First pressings (2)..Bob Horne and Calder Valley Poetry

First pressings (2)..Bob Horne and Calder Valley Poetry


First off, I hope you all had a good Christmas…and it is nice to see you all again, always. Second thing: I need to declare an interest. I have nothing but respect and gratitude for all those selfless souls who run themselves ragged to put published poetry in your hands, but I owe a special debt to today’s guest, who is not only a very good friend, but also the publisher of my fourth pamphlet Outlaws and fallen angels which appeared early this year. So I know at first hand the painstaking attention he pays to every element of the business of putting your poetry on the page. I am biased; no getting away from it.

But just consider the achievement of Bob and his Calder Valley Poetry in 2016. And remember that in 2015 it didn’t exist except as an idea based on a chance conversation. Here’s the list of this year’s titles:

Outlaws and Fallen Angels                 John Foggin                 Jan

Werewolf                                            Steve Ely                      April

Pennine Tales                                      Peter Riley                  April

The Raven and the Laughing Head     Mark Hinchliffe           May

Glamourie                                           John Duffy                   September

A Poor Kind of Memory                      Stephanie Bowgett      November

Not bad for the first year, is it? But as I say, I’m not impartial. Right. On with the post. As with the post featuring Caterpillar Poetry, it’s based on a list of questions sent out some weeks ago.

If you could kick off by describing what you’ve done so far, that would be nice. A story is always a nice beginning. Then tackle the following questions. If it’s OK, I’ll then create the illusion of a dialogue, as though we’re both sitting in a room, with cake and coffee. That sort of illusion.


There seem to be hundreds of small poetry presses about, and I imagine they struggle to make a living, competing as they do for what is essentially a niche market;something led you think: there’s room for another. What was the trigger that persuaded you to set up your own publishing venture?

Publishing had been on my mind for 12 months, since a conversation at The Albert Poets with Stephanie Bowgett and John Duffy.  I asked why they hadn’t published anything since the 90s. They’re both such good poets that it seemed odd to me. They both replied, immediately, that they couldn’t be bothered with all the hassle. I thought then, well,  I can be bothered on your behalf. I then helped Simon Zonenblick  with Nuala Fagan’s chapbook Not All Birdsong, and thoroughly enjoyed the design and editing parts of the process, which is when I decided I’d set up my own small press. Actually, I think I was intending to continue assisting Simon, and he suggested I set up my own. I came up with the name Calder Valley Poetry, wondered how and when I’d get going. In October 2015 I had a brief conversation with a chap name of Foggin.

Me: “Who’s your next publisher?”

Fogs: “You if you want.”

And that was that.

How about the poets you’ve chosen? Did you have any particular criteria, or were you blessed by happy accidents?

(I guess I should ‘fess up to knowing something of the answer to this in advance. When Bob was one of my first guest poets for the cobweb in 2014, I explained how we came to work together. Here’s the link, so you can also pick up on Bob’s own poetryif you haven’t already encountered it:

“Here’s a story of a reunion. When I was an English Adviser in the late 80’s and early 90’s, the job become increasingly dispiriting as we were pushed away from the business of professional development in schools, and into the miserable business of inspections and clipboards and tick lists. One of the things that kept me going was finding the funding to work with a committed group of Secondary Heads of Drama.  It kept me sane, but it would have been an uphill struggle without the enthusiasm of Bob Horne and the other heads of drama. Then I got early retirement, and that was it for twenty years, until I met Bob again at a Monday workshop session of the Albert Poets in Huddersfield. And twenty years was an eyeblink.

Since then, we have somehow found ourselves running The Puzzle Hall Poets Live monthly sessions , now at The Blind Pig in Sowerby Bridge. If you live in West Yorkshire, or in Pennine Lancashire, here’s an open invitation. First Monday of the month, starting at 8.00pm. Guest poet on Jan 9th 2017 will be the wonderful Ian Duhig. Come along!

The point is that we met at The Albert Poets which is how we both came to know Carola Luther…who will soon be a guest poet on the cobweb…..and also John Duffy and Stephanie Bowgett, who already have been“.

And here’s Bob’s reply. In case you thought he wasn’t going to get to answer.)

