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Poetry and/for Jam

Poetry publishing is an odd business at the best of times. But yesterday’s unusual exchange with a customer was of the kind that makes the more difficult parts worthwhile.
 
In the late morning I received a call from what looked like a local number. A reader was looking for a book from the Dedalus backlist. She had, she explained, already been in touch with a major book chain in the city who told her they’d be happy to order it for her but it might take a while.
 
(For reasons that make little sense to anyone outside of the book trade – and to few inside – some larger bookshop chains manage orders through UK HQs which means that, though Dedalus Towers (ahem) could despatch a copy in the post and have it anywhere in the city, or the country, overnight, we’d first have to wait for an official order (from HQ) to be sent to our distributor, who would then have to order the book from us in turn. Sometimes it’s hard to credit how complicated the world has become.
 
Anyway, having thanked our caller for going to the trouble of finding the publisher (i.e. ourselves) online, I checked to see that she was indeed in the general area, and, discovering that she was barely a mile distant, offered to drop her over a copy of the book in question later in the day.
 
‘Oh that would be great,’ she said, delighted at her good fortune. ‘It’s for a friend who is visiting this week. But how will I pay you?’
 
While I wondered about the kerfuffle of powering up the credit card reader for a single sale, and whether it wasn’t a better and nobler thing to make this the morning’s random act of kindness, she seemed to sense my hesitation and jumped in.
 
‘Do you like jam?’ she asked brightly. ‘Home-made jam?’
 
‘I love it,’ I said.
 
‘Blackcurrant.’
 
‘Even better.’
 
A half hour later I was in a beautifully managed front garden about a mile from base camp, discussing a number of apparently unconnected matters with a perfectly charming perfect stranger: among them the growing of berries and the ‘rolling boil’ necessary to transform the freshly picked fruit into jam …
 
At last we finished up, as you do on a good day in the world, by exchanging poems for jam, a reminder perhaps of how the making of each is itself a vote of confidence in the local ecology.
 
– Pat Boran, 18/08/2020
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Gender and Poetry Publishing in Ireland

For those who may be interested, the following is the full text of our February 2019 response to the Irish Times’ invitation to comment on the MEAS report into Gender in Poetry Publishing in Ireland: 2008–2017.

We appreciate that the newspaper, because of limitations of space, etc, has to edit such responses in the article published today (17 August 2019), but we publish that response here in full in order to present a more complete picture of our current thinking and practice.

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AT DEDALUS PRESS we welcome all contributions to the ongoing conversation about old habits, new energies, best practice and the natural expectations of writers and readers to see the world as they experience it reflected in the books that are published. The Gender in Poetry Publishing in Ireland peport is a welcome arrival into a conversation in which we have been actively present for many years.

Over the decade in question (which is slightly shorter than the period during which Raffaela Tranchino and I been at the helm), we have made considerable, principled and determined efforts to position Dedalus as a press that is equally open to female and male, and indeed to younger, mid-career and senior poets. While continuing to represent the poets already on our list, we take a pro-active role in attracting new talent, one of the results of which is, as it happens, a precisely 50/50 gender balance among debut poets over that same period.

When it comes to open submissions to the press, we advertise and operate a ‘blind’ reading policy, meaning we read the work without reference to a contributor’s biographical or bibliographical details (one of the many advantages of the digital-only submission system we employ for this very reason).

Some decades ago, the paucity of female poets being published by a number of presses in Ireland confirmed a real need for imprints dedicated to the work of female writers (one thinks of the trail blazed by the indefatigable Salmon Publishing, and of smaller concerns such as the now sadly defunct Summer Palace Press). In more recent times, the options have improved, not least with the advent of a new generation of can-do editor/publishers, unencumbered by the assumptions and habits of their predecessors. Dedalus Press under our management is actively, cheerfully and demonstrably committed to emerging and established women poets. We are also, and we believe this is not unrelated, actively examining options for reaching out to the community of Irish writers now beginning to emerge whose family antecedents are not of this country. Our name may have strong historical and mythic weight, but our eyes are very much to the future.

It should be noted that prudent signings by a better-resourced range of UK publishers over approximately the period in question has resulted in many notable Irish poets (most of them female, as it happens) having a publisher ‘off-island’ – a real loss to the Irish publishing scene, and one that almost certainly resulted from a lack of support to hospitable imprints here at home.

We do have a concern that a narrowly statistical survey of publishers’ outputs cannot adequately reflect the true nature, volume or range of work from which the published output is ultimately drawn; and we do question the value of assessing an anthology, for example, based on the gender of its editor/s over that of its contributing poets. Nevertheless we broadly welcome this report, and we look forward to seeing, in time, an updated version which will reflect the real and substantial changes and new energies that have come into Irish poetry publishing in recent years.

Pat Boran, Dedalus Press, 09 February 2019