Friday, 8 December 2017

This week at Valley Press, #84: 'Your five a day'

Dear readers,

Another late newsletter this week – can you believe I've barely had a minute to myself since the last one went out? One of the things I've been doing tonight (besides publishing) is building another book tree, pictured above, this time at our local chapel and made out of non-VP books. They have a Christmas tree festival every year, and the theme this year is 'words that end in tree'; so after last week's pun, Mrs McGarry volunteered us to construct an actual 'poet tree'. Maybe you can spot some of your favourites? (If not, you might like to visit the 'optome-tree' someone built to our left, covered in pairs of glasses.)

This week, rather than lengthy anecdotes, I have five interesting links for you. Feel free to pick and choose which ones you click on, in line with your interests... or show the full extent of your love of Valley Press by engaging with all five!

Firstly, we launched Helen Cadbury's Forever, Now this week at York Explore. There wasn't a dry eye in the house, beginning to end; I felt so honoured to be involved with the book and the evening (as did the rest of the VP team). YorkMix have captured some of the spirit in their thoughtful write-up; for me, it was the first time I'd ever truly experienced 'bittersweet'... happiness and sadness pulling at your heart simultaneously. A truly unforgettable evening. If you missed out, I'm pleased to report we have more events planned for this book in 2018 (details coming soon).

Secondly, there's news that John Wedgwood Clarke will be teaching a five-day course on 'The Poetry of Rubbish' with the Poetry School in the new year. If you can't get to Exeter to take part, there is at least this wonderful long interview on that subject which they published a few days ago, a great companion piece to Landfill.

Thirdly, we were excited to see that the 'Travelling Man' chain of shops (more commonly known for comics and games) have taken a liking to Caroline Hardaker's Bone Ovation. Not only they did they post this glowing short review, they're also stocking it in all their branches, pitching it as a kind of stocking filler for the more thoughtful, quirky gift recipient in your life. Which I'd very much like to second!

Fourthly (is that a word?), lurking in this article about the reading habits of the 'great and good' is a tiny review of Madame Bildungsroman by the novelist Regi Claire. She says Madame B 'offers a brilliant perspective on existence through fragments and aperçus: ambiguous, acerbic, moving and searingly intelligent.' Once again, couldn't have put it better myself... though I did have to look up aperçus; it's an "illuminating or entertaining comment." One to add to your vocabulary; all part of the service here at Valley Press.

Finally, the latest episode of the 'Friday Morning Meeting' podcast (featuring myself and Emma Wright) is now online here. As this is the last one of the year, we've made it a Christmas special framed around the three spirits of A Christmas Carol... and then there's a little discussion of the value of coding skills at the end. Put on the spot to illustrate this episode, I cooked up the picture below starring Emma in the Cratchit/Kermit role and me as Scrooge... I laughed when I saw the result, and I include it here in case you do too.

All of which adds up to a full newsletter, in my eyes... which means you'll have to wait another week to find out about that final, secret Christmas book we're still working on. I'll get to it next week, for definite. It'll be worth the wait!

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Thursday, 7 December 2017

"Besides the practicalities of assembling the pamphlet, the Emma Press supported it hugely." Stephen Sexton on publishing his pamphlet with the Emma Press

Over the course of our call for pamphlet proposals, we'll have some of our existing pamphlet authors writing about their experience of having a pamphlet published with us. Here we speak to Stephen Sexton about his pamphlet, Oils!

Tell us about your pamphlet and what drew you to the Emma Press.

My pamphlet changed shape many times, as these things do. It contains several poems based on paintings — I was very into that at the time. One is based on large, strange landscape by Peter Doig, and there is a little sequence of three poems based on various images of Orpheus, or more specifically, his head, since he’s only a head in each of paintings. I guess I was interested in the act of looking, and the politics of looking, and figured it would be interesting to look intensely at one of mythology’s biggest lookers. Besides that, there’s a poem about an English class watching Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, and a poem in the voice of Popeye.

