Poets! Are you wondering where your income is going, and do you feel it could be better spent? Me too. Last month, I paid up for a writing conference after debating long with myself over whether I should go, and could I afford it anyway. I was drawn in by the promise of time with other writers, and the potential of discussing a prose work with an agent during a 1:1 session. At last I paid up, within 2 days of the closing date. Then, having temporarily no internet at home, I tried to access the submissions portal a few days later. But it was too late – the window had closed on me, even though I still had my unused access code. Meanwhile, writers with money upfront had used an early-booking discount offer which meant that they paid less and they could access the agent scheme. As I couldn’t commit to the ticket price several months in advance, I paid more….and got less than I bargained for. Of course I didn’t realise that the number of agent slots was probably very limited to start with, and that 200 people could be in the same position as me – even where they had successfully used the submissions portal.
I asked for a refund citing the above problem with the agent event, and got a partial refund (minus £10) even though I had contacted the organisation with 7 weeks to go, leaving ample time for a resale. On asking for the whole fee back, I was told how they had refunded me as a ‘goodwill gesture’ because they would not normally refund a ticket just because the relevant portal was closed. [note to readers: check those box office return policies before giving them anything.] And, I was forfeiting a 2x booking fee for the operation of Paypal. That’s £10 gone, for the privilege of pushing a few buttons on a third-party payments window.
I hope the visiting writers have a great time. But what this incident suggests to me is: bye-bye opportunities if you aren’t a wealthier writer who can pay upfront straight away to obtain that extra level of access. I love meeting people at events, I really do, but there comes a point where ticket-buying without an improvement in my own progress becomes sterile and unproductive, making me question my reasons for going in the first place. On the other hand, I can choose not to be a Punter in future. My writing is still as valid as the other peoples’, and surely we all deserve not to be on the bottom tier of the creative-writing sales pyramid forever. I learnt a useful lesson from this incident, in that I had fallen victim to the ‘writing community’ promise against my better judgement, a promise which is not borne out unless you are happy about spending more on fees and tickets than you will ever get back in terms of seeing your work recognised or promoted.
On a happier note, I had a poem accepted for the Places of Poetry anthology, based on the crowd-sourced online project which ran last year between May and October. It is a read-only site now, and the resulting book (edited by Andrew McRae and Paul Farley) will be out towards the end of 2020. Another anthology (Hollow Palaces) is in production from a different project, showcasing a tradition of country house poetry across the centuries. I am pleased to be in the same vol. as ‘The Pier Glass’ by Robert Graves, one of my all-time favourite poems. I have two items in this book, both taken from Secret Villages (Flambard, 2001) and it is a welcome re-release of work which is firmly in the past from my point of view. It’s always good to know that poems can emerge by themselves later, when the writer had already consigned them to history.