Friday, December 31, 2010

"...AND THE REST IS HISTORY..."

RECENT GOINGS ON AT COLLECTED WORKS BOOKSHOP

On the 31st October I posted the following email on the Overloadnation site:

"My Fellow Australians... We will fight them on the beaches... no, start again! Dear Overload friends, We've had to consider out future in light of the expected rent rise for our bookshop, to take effect 1st January 11... And, though it may be an extension of the same folly which had us open up in the first place, we will continue! The prospect of moving elsewhere was as awful as that of closing! But the price of the new 4 year lease will hurt, unless I can generate more sales and support. The point about the Shop is that though it is a little company, in the market place, it's never been profit oriented. Most of the receipts go into stock. The wages are minimal. Rent and stock are the major outgoings. The purpose of the Shop has always been to support writing, especially poetry, --Australian Poetry and literature within an international literary context. That's the rationale which makes the bookshop unique (certainly in Australia and New Zealand, possibly further afield). We obviously have sufficient support to be mentioned in the City of Literature document, but for all sorts of reasons support through the bead curtain is less than it might be. The recent rent hike squeezes us even more! The question remains, is there a place for an actual bookshop in this time of online purchasing, the ebook and other new technologies? A rhetorical question for me : the bookshop is a home for readers and writers of poetry and prose, a home for little presses, a venue for launches and readings, as it has been for 25 years or so. In a word, we're there for cultural as well as bookselling reasons. Our acceptance of the new lease will probably be sent this week! It will be a great encouragement to know if you support us! Perhaps a start might be making a new "friends of Collected Works" address list (email), for Melbourne and Australia generally. If you're interested please do write or phone or visit us! Cheers, Kris Hemensley"

The response was immediate & I can now say continuous. Invidious to recall some & not all but as a very partial index of the initial response, simply reading off the names of authors of emails, the list includes Michelle Leber, John Kinsella, Earl Livings, Patricia Sykes, Lyndon Walker, Melissa Watts, Leah Kaminsky, Josephine Rowe, Andrew Lindsay, Chris Grierson, Penny Gibson, Bron Thomasson, Kerryn Tredrea, Joan Kerr, Lyn Chatham, Anthony Lynch, Gregory Day, Ted Reilly, Paul Ashton, Caroline Williamson, Libby Hart, Ray Liversidge, Cyril Wong, Jennifer Harrison, Geelong Writers group, the VWC, Steve Grimwade, Mike Ladd, the APC, Paul Kane, Walter Struve...

Then we come to Facebook... The following is copied from the initial message :

"• Kris Hemensley • Time to grasp the nettle! Will we/wont we stay in business at present address as rent is considerably raised and receipts dwindle? After a week of deliberation & advice from friends we've just about decided to sign up for another 4 years! Any constructive thoughts are welcome! An exquisite moment : status of the book, the bookshop, the booktrade. All up for grabs! • October 29 at 10:35pm · LikeUnlike · Comment · Share

Jen Jewel Brown, Jennifer Compton, Nici Lindsay and 2 others like this.

Kris Hemensley I might need to sell a couple of valuable things to raise some security kitty! And wd love to know abt the on-line caper. Masterclasses gratefully received! • October 29 at 10:39pm · LikeUnlike

Nicholas Pounder Kris, it is probably folly, but I would do the same if I had your reputation and record. And let's face it, a tradition to defend. • October 29 at 10:44pm · LikeUnlike · 1 personLoading...

Pamela Robertson-Pearce Kris I am with you in this. I was so inspired by your place/space that I opened up a bookshop/art gallery upon my return from OZ in the Northeast of the UK and it is not easy. I never thought it would be...however. I have planned more events, serve tea, regular sales...I knew a bookshop alone could not make it here and an art gallery alone could not either so I combined them. I will keep you updated AND I wish you all the best! Diversify is my two cents. • October 29 at 10:45pm · LikeUnlike

Kris Hemensley If you cld give me a clue abt the couple of books we discussed before wd be good Nick; and i DIDNT know Pamela abt your enterprise! What's it called ? Open All Hours? It was great having you & neil visit but wdnt have guessed i was sowing seeds! Thanks for morale boost! I guess ive sat on hands a little bit. Time to get up going again. Reinvest the 'business'... etc... • October 29 at 10:52pm · LikeUnlike

Pamela Robertson-Pearce Mine is called DJANG the art of life! Djang being an aboriginal word which you probably know already. Open all hours indeed!!! Ha ha almost impossible to do. No I bring work to do so I can use the time better at DJANG when it is slow. I am glad to hear you persevere! You are a beacon Kris! • October 29 at 11:15pm · LikeUnlike

John Fox Agree about the record and tradition, but feel v selfish about it; great for the rest of us to have Collected Works still there, but I hope it isn't at the cost of your approaching retirement in penury. • October 29 at 11:37pm · LikeUnlike · 2 peopleLoading...

