Dispatches | August 09, 2013

Welcome to our many-part series where we chat with Working Writers who have not had success in the traditional sense. No major awards, no books in print, maybe only a few or no publications, but are still writing. Our goal is to give voice to a wide range of writers, to learn from their experiences, and to open a discussion about living the craft. If you fit the description and want to be involved, please send an email to us at TMRWorkingWritersSeries@gmail.com

Today’s Working Writer is Tim Knight. 

999650_10151480586557414_890229409_nTell us a little about yourself. 

I’m currently studying Writing and Film at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, UK, but when not studying I live in Huddersfield in Yorkshire.

I also run a small poetry blog called Coffee Shop Poems which originally started out as a platform for my poetry, but after I while I opened it up to submissions. For the blog, that was the best thing I did. Not only did my writing get out to a larger audience, but I got to help other poets get their work seen, plus I got to email and chat with the most genuine people the world has to offer.

At the moment I have three small collections of poetry out in various forms. Prostitutes and New York, was my first ebook of poetry followed closely by Homeland and Borderland, a handmade pamphlet available on Cambridge Market (if you’re near!) or on the blog. Recently I bought out a free PDF pamphlet of poetry entitled Departure Date’. I probably shouldn’t say this, but I enjoy the hardships and complications of bringing out new collections. Each collection has brought with it long nights and hours of frustration, but also new contacts and new readers.

I learnt at the beginning that there’s not a lot of money in poetry, if any at all, but there isn’t space in the market for every poet to make consistent money off of it. Talking to people on Twitter and through email I’ve seen that we’re all writing and publishing poetry because we love the craft, the rhyme and the fun of it all. Everyone I’ve talked to is honest and helpful and always giving out advice at every corner. I remember within the first week of setting up my blog an experienced blogger tweeted me saying my stuff ‘wasn’t poetry’ and a 140-character-a-time argument broke out with us trying to define what poetry actually is!

To me poetry is a means of making the private world public and doing that in such a way that is either pleasant to read or listen to, rhyme optional.

Can you go into a bit what that argument was like, and the need for poets to define or redefine the craft? I don’t know if fiction or non-fiction has these same kind of arguments, but I’ve heard poets get into it from time to time.

I’ve had worst arguments with people about things that actually matter, but when an unknown person is very direct about your work you do go on the defensive, 140-characters of defensive. This blogger from the word go said my poems weren’t good examples of poetry and, that because the majority of them didn’t have rhyme nor meter, how could I class my blog as a poetry blog?. So I made my peace with him/her and now a year later I’m self-published and my blog is reaching bigger audiences.

Ever since that exchange of tweets, I’m not that bothered about people defining poetry. If the poet says his or hers work is poetry, than who can argue with them? I’ve been reading Charles Bukowski recently and his work doesn’t rhyme all that often and his meter is hit and miss, but he’s undoubtedly a great poet and is now probably being studied in small roomed English classes around the world at different universities.

Poetry seems to be that child at the back of the class who everyone wants to ask it ‘where are you from?’ and ‘how did they end up here?’. So when people pluck up the courage to ask them those questions all they get in return is, ‘I just found myself here and I’m getting on with it’. You don’t get that with fiction because it’s sliced into genres all ready. You have your crime and your romance and your dystopian novels, but because poetry is almost one genre, no one can define it clearly, resulting into Twitter arguments with pompous idiots. The joys of the anonymity!

What have your experiences been like with self-publishing, especially the editing and formatting of your collection?

I’ve published three lots of poetry and each one brought new challenges both in the creation of them and distribution. ‘Prostitutes & New York’ was my first collection of poetry and self-published through Amazon’s KDP. I had no audience for it, no need for it and I charged ridiculous amounts of money for it, so already I was losing. But I advertised its availability, made it free for a while and now it’s on for a reasonable 99p, but I plead you not to buy it: it contains awful, naive poems. It was more of a summer project rather than a serious collection of poetry.

My second collection, ‘Homeland & Borderland’ is a limited edition of 50 handmade pamphlets on sale on the website and on the market in the centre of Cambridge. This collection taught me the lesson of editing. I went into this project with a clear idea of the end result, so I had to cut down and trim and throw away poems that didn’t fit, all to create a pamphlet worth reading. Cambridge is a brilliant place to sell the pamphlet, the poetry scene is growing week on week with constant open mics and slam nights and a wealth of literary shows going on. Alex Blustin, who owns the market stall, is at the centre of it all. He sells pamphlets and magazines of most of the local poets and is always at the back of gigs with his stall set up. He’s also a brilliant print maker, you should really look at his stuff. (http://local-artists.org/users/aj-blustin).

