Thursday, 9 November 2017

"Although they’re enthusiastic and inspiring, they’re also tough and challenging": Jacqueline Saphra on publishing her art square pamphlet If I Lay on my Back I Saw Nothing but Naked Women

Over the course of our call for pamphlet proposals, we'll have some of our existing pamphlet authors writing about their experience of having a pamphlet published with us. Here, Jacqueline Saphra talks about publishing If I Lay on my Back I Saw Nothing but Naked Women, our first 'art square' pamphlet!

If I Lay on my Back I Saw Nothing but Naked Women is a sequence of prose poems that evolved over a number of years. The first poem I wrote is the first one in the book, and was inspired by reading Charles Simic’s The World Doesn’t End. I still think it’s the best volume of prose poems I’ve ever read. I was particularly enchanted by the surreal quality of Simic’s imagery and the way he is able to create a strong emotional reaction in me without bathos or strain. The poems are often humorous (as life is) but don’t try to avoid difficult subject matter.

I wanted to emulate those qualities and off I went. Of course there is a strong autobiographical component to the poems although I made a lot of stuff up, as I always do.

When I started, I had no idea I would be writing a whole sequence, but early in the process I had the conviction that I wanted the poems to be illustrated; the visual aspect was always uppermost in my mind when I was writing them.

There are not many (if any) publishers doing what the Emma Press is doing – using visual art as an integral art of their publications to enhance or partner the written word. I was lucky enough to have a poem in their first ever anthology, of Mildly Erotic Verse. I remember meeting Emma and Rachel in a café in Wapping to discuss the poem (how many publisher do you know who would actually go to that sort of trouble?), and finding their enthusiasm totally infectious. I believed in this new publishing venture from the outset.

So when The Emma Press put out a call for pamphlet submissions, I knew they would be a perfect fit. Imagine my delight when not only did they accept my work, but suggested a whole new form of book, the ‘art square’, to accommodate it! Rachel and Emma are a wonderful combination, each with a unique perspective and although they’re enthusiastic and inspiring, they’re also tough and challenging. They edit meticulously. I felt my work was safe with them.

Emma also found me the most wonderful illustrator, Mark Andrew Webber who was working with linocuts at the time. He and I spent a delightfully uncanny afternoon together while he described the visions he had as I read each poem in turn. And a couple of months later, we had more images than we needed and were able to pick and choose. Emma takes a huge amount of trouble over the type of paper she uses, the typescript and the appearance of the book. I couldn’t have been more delighted with the final result.

The book has been on quite a journey since then. Composer Benjamin Tassie wrote some ‘miniatures’ for ‘cello and piano and we had a live show to perform, which went on to the ‘Best Collaboration’ award from the Saboteur awards. A number of the poems from If I Lay on My Back I Saw Nothing but Naked Women are to be found in All My Mad Mothers from Nine Arches Press, which came out this year. In fact it’s been a two-book year for me, and because I love cross-genre work, I wrote a sequence of sonnets about the iconic photographer Lee Miller, which have been published alongside her photographs in a chapbook from Hercules Editions called A Bargain with the Light.

The latest news is that All My Mad Mothers has been shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize (she says, casually, not feeling casual at all). Thinking back over the last fifteen years that shortlisted collection hasn’t come out of nowhere. I’ve had vital help and encouragement all along the way from poet friends, poet teachers and editors from all the indie presses that have published me. I’m especially proud to be flying the flag for small presses in this year’s T.S. Eliot prize and immensely grateful to The Emma Press for giving me this opportunity to fully realise this slow growing project and for creating the beautiful book that came out of our collaboration.

If I Lay on my Back I Saw Nothing but Naked Women is available to order on our website. You can also find out more about our call for prose and poetry pamphlet submissions here.

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