Monday, 30 November 2015

Two new books (and assorted news) from Valley Press

Dear readers,

Let me start by sharing a photo, taken last week by the great David Chalmers:

Yes, that’s every Valley Press book from the last five years, in one towering stack. It’s an odd feeling to see five years of work expressed so visually (precariously, even!) It makes me think ‘wow, we've really achieved something’, with perhaps a little bit of: ‘five years work, for one mid-sized stack of books?!’  But hey, what a stack.

Balancing at the top is our third publication for November, The Finest Years and Me by Mark Woodburn – sequel to Winston and Me, which long-term fans will remember VP publishing in 2012. Winston and Me saw plucky young scot Jamie Melville run away to join the army, in 1916, aged just fifteen years old. He ended up as an orderly to Colonel Winston Churchill, and they faced various battles in the trenches and outside them. (I won’t go into too much detail, rest assured it moves along at a pace – and is still available of course, see here.)

The sequel (pictured below) picks up the story twenty-five years later, in 1942, when Winston is Prime Minister, facing enemies ‘across the world, inside his own parliament, and within his very soul’ (to quote the blurb). With all this in mind, Winston’s family decide to call for Jamie, who has since relocated to Scarborough (very wisely), but soon finds himself in London and Washington D.C., involved in ‘high-end decision making, intrigue, treachery and betrayal’.

Both Mark’s books are meticulously researched; early readers were convinced the first was a genuine memoir. If you’re a fan of historical fiction and interested in the world wars, they come highly recommended. The Finest Years and Me is out now, but we’re officially launching it on Tuesday 8th December, at Blackwell’s in Edinburgh, from 6.30pm. It’s free to come along, of course, and you’ll get to see me interview Mark about the writing process and more. Should be fantastic! Click here to find out more information on this book and next week’s event.

The final Valley Press book for November, and 2015, is The Learned Goose by Jo Brandon – copies haven’t arrived here at time of writing, but they do exist, as evidenced by this photo kindly provided by Villi from Pulsio (one of our wonderful printers). Again, long-term fans will recognise the name; we published Jo’s debut pamphlet Phobia in 2012, and are very proud to now present her first full-length collection ... in a glorious, foiled-up, almost-square production.

It was partly this last-minute change of dimensions that led to me waiting for copies at 9pm on release day; but I think you'll agree, when you read it, that abandoning our usual B-format was an inspired move – with the new wider pages giving Jo’s wonderful lines room to stretch out, and allowing all the poems to appear in the shape she originally intended. I've had the privilege this year to work on some of the best poetry I've ever read, and ‘the Goose’ (as we've been calling it) is firmly in that category.

There’s a launch, of course! Head to the Heart Centre in Headingley, Leeds, on Friday 11th December from 6pm for a fantastic night of poetry, discussion (chaired by James Nash), and themed refreshments (apparently!) We'd be honoured if you RSVP’d to the event on Facebook here, and of course purchased the book.

Finally – I can report that as of 5pm today, submissions to Valley Press for 2016 have closed. I’ve just emailed the last few stragglers, so if you haven’t had confirmation from me (or Mrs. McGarry, who has been kindly assisting in my quest to clear the inbox) that your manuscript has been received, it may be lost – or there could be a problem with your email address, we’ve had quite a few error messages. If this applies to you, please get in touch and we’ll put it right.

I’ll be looking at this new batch of subs over the next month or so, and will be putting together another ‘focus group’ to come to Scarborough one day and help me go through them. If you‘d like to take part in that, please do drop me a message – it involves a good few hours of completely unpaid work, but everyone seemed to have a great time when we did it in July!

The submissions process for 2017 publications will start in February, with a slightly different format, as part of our big Arts Council project – so look forward to hearing about that. I’ll leave you to it now, but if I don’t manage a December newsletter (and I don’t see you at the two excellent launch events mentioned above), I hope you all have a brilliant festive season; huge thanks for your support in 2015.

All the best,
Jamie McGarry (VP Publisher)

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Why I Published our Pamphlets (Part 1)

Our open call for poetry and prose pamphlet submissions ends on Sunday 13th December and I've been thinking about what I can do to help people who are still deciding what to send us. I've already written about what we do when we process submissions, so I thought it might be useful to look at submissions from another angle and explain why I chose to publish all the pamphlets we've put out already.

