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 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.
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.
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.
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.
The setlist:Richard O’Brien Rachel Piercey
Scintillometry Songs about Louise Desire Path
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
If you were just kicking yourself for not having made it down to Lower Marsh Market during office hours on a Friday recently, then stop kicking yourself. I’ve been enjoying the market very much, so you now have another month in which to wander down and get your hands on some poetry books which you might otherwise have had to order online, or maybe never seen at all. These are beautiful, tactile objects, so I would recommend strongly against forgoing this experience – these books have to be seen and felt to be believed, and where better to browse than in a sunny street in South London under a gazebo presided over by ME?
NEW DATES:Friday 12th July, 11am – 4pm Friday 19th July, 11am – 4pm Friday 26th July, 11am – 4pm Friday 2nd August, 11am – 4pm
As for the kinds of books I have to offer, there is of course The Emma Press’s The Flower and the Plough, resplendent in pink, and also a variety of books from the following independent poetry publishers:
* Donut Press. Donut Press has been producing beautiful poetry pocketbooks since 2001, when book-selling colleagues Andy Ching (editorial) and Liam Relph (design) joined forces to create a small publishing dream team. They are based in Devon and are publishing Murder Bear, by W.N. Herbert in the autumn.
* Sidekick Books. Sidekick Books was founded in 2009 by Jon Stone and Kirsten Irving, both award-winning poets. They publish anthologies with themes as diverse as Japanese monsters and British birds. They are currently working on Coin Opera II, a poetry anthology about video games, which was funded through a successful Kickstarter campaign.
* Valley Press. Valley Press is a dynamic Yorkshire-based publishing house, founded by writer and poet Jamie McGarry in 2008. Valley Press recently published the poetry produced by official Glastonbury Festival poet-in-residence Kate Fox and will be publishing an anthology of the winning short stories from The Big Issue In The North New Writing Award.
So the number of people who regularly buy poetry books is decreasing. On the other hand, the population of the earth is on the up. The way I see it, there’s everything to play for. With that in mind, I will be running a poetry stall at Lower Marsh Market from Friday 14th June, selling The Flower and the Plough and a variety of Emma Press cards and postcards. I am also delighted to be selling books from a few other independent poetry publishers whose work I admire. These are:
Donut Press, a Devon-based independent press run by Andy Ching and Liam Relph
Sidekick Books, a poetry press run by Jon Stone and Kirsten Irving in London
Valley Press, a literary publisher based in Scarborough and run by Jamie McGarry
I’ll be presenting the poetry books as ‘the perfect gift,’ both for other people and as a personal treat to oneself on a Friday afternoon. They are all beautifully-designed and presented, and at £5 – 10 for potential mind-blowing and bliss-inducing language, cheap at the price.
I want to challenge the idea that poetry is inaccessible or ‘difficult,’ and that you need a literature degree to understand and appreciate it. Some poetry is difficult and inaccessible, but it’s difficult and inaccessible to everyone. At its best, poetry can be comforting, challenging and life-enhancing, sometimes all at once, and its place should be in everyday life, not just in English lessons and the rare moments when one has psyched oneself up to really concentrate.
I hope the gift-shop context will help with this, and to bring the idea home I’ve challenged some artists I know to produce affordable (£10) art squares inspired by a selection of poems and lines I picked out. Sometimes a way into poetry can be through a line or phrase that speaks to you, so I hope by isolating some of these and representing them in prints or sketches or stitches that people will be encouraged to look up the full source poems.
I can’t wait to have all the books and art squares laid out in front of me, and I’ll be updating my Facebook and Twitter pages with news from the market and my responses to the books from other publishers. If you’re in London on any of the dates, do come by and say hello. Lower Marsh is just behind Waterloo, so it’s very accessible, and you can grab a drink at my favourite bar while you’re there too.Dates (11am – 4pm each day): Friday 14th June Friday 21st June Friday 28th June Friday 5th July Friday 12th July Friday 19th July Friday 26th July Friday 2nd August
I launched my call for submissions to The Emma Press Anthology of Mildly Erotic Verse in February and have since had the pleasure of being introduced to people at parties as an ‘erotic publisher.’ After two years of seeing faces drop or go blank in response to ‘ebook production controller,’ this comes as quite a relief, and the work that goes with it isn’t bad either. I’m never stuck for something scandalous to read on the train, and the acronym ‘NSFW’ has lost all meaning for me.
