Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Emma's speech at the 2018 Michael Marks Awards

I want to start by saying how happy I am that the Emma Press has been shortlisted alongside such a great selection of small publishers, all of which were founded in the last few years. I feel like we are part of a movement, changing the landscape of poetry publishing.

We have such power as small presses. We’re probably all running our operations on tiny-to-no budgets, pouring much more time and energy into our books than we could ever earn back in sales, but we also have the power to decide and redefine what gets to be seen as good and worth publishing, and this has an impact on poetry and literature in general.

By publishing our poetry pamphlets, we encourage poets to keep writing, we hold them up for readers and larger publishers to pay attention to, and we help to democratise an industry and an area of culture which can feel like it’s still too much in the hands of the elite. Poetry pamphlet publishing isn’t about following trends or supporting the status quo – it’s a radical act which is rightly celebrated here by all of us tonight.

The four pamphlets which I submitted for the Publishers’ Award were all from our 2015 call for submissions. Having seen from the inside, when I was working for a big publisher, how inaccessible and mysterious publishing can seem, and from the outside how closed-off and cliquey the poetry world can feel, back when I started the Emma Press, I’ve always been keen on having open calls for submissions, to try and be a friendly, welcoming place for people to send their work.

Our open calls have led to an incredibly high quality of submissions, and we’ve been very lucky to be able to add more and more pamphlets to our list which are varied in voice and yet still essentially Emma Press pamphlets.

[At this point I lost my nerve so I wrapped things up and got off stage sharpish. Here's what I was going to go on and say!]

You can buy these lovely pamphlets in our webshop
Julia Bird’s Now You Can Look is a poetic biography of a 1930s artist, telling the story of her awakening as an artist and the passion and heartbreak that accompanies her creative life. It's the third in our Art Squares series and Julia's poems are beautifully accompanied by complex repeating patterns by Anna Vaivare.

Simon Turner’s Birmingham Jazz Incarnation is an experimental sequence, with the poet running one poem through a series of formal rules. It’s part of the Emma Press Picks series and is illustrated with linocut prints by Mark Andrew Webber, with the artist echoing the challenge laid down by the poet.

Rakhshan Rizwan’s Paisley is part of the standard Emma Press Pamphlets series, our only unillustrated books. This is Rakhshan’s first pamphlet and I am so pleased that it has been shortlisted by the judges. Her poetic tone and the charged politics of her writing blew me away from the first read.

Carol Rumens’ Bezdelki is the tenth Emma Press Pick, illustrated by myself. It’s an exquisite collection of poems about grief and love.

I am so proud of all these pamphlets, and I’m really pleased to have the opportunity to tell you about them. It’s been a pleasure working with all the poets and illustrators, and I want to give a special mention to Rachel Piercey, who worked with all the poets on their edits, and Yen-Yen Lu, who worked on the publicity and launch events for all of them.

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I was very happy to see our friends at Guillemot Press awarded the Best Publisher Award, and then came the absolutely stunning news that Bezdelki had won the Best Pamphlet award! you can read the judges' comments here on the Wordsworth Trust site.

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Sophie Rowson on her work experience with the Emma Press

After recently completing my MA in Professional Creative Writing at Coventry University, The Emma Press gave me an insight into the publishing industry from a new perspective.

The work experience started off by getting a feel for day-to-day processes. I used my thoughts as a reader coupled with my experience as an editor to write a report on a short-listed pamphlet. The collection of prose used emotive ups and downs in a rollercoaster fashion. In order to maintain the flow, I suggested a tweak in its arrangement. This task got me thinking about what makes a piece the best it can be before it is published.

Publishing relies on publicity, the marketing of upcoming projects. I began considering appropriate places to gain supporters for the anthology of poems about Britain. During my research, the database became populated with names and contact details of possible buyers. A similar requirement meant considering the call for gothic poetry and places where it would be of interest.

Blog posts help gain followers and inspire writers. I considered what people would want to know about the call for gothic poetry submissions and interviewed the editors of the anthology. Thoughts on genre, writing tips and imagination fuelled my interview questions sent to them by email.

Everyone’s the Smartest, a new fantastical collection of poems for children, was to be published. This meant contacting a long list of bookshops with the AI (Advance Information, not Artificial Intelligence!). This is another form of marketing, and it meant ensuring that the bookshops have as many details about the book as possible in the hope that they will be willing to stock it on their shelves. Once we had received answers, I replied back with thanks, offering them the opportunity to ask any questions if required.
With an AI sheet about The Dog Who Found Sorrow and the book itself, I wrote my first press release. This gives a sense of the book in a creative and promotional way. This type of writing requires research skills and an understanding of structure; I enjoyed familiarising myself with it. I continued in this area, gaining more experience and feedback.

I then began my own blog post on the Gothic in order to let writers know what it means to me and why I love it. This will hopefully inspire them to write their own take on the genre and express their ideas through submitted poetry. Blogging in this way is something I definitely want to continue.

My time at The Emma Press has provided me with a strong starting point in my career after university. I’m extremely grateful for the support and the experience, it will be invaluable for my future in this field.

