was originally a paper magazine. Dedicated to the promotion and celebration of poetry in pamphlet form, it collected reviews, features, interviews and various scraps to inform or entertain. The last paper issue appeared in Spring 2010, though by that time, poetry pamphlet reviews were being posted online, on the HappenStance
has now made its way. Although the paper publication is extinct, interviews with small press publishers and selected features are collected in the Sphinx
area of the website, and a list of UK poetry pamphlet publishers is kept updated and free to download. Equally significant, there is a repository for pamphlet reviews which appears, for various reasons, to be unique.
Why? First, each pamphlet is reviewed by three different reviewers. There are a few ‘rules', of course. The pamphlets must be ISB numbered. They must be single-author publications of between 20 and 36 pages, excluding preliminaries, in English. They can be self-published. They do not
have to be published in the UK, though most are. They must be in print, available for purchase and submitted within twelve months of publication. Needless to say, we need three copies.
Secondly, the review policy places an emphasis on constructive and personal response - no absolutes and no sarcasm. The principles are to
- approach poetry with respect
- evaluate constructively, not destructively
- write in a reader-friendly and accessible way
- avoid jargony language
Generally speaking the review team (there are over 34 of them) stick to this, and that's essential. Nobody wants to read three pompous, lengthy reviews online. Some of the Sphinx reviews are more than a little entertaining.
Third and last, reviewers are expected not just to respond in words, but also to give a rating, based on criteria. No criteria for judging poetry can hope to escape subjectivity, but at least they go some way towards transparency, as well dividing the consideration into four equal aspects, once of which is the actual look and ‘feel' of the publication.
Here's the rating table used by reviewers:
Once the reviews come in, I collect the ratings and express the total in terms of a striped Sphinx logo. The perfect pamphlet might receive 10/10 on all four categories from all three reviewers. That would total 120/120, which would translate itself into a ten-striped Sphinx, viz:
However, this has never happened. The highest ratings so far have been 9-stripers, and we have only ever had three of them. Ratings escalate in half stripes from one to ten. Any publication getting seven or over is doing very well.
The idea of all of this is to take poetry pamphlets seriously - very seriously indeed. A huge amount of work goes into the creation and publication of these reviews. Each time they go online, it's fascinating to see the different ‘takes' on a publication. Sometimes they're very similar responses. Sometimes they're radically different. Each one gets several hundred hits, so somebody must be reading them.
Recently, in the HappenStance
blog, I reported on the first Sphinx High Stripe
awards (this will be repeated annually). High stripers are 8.5 and above. Now there's
something worth aiming for.Sphinx
High Stripe Awards are worth, alas, nothing but kudos, but it's kudos worth having. I have to confess that some winners were published by HappenStance
. I know this could look dodgy, since I edit both HappenStance
, but it can't be helped and the enterprise is honest, cross my heart and hope to die (but not yet). Other winning pamphlets were from Templar, Shoestring Press, Smith/Doorstop, Ellipsis (Sylph Editions) and Kettillonia.
We hope, very much, that all serious poetry pamphlet publishers will send work to Sphinx
for review, and new reviewers will come forward to join the team. Readers can browse the reviews in order to decide what to buy. The Sphinx
resource is already valuable. It will grow more so.Sphinx Pamplet reviewsHelena Nelson
is the founder editor of HappenStance Press
which won the Michael Marks Publishers' Award for poetry pamphlet publishing in 2010. She is also a poet (Starlight on Water
, Rialto 2003 and Plot and Counter-Plot
, Shoestring Press, 2010).
Recent High Stripe Winners:The Announced
, Ruth Valentine, Ellipsis 1/ Sylph Editions 2009
(sold out and therefore now a collector's item) [9 striper]No Panic Here
, Mark Halliday, HappenStance
2009 [9 striper]Shadow
, Alison Brackenbury, HappenStance,
2009 [9 striper]Emblems
, Wayne Burrows, Shoestring Press
, 2009 [8.5 striper]Hem and Heid
, James Robertson, Kettillonia
, 2009 [8.5 striper]Amicable Numbers
, Mike Barlow, Templar Poetry
, 2008 [8.5 striper]Party Piece
, Anna Woodford, Smith/Doorstop Books
, 2009 [8.5 striper]Treasure Ground
, Clare Best, HappenStance
, 2009 [8.5 striper]
Address for review copies:
Sphinx pamphlet reviews
21 Hatton Green