I decided to have two short pieces of blurb/endorsement on the back cover of each pamphlet.. Steve Ely and Kim Moore wrote a few sentences each for Outlaws and fallen angels. Steve, who I’d never met, got in touch to say he had a pamphlet he wanted to publish. Was I interested? Of course I was. That turned out to be Werewulf. Steve asked Peter Riley for a blurb, and there was a repetition of what had happened with Steve. Peter got in touch to say he had a pamphlet of poems based in the Calder valley. Was I interested…? That’s how Pennine tales came to be the third title in the series.The fourth publication was Mark Hinchliffe’s The Raven and the Laughing Head. Carola Luther had approached me on Mark’s behalf at about the time Outlaws came out. Next was John Duffy’s Glamourie. I’d intended to approach John but he beat me to it one evening in The Sportsman. The sixth pamphlet is Steph’s A Poor Kind of Memory. I approached her quite early in the year and asked if she’d allow me to publish her. And she did.


Of all the lovely small poetry press publications, which are the ones that you particularly like yourself, and why?

Tell us something about your design choices. Did you consciously decide you wanted a house style? Did you have any models that you wanted to borrow from?

Happenstance is the one that caught my eye, really because I liked the feel of the paper. Helena Nelson uses good quality paper. To me that says the contents, the poems, are valued. They’re special. She also designs the pages well. The poem has a dignity on the page. Part of the same value, respect, given to the product. (Helena Nelson deserves to be Dame Helena for the way she runs Happenstance, for what she does for poetry.) I also liked the Poetry Business pamphlets for the way they’re put together. (Not suggesting PB is a small press!) The contents are stapled to strong card, then the whole is wrapped in a dust cover, again in good quality paper, and this hides the staples on the spine. It gives the pamphlets an attractive appearance that belies their simplicity. These two ideas are what I’ve based CVP pamphlets on.


I’ve mentioned this already  that we used Palatino for Nuala’s chapbook. I like this but I prefer Garamond because it has a bit of eccentricity about it, such as the italicised upper case leaning at a slightly different angle to the lower case ones. It has a flourish without being ostentatious. I’m not keen on Ariel, Times New Roman, Calibri and such for poetry. To me, they’re for reports, documents, maybe novels. I’ve been delighted at the response to the appearance of the pamphlets I’ve done so far. People with no need to say anything have been complimentary. Reviewers and blurb-writers with the experience of Roy Fisher, Sheena Pugh, Billy Mills, have all complimented the design and appearance.

I stand by my original aim to come up with a good quality product. It must look good at first sight, and it must feel good when the pages are opened. I’ve been gratified by the number of positive comments about both the appearance and the design. As far as design is concerned, I think (as you’ll appreciate) it’s something which is second nature to a teacher. We’ve been doing this since the banda days, haven’t we? I work on a common sense approach. A poem which takes two pages must be on opposite pages; the first line of its second page must be at the same level as the first line of the poem; the lines are indented 1.27 cms; the titles are in 18-point italic. I don’t want more than one poem on a page, even if some poems are short. To me, this demeans the poems which share the page. You’re giving the message that they are of less importance than poems which have their own page. Each page must look ‘clean’. The poem must sit comfortably in it, not look as though it’s been forced into place.

Tell us something about the snags you encounter…how about how you set about the business of marketing, about getting the brand out there. It may be that it’s something you feel a bit at sea with. How do you get folk to review the stuff, for instance? How do you feel about the business of competitions for small publishers…stuff like the Michael Marks, for instance? Riff on this topic as you feel appropriate

I’ve just changed printers. The first one was very good in the way they helped someone who had little idea of the pitfalls to sort them out. However, there were a number of growing niggles with certain aspects of the quality of the product. No one has mentioned these minor issues but I can see them when I look at some of the pamphlets. Occasionally things had to be sent back to be done again. It reached the point where I wasn’t easy in my mind about them, would wake up in the night worrying about the things that had gone wrong, and could go wrong in the future. I’ve changed to a company I know through local history publications. They’ve done Steph’s and I’m delighted with the result and with the concern and interest they have shown.

But you asked about snags. Because of a software blip which we didn’t notice till it was too late, they’re reprinting the pamphlet, which will mean recalling what we’ve sold and replacing them with new ones. The printer has bought an additional piece of software to ensure this doesn’t happen again. One of those things.

I’ve also displayed some naivety in deciding on print runs but I think I’ve reached the ideal number now. The thing is, I’m not concerned with making a profit. Breaking even would be nice but that’s not going to happen in the first year. I look on it as a hobby, and hobbies usually cost something.