Friday, 26 October 2018

Second Place Rosette poets talk traditions and rituals in Britain

Sophie Rowson spoke to some of the poets from our newest anthology, Second Place Rosette: Poems about Britain, about some of their family traditions and rituals!


Kim Russell

Much of my early life was spent with my maternal grandparents, who did everything they could to help my parents and give me and my younger sister a memorable childhood. We had sparklers and Catherine wheels on Bonfire Night and pillowcases for Christmas presents. Nan would take us to watch the crowning of the May Queen and maypole dancing, and every summer she would organise one or two day trips on a coach to the south coast: places like Bognor Regis, Littlehampton and Margate. My nan loved beauty pageants and, if there was one on the television, we’d watch it and vote for our favourites. If there was one at the seaside resort we were visiting, she’d drag us along. I used to dream of being a glamorous girl with bouffant hair in a swimsuit and stilettos, but inside I knew that it wasn’t for me and grew up to be an ardent teenage feminist. 

Louise Walker

The summer holiday at the seaside must be one of the most enduring rituals in British culture and one I have loved since childhood. Nowadays, going to the sea is crucial to my writing ritual and the journey is the process which detaches me from the workaday world. I can’t think of much to beat waking up on the sleeper train from London Paddington and pushing up the blind to see Truro Cathedral while I eat my bacon roll. Or arriving on a tiny plane on St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly in evening sunshine and going at once to have fish and chips at Porthcressa, where my poem ‘An Ordinary Miracle’ is set. To an extraterrestrial visitor, those gathered around the small van parked facing the beach might look strangely solemn, while those inside move gracefully through their allotted roles. Apparently, as in so many rituals, there is a hierarchy: the young ones start by heating up squeaky polystyrene pots filled with vivid mushy peas, graduate to wrapping up the warm parcels, and then to the vital job of taking the orders to pass on to the chef, the high priest. From early morning joggers in Bournemouth to dog walkers on February evenings in Ramsgate, we are all compelled to turn our heads and contemplate the sea as we follow our cherished rituals.

Ian Dudley

On Boxing Day, the Headington Quarry Morris men perform the mummers' play St, George and the Turkish Knight. This is to commemorate the meeting on Boxing Day 1899 between William Kimber of the Quarry and Cecil Sharp the musicologist. Their encounter is credited with kick-starting the revival of Morris dancing in England.

The play is a farrago assembled from centuries-old source material, and tells the story of the patron saint of England (born in Lydda, Syria Palaestina or Cappadocia, but certainly not England) doing battle with a Turkish Knight. In the usual version of the play, St George fights and slays the Turkish Knight, and brings him back to life with the help of The Doctor. In the Quarry, the Turkish Knight kills St George and brings him back to life. Other characters with walk on parts include Father Christmas, Beelzebub, and Jack Finney.

On Boxing Day, the Morris men tour the play round the pubs in the Quarry. The side's final performance takes place outside their home pub, The Masons Arms, in Quarry Hollow. The hollow is a frost pocket, and the audience is shivering but enthusiastic. The performance, after the cast have spent the morning drinking, is not quickly forgotten.

Jo Brandon

My poem First-Footing is about a New Year's Eve tradition that my family used to celebrate. The poem itself became an exploration of luck and superstition and has a more cynical viewpoint than is true of me autobiographically. (I have quite a superstitious streak and knock on wood to keep all things well, so this ritual always appealed.)

Mum told us this ritual was a way to bring good luck for the following year, I don't know where she learnt it from – I should ask but some things blur nicely into family mythology. I do know that it's a ritual practised more in Scotland and Northern England. Different places attribute luck to different physical characteristics, a dark-haired man, for example, is generally thought to be lucky. So, on New Year's Eve just before Midnight we would gather in the kitchen and mum would have got a slice of white bread out of the bag and a piece of coal from the scuttle while my dad got his shoes on. I would hop from foot to foot in excitement, hoping that Dad made it out before the clock struck Midnight (it doesn't work otherwise). Dad would ceremoniously go out the back door and would bring the New Year in with him through the front, we'd close the doors quickly to stop all the heat getting out. It always made me feel like we'd swept out the past year and started afresh. Much more affirmative than the lists of resolutions I wrote and never kept.

Beth Thompson

Walking along Liverpool's waterfront and pausing to look out over the River Mersey. It's a ritual all Liverpudlians entertain and a special one to me. I have an early memory of cartwheeling ahead of my mum and grandma, who had laid out a picnic on the grass and were watching the ferry draw circles back to the terminal.

The waterfront is at once a sublime and meditative space, where the city looks out at the world and the world looks in on the city. In between is a sort of playground for expression and contemplation. At any moment, you'll find similar scenes: couples hand-in-hand, teenagers skating, somebody alone and lost in thought.

I like to sit with a coffee and watch these stories play out, each immersed in the same ritual – drawn to the river's edge. I visit regularly and I'm sure I will do so throughout my life, each time with different thoughts for the river.

I love the contrast between the opulence of the Three Graces, their lofty stare, and the harshness of the steel-grey river. It's as if the city's spirit, its blend of grit and glamour, is best conveyed here.

