Monday, 26 October 2009

The Poetry Experiment Results...

... were astonishing. For several hours, "Material" was at number three in Amazon's Poetry Bestsellers list, behind the children's classics Each Peach Pear Plum and Winnie the Pooh. It stayed in the top five until lunchtime on Saturday, and since all the books above it were either children's poetry or not poetry at all (Machiavelli's The Prince), for a good 24 hours "Material" was the #1 bestselling book of poetry for adults in the UK!

Its ranking in all books shot up from 413,000 to 735 at its peak, and remained in the top 1000 for 36 hours. It only slipped out of the Poetry top 100 on Sunday evening.

So an enormous thank you is due to every single person who contributed to the incredible success of this experiment. I was utterly stunned at the results. It was heartwarming to watch the combined goodwill of so many friends temporarily bump a one-year-old poetry book to the highest reaches of the poetry firmament; high enough for me to crack open a bottle of champagne (I don't need much of an excuse, to be honest). Deep, deep gratitude to everyone who helped make Friday the best Poetry Commitment Day yet.

Now what shall I do next year?

Friday, 23 October 2009

A Poetry Experiment

I wonder if you'd help me conduct a poetry experiment.

Today, October 23rd, is a special day for me. It was the day in 1977 (yup, I was 3 :~£) when I decided to make a serious commitment to poetry by writing at least one poem every day. I kept it up for 5 years, wrote thousands of poems (sometimes a dozen in a 24-hour period), most of them terrible of course, but eventually if you practice anything enough you can become competent. So I always celebrate October 23rd in some way, as the foundation of my writing life, and today I want to involve you. What I'm asking you to do is very simple. Please read on, I promise it'll be (relatively) swift and painless.

Last year I celebrated October 23rd by launching Material in Brighton. It was a wonderful night. But although Material is an even better book than How Things Are On Thursday(which was pretty darned good, according to some people), and even though it received a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, and even though the title poem was highly commended in the Forward Prizes and has just been published in the Forward Book of Poetry 2010, which claims to contain the best poems of the year, this second Anvil book hasn't made any shortlists and has received not one single review in the poetry journals. Not a peep. And you know, we poets, we start to feel dejected, unloved, like nothing we do matters, you know how it is I expect. Who cares about poetry? It makes it all the harder to keep pressing on with writing the *third* book when the second appears to have sunk without a trace.

And yet this is what people have said about Material:

"I really enjoyed reading this book of poetry by Ros Barber. They are very warm and honest poems.By chance I left the collection lying around my flat when my parents came to visit. First my Dad picked it up and sat reading it for ages, then my Mum did too, which surprised me as she doesn't usually read poetry. Mum liked the `hanky' poem so much she copied it out by hand in very neat handwriting and posted it to her sister in Spain. I think this says a lot about Ros's ability to communicate to lots of different people through her poems."

"What I love about Ros's poetry is that it is so lyrical and accessible as well as bearing many re-readings. She writes with her heart and that comes across so well. Ros should be on every 'A' level reading list."

"I have to say that my favourite poets are those whose work is easily accessible, easily understood if you like, but whose work has depths of meaning. Think of Roger McGough or Billy Collins. Or Carol Anne Duffy. Poems you can read over and over again to find new things to enjoy. Ros Barber is just such a poet. I'm really enjoying her latest book, Material, full of interesting and thoughtful poems, mainly autobiographical, some dealing with difficult subjects such as death and loss. I also love her use of language (a snog of boyfriends, ample bosoms and porridge cardigans) and her sure and unobtrusive use of metre and rhyme."

"I sat on my sofa one afternoon and devoured this collection. It soars with emotion. Delightful visions of family members and moments in time that resonate with the past and the present. These poems don't shy away from the difficulties of family life either - the complexities of adult and child relationships, moments of hurt and loss, the power of healing. I laughed and I choked back tears. These poems recognise something in us as fragile human beings. They place us in what we are born into and live with: families. I loved it."

So let me explain the poetry experiment, and how you can participate. I want you to click on the Amazon link below, today, right now even, and buy just one copy of the book! Even if you've already bought it - buy one to give to someone you love. Really, these books make great Christmas presents: when you've finished reading it, or even when you're only a little way through, it doubles up as a drinks coaster. Plus just the act of giving it to someone shows you to be a cultured and thoughtful human being. And if you haven't bought one, you've been meaning to, just haven't got round to it, no more excuses. Click the link below and get one right away, for less than the price of a ticket to see "UP" in 3D (which was great, by the way, go and see that too...)

Material by Ros Barber on

So what, you might ask (quite reasonably), is experimental about me buying one of your books? Here's the lowdown. Just for fun, and because it's October 23rd, I want to see if the collected efforts of people being kind to me can bump Material, even if ever so briefly, into the Amazon top 100 poetry books. The book's ranking as I'm typing this is 412,653 (and falling). That's in books overall, including the sorts of books that actually sell. To get into the top 100 poetry books it would have to (at least temporarily) reach a ranking higher than 10,078 (Spike Milligan's Puckoon). Is it possible? I don't know. But I thought, with your collective help, it might be fun to find out. If it gets nowhere near, that's fine too - even the smallest of blips in sales will encourage me that I really am doing the right thing in writing poetry and prevent me from presenting myself at the nearest Job Centre Plus (only to discover I am unemployable).