I’ve sent out a number of review copies to various people and organisations. Sheena Pugh reviewed Werewolf and Pennine Tales, The North reviewed Outlaws and Werewolf. Billy Mills has just reviewed Pennine Tales. (A few folk have reviewed PT; can’t remember them all.) Greg Freeman did a lovely article in Write out loud on the first four. Michael Longley, Carol Hughes, Christopher Reid have all said nice things in print about The Raven and the Laughing Head. Peter Sansom has just been in touch to say he’d like to feature Pennine Tales in The North, and he asked for copies of John D’s and Steph’s, so I suppose he might have them reviewed.

Steve Nash helped me, and continues to help me, with a website – – and did a wonderful job. One of my problems is keeping up with the information that I ought to be putting there. I see now why poets’ websites always seem to be out of date. It comes at the bottom of the priorities. I know this is wrong, and I should be doing all sorts of things to attract people to the site so that they will look at The Bookshop page and buy something.

For me, design comes first. I’ve always known that I wanted to publish the manuscripts which have been sent to me, so the first job is to see how they fit into the appropriate format, usually A5. When that’s done I can look at the poems from the point of view of editing. Here I know I can be a pedant but I don’t think I’ve caused offence yet. I love that email dialogue with the poet as the collection approaches its final state and we submit to the printer for a proof. There’s a growing excitement that something worthwhile is being created. The arrival of the copies prior to the launch is a humbling moment when I realise that I’m merely the agent, a kind of midwife to perhaps years of solitary creativity, with all its anguish. It’s an honour to be the backroom boy.

I should be perhaps more concerned with competitions aimed at publishers, but I’m not. I did enter Pennine Tales for the Michael Marks because it’s the only one which was within the competition limit of 36 pages, and it’s so good. I’ve heard nothing so it can’t have been placed. All I can say is that there must have been some outstanding pamphlets published in the past twelve months

 What next? More in the pipeline?

(The minute I asked this question, I was prepared to be surprised by the reply. But not as surprised as I actually am….as you will be when you run you eye down the list of poets lined up for next year. Here we go!)

Untitled                                                           Neil Clarkson

Damaged Gods                                               Simon Zonenblick

Scaplings                                                         Michael Haslam

I Refuse to Turn into a Hatstand                     Charlotte Wetton

Untitled                                                           Tim Murgatroyd

Untitled                                                           Ross Kightly

What I Like about Daleks                                Nigel King

Untitled (Motorway Service Station Poems)  Winston Plowes and Gaia Holmes

Crow Flight across the Sun                             Mike di Placido

Jesus of Mexborough                                      Ian Parks

Untitled                                                           Tom Cleary

I’m also chatting to Alison Lock and Natalie Rees. (Don’t think I’ve missed anyone out there. Early 2017 will be busy because it’s possible that the first six in the above list will be published before Easter.

(and if that hasn’t taken your breath away, get yourselves to a doctor)

 Any advice for them as fancies doing it? If you could have done anything differently, what would you have done?

If anyone should fancy taking up publishing in a small way I would say just do it. For me the only downside has been that I’ve hardly written anything all year. I think about publishing now, not about writing poems. I regret this and probably need to organise my weeks so that I have days for writing. But it won’t happen until next summer. The way I’m thinking at the moment is that I’ll publish the list above but after that I’ll limit myself to three or four a year.


So there we are. My thank you to all small poetry presses/publishers, and to two in particular…Bob Horne and Simon Zonenblick. And thank you to all of you out there who support the whole business of making poetry. See you very shortly, in 2017 xx

First pressings (1)..with thanks to small publishers, and to those who run poetry nights

First pressings (1)..with thanks to small publishers, and to those who run poetry nights


It’s been a busy old week, apart from Christmas trees, and untangling Christmas lights, and remembering where they all go. IT’ll be time any moment now to get the boxes of clockwork wind-ups down from the shelf in the study and put them under the tree…the annual homage to Russell Hoban and The mouse and his child. If you want the story behind this, you can have a look at a post from last Christmas. Or the one before. Here’s the link.

Where was I? Ah, yes; a busy old week. Wednesday I was reading at the Loom Lounge in the great mill complex of Dean Clough in Halifax. This was for the Square Chapel monthly poetry event organised by Keith Hutson. I’ll come back to him in a minute.

