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Peter Philpott


(Editor, Great Works)



Peter Philpott was born in Martock, Somerset in 1949. He attended the University of Keele. He lives in Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire, and taught English and media in further education colleges in Essex until his retirement in 2008. From 1971 to 1981, initially with Bill Symondson, he ran Great Works magazine and small press; and started the Great Works poetry website in 2001. He also runs the Modern Poetry site, and the Diverse Deeds (formerly Sundays at the Oto) poetry and music performance events. His publications include What Was Shown (Ferry Press, 1980), Some Action Upon the World (Grosseteste, 1982), Textual Possessions (Shearsman, 2004) and What Was Drawn . . . (Shearsman, 2009), and he appeared in the anthology A Various Art (edited by Andrew Crozier and Tim Longville, Carcanet, 1987). He also performed as vocalist for The Playground in the late 1980s.





Q: How has publishing changed with the advent of short-run printing and print-on-demand possibilities? Does this negate any need to sell a specific number of a title? Is this a freedom from traditional print expectations/values?


A: It seems to me incontrovertible there has been a massive expansion of innovative poetry publishing as a result of POD. But you do get the sad image of books that have a largely virtual existence, with few physical copies actually produced. And of course there is problem of bookshops often not stocking POD - bringing us back to the economy of personally encountering the author at readings etc. to ever see the book. It can end up equivalent merely to a more ethical vanity publication. As to whether it is a freedom from traditional print expectations or values I believe it is, economically, from the production point-of-view. But in some ways, the downplaying of the physical objects makes the books I suspect more difficult to market.


Q: Why does poetry continue to create schools and movements who feud?


A: Conflict over scarce resources! (e.g. public moneys, space in more mass circulation journals as  reviews etc.) and genuine unease over trends involving the academicisation of innovative poetry (so it ain't innovative, but provides a new canon/reading-list) and the heavily personal nature of connections made within this world means that personal relationships and in-group status can bring (only relatively!) big rewards and the natural contrariness and paranoia of anyone dumb enough to engage in this art tradition (Christ! We'd get more response if we were doing avant-garde macramé!)


Q: With POD possibilities, including various organisations that will take on anything without a set-up fee and simply send royalties to the author, do poetry publishers need arts council subsidies any more?


A: Yes! Effective marketing and distribution, without which publication is pointless.


Q: If poetry presses are concerned with cultivating a wider readership, could this not be done more effectively via the Internet (where there are thousands of potential readers) rather than worrying about sales of printed poetry?


A: Now this is more what I am engaged in. I do regard poems in books as The Real Thing (as do many other poets and poetry readers). The Internet does seem to me to be a superb way, if it can be done right, to really reach out to those outside the groupuscules, coteries and in-groups that compose the current readership of innovative poetry. It needs a real positive reaching out.


Maybe, though, this shared fetishism of the book is already doomed, just as downloads have reduced the market for music on bits of engineered plastic (will do the same with film, and is ending the art of TV scheduling). There may be a coming generation for whom books are an alien rather than a comforting experience, just an archaic technology they do not relate to. POD in their terms is merely a transitional stage to fully experiencing culture through the Internet (probably on devices closer to mobile phones and  IPods - POD misusing digital technology to produce objects, rather than files that can be downloaded, shared, manipulated, mashed etc.


So - the poet in me wants books, and POD can help with that (but needs boosts). But the Media Studies Lecturer I also am tells me our entire culture is shifting in its access to information and cultural goods: books may well end up an Old School curiosity, however printed. Poetry I am confident will survive - it existed before printed books after all.