Saturday, 18 July 2009

Poets Have It Easy...Part 2

So there I was, presented with this chapter I'd already proofed some time ago - years in fact, as the book on 'The Fold' was first put together by a couple of academics at Warwick, who then looked for some time for a publisher, found one in Palgrave Macmillan, then the department (as they so often do) changed, staff changed, the brief and direction changed, the people in question left Warwick, took a while finding another couple of editors willing to take the book on...and finally the new editors had secured the task, and got back to the original contributors of the book. One of whom was our independent scholar. 
   This time the chapter arrived with corrections and editor's suggestions in notes...some in Dutch. Yes, that's right, whatever word processing programme the editor was using on the Continent, it had peppered the first couple of pages in little boxes - of Dutch. I gazed at it, utterly perplexed...until, I reasoned, anything in boxes like that must surely have standardized meanings which I might be able to work out from the context...? And after a few days, it dawned on me! yes, they referred to stuff like paragraph indentures and the like. I edited it into the required format as best I could. The fifteen or so changes which I had to either change or highlight for the author to change were a task that wasn't the pleasantest or easiest in the world. The changes the author had to make (being dyslexic) were no joke either. Never mind quotes, paraphasings were to be issued with page numbers. Much flicking through editions so battered and read and loved that both covers and date had fallen off long ago...And I sent it off again. Many e-mails from the editor and back from the author about which editions were being used so that he could find seemingly every page and reference match up, later...(and hair tearing on the part of our beleaguered author) everything was finally given the thumbs up. The editor wrote saying that the book should be with our author sometime this year...And then the request came for the contributor's bio. I wrote one, putting the best way I could that the author was an 'independent scholar'...and have heard nothing since. Will I or the independent scholar see this much sweated over chapter appear between the covers of a book at last??
I'm still waiting...

   So, for all the poets and novelists and short story writers that think the waiting and the rejections are just too much from time to time - pity the poor independent scholar. They work harder, write longer books (on the Collective website a single article in the Philosophy section can be up to 60,000 words - there are well over a quarter of a million words of philosophy on it and that was as of months ago), read harder to read or understand books to hone their craft, can be as good as you please, and without an 'official institutional affiliation' can still get work rejected up to the wire...And even paid heads of department who only sell books in the hundreds, and are expected to do a lot of their own promotion, do it for no money just the kudos...Feeling less hard done by now?  

Poets Have it Easy...Part 1

Why is the process of sharing work so hard for the independent scholar? In America the term is better known. An independent scholar is someone who isn't covered by the protective umbrella of a university or institution, who works away reading through many of the great list of books which comprise the history of ideas and philosophy, and essential contemporary works in their chosen branches, alone, fashioning their own reading list from a mixture of good sense and previous knowledge from when they did (usually) belong to a university or other higher education institution in some capacity. They work on writing their own - what to call them? a huge mixture of texts; commentaries, philosophical dialogues, essays, treatise, extended essays, book length manuscripts, some or all of these. They submit to conferences and are often accepted. Conferences are of course nearly always held in universities - some of whom are shocked, when the time comes to e-mail the 'notes on the speakers' - to see the words 'independent scholar', 'private thinker', or whichever. Most carry on with the paper anyway, - it might look odd to turn it down now, some are more objective and have really just chosen on merit, some have a curious soul in the department interested to hear the said paper, others just judge that few will notice/go to that one anyway/at least it's just a live event so doesn't matter too much. 
   Editors of books and book chapters are another matter however. When poets send out work or are rejected because they haven't enough work accepted in some big/crucial print magazines, it's tough and it's disheartening. Especially dismal is to get a rejection that says 'we would have liked to have taken this, but we've never heard of you' - never will either now! thinks the crestfallen poet. But at least there's still plenty of magazines out there, still a large number of high flying print zines, and maybe one will say yes and get the ball rolling. Editors and quality/kudos zines change and the scene usually has an opening somewhere, it's just finding it. Think then of the independent scholar, having put together papers of a quality that get them into conferences where academics come up to them afterward and ask intelligent questions, give thoughtful praise...and then ask the said scholar what department they belong to? It may not be one of the world's MOST embarrassing social situations, but the 'sorry, say again?' after the first reply to the question isn't something most people would choose to go through. Then the time comes for them to chance upon a conference which is gathering the papers for the chapters in a book which the department organizing it has got in mind. The paper is good enough - easily by all accounts, and gets requested. Then the scholar has to get in a proof reader to make sure the text is flawless on the page, not just the podium, and every little footnote checked, every quote agonizingly word perfect from texts far more complex than any heavy duty novel. Next it gets sent out only to come back that the biblio details have to be rearranged like x system, oh and by the way, could they have exact page number ref's for z point in paragraph y? and paragraph w as well? 
   When it's finally done and dusted, and all sent back, it seems now the scholar just has to just wait for the proofs to come in...until the day the editors ask for a contributor's bio. Once that's sent off with a dreaded phrase like 'independent scholar', 'independent philosopher/thinker' or whichever seemed best, within a week comes an e-mail with the words 'sorry, we thought there was room for this chapter, but there isn't after all'. Oh yeah? 
   For the independent philosopher for whom I do a fair amount of proof reading, it was just unreal after all the work that went into a chapter on Kant and Deleuze for a book that was afterwards issued by a well known publisher and edited by the members of the philosophy department of a well respected London university.
   So when I found myself earlier this year unexpectedly having to proof read another chapter - this time for a book on Deleuze and his book 'The Fold' and one which I'd proof read was with some trepidation...

