Thursday, 30 November 2017

"My poems have characters who inhabit places I might be too afraid to." Alison Winch on publishing her pamphlet with the Emma Press

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.

Friday, 24 November 2017

This week at Valley Press, #82: 'Eggs and baskets'

Dear readers,

Whenever I think we've reached our peak, in terms of events, projects and activities, Valley Press finds a new way to get even busier and send its poor overworked publisher running back to his desk. Not today though; I'm resting up after a bad cold to see if I can make it to yet another glitzy award ceremony in Scarborough this evening. (I'm up for 'Young Entrepreneur' against two bakers, which is a bit of a conflict as I love food and books equally, and am keen to support anything that encourages more baking...)

Today's newsletter is a textbook example of what working on several projects at once looks like, which is also a key topic in this week's 'Friday Morning Meeting' podcast (they're going to be fortnightly, if that hasn't been made apparent before). Towards the end, in what's probably my favourite part, we deconstruct the 'eggs in one basket' idiom – how many baskets/eggs are ideal? Would an egg and spoon race be preferable? We also compare managing a publisher to playing Tetris... it's not all metaphors though, don't worry!

If that's not enough snazzy, 21st-century digital media for you, I also have three videos from Wendy Pratt's Gifts the Mole Gave Me launch event to share. As you can see from the header image, it was held in our favourite room at VP HQ, and attracted a sizable and enthusiastic crowd (hooray!) Wendy had two brilliant support acts, so you have three poetry videos to watch if you feel inclined: Caroline Hardaker, Oz Hardwick and then Wendy herself.  (Enjoy some positive heckling 1min 40sec into Caroline's video, courtesy of perhaps the keenest newsletter reader of all, who also gets some decent airtime in the podcast. You know who you are!)

* * *

There are two books I need to give a serious plug to this week, and the first is Quantum Theory for Cats, which you may recall is being launched at Waterstones York, Friday 1st December from 7pm. This is a debut pamphlet from Ian Stuart, who cites Stevie Smith and Robert Frost as his main influences. Like those literary heavyweights, he champions the art of 'complex simplicity'; the poetry can be witty and wry, but remains serious about its interest in the human experience.

Time I wheeled out a poem. This is one of the more understated pieces, but one that lingered with me long after I first read it:

Phone Call

‘Do you remember, years ago,’ he said,
‘we met up in some bookshop. I was with
my sister. She was quite impressed with you –
said you had a gentleness, an air
of understanding – and a lovely voice.’

‘That’s nice,’ I said, yet knowing as I spoke
I had no memory of that day at all.
It wasn’t me they’d met.

The conversation ended, but he stayed,
my doppelganger – kindly, gentle, calm –
the kind of man I once hoped I’d become.

I look for him each morning in the mirror
and sometimes catch a glimpse,
but then he’s gone.

Ian's pamphlet was the one book this year where I decided to handle every stage of production myself, harking back to days long gone by. I didn't draw the cat on the cover though, that was the work of – fun VP trivia alert! – Ben Hardaker, husband of Caroline Hardaker, our most recent pamphlet author (and in fact Caroline did some of the shading on the final article). Quite the supportive little community we have here!

The next book in our schedule, while also filed under 'poetry', couldn't be more different. Verse Matters is our second big 2017 anthology, and has involved two distinguished editors, cover design by rising star Mandy Barker (of Sail Creative), typesetting by internationally famed text-wrangler Gerry Cambridge, and includes new material from the following writers:

Liz Berry, Bashar Farahat, River Wolton, Shirin Teifouri, Rachel Bower, Sai Murray, Malika Booker, Helen Mort, Vicki Morris, Char March, Mimi Mesfin, Jacob Blakesey, Hannah Copley, S J Bradley, Nick Allen, Wendy Pratt, Jo Irwin, Charlotte Ansell, Warda Yassin, Louise Clines, Catherine Ayres, Ethel Maqeda, Katherine Henderson, Sez Thomasin, Beth Davies, Hollie McNish, Laurie Bolger, Shelley Roche Jacques, Kate Garrett, Debjani Chatterjee, Amy Kinsman, Carol Eades and Suzannah Evans.

Some very familiar names in there, and some exciting 'emerging talent' too. It's all inspired by the legendary Verse Matters spoken word night in Sheffield, and we'll be heading to that fair city on the 14th December to enjoy a launch event, featuring many of the writers mentioned above. Details of that are here.