I encountered the Emma Press sometime in early 2013, I think, when Emma and Rachel Piercey accepted a poem to be included in Mildly Erotic Verse. It was the first, or one of the first significant publications for me, and I was overjoyed that Emma and Rachel brought Amy Key and Jacqueline Saphra on the accompanying book tour to Belfast. I had been thinking about pamphlets and how I should go about finding someone to publish it. Over a terrible falafel that Emma never tires of hearing me complain about, she and Rachel so warmly suggested the Emma Press might publish my poems.

What did you enjoy about working with the Emma Press?

I enjoyed everything about working with the Emma Press. I found the editing process to be both considerate and rigorous. Rachel is a really wonderful reader, and she has such an eye not only for the ways in which a poem can go amiss, but also the ways its can go. At every stage of assembling the pamphlet, I felt supported, but I also felt encouraged to try different approaches to the poems. I expect the sequencing of the pamphlet varied widely, but it settled in an order I’m pleased with.

Besides the practicalities of assembling the pamphlet, the Emma Press supported it hugely. Emma so generously invited me to several events in support of the pamphlet — including a wonderful showcase event at the Poetry Library in the Southbank. Emma worked so hard to help promote the pamphlet, and kept an eye out for reviews of it. Moreover, she entered the pamphlet for the various accolades for which pamphlets are eligible, such as the Michael Marks Awards. It meant a lot that Oils was selected as a Poetry Book Society Winter Pamphlet Choice in the year of its publication.

What have you been doing since publishing your pamphlet?

I feel like the publication of Oils began the most recent phase of my writing practice. Since then, I’ve completed a PhD at the Seamus Heaney Centre, and I’ve been fortunate to have my work published in some fine journals and magazines across the UK and Ireland. I’ve also received support in the form of a grant from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, for which I’m hugely grateful. Most recently my poem ‘The Curfew’ won the National Poetry Competition. I’m pleased with how my writing has been going, and these acknowledgements give me a lot of encouragement and confidence. I’m so happy to have published Oils, and I am delighted that many exceptional writers who happen to be good friends have also had pamphlets published with the Emma Press. It’s always an occasion for me to read the Emma Press’s latest publications, and I look forward with excitement to the pamphlets of 2018.

Oils is available to order on our website. You can also find out more about our call for pamphlet submissions here.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

"It’s about your reader way more than it is about you." Zosia Kuczyńska on publishing her pamphlet with the Emma Press

Over the course of our call for pamphlet proposals, we'll have some of our existing pamphlet authors writing about their experience of having a pamphlet published with us. Here we have Zosia Kuczyńska talking about her pamphlet, Pisanki!

Turning your family history into a poetry pamphlet is hard. There’s the ethics of it for a start: you may have the strongest claim in the world on what is after all your own heritage, but when push comes to shove you’re still telling the story of something that didn’t happen to you. When I first submitted the poems in the then-untitled Pisanki to The Emma Press, the fact that it opened with a poem about Daedalus’s precocious nephew Perdix inventing the saw by appropriating fish skeletons (and ultimately being shoved off a cliff) was a very deliberate foregrounding of the anxieties I was wearing on my sleeve.

It was also far too self-important. The poem is still in the pamphlet, along with any number of poems that, obliquely or otherwise, try to navigate the moral mirror-maze that is the act of storytelling. The finished pamphlet, however, is a reflection of The Emma Press’s commitment to something I’d forgotten in amongst all that sort-of-a-little-bit-maybe-comparing-myself-to-a-Soviet-scientist-who-sends-dogs-into-space-to-die-just-because-they-can: that it’s about your reader way more than it is about you.

