First pressings (6): in stitches; “Coast to coast to coast” with Maria Isakova Bennett and Michael Brown


A couple of days early because there’s news of a great competition that closes on Feb 10, and you might just squeeze in.

I suppose I should declare an interest in today’s post, having been a beneficiary of “Coast to coast to coast” and of Michael Brown and Maria Isakova Bennett who accepted poems of mine for the first two issues of their lovely limited edition, and hand-stitched little gems. And I must say thank you to Robin Houghton for this photograph of Open Eye Gallery and its surroundings, which I found via Google. And to the audiences of both launches who were, quite simply, a delight. Plus a thank you for the pleasure I felt to find myself published alongside the likes of John Glenday…how good is that!

As ever with this occasional series on small poetry presses I ask a standard series of questions, and the publishers do all the work for me by answering them. Because Michael was snowed under with his teaching work, Maria’s answered for both of them…like this:

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.

The Coast to Coast to Coast story so far

Coast to Coast to Coast, a hand-produced, stitched, limited edition journal, was launched on Aug 17th 2017 at Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool, but the idea for a stitched journal had been in my mind for years, and particularly since creating fabric sculptures over 10 years before. Those thoughts were just that until Michael and I saw some handmade books and a small press exhibition. One discussion developed into another, and at the beginning of last year, I thought that if we didn’t turn thoughts into action, we’d spend years musing, and maybe never create the first journal.

I tend to work (in art and writing) without a particular plan, but with a kind of faith that the next step will come out of the one I’m working on. I think this has a lot to do with a background and interest in art, and being aware of the distinctions between fine art and craft drummed into me over time by various tutors.

So, with this way of working and creating in mind, Michael and I announced Coast to Coast to Coast, asking for submissions for Issue 1 in April of last year. The first issue was a wonderful learning roller coaster on which I learned everything I thought there was to know about tissue papers, needle sizes for my sewing machines, bookmaker’s thread and its alternatives, and about how to alter font sizes so that pages printed to the size needed for Coast to Coast to Coast whilst still being legible.

From the beginning, the concept of the journal was as collaboration, especially in terms of the editing and arranging launches. It’s enormously important to me to have a co-editor, and Michael and I read the poems without seeing the authors’ names (Martin prints out poems), and come to decisions together about selections. This process is extremely valuable because, although we often have similar tastes, it’s enjoyable to have vigorous discussions about strengths and weaknesses. Due to the format of the journal, and again because of the concept behind it, we don’t want more than 20 poems in an issue. This gives us very tight parameters to work within. I would say that although the labour involved in producing each journal as an individual work of art is intense and demanding, the most difficult part for me is emailing rejections.

albert open 1

The importance of the launch is integral to the concept of the journal, and as with ideas regarding forthcoming issues and the direction in which the journal will travel, ideas about the launches are quite organic. We want regular launches in Liverpool, but envisage other coasts and other locations and settings too. There’s an exciting project in the pipeline for the summer (awaiting confirmation).

Although the principles and the concept of the regular journal are set as the basis for Coast to Coast to Coast, we’re open to developments. For instance, we recently opened submissions for a competition*, the winner of which will receive 30 hand-stitched copies of their pamphlet, and we’re in the process of planning a special location issue.

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?


I’d say I’ve got catholic tastes as far as journals are concerned and while I enjoy and admire the ‘bigger’ journals such as Poetry London, PN Review, and Poetry Review, these serve something different to what Michael and I are doing. I have real delight in being accepted by and receiving copies of Abridged, (a Derry Journal) edited by Greg McCartney with its various formats and sizes and arresting photography often linked to exhibitions. In terms of smaller presses, I loved Butcher’s Dog and Elbow Room. Crannóg, published in Galway has been a long-term favourite— I’m always excited to see the covers as well as the range of poetry inside. There’s a wonderful archive of small poetry journals in the Central Library in Liverpool and I can’t help feeling that spending time in that archive fuelled desire to start the journey. I love artists’ books, and this love must have been an important motivation behind Coast to Coast to Coast. We don’t want to compete with or duplicate what exists or has existed though.

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

I love artists’ books, and this love must have been an important motivation behind Coast to Coast to Coast. We don’t want to compete with or duplicate what exists or has existed though– our journal is an art piece / object in addition to being a poetry journal, and is produced in limited editions.

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

We have open submissions, so we don’t really know what will come in, but word has spread beautifully so we’ve had some established poets sharing word of our journal on social media which has meant an even greater spread. Fortunately, both Michael and I have similar taste when looking for poems for the Journal. The only set criteria is length, due to the size of the journal.

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?

