“Ghosts in the Desert” New Poetry Collection

“Ghosts in the Desert” will be published on 26 June 2015. Copies can be ordered from Indigo Dreams Publishing.

There will be a book launch in Leicester on 4 July at the Friends (Quaker) Meeting House on Queens Road from 3pm. Free entry and refreshments will be provided.

“Ghosts in the Desert” begins with external ghosts from news of wars, the aftermath of tsunamis, bombings, lives lost through suicide and murder, and how these can haunt survivors. Characters from films can haunt viewers after the credits have rolled, one sequence explores fan fiction and why we need stories to keep certain memories alive. The cover image comes from a poem that sees the marks on the ice as a ghost of the skater’s performance.

Ghosts in the Desert from Indigo Dreams Publishing

Ghosts in the Desert from Indigo Dreams Publishing

Emma Lee’s poems are finely crafted and truly resonate with their readers. Here is a poet who knows how to balance intimacy and experience with poise and control. This collection encompasses an impressive range of subjects from the Rutland Panther and Daleks to loss and bereavement. These poems are touching, honest and often deeply poignant. ~ Maria Taylor

Emma Lee’s new poetry collection is vibrant, tough, and delicate in equal measure. Ranging from poems in the voices of different characters, to Lee’s own poetic persona, these pieces radiate a quiet, assured power. The image of ‘words engraved on glass’ (‘A Frosted Line for the Dark to follow’) could stand sentinel for the whole collection, as there is a sense of the world as haunted here: widows shadowed by gone husbands; survivors of calamitous events stained by those who did not survive; people dogged by the political decisions of others. There is a fragility to these poems that also leads one to consider the strength of human spirits. The ‘dazzle’ that ‘fades into the long dark’ in her superb elegiac poem for Larry Hagman could describe Lee’s poetic mettle, and also the fact that the poems stay in the imagination long after the book has been closed. I’d recommend this book both for its beautiful, assured writing, and also because it’s both touching and disturbing… animated and elegiac. From poignant meditations on widowhood, to poems with surprising narrators, the past runs its veins through the present like the silver trail left on a leaf by a snail. Truly, with its sense of the gone world casting skeins through the current one, an accomplished and moving collection. ~ Deborah Tyler-Bennett

Your Poetry Collection’s been Published – what now?

Getting a poetry collection published isn’t the end of a journey, but a transitionary stage. It marks the transition from writing a book to selling and promoting the book (and starting on the next). It’s not usual for writers to have mixed feelings when they finally get to hold a copy of their book in their hands. It’s a celebration but can also feel disappointing as a poet shifts from one stage in the journey (getting published) to the next stage (promotion) and the promotional stage is a long haul as I’ve previously written about in “Selling Poetry”.

Most poets prefer the first stage of writing a collection: writing and editing the poems, arranging the poems and seeing how they work alongside neighbouring poems, discussions with editors with the goal of publication. Once published, poets learn that:

“Writer writes book” is not news

The gloss of a new, shiny book can soon dull if you bore everyone you meet by talking about it, a little like new parents constantly talking about their new baby and nothing else. Be prepared to talk about the themes you explore in your book, select a particular poem to talk about or the reviews and reactions you’ve had. Vary your story.

Reviews take time

Even if you’ve been able to send out advance copies, reviews won’t necessarily appear on the publication date and may not appear for months afterwards. Check with your publisher before sending out review copies so you don’t send books to the same magazine. Bloggers may be able to review your book quicker, but always ask before sending an unsolicited book for review.

Arrange Readings

Most poetry books are sold at readings so arrange a launch reading and look out for other readings and local festivals you could read at. These are often booked long in advance so it’s best to get in touch with organisers as soon as you know you’re going to be published. Don’t overlook local open mic evenings and events. You may only be able to read one or two poems but you can read directly from your book and may have the opportunity to sell books on the night.

At a launch, you are in control and can talk about your book and read your favourite poems from it. At other readings, focus on reading selected poems rather than talking about your book. It’s the poems that will sell the book, not your brilliant, witty, engaging talk.

Change which poems you read or which order you read them in when doing different readings. If you start to sound bored, your audience may become bored too. There’s no reason not to intersperse poems from your book with newer poems.