What the editorial process of Pisanki brought to these poems was context, clarity, and a realisation that I was going to have to give the running order something of an overhaul: if I was going to do justice to the story I was trying to tell, I needed to get out of its way a bit. It was a task made more difficult by the fact that, by the time the editing stage came around, I’d been recently bereaved. When you have no emotional reserves left and your brain is turning itself inside out on a daily basis, being asked to rethink a comma feels like being asked to perform laser eye surgery on yourself with only your reflection in the back of a teaspoon to let you know how you’re doing.

Rachel Piercey was a superb editor. She was thorough, sensitive, astute, and—most importantly—stuck to her guns. Bernard O’Donoghue had already been more than accommodating in incorporating my babcia’s (grandmother’s) account of her wartime experiences into his introduction; Rachel convinced me that the pamphlet should also have not only a ‘Notes’ but also a ‘Further Notes’. It sounds silly now, but agreeing to both was one of the most liberating things I’ve ever done. Of course I’d never intended for the reader to tackle what is, to the Anglophone world, a largely unknown chapter in European history without some help. However, the insidious idea that has crept into poetry criticism in particular that Googling, say, Nerval and/or his lobster is something that should be done in secret—that all those furtive hours spent trawling Wikipedia ought never to be admitted—is a difficult one to overcome. Giving the historical context of the poems a dedicated space in the pamphlet took an enormous amount of pressure off the poems themselves, which were only ever always about how to tell a story and never the whole of it.

Working with The Emma Press was an experience for which I will always be grateful. Rachel and Emma understood what I was trying to do and worked with me to help me understand how to do it. (I hope it’s not too insulting to Emma’s artwork that quite a few people who know me well asked me whether I’d illustrated the cover, which is a testament to the pamphlet’s coherence as an object.) Their approach was hands-on but with a lightness of touch that meant I never felt pressured to take the pamphlet in unwanted directions. Their confidence in the poems gave me the confidence to say ‘here is a pamphlet with a Polish-looking name by a Polish-sounding person that engages with parts of Polish history you won’t necessarily have encountered before; reader, I’ve got your back’.

Pisanki is available to order on our website. You can also find out more about our call for pamphlet submissions here.

Friday, 1 December 2017

This week at Valley Press, #83: 'Poet Tree'

Dear readers,

I'll get this out of the way early: I won that award last week, so am 'Young Entrepreneur of the Year' in the Scarborough area for 2017. Perhaps the best part (besides the trophy, which you can see here) is having confirmation that I am a) an entrepreneur, and b) young, both of which have I have occasionally doubted in the last few months. In fact, with the announcement that I will become eligible for a Young Person's Railcard again in April, I feel younger than I have for some time!

Richard Askew (designer of the VP website, and last year's winner) noted that, since its inauguration, this award has almost exclusively been won by people in the creative industries, which I think bodes well for the future of Scarborough as a 'creative hotspot'. If you've never been to our part of the Yorkshire coast, you're missing out – it's got everything you could need, plus the sea and dramatic landscapes. Think of an excuse and get yourself over here! It's good enough for David Dimbleby...

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Returning to the job in hand, we have a competition running at the moment in which you could win £200 worth of Valley Press books, just in time for Christmas. It's actually a competition/offer, so everyone wins really! If you buy a book through our website before noon on December 18th, using the code HAMPER, you'll get 15% off your order and you'll be entered in a draw to win every single one of these brilliant publications:

They've been selected so there's something to appeal to every friend/family member you could possibly encounter during the festive season... assuming you don't just keep the lot for yourself, of course. You'll notice all of our hardbacks are in there, including the limited-edition, signed and numbered versions of Madame Bildungsroman and Take This One to Bed. We've also included both of our titles which are suitable for young children, if you can tear them away from whatever strange bleeping, whizzing items they acquire on the 25th.

Please note that the VP office will be closing at 5.30pm on the 21st December, so make sure any orders are placed in plenty of time for our last post trip that afternoon (but ideally, before the 18th so you can enter the prize draw mentioned above). We'll re-open on January 2nd, probably well after lunchtime I'd imagine...

