Monday, 26 November 2012

Solly the elephant went to town...

For the best part of twenty years this postcard has graced a bookshelf in my office at home. The text, in Yiddish, reads "in vald" (In the forest) and it is the front cover of a book by Leyb Kvitko, the illustration by Isaacher Ber Ryback. Kvitko? Yes, the same Kvitko killed on 12 August 1952 because of his involvement in the Soviet Anti-Fascist Committee that Five Leaves has been commemorating this year with a book and events. Only the other week did I realise who wrote the book. I like to think of the elephant looking down on me all the while I was working on the book, which was originally planned several years ago. I produced it yesterday at a well-attended talk at Glasgow Limmud, the Five Leaves platform comprising Heather Valencia (the main advocate for Yiddish in Scotland) and I. At the end of the talk, one of those attending, Henry Wuga, said that he'd been at the Glasgow meeting in 1943 when Solomon Mikhoels and Itsak Fefer spoke on behalf of the JAFC. He remembered their heavily Russian-inflected Yiddish. Suddenly these people we were commemorating were a lot closer in time.
Heather Valencia and (occasional Five Leaves short story writer) Ellen Galford spoke later in the day about the hundreds of Yiddish books they had found in the Mitchell Library in Glasgow, once the Yiddish stock of the Gorbals Library which served Glasgow's working-class Jews. The books had date stamps reaching into the 1980s, with the earliest book in the collection being 1903. What did these Yiddish readers read? Primarily fiction, often by writers scarcely known now, memoirs - the most popular title by someone nobody had heard of, poetry. World literature in translation - Ibsen, Strindberg, Jules Verne, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and that well known Dickens' novel "A fire in a London prison". Perhaps the Yiddish translator felt that Barnaby Rudge  was not the right title for a Yiddish audience. The books - like The Rubaiyat of 1924 - were initially from publishers in Vilne and Varshe (Vilnius and Warsaw) and later from London, Buenos Aries, Mexico and America, following the spread of Yiddish publishing. Some were printed in Weimar Germany - a centre for Yiddish printing at the time. This small collection - about 400 books - told us so much about the generation of immigrants who read Yiddish, issues running down as people moved to English. But what was needed now was to meet some of those readers. More people popping up like Henry Wuga above. One woman said that her father used to go into the library to help the librarians with the books as they could not read the Hebrew script. The Scottish Jewish Archives are on the case.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Guardianistas and Five Leaves

Three in a week over at The Guardian. Firstly Five Leaves writer Seth Freedman blows his whistle on the Libor-like wholesale gas price fixing. Front page, inside page, big scandal. Seth has written two books for us (one published in association with the Guardian) - the first was Can I Bring My Own Gun? an account of his time as a volunteer, and ultimately dissident, Israeli soldier. The second book, written with his cousin Josh Berthoud Freedman, was a journey through the Israeli settlements on the West Bank, Forty Years in the Wilderness. There is no truth in the rumour that a book on wholesale gas pricing is to become the third part of a trilogy.
Secondly, Saskia Baron wrote a wonderful piece about her family's history with autism as her father Michael Baron (editor of On a Bat's Wing, poetry about bats, and joint editor of The Night Shift, poetry of the night) was involved in setting up the first specialist school for autistic children and the organisation that became the National Autistic Society. His group has grown from ten people to 20,000 members. Michael is still active on autism, in poetry and in campaigning for peace in the Middle East, steadily compiling an Israeli Jewish and Palestinian poetry book.
Finally, our new book by the late Colin Ward, Talking Green, is Nicholas Lezard's choice of the week. The article is online now and will appear in Saturdays print edition. An excellent and well written review:

