Sunday, 22 May 2016

This week at Valley Press: 'Looking back'

Dear readers,

I had a great time on Tuesday night discussing the history of Valley Press on Chapel FM, with four VP authors (as pictured above by Marcos Avlonitis). If you missed it live, and could do with something to listen to, you can hear or download the programme here – there are some brilliant readings of poems from Some Things Matter, Cinema Stories, A Family Behind GlassQuick, The Learned Goose and an as-yet-unreleased book by Helen Burke (who was there in spirit).

This is going to be quite a 'retrospective' newsletter, particularly after that hour of 'looking back' on the radio – so you might like to read an article about Reward for Winter first, perhaps the most thoughtful engagement with that book so far. "I would dearly love to see this collection on some poetry prize lists, it deserves to be," says the reviewer. Judges take note!

Now back to the past. Felix Hodcroft's collection Life After Life After Death was first published in May 2010, when I was still a student, then reissued in 2011 in a somewhat tidier edition. It's been reprinted again this week, a few millimetres taller and wider, using all the design skills I've picked up in the last five years. It's looking great; this is a book I've loved re-visiting, and of course (with lots of copies now sitting around in VPHQ) I must encourage you to do so too...

You can buy the book here, and save £3 by entering discount code LALAD at the checkout. I've put a sample poem on the site, 'We Fought', which like much of the book is a perceptive and utterly honest character piece; I'll end this newsletter with another one, on the (only slightly) less harrowing subject of baked potatoes.

If you've been following our work for a while, you'll have read a lot of great poems, which will be handy for my next request. Once upon a time, I planned for the 50th Valley Press book to be an anthology of the preceding 49, but before I could get round to it, we sped on past the 60th and 70th ... now we may hit 100 before the end of the year, and I'd like to use the already-registered 'VP50' title before that happens.

I'm now thinking that VP50 should be a collection of the best (or at least, most popular) poems from all the books that have preceded it; and to decide what those are, I'll need your help. If you have the time, please reply to this email and let me know your favourite poems published by Valley Press – I'll start a list, figure out what order they should go in, and keep you updated on that project as the weeks go by.

See you next week – enjoy the potatoes.

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Jackets ‘n’ Skins

by Felix Hodcroft

Vinegar-soaked chips were for waltzing her home after ten or twelve pints…
Skewering roasties with her parents’ posh Sunday cutlery…
And tender charlottes drizzled with pepper and oil
for dinner parties on the patio…

But what are baked potatoes for?

His Gran had served them charred crisp,
fluffy inside and golden with butter and love –
and cheese and beans too, if she’d won on the horses.

He finds himself lately, frequently baking potatoes,
late home from the office to a cold, silent house.
Softened up in the microwave
then into the oven and blasted into submission –
but never as tasty as
he recalls or expects,
nor as comforting ate on your own without grandma’s –
or for that matter anyone’s –
eyes dancing eat it all up, it’ll
warm you all the way down!

See, he’d always wanted everything now!
Grabbed stuff, dolloped on loads and
then ate it too fast.
Burnt lips and, afterwards, indigestion.
And an empty plate in an empty house to stare at
all evening long.

Walks a lot, now, for hours and miles, through the rain.
One day, steps through the fog and the anthracite smoke
into a small café with a greasy plasticate menu
with spuds in their skins.
Wouldn’t have chosen it had there been
anything else even remotely to savour.
A long wait, he
wouldn’t have put up with but
where else? What else? And anyway,
why the hell not?
His mind drifting back to the charlottes and roasties and chips,
to how life was before.
His hunger dully stirring.

Then she brought it out to his table, steaming and bubbling and soaked and scented with
butter and salt, cheese and sauce.
She said here, get that down you, then, love and
cheer up, it’s what proves God exists, this –
and wants us to be replete
if we can’t be happy!

d’you know what?
She was right.
Even him
and right down to the very last mouthful.
Could have eaten another.
But knew how important it was that he didn’t.
At any rate, not today.
He had the whole of the rest of his life
to work up an appetite

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