Thursday I was up the Calder valley to where it gets dark and narrow in Todmorden…it was the final monthly reading at Kava Kultura which Anthony Costello set up three years ago, and which has hosted more fine poets than you can shake a stick at. A bitter-sweet night, then, for many of us, but lovely to sit in one of the nicest coffee houses you’re likely to encounter in the company of folk like Anne Caldwell, Peter Riley, Zaffar Kunial, Keith Hutson (again), Simon Zonenblick, Clare Shaw and Kim Moore (who was giving the last of the poetry lectures that are one of the unique features of Kava readings). Basically, at least half the audience were published and accomplished poets, and none of them were reading. Egos left at the door. Wonderful.

Saturday afternoon I was reading at Word Club at the Chemic Tavern in Leeds. This is run by the indefatigable Mark Connors. All the Otley poets were there. Matthew Hedley Stoppard was there. Four hours flew by. They really did. Were there highlights? For me it was the delight of meeting two new voices for the first time, each on the open mic.. One was Alicia Fernandez. First language, Spanish; she writes with a lovely clarity and an authentic voice. And she channeled Pablo Neruda and name-checked Robert Jordan (For whom the bell tolls). Wow. And then there was Ian Harker who not only writes with an assured touch, but who also created lines and images that lodge in your mind as you hear them. His poems sound light, anecdotal, but they are layered, rich and moving. Imagine a poem about hamsters named after former Leeds United stars which sets them in a much bigger and altogether problematic universe ‘out there’. And one poem about a scientist/poet friend of his that should win prizes as well as move you to tears.His first collection will be out in 2017 and I’m looking forward to singing its praises.


So. The first bunch of thankyous. To Keith Hutson, to Anthony Costello, to Mark Connors, and to all the hardworking, generous folk who run poetry clubs and open mic.s, and give a platform to folk who hardly know yet whether they’re poets or not alongside the accomplished and much-published. And also to all the hardworking bloggers like Kim Moore, Josephine Corcoran, Robin Houghton, Ben Banyard and all the others who do a similar job of letting new poets be heard, and finding their voice. God bless you, everyone.

And now to the main business of the day. The small presses. The ones who publish so much of the poetry on my shelves. The poor bloody infantry of poetry publishing. The ones who do it for love, (the ones like Sarah Miles and Paper Swans), much like the wonderful folk who do a similar job with their poetry magazines (take a bow Brett Evans and Prole).

It may be invidious to leave anyone out, but if I put everyone in, there’d be no time for the post. So take the wish for the deed. Just believe me; I’m grateful.


If you’ve not come across them yet, I’m going to introduce you to Caterpillar Poetry, (Simon Zonenblick) first, and Calder Valley Poetry (Bob Horne) who were generous with their time, and wrote honestly and expansively about the business of setting up and running a small poetry press. I’ll come clean and say that they are good friends of mine, that they have both been guest poets on the cobweb, and that none of that makes a scrap of difference when it comes to my admiration for what the do and have achieved.

(interjection at this point. I’ve just spent an hour or so editing what they sent me, and realised I’ve enough for two posts. I was going to cut and paste to give the illusion/effect of a three-way conversation. But I just made an editorial decision to let each editor to tell his own story uninterrupted, and to keep the post to a manageable length. So just for know, we’ll go with Simon’s story, and I’ll share Bob’s just before Christmas.)

Simon’s story

If you could kick off by describing what you’ve done so far, that would be nice. A story is always a nice beginning. Then tackle the following questions. If it’s OK, I’ll then create the illusion of a dialogue, as though we’re all sitting in a room, with cake and coffee. That sort of illusion.

Well, I had always entertained the idea of publishing volumes of poetry, both because I know how hard it is to find openings to get published, and because it struck me as an exciting thing to do.  I have aways had an interest in self-publishing, since I was a child.  Over the years I turned out various typed up booklets of poems and stories, and I loved reading about people like the Black Mountain Poets and Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Pocket Poets the whole DIY idea.  I love independent record labels and have always been inspired by the way things like Factory Records just kicked off from the back of a fag packet, without any resources, completely unaffected by the “rules.”  So, I just enjoy publishing and am actually surprised I haven’t done more of it!

My first Caterpillar Poetry publication was my own pamphlet, Little Creatures: Poems of Insects, Small Mammals and Micro-organisms, on 8th April 2013.

