I’m very pleased to be joined by poet Stella Hervey Birrell today. I first met Stella when we were in contact about her novel. How Many Wrongs Make a Mr Right. I read and reviewed it (here) and we did a couple of book events together. As you’ll find out below, Stella has now shifted her focus to poetry and is about to have a pamphlet published with its launch this Thursday evening. Read on to find out more about that.
- I didn’t want to be a poet. Of course I didn’t, I wanted to be a rich writer. I started out writing short stories – which were terrible; novels – more on that later; and newsy opinion-piece articles I pitched unsuccessfully to lifestyle websites.
- I had a novel published by a small press, but it took a lot out of me. The process was tough. I’d been promised a full edit but only got a brief proof-read. After publication, I quickly lost confidence in the work. The book did OK, but no better than that – it’s now out of print.
- There were times when I didn’t want to write at all. But I did want to write. I love it, I hate it, that sort of thing. Then I ‘allowed’ myself to write poetry, and realised I was pretty good at it.
- The quote ‘ain’t no money in poetry’ is fiercely accurate. If I sell all of the available pamphlets, I will make less than £100. That said, there are other ways poets can make money: awards, residences, paid commissions, workshops. But you are competing with ALL the poets for these, not just the early career ones.
- I don’t get to choose what I write about. Julia Cameron, who wrote The Artist’s Way, helped me to understand this. ‘If I have a poem to write,’ she says ‘I need to write that poem whether it will sell or not.’ Although, as stated, selling it might not bring untold riches either!
- I struggle to take up space. My early poems literally took up less of the page. I would write in tiny
like I was afraid
to be noticed.
- A lot of submission calls have a 40 line limit. So I had to wean myself off those skinny poems. Now I love the freedom of the whole line.
- A pamphlet is a step towards a full collection. I’ve been looking for a publisher for various versions of Parent. Worshipper. Carrion. for about a year. Which, when you compare with four years working on my last novel, which is now in a drawer, is small change.
- I submit my work relentlessly. Writers will tell you that one acceptance in seven is average.
- It wasn’t the plan, but it turns out I am a poet. Soon after I started submitting poems, my acceptance rate started to rise. Last year it was one in five.
You can order Stella’s poetry pamphlet here. One third of the proceeds go to Mermaids UK.
If you’d like to attend the launch on Thursday evening online, you can book free tickets here