Here we are in the twenty-first century, awash with opportunity. It’s never been easier for writers to get their stuff out there before the reading public. The great state-sponsored literary journals sail on. Poetry Wales, The New Welsh Review, and Planet arrive regularly on the bookstalls in full-colour, page fat glory. Their upstart rivals, the small mags, produced by enthusiasts, outsiders, wannabes, revolutionaries, and the desperate appear in coffee shops, arts centres and pub back room readings. On the internet web mags are legion. Geographical boundaries no longer exist – the world has become one vast open house for new writing.
Competitions, where the wheat gets sorted from the chaff, or at least it once did, are now so many that almost everyone gets prizes. Poems flicker through the air as text messages. A new school of extremely short novels has been founded by those who use Twitter. On YouTube almost everyone can be found reading something in grainy colour to hand-held video camera. In quick succession I’ve just watched (and heard) R S Thomas reading A Welsh Landscape, Ted Hughes reading from Crow, Sheenagh Pugh, Simon Armitage, Tony Curtis (all three of them, the film star, the Irish poetaster and the genuine Welsh original), Ifor Thomas and Lloyd Robson. This last clip actually featured Lloyd and Lil Wayne rapping about hot stuff which might mean my search hasn’t quite come up with the right guy. But you get the idea..
The problem for the reader in the face of this literary onslaught is deciding what’s worth bothering with and what’s not. Certainly not everything can be worth spending time on. In this welter of words sprawling around in public quality control has certainly slipped. Where once punctuation would be confirmed by a sub-editor and content cut and queried by a concerned publisher today it all gets slapped up. Write it, publish it. Allen Ginsberg once declared that first thoughts were best thoughts. And sometimes they are too. But they were better when they came from Ginsberg himself. Not everyone has an equal talent.
What we really need is a period of restraint. But egos being what they are I doubt that will ever happen. How would it be if writers began to put some of their works in the drawer for a while? Leave them a little to fester. Revisit a few months later and check if they still read as well as you imagined they did at the time of their creation.
Publishers could also help. They could perhaps produce just a few fewer titles annually and spend the money instead on internal quality control. Re-introduce copy editors. Check spellings, grammar and punctuation. Use the metaphoric blue pencil to cut more regularly. It’s a dream. But the world’s turning too fast now. It’ll never happen.