Resident Strides: Small Press Poetry in the United Kingdom

22 February 2012

The small-press scene is vast and multifarious. So, I’d rather discuss an exciting sub-scene with great authority, than the entire thing ignorantly. In recent years several unfunded, but economically viable, publishers have emerged, and they are more interested in promoting the poets and poetry they love, at any cost, rather than beating the drum for their own houses. We do not commit our poets to contracts, we cooperate in the dissemination of our titles, we share our experiences, our strengths & our resources, and we quite often publish the same poets in the same month in order to bring them to the widest possible audience. These are, in my opinion, the most important publishing houses in Britain:

The Other Room, (Manchester / Liverpool), http://otherroom.org.

The Other Room publishes an annual anthology of the poets that read at its bimonthly reading series at The Old Abbey Inn. They also run an invaluable web page, which provides essential information for poets and poetry fans. This is an important event, because the social gatherings after the poetry readings have given birth to Knives Forks and Spoons, Department, If P then Q, Zimzalla, and Openned. This event is coordinated by Scott Thurston, James Davies and Tom Jenks. If you want to get an idea of what we are all trying to achieve, then their anthology is a good place to start.

Zimzalla, (Manchester), http://zimzalla.co.uk.

This is the most exciting press in the world at the moment. It is Tom Jenks’s baby, and it publishes what he calls ‘avant objects’. The press is heavily influenced by Fluxus and B. S. Johnson. My favourite objects so far are Richard Barrett’s poems in medical sample vials, and Grzegorz Wroblewski’s post punk visual poetry coasters.

If P then Q, (Manchester), http://ifpthenq.co.uk.

James Davies is without doubt the most indefatigable editor with the greatest attention for detail that I have ever encountered. He publishes two absolutely perfect poetry collections a year, sometimes supplementing these with an avant object — the most recent of these is ‘Poet Trumps’, which has caused some controversy.

Department, (Salford), http://departmentpoetrymagazine.blogspot.com.

Richard Barrett set this up as a punk-rock style fanzine for the poetry scene he loves. Simon Howard came onboard at issue 5, when Richard was thinking about quitting, and injected a bit of enthusiasm and some cash. They are now an irregular publisher of chapbooks and collections of poetry by poets that they admire.

The Red Ceilings, (New Mills), http://redceilings.blogspot.com.

The Red Ceilings and Knives Forks and Spoons started out at about the same time, and existed in symbiosis until mid 2010. Mark Cobley used to publish a poet’s work as an ebook, and I used to publish it as a paper book. However, in 2010 he ventured into print and hit the ground running with his beautifully designed A6 pamphlets.

Oystercatcher Press, (Old Hunstanton), http://www.oystercatcherpress.com.

Peter Hughes runs this fantastic pamphlet publishing house from an old coastguard’s cottage on the Norfolk coast. Oystercatcher and The Arthur Shilling Press were the two publishers responsible for reinvigorating the pamphlet in the UK. Also, Oystercatcher have done more than any other press to bring the writing of young avant-garde poets to the attention of the British Establishment.

The Arthur Shilling Press, (Ogwell), http://arthur-shilling-press.blogspot.com.

I used to think that the editor was called Arthur Shilling, but he’s called Harry Godwin. When Richard Barrett and I were discussing setting up Knives Forks and Spoons we decided that we wanted to do a Northern version of Arthur Shilling Press. So, basically, we just stole Harry’s idea. Harry was the first to publish many of the poets that are now giants in our scene.

Shearsman, (Bristol), http://www.shearsman.com

Technically, this is a Major Press, but Tony Frazier is probably the most important figure in British publishing today, and he is always willing to help another press. He has revolutionised the industry by introducing ‘Lean Management’ principles (the Toyota ‘Just In Time’ system is perhaps the best known) from other industries. So, instead of a publisher tying all their capital up in a print run of 200, which will take 12 months to sell, the publisher only gets a book printed once an order has been received. This means that the publisher can move on to the next project immediately, rather than waiting 12 months for a return on their investment. This is the system that has allowed Knives Forks and Spoons to publish so prolifically.

Other publishers of interest are:

Anything Anymore Anywhere, http://www.anything-anymore-anywhere.com

Crater, http://www.craterpress.co.uk

Openned, http://www.openned.com

Holdfire, http://holdfirepress.wordpress.com

Personally, I believe that this fraternal approach to publishing is fantastic for the poet. The careers of Joshua Jones, S. J. Fowler, Rebecca Cremin and Bobby Parker have sky rocketed in a very short period of time, thanks to the intense exposure that has been lavished upon them by collaborating presses. I sincerely hope, that whilst we all continue to grow, we can maintain this very special relationship and carry on promoting poetry with the same intensity and enthusiasm.

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