But setting oneself up as an erotic publisher is not without its pitfalls. . .[Read the full article on the Erotic Review website]
When I first came across Aunt Elsie’s Secret Market, I thought it might be a cult. A sandwich board chalked with an owl and an arrow caught my eye on the way to meet a friend in Reading last year, and I weighed up the thrill of following a mysterious sign up into an office block against the embarrassment of falling for some textbook cult trickery. Would I have learned nothing from watching both the Children of Barabbas and Life Mechanics storylines on Neighbours in the 90s? Then my friend arrived and curiosity got the better of us, and boy am I glad it did. Aunt Elsie’s is AMAZING. It’s lovingly curated by Suzanne Stallard from local arts charity Jelly and full of gorgeous stalls selling everything from ceramics to vintage clothes to handmade fabric accessories to books by local presses. Ahem. . . I knew I wanted to be part of it and was insanely excited when my application was accepted for the Spring Fling event in the marketplace at the beginning of May.
I’d had one experience of having a stall at a fair before, but not on this scale. This time, I felt more confident about setting up my table and I was pretty pleased with my new signs, knocked up on some canvases from Hobbycraft the night before. I wanted to create some height on the stall without bringing my entire remaining stock of The Flower and the Plough, so I built a little wall from some of my favourite books, which I thought might come in handy if footfall was low during either of the days.
As it happened, I didn’t have time to pick up a book once. People kept stopping by to read the cards and leaf through the The Flower and the Plough, and often they wanted to chat about the poems or how I was finding being a new publisher. One lady read the Catullus postcard the whole way through and was astonished by how apt the line ‘Oh kiss me all the way to the tattoo parlour!’ was for her daughter, who’d married a man with a sleeve tattoo and subsequently had her own arm tattooed to match. Another lady read the Napoleon BonaCard and couldn’t believe that this ardent declaration had come from the same man she’d studied at school.
Selling as I do mostly online, it was lovely to be able to see people’s reactions to the book and my cards and brooches, including the new cards I’d made just in time for the Spring Fling and the brooches I sewed on the Friday, as a non-aggressive way to occupy myself while people were browsing my table. Since my last craft fair, I’ve refined my business plan to focus more on publishing rather than having a gift shop, but I enjoyed running the stall so much that I really would like to do it more often. To that end, I’m going to have a stall at the Lower Marsh Market (behind Waterloo) every Friday from 14th June for a month as a kind of pop-up shop, to see how it goes. I’m hoping to sell Emma Press products as well as books by other small poetry publishers and poetry-inspired affordable art by some very talented artists I know. It’s going to be AMAZING.
My favourite bookshop, the Arkadia International bookshop, is only two minutes from a church built inside a rock, on Nervanderinkatu in Helsinki. At first glance, it appears to be a small but arty, cleanly-designed book boutique, with neat shelves and several tables and sofas dotted about. Half bookshop, half gallery, perhaps.
Step inside, however, and you will learn otherwise. I stumbled upon Arkadia last month with a friend, having intended to visit it at some point but not having looked it up on a map. We wandered in hesitantly and were welcomed by Ian Bourgeot, one of the proprietors, who suggested we might want to take a tour of the shop, all bajillion rooms of it. For it turns out Arkadia is not a one-room book boutique but in fact a veritable empire, stretching out far underground in a network of rooms all filled with secondhand books and gizmos. A man on a sofa recommended we take a butter eye bun and leave a trail of crumbs in case we got lost.
So we went down the stairs and discovered a wonderland. It was as if someone (ok, Ian and his wife Liisa) had asked themselves, ‘What are all the best things in the world?’ and come up with books, company, space, music, nice surprises and good lighting. There was a sense of neatness and everything having its place, but also enough intriguingly-labelled cardboard boxes and cubbyholes to make it feel like we were discovering it all for the first time. The first room contained a billiards table and a children’s section, a globe and several bookworms deep in study; the next was lined with boxes of blockbusting authors; from the third poured a lugubrious old English man’s voice, which turned out to be an audiobook; the fourth was a light and charming meeting room; and the fifth was a chapel. For quiet contemplation and the drinking of wine.