It seems worth adding that, thanks to the generosity of the editors, all royalties from the book will be split between ASSIST Sheffield and the Cathedral Archer Project in Sheffield, two great causes worth looking up. More on this book next month.

* * *

If all that hasn't quite satisfied your appetite for literary engagement (you really are insatiable), there's also an in-depth review of John Wedgwood Clarke's Landfill on the Manchester Review, with Ian Pople giving that book the serious attention it deserves. Time to hang up my keyboard now, but I'll be back (inevitably) next week, to start the countdown to you-know-what. Plus, there's still time to squeeze in one extra book this year, that I haven't told anyone about yet...

All best,
Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher                                   

Thursday, 23 November 2017

"Writing into a space remains the most exciting writing time I’ve had." James Trevelyan on publishing his pamphlet with the Emma Press

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 James Trevelyan talking about his pamphlet, DISSOLVE: to LA.


I don't think I write good poems. Perhaps it’s an affliction of many an emerging - and probably established - writer: self-critical, confused, downbeat; overwhelmed by the weight of other people's good poems: memorable, affecting, published! 

Consequently, at various times I struggled to see myself with a publication of my own. Pamphlets for a debut writer seemed to me on the whole to be a short collection of your best work to date; your stepping stone to that first book. It wasn’t something, no matter how many submissions I sent out in hope, that I felt I was particularly close to achieving. 

That was until I went to an Emma Press launch for John Clegg’s Pick Captain Love and the Five Joaquins - a mesmerising short sequence telling the strange tale of mistaken identity in the American Wild West, performed in its entirety by John with musical accompaniment. This is what I thought a pamphlet could, maybe should, do. There was a joy in the work, a vibrancy in a story that John wanted to tell. And he chose to do so via poetry, because that was the medium that it needed to be in, the one that could bring the most nuanced, profound and humorous take on the tale. 

I left that performance buoyed - as sometimes poetry events can do - that perhaps I wasn't all that far away. I had stories to tell too. I thought back to those poems I'd felt most joy writing and wondered could I do something with them, could I write more?

Flashback scene 

I wrote my first action movie poem a couple of years before that, at the tail-end of my MA. A coursemate had brought a poem in the voice of a minor character in a Shakespeare play - an apparent poetic tradition about which I hadn’t been aware, and one that I was instantly intrigued by. Weeks later I was attempting to write a screenplay (failed) and was reading the Terminator II script to see how James Cameron had presented long periods without dialogue. There I discovered a character named LLOYD. With only one line and little screen time - and certainly no real need to be named in the script - LLOYD, I thought, would be the perfect subject for a response to my newly-discovered form: a minor character poem in something I’d spent two decades unknowingly studying - loud movies. I wrote one for HAWKINS, the first of many ill-fated characters to die in Predator, the following week and found I’d hit on a way of exploring a number of the ideas I’d wanted to in poetry through these characters. 

Sometime later

I remembered these poems as I left John’s launch, deciding to write a few more about different films and send some of them to the Emma Press in their next submissions window. Having my proposal for a Pick accepted was an exhilarating and daunting moment. I wanted to write at least 10 more poems, and needless to say I’d not written more while Emma was considering it. But writing into a space remains the most exciting writing time I’ve had. That someone had confidence in my work, and had agreed in principle to publishing it, meant a huge amount and completely freed up the process. For the first time, I felt like a writer. 

Bringing DISSOLVE to: L.A. to publication with the Emma Press was a wonderful journey: a collaborative, creative and rigorous process, led by a few crucial meetings with Emma and several editorial emails back and forth with Rachel, honing lines into shape, forcing rewrites and cutting some poems altogether (sorry Robocop). It was very special to me that Emma herself was illustrating the pamphlet. I remember screenshotting the fleeting glimpses of the characters I’d written about and sending them to Emma. A day or so before the pamphlet went to print, Emma sent along the final PDF. Where there had been blank pages before were perfect illustrations of these characters I’d spent so much time with, whose moments on screen had passed by in seconds, now inked next to my poems: Cougar’s stickered helmet, Benny taking cover, Lloyd’s arms up in surrender. It is just a small part of the Emma Press’ attention to detail and care displayed in visual form, traits I am grateful to have been shown through launches, festival readings and general bonhomie from publication to the


James looks knowingly at the horizon. He discards the toothpick from the corner of his mouth, lowers his aviators to the bridge of his nose to regard the setting sun. He looks knowingly down the barrel of the lens, at us. Slow-mo extreme close-up. He winks. 



DISSOLVE: to LA is available to order on our website. You can also find out more about our call for pamphlet submissions here.