Friday, 6 July 2012


Did you know that an important poetry prize was awarded recently?  No, not the T S Eliot or the Forward or the Costa.  It was the 2012 Michael Marks Awards.

Roisin Tierney's Dream Endings was the poetry winner and Smith Doorstop won the award for publishers. Dream Endings is published by Rack Press (run by Nicholas Murray), a small press based in Powys in mid Wales.  You can read about Roisin and see one of her poems at  There's more on the Rack Press blog  Smith Doorstop is probably better known in poetry circles (through its own Poetry Business competition and The North magazine) and it's been going for over 25 years.

The Michael Marks awards are for poetry pamphlets only (specified as no more than 36 pages).  Poetry pamphlets are wonderfully individualistic and tactile.  I have one of a previous year's shortlisted pamphlets on my desk.  It's the lovely "Devorgilla's Bridge" by Hugh McMillan (words) and Hugh Bryden (linocut) published by Roncadora Press.  Poetry pamphlets are very often a small press cottage industry with small print runs.  They are a labour of love - break-even is probably the best that many poetry pamphlet publishers can hope for.

Some poets prefer the name chapbook.  The OED defines this as "A modern name, applied by book collectors and others, to specimens of the popular literature which was formerly circulated by itinerant dealers or chapmen, consisting chiefly of small pamphlets of popular tales, ballads, tracts etc."  I think of Autolycus (in Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale) who, when he was not snapping up unconsidered trifles, was a pedlar of ballads. 

In a literary climate which is so often dominated by the big publishers whose books are commodities with a limited shelf-life like yoghurt, it's great to have a literary prize which celebrates poetry pamphlets and small presses.

That's why it is disappointing that this year's Michael Marks Awards seem to have been accompanied by a distinct lack of publicity.  More razzmatazz next year please.

And apologies to Roisin for the missing accents in her name - I can't get them on blogspot.

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