Poem of the Week #7 & #8

The new PotW is up, and I notice that I forgot to mention the previous one so you’ll have to go and find it in the archive if you want to keep up to date.

Also, it has become clear to me now that I won’t be putting up a new poem every week. I’ll still try to make regular updates, but it won’t be every week – for a start, I’m not sure I can think of enough to say about all my poems.

But I like the name, so that’s staying. It’s just that from now on, Poem of the Week will actually be more like Poem of the Whenever.

The Hedgehog Poetry Press

These days there are scores, maybe even hundreds, of quality online magazines and journals where budding poets can submit their work. At any given time, there are also scores, maybe even hundreds, of competitions available that are looking for anything from a single poem to a full-length collection. Right now, life is good for poets seeing publication.

But sadly, most places that offer publication as an end result will require some level of payment as a prerequisite. A £5, or even £10, fee for a single-poem entry into a competition is not unusual, and £25 for a collection seems now to be the standard. And while most magazines might still allow you to submit free-of-charge, many point out that the best way to see what type of poetry they are looking for (and the best way to increase you chances of publication) is to subscribe first.

The costs can quickly build up, and not all of us are in a position to be able to subscribe to every magazine, or enter every competition, we want. These days I have to be very picky about where my poetry-investment money goes.

One place I have decided to spend my money, however, is the Hedgehog Poetry Press. It’s basically a one-man show, set up and run by Mark Davidson, who does an amazing job of producing a constant stream of new publications, many available as free downloads and most of the others at very reasonable cost.

The Press also runs A LOT of competitions. At any one time there are usually three or four available, including ones for full collections, chapbooks or even 4-poem micro-collections. This year, they are also branching out into short fiction as well as poetry, and so there are likely to be even more opportunities for publication.

Competitions come with a fairly typical pricing structure (£5 for single poem, £25 for collection) but this is where the Hedgehog Press offers great value for money and why I’m happy to give them some of mine on a regular basis. For £25 per quarter, you can join the wonderfully named ‘Cult of the Spiny Hog’, which its their version of a subscription fee. And membership gives you four amazing benefits.

Firstly, all competitions become free to enter. For a dedicated submitter, who enters everything they have on offer, this could easily amount to anything up to £100 each quarter. Secondly, you get access to the Press back issue collection and can download anything you want for free. Thirdly, you have access to their monthly challenges – which are basically even more competitions, but limited to Cult members. And finally, at least once a quarter and occasionally twice, Mark will send you a bundle of every book and booklet the Press has published in recent months. Actual books. For your poetry bookshelf.

So basically, if you’re an active reader and writer of poetry, membership is not only an amazing bargain, but also an amazing opportunity to develop as a poet – believe me, entering that many competitions requires a lot of work! And if you’re not interested in, or in a position to pay for, membership, go visit the website anyway. It’s well worth your time.

Visual Verse

This week I want to tell you about Visual Verse, an online anthology I was introduced to a couple of years ago and which I have been regularly submitting work to ever since. The idea behind Visual Verse is that at the start of each month they post an image, that visitors are invited to use as the starting point for a poem or piece of short fiction of between 50 and 500 words. The catch is that from first looking at the image to submitting your work to the website is supposed to take no longer than an hour.

You don’t necessarily have to write about what you see. You’re invited to use the image as a starting point, nothing more, so it’s up to you to decide how you use it. You can describe it, if that’s what you want, or you use it as a trigger for some old memory you’ve been thinking of writing about for some time, or even write about something completely different then try and edit it in some way so that it at least has some vague connection to the image.

You get an hour, so you submit the best you can do in that time, and the chances are, you won’t feel that what you’ve submitted is as good as it can ever be. But that’s okay. They’re not looking for the greatest works of literature ever produced – unless you can give them that within the hour – they want something that’s interesting, that’s new and exciting, that challenges.

I warn you, it’s not always easy. I give it a go every month, and while sometimes I’m genuinely amazed by what I’ve been able to produce within the time limit, sometimes (like this month) I find myself forty-five minutes into my hour with almost nothing to show for my efforts. And then that final ten minutes or so becomes a desperate race to get something – anything – down on paper and given at least a basic edit to ensure I’m not submitting something I’d be ashamed to see in print.

Each month they publish about 60 – 100 submissions, which means there’s a good chance of seeing you work in print relatively often if you take the challenge seriously and submit every month. At the moment I’m running at just over 50%.

Getting your poems published is always a pleasure, but for me, getting them written in the fist place is just as important, and that’s where Visual Verse is most helpful. It makes me write, and it makes me write a lot more than a single poem each month. Once I’ve written and submitted my first effort, I’ll often return to the image over the following weeks and write several more, maybe working up ideas I initially rejected, or finding something completely fresh with the benefit of a more relaxed timescale. In terms of my poetry, this past year has probably been my most prolific ever, and much of the reason is definitely because of Visual Verse.

And on top of this, there’s also the fact that I get to read an entire anthology of other people’s work. Every month. For free. What’s not to like?

You can read my published work on Visual Verse here

Poem of the week

The Poem of the week part of the website is now up and running. The idea is that each week (hopefully) I’ll put up something new from my back catalogue for you to read and enjoy. But not only will you get the poem itself, you’ll also be able to read something about it – maybe where the idea came from, or how I went about writing it, or maybe I’ll talk a bit about where it was first published, if it ever was. Hopefully you’ll find this interesting and informative, not just as a reader but also, perhaps, as a potential poet yourself.

To kick things off I’ve chosen something quite old and not at all like most of my other work. But the creative process was interesting and also very well documented, so I thought it would be a good place to start. Enjoy.