Website of poet Elizabeth Rimmer


  • The Second Year in the Garden

    rose border, fronted by opening daffodils

    This year’s gardening has started in earnest, now that the frost is over, and the borders are beginning to fill up. The early morning is full of birdsong from the trees in the valley, and a lot of very excited rooks, jackdaws and magpies from the gully behind the house. The burn is flowing strongly and the early shrubs – wild roses, honeysuckle and hawthorn – are showing their first leaves. In our garden I can see the beginnings of bud burst on the damson and apple trees, and I am cautiously optimistic that we will have blossom, although this is only their second spring here.

    There is good progress on the greenhouse, and I am hopeful it will be finished soon, as there are a lot of seeds waiting to move in!

    aluminium farme of small greenhouse on the patio
    cold frame full of seeds trays and young plants

    I have even started some opportunistic early potatoes in bags beside the shed – my favourite Pentland Javelin. After Sunday, when frost is forecast, the hardy annual herbs – chervil, parsley, dill – will go into the garden, as well as annual flowers for cutting. And then the real adventure will start, as I sow new perennial herbs. My aim is to get the overall structure of the garden in place this year, and try to attract as many pollinators and butterflies as I can, but I know I am already distracted by the thoughts of vegetables I can sneak into the gaps.

    In the house there is the same sense of burgeoning chaos. Editing slipped a bit during StAnza, but I’m almost finished one book, and getting started on three more. There will be a LIVE launch for The Well of the Moon – among many others which came out in lockdown, at a Red Squirrel Press showcase in April – watch out for more about this next week – and the Ceasing Never website went live. There are three articles up now, and it has attracted a lot of interest, and some very favourable comments. The collective includes eleven exciting poets, so there should be a lot to read and think about over the next few months.

    And also there is a new booklet in the works from Roncadora Press

    bracelet formed of tiny red and black books, containing an illustrated poem
    left page Hugh Bryden's picture of an owl, right page poem In Darkness
here the howlet sing/through the desolate night./Who will comfort you?/Oh, who?who?/ Who? Me! She answers

    The poem is a tiny sequence of Charms for the Healing of Grief, which I wrote about in the Group Hug post. There are seven charms, five herbs and two birds – all iconic Scottish species. Hugh Bryden illustrated it, and made the beautiful breaclet – which you can wear, if you dare. Because it would be so expensive to buy, (but get a look at it, if you get the chance – the construction and the little zoom-in pictures are FABULOUS!) he has also created a limited edition of the booklet, and there will be more about this when it is ready.

    I’m still reading a lot – I sold eight books at StAnza, and bought eleven, learning Irish and planning a big review of Jim Carruth’s amazing Auchensale Trilogy as well as my own stuff. No wonder I feel breathless! But there are moments of loveliness – this is my spring garden, finally doing its thing.

    white hellebores, red wallflower, some snowdrop and primrose plants in dappled sunshine

  • Returning to the Light

    snowdrops coming up through snow

    If it seems like a long time since I posted here, it’s because it is. There was Christmas and New Year, with its cold and rain and merriment – we did have a very merry Christmas this year – and then my daughter who has a complicated bunch of ailments, had an attack of the one we had taken our eyes off, and she has been very ill. It’s a bad time to be ill, but her support services have been there for her exactly as we would have hoped. Things are slowly improving, so I can now think about other things, as the days slowly stretch, and there is a bit more brightness about.

    Although it’s been very cold today, it’s been sunny and we’ve been thinking about the garden. All my seeds for this year have come, and I’ll be setting up the propagator for chillis and tomatoes at the end of next week. My Christmas present tiny greenhouse is here and we have been clearing the site for it, which gave me a chance to spot the new shoots of fennel and wild pansy, to hear the birds – suddenly noisier – and see how much the bulbs have been growing.

    tulips daffodils and auricula - plus emerging willowherb and hairy bittercress

    Mostly the garden seems to have come through the cold, though there is one lavender that looks to have succumbed, but I won’t really know for sure for a month or two – last night with its temperatures down to -6 came as a shock! Outside, there are hazel catkins out beyond the haggard at the back of the house. All the burns are full and running fast, even the ditch beyond the back fence, and a lot of the grassy places are waterlogged. Robins are getting territorial and once the fireworks at New Year finished we began to hear the strange mating calls of our local foxes.

    There has been a lot spoken and written this winter about using the dark time of the year for recovery and reflection, and I’ve certainly been doing a lot of that. Last year brought me a lot of change and new understanding, not only of the place I now live, but of the way my mind works, and what I bring to the dialogue I hold with the territory. This is taking my thinking about poetry in a completely unexpected and exciting direction. I decided to spend a lot of the year reading Irish poetry, starting with Seamus Heaney and Eavan Boland, but also Yeats, Moya Cannon and Kerry Hardie, and it opens new possibilities in my thinking about the relationship between place, community and language. I have begun learning the Irish language – you would think I might have started with Scottish Gaelic, living where I do, but somehow Irish fits my brain and my ear much more sympathetically, and I hope this will give me a way into Scottish later.