Approach local radio stations too, particularly ones that feature talk shows and interviews. If news is a bit slow or a guest drops out, they may invite you in to talk about your book and read a poem. However, don’t turn an interview into an advert. Constantly urging listeners to “buy my book” will encourage them to do the opposite and some non commercial radio stations will drop your interview. If in doubt about what you can say, ask the producer before you go on air.

Social Media

Social media is an indirect way of selling books. It’s more of a networking medium than a selling medium. Don’t become a “buy my book!” bore. Offer information about forthcoming readings, post blog articles on what your book is about, do blog tours featuring articles on a poem or a specific group of poems or article about a topic or issue or theme featured in your book, include links to where your book’s available or post links to reviews.

Make sure you update your profiles to include your new book. If you use an email signature, does it need updating?


Being asked for Discounts

It will happen. Everyone loves to feel they are getting a bargain or a special offer and there is a minority who think they have to negotiate over everything. Practice saying “no”.

You do not need to offer an explanation for refusing a discount because the person asking will not appreciate that your book took you ages to write, you sweated blood over the comma at the end of stanza two in the title poem or even that writers deserve to be paid for writing. The discount request isn’t personal, haggling is just a habit.

If you know someone’s personal circumstances because they are family or a friend and you’re aware they genuinely can’t afford to pay for a copy of your book but would read it if you gave them a copy, why not consider giving them a copy in return for a review (on a site like Good Reads or Amazon)? That way you are still getting a payment for your book even if it’s not a monetary one.

Be aware that once you allow one person a discount, you will open yourself up to further requests.

Beware Special Offers and Discounts

Offering a time limited special offer or discount, e.g. a discount at a launch reading, a discount on one day only to mark an occasion, is fine. However, if you offer a discount that isn’t time limited, you are effectively devaluing your own work.

Promotional Items

Consider the return on investment before paying for any promotional items. Leaflets and post cards for use as book marks can be produced reasonably cheaply.


Ghosts in the Desert from Indigo Dreams Publishing

Ghosts in the Desert from Indigo Dreams Publishing



Emma Lee’s “Ghosts is the Desert” is available for pre-order from Indigo Dreams Publishing and the launch will be held on Saturday 4 July in Leicester. Her previous collections “Mimicking a Snowdrop” and “Yellow Torchlight and the Blues” are still available.

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“The Truth and Other Lies” Sascha Arango (Simon and Schuster) – novel review

The Truth and other Lies Sascha Arango book coverHarry Hayden is in a hell of a mess. His name adorns novels written by his wife, whom he’s accidently murdered by shunting his mistress’s car off a cliff without knowing his wife, rather than his mistress, was inside. His mistress is pregnant. He’s falling in love with the mayor’s daughter. A bitter, obsessive man, who had known Harry when they were both boys, could reveal Harry’s past and has taken a room in the seaside village where Harry lives. There’s a small matter of a marten which has made a home in Harry’s roof, creating scrabbling noises and bad smells.

Harry reports his wife as missing, presumably drowned and tells his publisher that the next novel is twenty pages away from completion. That’s true, but he omits to mention that the novel will probably never be completed because its author is dead. His mistress reports her car has been stolen. The police seem to accept that Harry’s wife is missing, presumed drowned. Currently, while there seems to be nothing to link him with his mistress, Betty, other than their natural working relationship (she is an editorial assistant at his publisher) and gossip which he can bat away, and no evidence to suggest his wife’s drowning is anything but a tragic accident, Harry knows he’s OK. But he also knows that if his wife’s body is washed ashore, if the police discover Betty’s car underwater, his situation will quickly unravel. He starts spinning half-truths and lies to keep the inevitable at bay. When Betty’s replacement car is discovered after an explosion but no corpse is found in the burnt-out wreak, Betty is assumed murdered. She had what’s thought to be the only copy of the manuscript of Harry’s unfinished novel with her. Harry has an alibi: he was due to meet her at a crowded restaurant where every patron and the staff can confirm his alibi. Harry, used to thinking on his feet, uses the fact that the truth of a situation depends on the perspective of the person viewing it, concocts a story that links his wife’s presumed drowning and Betty’s disappearance satisfactorily enough to provide the answers everyone seems to be seeking. But then, the publishers discover Betty made a copy of the novel and Harry’s wife had posted the final twenty pages before her presumed drowning. Can Harry keep up his pretence?

