Thursday, 11 August 2016

How a Poem Changed my Life: the Beginnings of the Emma Press

I started the Emma Press when I was twenty-five. Up to that point, I had tried very hard to live sensibly, but then a quick succession of events jolted me into the realisation that playing it safe held its own risks, and perhaps I didn’t know as much about life as I had thought.

So I quit my job as an ebook production controller, resigned myself to living in Winnersh with my parents again, and decided to start from scratch. What did I love? I thought I might try to make a living from sewing or illustrating, and then I read a poem by an old school friend and was gripped by the desire to make other people read it too. This poem – 'Bonfire' by Rachel Piercey – resounded with me as I read it on either side of an impossible relationship, and I wanted to share it with other people who might be navigating similar emotional binds. Here are the opening lines:
I have felled
all the trees in my wood
to keep you going, […] 
Anyone can post a poem online, but whether anyone will read it is another matter. I decided that the best way to encourage people to read the poem was to create a little book on beautiful paper which could be thrust into people’s hands. A book that would be a pleasure to open and read. It turned out that I knew enough about book production to create a book (and an ebook), and so 'Bonfire' became the centrepiece of the first Emma Press pamphlet: The Flower and the Plough by Rachel Piercey.

The Flower and the Plough
Nearly four years on and twenty-seven books later, many things have changed. I live in Birmingham now, with my own office, and I’m never just working on one book at a time. Everything is larger-scale and longer-term, but I still have the same feeling about everything I publish. From individual poems in anthologies to the single-author pamphlets, I want to shout about them all from the rooftops, and share them with as many people as possible. I’ve gone from safe living to ludicrously unsafe living, trying to build a self-sustaining business on poetry, but I love what I do and I hope the books I publish bring a similar joy into readers’ lives.

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This article was originally commissioned for ARTEMISpoetry Issue 16, May 2016.

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