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 – www.caldervalleypoetry.com – 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