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The Michael Marks Awards – Oystercatcher

I was pleased to see the creation in 2009 of the Michael Marks Awards, with generous £5000 prizes for an often overlooked area of poetry publishing – the pamphlet. The award ceremony was held on 24 June 2009. Congratulations to Elizabeth Burns, winner of the Best Individual Pamphlet award for The Shortest Days and to Oystercatcher Press for winning the Best Pamphlet Publisher category.

I’ve invited each of the four shortlisted publishers (HappenStance, Oystercatcher, Templar and tall-lighthouse) to respond to three questions. Peter Hughes, from Oystercatcher, is first to reply:

1. What makes Oystercatcher stand out? Why do you think you were shortlisted?

Oystercatcher stands out because of linguistically adventurous writing. The poets are intellectually and aesthetically exciting. The books are beautifully designed and feature original art work in colour. The pamphlets are also affordable.

2. A common view is that it’s impossible to get pamphlets into shops, most sell only a small number of copies, and profits are low or non-existent. Why bother?

I don’t measure the success of poetry in terms of units sold or profits made. The best art of any era is never going to compete in popularity with mainstream commercial work.

3. The Michael Marks Prize for individual pamphlets is open to self-published pamphlets and also vanity publishers. Do you have a view on whether the prize should be limited to bona fide independent pamphlet publishers?

I believe the prize should be open to all. I would hope that the quality of the poetry was being judged, not the means of production.

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