I’ve been pondering about whether or not to write about the Poetry Book Society’s Next Generation Poets 2014 accolade. And also what to write.

The promotion, which only comes around once a decade, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as it is only open to poets who have had their first full collection published within that particular decade. Moreover, there are only 20 places, even if there may be more eligible poets (more writers generally) for this most recent round than in the past two.

Pretty well everyone who has received this honour in the past is a name that will be generally known in the poetry world. Though there are some very very respected poets who haven’t been chosen on this scheme, it’s pretty fair to say that it’s not only potentially but very, very probably a career-making honour.

However, when I say open to poets, the submissions come from the publishers of those poets, as is the case with many of the big awards. Not only this, but it is at a cost to the publisher. The Next Generation scheme is not as bad as some – £20 entry and seven copies of the relevant collection (with £300 on top but only if the poet/collection chosen is one of the successful 20). This does, of course, quickly add up though for publishers putting forward a number of poets.

But even if the cost of such awards wasn’t a stumbling block for small publishers, do they really stand a chance anyway?

Obviously, I can’t answer this for certain, as I’m not one of the organisers, sponsors or judges. Perhaps the announcement (due next week) will have some surprises. (I’d be delighted if it does.) But I do have to say that I am expecting the chosen collections and poets to be with bigger presses (bigger in terms not just of numbers of books produced each year but also in terms of history and how long they have been running).

Now, I’m not writing this out of disappointment at this likelihood (though I am, of course, disappointed). I’m actually writing this more as positive celebration of all small presses.

I am absolutely delighted that both my small press publishers have put both of my collections – Into the Yell (Circaidy Gregory Press, 2010) and Be[yond] (Knives, Forks and Spoons Press) – forward for the Next Generation.

Firstly, I’m delighted in their confidence in my work. But it’s more than just that, it’s also the pride of being part of a wider small press community. I am delighted to not be the only poet whose work has put forward by my publishers but one of two poets from Circaidy Gregory Press and one of eight from Knives, Forks and Spoons Press.

I am proud because whatever the chances of success within the ‘usual suspects’, the small presses are there making a stand and saying we are here and what we do is worthy. In fact, I think it goes beyond worthy to essential.

What do I love about being part of a small press world? That the poetry matters, that there is energy, that it is hands-on, that presses operating very much on a shoestring budget keeps quality on its toes, that there is a passion for poetry, an enthusiasm and buzz that comes from not disappearing into a one of too-many-to-be-individuals corporate mass.

My first collection, Into the Yell, was a long-time in the publishing process at Circaidy Gregory Press. During that time, I learned about general editing, marketing, prize-eligibility and restrictions, and many other areas of publishing.

Of course, I’m not published with a big press, so maybe big presses do have that too. But the impression from the outside is of a more rule-led, restricted existence. Poets that are told by their agents what they can and can’t do and where, for example. (Yes, this really does happen, I was once asked to remove something from my blog for this very reason.)

Again, this isn’t to say small presses aren’t or shouldn’t be ambitious to become bigger presses or small press poets to move on to bigger, more established press names. Obviously, some of of us are, it would be naïve and limiting to think otherwise.

But there is so much to celebrate in this vibrant place of poetry, its importance and the creativity, willingness to experiment , the wide focus that can be found here and the genuine love of poetry for poetry’s sake.

My second collection Be[yond] is very different to my first. The current manuscripts I am working on very different again. I’m not sure that would have been as possible in the ‘more established’ bigger press environment.

Of course, none of this makes it right that there should be any prize systems where, regardless of quality, small presses might not stand as much chance as bigger ones. (And yes, I know that prizes and promotions cost money and that money doesn’t grow on any trees the poetry world has yet found. But there is a certain irony in any prize or scheme aimed at promoting books that goes to those at presses already in a better position to promote work without this help rather than those smaller presses for whom this could really make a big difference.)

It’s also worth noting that there may be poets who should have been eligible for this but whose publisher may not longer be producing poetry collections. I wouldn’t argue for the inclusion of such poets as such, because the Next Generation scheme is a promotional one, so does require the poets’ books to be in print and available to sell. But I’m mentioning it because it’s another way in which these awards are limited and not necessarily in anyway representative of talent or the poetry scene generally.

For me, these are just some of many reasons why sometimes it’s good to remember that ‘wins’ aren’t everything, that simply celebrating on mass that we’re here, this is what we do and it’s important is as big and loud and genuine a thing as all the champagne and gloss.

I am extremely grateful to both my publishers, Kay Green at Circaidy Gregory Press, and Alec Newman at the rapidly becoming bigger Knives, Forks and Spoons Press. I’m delighted to have my collection plenyt-fish accepted for publication by Nine Arches Press at the end of next year and to have other small press projects in the pipeline. I’m very proud to be part of the invigorating small press community.

As to the Next Generation award, well, I don’t think anyone would be in it if they didn’t want to win it. But I don’t think poets need to be in it, or even win it, to make their mark on or even dominate the next ten years in the poetry world. Although the clichéed ‘test of time’ will no doubt tell eventually, history is a daunting timeline to stand next to now and not much relevance to us as individuals once we’re dead. So, I’ll end by raising a virtual glass to the successful 20, whoever they are, but also to the many others out there who will be leaving their mark in their own way on the next decade in poetry!


And, on the topic of celebrating small presses, just a reminder that this year’s Free Verse Poetry book fair is at Conway Hall in London on Saturday (Sept 6). I’m delighted to be reading in the KFS showcase at 11am (at the Garden Cafe in Red Lion Square), alongside Anna McKerrow and James Davies. When I’m not at the readings, I’ll probably be helping out on one of the stands or enjoying a pint somewhere near. Do pop over and say hello if you’re there.