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Tim Allen


(Editor, Terrible Work) 



Tim Allen lives in Plymouth, he is the editor of Terrible Work a major poetry reviews magazine. He is the author of two pamphlets, Texts For A Holy Saturday (Phlebas ’96) and The Cruising Duct (Maquette ’98) and his poetry has been featured in magazines such as First Offense, Oasis and Shearsman. His essays have appeared in Binary Myths (Stride) and Eratica magazine. With Andrew Duncan, he is editor of the forthcoming Don't Start Me Talking, a book of interviews with modern poets from Salt.





Q: How has publishing changed with the advent of short-run printing and print-on-demand possibilities? Does this negate any need to sell a specific number of a title? Is this a freedom from traditional print expectations/values?


A: I think it is too early to assess the changes caused by print-on-demand but it doesn't stop me speculating. Change there will be! The relationship between the practical restrictions, financial and manpower-wise, of traditional small press publishing and the nature of the content, such as a poetry that probably doesn't appeal to a wide audience, is bound to change. Yes, the values will probably change, especially in the case of publishers pushing out a frequent product (e.g. Salt), but maybe the values will not change much as far as the small specialist publisher is concerned. I hope not. The question of whether print-on-demand will affect, psychologically, the drive to sell a certain number of copies is something that does worry me: the idea that the publisher, having the book ready, can just sit back and wait for orders without pushing for them (especially if they have a large number of different titles) does not seem healthy (a situation not too dissimilar to vanity publishing, at least as far as the external mechanics appear), but of course having a book published has never been a guarantee of having the book publicised to the satisfaction of the author. 


Q: Why does poetry continue to create schools and movements who feud?


A: A lot has been said about this issue and the usual reason given is along the lines of poets fighting over restricted territory etc. That is an element, yes, but I think this question goes a lot deeper. It is true, however, that the situation in the UK is more prone to this territorial cause than the States or on the continent, due to the relative small size of the country - there is less space between those in power and those out of it - those who might be a long distance from us aesthetically may be close socially etc, especially away from London. This makes differences sharper, more important, more is at stake. The question has to be asked though, why does this situation regarding poetry seem so much worse than the situation in the other arts, for don't they too have their splits and schools? Part of the answer to this is that the “artistic splits” in the other arts have become socially contextualised and culturally compartmented, something which has not, for a number of reasons, happened with poetry. The other reason, and to my mind a far more extensive and important one, is to do with the nature of language, in particular our psychological relationship to it. It is to do with the difficulty of externalising, or objectifying, poetry, in the same way we can a piece of music or a painting in a frame: when we read a poem it is as if we ourselves had written it, therefore the degree of forced recognition is far too strong to distance ourselves from - so if the match is a bad one our reaction to the poem is almost physical. Toleration is an effort.


Q: With POD possibilities, including various organisations that will take on anything without a set-up fee and simply send royalties to the author, do poetry publishers need arts council subsidies any more?


A: I have never been comfortable with public money being used for the arts, not while there is a real need in far more vulnerable areas. Yes, I know all the arguments and of course I live in a world where such subsidies are going to continue, in one form or another anyway. Lower costs through POD are a very good thing, whoever is paying. Of course poetry publishers are still going to need money from somewhere though, I don't see POD making that degree of financial difference. I just don't like the politics of it: who gets what and why, and what people will say in order to get it. I don't like the game so I don't play it.


Q: If poetry presses are concerned with cultivating a wider readership, could this not be done more effectively via the Internet (where there are thousands of potential readers) rather than worrying about sales of printed poetry?


A: I never had very high hopes of the Internet regarding this stuff, but I did have small hopes. I can only answer this question personally and I am not sure how relevant that “personally” is. I love books. I love reading books. I love holding books, owning books, seeing books. The Internet has made almost no difference to my reading of poetry itself because I do not get the same buzz from reading a poem on a web page. It has made a difference to my reading “about” poetry though - reviews and critical material that I would not pay for in printed form are there for me free - they are fine - one of the reasons Terrible Work is a review site and not a publishing site. But I repeat, I do not know how relevant this is. I am not putting any special value on my preferences or experience - I don't have any hang-ups about the “future of print” etc. If books die, they die; I'll be gone too by the time that happens so I won't be personally affected. There are more important things to bother ourselves with.