An editor calls me pretentious

to answer your questions about being pretentious I need to go back to 2013 when I wrote a poem using three line stanzas. It was a decent poem but it did not excite me. So I thought of John Ashberry and pantoums, the blues and a recent painting by Raul Cordero. The original stanza lines in the poem




became the new lines

1 (made up of the old lines 2+3)

2 (made up of the old lines 1+2)

3 (made up of the old lines 1+3)

I was struck at how powerful the tercet now sounded as the rhythm and rhyme became intensified. So I applied it to the other 3 line stanzas in the poem. The next problem was how to capitalise the start of lines and how to punctuate? It would look silly capitalising the original line 1, the new line 1 would be at odds with how the poem was put together, and as I’ve always used a lower case in the start of each line unless it was the start of a sentence. It was a no brainer. Luckily the stanza is end stopped at line 3, so as there is a line break and a blank line there’s no real need for a full stop. However I still need to indicate a pause between line 2+3, 1+2 and 1+3. I tried putting them on separate lines but I preferred the three line structure (must be the catholic in me), commas didn’t look right, spaces meant that some of the lines ran over, stepped lines would almost do the job but then magazines could not print them easily and it did look a little pretentious. I wanted something simple and straightforward. When I read the poem out loud I used a red slash to indicate a pause and a slash is actually a punctuation mark known as a virgule – offset by spaces to either side is used to mark line breaks when transcribing text from a multi-line format into a single-line one. It is particularly common in quoting poetrysong lyrics, and dramatic scripts, formats where omitting the line breaks risks losing meaningful context. I settled with that. It’s sharp, simple, looks good and does just what I want it to.

As to the lower case I. A few months ago I read “milk and honey” by rupi kaur. I liked the way it seems to bring a level of equality (both in the poem and in the social hierarchy), deflate the ego and make I=we. In these particular love poems that was exactly what I wanted.

Clear reasons I think. Poems using the same form as this (only not using the lower case I) have been published in Tears in the Fence, The Journal, Message in a Bottle and are forthcoming in Envoi and Brittle Star. Interestingly the editors did not ask about the repetition or the virgules


  • you don’t have to convince the poetry editor to accept your book.
  • You have exhausted all other publishing possibilities (that is, being turned down by too many publishers) and, having worked long and hard on your poetry collection, want to see it published.
  • Writing poetry is a pleasurable hobby which you have enjoyed and you use a Vanity Publisher to provide copies of your book.
  • You don’t want to spent a huge amount of time or lack the expertise of book production.
  • You can get the book published in in two or three months instead of two of three years.
  • You have control over what’s included in the final manuscript and a say in book production.
  • You may do a lot of open mic readings or are going to a festival and need to have a number of books to hand in order to sell to people who enjoy your work.
  • You make more money per book.
  • It may of course get picked up by a commercial publisher but this is unlikely.
  • It allows publishers to accept more poets, have more writers in print with less overall risk.
  • The publisher no longer has to finance the entire project.
  • You may want to use a particular imprint and have them as the publisher of record.


“Personally I can’t get very excited about this controversy over whether XYZ is a mainstream or vanity firm or something in-between.”

“never pay to get your poems published”

“Poetry is too marginal proposition to be worth serious attention”


Vanity is excessive pride in or admiration of one’s own achievements and as such applies to both the author (who wants to get their work into print) and the publisher (who is made to feel important, worthwhile, gain pleasure or kudos in publishing his/her work and those other others. Vanity Publishing is a term coined by Johnathon Clifford in 1959/60 and the definition (as accepted by the UK Advertising Standard Authority) is “Vanity publishing, also self-styled (often inaccurately) as “subsidy”, “joint-venture”, “shared-responsibility”, or even “self” publishing, is a service whereby authors are charged to have their work published.” Generally speaking they will accept the work of anyone, charge the author for the production of their work and/or the author must purchase X copies of their own book. However, where do you fit print on demand, different types of subsidy publishing and self publishing services offered to writers – editing, proof reading, cover design, printing and marketing?


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I’ve finished another of the novel and have started reading about deep third person POV and this set me thinking about imagined communities, that of poetry and prose. I like poetry. A great place where everyone is helpful, there are different genres, specialized magazines, publishers, readings, workshops, competitions, books showing you how to write and so on. Writing poetry has made me aware of using senses, how to be concise, use sound, voice, imagery and how to edit. As Hugo Williams said “if you can’t write poetry you can’t write prose.” I’ve been an active member of this community for the past 30 years.


Unfortunately, I had an idea. I wanted to write something longer than 40 lines. I wanted to do something with characters, that has a plot and theme. I even had a title, The Poet Assassin, and a tag line. So I sat down and started the solitary business of writing and finished up with a 60,000 word draft. Great I thought, now I can find out how I should have done it and what to do next. A visit to the local bookshop for advice was overwhelming and confusing, as was a search of the internet. Lots of names being thrown about, jargon, do’s and don’t’s. It was a different world, a different community.


A look at my bookshelf shows BANG SAID THE GUN next to THE FORWARD BOOK OF POETRY, JOHN HEGLEY next to THOMAS HARDY, and ELVIS MCGONAGALL next to OSIP MANDELSTAM. Page vs stage, academic vs lay, cooked vs raw, pale vs redskin, open mic vs serious, doggerel vs hardcore poetry. Different communities and tribes where trading relations haven’t yet been worked out. The big question – where do I belong in all this?


Another milestone is always reached. In my case it’s another chapter. The revision is not looking at a checklist but rather just reading and making changes along the way. Thinking for example that chapter 6 could be from the viewpoint of Maggie to save a run of 4 from Bill’s viewpoint. But chapter 10 will be an information dump about vanity presses, still can’t be helped although I should try and just keep it to the business end and have Daniel and his friends talking about POD and subsidy publishers. This week I want to get at least to chapter 13. So by my birthday I should have revised to the end of Part 1 (chapter 55) and should start on Part II which will be about how Bill is forced to assassinate members of the poetry world by Hannah and how he’s hunted by the police

When writing poetry feedback is quicker. There are workshops and it’s easy to send them by email to magazines. It’s also a medium I’m quite happy working in. It’s a nice place and the world would be better if more people wrote, but that will do for another blog.


I was spending too much time putting off writing THE POET ASSASSIN even though I had drated and revised it. Still no where near ready. A New Year’s resolution is hardly drastic but I decided to write no poems this year but to concentrate on prose. So far I’ve revised 5 chapters on the computer so the story reads well but I should say Bill was flying back from Poland (in Chap 1) and in Chap 5 that the bullet narrowly missed Charles thudding into a box of poems instead (the Poet assassin?). Had a small disaster last week because I lost the revised drafts to Chaps 1-4, a few days of more writing. Should really think about vanity presses and its impact on Charles and some of his victims as well as mentioning their plus points.

My 17th day of not writing poetry. It feels strange especially after last night where there was a hint of snow I want to write about “our house streaked with tears” but can’t. And I’ve had 4 poems published already, in Messageinabottle, been to the Betsey Trotwood (to see barbara cumbers reading) and have more poetry books to read. Should also mention I’m off to Woking tomorrow for a photoshoot and to read some poems as part of an open mic songwriterrs citcle.


And the novel goes not well. One reason is because we now have granddaughter three days a week and I can’t seem to work on non consecutive days. Still, I should research writing for well-being and maybe writing in the digital age. At least I  can work on my poetry. I’ve selected 20 love poems, done a proposal and will send them off to the Emma press next week. Fingers crossed.