Initially Harry doesn’t seem to be particularly sympathetic. However, his wife, Martha, did not want to publish her work; she just wanted to be left alone to write it so was happy to publish under Harry’s name. Readers learn fairly quickly that Harry spent his childhood in a succession of grim care homes where an ability to lie and an instinct for survival was necessary. Martha knew about his affair with Betty but did nothing to stop it. She tells Betty that you have to love Harry without knowing him. It doesn’t occur to Harry that Martha might be using him. Readers only get to know Martha through Harry’s eyes which see the truth he wants to see. He doesn’t pry through her things so she remains something of an enigma. Martha’s absence doesn’t stop her influence on Harry’s life and she still remains a key character.

Betty too is a weaver of fiction. Ambitious for the publisher where she works, she sees herself as Harry’s gatekeeper, keeping media intrusion at bay and enjoying an affair with the publisher’s most successful author. She has no dreams of Harry leaving his wife until she falls pregnant. She fools herself into believing that Harry will leave Martha and he wants her to have his baby. Although Harry does nothing to shake her fantasy, Betty fails to realise that his childhood is a place of fear and fatherhood for him is unthinkable.

The situation is handled with a large shot of dark humour which keeps the reader’s empathy with the characters. “The Truth and Other Lies” has to be read as comedy: the deceased characters are treated as if they are merely waiting in the wings ready to re-emerge when the script demands. If you’re looking for an entertaining, pacey, tragicomic, rascal of a story-teller, Harry Hayden’s your man.

What a Poetry Reviewer looks for

I recently came across a suggestion that self-published poetry books could be seen as lacking credibility or editorial rigour. That’s not my experience as a reviewer. It’s fair to say a self-published poet is more likely to make a negative comment about my review, but that’s usually because a self-published poet places more importance on reviews than they deserve.

What does a Poetry Reviewer look for?

  • Poet’s name – not because established poets get a more favourable reaction but because if I’ve seen the name before as someone getting regularly published in poetry magazines (regardless of how many poetry books they have or haven’t published), then the poems in the book are more likely to be of a good standard.
  • Publisher – not because of a bias towards certain publishers but just to see whether the book is self, vanity or traditionally published. At this stage it’s about production values and presentation, not content. A book that doesn’t fall apart when I pick it up, where poems have been printed in a reasonably-sized font, on paper that doesn’t become transparent when I try to read the poems is going to be easier to review. If I’m sent an ebook then I’m also looking for a clear presentation.
  • Credits/Acknowledgements – if the poems have been previously published, then the contents have been subject to some editorial control even if the book is self-published. This gives me confidence the poems are going to be of a reasonable standard.
  • Pagination – I’ve reviewed poetry books without pagination but page numbers make it easier to find your way around a book and re-find that poem you were going to quote and the less time I spend flicking through pages trying to find the poem I was going to quote from, the more time I have to write my review.
  • Previous Publications – the lack of previous publications are not going to bias me against the book. I’m likely to be harder on someone’s fifth book than their first because someone on their fifth book should know what they’re doing.
  • Great Poems – or at least poems that have been written with care, ones that have great titles, a first line/sentence that draws a reader in, that has a marriage between rhythm and sense and that seeks to communicate with a reader. Generally it’s easier to review very good or very bad poems. It’s harder to review a competent collection of average poems that refuse to take risks because “competent”, “average” and “safe” imply boring and it takes a lot of work to be interesting about a boring book.

All of the above can be achieved with a self-published book as well as a traditionally published book.

In this blog post, self-published is defined as a book that the author arranged to be published by paying a printer to print the book where the printer may have offered advice on design, layout and typesetting, but will not have offered advice on the contents of the book. A vanity publisher will have flattered the author into believing they have a saleable, marketable book or that the poems are brilliant and may have charged a sizeable mark-up on the costs of printing and producing the book, i.e. played on the author’s vanity to win their agreement to publish the book rather than treating it as a purely commercial transaction. It’s often the case that, having achieved a profit in charging the author for printing the book, vanity publishers then make no attempt to market it. The author, having been misled into believing their work is brilliant, often objects when reviews suggest the work might not be so brilliant. For this reason, many reviewers refuse to accept vanity-published books for review.

