Posts Tagged ‘oxford’

The Keen Bean, a tiny coffee shop in Oxford run by poet and entrepreneur Will Davies, has just started a series of free poetry nights to promote small and independent publishers. Will was kind enough to invite me to curate the first event and I leapt at the chance; I’ve been planning some events to coincide with the publication of The Emma Press Anthology of Mildly Erotic Verse from September onwards and I was glad to be able to try some ideas out in front of a small audience.

The event, which took place on Saturday 3rd August, was a two-hander featuring Rachel and Richard, both friends of The Emma Press. Here are the introductions I wrote for the Keen Bean event page …

Richard O’Brien reading

Richard O’Brien is one of the most exciting and in-demand young poets around, popping up most recently at the BBC Proms. He won the Foyle Young Poets of the Year award in 2006 and 2007, and his debut pamphlet, your own devices, has almost completely sold out. He has a second pamphlet coming out in the autumn with Dead Ink, as well as one scheduled for January 2014 with The Emma Press.

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Rising star Rachel Piercey was President of the Oxford University Poetry Society and won the Newdigate Prize in 2008. She writes beautiful, lucid poetry and her illustrated pamphlet of love poems, The Flower and the Plough, was published by The Emma Press earlier this year. Last month she joined the editorial team on Cadaverine Magazine.

The Keen Bean pamphlets

With a line-up like that, I was pretty confident about how the poetry side of things was going to go, but I also felt pressure to hold up my end of proceedings. I made some hand-stitched pamphlets, so the poets wouldn’t have to shuffle bits of paper around on stage, and I planned an informal speech explaining the origins of the press. The Keen Bean had the intimate atmosphere sorted already, so all that was left was the running order. At the suggestion of Rachel, I organised her and Richard’s poems into alternating chunks of 2-5 poems, designed to work as individual segments but also to speak to the preceding and following mini-sets.

Rachel Piercey next to my banner

Richard and Rachel, as it turns out, have very complementary styles. Richard approaches his subjects with great intensity and depth while Rachel has a sparer touch, drawing out her often startling observations with deceptive simplicity. They share a love of form and a nice line in almost masochistic emotional honesty, and watching them alternate was like taking a too-deep breath in and then puffing it out too fast: both giddying and intense experiences, but in different ways. They were brilliant on Saturday, and I really hope we can put on this show again so more people can see it. The whole event went as well as I had hoped it would, not least due to the relaxed charm of the Keen Bean and Will Davies himself.

As mentioned above, there will be many more Emma Press events taking place from September onwards, so do sign up to the newsletter and keep an eye out for announcements on Facebook and Twitter. These will involve lots of the poets from the Mildly Erotic Anthology (available for pre-order here) and will be completely amazing, so start getting excited … now! If you wish you’d been at the Keen Bean event, you can check out the setlist below and even read some of the poems for yourself.

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The setlist:

Richard O’Brien Rachel Piercey

Scintillometry Songs about Louise Desire Path

At the arcade The corps Lilac tree Boys who take traffic cones Sea bed

More Sharks Than Ever Before Actaeon Munch’s Cock

On Rosebery Avenue Bath time Truth or dare

Ransom The Smell of Apples Orpheus

Know not me Ride Tonight, Matthew…

Magician’s Assistant Victorian Pornography

Family tree Symbiosis

Turns out it’s hard to get a book by an unknown author from an unknown publisher into bookshops, and it doesn’t help if the author’s a poet and the book doesn’t have a spine. I didn’t expect booksellers to be clamouring for copies of The Flower and the Plough, but it still made quite a change from seeing five-figure orders coming into the production department and being able to identify most of the books on the WH Smith’s bestsellers wall as from Orion. I felt like a trained corporate administrator reduced to the status of a bum.

After many rejections from some nice independent bookshops I’d approached, things started looking up when the Albion Beatnik Bookstore in Oxford agreed to take a couple. The Albion Beatnik is exactly the kind of place I’d imagined the book in: cosy and full of obscure titles and character. It’s the kind of bookshop you’d visit if you just fancied buying a book, any book.

I also sent some to Quimby’s, a very cool-sounding bookshop in Chicago which specialises in ‘unusual publications, aberrant periodicals, saucy comic booklets and independent ‘zines.’ I like the idea of my first publication going ahead to places I might visit one day. If I’m ever in Chicago I’ll definitely swing by Quimby’s, because it looks like a treasure-trove; check out this statement from the founder:

“I really want to carry every cool – bizarre – strange – dope – queer – surreal – weird publication ever written and published and in time Qvimby’s will. Because I know you’re out there and you just want something else, something other, something you never even knew could exist.”

I salute you, Steven.

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My friend Helen then suggested I try florists, which was a complete masterstroke. It’s not as though I expect every shop in the country to stock my books, but I do really want The Flower and the Plough to have a real-life presence. I want it to attract people who might not usually make a beeline for the poetry section of a bookshop, and until Rachel or I are household names the only way people are going stumble across this book is if it’s displayed in shops, facing forwards. It’s a tactile, beautiful object and the poems are so fantastic that I think my main hurdle is getting people to pick the book up in the first place; once they’ve looked at a few pages they’ll see how wonderful it is.

I emailed some independent florists asking if they’d like to sell a book of love poems alongside their flowers and a few replied saying yes, they would love to give it a try. Libby Ferris Flowers is a gorgeous, friendly shop in central Norwich, which my aunt recommended to me. Daisies is the fanciest flower shop in Oxford, up in Jericho. I remember going there once as a student in a frantic search for red carnations. Zita Elze Flowers is a magical greenhouse-style grotto near Kew Gardens, which looked all the more magical when I went to deliver the books in the snow last Friday.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I went into Magma in Covent Garden, where I used to go on my lunchbreak when I was looking for birthday presents. I was lucky enough to speak to a man who turned out to be the owner and he agreed to give it a go too, and to display the book in the gift shop instead of in the Magma bookshop where it would just get lost.

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So I’m thrilled. I count my blessings like Pokémon and I feel very lucky that the Emma Press’s first book is on sale in six real-life shops. What’s more, these are six gorgeous, independent shops run by people who are passionate about their business and willing to take a chance on a small, hopeful, poetry press. The best kind of shop, then, so if you’re passing by any one of them, do go inside and take a look.