Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Is Seamus Heaney the most expensive poet?

In a moment of madness Poet-in-Residence, perhaps influenced by the Irish Times blurb which speaks of incontestable weight and majesty Poet-in-Residence parted with a penny short of nine pounds for a volume of poems running to 76 pages, or 20 sheets of trimmed A4 paper.
So what's on these 20 sheets of paper that makes them worth nearly 50 pence a sheet? The book that Poet-in-Residence has before him is 'District and Circle' (faber and faber) by Seamus Heaney.
The first poem in the book is 'The Turnip Snedder'. It is a poem of 20 lines. The 20 lines are laid out in couplets and use up 2 pages in the book. But worse is yet to come. [at this point in the original post there came a lot of mathematics which P-i-R believed to be incorrect - he couldn't believe his own sums! But on checking it seems that 'District and Circle' does run out at a hefty and majestic 12 pence a page. It really does! We've come a very long way pricewise since James Joyce's 'Pomes a Penny Each']
The poem 'In a Loaning' consists of a mere 4 lines of text. It has a whole 12 pence page to itself. No wonder it speaks of -deep coffers.

In a Loaning

Spoken for in autumn, recovered speech
Having its way again, I gave a cry:
'Not beechen green, but these shin-deep coffers
Of copper-fired leaves, these beech holes grey.'

Another poem 'A Hagging Match' consists of 20 words including the title. It has a whole page to itself. It is a six-line poem.

In the book's 'Notes and Acknowledgements' Poet-in-Residence sees that more than 20 of the poems have appeared elsewhere. He has the feeling that he has been duly shoved through 'The Turnip Snedder',-

and turnip-heads were let fall and fed

to the juiced-up inner blades



  1. What, you don't want to buy a book containing poems that were published in magazines? Are they secondhand now, or something? Do you already own the 20 magazines? Putting things in magazines prior to book publication is in any case standard practice, and always has been, certainly in our lifetimes. Don't you send to magazines?

    And if your ms was then accepted by a publisher, would you really leave out anything that had appeared, say, three years earlier in a small mag?

    Anyway, I'd part with with 12p for a poem. It seems cheap.

    If you'll pardon my saying, P-i-R, you seem rather unused to what poetry books are like, for someone who claims to be a poet... do you not read much current stuff?

  2. Hello ms baroque and welcome.
    I'll take your questions in the order you asked them.
    Q.1 - Like many others, I was expecting something new from a poet of Heaney's class -a Nobel Prize winner! This book was not A 'Collected Works' or a 'Selected Works' but a slim volume.
    Q. 2 - I have lots of magazines - much more than 20 - and I subscribe to several - iota, poetry monthly, pulsar, poetry salzburg review and others - I also buy photocopied poetry sold in single sheets and chapbooks by student poets in cafes.
    Q. 3 - I send to magazines on a very irregular basis. About 50% of what I send to magazines in published.
    Q. 4 - Yes and No - it really depends on the quality of the poems...and if I have 'moved on' poetic-wise in the intervening 3 years - in which case probably, Yes I won't.
    Q - 5, Yes, I read a lot
    of 'current stuff'. I also review poetry magazines and journals. There are many 'current stuff' poets on P-i-R - people like R K Singh, Geoff Stevens, Michael Newman, David Pike etc. You can't get much more 'current' than that.

    Your interest is very much appreciated and I hope you stay with us and enjoy the rest of the blog. There's much of interest.

    For a defintion of what I 'claim to be' and the 'Raison d'etre' for P-i-R, the definition of what's going on here if you like, please see the top of the page.

  3. The most recent poetry book that P-i-R has had the pleasure of reviewing iss 'In the beginning was the song' by Glenys Jones ISBN 978 1905886 975 pub. 2007 by Matador (Troubador imprint). This book is comparable in length and quality to Seamus Heaney's book. It may be even better quality for it has a glossy cover, slightly larger pages and contains 2 photograps. The book is priced at two pounds less, more than 25% less, than Heaney's. So what's going on?
    As far as P-i-R's poetry credentials are concerned, since the matter has been raised, his latest poem 'Haircut' has been accepted by Pulsar and should appear in the next issue - due out in March. Why not send for a copy and judge for yourselves?

  4. Though I am generally suspicious of slim, hard-bound volumes put out by poets after much success, I am still looking forward to /District And Circle/, despite the printer's math. Kinnell's slim hardbound left me cold; but Hass's proves he's still got it. Hopefully Heaney also falls in the latter camp. We'll see.

  5. Hi Robert, I should have pointed out, if I failed to, that the District & Circle I speak about is a paperback. Hardback price maybe!


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