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The Holdfire Review

February 13, 2013

As I’ve posted recently I think for the press to go forward I have to focus on different projects such as live readings and events, an anthology and a new magazine called The Holdfire Review. Hopefully these things combined will act to bring the press more into people’s consciousness and then when I return to pamphlets I’ll have a wider sort of network of potential sales etc.

The magazine won’t just be poetry. As a poet and writer of fiction I would like to publish both poetry and fiction (I’m a big fan of speculative fiction). I’ll also be looking for artwork for the magazine.  Contributors will get a free copy and the look of the magazine will be minimal – no over the top covers. I won’t be doing reviews or any editorial stuff but I will promote other events, magazines in there – give over a page or two to anyone wishing to advertise their own literary ventures.

So I’ll be looking for contributors to the first issue as of now. I lean towards more experimental poems in my own reading but I do like a sense of narrative too. In short stories I really like Adam Marek but I like fantasy too (not like obvious fantasy – as I said, speculative is good).

Submissions can go to marked with ‘Submission – The Holdfire Review’.

I want to get the first issue of the magazine out by the summer so people don’t think Holdfire has died completely. Diversify and move forward I say.

A Pressing Concern

February 12, 2013

Today I’m thinking about closing the press as an entity publishing books and focusing on live readings, events instead.  I think that a combination of factors contribute to this; lack of sales, financial difficulties, the pressure it puts on me (I mean pressure to get books out etc), my need to concentrate on my own writing, disappointing reviews, lack of technical ability and financial ability to hire outside help, my preference to work on events/readings etc, how I feel I wanted to press to progress and how it has. I’ve had a tough couple of years and it’s difficult to deal with running a press when more important things get in the way. Saying that I do enjoy putting on events and I would like to push forward and work with bringing poets to Liverpool. I will spend the rest of the day thinking and mulling and brewing etc. Basically I’m doing everything myself and feel as a person it hasn’t given anything back apart from stress really and I think/thought running a small press would have some pleasures at least.

13: A Disconnected Anthology

February 12, 2013

The main hurdle for a press to jump is financial. But there is always the problem of time.  And will  power.  Since Holdfire’s first pamphlets I’ve struggled with all three. The finances don’t work out how you thought they would, there are difficult issues to overcome, time and life get in the way (especially when the press isn’t something you do full time in a shiny office) and as those things combine it becomes hard to keep on and hit deadlines you set yourself.  I’m behind with my next pamphlets mainly because of the financial and time elements.  I initially thought I’d make enough back from book sales to publish further books but it didn’t work out like that.  So the money has to be worked out from somewhere and then there is the question of whether that financial input will yield results – will I make the money back this time to publish more?  Also, once time has taken you away from publishing it’s hard to get back on track.  Hard to get back into the swing. Over the past year I’ve felt a certain annoyance with poetry – with poets, with attitudes, with vibrancy. I’ve questioned more than once whether I want to be in this game – be that as an editor or as a poet.  Take for instance the whole Christian Ward nonsense. I haven’t particularly liked the response of some poets to that – the sort of pack mentality (I’m not talking about finding more poems that were plagiarised,I don’t mind that too much – maybe it’s getting a bit over the top). There’s also just a general feel amongst poets I meet of self interest (of what is in this for me) rather than working together, building ideas.

