Today is all a little bit exciting and if I am totally honest, which I try to be with everything apart from calorie-counting, I’m already pacing the laminate flooring and wishing that we had a nice warm carpet, hoping that the postie will deliver the post before he goes to the pub today.
That normally gets a little messy.
Why am I bothered?
It isn’t for the usual ‘Brownies filled with misery,’ no, it is because our lovely printer is sending me three books.
Not that unusual, but this time they are a little bit special as they are copies of both ‘A Restricted View From Under the Hedge’ and our little anthology, ‘The Road To Clevedon Pier.’
Now I know what you are thinking, we’re still looking for submissions and competition entries for those, so what gives?
And you would be right to be confused if the inside of the books I’m hoping the Postie hasn’t dumped in the sea again, will be totally empty. Well, maybe a little bit of sample text, but otherwise poetry-less.
So what is the point of that?
I’m pleased you are still reading, but the point is that when we open up for subscriptions/pre-sales on the 15th of December (one for your diary there, I think) we thought it would be rather handy to be able to show you what the magazine and book will look like, especially as we have the magazine with a painting by Kanoe West on the cover now after spreading the original pretty picture around the interweb for the last month.
But why three books?
Ah, that is because Arfur will be available in two different covers, but more about that on the 15th.
I have to say, all this magazine publishing stuff is starting to feel a little serious.
Not only have we been working through the submissions, and I can’t stop smiling at that, but we are also going to open the floodgates on the 15th of December so that people can pre-order a copy of Arfur #1.
Oh I know, it will be madness, like the old days when people got excited about Black Friday and stormed the doors of Asda in the hope of a sniff of a 32″ Plasma, but we’ll have Police ‘hoolivans’ and teargas on hand, so I’m sure we’ll get through it as best we can.
All I would ask is that when the inevitable scalpers try and snap-up all of the copies and put them on eBay for ridiculous prices, you boycott them, as it really isn’t fair on anybody. And anyway, I’m sure there will be plenty to go around.
I have to say that I am starting to feel a little bit better about the review ‘portion’ of young Arfur, as we have started to get a few books turning-up over the last few days.
In fact today’s were particularly fine as both have come across the Sea (Sea, Sea) from the rather cool Water Row Books, and are poetry collections from Lee Ranaldo, that we will be reviewing/talking with Lee about in one of our soonish issues.
One of the books is ‘ Against Refusing’, which was only ever released as a handmade edition of 100 signed and numbered copies, and it quite a beautiful thing even before you get to Lee’s poetry, which itself is pretty darn special.
If you don’t know Lee’s work, you may have heard his latest solo album, ‘Electric Trim’ which is many kinds of wonderfilled, and otherwise you will probably have heard him as part of Sonic Youth, a popular beat combo of the olden days.
As for the books – our plan is that all of the review copies we review will be randomly given to subscribers, or perhaps we should have a draw for a big box of them after each issue launches, we haven’t decided yet.
I realise that we must look pretty slack and lo-fi as a shiny new publisher of poetry goes, a month or so in and so far not a lot has happened, apart from the odd ‘evolution’ where we have realised that maybe we took on too much up front or hadn’t thought things through too well.
I would love to say that like the legs of a duck shaped iceberg lettuce, all the real action is going on below the water line, but even that isn’t really true as other than a flurry of emails here and there I can’t honestly say that we have exactly stretched ourselves.
However, stupendous organisation (ahem) should never be taken for a lesser spotted slothe, and the truth of the matter is that we have been slowly building up to the publication of our first issue of ‘Arfur’ and that I’m really pleased to say that the wee chap is now taking on a more appreciable shape.
Of course, any fool can publish a magazine these days – I am the living embodiment of such things – you point, you click and voila! But getting people to want it, to spend their hard earned is a different matter and so we have been conscious all along that we want Arfur to be something slightly different. Something readers of poetry, and not just poets hoping for publication, might want.
From the start it was always going to have a good chunk, a properly readable selection of poetry, and I am pleased to say that now that we have started working through the submissions (and keep them coming – you still have time) we already know that it is going to be a ‘good ‘un’.
We had always planned to just not publish the magazine if the poetry wasn’t right – anything else we can live with – but in these days of ‘red lines’ that was ours. So getting past that was quite the milestone for us.
