“I would like to thank my goldfish …”
Writing the poems in ‘Codes of Conduct’, my pamphlet that won the Cinnamon Press Poetry Pamphlet Competition, was tricky, but the real challenge came when I was asked by Jan Fortune at Cinnamon Press to provide any acknowledgements and any dedication that I might want in the pamphlet.
I have always struggled with those little biographical pieces you see at the back of magazines – it seems to me you can try too hard to try to sound ‘interesting’ so that you simply end up sounding like a pretentious wally . Occasional deviations into humour or the original can work, but it is a fine line and so I tend to play safe and provide a pretty straight piece saying I have been published in blah blah blah and come from North West London.
There is an academic paper waiting to be written on the subject of acknowledgements and dedications, but here are just four excerpts from biographical notes that appear in the same edition of a poetry magazine – obviously I have removed certain identifying parts (some are unavoidable). You decide which works and which does not –
Example 1 – X was born in 19XX. Ex photocopier-salesman, ex-drunk. Highest break in snooker 58 ….
Example 2 -… her adventure sharing her poetry with others is just beginning.
Example 3 – X is an award winning artist and designer, she has exhibited both in the U.K and internationally. Her inspiration comes from the intuitive interpretation of narratives, poetry, memories and observation, she tries to capture the essence of something; a moment in time, a tree, a deer, a melancholic or humorous event.
Example 4 – X lives and writes in Manchester. His poetry has appeared in The Rialto, Magma Poetry, and The Bow-Wow Shop.
Okay, so back to my pamphlet. I’m going to play safe. I look at the pamphlets and first collections I have on my shelves and get a sense of what works as a professional but approachable style. The acknowledgements fall into two halves. 1 – Listing the magazines/journals where the poems have appeared and 2) giving a thank you or two to people who have helped along the way. The second category has its own pitfalls and problems that I might return to in the future. Suffice to say some acknowledgements carry the shadow of the in-joke(thanks to Dave for all the tuna), the sugar of sentimentality (thank you to my wonderful husband Dave. Without your inspiration these poems would never have been written) or there is the cold and lonely type who simply gives thanks to my editor.
Another danger exists in omission – if you list a dozen people in your acknowledgements then you better hope you haven’t missed out the person who really needs to be included.
The dedication carries all of the pitfalls of the acknowledgements but perhaps to an even greater extent. The chances are the dedication will have a page of its own – nothing but white space and it. Look through the annals and you will find authors from Salinger to Agatha Christie being witty, while e.e. cummings composed a concrete poem listing the people he gave “no thanks to”. However, in the grand reckoning parents and children are the main beneficiaries of dedications. I do like the twist Joseph J Rotman gave to the process with his dedication “To my wife and my children, without whom this book would have been completed two years earlier.”
I agonized. I tried to avoid the dangers and then pressed send on the email. It ended up pretty safe but with, I hope, a humorous twist. What did I write? Well in a few months you will be able to see for yourself and then you will know if I missed you out or tried too hard. But then again, maybe I should relax, after all, in the spirit of part one of ‘Codes of Conduct’ how many people read the small print anyway?