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Friday, 14 November 2008

Poetic injustice, Part IV

The UK book chain Waterstone’s cowardice in the face of Christian fundies is a story that, as journos say, has legs. It’s not going away in a hurry.

In a nutshell (but see here, here and here for the background), Patrick Jones writes a book of poems, some are a bit racy in the eyes of some Christians, Waterstone’s in Cardiff say they’ll host a signing and reading for Wednesday of this week, said Christians start bleating, Waterstone’s in Cardiff say oh shit the Christians are coming we’d better cancel this event.

You can see how concerned some influential people are from the comments on Part III of this saga below (or at this link), one of which is from a representative of the publisher of Patrick Jones’s book of poetry, Cinnamon Press.

Cinnamon have published an open letter to Gerry Johnson, the MD of Waterstone’s, on a page of their website that’s devoted to the issue. In part, it reads:

Dear Gerry Johnson

Cinnamon Press do not consider the action of cancelling an agreed launch at the last minute in the face of protest from small, but orchestrated group of religious extremists either reasonable or necessary.

The commitment to host the launch was reneged on at a point when we could do nothing about it and whilst we were travelling and out of contact, involving us in incurring considerable costs as well as the lost revenue of sales. As a small press this kind of loss can effectively wipe out all profit from a poetry title. I have no doubt that if Cinnamon Press made a commitment to Waterstone’s and cancelled at the last minute causing costs we would be receiving a bill.

We are also not convinced by the reason given for cancellation. Waterstone’s was one of the major supporters of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses – the decision to stock it and promote it in your stores caused more than potential disruption. Although Waterstone’s made it clear they could not tolerate death threats against members of Waterstone’s staff, they did not give in to these demands and threats, so it seems more than disingenuous to claim it is not appropriate to have a bit of shouting or boycotting at the launch of a small press poetry collection [. . .]

I was told by your PA that Patrick Jones had been informed of the cancellation and would not be attending the launch. This was not the case. Patrick had not agreed to not attend and turned up with a large crowd of people. Due to misinformation we were no longer there or would have held the launch in the street.

As it is we will be considering with Patrick how best to proceed and whilst Cinnamon will not take any part in organising disruption I am aware that many of the book’s supporters are minded to plan non-violent disruption to Waterstones stores until the decision is reversed. It is my opinion that the decision should be reversed without need for counter-protest and that the expenses of re-scheduling the launch should be at Waterstone’s expense.

There’s more. We don’t know who the “I” is who is writing the letter, unfortunately, but he or she ends with the contact details for Gerry Johnson: (or phone 020 8742 3800).

The letter adds that Stephen Green “is well known for his attempts to sabotage anything that does not meet with his approval and there is no doubt that he would have orchestrated this bigotry even if he’d never previously heard of Patrick”.

Cinnamon have prepared a short video. It's on YouTube, and is linked to in one of the comments in Part III, but you can see it below.

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