The UK Small Press Poetry Scene

What is the mainstream?

What is the small press?

To say that the small press is a reaction against everything that's bad about the mainstream is an exaggeration, though you could say it's everything that the public don't know about poetry. What do the public know about poetry? Seamus Heaney maybe? Song lyrics? Lady Di anniversary odes? John Hegley? Anthologies bought as Xmas presents? Nobel prizes? Hidden from public gaze is poetry's small press - a tangled mass of underground activity: angry, bitter, naive, innovative, neglected, ambitious, sick, international, elitist, lonely, rebellious, wannabee. But the mainstream's so weak at the moment that it's being infiltrated by this sub-culture.

Note the small press is even smaller than the "official" mainstream. A poem published in our newsletter probably gets read more than a poem in most of the magazines mentioned below.

Established mainstream magazines

In other contexts the circulation numbers of these magazines would qualify them as small press. In the poetry world however, these are the big hitters Of these, "Poetry Review" is the most established yet manages to be the most radical once in a while.

Serious small-press magazines

These are smaller than the magazines in the previous section, but in other respects just as serious. Many of the other small press magazines would call them mainstream. Most of them are over a decade old. Some even pay.

There's a wide spectrum - even within single magazines there's an overlap with the established and the hobbyist magazines.

Hobbyist magazines

Many poets and magazines are unheard of by the public simply because they're not very good. Most famous are those produced by "The Forward Press". They publish many anthologies (often themed) under various imprints. Mentioning them in your cover letter to a good mag is asking for trouble.

Specialist magazines

If you're interested in particular forms/genres you'll need to find a special interest group. Few such paper magazines exist in the UK nowadays - web versions are cheaper and reach far more people. Two survivors are

Research magazines

Just as the science world has its specialist magazines that only scientists read, so poetry has its impenetrable periodicals. A few years ago Poetry Review was like that. PN Review has the odd difficult article. The Web has killed most of these magazines off, along with the protest magazines. One that remains is

Sources of magazines

Magazines are mostly obtainable only through the post. Also

Gossip

If you want to quickly find out what's going on in the small-press world, try these blogs Or go to a residential poetry workshop. Or mingle with the crowds at a poetry reading.

Lists

Here are some lists. The URLs/addresses of all the above-mentioned magazines are here.

Books

Try "101 Ways to Make Poems Sell: The Salt Guide to Getting and Staying Published" by Chris Hamilton-Emery. There's a sample chapter at the Salt site.

The WWW - "All change?"

Perhaps the days of paper are numbered. Maybe it's time to get published online and stop flogging a dead horse. The WWW offers more than the printed word.

What next?


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February 2008
Tim Love