From there though we wanted to go a bit further with the magazine and in truth it is likely to end-up split into three sections:
1. The Poems:
40 seems the perfect number to me for a poetry magazine, and apart from a couple more if we really can’t choose, that is the minimum Arfur will contain. We genuinely meant it when we said that we are encouraging poetry from ‘every dusty corner of the broadest of churches’ and I’m pleased to say that, that is what we have been getting.
2. The People:
This section is where we wanted to talk to people involved in poetry at different levels and angles, and so I’m really pleased to say that we have a number of poets, magazine editors, book publishers, independent shopkeepers, cover designers and so on, who we have or will be talking to and generally featuring. They won’t all appear in every issue, clearly, but I like the idea that even when you have enjoyed the poetry, there is some real ‘meat’ for you to go back to time and again.
I’m also – have always been – fascinated by the lyrics songwriters write and how their approach compares or crosses over with the way that poets work, and so one of the features we will have in each issue (assuming we manage to arrange them) is an interview with a songwriter. Not particularly about poetry, but about their own art – and we, you, can then draw your own conclusions.
3. The Reviews:
I’ve said before that I have always felt that given the nature of the poetry scene and how it is ignored by the wider book industry and media, all poetry magazines have an obligation to review contemporary poetry collections. Selling poetry is hard already and without sounding sappy we really are in it together. How many collections we’ll review, I don’t know, but we’ll try our best and see where it leads us.
4. Deus Ex Machina:
Yes, I know I said three sections, but at least I know you are still awake after all this. Section four is a little different as I’ve always felt that every newspaper or magazine should have something light at the end, and so to finish each issue wanted to offer a little light relief.
I’m delighted to say that serial sadist, A.P. Middleton is to create us a prize-winning crossword that he guarantees nobody will be able to finish and we have a couple of other things up our sleeves, but more anon on those.
We have been thinking a lot about just how it is that you make a poetry magazine viable. That probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise.
Obviously a great way is for somebody – an outside force – to pay for everything and leave you alone to do whatever you like. I like that option, but sadly it seems a little unlikely for us as we’re horribly old fashioned and cynical and like to walk on our own legs and anyway, not very good at asking for help at the best of times. If this all is to crash and burn I’d rather it was only our Zeppelin on the line, as it were.
From there the next on the list is to sell subscriptions, so that people stump up for whatever it is you are selling and then you deliver. Hopefully they will like it enough to renew their subscription however long it was for.
Being as we are starting the press with the proceeds from flogging a second-hand guitar, this is where we are going to go. Hobson had a choice too, apparently.
That is all pretty mundane, I’m sure you would agree, but I guess the thing that is taking the brainspace is more, how do you keep it going?
How do you make sure that people keep on subscribing, or as in our case where we will be going for pre-orders for each individual issue rather than an annual subscription, how do we make sure that the reader wants the next issue?
I mean, the obvious way is to make sure that every issue is fabulous and that the reader can’t wait to read some more, and if that doesn’t work, maybe we could have a have a cliffhanger at the end that keeps people coming back.
It is something to think of.
That could work.
Or perhaps, we could put half of a poem in one quarter and the rest the next.
OK, not so good.
I guess for me the answer is to just make it something so cool or interesting that people can’t help but want another dose of Vitamin Arfur.
So basically, we have to try and create a sense of community or addiction, who knows.
I guess where I’m coming to is that any poetry magazine, from Poetry Review down has to create its own tribe, a group of readers that see themselves as part of it. Family, even, and that in truth, it isn’t something you can plan for as if you do it will just be artificial, a flavour of the month and as transient as some kind of advert.
So we need to find a way to create a Tribe Called Hedge if we are going to get past the first issue or two, the only slight tricky thing is to work out just how we do that, isn’t it? I guess you can only be yourself and see what happens next.
We’re all of a flutter here in the land of the spiny Hog today, as we had some fine news and I can’t wait to share it.
I said the other day that we were going to rethink the cover for the first issue of ‘Arfur’ and then I got a call from an artist we have worked with before, offering to paint us a pretty picture that we could use on the cover. He does this sort of painting under the name Kanoe West, which amuses us all, but his other artworks are under a different ‘Brand’ that is far better known. But my lips are sealed on that.
So the vote I promised has disappeared for now, but it is for a good reason.
In case you missed it the other day, we finally worked out what it was that we wanted to do as far as reviews go and added our ‘Review Policy’ to the site, somewhere over There.