Justin Clemens Yes best bookstore in Australia. • October 30 at 12:46am · LikeUnlike

Jennifer Compton i must visit more often and i must buy more often • October 30 at 1:11am · LikeUnlike

Cassie Lewis-Getman Thank you for keeping up the wonderful work, Kris, but do take care of yourself too! Online sales seem like a good way to go as a supplement, or even email sales- Ken Bolton sends out an email newsletter of books recently in at the EAF, something like this would be a cheap and immediate way to go. A facebook page talking about the history and purpose of the store is another idea that is low cost. For ideas you could look at the City Lights page see http://www.facebook.com/CityLightsBooks • October 30 at 1:15am · LikeUnlike · 1 personLoading...

Kris Hemensley hey justin! good luck for yr crack of dawn seminar tomorrow! Tina alerted me. And youll be pleased to know the college came good with their cheque yday! see you soon, K • October 30 at 1:36am · LikeUnlike

Catherine O'Brien • What to say Kris; take the risk and don't count the money each day....remember one time you had a fund raiser reading. Maybe that is a great idea to bring the situation to the attention of those who would support you but don't know. Online ...cannot work for you as you have no computer at the shop so you would be doubling your work by having to transcribe the books at the shop and then spend time at home on the computer. • Funny my 'hardly ever open" i:cat gallery in Vientianne has now more books than art and it is not really a bookshop...i feel like I am an out post of collected works..how to support you from here??????See More • October 30 at 2:30am · LikeUnlike

Judith Buckrich I am delighted that you've decided to stay and will make more of an effort to send people your way - maybe PEN can do something with you - I will ask at the next meeting • October 30 at 7:12am · LikeUnlike

Kris Hemensley • Thank you cathy and judith --'counting the money...", come on, that's not my style! I think it's the gradual switch to new technology, new cultural orientation etc --The city, the society more in flux now than when we started --But if i can... have a $$safety net then we can still be the meeting place, the news exchange, the infinite forum on poetry and ideas that is really our stock in trade --The equation of altruism & survival, the esoteric & the commercial --as ever! As i sd to Chrissie & Michael a year ago, after Dylan, you can be in our loop if i can be in your loop! So your thought, j, is pertinent... Now let's enjoy the races and the rain!!!See More • October 30 at 9:47am · LikeUnlike

Elizabeth Campbell Kris, I know you don't like gimmicks, but have you ever thought of a fundraiser/mailing list campaign like Salt did - buy one book to save the shop. I know so many people who would respond ps will be in today for two books! • October 30 at 9:57am · LikeUnlike · 1 personLoading...

David Wheatley I'd support that. Remember Chris Hamilton-Emery's 'just one book' campaign (though why stop at just the one). PS Elizabeth -- I owe you a book! • October 30 at 9:59am · LikeUnlike

• Susan Fealy Dear Kris • Four more years of Collected Works would be four more years of soft sunshine for the soul. • XSusan • October 30 at 10:09am · LikeUnlike

Viki Mealings that's terrible that they've hiked up the rent so much • October 30 at 11:23am · LikeUnlike

Kris Hemensley Oh dear, what hath thou unleashed upon thy head and those of thine... um... I think it's much more a matter of getting with it in terms of the on-line biz, events, and reminding institutions who're in need of let's say australian poetry (but hey! the world's our oyster) that we can supply! The rent is inevitable, the commercial reality when i look at it calmly... After yday's excellent discussion with Ellen i feel heartened & resolved! Thanks everybody! • October 30 at 11:35am · LikeUnlike

Susan Hawthorne The book business is a tricky one right now. Like you Kris we halve trembled on the edge several times. But we're still here and I have some optimism for the future. • October 30 at 12:40pm · LikeUnlike

Philip Salom Kris, I have to agree with Elizabeth. There are multitudes of us and if we want you to stay on (and we do) we should (yes, I'm happy with should) do something to contribute. One book each? Easy. Maybe even have annual subscriptions of some sort? Many of us would be in it. • October 30 at 12:44pm · LikeUnlike

Elizabeth Gertsakis Hard one Kris; you represent a special place, but also need to take care of yourself. I would support the idea of all supporters/readers coming in to buy a book. Will come in to see you soon. • October 30 at 3:11pm · LikeUnlike

Brendan Ryan Kris, • I'd be happy to buy a poetry book as well. Collected Works is a special place. • October 30 at 3:34pm · LikeUnlike

Catherine Bateson I really like Philip's idea of an annual subscription - like a poetry club. In knitting circles there are indie spinners and dyers offering three month/six month sock clubs - you sign up and receive fibre/yarn, a sock pattern and often a small treat....fair trade coffee beans, a stitch counter. Six random months of poetry books - sounds great! • October 30 at 4:21pm · LikeUnlike