What a Poetry Reviewer sees as a red flag:

  • Vanity-published books
  • No credits/acknowledgements – it may be that the poems in the book were written for a specific project so the poet didn’t seek to get individual poems published in magazines, however, it often suggests the poet has rushed into publishing a book
  • Sloppy production – I’ve no objection to a poet trying to make a book look ‘edgy’ or as a result of punk production values but I do need to able to read the poems to review them.
  • Poems without titles – you’d give a character a name so readers can identify them so why not poems? Reviews that carry phrases like “the third untitled poem in the collection” or “the poem that begins with the first line” aren’t easy to read and if a review has a limited word count, limits what can be said about the poems
  • Misleading titles – something called “Ghosts in the Desert” should feature at least some ghosts. The title doesn’t have to describe the contents – the ghosts don’t literally have to be in the desert or be conventional ghosts – but don’t use the title of an Edward Hopper painting if your poems are all about Van Gogh.
  • Lengthy Explanatory Footnotes – unless these effectively are a part of the poem (c.f. T S Eliot’s “The Wasteland”). When you’ve used specialist technical jargon in a poem or have written about an historical event or are writing about an invented fantasy world, it’s tricky to strike a balance between footnotes that provide a useful glossary and footnotes that explain too much and come across as pretentious and condescending. This is where an editor can be useful. If your notes are longer than your poem, you need to re-think the purpose of either your poem or the notes. Reviewers do have access to internet searches but it can be interrupting if I find myself looking things up more often than I find myself reading the book I’m reviewing. If I find the research more interesting than the poems, there’s a problem.
  • A Foreword or Editorial Introduction – unless it’s a selected poems where the selector (who is not the author) wants to explain the rationale behind the selection, or the book has been published after the author’s death and the publisher feels that a context is relevant, otherwise it feels like an explanatory footnote put in the wrong place. It’s especially worrying in a first collection because it implies that the publisher or poet is not confident that the poems are good enough to stand by themselves.

Personally I always strive to write a review that gives readers enough information to decide whether or not they want to read the book under review. I don’t mind if I don’t like the style or poetry or the subject matter; I can still appreciate what the poet’s doing if the poet writes with craft and skill.

I’m only going to comment on the production values of a book if they are brilliant or very poor relative to the price. A highly-priced book with poor production values or a book with a low price and high production values will attract a comment. But, essentially it’s about readability, not whether I like the cover image.

“When Love Came To The Cartoon Kid” Siegfried Baber (Telltale Press) – poetry review

Siegfried Barber When Love Came to the Cartoon Kid book coverThere’s a transatlantic feel to this debut pamphlet with the opening and closing poems referencing Lee Harvey Oswald and other poems drawing on the influence of American TV culture, particularly cartoons. The poems are also grounded in reality. In the title poem, “his eyes didn’t telescope from their sockets,/ his boxing glove heart didn’t burst/ clean through his mouth,” and ends, “A thousand tonne weight/ didn’t pancake him into the earth./ The next day, he wasn’t seeing stars.” Real love sneaks in on you quietly and although you may start seeing things in the sharp edged and defined colour of cartoons, you’re still living the same life.

In the first poem, “For LHO,” Siegfried Baber imagines the rifle replaced by a Coca-Cola bottle acting as a prism while:

“On the street below, the President’s
motorcade crawls harmlessly out of view.
The Sun is the yawn of a great cat.
Fifty years from now, you doubt
anyone will remember this afternoon
or the rainbows you cast on the wall.”

The image of the sun as a cat echoes the Cheshire Cat from “Alice in Wonderland” whose grin lingered long after the cat disappeared. I’m not sure “harmlessly” is needed: the motorcade moving on shows readers no harm occurred. Rainbows have long been an emblem of hope. A rainbow also features in another Texas-based poem, “Texas Boy At The Funeral Of His Mother”

“We buried her on the hottest day of the year
in the rock-solid earth of Saint Augustine.
My father said a few words, thanked everyone
for coming, then vanished into the heat.
The pastor’s head evaporated. Guests drowned
in waterfalls of sweat. My brother’s shoes
turned to glue and his suit peeled at the seams.
Uncle Ned was nothing more than a baseball cap
and a pile of ash. The church roof sagged.
Distant relations got naked and searched for
a sprinkler to dance under. A stained-glass window
scattered its steaming rainbow. Holy things
made from gold or brass bubbled in the blaze.
And later, when the burnt-black flowers
drifted away, I watched the air above her grave
tremble and blur like the roof of an oven.”

