Monday 17 April 2023

A celebration of Sphinx Reviews (2006-2023)

Sphinx Reviews is a project that has run alongside HappenStance Press since 2006 (see its website here). Founded by Helena Nelson and co-edited for the last six years by Charlotte Gann, it specialises in reviews of poetry pamphlets, a format that has long struggled to receive critical attention, and provides an incredible service to poets, publishers and, of course, readers.

By my tedious manual count, a total of 1461 books have been reviewed on Sphinx, many of them by more than person, the equivalent of over 2,000 pamphlets that were received by Helena Nelson, repackaged and sent back out to her loyal band of reviewers. 2,000 batches of stamps to be paid for. Umpteen treks to the post office. 2,000 reviews that were edited by her (to the huge benefit of the reviewers themselves, whose prose style and critical approach to poetry were often transformed via this process). 2,000 posts that were formatted, uploaded and optimised for search engines.

What’s more, for many poets, the review of their pamphlet on Sphinx was the only critical response they’d ever receive. That’s a hugely generous gift in anyone’s language. Looking back at the archive, there are a fair few poets who have sadly died in the intervening years, though their reviews on Sphinx remain. As a record of pamphlet poetry in the U.K., it’s irreplaceable.

And now, of course, Sphinx is coming to an end. Helena Nelson has given so much to poets over the years via Happen
Stance Press itself and via Sphinx Reviews, in both cases to the detriment of her own writing, but even this labour of love must inevitably be finite.

Like so many positive presences in our lives, Sphinx has probably come to be taken for granted, as if it were destined to accompany pamphlet publishing forever. It will be sorely missed once poets and publishers bemoan the absence of alternatives. However, its online archive is to be cherished and celebrated. Here’s hoping that in the aftermath of this closure, we at least start to see more of Helena Nelson’s exceptional poetry…!

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