Kris Hemensley Thank you everybody... As it happens, this half day session at the Shop was reasonable what with races and rain... Carol Jenkins was visiting and also people from Perth and the continental perspective/reach of the Shop was so apparent... Interested in Philip's & Batherine B's club suggestion. I can be quite dense abt things so do email me for tips on how this cd work! • October 30 at 6:46pm · LikeUnlike

Kris Hemensley Batherine B? who she? I mean catherine Bateson of course! • October 30 at 6:47pm · LikeUnlike

Philip Salom Some sub. your customers - call us fans! - are happy to pay out each year. Maybe some discount deal as Catherine suggested, and/or just some 'privilege' from the shop. It can guarantee a sum each year for your budget, but on top of our and everybody else's purchases. We are direct beneficiaries of CW and this shouldn't be at your expense.
• October 30 at 7:55pm · LikeUnlike

Catherine Bateson • No, I didn't mean at Collected Works expense - you'd sign up for three months - a book a month - what would that be? Average it out at $30.00 a book + postage - say $100.00, or $200.00 for six months and then Kris would choose three or six ...books to send out to the lucky person. These might come with a special subscribers newsletter - maybe with a couple of poetry reviews. It's actually not a discount deal at all - the sock clubs are part of how indie dyers/spinners make an artisan living out of pursuing their craft. The point is really in the element of surprise - you don't know what yarn you'll receive. Ditto with the books. But CW would be guaranteed of how many sales for that period. Naturally, being greedy little consumers we'd want to feel special - hence the newsletter or whatever it was - maybe an exclusive invite to a poetry club party....obviously you'd need to do the figures - and equally obviously this would be evened out - a $20.00 book one month, a $35.00 the next...I have no idea if it would work for books, but I've joined sock clubs! (Oh, and the other thing that the sock clubs often do is work around a theme - which would be possible for poetry, too.See More • October 30 at 8:28pm · LikeUnlike

Leah Kaminsky Sign me up for a subscription Kris! I also like the idea of all us poets getting together for a fundraiser for Collected Works, which is truly a Melbourne icon... it could be a HUGE event!! • October 30 at 9:11pm · UnlikeLike · 2 peopleLoading...

Sam Byfield I'd be up for a subscription Kris and for attending/participating in a fundraising event- anything to help out. I also wouldn't mind getting occasional emails with updates- recent books, things that have caught your attention, events coming up at the bookstore and poems on the blog- all things i'm interested in (and other people) but don't always have the chance to be as engaged and up to date as i'd like to be. • October 30 at 9:24pm · UnlikeLike · 1 personLoading...

Philip Salom Sorry, Catherine, I wasn't suggesting you meant that. Just that _whatever_ scheme comes up should have the balance of expenses in mind. I would be quite happy to pay a sub (with no special return, or maybe just a piss-up and reading get-together!) just to know that CW was safe. • October 30 at 9:51pm · LikeUnlike

Tina Giannoukos Any way I can help with will do; the shop is a community: refuge; ideas centre; meeting place; singular in every way yet plural. • October 30 at 11:20pm · UnlikeLike · 1 personLoading...

Jen Jewel Brown • dear Kris, you and R run a precious and highly respected resource. Wonder if you could link onto/affiliate with APC so that they publicise every book launch going on at Collected Works with their website, and in rerturn you cross-promote th...eir books and events on your blog by providing links and blurbs about their writers/events from time to time. As the sole bookshop in Melbourne which specialises in and stocks large amounts of poetry, especially Australian poetry, it's vital for Australian poets that you can go on, and your presence benefits the APC by helping poetry remain on sale. I also support the idea of buy one book.See More • October 30 at 11:53pm · UnlikeLike · 1 personLoading...

Rosemary Nissen-Wade Now that I live elsewhere, I would love it if you had an online list of your stock to help me shop there! • October 31 at 1:41am · LikeUnlike

Christopher Barnett kris & retta • wish you both & the bookshop only the best but we live in a age of great barbarism • avec force et tendresse • October 31 at 10:27am · LikeUnlike

Jennifer Compton a fundraiser - great idea - with a raffle etc • October 31 at 11:50am · LikeUnlike

Jennifer Compton • can i suggest a (small) book crossing shelf I saw this at a bookshop in rome and was delighted! when peop[le come in to liberate their books into the wild and see if there is anything they want on the shelf - then because they have a free b...ook they look about me and think, well i have saved money, i will buy a book too • at least that is the way i think it could workSee More • October 31 at 12:55pm · LikeUnlike

