. It is one of only four
attributed to this figure and three times longer than the next longest
piece, a riddling roscanna poem he is most well known for, Song of
Ireland, that Aul Plumdoon Muldoon made an entire Oxford lecture of
punning allusive gobbledegook prose in response to.
was the druid of the seventh, and chronologically final, mythological
race of 'takers' of the island documented in the 11C Lebor Gabála Érenn,
the Book of the Takings of Ireland, who, with his surviving (of twelve)
two brothers, Eber and Eremon, had seized the island from the Tuatha De
Danann, in 1300 BC according to Geoffrey Keating's, or 1700 BC
according to the Four Masters' version of mythological history, both
compiled in the early to middle 17C.
untitled Old Irish text is found in the medieval Book of Ballymote, and
was first translated into English in 1979 by Professor Liam Breatnach
of the School of Celtic Studies, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies,
one of Ireland's premier Old and Middle Irish experts, with a deep
knowledge of the texts that make up the fourteen year filidh (poets)
curriculum, having translated such important pieces as Uraicecht na
Ríar: The poetic grades in early Irish law, and numerous other bardic
now known, due to the triple-cauldron imagary used as a metaphor to
explain how poetry works in a person, as Cauldron of Poesy, the text
didn't have or need a title in its original form because, I suspect, it
was one of the most widely known and first texts introduced to a grade
one foclo turning up on the first day of singing school at Samhain, to
begin the six month Samhain to Beltaine winter semester, that over the
following twelve to fourteen years led through another five grades,
MacFirmid (son of composition), Dos (bushy-tree shelterer), Cano
(cub/whelp), Cli (ridgepole), Anruth (great stream), before terminating
at the apical grade of Ollamh (ullav) Doctor of Poetry.
which point they were the equivalent of a secular poet-barrister
practicing in the highest forms of strict and straight (dán direach)
verse, that they were introduced to only at the sixth grade Anruth,
around year six/seven; as it needed six years of study before they'd be
competent to tackle the head-wrecking complexity of the fourteen or so
dán direch meters and work out if the prophetic, mantric side that set a
fully formed fíli poet apart from the lower grades, was there and
that point I was on a roll publishing wise, and was playing the game
like everyone else. Living in the Iveagh homeless hostel and centering
myself on acquiring experience and a live skin, out two or three times a
week on the thriving closed and open-mic scene in Dublin during the
height of Bertie Ahern's time in office, when, it has to be noted, the
collective Irish cultural mood was right up itself, ostentatious and one
of nouveau riche smugly delusional optimism that the economic good
times were here forever, and that Irish people generally were a very
special sort of precious English language snowflake, and the chosen few
blessed with an invincible sort of otherworldly speaking magic, that, as
we discovered on the morning Brian Lenihan (rip) made the announcement
of the Bank Guarantee he laughably stated would be 'the cheapest in
history' - was subsequently proved by events to be a crock of
self-delusional sales crap everyone had swallowed hook line and sinker.
the time of discovering it I was in my 'office', an internet sweet shop
at the foot of Ha'penny Bridge on Aston Quay, and I remember thinking
at the time that I was reading for the first time one of the most
important bardic texts written. A belief that has only deepened in the
had just had a poem and prose piece about the live poetry scene in
Dublin published on the website of the Galway Arts Centre, and it was
with this publishing credit that I lost all interest in sending out
anymore, buzzing with the belief that my writing needed no more outside
validation, just at the very point the untitled 7C Amergin text popped
up on my computer screen at Aston Quay.
it for the first time I instinctively knew that this was a textual
guide one needed to progress in writing without any input or
intellectual validation from others, not least because few, if any,
poetry editors are aware of it to know that there exists a holy grail of
Gaelic poetry as important as Horace's Ars Poetica.
suspicion confirmed when I began publicising the find around the
English speaking world to a wall of complete ambivalence, disinterest,
and non-engagement, confirming what I thought then and now know; that
many people are not into writing poetry to write the best poems we can,
but to see our name in lights and on longlists.
having got on the nerves and displeased a very long list of
self-important poetry folk around the English speaking world, always for
something very petty (the straw that broke the back of British-Hungarian poet George Szirtes'
tolerance, replying to his question of how I knew something, 'because I
don't spend all my time on Facebook'), I am in a way unintentionally
lucky to have stopped sending out when I did, because though I am
sitting on fourteen years of unpublished material, I have observed other
people trying to get work out there, usually with something interesting
to say on the page in prose, who have got on the wrong side of
important editors for displeasing them over something very petty and
minor, that the pasha-editors then trash and contextualise as being just
bitter failures because they had a manuscript rejected by them.
Anyway leave it there, globble di baglady de dye doi dough...(am hearing this as i hit send) KTF!