That autumn I published a further slim volume, Dream Sequence.

November 2015 saw my first publication of another poet’s book – Not All Bird Song by Nuala Fagan. This involved several months of working with Nuala on the selection and editing of the poems, with Bob Horne joining us and helping to deliver the boook; it was launched at The Blind Pig in Sowerby Bridge, with supporting readings by guest poets Victoria Gatehouse, Gaia Holmes, and John Foggin.

This summer, I was delighted to publish Knowing My Place by Bob Horne, which was launched at Brighouse Library. The poem selections took place over many one to one discussions in various coffee shops and at Bob’s home. In October this year we published Steve Nash’s The Calder Valley Codex, specially chosen for Halloween publication. Steve’s poems in the Codex are all on a folkloric and at times eerie theme.

The books I have produced at Caterpillar Poetry have all been so different – my own have been from the more offbeat spectrum of my writing style, Nuala’s centred on painful memories, snapshots of family life and responses to grief and loss, and underlaid with the emotional inheritance of Irish history.  Bob’s poems were deeply rooted in the Yorkshire identity, yet flung as far afield as New York,.  Steve’s collection is by turns mischevous and dark, with a very unusual cast of characters.

There seem to be hundreds of small poetry presses about, and I imagine they struggle to make a living, competing as they do for what is essentially a niche market. Which are the ones that you particularly like yourselves, and why?

Candlestick Press make very beautiful A5 booklets, with very tactile covers and distinctive, pastel-style colours. Their books are usually short anthologies on a theme. They also include beautiful bookmarks and similar items with their publications, usually decorated in the same distinctive style as the books. I think what Bob is doing with Calder Valley Poetry is fantastic, and very exciting. I have always been a big fan of Oversteps Books, Happenstance, Indigo Dreams and Indigo Pamphlets, Two Rivers Press and Cinnamon Press. But I am also an avid collector and frequently find pamphlets and collections by unknown authors printed by obscure publishers from the 70’s and 80’s, in second hand bookshops or at library book sales. So often, these publishers have seemingly bit the dust, and no research uncovers them. Perhaps that ought to be a cautionary tale, but it drives me more to want to be a part of this slightly mysterious world, and hopefully stay the course!

Something led you think: there’s room for another. What was the trigger that persuaded you to set up your own publishing venture?

To be honest I didn’t really give an awful lot of thought to the existing numbers of publishers, because when I had the idea of publishing it was with self-publishing in mind (I didn’t expect anyone would want me, a comparative unknown with no publishing pedigree, to have anything to do with their poetry!) I was only minimally aware of the world of poetry publication, locally or further afield, and although I sent, and still send, my work to other publishers, my general assumption in life has always been that if you want to achieve something you had better set out and try to sort it out yourself, so I hit upon the idea of starting a publishing initiative through a combination of ignorance and impatience.

How about the poets you’ve chosen? Did you have any particular criteria, or were you blessed by happy accidents?

I am always moved to approach poets purely on the basis of being genuinely moved by something they have written. When I’ve come across something locally, or heard someone at a reading, I have been known to pounce! Equally, I have been approached to publish other poets and those with whom I am currently working on collections have offered something sufficiently unique to grab my attention. I want Caterpillar Poetry to publish work that is of high quality but by poets who might not, at the time of publishing, be all that well known in the wider world – or, as with Steve Nash, by poets who are well known but who have unexpected sides to their poetry that might surprise some of their regular readers. Nuala Fagan I wanted to publish as I was astonished she had only had one book before, and I had felt frustrated for some time that her poetry did not receive the right kind or amount of exposure or appreciation. To be frank, I was simply stunned that she was going largely unpublished.

This is something I feel very proud of being able to offer: all poet-publisher relationships are different, and some poets may arrive with a fully fledged idea of which poems they want to publish and in what order, but Nuala essentially gave me a blank canvas to arrange the poems into the sort of order which I felt formed them into a thematic narrative. Once I had arranged a sequence the work began on exactly how the poems would appear. This is where Bob Horne came in, and I must say that the few weeks and months the three of us spent, editing and finalizing, and getting to know the poems intimately, underlined the reasons I enjoy the publishing process.

It also set the blueprint for my publishing of Bob Horne’s collection, which is to say that we set about analysing and editing those poems just as zealously. It was interesting how Bob as the author did not initially regard the collection as overly place-specific: with the objective angle that comes from being the reader rather than the writer, I immediately latched on to what I interpreted as a very regional, autobiographical quality rooted in West Yorkshire.