If I were pressed to describe the Platonic ideal of bookshops, I’d come up with pretty much an exact description of Arkadia. This aptly-named establishment isn’t just a bookshop; it’s an M&S, Carlsberg-made, glacially-proportioned utopia, where people can go to browse, hang out and study, all in beautiful surroundings and hosted by the delightful Ian and Liisa. They hold events nearly every evening, ranging from lectures on international politics to poetry and jazz, and if I lived in Helsinki I know I would be there all the time. Do yourself a favour and swing by if you’re in Helsinki, or maybe go to Helsinki just to visit Arkadia. I promise it will be the highlight of your trip (assuming you love books and/or people).
I thought that the Anthology of Mildly Erotic Verse would be my first erotic publication, but quite a few people have observed that the title of The Flower and the Plough is pretty erotic too, along with some of the poems within. Embarrassingly, this hadn’t occurred to me at all, but since working on the Erotic Anthology I’ve become a lot more alert to potential erotic content and if anything I’ve gone too far the other way, seeing eroticism in everything.
So far, the best submissions for the anthology have done exactly what I asked for in my brief and surprised me, both with their treatment of all matters erotic and in their interpretation of what can be erotic in the first place. It’s not that I equate eroticism with novelty, but it’s hard to be excited when you know exactly how that flower metaphor is going to unfold. None of that in The Anthology of Mildly Erotic Verse, which is shaping up to be an utter delight. I can’t wait to start sharing it with everyone in September, but until then here are four things I didn’t expect to be erotic, either to me or other people. Then roll on September, when you’ll never look at wolves or peanut butter or cassette tapes in the same way again.
7 Minutes In Heaven with Mike O’Brien, guest starring Patricia Clarkson
All of Mike O’Brien’s videos in this series are gold, so funny and charming and always surprising. O’Brien takes the central premise of the American high-school sleepover game and expands the scope of what one can get up to within a cupboard (mini dramas, hard-hitting interviews, musical breaks) while clinging doggedly to the original and best occupation. He gets the best out of all his guests, whether they’re comedians or just celebrities, and the humour is never uncomfortable or cruel. I love the ones with Seth Meyers, Amy Poehler and Kristen Wiig, but for sheer and incredible eroticism you have to watch the Patricia Clarkson episode. It is sexy and hilarious. ‘Are you really gonna kiss me?’The photo of John Steinbeck on the Kindle screensaver.
Obviously the worst author portrait in the Kindle screensaver series is Emily Dickinson. No-one wants to pick up their Kindle and see her massive black eyes staring out at them. When I worked in ebook production and carried a Kindle around with me, the usual reaction to Emily Dickinson was to shudder and flip the switch, except for one time when I was told by a co-worker instead to ‘stick it on that saucy little picture of John Steinbeck.’ Sorry, what?Gene Kelly in a bodysuit in An American In Paris
Gene Kelly didn’t immediately strike me as an attractive man when I first watched his films as a teenager. He was sturdy and safe, jolly and enterprising, which somehow didn’t add up to hotness when I was fifteen. However, there was this disturbing bit in An American In Paris where Kelly recreates a Toulouse Lautrec drawing and does a waggly kind of dance which irresistibly recalls Ned Flanders in a ski suit.Tegan’s eyebrows in the music video for Closer
Eroticism is all in the tiny details.