You can read Part 2 here.

* * *

Oils, by Stephen Sexton (£6.50)

Series: The Emma Press Pamphlets

Oils, by Stephen Sexton
Why: These are definitely poems which grew on me each time I read them (we read manuscripts at least twice, if not three times, before even shortlisting them). I found it hard to get a handle on the poems initially, but then literally dozens of Stephen's nervy, melancholic thoughts – like 'I ask what it means when even / in my dream I'm a coward' – stuck in my head and I knew that these were special and I had to publish them.

Favourite lines: 'I can’t hold onto anything, Anne. Because it doesn’t exist, 
I’ll meet you in town. Borrow some wine from the woman 
next door, reach for glasses. Live, then show me what I got wrong.'

Captain Love and the Five Joaquins, by John Clegg (£5.00)

Series: The Emma Press Picks

Captain Love and the Five Joaquins
Why: The Pick is the original Emma Press pamphlet format and I always hoped that established poets would use it for their more experimental projects. Captain Love is a wonderful example of this, as John Clegg tells the frankly unbelievable (and yet true-ish) story of bounty hunter Harry Love, through a mixture of poems and prose. It's short, but by gum is it swashbuckling, packed with swordfights, tequila and... Zorro?!?

Favourite lines: 'Love isn’t safe. The lines across his palm, which Ezmerelda stared at for so long before confessing she could read no future there, have started to converge. One eye popped halfway open overnight and Love was busy with his needle in the morning. Nothing’s ready for the visit. Love must send to Fresno for his epaulettes. '

Raspberries for the Ferry, by Andrew Wynn Owen (£6.50)

Series: The Emma Press Pamphlets

Raspberries for the Ferry
Why: I do have a soft spot for formal poetry, and Andrew Wynn Owen's way with metre and rhyme is so infectiously playful that he had me at 'These luscious buds should be illegal / Reserved for emperor and eagle.' The language in his poems is rich, textured and colourful, which I love, and – more than that – his worldview in this pamphlet is exuberant and joyous, which makes it a pleasure to read and very easy to want to share with readers.

Favourite lines: 'I précis 

this shaky simile because I am 
so happy, life-hallowed, the carp that swim 
in the Arno know, the leaves by the dam 

rustle knowledge of it, and the pilgrim 
stops short to wish me well [...]'

Ikhda, by Ikhda, by Ikhda Ayuning Maharsi (£6.50 / £4.25)

Series: The Emma Press Pamphlets

Ikhda, by Ikhda
Why: Ikhda is a multi-lingual globetrotter, so she uses the English language in a rollicking way which feels instinctive and fresh. When I was reading her manuscript, I liked how her poems had a surreal quality and could be viciously satirical and angry but also innocent and tender. This pamphlet feels feminist to me on a very personal level, so it felt important to publish it.

Favourite lines: 'I smelled your distinctive 
typical smell 
from hundreds of kilometres, 
branches of trees swaying gently. 
I walked along silently 
looking for a stud 
to marry me once 
and feed my ren for years.'

The Held and the Lost, by Kristen Roberts (£5.00)

Series: The Emma Press Picks

The Held and the Lost
Why: Escapism is a large part of the appeal of reading for me; it feels like a weight is being lifted when I can immerse myself in someone else's way of seeing the world. I've never been to Australia, but from Kristen Roberts' poems I can imagine the wide gaping spaces, luscious vegetation and oppressive heat. There are so many finely-observed details in Kristen's poems that reading the manuscript felt like stepping out into a variety of distant bedrooms, backyards and beaches.

Favourite lines: 'You cook and we eat, fingers barbeque-blackened, 
lips soft with lamb fat. Your smile is eager, 
mine a dam defying rivulets of ageing, unpaid crimes. 
 We ignore the old conversations pressing at closed doors 
 and instead talk longingly of rain.'

The Emmores, by Richard O'Brien (£5.00)

Series: The Emma Press Picks

The Emmores, by Richard O'Brien
Why: Love poems were my point of entry into liking poetry as an adult, but before long I started feeling resentful of the treatment of the muse: either they would barely be present in the poem, sidelined by the poet's interest in the poet, or they would suffer a lot of assumptions being made about their feelings. What I like about The Emmores is the honesty of these love poems – Richard doesn't pretend that these are anything other than the hopeful declarations of someone whose main pulling power is his way with words.