Here the rainbow is scattered suggestive of broken hope. The heat-haze acts a lens which distorts the view of the grieving boy. The staccato rhythm is suggestive of someone trying to keep emotion under control. The relatives are behaving pretty much as they always do but the distortion of heat isolates the boy who observes from his pocket of grief. Readers can sense the boy trembling and his vision blurring with tears at her grave, that final symbol of his loss. There’s tenderness too in “Rabbit” where a father teaches his son to skin a rabbit, which ends

“We salvaged what was good and stuck it
in the freezer. What was left we threw away.
Except the heart – the size of a goldfish
it jiggled between wine-stained fingers,
not the fist of furious energy I imagined,
banging its pulse like a primitive drum.
But what I failed to notice that night
as I scrubbed our kitchen table clean
now seems obvious, pieced back together
by these steady, untrembling hands.”

“When Love Came To The Cartoon Kid” is an assured debut, demonstrating a range of subject matter and poetic skills, particularly in sharp observation and an ear for rhythm. The conversational tone lends an intimacy, as if the poet is telling stories to a fellow passenger on a bus or a friendly stranger in a pub, but also underlines how carefully the poems have been put together.

“When Love Came To The Cartoon Kid” is available from Telltale Press here.

Supreme Court lifts injunction on Autobiography

Legal matters normally fall outside the scope of this blog, except for a brief guide to copyright, however, this particular case is of interest to writers, particularly those who base their poems on personal experience, autobiography or memoir.

In the case [2015] UKSC 32 concerning James Rhodes v OPO and another, the Supreme Court had to consider an appeal against an injunction which prevented the publication of an autobiography in the form it had been written. The full judgement and press summary are here.

A father had written his autobiography which graphically detailed extensive abuse (including rape) he’d been subjected to as a child. Knowledge of this abuse was already in the public domain because the father, a concert pianist, author and film maker, had referred to it in interviews which were widely available and could be easily found through internet searches. The autobiography was dedicated to his son and would be available as an ebook and printed book in the father’s resident country. The son lived with his mother in a different country and the father didn’t intend the son to read it until he was old enough to understand it. The son has diagnosed disabilities in processing information and a consultant child psychologist concluded he would suffer psychological harm and emotional distress if he saw the content of the book. An interim injunction was granted so that the claim that publication of the book in its current form would intentionally cause harm to the son.

The Supreme Court allowed the injunction to be lifted. The essential grounds for this were that the father had the right to tell his story in his own words so publication of the book was justified providing it complied with laws concerning for example confidentiality. However, there was no law preventing the publication of factual material, even if it was graphic and distressing. The book was intended for a general audience, not just the son. Consideration was also given to the wording of the injunction which was found not to be specific enough. It is worth reading the judgement for the full conclusion. I’ve only mentioned the aspects that are of wider interest.

This is a welcome judgement. It acknowledges that where a writer seeks to publish a poem, story or memoir based on autobiographical facts, the writer is free to do so providing laws on confidentiality and non-provocation of hatred are respected. Another party will not succeed in obtaining an injunction to prevent publication on the basis that someone who is not the intended audience could suffer psychological harm or severe emotional distress (here that means a recognised psychological illness resulting from emotional distress; not just a one-off emotive reaction).

How do you write a poem? Giving credit where it’s due

Perhaps you decide on a theme, perhaps a image springs to mind, perhaps you are reminded of an incident that happened to you in the past or a first memory, perhaps you had an abortive attempt to get some words down on the page and decided more research was needed, perhaps you came across a poem and wanted to write a response to it, perhaps you were flipping through your notebook and came across an interesting idea, perhaps you saw a poem with a format that seemed appropriate for you theme and you decided to write your poem in that format.

It’s very rare a poet sits down in front of a blank screen or blank page and writes a poem without any preparative thought process.

