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 we have Alison Winch talking about her pamphlet, Trouble!
When a poem is working, I’ve touched on something honest. There is a catharsis in this; a ‘yes’ moment of release. That honest thing might not be clearly visible and it might take a year for the poem to be in a finished state, or to understand what that honest thing is.
Getting to that ‘yes’ moment means cutting through the pervasive feeling of shame: Who do I think am, writing poems? Why not do something urgent like clean the toilet, go on Facebook, make a felt collage of my exes’ genitals? Feeling shame is part of the process of sending poems out to the gatekeepers of the poetry world – the audacity!
My poems have characters who inhabit places I might be too afraid to. My alter-ego ‘Alisoun’ is appropriated from Chaucer, and she is shameless, about sex, her body, her relationship with god. There are others – Wife, for example – who is trapped in a fog of humiliation, disgrace and penis envy.
I was talking this morning to a friend, Sophie Herxheimer, about honesty, shame and writing. We collaborate and have a 100% success rate with the poems we’ve written together and sent out – all two of them. One was published by The Emma Press. It was part of Amy Key’s vivid Best Friend’s Forever poetry anthology that travels the varieties of intense and complex experiences in female friendship. We wrote the poem via Skype.
That the Emma Press were open to uncomfortable, ambivalent or ugly feelings connected to women’s experiences made me more confident about sending them work. The poems mean a lot to me, and I wanted an editor that I could trust and who could work with their vulnerability.
Emma set up her own press in a cut-throat industry and her courage, as well as her creativity, is impressive. I found out that Emma and Rachel had accepted the poems when my son was two months old. It was a bolt of joy in the miasma of puke and postnatal fragility/resilience that I was existing in at the time.
Emma and Rachel have an acute awareness of how they want the pamphlet to be, while simultaneously offering their authors a lot of autonomy. They brought their production and editorial expertise with grace and friendliness, and I always trusted that the book would be beautiful. We picked the final poems in a pub in King's Cross while my son climbed the walls.
Sophie offered to do a drawing for the cover and I was made up when Emma agreed. We continue to collaborate (look out for that box of tiny frozen hands!) and it’s ace to have Sophie’s work in my book.
I saw the pamphlet for the first time at its launch in June 2016. It was both humbling and exhilarating. Rachel’s scrupulous editing, Emma’s gutsy production and design, Sarah Howe’s sensitive and colourful introduction, plus Sophie’s art, all came together to create something stunning.
One of the very cool things about publishing a pamphlet or collection is the level of engagement from readers you know and don’t know. I thought it would be excruciating to read a review (actually, I didn’t think about it), but it’s astonishing to connect to another person through poetry; it’s why it’s worth persisting in the feelings.
Trouble is available to order on our website. You can also find out more about our call for pamphlet submissions here.