 Everything about the journal – format, the nature of the hand-stitched cover, the way it’s fastened and packaged – comes from a desire to create an art object and a small journal that we hope will be treasured, read and re-read. I suppose in some ways I wanted to create something that’s the antithesis of ‘too much’. I love all sorts of poetry, but I’m interested in the idea of the labour that goes into honing a poem and I wanted a sense of that labour to be present in the creation of the journal, and for the journal to really value each poem selected and published. The issues are created as limited editions (70 for issue 1 which sold out in a week). I hope that due to its size, the poems within its hand-stitched pages will be reread and maybe returned to like little meditations




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 don’t really have a marketing bone in my small body – I’m the person who sold a car for fifty pounds to a guy who knocked at the door because I felt sorry for him – but I’ve learned that if I believe in something enough, I’ll learn what I have do to make it work. I try to access the help I need as I go. I created a website with the generous help of my eldest daughter and I’ve started using all the relevant social media, but try not to be excessive so it doesn’t take time away from making.  From the paper to the wine and refreshments at the events, the whole project is self-funded. Hundreds of hours go into the making of the journals and the project as a whole, and I don’t see any funding in the near future, so I’m happy to create the occasional competition if it means the journal can grow. We’re very new, so we haven’t really looked at the competition in the field and haven’t been reviewed, as far as we know. However, we have just placed Coast to Coast to Coast in the National Poetry Library in London, and we’ve had wonderful reviews from individuals on websites and blogs, and at launches.

What next? More in the pipeline?

 Issue 3 and 4, and a special issue, will be published before the autumn. In addition to this, an individual poet’s journal (mini pamphlet), will be published early summer. This means I’ll be sewing at least another 300 journals over the next few months. I think that’s enough to be going on with, but I’m sure I’ll come up with new ideas while the sewing machine’s humming.

We have some new ideas about how the launches are going to develop, and some ideas about specific and interesting locations to add to the concept of Coast to Coast to Coast.

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

 I’d say if you really want to do something creative, set out and let it grow as you go. Be prepared for lots of hard work and little (if any, initially!) financial reward, so make sure it’s for the love of art, the curiosity about the development of the project, the admiration and respect for poetry, the amazing feeling of bringing people together. I’m trying to think of ways to keep the project viable as it develops.

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

 Bringing together poets from different parts of the country to a city that I love and feel proud of is enormously pleasurable. One big bonus has been the number of non-poets who’ve happily come along to launches. It’s always heartening to receive even a sentence of feedback about the work that we do. We’re encouraged enormously by comments we’ve received at launches from people who now own copies of the journal. It’s exciting to see how word about our project has spread and to wonder about where it might travel…Coast to Coast to Coast

*that competition…..this image comes from the ‘Coast to coast…’ Facebook page  But you can find out more via the  page.

coast to coast 5


Should you want to know more about Michael Brown and his own poetry, there’s a great interview with him on Roy Marshall’s poetry blog …via this link


Maria has been a guest poet on the cobweb…you can find her in the archive for 2015.

If you want the handy biogs, then here they are

  • Michael’s work has been published widely including in The Rialto, Butchers Dog, Lighthouse Journal, Other Poetry, Crannog, The Moth, South Bank Poetry, Envoi, The North, Brittle Star, New Walk and The Interpreter’s House. He was selected for the Advanced Arvon by Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke in 2013. In 2014 he won the Untold London Competition with his poem, ‘From Hungerford Bridge, Looking East’.He was shortlisted for the Bare Fiction Collection prize judged by Andrew McMillan in 2015. He was placed third in the York Poetry Prize, 2015, with the poem Water Lilies and recently collaborated with Maria in projects at the Walker Gallery and Open Eye Gallery.In 2017 his poem ‘The Waiting Room’ was shortlisted in the Basil Bunting Award judged by Ahren Warner.

    The pamphlet, Undersong (2014) is available from Eyewear Publishing.

    His most recent pamphlet, Locations for a Soul appeared in 2016 from Templar Publishing. He is currently working towards his first poetry collection.


    Maria has an MA (distinction) in Creative Writing from Lancaster University, a Masters degree in Education from Liverpool University, and postgraduate qualifications in Fine Art and Art History.

    She has poetry and reviews widely published in the UK and Ireland, wrote and performed ‘The Ferry on the Mersey’ in partnership with the BBC, as their Merseyside poet for the 2016 National Poetry Day festival, and appeared in Eyewear’s anthology of The Best New British and Irish Poets, 2016.

    Over the past year, Maria has been highly commended for her own and collaborative work in several pamphlet competitions, and has been shortlisted and placed in several International Competitions including Bridport, Keats-Shelley, Cinnamon Prizes, Plough and Mslexia.

    Maria was highly commended by John Glenday in the Wigtown Poetry Competition, has been awarded first prize in the Ver Open Poetry Award, and commended last year by Andrew McMillan in the same competition.

    and finally, both won Northern Writers Awards last year and places on the Poetry School New North Poets Mentoring Scheme, 2017.


Now then. What next? I genuinely haven’t a clue. I’ve come to rely on a Wishlist of poets I’ve met recently and who I want to be guests. Essentially, I have to have heard them reading and to have been moved and enthused. Ian Parks was the last one…but I’ve run out of ‘poets new to me’ just for now. I think I’ve also run out of ‘issues’ that I feel an urge to write about. There’s one more small publisher who I need to contact, but not for a little while. I’m looking forward to a couple of writing residentials in March and April, and I’m very excited to be reading in Cork in March. I have no doubt they’ll fire me up with new stuff. But in the meantime, I suspect I’ll be taking a cobweb break till I have something that feels worth sharing.I hope you’ll all still be around when I come back. Thank you for reading xxx


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