It’s equally rare for a reader to read a poem with a completely blank mind. Readers bring their own experience, memories and baggage to a poem. One reader may hate ballads because she remembers being humiliated after being expected to learn one by heart and messing up one of the lines when asked to recite it in front of the class. Another reader may love the ghazal and be pre-disposed to look favourably on any she reads. Another reader may find that your poem about a tragedy triggers memories of involvement in a similar tragedy and her response to your poem will be informed by her memories.

Many readers are also poets who commit take a phrase, image or poem to memory or a notebook to refer to again later. These notes may then become sources for new poems. The new poem may take the form of a call and response with the original poem as a call and a new poem emerging from the lines written in response. A new poem may arise from taking an image, brainstorming and creating a poem from the brainstormed ideas. A poet might start with a line from another’s poem and write a new poem based on that line. Found poems, including erasure poems, use an original text and reformat it into a poem but generally the original sources were not poems and the found or erased poem offers a new slant or focus on the original and can be read independently of it. Cut-up poetry takes a source or sources and cuts out lines or phrases to make a new poem. All of these are legitimate sources for new poems, providing the originals are credited where the new poem uses lines from the original(s).

How much of the original source do you have to include in your new poem before you need to include a credit from the original?

If you have no intention of publishing the poem written in response to other or using cut-up, erasure or found techniques or by ghosting (basing a new poem on the structure or imagery of another), no problem arises. The new poem stays in a notebook or file never to see to the light of day; like a workshop exercise to try out an unfamiliar form or experimenting with an image. The problems arise when poets seek to publish a poem that was based on another source.

If you’ve written an ekphrastic poem inspired by a piece of art, which could be a painting, a sculpture or even a piece of prose? The usual way of crediting the original is to add a note “after” with the name of the artist. The understanding here is that the poet has tried to capture a feel, atmosphere or sense of the original piece of art in their poem in a response to the original art. I’ve written a poem, “Good Morning Midnight” (included in “Yellow Torchlight and the Blues”) after Jean Rhys: the poem tries to capture the atmosphere and feel of Jean Rhys’s prose but does not quote from it.

If you use cut-up, found or erasure techniques, you should credit the original text(s).

If your poem B is based on a line by poet A in their poem A, a credit should be included.

Parodies are not plagiarism, neither is rewriting a story from the viewpoint of a different character providing you have invented the different character’s voice and not simply rearranged the original story (although in both cases it helps to credit the original in case your readers, who may have a different cultural background, are unfamiliar with it).

But what if you’ve used a call and response or ghosting techniques to write your poem? Here the line between plagiarism (the wrongful appropriation, close imitation or purloining of other writer’s work) and a new poem becomes more difficult to define. When scaffolding is used, the idea is that the scaffolding is removed and a new building stands, independent of that scaffolding.

The ‘fair use’ argument (usually used where works are quoted from in a piece of criticism or review or in students’ work) may not be enough either. A poet may only have used 23 words of another’s poem, which might be justifiable if the original was a thousand line epic, but if the original was only 30 words, then 77% of the original poem has been used. It’s difficult to argue a poem that is 23% the poet’s own work is a new poem and doesn’t need to credit anyone else. It’s not possible to reduce an argument to simple mathematics either, if those 23 words were the essence or structure of the original, the second poet absolutely should credit the original poet.

It is possible to publish poems based on other’s work with or without credits being given. Editors, publishers and competition judges have not read every single published poem and, even if they had, would not necessarily recognise that the poem they are reading is based on another poet’s poem. Poetry works on trust. Most competitions include in their rules that entries must be the original, unpublished work of the entrant and trust entries comply because they don’t have time to check. Most publishers and editors ask for original work and trust that poets know the law around copyright and are aware of plagiarism so don’t submit work that breaches either or both. In turn, reviewers trust that books or pamphlets sent for review are of unplagiarised work. Where proper credits have been given, there shouldn’t be a problem. Where credits have not been given, trust is broken.

I’ve discussed here ways in which a plagiarist may redeem themselves and re-build broken trust.

The biggest mistrust will come from poets whose work has been appropriated. A poet who has spent time and effort in drafting, editing and re-drafting a poem, particularly one based on a personal experience, will not want their work plagiarised. It is not flattery, it is theft.

Using another poet’s poem as the basis for your own is fine, but if you wish to publish the resulting poem, make sure it can stand alone without any trace of scaffolding and be prepared to give proper credit.


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