3 Jul 2016

Butcher's Dog

Butcher's Dog Biannual Magazine
Butcher's Dog - Quality or Quantity?
Butcher's Dog is a biannual poetry magazine, founded in the North East of England. Although it’s a New Writing North funded project, literature is thankfully no respecter of regional borders and so there is a distinct Scottish angle to this publication in places, in the shape of several of the contributors and one of the editors, Andrew Sclater.

For the production of Butcher’s Dog, a different combination from the original group of co-founders works on each edition alongside a guest editor, and past guest editors include The Poetry School, Carolyn Jess-Cooke and Pippa Little.

Well -  technology has made of poetry an all consuming hobby for many people, and not just retirees, and with so many thousands partaking of modern poesie it is nearly impossible to locate truly quality material, as editors and other cultural arbiters compete to promote certain individuals, with class playing a larger part than it should.

Tip: most young Scottish poets from urban or poor backgrounds who are interested in writing are likely to go into hip hop, as the entry qualifications for poetry as it is commonly received nowadays are social and depend on you speaking and writing in a certain way.

That said, it's  hard to see why when something is so well funded as Butcher's Dog  — Lottery money, Arts Council of England cash and New Writing North funds  — it should still cost so much for the reader... because at £5.99 this pamphlet zine isn’t automatically good value, when there are better or equal-quality publications which are either free or cost substantially less. 

It seems that as readers we don’t get anything extra for our money with a production such as Butcher’s Dog, which as tax-payers we’d have to assume is something we have already paid for. And like many of the other mysteries of modern life, it's hard to see how funding bodies can fulfill their social remit and ensure that their money reaches the areas it's needed most, when the people who are making the decisions can't see further than their friends and middle-classmates over the tops of their wine glasses.

Is that so? I can’t say, but I did pay £5.99 for this magazine and that makes reviewing a different prospect altogether. The good news about tax money being available for Butcher’s Dog is that at least the editors and printers and we trust the contributors are being paid, but yet Butcher’s Dog might still not be good value, even if we know we are financially validating their work.

The tiniest of personal touches tells me that I have no 117 of the total of 300 printed editions of No. 6 of Butcher’s Dog, although it is not enough.

It reminded me that at some point, to actually extract that thing called value from state-funded literature in Scotland, somebody might like to come up with something new in terms of offering poetry to the public, because at the present time, the system serves nobody, and sometimes not very well at that. Nobody will see this magazine, and of its 300 copies, and it would be interesting to know how much each one cost, and how distribution on such a small scale doesn't break this model. Nobody will understand the finances which may have seen £1000s spent on a small run of something quite non-descriptive which at the same time seems to be fairly exclusive. You could call it a wealth of poetry if you wished, but if it is a wealth then much of it is buried and will only be discovered by the most serious of diggers.

Almost typically, some of the poets have spent longer working on their biographical entry in Butcher’s Dog, than they have on their own poetry — MacGillivray and Francesca King seeming to be cases in point here.  There is  no political poetry in Butcher’s Dog, although there rarely is in any state-funded, quiet  publishing projects. It’s almost as if, in fact, the magazine wishes to keep its head as far below the parapet as possible; as if it deliberately seeks to remain unnoticed, because this may be one way to ensure the boat isn’t rocked in terms of their all crucial funding — though of course plenty people produce equally pretty and much more relevant and exciting productions like this for no cost at all, and of course do so with no paymasters.

The subject matter of this issue of Butcher’s Dog is otherwise intense self-examination (Anita Pati, Wendy Pratt) the sea in particular, or at least nature, either in description or as metaphor (Laura McKee, Kris Johnson, Julie Hogg, Angela France, Sarah Hymas, Rebecaa Gethin) … leaving a selction of poems from which you may try but may likely fail to find any meaning or importance (MacGillvray, Andrew Fentham, Angus Sinclair) with only Alec Finlay’s untitled concrete poem proving any leading-edge or neoteric chops. As a working example it is hard to tell if Angus Sinclair’s poetry is found poetry, playful gibberish, an experiment or merely an avant garde collision of words in the hope of some untitled effect, but whatever the effect, it must have been clear to the editors, and it it may be their failure in making it clear to us.

It’s difficult to applaud the many poetry magazines in the country when productions like the Butcher’s Dog do very little to stand out from the crowd, and don’t seem that broad in their selection. I would never wish to doubt that there is an audience for 300 copies of middle-class-suited poetry like this… empyrean, rarefied, and on the whole quite dainty. But it is most unastounding.

Still, so long as the Butcher’s Dog continues to find the 300 people who are going to buy it, and like I say, I was one of them, then that is great news for poetry, and it can be celebrated quietly, and modestly.

A zine like this shall yet serve its purpose  as a sounding ground for the individual woes and metaphysics of those who are trying out poetry, sometimes for the first time, and to give a small help to the reputations of those printed within.