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.