At almost the end of the year, a moment of reflection and a few thank yous.
In 2019, I’ve been lucky enough to have had a few poems make their way into anthologies, journals, magazines and websites. Thank you to everyone at The Blue Nib, Coast to Coast to Coast, The Cormorant, Greenteeth Press, The High Window, Marble, Maytree Press, MIR, Patrician Press, Under the Radar and Visual Verse for looking after my meandering thoughts.
If there’s a theme that links many the varying pieces I’ve had published this year, it’s nature. Nature regularly makes its way into my writing – it’s hard for it not to, given where I live and that, well, nature is all around us. It would seem hard to leave it out – if you step out of the house and have your eyes open, well, there it is. Nature is where we live, even in the city, and place is a constant source of inspiration and exploration in what I do.
But when I’ve been submitting my work, not all the poems I’ve sent out have been about place and nature. It looks as if, for obvious reasons, poetry’s editors and arbiters are prioritising nature as a theme at this time when the climate emergency has made so many headlines. Let’s hope that as the trend continues, we let nature live and don’t seek to elevate our own position by making reference to it. There’s a long and bourgeois tradition of writers claiming ownership of place and nature by writing it. Let’s look to John Clare and JA Baker, and see how they handle the natural world, and not lurch into smugness. That’s the last thing we need.
Throughout the year I’ve been gradually edging towards completing a new collection of poetry. In the last few days I’ve sent off a manuscript to a trusted editor/poet/publisher for a first opinion. It’s the first time I’ve done this. In the past, inviting comment on my writing has been done in a much more ad hoc manner – via informal conversation and through comments after readings. My next set of work is quite wide-ranging in style and, perhaps, formally challenging. Some poems in the new collection have already been published, but others haven’t yet found a home. I don’t think some of them are particularly ‘on trend’ – not when I see what’s being published in some of the mainstream journals that, with good reason and commercial sense, often seek to foreground topics and experiences that touch on the big issues of the day.
This presents challenges. Mainly, ‘Who’s going to publish it?’ As I run the Dunlin Press imprint, along with my wife Ella Johnston, I’m lucky to have a readymade and supportive outlet. I’ve always been drawn to such a DIY sensibility. Some of my favourite poets (and bands, artists…) publish through their own labels. Many always have. It’s quite a responsibility, but it also provides opportunities for creative control that are hard to achieve if there are third parties involved. While small, independent presses are numerous (good!), using your own press to be published is frequently looked down upon. It tends to invoke sniping and small looks of disgust. Get over it. Be good. Put it out. Job done.
There are potential downsides, of course. Achieving objectivity and quality control can be difficult, so you have to be hard on yourself and have a good team around you. You don’t get the kudos of being able to say that someone else published you – yeah, but you get the kudos of being truly independent. You don’t get the benefit of another publisher’s financial clout – well, show me that publisher and I’ll talk to them, and if they still let me do what I want to do, then we can maybe shake hands on something.
Remember though, that the arts wouldn’t have half the good stuff it does without the resourcefulness of people doing it for themselves through radical, independent means of production. And so I think it’s highly probable that the new collection will be published by Dunlin Press. Can’t wait.
Cleaners from Venus
Talking of independent artists… it has been a pleasure for Ella and I, in parallel with what we do with Dunlin Press, to have had a hand in the publication of The Greatest Living Englishman, the second memoir of musician and poet Martin Newell – from the Cleaners from Venus. The book is at times an utter riot, and at times incredibly poignant, and takes us through two decades of life in pop’s independent, lo-fi, DIY margins, all the while making a series of cult records in the tradition of great English rock ‘n’ roll. Recommended.
And finally, thanks to all the 38 contributors who we published in Dunlin Press’s latest anthology, Port. Through the late autumn and early winter, we’ve had launches and readings in Aldeburgh, Kendal, London, Colchester and Manchester. It’s made it a great end to the year.
Here’s to the next one. Happy wintery bit, y’all.