My most recent collection, The Calder Valley Codex was a chance to arrange a new collection by someone who, ever since I first discovered his poetry, had seemed like a rising star – already an award winner, a name on the live reading and performance circuit. Appearing at the same readings, and sharing many ideas about joint projects and publications, a collection seemed a natural move, and I was delighted to bring it about.

When Steve said he intended to compile a collection themed around Calder Valley folklore and ghost stories, I knew this was a great idea, and encouraged him all the way! The editing process for this book was probably the most intense of the three: with Nuala’s book I already knew a lot of the poems, and got to know all of them virtually word for word throughout the process, but the editing was three-way, and as a relative newcomer I was happy for Bob Horne to largely lead the way, his experience as a teacher providing him with certain skills in approaching a text, and similarly with his own book it was very much a case of being guided by Bob – my role being largely focused on the selection of individual poems and the choice of cover image; but with Steve, I played a more active part. We would read poems back to one another, send emails back and forth, and over a period of about six months basically re-shaped the collection into something dramatic, almost like a play in verse.

Tell us something about your design choices. Did you consciously decide you wanted a house style? Did you have any models that you wanted to borrow from?

I have yet to really define a specific look for Caterpillar Poetry, though to be fair this is less to do with laziness or haphazardness than the fact I have wanted each publication to be quite individual, and each has embodied very different themes in any case. So I have no models to borrow from; it is always a blank canvas.

Tell us something about the snags you encounter…how about how you set about the business of marketing, about getting the brand out there. It may be that it’s something you feel a bit at sea with. How do you get folk to review the stuff, for instance? How do you feel about the business of competitions for small publishers…stuff like the Michael Marks, for instance? Riff on this topic as you feel appropriate

All the snags I have encountered have related to the costs of publishing, the technological difficulties of reproducing a text into a format workable for printers, and the administrative tedium of arranging ISBN’s, barcodes and the like. The technical side can actually be quite good fun, and once I know what I’m doing or have assistance from the more experienced, then I really enjoy discussing plans with printers and seeing it go from A to B. But the administrative logistics are a nightmare. I am very happy for anyone to review Caterpillar Poetry books and love the idea of competitions and other schemes designed to shine a light on the activities of small publishers and what we have to offer.

What next? More in the pipeline?

Apart from about half a dozen micro-collections from myself, I am delighted to say that I’m working on some very exciting projects for 2017. One of these will be a chapbook or pamphlet by a well known poet and editor, whose work has been at the forefront of innovative poetry for over 30 years. Friends from the USA and the English Lake District have Caterpillar collections in the pipeline for 2017/18, and I have a pamphlet coming out to raise funds for Animal Aid – poems about grouse, with illustrations by Calder valley artists, which will be sold to support AA’s campaigns against grouse shooting. The following year I will publish an anthology on the same subject for the same cause, but the poems this time will include works by poets other than myself. I also have, still in the early stages, various prospective collaborations with artist Nicole Sky, who produced the cover art for The Calder Valley Codex.


Any advice for them as fancies doing it? If you could have done anything differently, what would you have done?

I would probably spend a lot more time pre-planning things like printing costs, trying to become more technologically self-sufficient, and attending to the administrative nitty-gritty such as pre-ordering ISBN’s and barcodes, much earlier. I say “probably,” but anyone who knows me will tell you I will “probably” fail to keep this resolution – I’m just too disorganized!

 Anything else I’ve forgotten that you’d like to add?

Publishing poetry is tremendous fun, well worth the technical and administrative headaches.  Its a well known fact that poetry is hard to sell, so to have a bash at making this happen, and furthering the reputation of a poet, to arrange promotions, launches and readings foor writers you admire, and to see their books on a library shelf, is all part of a fantastic privilege.

And on that positive note, let me say ‘thank you, Simon Zonenblick, all the folk I’ve read with this week, and this years, and all of you regualr readers’ xxxx

Bob Horne follows very shortly.

Taking off. A polished gem revisited: Yvonne Reddick

Taking off. A polished gem revisited: Yvonne Reddick


My Grandmother was a Pink-footed Goose


 I squint north –

clouds like the sails

of a goosewinging boat.

I blow on my fists,

feel the scrunched membrane

meshing index to thumb.

