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The Scottish-American Poetry Magazine
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The Scottish-American Poetry Magazine HorseLogoGif

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Editors and Poets

Poetry magazine editors are keen to have their magazines read. Poets are keen to have their work published in them. What often surprises me is how seldom those same poets may feel inclined to take out a subscription to the said journal. Here’s a typical exchange.

Editor: Here’s the magazine I edit.

Poet: Oh (examining it with evident interest). I must send you some poems.

Editor: That would be good. (Thinking: And what about a subscription too?)

It’s not that there is any link between submitting work to a magazine and the likelihood of its acceptance if one also subscribes. There’s none. It’s that the editor would like to feel that the poet thinks the magazine s/he seems keen to appear in is worth reading; that is, buying. One can understand why poets may be reluctant to subscribe, of course. Many little magazines seem, let’s face it, full of substandard stuff. Reading them can be an unrewarding business. You may find yourself promoted, all unwittingly, to the position of editor of what has, purportedly, already been edited. I do really think that The Dark Horse is different. Subscribers tell me so. But we live in a subjective age, one prone to hyperbole and rampant attention seeking, so it’s understandable if any such claims are disbelieved. And of course there may be other reasons for a poet not subscribing. The most basic is that they can’t afford it. Nonetheless, poets, next time you’re involved in the above scenario, ask yourself: if a magazine really seems worth appearing in, and if you can afford it, isn’t it worth subscribing to? Perhaps even worth reading irrespective of whether it’s likely to publish your work or not? Editors love their journal's subscribers irrespective of their reasons for signing up, but love perhaps most those subscribers whose interest in their magazine starts from pure reading pleasure.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

A new issue and a new website

Horse 24 has just appeared, and I love the flurry of responses when a new issue’s ‘out’. It is a handsome issue with a red cover — Pantone 485C, for those who are interested—and white lettering with what looks like silver fleurons, but a silver which is actually a fade on black and thus saves money at the printers.The UK copies have been out for a few weeks; the American ones will be arriving around now. And the new website is now ‘live’, of course; in a few weeks the old one, hosted by Edinburgh University, will be taken down. It was largely static, and I began to think it ridiculous that the Horse didn’t have an online subscription facility, which we now have. I’ll be interested to see how many people use it as opposed to writing cheques. My guess is, a substantial number, particularly if my own purchasing habits are anything to go by.

Where websites and so on are concerned I’m an instinctive techophobe who can turn technophile if it’s for a good reason. I find something honest and fundamental about an old fountain pen filled with Noodler’s black ‘bulletproof’ ink but the technology can be exhilarating if put to good use. I remember years ago asking Philip Hobsbaum what he would do if all the software in his new computer had been unrecognisably updated. “Oh well,” he said in his assumed RADA-patrician voice, “I should just have to learn it again then.” I like that attitude, though of course there are limits. At the other extreme is my friend John Lucas who is a committed technophobe and has his prose emailed to me by a secretary. But he’s a good writer so I don’t bother about his Luddite ways. He was telling me a few weeks ago, with some glee, that he’d just been called, not unkindly, I think, ‘a troglodyte’ by another editor. He’s reviewing the new Bloodaxe Identity Parade anthology for Horse 25. It will be interesting to see what sort of stir this book makes—85 poets, with the objective criteria for elegibility for inclusion an age limit of 50 and a requirement that the particular poet didn’t publish a first collection before the mid 1990s. Certainly the consideration in the Horse will be among the most substantial it will receive anywhere.

A few weeks ago a well known poet-critic praised me for the ‘inspired and selfless work’ of doing the magazine. I’m not sure how selfless editing a poetry magazine is. With some journals, of course, in which editorships are salaried positions, the notion of selflessness doesn’t apply. The editors of Parnassus in conversation a few years ago estimated their running costs as around $100,000 a year. The London Review of Books was recently reported in British broadsheets as being in debt to the tune of £27 million, subsidized by its editor’s trust fund. But even where earning a living isn’t the primary motive or reward the self is always implicated. I see the Horse as an extension of my other literary activity, not in conflict with it. I see my poetry as central to everything else I do, irrespective of what the wider world makes of it — irrespective insofar as is humanly possible. Probably the Horse improves my poetry in that it stops me writing it a fair bit of the time.
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