One of my main motivations in setting up the Emma Press was to create the means by which I could bring great writing to a wider audience. As soon as I read Rachel’s poems I wanted to package them up appealingly and tell everyone to read them, and I’m looking for the same response in myself to submissions for the Erotic Anthology. Once I’ve found something I love, I want to share it with as many people as possible. With that in mind I give you … five terribly romantic and wonderful things.A book: The Morning Gift, by Eva Ibbotson
Don’t be put off by the classic ‘random girl’ YA cover and don’t read the blurb on the publisher’s website. Or rather, you can read the blurb but before you start thinking this is just another romance, with a marriage of convenience which unsurprisingly turns out to be more than that, consider one thing: it’s by Eva Ibbotson. Eva Ibbotson didn’t do trashy romances set against the dramatic backdrop of whatever. Eva Ibbotson wrote uniformly magnificent novels spiked with pathos and wit. Her children’s books are a riot, and her adult romances possibly the best ever written. They’re all amazing, but The Morning Gift is my absolute favourite, possibly because the story was closest to the author’s heart (the historical setting is somewhat autobiographical) and this really comes through.A music video: Elephant Gun, directed by Alma Har’el
I must have watched this at least thirty times. I love the song by Beirut, but oh my god the video. It’s a Bacchanalian fantasy full of loose-limbed dancers, antique maps, elephant masks and people falling over. All the dancers are stripped down to their braces and shirtsleeves or petticoats and stockings, and Zach Condon is sporting an exquisite bouffant hairdo. It’s exuberant, bonkers fun and utterly beautiful.A song: Cherish, by the Four Tops
I first came to this song through Glee, but it was combined with a Madonna song such in a way that excised all the best lines. I didn’t begin to really love it until I found this heartbreaking version by the Four Tops, with backing vocals from the Andantes.A poem: Symbiosis, by Rachel Piercey
It’s hard not to make judgements about people depending on which poems they like best from The Flower and the Plough. I’m probably offensively wrong 100% of the time, but it does seem like Symbiosis is especially popular with people in happy, stable relationships (that’s a nice judgement, so it’s ok to make, right?). Or it could just be that it’s a lovely poem and people are responding to that. Either way, it’s gorgeous and we made a video so people could enjoy it aurally as well as visually.A bar: Bobby’s Bar, Bob Bob Ricard, Soho
I believe you can create a romantic atmosphere anywhere, though it helps if you have the right lighting (dim), furniture (sturdy, high-quality materials) and background noise (definitely some, though hushed). Bobby’s Bar helpfully provides all three, along with friendly staff who take your coat like you’re royalty even if you’re wearing a moth-eaten jacket and a too-short skirt. It taketh with the other hand, however, by being incredibly pricey (£10.50 for a cocktail).
If you want to read more romantic things, try matching the lovers to the love letter in a quiz.
I’m very excited to announce that the ebook for The Flower and the Plough is available for purchase now in the shop, both on its own and in a bundle with the printed book. If you’re used to buying your ebooks through online retailers with proprietary devices, you might not know how to load ebook files onto your devices manually. Hopefully the instructions below will make things clearer, but if you have any problems feel free to send me an email, preferably with some screenshots to show me what you’re seeing.Files
You will receive a .zip file which you’ll need to extract/unzip before the files work correctly (some computers let you see inside the zipped folder, but the files won’t function properly). This folder contains two folders:
The third option makes the folder too large to upload on my systems, but if you email me after your purchase I can send it to you too, if you want it:One labelled ‘Old Kindle,’ containing a .mobi file which is intended for the 1st- and 2nd-generation Kindles (see the Wikipedia page for more details). This is the most basic file. E-reading devices
If you have a physical device, you can load the appropriate file onto it by plugging the device in, opening the folder and dragging and dropping the .epub/.mobi file into the ‘books’ folder. Or, if you have email set up on the device, you can send the appropriate file to it via email and open it up within the device.
If you don’t have a physical device but would still like to look at the ebook, there are many options available to you. These are the three I’m familiar with:Adobe Digital Editions, which you can download here. Once you’ve downloaded this, the icon next to your .epub file should change to the ADE icon and when you double-click on the .epub it will open up in ADE. The main thing people find confusing about ADE is the registration screen which appears when you first open it up. This asks if you want to sign up or register, and (unless you want to have ADE managing your ebooks on your computer) you can just skip this step. Kindle Previewer, for if you feel more comfortable with Amazon products. You can download it here. Once you’ve opened the screen, just drag the .mobi file onto it and it will open up. The whizzy thing about this (for me) is that you can view the file as if in the various different devices. For my ebooks, definitely use the second .mobi file and select Kindle Paperwhite or Kindle Fire for your viewing options.
Calibre, which you can download here. Again, once you’ve opened up the program, you can just drag your .epub straight into the middle of the screen
So, give it a go, and if it doesn’t work or you have problems with the files, send me an email at editor [at] theemmapress [dot] com and I’ll do my best to help.
NB: there’s no DRM on my files, and if you’ve bought several copies of the book and given them away as presents, you can of course give them the ebook as well.
I often find myself zoning out at poetry readings. A terrible habit, and partly a hangover from attending early-morning lectures at uni, but I think it’s also because I absorb dense text better visually. I wish they’d project the words onto the screen behind the poets so I could engage more with the text, and with that in mind I’ve created a video for Symbiosis, one of the loveliest poems in The Flower and the Plough. I’ll be showing it at the launch next week, but I’m so excited I want to share it on my website right now. I hope you enjoy it!
If you want to see more of The Flower and the Plough, you can read the knockout poem Bonfire here.