Neil Fulwood on Alan Sillitoe's Seaton family

“You left England one person and came back another … " Meet Brian Seaton – Arthur’s older brother. Older and wiser? Probably. More sensitive? Comparatively. But a Seaton through and through. The fortunes, or otherwise, of the Seaton brothers are charted across four novels which punctuate the six decades of Alan Sillitoe’s literary career.
Before Saturday Night and Sunday Morning had been even been published in 1958, Alan had written a massive chunk of what would become his third novel, Key to the Door. Eventually published in 1961, Key to the Door details Brian Seaton’s childhood, his poverty stricken family background, his ill-advised marriage at a young age, and his service in Malaya as a wireless operator.
In 1989, Alan continued the saga with The Open Door, now reprinted by Five Leaves. A quarter of a century gap in writing, but this volume picks up almost immediately after Key to the Door. Brian’s about to get demobbed and he’s having mixed feelings about a return to civvy street. He’s pretty sure his wife’s found herself a new fella, and his experiences of travel have set the horizons of his world-view a tad wider than Nottingham. But a call back to the MO’s office sets Brian off along a different and unexpected path. An x-ray suggests a shadow on his lung.
And so Brian finds himself in a sanatorium, where the diagnosis is confirmed: TB. During his lengthy recuperation, aided by an affair with one of the nursing staff, Brian’s burgeoning intellectualism solidifies into an overwhelming desire to become a writer. Even the reader least acquainted with the facts of Alan’s life will know that he served in Malaya, as a radio operator, and received a disability pension from the RAF after being diagnosed with tuberculosis. He lived abroad for about a decade, eking this money out frugally, and dedicated himself to writing. The Open Door takes Brian to the cusp of a similar lifestyle.
There’s an academic work to be written on the autobiographical nature of The Open Door, and it would be fascinating to parse out the actual from the invented. But it’s a mistake to redact any reading of the novel in terms of the equation Brian Seaton = Alan Sillitoe. Brian is as rounded and immediate a character as Arthur, and while there is something of Alan in both of them, Brian and Arthur remain very different.
Alan concluded the Seaton saga with Birthday in 2001, although A Man of his Time, published in 2004, can be seen as a prequel of sorts. Birthday reunites Arthur and Brian in their autumn years, Arthur still belligerent despite the family tragedy he’s dealing with and Brian’s literary ambitions diluted by his success as a writer of sitcoms rather than the world-changing novelist the Brian of The Open Door wants to be.
Birthday is a wry, nostalgic, mature work but it suffered from being marketed as “the sequel to Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.” Just as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is the definitive Arthur Seaton novel, The Open Door is where the story of Brian Seaton finds its fullest artistic expression.
The novel never loses sight of Brian’s working class background, nor is there anything arty-farty in the depiction of Brian’s journey towards the completion of his first novel. The novelist within a novel can often be a tedious device, but Brian’s experiences are grounded firmly in the reality of his experience overseas, his illness, and his difficulty in shaking off his past and the various mistakes that clutter it. The Open Door also contents some finely-honed perceptions on the nature and craft of writing.

“He only knew who he was when with other people … Confidence and enthusiasm led him to believe that he succeeded more times than not.”
If we carry over the autobiographical elements of The Open Door to its comments on the art of writing, then this passage is both a truthful reflection of writing as an onerous craft, and an exercise in self-deprecation. Alan Sillitoe succeeded more times than not; succeeded in understanding the psyche of his characters; succeeded in capturing the flavours and idioms that define a time and a place; and succeeded, again and again, in creating literary works that were honest and clear-sighted. The Open Door rightfully stands among the best of them.

Teenage Kicks report

Five Leaves/Derbyshire Libraries "Teenage Kicks" half day event on the 16th had a near full house of young adults and adults. My organising colleague Ali Betteridge said you need to have nerves of steel in this game as only a few days beforehand we were way below the number we need to run anything let alone a half day event with lots of writers. She kept her nerve while mine was failing. Good call, Ali. We had programmed a great line up of speakers, some being Five Leaves regulars, some occasional, some "friends of" while other sessions were run by teenage readers and, with Pippa from Five Leaves Towers, on the future of the book. Interestingly, the author Pauline Chandler reported that all the teenagers bar one preferred to read in a book format than in any electronic format.
The opening remarks were from Bali Rai. Bali's first book was written when he was nine, Bali and the Giant Peach, at which point he discovered there was more to being a writer than simply changing the name of the main character in a book to your own but otherwise copying it out word for word.
Given that Bali is a writer of an Asian background, it was interesting that his role model was Sue Townsend who also lives in Leicester. It is also thanks to his interest in her as a writer than he is currently doing some work with the RNIB. He told his audience that what everyone has in common is an imagination and the need to tell stories "because we all love gossip and we all tell lies.
Bali became a full time writer in 2001 and is in great demand in schools. He said "I wanted to write about people like me - brown kids, white kids, whatever, working class kids that people didn't used to write about.". He was damning of library cutbacks, reminding us that we need stories, stories about everyday life. "Remove stories about everyday life and you remove diversity [of experience]."
He also set the scene for the day by talking about the importance of reading for pleasure "which will always make you more intelligent. Just like 2 plus 2 will always be four."
From then, until the closing remarks from Paula Rawsthorne the day rushed by. Thanks to all who took part, as audience, organisers and speakers.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Mammals versus dinosaurs