But on the other side of this is what I’ve enjoyed doing. I’ve enjoyed putting on the Villainelle Club and the next one will be on 13th March. I’ve enjoyed being involved in a production for the Bluecoat of Chris McCabe’s Mudflats and I’m enjoying putting together a poetry night for April.  I’ve been drawn to the idea of doing more of this – live performance, commissions, a poetry festival in Liverpool. Those things have made me think I should be doing something a bit different with publishing. Obviously I want to continue publishing pamphlets but the idea of publishing something a bit more exciting keeps coming to mind. An old idea I had from Holdfire’s beginnings was an anthology of 13 poets, completely devoid of barriers of age or style or influence etc. I like that idea. I like it more now what with all the anthologies of young poets we’ve had recently and all the moaning (and obviously missing the point) of older poets who take an anthology of younger poets as a personal attack. I think that gets at some truth in poetry – poets see themselves as the centre of their world view of poetry – who they like, what they read, who they know becomes their barometer for poetry. It’s like people commenting on the pope resigning – saying ‘I bet he won’t be a one-legged hedgehog with no defined sexuality’.  What I mean is, people want the world to reflect who they are even if they aren’t part of something or if that something is a something that don’t believe should be a something. Maybe that draws me back to the anthology – maybe 13 disconnected poets would be a good way to address contemporary poetry because there wouldn’t be anything to hold the anthology together, for poets to cling to and claim attachment to, other than that here we have 13 poets. The anthology only exists because someone, me, decided to make it and it makes no comment about poetry rather it offers a glimpse of poetry. But isn’t that suggesting that the poets would all be noticeably different? Surely if the process of bringing an anthology like this together was sort of loose, based on poetic free will, then it could end up being full of experimental poets no one has ‘heard of’ or just Simon Armitage.  Maybe it should be looked at as a Chaos Theory of Poetry. Or just 13 poets for 2013. 13 poets who have breathed in 2013.

Anyway, I hope to see a packed upstairs room at the Ship and Mitre at 7.30 on Wednesday, 13th March. It’s a n all male line up this time (I didn’t mean it honest) with readings from Bobby Parker, Steven Waling, Christopher Moore and Matt Fallaize.

And I suppose I could suggest to anyone who read this to compile a list for me of 13 poets who are breathing/writing poetry now. That would be helpful.

Everybody In This Room Is A Poet and a night for The Wolf

October 23, 2012

Two bits of poetry reading news here.  Firstly (but secondly in the title above) the next Villainelle Club will be sort of taken over by The Wolf magazine which is edited by James Byrne and Sandeep Parmar.  They’ll be launching both The Wolf 27 and their anthology The Wolf: A Decade.  It should be a great night and it’s happening on Thursday 28th November.  More details of readers etc to follow. There will be a regular Villainelle Club in mid December which I hope will have an all female line up to counter the rampant masculinity of the last reading in September.

The second reading is Everybody In This Room Is A Poet.  This is happening at 2.00pm on Saturday 24th November in The Belvedere Arms in Liverpool.  It’s invite only and the format will be that there will be around 22/23 poets in the snug of the Belvedere.  We’ll all read a few poems each and there will be no MC as such, rather we’ll all announce the next poet.  It’s been tricky coordinating so all the poets who wanted to come could come but I had to book a date. Hopefully it’ll be the start of more such nights/days.  I’m hoping to get some funding for future days so I can get poets from beyond the North West.  The poets confirmed so far are:

Me (Michael Egan)

Bobby Parker

Sheila Hamilton

Melissa Lee Houghton

Joanne Ashcroft

Angela Topping

Steve Van Hagen

Eleanor Rees

Nathan Jones

Sandeep Parmar

James Byrne

Richard Barrett

Eli Regan

Lindsey Holland

About another 6/7 are nearly confirmed so there are a few spaces left if any poets would be interested.  If you are then email me at

Blind Wine-Tasting etc by Jon Stone

October 23, 2012

Here’s something to think about. In 2002, French researcher Frédéric Brochet caused minor ripples with a paper called ‘Chemical Object Representation in the Field of Consciousness’. Brochet served a variety of wines to experienced wine tasters, recording the results. Not only did the resulting rankings tables prove to be as consistent as random numbers; the same wines provoked entirely different reactions when presented differently. A white wine dyed red suddenly became “intense, spicy, supple, deep” when earlier it had been “fresh, dry, honeyed, lively”. A mid-range Bordeaux was praised when labelled as a grand cru, decried as “short, light and faulty” when served as a table wine.

Brochet demonstrated that certain expectations and presumptions, often planted subconsciously by others, overrule the evidence of our senses. And If this applies to wine, why not to poetry? It’s a question that has particular application when evaluating prize culture, but it has wider relevance than that. If you’ve ever had cause to linger in the comments section below poetry articles in online newspapers, you’ll likely have encountered the sort of person who recites the names of the poets they remember from school, lamenting that contemporary poets are so comparatively inconsequential: a clear enough demonstration of how a vague awareness of cultural pre-eminence is sometimes the only thing that governs taste. The poet who is conscious of the way dominant and resurgent predilections factor into reception of their work risks a kind of madness. Does the fashion for ironised sentiment make me look stuffy? Are my interests too much at odds with other people’s? Must I wait for family members to start dying (or, at the very least, the birth of my first child) before my writing can be said to have the emotional heft of real experience?