‘Departure Date’ was released a few months ago and has proved itself to be the bestselling one out of the three collections. I feel this is down to the tight editing of the piece;  some of the poems in there, I feel, are more approachable and easier to read than the usual style I enjoy writing in. Also, I chose to make this collection free and in a PDF format so it could be downloaded to eBooks and phones and onto computers so it could be read easily and shared. It’s a well known fact that publishing is going digital and the emphasis is on portability: huge libraries of books on small devices and sharing the joy and experience of literature. The long term goal for me is to have a larger collection of poems to be published by a credible publishers someday in the future, we can dream right?!

Why is it that you chose to go the self-publishing route as opposed to traditional publishing?

It was down to money. I looked at printing-on-demand services, both locally and through websites, but it was the hidden costs of postage and packaging and the companies taking their percentage that made me look elsewhere. Traditional small press publishers in Cambridge work with larger orders than I could afford, quoting hundreds of pounds for not-so-many-books, so I threw caution to the wind and did it myself.

It was then down to some intense Googling to find out the ins and outs of self publishing, which I enjoyed; I enjoyed the chase of it all. Obviously I was never going to be an overnight hit from my first eBook on Amazon, or from my physical pamphlet, but the joy of starting a project and seeing it through to the end made me respect my work more than I had done before.

What has your experience been with curating a poetry blog? Do you have any specific submission guidelines, or an editorial vision? 

At first I was adamant on opening the blog up to people submitting their own work, because it was my virtual, html-based baby, but in doing so I’ve met some fantastic poets. I’ve had submissions from ex-army, professional poets, students and retired elders travelling the world- each delivering their own take on the world through their poetry, which is both fascinating and wonderful to read.

The submission guidelines are open to everything, no cap on genre or style, allowing anything to come through and be put online. Other websites limit their submissions to a certain amount of words or want poems based on annoying-cliché-keywords-that-are-just-patronising-keywords like ‘wild’ or ‘yesterday’. It’s annoying and it should stop. Regarding the vision, there isn’t really one, it’s more based on the basic idea of the Beat Poets: write from the heart and don’t stop until you’ve run out of steam, drugs optional (but frowned upon). It was the work of Kerouac and Ginsberg  that inspired me to write, so why not mirror that in the blog as a tribute to those honest writers. They also believed in just getting their work out there, be that in the cafes or chapbooks, on the radio or in full collections, which I’ve kind of mirrored in my sporadic publishing of my pamphlets and poems on the blog. If people don’t like your work, fine, but if just one person emails me to say they’ve enjoyed this poem or that poem or the blog as a whole, then I feel like I’ve won.


Why do you think the theme word or concept prompts should stop?

They’re restricting. I know they are there from an editorial point of view, editors want their blog/zine/collection to have a point to it, but in doing so they’re limiting who can submit. For example, I was looking around the endless websites wanting submissions and half of them must’ve capped poems at 10-20 lines and limited them to a certain form. Straight away, poets and writers will be turned off by these strict limitations. Just let people submit what they want and if you, the editor, doesn’t like it all you have to do is send a polite email back to say it wasn’t for you this time, but thank you anyway.

Since opening my blog up to submissions I’ve only declined 2 submissions because they were clichéd pieces of poetry, but the rest I happily put on because they are thoughts and feelings expressed in new and exciting ways. Poet, Evelyn Katz contributed her poem ‘In The Last Days of The Thunderbird’ which is a superb poem about losing love as March turns to April. Its form is a little unconventional and draws on the modern approach to relationships. The internet, filled with its morons who think they know it all, would probably  dismiss Evelyn’s poem commenting upon her ‘lack of substantial rhyme’, or something equally as annoying, but at Coffee Shop Poems we were glad, proud and more than happy to publish it, because it was true and honest.

Can you go into your process when you begin to craft a poem?

Kick me if I say organic once is this answer. Kick me hard, it’s an awful word to describe where a poem comes from. Most of the stuff I write comes from notes stored on my phone and they pretty much all go into poems, unless it’s a great bit of dialogue I’ve overheard, then I’ll save it for a short story or something. I use the Evernote app so everything is synced between my phone and PC. It is a great tool for anything, from poems to to-do lists, but mainly for poems at the moment. After a few notes have piled up, I’ll sit down and crack on with it. The notes then become jigsaw pieces, they’ll tessellate and twist and turn into something rough then I’ll try and smooth them out with meter and rhyme and all the baggage that comes with a poem.

It’s less craft-like then it looks, but the process works for me. The app allows me to constantly be aware. I have a poem called ‘Parents’ in my most recent collection, Departure Date, which came from watching two obviously new parents playing with their new child in a park in Cambridge. As soon as I saw them I wrote down,

‘Chasing sun lines across the park,
your child pursues those
fading boundaries of earth – turning from
emerald green to grilled burnt dark –
like it’s the only commodity in the world that’s worth its worth’,

I liked it so much it became the first stanza and I carried on home after that. See, nothing organic about it.

You can follow Tim Knight on Twitter @coffeeshoppoems or on his website at www.coffeeshoppoems.com. You can download his poetry pamphlet, “Departure Date”, here:www.sendspace.com/file/yhxvbg