Favourite lines: 'and if I could I’d call tornadoes down 
to wrench up rooves of Collyweston slate, 
disintegrate unyielding dry-stone walls 
and crazy-pave a path across the fields 
to your door.'

The Flower and the Plough, by Rachel Piercey (£5.00 / £3.50)

Series: The Emma Press Picks

The Flower and the Plough
Why: Back in 2012, these poems struck a deeply personal chord with me, and I was astonished that another person could express feelings that I felt intensely but couldn't articulate. It felt like these poems were about my failing relationship and increasingly conflicted ideas about romance, and I felt all the better for having read them.

Favourite lines: '[...] when you temper
 scraps into treasure

 I think it’s worth it,
 and when you
 spit out glass

though you only got sand
I think it’s worth it.'

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Poets on their Pamphlets: Ruth Wiggins on poetry and 2D vision

There's just over a month left in our annual call for poetry and prose pamphlet submissions (deadline: 13th December), so I've asked some more of our pamphlet poets to share an aspect of their pamphlet-creating experience on this blog, to join our Poets on their Pamphlets series. I hope that this will be inspiring to people who are thinking of sending us something or in the process of assembling their submission.

Ruth Wiggins
This week, Ruth Wiggins explains what it's like to see the world in just two dimensions and considers the effect this might have had on her poetry. We published Ruth's debut pamphlet, Myrtle, almost exactly a year ago and we have always found her worldview uniquely bracing and reassuring, so it's fascinating to get a further insight into the way she writes.

* * *

What It's Like, by Ruth Wiggins

Against Perspective 
At this vantage I am
m    a    s    s    i    v    e
work the green with my fists
 like a suckling cat
guzzle up       g   r   o   u   n   d   w   a   t   e   r
draughts of sap 

I have a lazy eye, or as it's more correctly known, amblyopia. I can't see Magic Eye pictures and 3-D films are torture. It's quite common, but what people tend not to know is that it destroys depth perception. It doesn't affect my driving, but I have a sorry history of broken toes, ankles & crockery. When people ask what it is like to see the world in 2-D, I usually answer, 'It's like this!' (Holds flat of hand to face.) It is less like seeing the world, and more like colliding with it.

Perhaps inevitably, this has an impact on my poetry. Emma was very supportive when we were putting Myrtle together, and not least when I decided to open my pamphlet with a short, oddly-typeset piece called 'Against Perspective', a poem that had become something of a totem for the way I physically see the world.

What it's like... (photos by Ruth)
A friend once described my poetry as 'falling in', which fits because the world certainly feels that way. I find natural and urban landscapes equally absorbing. Things that move give me a sense of depth, which is great, but spiders are endlessly alarming. Tricky when the room you work in is spider city. I have always enjoyed photography, and tend to take wide aperture shots of something in close focus surrounded by a lot of edge blur, which feels like an extension of this.

When I look at the poems in Myrtle, I am struck by how many lines also bear out this wonky perspective: newly solid / with three dimensions of pink is some kind of wish-fulfilment; from which vantage point the ambush will spring, for 'ambush' read ANYTHING but particularly spiders; Curse the kindness of the rocks that jut, yet / will not wreck, demonstrates my need for trust in the solid universe; and Forces open the sky – any vista pretty much covers the impact of swooping birds. 

Although not a defining credo, I enjoy the precise aesthetic of the Imagist poets, largely because they have that same crashing-onto-the-retina effect. And I particularly enjoy poems that wormhole you into a physical world, such that you really arrive there. Poems that take you wading through the physical, in a way that is both sensual and abstract and which in turn pushes the brain to engage beyond the 'this is how it looked'.

Here are a few lines from Alice Oswald's tremendous poem 'Tithonus' that really encapsulate this idea of perception colliding with the universe –
the dawn // which is a wall of green // which is a small field sliding at / the speed of light // straight through the house and on / to the surface of the eye 
... and that is exactly what it's like.

* * *
Myrtle, by Ruth Wiggins, is available in paperback (£6.50) and ebook (£4.25). She keeps a blog at Mudpath.

Our open call for poetry and prose pamphlet submissions ends on 13th December 2015. Full details can be found here