Nails press like quills,

as if each finger

could sprout a pinion

and my thumb could end

in a bastard wing.

Where are the flocks?


 My Mémé was bird-bone hollow, all ribstrakes and flapping bald elbows, flesh slouched over a V of sternum. Shallow breath-râles, knuckly birdleg fingers. Her English evaporated as her mind nested the tumor. The remains: ‘J’ai ces … hallucinations’ of pools and oceans, my father webbing through air, his hands in outspread sheaves of primaries.

Plume-cinder ash when we burned Mémé. The south-easterly hush-hushed it north.

I don’t usually start with a poem, but the thing is, I’ve been rereading the poems that our guest for today sent me in June 2015. And realising that I hadn’t read them properly at all. Or perhaps it’s that after five days of intensive reading and writing on a residential writing course, I’m just that bit more fine-tuned to really, really listen to what a poem intends me to hear.

What we make of a poem is what we bring to it, all our memory that shapes the poem we reinvent from the text on the page. I suppose what I brought to it, among other things, was my relationship with the story of Icarus, of a boy whose wings failed him, and a father complicit in his death. Also, thirty years of responsiblities for increasingly old and frail relatives – my mother, my mother and father-in law. Also a day in June one year when I took my mother’s ashes to a waterfall in a quiet Dales valley. Also my father, the birdwatcher, and the cold northern hills and seas and skies where I think I belong. And all that baggage can get in the way of what’s there, if we listen. I didn’t attend properly to the voice of this poem…or perhaps the voices which overlap…..and what they are telling me and discovering for themselves. So what triggered a re-understanding (which may well still be wide of the mark)?


I’ve asked all the returning guests if they’d like to reflect on one or more of the poems that I put on the cobweb on their first visit. Yvonne chose to write a short commentary on two. It was when I read what she wrote about My Grandmother was a Pink-footed Goose that I was brought up short; the first part about her grandmother is fascinating:

‘My Grandmother was a Pink-Footed Goose’ was inspired by a decomposed pigeon that flopped from the roof of the block of flats where I live! No-one else cleared it up, so I rolled up my sleeves and held my nose … It was an interesting intimation of mortality. I’d been wanting to elegise my Swiss grandmother for a long while, and I used images of keelbones, quills and ribs to evoke a body racked with illness. She was the last native speaker of French in our family, but she was also a real polyglot: she spoke excellent English, good German and some Romansh. I wanted to honour her heritage as a migrant, and to end my poem with an image of renewal and return.

I’d been intrigued by the imagery of keelbones, quills and ribs, and it’s always nice to be let into the thinking and feeling that went into it. But in a later comment, when Yvonne is bringing me up to date on what she’s been up to, is something that stopped me dead.

My collection in progress is about mountaineering in the Highlands and Alps. It elegises my father, who died in the Grey Corries

The Grey Corries in the Nevis range are one of those landscapes I can only dream of, and read of. They’re too big, too hard, too altogether intimidating. I don’t have the strength, or the limbs, or the confidence to go into those high and unrelenting places. And I had a son who died in a fall from a high place. So I read that sentence, and then went back and READ

my father webbing through air, his hands in outspread sheaves of primaries.

I have no notion whether I’m reading truly, but I know I’ll no longer read that line and think ‘what a wonderfully nailed down image of a great bird in flight’. Instead, I’ll remember watching a friend of mine fall off a pitch on a face in Borrowdale, and every account I’ve read of fatal falls on mountains will blur together, and mesh with that one word ‘webbing’. And, I suppose, I’ll be faced once more with the complicated business of the relation of the poem which is out there on its own terms, and the knowledge we have, or haven’t, about the writer, her biography, her intentions. And we’d better, at the same time, acknowledge that she may not have known what her intentions were, and that she may still not know what, or how, she feels about the process. All I know is that when I’ve written about Daedalus, or Hephaestus, or Mallory, or, indeed, Lucifer, I never knew what was going on, and was regularly unnerved and surprised. Thank you, Yvonne Reddick, for making me see that more clearly, whether you meant to or not. And if I’m totally off track with the whole business, the question of what a poem means, and what it can be made to mean, will still be there, insistent and demanding our attention.