Friday, 17 July 2009

What’s a Poet Laureate for?

Much has been spoken about who should be – before a new one was appointed – or who should have been – whether now or in the past, the Poet Laureate. Questions have been asked about what the Laureateship is for, too. On Radio 4’s Question Time programme, people answered different things, some answers plainly implying that it was something cultural, but without any clearer idea why. One detailed answer was that it was about education and educating people about poetry. But in the outline which they sketched, this educating people amounted only to disseminating poetry in schools. And yet surely that is – apart from being, in part at least, what the laureateship has become – tantamount to saying this is something which we value for children, but not for adults/ourselves. That people should be introduced to it, only to forget about it later and not take it into adult life. But what is education for except to equip you with tools, either theoretical or practical to tackle the world later on?

   If the idea of singing the praises of the ruling classes or commemorating state occasions as Wordsworth and Tennyson did, is no longer viable or desirable, then why not go further back to the history of poet as tribal cheerleader?

   If we go, a long way back, to what are arguably the historical foundations for the idea of a laureateship, we are with the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings, and the scops and skalds of the Dark Ages. These wandering poets and sometimes minstrels, had the job of not only spreading news throughout the kingdoms, of battles and deeds, but they were, in the words of Michael Alexander ‘the voice and memory of the tribe’. And if you wished for ‘a name that would never die beneath the stars’, you had to pay the poet! to spread your name and guard your fame. One idea of laureateship then, to have a modern take on the idea of the scop, is an idea that there is one poet – one person especially good at capturing the spirit of a particular place, climate and history, and singing not its praises, or indeed the praises of those who rule it (especially in the current political and social climate) but of why it is different, of what makes it special, of why out of all places it should indeed be visited and valued, or looked at in a special light. Not as a better or bigger or a richer country, but one with something still unique to offer an increasingly homogenised world.

   So, to conclude, maybe the post should not be just about education, not just about showing why poetry matters, certainly not about cheering on rulers or armed conflicts, but making poetry about the nation itself, that matters by bringing to light the unique combinations of the country in question and makes people aware of that by its beauty. If the post was still honorary of course it would not matter how supposedly ‘accessible’ this poetry was either, because it would be about encapsulating a complex society, not the comparatively simple one of the scops. It would be about trying to fathom the rich and many-threaded skeins of what it means to be part of or live in England and Britain without either parochialism, xenophobia or absence of criticism. One poet that springs to mind, and one who would fully comprehend what it meant to inherit a post with a link, however far away and fragile, to the Dark Age scops, would be Geoffrey Hill. Although, thinking about it, perhaps he was offered it and unbeknown to us turned it down, dismissing it as requiring a media presence he wasn’t prepared to give…?

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Introduction to this Blog

A blog for all the things that don't fit elsewhere...