Friday, 5 May 2017

This week at Valley Press, #53: 'Bless this Handbag'

Dear readers,

This week was filled by the pursuit and registration of two exciting new titles, recruiting one more person for our burgeoning team, and behind-the-scenes prep for two more big bits of news – but I can't announce any of that today!  It'll all be detailed in some future newsletter; there's enough happened this week to fill five editions.

Meanwhile, Helen Burke and her fans are chomping at the bit for her Collected Poems, which we've still not finished. I'm going to commit to weekly updates on that book until it's in your hands, starting now:

Currently we're doing the typesetting, which used to involve bits of metal type but now refers to designing 'the bit inside the book, where all the words live' (that's what I tell people, if they ask). As with most aspects of this title, we've taken the hardest route, and are attempting to individually centre each of the 250+ poems on its particular page – they're still aligned left, of course, but the resulting block of text is then centralised, a process that has to be done pretty much by hand.  That's our usual style, and it looks great; but it's not quick. For a standard poetry book I'd set aside a few solid days for this stage, and Helen's Collected is no ordinary book!

The next step is adding the many illustrations we have planned, which brings its own challenges – I'll speak about that next week, perhaps.

* * *

In other news: details of Norah Hanson's reading in Scarborough have been confirmed, her first here for a couple of years. It starts at 6.30pm, on May 18th, in Wardle & Jones bookshop on Bar Street. Tickets are £5 and include a drink, and can be procured by visiting the shop or calling 01723 353260. Hope to see some of you there.

As a company, we've been a bit lax on events recently, and I'm thinking about dipping my toe back in the water. I'd like to put on a recurring series of nights in Scarborough, each featuring a VP author, but currently have no good ideas for a format or a catchy name. If you're a local person who'd attend such events, why not get in touch and let me know what would get you out of the house on an evening/afternoon? (If you're not local, apologies for essentially wasting your time for two paragraphs!)

On a final note, I'm pleased to report that petition I mentioned a couple of weeks ago soared past its target – partially thanks to you lot, so well done! Follow the Shaw Mind Foundation and Headucation to keep up with the progress of that issue, if interested.

I feel like I still haven't done enough for Helen Burke fans today, so please accept another great poem by Helen at the end of this newsletter. Another busy week ahead, see you on the other side!

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher

Bless This Handbag

by Helen Burke, from Today the Birds Will Sing: Collected Poems

At crucial moments of my life
you will find me ironing.
A trick learnt from my mother.
She always smoothed things out,
made peace between warring parties.
Now, the only creases left are around her eyes.

We meet in town, for coffee
and some sort of a cake.
She says she’s taking sugar in tea again,
and perhaps I should.
I don’t look well. Much too pale.

I manoeuvre the talk onto politics.
The Gulf, the Catholic viewpoint,
the new outlook on water births, legalising pot.
Undeflected, she overrides me with
a brief statement on
meringue and eggs you couldn’t get in the war, then
back we go to my own queer pallor.

I wish I’d put more blusher on.
She toys with me like a footballer, playing me back and forth.
Or as if we’re in a trench and she can constantly order me
over the top.
The confrontation is endless.
I wish I could learn this trick from her.
I wish I knew how the war could be won.
I wish I could eat meringue that fast.

I will my cheeks to glow with health as
she leads me across the No-Man’s-Land of
combinations and corsetry, of
hosiery appliances and multi-size inner soles.
Everything the colour of a rich tea biscuit.

Playfully, she tweaks at a string vest as we pass.
‘Call that a changing room? I wouldn’t send a dog in there.’
Like a russet bomb, her handbag is ticking.
It is bright scarlet, goes with nothing that she wears.

Patiently, she shows me something that doubles as
an omelette scoop and a thing for killing wasps.
‘If you’re going to wear green for God’s sake, do it on a Wednesday,’
she says,
and leaves it at that.
We narrowly miss a rail of pinnies.

Slowly we make our way to the bus stop.
Even this much walking is too much now.
I promise to eat more, but to smoke
and go out less.
She waits for the bus, handbag clutched stoically.

Inside it I can glimpse
two tins of rice pudding
and a bottle of Lourdes water – in case of emergency.
She climbs onto the bus. Hands me a separate package.
It’s the third tin of rice pudding.

Even as the bus rounds the corner
I can still see the handbag, gathered to her,
its words of wisdom
like a million sun’s rays, glinting, fabulous.
Eradicating all conflict, going over the top.

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