The Bell Jar: Jo Bell's blog

"She lives the poetry she cannot write" – Wilde

Jo Bell’s Always There Awards #7

Today’s winner of the yellow blob – given to those who encourage, who facilitate, who help British poetry to stand on its strongest legs and to flourish to its full potential – might be surprised to know how many people cited her as one of the people who deserve recognition. She was already on my list of eight, when I asked the Facefolk who they would nominate. Her name came up time and time again.

Pamphlets are an essential part of the poetry ecosystem. For never-before published poets, they are a first step on the print ladder – a chance to show your colours without committing to a full collection. For others, they showcase a collection of poems on a single theme, or an exploration of technique, or a pet project that deserves its own space. As poets play musical chairs around a shrinking number of slots for full-length collections, pamphlets become more important. Competitions like those of The Poetry Business, Templar and Pighog/Poetry School have thrived. Established pamphleteers like Jacqui Rowe’s wonderful Flarestack pamphlets, and grandees like Faber with their New Poets have made or extended careers. But today’s big yellow blob goes to….. Helena Nelson Helena’s Happenstance Press publishes beautiful pamphlets. Like so many of our yellow blob awards, this one shows the value of a strong individual with clear tastes, who Knows What She Likes. Since 2005 Helena’s consistent but never predictable line of editorship has won her a reputation as a brilliant talent-spotter and poetry promoter.

Helena Nelson

Helena Nelson

Many would give their eye teeth to get published by Happenstance. The pamphlets are always good, and Helena’s guidelines for submission are no-nonsense and admirable. She sets a fine example to other publishers. Be too kind or too anodyne, and you dilute your own brand; stick to your guns, support the poets you do publish, and you become a trusted source for new poetry.

Can it be true that Happenstance has only been with us for nine years? It seems such a fixture in the architecture of British poetry, so well respected, its publications so gleefully enjoyed. The same could be said of Tall-Lighthouse, Knives Forks and Spoons, and other pamphleteers – and of journal editors or influential bloggers like Helen Ivory at Ink Sweat & Tears, Anthony Wilson’s eponymous blog or Josephine Corcoran at And Other Poems. But Helena has a particular standing and reputation, and is held in particular affection for her straight talking and her keen eye for a good poem.

Check out her list and in particular, download this extract from her guidelines for submission – How Not To Get Your Poetry Published. Even if you don’t have your eye on Happenstance, you will surely learn something useful.

And while you’re there, you might like to buy a pamphlet.



4 comments on “Jo Bell’s Always There Awards #7

  1. rose cook
    May 21, 2014

    Yes and yes, applause for Helena, always warm.

  2. xlsrx
    May 21, 2014

    so true

  3. Nell Nelson
    May 21, 2014

    Gracious to goodness! Thank you, Jo. 🙂

  4. fiona moore
    May 22, 2014

    She’s also a very good editor – demanding (but by asking, not telling) and respectful in the right proportions… a delight to work with.

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