Sunday, 12 January 2014
PUNX NOT DEAD!
I grew up on punk music. Granted I came of age in the mid 2000s, not in the 70s or 80s, but many of the significant moments of my teenage years occurred against the backdrop of fast, loud, rebellious music. Or at least music that liked to think of itself as rebellious. I was even in a punk band for a while, playing bass and singing songs about how bad Tony Blair was. But not in a socially conscious Attila The Stockbroker kind of way; in a middle-class privately educated boy who doesn't know what he's talking about kind of way. I still maintain we had some good tunes though. For those of you who are interested, check us out on Youtube.
Nowadays I listen to all sorts of music, but over the last few months I have become cognisant of my punk beginnings as I have prepared my latest children's poetry collection for publication. Now, I am definitely not a punk poet in the sense of John Cooper Clarke or the aforementioned Attila The Stockbroker. Some of my children's poetry is a little cheeky, yes, but you are hardly likely to see me open for the Sex Pistols. Rather, the fact that I organised the whole thing myself - set up my own publishing house, organised printing, design and illustration and forked out for it all - reminded me of punk's DIY ethos. It is in this sense that I can perhaps be described as punk: I am my own publisher, agent, PA, etc.
Like most authors I have had my share of rejections from mainstream publishing houses. On my more hubristic days I attribute this to factors such as the inclement state of the market, the incompetence of the commissioning editors and the alignment of the stars; on my less self-confident days I tell myself that I am just not good enough yet; that, in the words of The Smiths, I just haven't earned it yet, baby. At any rate, I would probably be lying if I said that, were a publishing deal with Random House to swim my way tomorrow, I would turn it down on the basis that I am channelling the spirit of NOFX. Maybe my claim to the punk rock DIY ethic is therefore basically a defence mechanism, something that I tell myself (and, with this blog, others, IN YOUR TENS OF THOUSANDS!) to mask my disappointment at being overlooked by the powers that be. And maybe the disdain I often feel towards people who put their agents' emails on their Twitter profile - 'talk to my agent mate, I'm far too busy/important' - is, basically, jealousy. There is probably a little bit of truth in all that.
But it is only a very little bit. It must feel nice as an artist to receive the approbation that publishing deals and having agents are indicative of, but, when I think about it, it also feels nice to be self-sufficient enough ultimately to bypass all this. I am proud that I saw a project through from beginning to end. I am proud that, ultimately, my own faith that my art is good enough, that it is at the very least worth knowing about, resulted in 400 lovely books arriving at my door last Thursday. I am proud that I did all this without prostrating myself before an intermediary. I am proud that I, essentially, took matters into my own hands. And I think this is a valuable lesson to take into the classroom, where the majority of my work occurs. I want my students to know that their words and voices are worth hearing, and that they don't need to wait for someone to tell them that they are 'good enough' before they jump in and give it a go.
Now down to business. If anyone wants to buy my book, they can do so by contacting me or by going to Amazon. (If I was a real punk I wouldn't use Amazon, on account of its being an exploitative multinational corporation, but there you go.)