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One last thing: assuming blizzards haven't frozen the city solid, we'll be in Waterstones York from 7pm today (Friday 1st) for Ian Stuart's Quantum Theory for Cats launch. Ian is presently employed as a Ghost Trail guide, and also dabbles in voiceover work, so you're guaranteed a good show and some fantastic readings; do try and make it if you can.

Bearing in mind his experience, I drafted Ian into Tom Townsend's studio (check out his new single, very groovy) on Wednesday to record an audiobook version, which will hopefully be available in the next few weeks. For a sneak preview, there's a video here of Ian reading the title poem... hope it gives you a quick laugh. Only some knowledge of quantum mechanics is required to get all the jokes, but I know you're well-versed in such things. If not, you soon will be!

Next week: our last, surprise, festive publication of 2017 will finally be revealed. *drumroll*

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Thursday, 30 November 2017

"My poems have characters who inhabit places I might be too afraid to." Alison Winch on publishing her pamphlet with the Emma Press

Over the course of our call for pamphlet proposals, we'll have some of our existing pamphlet authors writing about their experience of having a pamphlet published with us. Here we have Alison Winch talking about her pamphlet, Trouble!

When a poem is working, I’ve touched on something honest. There is a catharsis in this; a ‘yes’ moment of release. That honest thing might not be clearly visible and it might take a year for the poem to be in a finished state, or to understand what that honest thing is.

Getting to that ‘yes’ moment means cutting through the pervasive feeling of shame: Who do I think am, writing poems? Why not do something urgent like clean the toilet, go on Facebook, make a felt collage of my exes’ genitals? Feeling shame is part of the process of sending poems out to the gatekeepers of the poetry world – the audacity!

My poems have characters who inhabit places I might be too afraid to. My alter-ego ‘Alisoun’ is appropriated from Chaucer, and she is shameless, about sex, her body, her relationship with god. There are others – Wife, for example – who is trapped in a fog of humiliation, disgrace and penis envy.

I was talking this morning to a friend, Sophie Herxheimer, about honesty, shame and writing. We collaborate and have a 100% success rate with the poems we’ve written together and sent out – all two of them. One was published by The Emma Press. It was part of Amy Key’s vivid Best Friend’s Forever poetry anthology that travels the varieties of intense and complex experiences in female friendship. We wrote the poem via Skype.

That the Emma Press were open to uncomfortable, ambivalent or ugly feelings connected to women’s experiences made me more confident about sending them work. The poems mean a lot to me, and I wanted an editor that I could trust and who could work with their vulnerability.

Emma set up her own press in a cut-throat industry and her courage, as well as her creativity, is impressive. I found out that Emma and Rachel had accepted the poems when my son was two months old. It was a bolt of joy in the miasma of puke and postnatal fragility/resilience that I was existing in at the time.

Emma and Rachel have an acute awareness of how they want the pamphlet to be, while simultaneously offering their authors a lot of autonomy. They brought their production and editorial expertise with grace and friendliness, and I always trusted that the book would be beautiful. We picked the final poems in a pub in King's Cross while my son climbed the walls.

Sophie offered to do a drawing for the cover and I was made up when Emma agreed. We continue to collaborate (look out for that box of tiny frozen hands!) and it’s ace to have Sophie’s work in my book.

I saw the pamphlet for the first time at its launch in June 2016. It was both humbling and exhilarating. Rachel’s scrupulous editing, Emma’s gutsy production and design, Sarah Howe’s sensitive and colourful introduction, plus Sophie’s art, all came together to create something stunning.

One of the very cool things about publishing a pamphlet or collection is the level of engagement from readers you know and don’t know. I thought it would be excruciating to read a review (actually, I didn’t think about it), but it’s astonishing to connect to another person through poetry; it’s why it’s worth persisting in the feelings.

Trouble is available to order on our website. You can also find out more about our call for pamphlet submissions here.