Friday, 8 September 2017

This week at Valley Press, #71: 'Of the Dump'

Dear readers,

The video of Cath Nichols' launch event can be found here, and it's essential viewing – moving, incisive, thought-provoking (much like the book), rather like having an in-depth conversation with a friend about some important, deeply-felt social issues. We also invited Wendy Pratt, author of this forthcoming collection, to be a sort of 'warm-up act' and read a few poems at the start, so there's a bonus for you. More on Wendy next month!

Next week, this series of events comes to a close when we spend an hour in the company of Antony Dunn. Antony will be appearing at the later time of 3-4pm, but in the same location as always; the Sitwell Library at Woodend, Scarborough, a.k.a. Valley Press HQ. There will of course be more events in future (Vanessa is working on approximately four zillion ideas), but probably not in this format, so enjoy it while you can!

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This coming week sees the release of a new poetry collection by John Wedgwood Clarke, his first since Ghost Pot four years ago. The title is simply Landfill, and though not all of the poems are on that subject, the majority were inspired by a residency at the local tip here in Scarborough, which we optimistically call the "Resource Recovery Centre". Here's John explaining how this period of his writing life began:

"I’d driven past Seamer Carr on the bypass and always noticed the great flock of gulls circling over its summit and the slow lorries crawling over it. The lorries were like fishing boats or tractors with the way the gulls followed behind them. So while this might seem the least wild part of our ‘natural’ landscape, I also sensed it was a place of great ecological energy, a fertile and exciting place from which to view our culture and identify our behaviour as a species. Also, if there’s a fence around a place, I want to have a look behind it."

Reading the book will give you a better idea of how the poet relates "the dump" to the larger ecological / biological issues that have long fascinated him. Hanging round the public skips, watching people dispose of their rubbish was one thing, but the biggest "coup" was to access an open landfill cell, as described below:

"That took some persuasion. I was driven up in a land rover and only allowed ten minutes on the cell itself. It fell like I’d landed on the moon of waste. I bounced along over marshy fields of nappies and chicken carcasses and plastic water bottles. They’d had to fire off rockets to clear the gulls before we could step outside, so my visit was timed to the vast flock that wheeled away on a vast arc over the A59 before making its shit-laden return: the droppings were a key part of the hazard of being on the landfill cell – that and the enormous tractors with spiked wheels twice my height that had enormous, shining, bespattered blades that spread the rubbish out like butter."

We'll bring you the full text of this interview once you've all had time to digest the actual poems. I'd like to feature one here though, and I'm going to be inexplicably awkward and share one of the few poems in the book with no direct link to the theme (but you can still draw a line in the subtext). I think this is just an extraordinary bit of work.

Know Your Place

A Northern classroom after the war
and her hand’s in the air.
She wants to try for grammar school.
Oh, the teacher smiles, put it down. 

Next day, at the front, there’s a box,
gift-wrapped, and she’s called forward.
She likes ‘nice things’
but can’t think what she’s done.

As she reaches for the gift,
the teacher grabs her wrist and squeezes.
You must open it in front of the class. 
The clock cuts one moment from the next.

Should she save the wallpaper?
The outer layer reveals a lidded box.
Heat glazes her face as the class gazes
like sunlight through a magnifier

at her fingernails. Inside, she finds
another box, string-tied, the paper
fingernail creased. She picks at the knot
as she will always pick at the knot,

her nails bitten to the quick.
There’s only another, brown paper this time,
the paper of dispatch and back office,
of shop counter and bags

of seconds, minutes, hours, clocks and klaxons –
open it, it’s yours, the teacher urges.
Inside the box is nothing, and inside nothing
another box, in which she prays.

A launch event will be held on Saturday 30th September, in Hull, details of which you can find here. There are four separate Valley Press events that day, spread all over the country, a real sign of how busy we are at the moment! I'll share details of the other events next week. Oh, and you'll be able to catch John on BBC4 soon presenting a programme about Larkin's photography – details of that will be in a future newsletter too.

* * *

Before I get back to my publishing responsibilities, two other exciting pieces of news: we've just signed our first comic book artist, Si Smith, for a "graphic novel" (or, literary comic book) in March 2018. Very excited about that project, and getting into a whole new genre.

Also, we heard this week that Valley Press is a finalist in the Chamber Bridlington and Yorkshire Coast Business Awards, the scope of which apparently includes Hull, East Yorkshire and North Yorkshire. We're up for "Arts Business of 2017"... you can't vote though, it's judged by business experts, who are coming for a visit in a week or two.

The winners are announced at a black tie gala (!) at Bridlington Spa on the 20th October – and we're all going, of course – so look out for more news on that nearer the time. It seems newsletters are going to be increasingly packed this autumn; my poor keyboard is already praying for the return of an intern or two...

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

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