The London Review Bookshop, currently the best bookshop in London, imho, was packed solid on Thursday night for a discussion on small presses. What could have brought out so many people? The gamechangers (don't worry, I'll return to writing like a human in a second) seemed to be the Penguin/Random merger and the great success of small independent publishers in taking up half the recent Booker prize list. Indeed, several Salt authors were in the audience. The panel was also an attraction - Charles Boyle (rapidly making a name for himself in the small press world with his CB Editions and TLS articles), David Lea from the bookshop, Nicholas Murray from Rack Press and the broadsheet voice of the indie, Nicholas Lezard. Writers Patrick McGuinness sadly had to call off due to a family illness, but many writers contributed from the floor.
Despite all this, I did not feel that the event quite caught fire. Perhaps the numbers and resultant poor sightlines were the cause, which also meant that speakers from the floor could be heard but not seen. But nevertheless, there were many gems.
The opening remarks from one of the Bookshop staff referred to small presses as the guerrilla bands in the mountains, but also as the descendants of the first publisher of Ulysses. More prosaic imagery was provided by Nicholas L. who described our situation as "mammals versus dinosaurs" while more prosaically still Charles described small presses as lacking in resources, but being more flexible and with the ability to publish less economic titles than the big publishers, who have to pay for their large staffs and premises. We were also compared to the micro-breweries in their struggle against Watney's Red Barrell, or the record labels once favoured by John Peel. Being devil's advocate, however, Nicholas M. said there was a danger that if you say "small press" people go all gooey in the same way they do if you say "rainforest". "Being small does not automatically mean good books." So are they good? Well, the London Review Bookshop is "publisher blind" according to David Lea, which has meant that over ten years half their best-sellers have come from small presses "but they have to look different to Penguin books." He also felt that small presses were particularly strong in certain areas popular in his shop, mentioning essays.
But how do you define small press books? Charles - "you know one when you see one". While small press publishers, Nicholas M. - are "small, intimate, friendly, nice". Do self-published books count? Not really. The Bookshop itself rarely stocks self-published books as they like the idea of a gatekeeper and that "a book is improved by a collaborative process". None of the editors in the room rose to disagree.
Whilst generally there was a mood that readers are being let down by the mainstream publishers, the difficult question was - Nicholas L. - "how do you make a sustainable living for authors?" Indeed, do small presses encourage small ambition? Whilst Charles said "I want to publish the books I want to read" he admitted that he was lousy at selling them. For some writers, perhaps those less in need of money than some, being published by small presses was not a second choice but a preferred choice due to the other benefits mentioned earlier. That comment came from a Salt writer. Michelle Roberts, perhaps the best-known author in the audience (who, by the way, cheerily mentioned that the panel was rather dated in being all-male), said that she - and I paraphrase terribly - makes her living from her commercial books but is also very pleased to be published by small presses as well. This goes part of the way to answering the question of money for writers. Small presses, however, are often the proving ground for writers that go on to big presses - but should not be seen just as the nursery class. Not sure who said that. And of course the big strengths of the small press world were in poetry and in translation.
Other comments from the audience brought forth a comparison between the small press scene here and the more established scene in America; a justified concern that indie publishers are ignoring emerging markets such as India and, in the wake of mention of Pippa Middleton's disastrous Penguin book a comment by Nicholas Lezard that "the more a book sells the shittier it is". It is, however, beginning to look like even some Five Leaves titles will outsell Ms. Middleton's party planning book.
There was also some discussion on the craft of making good books, and the way we choose to work. Charles Boyle says he prints with a particular printer because they go out for a drink together, and is distributed by Central Books (as we are) because he likes a gossip with the chap who runs it, which counters one view - a quote from Orwell?? - that "inside a small press is a large press struggling to get out."
The evening ended with a rude comment by a publisher (I should not have had that second glass of wine) about central buying by the chains, after which, I hope, people decimated the display of CB Editions and Rack Press books.
On the train back to Nottingham, by delicious irony, my read was JK Rowling's A Casual Vacancy. The book has a "will this do?" cover seemingly designed by someone on work experience. Page twelve features the give-up-now warning sentence: "His light-brown hair was still thick, his frame was almost as wiry as it had been in its twenties and the crinkles at the corners of his eyes were merely attractive, but Ruth's return to nursing after a long break had confronted her anew about with the million and one ways the human body could malfunction." I'd like to think no small press would have let this through.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