    I have a full editing list for this year, too, which looks very promising, and a poetics project on the verge of becoming real in a couple of months which I hope start some good conversations. Throughout the pandemic, the possibilities for decent poetry conversation have been limited, and I have so missed it, but I hope that we are finally coming back into the light!

  • The Publishing Process

    Sheila Wakefield, in front of Red Squirrel Press banner

    This is my wonderful publisher, Sheila Wakefield of the astonishingly productive Red Squirrel Press. Since I have started editing for Red Squirrel Press I have had a look at the publisher’s eye view of being published, and also developed and editor’s eye view and they are a little different —-

    but let’s have a look at the poet’s eye view.

    It is lovely when a publisher asks you to submit a manuscript (this does happen sometimes) and it’s lovely if you’ve sent some poems and you get a positive response. It’s fabulous to hold the finished book in your hands and put in the sticky tabs marking the poems you’re going to read from it at the launch. But it’s very hard to find a publisher, and I hear a lot of people asking why they bother. Self-publishing software is available, and if you’re willing to go to the trouble, you can get a professional looking product, do all the promotion yourself, and do so much better ——-

    Well, can you? I have met people who say they do, and they are not poets. Fiction publishers seem to think along the grooves, and if you have something a little bit off the wall, but you know there’s a market for your work, it might be worth a punt. If you have been published and your publisher hasn’t treated you well, but you know all that’s involved, you might do a better job. If you are willing to pay the professionals for the things you can’t do, and spend half your working life (literally) doing the social media and the marketing emails and newsletters, you might make more money.

    Poetry is different. For one thing, it is way more diverse and experimental than prose. People do it for love, not money (just as well) and poetry is short and portable and cheap to transmit. I see a lot of poets (mostly older, and more often than not male, don’t know why) complaining that poetry is all x these days (performance, or instagram or identity or issue based or —–) and I want to say, every time, “Where are you looking?” There is poetry of all sorts being published, lots of small magazines, online mostly, but a surprising number in print, thanks to print on demand. You are rarely going to be ‘too original’ or ‘not sufficiently commercial’ for publication.

    Then, print runs are small. Unless you do it yourself, which is a much more skilled job than many people would like to admit, it is going to be expensive – editing, cover design, book design and typesetting, proof-reading, printing and binding cost so much that unless you sell a complete run, you won’t even cover the outlay. And then you have to factor in the library copies and review copies – and reviewers very rarely buy the books they review – not to mention the ones you swap with other poets for their books —-

    No-one makes much money out of poetry.

    If you are a spoken word poet, and all you want is a bit of merch for when you do a gig, you might be happy with a do-it-yourself product, but even then, I would encourage you to look around. There are some wonderful small presses who specialise in doing just this – Stewed Rhubarb, for one. But you will be trading on your reputation within the spoken word community, and page poetry doesn’t work the same way.

    Page poetry does sell via readings and festivals and so on, but you have to be asked to those things, which means a lot of self-promotion. Being published by a traditional publisher gets you through some of those hoops, because they are part of a trade network. Your book joins an established conversation, instead of shouting into the void. Requests from publishers for their poets to appear in festivals carry more weight unless you already have an established profile. Reviews are easier to get that way too, but this is getting harder to achieve. Mostly, poetry books sell via the publisher’s website. I sell very few books myself, but Haggards has been reprinted twice, and has never been reviewed at all.

    Not every publisher edits. I have talked to poets who have submitted an manuscript and some time later a book lands on their doorstep, and that’s the first they know about it. Some poets like that – they’ve worked hard on their poems, and surely, if the publisher liked them well enough to accept them, they are good enough? However, some poets get very nervous about it, and I think they are right to do so. There is something reassuring about talking your work over with someone who is as invested as you are in getting your work into its best possible form. If you have a publisher who does editing, you should treasure them.

    You can find a lot about my philosophy of editing here, but there are a few more points I want to make.

    Editing is a delicate process, and understandably, some poets feel very defensive. Will they get you? What if you write the kind of ppoetry they don’t like – or if they write the kind of poetry you don’t like! It’s worth remembering that if a publisher has selected your book for publication, the editor already believes it must be good. You are starting from a winning position!

    Of course it won’t feel like that when you are told (as most poets, unaccountably have to be told) that you have submitted too many poems and a lot of them will have to go. The usual limit for a pamphlet is twenty pages of poems, and for a collection it’s 60, because of the way printing costs are calculated, but what most people don’t realise is that the computer default is A4, whereas book pages are closer to A5. Unless you write very short poems, that’s going to make a big difference.

    The simplest way to proceed is to cut out the duds. But by the time you get to publication, very few poems are actually duds. The selection process is governed by many more factors that might not occur to a poet. When you first write a poem, the dialogue is between you and the topic, you and the poem. But when you put them all together, the poems begin to talk to each other, and it makes a big difference.