I won’t rehash that, but one of the things I keep wittering on about is that I feel that poetry journals, due to the rest of the world’s ‘media’ largely ignoring poetry, really must do whatever they can to spread the word. (Assuming that we are part of the media and what a weird idea that is.) As one of the key ways of doing this is by reviewing as many poetry collections as we can, we are really honour-bound to do just that.
See, I got there in the end. This is all pre-coffee.
Like everything else we do, I really want it to be an open and transparent process, so we’ll be listing any books or pamphlets we receive on the site as we go and linking to the author’s or publisher’s pages. I know that isn’t much, but there we are.
No, I don’t know why I bring it up either. I think maybe that coffee could be a good idea after all.
One thing we’ve found over the last few weeks since we embarked on SS Arfur is that there is very much a lot of ‘making it up as you go along.’ Not that we hadn’t spent months (and in truth, years) thinking about all of this, but once you are ‘on the ground’ the world looks a lot different from the adrenalin-free blue sky perspective.
The most obvious case of this is probably the one that we had thought was the simplest – how you go about dealing with the problem of Maria submissions?
Now we did worry about this up-front;
Would we get enough?
Would they be any good?
Would there be too many for us to deal with, as we found ourselves buried in them?
And luckily none of those has been a problem, but we are well aware that despite the fact that we were more than happy for people to submit their work elsewhere whilst we also held on to it, it doesn’t seem fair to hang on to work that maybe isn’t for us.
All of which is a long way around saying that we have started sifting the poems that have already been submitted and that whilst we haven’t definitely chosen any yet (actually that isn’t true, there are a handful that I know will definitely be in the first issue – not least because one of them made me cry) but we are definitely getting to a position where we can start a longlist and then, over time see which poems that subsequently arrive replace those on it.
So, whilst not hearing from us doesn’t mean that you are definitely going to see your work in Arfur#1, there are still some poems we haven’t read at all, we will now be starting to let people know if their work wasn’t for us this time, as it seems the fairest thing to do.
The truth of it is that we are really only looking for 40 poems, or rather forty-ish poetry-filled pages, and from there it is only matter of taste. And as my reflection in the bathroom mirror regularly asks me,
‘What the hell do I know anyway?’
Submissions are still open – HERE – until the 15th January, and every poem will be read and right up to that deadline we will be comparing and finding which are the ones that talk to us most. So please do submit your work if you fancy what we are trying to be about.
We are all rather smug today as we had some great news as far as Arfur, our worryingly imminent imaginary magazine is concerned, as it seems that a certain Mr A.P Middleton of somewhere in the frozen North, is joining us.
Which is many kinds of rather good news, as A.P, as he allows himself to be called in the more relaxed portions of social occasions, is the compiler of rather fiendishly tricky crosswords.
Now I’ll be quite honest, I am hopeless at such things, but we do have a rather crossword addicted member of Team ‘Hog, and she is verily excited by this.
As for the crossword itself, the plan is for us to feature one of A.P’s torturous creations in each issue of Arfur (that sounds wrong somehow) and of course there will be a prize of some sort. (Don’t ask me what now, all I do know is that A.P thinks nobody can beat his best, and that we should plan to ‘roll-up’ the prize until somebody flukes it a few years down the line. So there is a challenge.)
More seriously, we are very pleased to have A.P along for the ride, and we are sure that you will be too.
When we first put the ‘Hog web site up, at the last minute we realised that we needed a cover for our magazine, ‘Arfur’, and for the ‘The Road To Clevedon Pier’ anthology.
Being a little third division on the Photoshop front, we scrambled around, nipped out with the Box Brownie, and managed to put something together in about 27 minutes, with only a quick espresso along the way.
In fact the ‘Pier’ book is perfect and that is destined to be the final look of the published artefact, as it were, but the Arfur one was only ever meant to be an example, a placeholder until we quickly got the proper design together.
Needless to say, at that point we immediately forgot about the whole thing and opened another pack of Hobnobs and that it is only now, all these weeks later when I have suddenly realised that I need to get finished cover files to our delightfilled printer, for some ‘mock-up copies of the magazine we can photograph and generally coo over, that I am inspired to, well, do something.
So by the end of the week I am hoping to have at least three possible cover images, and I would deeply be pleased and chuffed if you good people (assuming anybody is reading this drivel) wouldn’t mind casting your eye over them and voting for the one you like best.
Obviously, I only write this on here to force me to do it.