New from Five Leaves, The Open Door by Alan Sillitoe

The Open DoorFive Leaves' Bromley House Editions book this year is The Open Door by Alan Sillitoe. The Open Door follows Saturday Night and Sunday Morning as the final volume in the Seaton series.
Returning on a troopship from Malaya in 1949, Brian Seaton (Arthur's brother) comes back to a Nottingham world of rationing, the black market, a wife he no longer loves and a child who does not recognise him. He is full of life and lust, but he has tuberculosis, forcing a long stay in a military hospital where he falls for first one nurse, then a second, while carrying on a relationship with another TB sufferer back in Nottingham.
In the background, this partially autobiographical novel reveals that Seaton is starting to write, meeting others like him as he realises there is a wider world than the back streets of his Midlands home.
Copies available from
Alan Sillitoe is no longer with us, but Nottingham is determined to celebrate his life and work as never before. A few months after he died, in 2010, Five Leaves organised a day event about Alan attended by around 200 people. Since then the films of his books have appeared regularly, plays, a musical and two weeks ago a second day was held organised by the local Alan Sillitoe Committee, a bit less reverential than the first, as it should be given the passage of time.
The big one will, however, be the forthcoming exhibition at Lakeside Gallery, which opens this weekend and runs until February. Early details are on The Five Leaves connections here include some of Peter Mortimer's photos (from Made in Nottingham) in the exhibition and on Saturday 26th January I'll be curating (everyone's a curator these days, have you noticed?) an afternoon session on Nottingham working class life and leasure. I'll post more on this soon, but I think it safe to safe to say that the Lakeside cafe had better get in some extra scones. This exhibition will be just so busy.
Anyone reading this before 6.30 on Monday 19 November will be welcome to attend the book launch of The Open Door at Bromley House Library, Angel Row, Nottingham, which will be attended by the poet Ruth Fainlight and her and Alan's son, David Sillitoe. Let me know on if you are coming.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Autonomy, book of the year

Autonomy_coverAt the well-attended memorial meeting for our writer Colin Ward, Daniel Poyner approached me saying he was looking for a publisher for a collection of covers of the journal Anarchy, edited for a decade by Colin Ward from 1961-1970. To an outsider, the thought of a book comprising 118 covers of a long-defunct magazine that never sold more than 3,000 copies, that would have to be in full colour, might seem deranged even by the standards of small presses. I gave it serious consideration. I am not the only person who came to politics later than the life of the journal who has a near complete run of Anarchy. The journal had influence; Colin Ward brought in writers who were exploring new ideas on practical issues like adventure playgrounds, libertarian education.... Colin had no time for what he called "tittle tattle", the internecine squabbles endemic on the left. This was a journal of practical anarchy, described by the late Raphael Samuel as "...represent[ing] better than any other publication the cultural revolution of the 1960s; and it did so far earlier than anyone else and ... more thoughtfully".
I was tempted but was concerned that the cohort of sociologists, planners, educators and anarchists interested in the magazine was small and ageing. How could I sell enough copies to avoid terrible losses?
I am glad to say that Daniel Poyner found a better way, by publishing the book with the excellent design and typography specialist press Hyphen, with what is clearly heavy involvement by Hyphen's Robin Kinross - because there is the second market, which I did not think of, those who will cast a designer's eye over the covers, mostly by Rufus Segar. And what a job Hyphen has done with the book! Every cover is reprinted, in colour, front and back together with essays by Raphael Samuel on Anarchy, an interview with Rufus Segar and an essay by Richard Hollis (who runs a small part of the Five Leaves list) on the magazine's layout and typography. That essay alone is a masterful run through of how design, typography and printing worked in those days of hot metal. The work is completed by an index to the journal by Robin Kinross, which will certainly lead some readers to start looking around for old copies.
As it happens, I have a few spare, held back for swaps for my own missing numbers. Get in touch if you have any going spare yourself...
The book is called Autonomy, the title Colin originally wanted for the journal. He was, I think correctly, over-ruled by his colleagues at Freedom in favour of Anarchy (Freedom was in 1961 a weekly paper, which then moved to three times a month with Anarchy appearing on the fourth week). The book is not cheap - £25, but that is for a large format paperback with french flaps, 304 pages and 303 illustrations, all but ten in colour. It is worth it.
With a couple of months still to go, I can safely say that this will be my book of the year. Further information from
Though Autonomy is now available, it will be launched at Housmans Bookshop on Saturday 9th February at 6.30, together with the Five Leaves book (also already out)  Talking Green, twelve lectures by Colin Ward. Daniel Poyner will present his book and there will be contributions by Ken Worpole on Colin's life and work and Richard Hollis on Rufus Segar's design. Rufus will be there, as will Harriet Ward.