I think us Scousers are irrevocably connected to our city's landscape, an idea expressed in my poem, Liver Bird.

Rob Walton

For the first eighteen years of my life, I lived in Scunthorpe in North Lincolnshire.  For many of those years, in early January, I would read articles in the Scunthorpe Evening Telegraph about something known as the Haxey Hood.  There would be photographs of men in strange costumes.  Sometimes there would also be a news item on Yorkshire TV’s Calendar or the BBC’s Look North.

When I moved away and returned in the holidays, I would read about it all over again.

It intrigued me, but I always found it quite baffling.  I was a gormless townie and the Hood was a village thing beyond my ken.

My parents by then had moved to a small town, Crowle, which was only about nine miles away from the Hood, and I often thought of going, but the timing was never quite right.

Last year, at the age of 53, I finally got round to it. I went with my younger daughter to see it for ourselves.  We weren’t disappointed.  The atmosphere was great, people were friendly and there was something deliciously weird about it. 

Parts were gloriously British, parts were wonderfully unsettling and parts were too strange for Royston Vasey. 

Next year it’s on Saturday 5th January (it’s usually on 6th January, but it’s never held on a Sunday).  The Boggins, the Lord, the Fool, the Hood and the sway will all be there for your delectation and delight.

I’m going again, and I’ll probably write another poem about it.

Carolyn O’Connell

The poem I submitted for the anthology is On July 28th and recounts the annual ritual of my sister's birthday party when we were children. We were brought up in London but every year returned to the country where my parents were born.  It was always in the summer holidays and at the time of haymaking. Despite being 10 or 12 we joined in this ritual as other children had done for centuries before us. We would turn the hay with pitchforks that were often almost as long as ourselves with long spikes or gather handfuls of flower strewn dried grass: brown, sweet smelling and filled with dried flowers.  The dried hay was gathered from the fields on horse drawn carts and built into stacks in open barns.We loved the freedom this job gave us. Being in the open field on sunlit days, the smells of horses, grass, wildflowers and hedgerows are deep set memories together with the freedom and total change that children don't have today for its a forgotten way of harvesting.


Second Place Rosette: Poems about Britain is published on 8th November and is available to buy now now. 

Monday, 15 October 2018

Some gothic inspiration...

There are just four weeks left in our call for gothic poems, for an anthology edited by Nisha Bhakoo and Charlotte Geater. It turns out that Sophie Rowson, who's doing work experience with us at the moment, is a big fan of all things gothic, so we asked her to write a blog to give you some inspiration for poems in the run-up to the deadline. You can also read Sophie's interview with the editors here.

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Gothic places. Gothic stories. Gothic art. Gothic architecture. Gothic literature. Gothic music. Gothic films. Gothic horror. Gothic comics. Gothic people. Gothic past, present, future...

The Gothic.

Whichever way you look at it, gothic starts with a darkness. It explores emotions like fear and desire but in a range of complicated, unnerving and even sickening ways.

The Gothic was once a way to talk about the taboo by hiding behind symbolism. We continue to draw from the classics and renew them. Inverting, subverting and reimagining them. The Gothic genre continues to thrive and is watered by the timeless fears of humanity.

Take the innocent young girl. Let her feel uncomfortable desires. The treasuring of a horrible secret, a sickening transgression or a pulsing revenge that pushes her to the brink of her sanity... and the gothic seeps out of her. Especially if in the process of her creation you have questioned not only yourself, but everyone around you.
“There is something at work in my soul which I do not understand.” ― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein 
Highlighting the strangeness and inexplicability of life is part of the gothic. It takes a piece of reality and smudges colours of the imagination into it. This creates the hypnotically irresistible shade of the genre of the night.

The real and the make-believe swirl together to create meaning in exciting and horrific ways. We can explore the soul and the flesh, the soul leaving the flesh, the flesh without the soul...
“We seem to be drifting into unknown places and unknown ways; into a whole world of dark and dreadful things.” ― Bram Stoker, Dracula
Death. The most mysterious and uncharted of places. And yet, through the gothic genre, we can visit its boundaries often.

Ghostly figures, re-animated corpses and the familiar cursed creature, the vampire. He cannot starve to death and yet he thirsts for your fresh blood. He does not live, but he can be destroyed with a stake to the heart. If he really does lurk in the shadows, he might be impossibly fast and sickly pale. He might also have the power to hypnotise you.

The fear of the unknown and the unimaginable is both there and not there with the vampire. We know that by the vampire’s bite we can end up either dead or undead. We could either leave this world a human, or stay in it. As something entirely different.

That’s what we love about gothic. We love how it plays with the unimaginable. We want to be invincible, powerful, more than simply human. We want death to fear us instead of the other way around. And we want possibilities that make us unique and extraordinary. That’s why gothic characters are so compelling. We want to know their stories, what it’s like to be them. We want to watch how they deal with the darkness...

And for a short while, death is our amusement. For a short while it is a limit that may or may not exist.

And that makes it bloody delicious.


The call for submissions runs until 9th November 2018. Read the submissions guidelines here.