A certain vocation

A certain vocation

Relaunching the Salt Modern Poets list by Christopher Hamilton-Emery

Back in the dark ages of May 2013, I announced that Salt was drawing back from publishing single author collections of poetry to concentrate on our flagship anthology series, Best British Poetry. It was a tough decision, but in some ways an easy one to make as the core publishing continued to lose money and each new title only seemed to contribute to our increasing losses. All arts publishing has its cycles. With some cycles, the wheels fall off.

Yet beyond the commercial imperatives facing us back then, we were also quite simply worn out. Concentrating on poetry will take its toll on any commercial business, barely a day went by without some colleague telling us we were deluded.

The crowded, beautiful, crazy, expanding world of poetry, fuelled by courses and performance and community, was being celebrated as a new golden age, yet it was also becoming smaller and smaller in terms of paying readers. Passion is often deaf to criticism, no publishing can succeed without passion, but passion has to be matched with pragmatism and lots and lots of luck, and book buyers.

We may have stepped away five years ago, however, the last acquisition was published just over a year ago. Late last year I began talking to friends about reopening the list, just as it had finally closed. Some privately warned against it. Some reflected that the poetry world didn’t need another publisher. Some said it would be a welcome move. The balance of opinion was tighter than the European referendum. I started asking myself, What is driving this? Nostalgia? Dim-wittedness? There was clearly no financial argument. But there was a powerful emotional argument.

Identity in publishing is important, perhaps critical in building your business, you can’t understand Salt without its poetry, the building blocks of its success. The question shifted from Why do it? To How and When? As with all big decisions, the crunch was simply a matter of desire. It was just the right thing to do.

Here we are in 2018, faced with relaunching a list; I know I have work to do. I have people to persuade. Allies to win back. What are my aims? I want to provide opportunities for debuts, to take risks and move forward with a focus on the individual talents rather than any given poetics. I want to be able to afford what I do, of course, and to do it commercially. And I want to expand the list. We’ll all see how far I get.


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