Teenagers, by Maxine Linnell

VintageWhat if you were growing up now - perhaps as a 17-year-old? How would life differ from being a teenager in the 1960s, as I was? I started to wonder about that when I began writing my first novel. How would the life of a 17-year-old girl from today compare with that of a girl of 17 in 1962? And not just the obvious things, like technology - but the way people lived, their values, their families, their ways of dealing with each other?

I didn’t need to do much research into the '60s. I set the book just before the explosion of the Beatles, when teenagers were only just beginning to be seen as having a distinct life between childhood and being grown up. In 1962 the biggest event in the social calendar was the church social on Saturday night, over before 9.30pm with no alcohol or kissing allowed.
But while I knew some teenagers, I had to find a parallel social event for 2010 - and someone suggested going clubbing at Mosh, a nightclub in the centre of Leicester. I knew what a club was like in the 60s - but how would it differ now? There was only one way to find out. Which is how I found myself queuing up outside Mosh with my agent on a Friday night at 11pm, well past my usual bedtime.
I thought about asking for a senior concession, but decided against it. I did wonder if they’d let me in at all when I saw the queue of young people, who could all have been my grandchildren. There was also a moment of apprehension when I met the bouncers at the door. But they did let me in. I wasn’t too surprised by the black paint, the darkened rooms and the music, they weren’t so very different from my memories of clubbing forty years ago (see me as a teen in '62 - right). The toilets were pretty much the same too - unsavoury, but with stickers offering advice lines if you thought you were pregnant, gay or had a sexual problem.
As people arrived, we began talking to them, and found them interested, polite and very willing to talk. We left after midnight - me stealing a glance at the crowded dance floor, half wishing I could join in.
There may be more freedom nowadays - but there are also more risks. The stricter boundaries of the early '60s might offer more support, more hand-holding, and more to rebel against. But many young people now are emotionally more mature than I was, more aware of themselves, perhaps not quite as likely to be taken in. And there’s far more openness and communication. There’s dark and light in both times.

You can read more from Maxine Linnell in her Five Leaves book, Vintage, available from: Also available as an ebook.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Lenin and the Mills and Boon Question

This 'no more Mr Nice Guy' business works. Below is an article from Harry Paterson's blog. Harry is normally to be found plying his trade as a rock music journalist, but for the next year he will be under the Five Leaves editorial thumb producing THE book on the miners' strike in Nottinghamshire, to be published in 2014. Harry is interviewing everyone - striking and working miners, politicians, women's support group members, Coal Board officials. The book will be partisan, that is clear, but will present other points of view and will start, as it should, with the history of coal in Nottinghamshire and "Spencerism" in 1926. I'm looking forward to it.

'Friends, comrades, brothers and sisters, I’m delighted to officially announce that I will be signing with Five Leaves Publishing who will be bringing out my book on the miners’ strike in Nottingham, sometime in March 2014, the 30th anniversary of the dispute.
For those who don’t know, my initial synopsis was mercilessly savaged by Managing Editor, Ross Bradshaw. Among the most painful cuts inflicted was this, admittedly hilarious, jibe: “Harry, this is Lenin does Mills and Boon! You lack any objectivity at all!” It gutted me, I’ll be honest, but then I went away, licked my wounds, had a think and wrote a couple of new chapters taking on board Ross’s suggestions. Then a strange thing happened and you other writers will know what I mean; the thing just clicked. Ross’s advice suddenly made sense and I could see exactly where and how I needed to proceed while still retaining the personality and individuality of my prose. Ross The Boss then gave it the thumbs-up, we agreed the deal and presto; we are on, baby!
It’s a subject close to my heart and to that of many of my family. I was 17 when it kicked off and 18 on the very day the miners marched back to work without a settlement. It made a lasting impact on me and millions more of my generation. It’s also a fascinating and thrilling story and like all such stories it has everything; drama, tragedy, triumph, sadness, laughter, bitter defeat and unbreakable pride. It also has an incredible cast of characters featuring heroes, villains, saints, sinners, winners, losers, cowards and fighters and I’m having the ride of my life tracking some of them down and hearing their stories, first hand.
There are many books on the miners’ strike so what makes this one different? I would say because mine is about the dispute in Nottingham, the most strategically important area of the entire strike and, in so many way, it’s a tale of two cities. Believe me, it’s one hell of a story. All I need to do now is write the bloody thing…'