    I like to find out what a poet has in mind for this collection. Is it her best work? or a showcase of everything she can do? Or does it tell a story, or take you for a walk through something or somewhere? Many of the poets I’ve edited already have a sense of structure and progress through the book – nothing so explicit as a theme, necessarily, but a sense of which poems belong together, which is the opening poem, which the conclusion. And when an editor cuts poems out, it has to be with respect to that structure and progress. So you might find there’s a cracking poem which doesn’t make the cut because it doesn’t fit.

    Then, you might find you have an awful lot of poems with the same atmosphere, using the same techniques, on the same themes, or using similar motifs and images. It doesn’t always show up on a poem by poem basis, but when the whole thing comes together, it becomes a bit obvious – I’ve put an indefinite ban on rain and clay in my poems, after Haggards!

    My own personal beliefs and preferences don’t come into the selection process as much as you might think. I have edited many poems whose arguments I don’t accept, many poems on subjects I don’t myself find interesting. Of course racist, sexist and homophobic poems wouldn’t make the cut, but poets who get this far don’t usually make those mistakes. You can occasionally find you’ve written a poem that is open to misconstruction, and then it has to be reworked or dropped – a second opinion on this can save you a lot of future embarassment. There is only one subject I won’t accept, and that is the kind of gratuitous graphic presentation or contemptuous treatment of the subjects of self-harm and suicide. This is a live issue in my life, as in the lives of many people, and disprespectful treatment isn’t just upsetting – it can produce very damaging and dangerous results. Personally, I can’t even deal with such poems – I literally fainted the first time I came across one.

    Occasionally poets, especially in their first collection, show a lot of influence from particular poets, and this can be a problem, not of plagiarism – that would be totally unacceptable – but of establishing the maturity and authenticity of a poet’s work. Mostly I try to cut such poems, to allow the poet’s individual voice to sound out more clearly. Sometimes I request edits to poems for the same reasons. There are exceptions, however – one poet actually became stronger and more confident with a model to work from, and another had such a wide range of influences that it gave the collection a versatility of voice and technique that you wouldn’t have expected.

    By the time I get to suggesting any changes, I will have spent a long time getting the feel of a poet’s own style and technique, and I won’t be trying to change or soften it, but it is true that my ear for another poet’s style isn’t as good as hers. If a change is needed, your change will work better than mine, and I almost always accept it.

    And finally – a small boast, not to big myself up, but to reassure any upcoming poets who don’t know me so well. Almost all the collections I have edited have been reprinted and sold well. Naturally, the credit for this goes to the poets first, and to Sheila Wakefield’s good judgement in spotting their talent. But I think you can safely believe that I won’t be doing your book any harm!

  • Latest News and Some Upcoming Events

    This is a ragbag of a post, but if you don’t do Facebook you will have missed some interesting bits of recent news.

    Firs ts that the second imprint of Haggards has sold out ( I still have a few though—-). The third imprint has been ordered and will be available from Red Squirrel Press as soon as possible, and I will have more copies to sell in the shop too. Neither Red Squirrel Press nor I charge for postage and packing within the UK (please add £2 if you live abroad). And I will sign any that you order from me.

    pages from the forthcoming anthology
    becoming botanicals

    This is a glimpse of the new anthology Becoming Botanicals, in which I have a poem. You can find more information on the post, which also includes a link to the fundraiser, and a glimpse of the perks on offer. The proofs are coming out very shortly, and publication will be in June. But don’t you think it looks lovely?

    Then another anthology I was involved in, Umbrellas of Edinburgh, which was edited by Claire Askew and Russell Jones and published by the ill-fated Freight, is now going to be reissued by the imaginative and innovative Stirling Publishing (nothing to do with where I live, the reference is to the Commissioning Editor, Tabatha Stirling). It’s going to have a new cover, illustrated maps, a new foreword and some new poems, and should be out by Christmas. And as part of the project, some of the poets (Harry Giles, me, Gerda Stevenson and Alice Tarbuck) will be filming a reading of their poems in situ. My poem, Grassroots in Edinburgh, is going to be filmed in the Meadows, and it’s all very exciting.

    A third anthology I’m involved in, Scotia Extremis, is going to have an Edinburgh launch in Blackwells on South Bridge in Edinburgh, on the 3rd of May at 6.30pm.

    Now, switching to my editor hat, three poetry collections I’ve edited are going to have launches in the next week. On Saturday 6th April at 1pm in the Scottish Poetry Library, Red Squirrel Press will be launching books by John Bolland (Fallen Stock) and Mandy Haggith (Why the Sky is Far Away). And on Tuesday 9th April, in the Scottish Writers Centre, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, John Bolland, Jon Plunkett (whose debut, A Melody of Sorts I edited), Anne Connolly (Once Upon a Quark) and Thomas Stewart (Empire of Dirt), will be reading from their new publications. It has been an enormous pleasure to be involved with these books, and the events should be a delight.

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