Rosemary Nissen-Wade The 'buy one book' idea is a real winner, too. • October 31 at 8:13pm · LikeUnlike

Natalie Davey Just have to add my note of deep support for what ever you do!! Plan to be in more often to allow my lovely shelves to groan with the delight of your Collected Works amore amore books! • Natalie xx • November 1 at 11:10pm


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I dont think I'm exaggerating to describe this as an avalanche of support! John Hunter conjured up the Collected Works Facebook Page one day. "What you need..." he said. I'm eternally grateful. This page has become the prime distributor of bookshop information. Early November, the following message from Robyn Rowland appeared :

"Dear Book Lovers
As you can see from Kris Hemensley’s public letter below, this icon of Australian Literature is struggling a bit in this climate. Remember the Salt appeal a couple of years ago, when Salt decided to ask every supporter to buy a book? It saved the press ...for now. Please do all you can to support Kris and Retta to keep this wonderful and rich bookshop going. It is a cultural landmark and deserves our wholehearted loving kindness ... And cash!! Over the years we have all benefited from the books we can peruse there and buy, but also for the support K and R have given through conversations and knowledge. Just passing on this info which you can find also on overloadnation.
All the best
Robyn"

This also elicited many responses including a suggestion from Alan Loney for a meeting at earliest opportunity. On the 12th November, Jenny Harrison wrote the following letter on the Overload site:

"Dear Friends of Collected Works
We've recently (and belatedly) become aware that the most significant poetry bookshop in Australia needs our support. We are forming a Friends of Collected Works, and we invite you to the inaugural meeting to discuss collaborative plans to support the bookshop (whose current directors are Catherine O'Brien, Kris Hemensley and Retta Hemensley) in its iconic literary vision. Many of us have already offered our support and we are interested in planning a series of events into the future. We intend to meet several times until we're assured that Collected Works continues the sure footing the principals have maintained alone for twenty years in the stead of the inaugural group of 1985. I imagine that future meetings would best be sited at a central point such as at the APC or VWC, but you are all invited to join us at Jennifer Harrison's place at 36 Upton Road, Prahran, on Sunday 21st November from 2 pm to 4 pm, to begin planning.
Warm regards
Jennifer Harrison"


At the meeting, attended by Elaine Lewis & Judith Buckrich (in their own right & representing PEN), Libby Hart, Ray Liversidge, Heather Clarke, Jennifer Harrison, Bob Morrow & Philip Salom, various questions were discussed. I quote the Aims & Objectives (discussion of ideas) from the agenda : "Why do we need a Friends of Collected Works? What do we want to achieve? Wider perspective : what kind of arts scene do we want to see? Short term: what help does Collected Works need now? Long term: imagining Collected Works in 5 years/ 10 years. How will we know we have been successful? (NB we need to remain sensitive to the boundary between Collected Works business practice and the role of Friends of Collected Works)"

As it transpired it was agreed that a formally constituted body wasnt the way to go, after all Collected Works is anti-bureaucratic & informal in its nature & modus-operandi. However a 'reference group' was happily accepted.
In my report to the meeting I mentioned an important earlier meeting with Ellen Koshland who counseled against approaches to the well known trusts & agencies, encouraging us to promote the Shop as the service provider it has always been in respect of poetry in Melbourne &, indeed, Australia, --thus the relevance of subscriptions, mail-order & web-site, & more in-house literary activities...
I pointed to the spontaneous action of 'friends', endorsed by the Bookshop (e.g. the jig-sawing of Libby Hart's twilight shopping event + raffle with Heather Clarke's idea of a promoted pre-Xmas shopping week), as the natural way of proceeding.
At this stage initiatives & ideas were flowing from all directions! Collaborations mooted between Collected Works & organizations like Australian Poetry, the VWC, the MWF, the MPU, PEN et al were especially encouraging.
What it all represented was a reactivation of the community support the Shop enjoyed back in 1985. It felt like a rebirth (a second honeymoon?)!
I did also say to the group that of itself none of this remarkable response had changed the fragile commercial reality but it had changed my attitude to it.

The event of December 8th at the Shop was astonishing ("historic" as Alex Skovron suggested).
There must have been in the vicinity of 150 people over the space of 4 or so hours in & out of the Shop. Many stayed for the duration despite the sauna type conditions! This event contributed significantly to the Shop enjoying its best trading month ever in 25 years...

And the rest is history!

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[finished! New Year's Eve, 2010]

3 comments:

ashleycapes said...

Fantastic news, Kris, I'll be trying to visit later this month and I'll be bringing my cheque book as it were!

Anonymous said...

nice to see a name turn up
in this discussion J B of PEN
old friend from our St Kilda
days!!! hello from Norma
& pete

Anonymous said...

Pleased you've had so much support, Kris. I will try to spend more money this year! -- Glenn