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Sheffield Saturday

Nottinghamshire presses were heavily represented in Sheffield at the local independent book fair on Saturday, and three of the day's events were based round Five Leaves writers. On the day we sold £140 of books. The stall fee was £20, we hitched a ride with our chums at Candlestick who refused petrol money, but had to pay about £12 in taxi fares to shift books around in Nottingham, so our actual income was £118 for effectively a twelve hour day, except it wasn't really income as it was the sales of books. And none of the writers were paid for their labour. Two of the other Nottingham presses took about the same amount. So why do we do this?
Firstly, we are out for a good time and we like hanging round with other publishers and writers and readers. We pick up trade gossip. We were given a recommendation for a printer which might save us money on our hardbacks. We supported our writers and our writers got an audience. We met an interesting couple who explained new developments in technology that might mean our books can be adapted to reach more people with little or no sight. We learned about the way that Sheffield's Bank Street Arts Centre works financially, and helped bring more people into their building.
There are more and more of these fairs and we are part of creating a slightly different literary culture. Presses are being proactive, reaching out.  And maybe, just maybe, we'll make some money.
Of course there's always the chap with the dog-eared manuscript who wants to speak to everyone, but never wants to listen to answers because in some way he is happier never being published. Inevitably the best attended session is about how to be published, with many people streaming in and streaming out without glancing at the bookstalls, and the people who do that too are perhaps happier that they will never be published or feel the need to read the odd book along the way.
But there are moments like gold.When our writer John Lucas gave a too-early-in-the-morning talk about his memoir of the 1950s, Next Year Will Be Better, the most interested people in his small audience were two young female students, one black, one white, who came up at the end with just enough money to buy a book between them. They were going to share, but of course we offered two for the price of one because those two students were the real reason why John and I got up at 6.30 on a Saturday morning to spend, let's face it, a not completely economic day in Sheffield and that's why the other publishers had done the same, and that's why the authors had given up half of their day too. Because once we were just like those students and in thirty or forty years they will be just like us.

Where poetry is an inclusive art, by Andy Croft

I have recently returned from Paris, where I took part in the long-running International Poetry Biennale in Val-de-Marne - the only department in the Paris region still governed by the Communist Pat.
The presiding genius of the festival, which aims to democratise the writing and reading of poetry, is the poet Francis Combes. He's been responsible for putting poems on the Paris Metro and runs the radical publishing house De Temps Des Cerises.
Along with myself, this year's poets included Valerio Magrelli and Maria Grazia Calandrone from Italy, Florence Pazzottu and Gerard Mordillat from France and Greece's Yourgos Markopoulos, Dino Siotis and Thanasis Triaridis. These poets try to address the crisis in contemporary Europe with a passionate eloquence, biter wisdom and scathing irony.
How depressing then, to arrive back in Britain just in time for the announcement of this year's TS Eliot Prize shortlist. It's the usual carve-up between a small group of publishers - Picador (3), Faber (2), Jonathan Cape (2), Carcanet (2) and Seren (1). And its the usual dull Poetry Book Society (PBS) narrative of "major names" and "newcomers", alongside bookie's favourites, outsiders and dark-horses.
The fact that there are some excellent writers on this year's list - Deryn Rees-Jones, Simon Armitage and Kathleen Jamie - cannot disguise the intellectual narrowness of the whole enterprise.
Two of this year's judges are previous winners of the prize, five of the short-listed authors have been short-listed before and four have judged the prize in previous years. Six titles were chosen by the judges, the other four were PBS quarterly choices, themselves selected by the authors of previous PBS choices.
It's a ludicrous and unpleasant racket. But at least there is no public money involved any more. Having lost its Arts Council support, the PBS is now sponsored by an international investment firm. Appropriate perhaps for a literary prize named after TS Eliot, a banker, anti-semite, admirer of Mussolini, believer in the divine right of kings and opponent of the 1944 Education Act. The winner will be announced in January. I can't wait.

This article first appeared in the Morning Star. Andy Croft's latest book for Five Leaves is the novel-in-verse 1948.