In case you missed it, here it is again - the short link that will take you directly to the product page for Material on

Material by Ros Barber on

Click it now. You won't regret it. It's only a few quid after all - yet it contains acres of pleasure (for yourself, or a friend). And if the ranking is above 412,653 when you buy, let me know where it is. Interactivity, you see. That's what the internet is all about.

This benefits you too, since clicking the link and buying the book constitutes your daily one small act of kindness. Not only will you have my gratitude but good karma will return to you a thousandfold.

When you've read it, if you feel moved to do so, please add a small review to the Amazon site. If you own a copy and you don't have any friends to buy one for (really? do you write poetry too?), click on the link anyway and leave a small review to let the world (and more importantly, me) know what you thought of it. These things mean more than you can imagine.

P.S. If it's already past October 23rd, don't worry! You can still take part in the experiment. Who knows what heights of best-selling poetry excellency we might achieve together. And Christmas is even closer when you're reading this than when I sent it. And you still have friends and family members that would enjoy a book of moving, accesible poetry, right?

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

These Marlovians! Let's go and invade Marlovia now!

How bizarre to turn on the television last night and find respected Shakespearean academic Professor Stanley Wells defending the orthodox view (that William Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the works of Shakespeare) on a show called “It’s Only A Theory” (BBC4). For those who haven’t seen the programme (and I’ve only caught it a couple of times before), an expert (usually an academic of the highest credentials) puts forward a theory, the panel (two resident comedians and a guest) try to get jokes out of it (generally a fairly tall order) and then approve or reject it. Wells’ appearance on such a programme seems an ill-judged move, and one that smacks a little of desperation. In that respect it is not dissimilar to his declaration only six months ago that he had discovered a “new” portrait of Shakepeare (one that looks nothing like any other recognised portrait of Shakespeare and very strongly like Sir Thomas Overbury).

What has provoked such odd moves appear to be the perceived (and growing) “threat” from non-Stratfordians such as myself, whom Wells accused of “snobbery” and “ignorance”. Three years of doctoral study on the Early Modern literature and specifically the Authorship Question would acquit me, I hope, of the second charge, and my preferred candidate (a cobbler’s son) means the first simply doesn’t apply. Wells made a number of erroneous statements, of course, including “we have documentary evidence that this chap wrote lots of plays” when Diana Price has demonstrated that, uniquely amongst writers of his period, there is no primary source evidence at all that the Stratford incumbent was an author. Or - given the hotly debated signatures - that he could even write. But then Professor Wells is no historian. I presume the evidence he was referring to was the name “William Shakespeare” on the title pages of certain plays and poems – but as those of us in the business know, a name on a title page does not an author make. Especially in the repressive atmosphere of Early Modern England.

During the previous academic’s piece about chaos theory (“nothing is chaotic, we just don’t understand it yet”), I briefly toyed with the idea of putting Marlovian Theory on the stand, but dismissed it as a totally inappropriate medium for any argument of substance. Then moments later, to my astonishment, up pops Professor Wells. How strange to find a voice from the establishment conceding (quite correctly, for a change) that “William Shakeseare of Stratford wrote the works of Shakespeare” is a theory. In my view Professor Wells unwittingly gave ground to the opposition by his very appearance. Does he really need the orthodox view sanctioned by two comedians? Apparently, yes.

He got it, too – but just as many of his statements were fallacious and his arguments erroneous, the basis on which he won approval does not exactly validate the theory. Kirsty Wark (apparently a Groupist) gave it a thumbs down. Reginald D Hunter approved it on the basis that he didn’t want Professor Wells to have a stroke, and Andy Hamilton on the basis that “by approving this theory we immediately dispose of about 5000 other theories”. Yup, that’s the level of serious debate we can expect from Stratfordians. The subject is banned from academic journals, conferences and internet discussion groups, but they’ll debate it with three TV personalities not well-enough informed to be able to dispute it. And even then only get approved 2-1. Sad.

* The title for this post is a quote from Andy Hamilton.

[See the programme for yourself here for the next six days. Stanley Wells is about 20 minutes in. My piece for the Marlowe-Shakespeare blogspot on Stanley Wells' previous desperate move can be found here.]

Tuesday, 6 October 2009


I used to be a very good blogger. Diligent, committed. I'd spend hours constructing my posts and re-editing, then responding to my followers. I had followers then. That was Shallowlands, and in the end it all got too much and I had to shut it down. No, I don't regret it. Even if I'm now typing to an audience no bigger than my immediate family.

There is a conflict for most writers between needing to be in the public eye (so that one's work is read/noticed) and needing to be private, contained, cooking up those creative gems in the comfort of one's own (undistracted) head. I am torn between the apparent necessity of social media and the need not to get dragged off into the bush and killed.

No, I'm sure that's not at all what happens. No, of course I'm exaggerating. But though I dislike the sense that I have all but vanished from the literary landscape (I laugh. As if I was ever there!) I still have these overwhelming instinct to keep my head down. I am fighting it. I'm not sure who is winning.

Still, there's a poem in the Forward Book of Poetry 2010, which announces itself on the cover as the Best Poems of the Year. It's the title poem of my most recent book, the very first poem in said book, and truly, if you read on, there are many other gems in there. If you haven't had a peek, go to Amazon marketplace now and pick one up for less than a London pint.