Right. To the main event. Time to introduce our guest properly. Yvonne Reddick grew up between Glasgow, Berkshire, Kuwait City and France. She is a dual citizen of Britain and Switzerland. When she moved to Preston, she found that the North of England had the world’s best tea, humour and hillwalking, so she decided to stay. Last time she was here,she had published two pamphlets of poetry, LandForms;  and Deerhart  [Knives, Forks and Spoons Press  2016]; she also co-edited The Apple Anthology for Nine Arches Press. Educated at Cambridge and the Warwick Writing Programme, she works as an academic researcher and lecturer in Creative Writing.

She chose to write about both the poems on the cobweb last year. The first was this:

Dry Bird

 I’m called shinbone flute-singer, lyre-stringer,

August dry bird, jar fly.

My body is soundbox, drumskin, motor,

I tap my timbal – a ratcheting vibraslap

revving to a tom-tom.

I brace against the branch; wings and voice strain open –

when I amp it up to a whirring howl

my ballad could burst your eardrum.

My chirring fills woodlands, porches,

your sleepless house!

On windscreens, in gardens,

my kind lie in drifts,

lyric cicadas exhausted from calling.

‘Dry Bird’: I’d written this piece about the lyric cicada, Tibicen lyricen lyricen, and the first line plays on the English translation of its Latin name. I enjoy performing this one, and when I read it I get to play with volume and speed. Much as I love celebratory nature-poems, I feel that this one could be more multi-layered. I’d have liked to have given it more of a sting in the tail. I might rewrite it as a piece about climate change or extinction.


I said at the time that I always enjoy Yvonne’s relish for performing her poems…actually, ‘performing’ misses the mark. ‘Enacting’ is closer. I love the textures, the consonantal qualities of this piece. And it’s good to be reminded about the wider issues of ecology, and to be unnerved by the resonance of one awful word: extinction. I remember, too, that in that first post I used the image of a cabinet of curiosities to highlight the exuberant eclecticism, and arcane sholarship, that I enjoy and wonder at in her poems. This too:

“Her research has seen her trying to decipher Ted Hughes’s notebooks on horoscopes and necromancy, reading David Livingstone’s beautiful copperplate writing in Zambia, and translating previously unanalysed Congolese writers from French.”

See what I mean? Anyway, here she is bringing us up to date:

“I’m now (slowly) working towards a first collection, with the support of a Northern Writer’s Award. I was surprised and delighted to win the award, and would encourage all of my writer friends in the North to apply: New Writing North offers amazing talent development opportunities, workshops and advice to writers working in all genres.

My collection in progress is about mountaineering in the Highlands and Alps. It elegises my father, who died in the Grey Corries, and explores the life of my French great-great-great grandfather, who collected minerals in the Alps. A selection of these poems won the Mslexia pamphlet competition, and will be published by Seren in 2017″.

Don’t you just love understatement? I’m looking forward to that collection, enormously. Congratulations on that Northern Writers Award, Yvonne! And thank you for the poem that we’ll finish with, one that brings together all the qualities I’ve tried to talk about today. I think it’s stunning. Read it aloud, taste it.

V. Resteau, Geologist Manqué

His treasures: eyeflash of tourmaline

in a matrix of white,

wink of gwindel crystals

their shade a warlock’s smokescreen,

an iron rose, the weight

of angular petals,

the blood-lustre garnet

a dark vein between us.

I turn them between my fingers

and see a man with my eyes

make the slow climb from Göschenen to Airolo

across the divide between rivers,

the watershed of languages.

He sips a Ticino red at the Ospizio –

nerves steadier, he hauls on

boots and rubberised Mackintosh,

the miner’s lamp still quavering in one hand.

The cristallier unfurls the rope ladder

and my great-grandmother’s grandfather

shins down to the blind-end fissure –

squirms his head and shoulders

into the cavity of mineral fangs.

An hour later, he emerges,

whiskers thick with dust,

face beaming. In his hand,

a dusty lump of spikes.

He returns to Evian

with the worst torticollis

his doctor has ever seen

and du quartz fumé magnifique.

His peeling specimen-label reads

St Gotthard, 1859.

Still, his careful hand

beckons in sepia ink, to the keyhole pass.

Next week will be a tribute of sorts to the ones who maintain small poetry publishing concerns, and to two in particular. If you ever wonder how and why it’s done, you’ll need to join us. So let’s say thank you to our guest, Yvonne Reddick, pre-order the collection from Seren as soon as they let you, and agree to meet again. Same time, same place, next Sunday