It’s the relative smallness of the poetry landscape that gives these kind of questions more bite than in other artforms. The individualistically-inclined director has the hope of finding an audience outside of that which exists for current mainstream and avant-garde genres or, at the very least, a judging panel who are no more familiar with the other entrants than they are with him. British poets live in a world in which prizes are regularly awarded to people who know the judges well, and where there seem to be few, if any, routes to a wider audience beyond these prizes. Internet culture has revolutionised that perception to an extent, though it remains the case that the best chance most poetry presses have of being noted in the mainstream media is in the form of, say, a brief shout-out alongside a dozen other organisations in a rambling survey of the lie of the land.

What makes it particularly likely, however, that poets are haunted by a need to please (and the consequent leashing of their wilder inclinations) is the concern that some of our leading poets have a controlling attitude towards cultural tastes. Last year, the Poetry Society entered a rocky period, resulting in an extraordinary general meeting being called and, ultimately, the resignation of the entire Board of Trustees. Although a subsequent statement laid the blame squarely at the feet of the board and exonerated both the Director and the then editor of Poetry Review, the only complete narrative currently offered by anyone asserts that the sequence of events amounted to an attempted coup, with several leading poets and poetry editors abandoning the Poetry Society following its failure.

One of those poets who resigned his post as honorary vice president was Don Paterson, the editor at Picador. It’s perhaps noteworthy that in a recent piece for Herald Scotland, which he words with characteristic forthrightness and gusto, he asserts that ‘art is not a democracy’, and then supplies these paragraphs:

As for the need for that consolidated expertise – a small anecdote: there was a young author, English but resident in Scotland, who made an application to a core-funded Scottish arts body for a small grant for new writers […]


The gatekeepers in this case were unqualified to judge. The poet received a letter saying that it had been a very competitive year, and there had been stronger entries. I saw some of those entries and they were, scrupulously, not. More personally galling was the fact that I’d gone to the trouble of writing a careful reference extolling the virtues of this individual.


I know very little, but have enough evidence to suggest I may be a reasonable judge of poetry. I decided to publish the author myself, in England, on the list I edit at Picador. [She] has gone on to be shortlisted for everything, and won the two main UK prizes for first collections; she has been hailed by everyone from Carol Ann Duffy to Seamus Heaney as an important new voice. She’s now based in Bristol.


But I won’t write another reference to that body again; my carefully-phrased opinion was entirely disregarded in the sole area where I have any proven expertise. I am certainly not arrogant enough to insist that it should have counted!


But it should have been dismissed by a peer, not a minor apparatchik brought up to think that all opinions in the arts are of equal value.

Paterson’s wider concerns about the problems with over-administration of the arts are well-grounded, but look at the aggression on display here. “The gatekeepers in this case were unqualified to judge.” He does not know who these gatekeepers are, or their qualifications, or the values they applied in their judgement. He only saw “some of” the other entries. Yet he is furious at a supposed “minor apparatchik” for having not kowtowed to his reputation as an eminent editor and poet. He went “to the trouble of writing a careful reference extolling the virtues of this individual” – does he believe that no one else supplying a similar quote could be similarly qualified to recommend a poet for an award? Those areas where the poet succeeded subsequently, which he cites here as proof of the poet’s virtues, are areas where he has considerable influence. He is galled, it seems, by the existence of an area in which he does not. He suggests that the submission should have been evaluated by a ‘peer’; by which we can take him to mean someone from those circles with which he is familiar.

It is fair, of course, for Paterson to consider himself a reasonable judge of poetry. But in what respect is he entirely like those wine experts who could be fooled by food colouring or a label on a bottle? To what extent is he capable of tainting the sense of others, where the label, for example, is ‘Picador’ rather than ‘grand cu’? His bolded statement – ‘art is not a democracy’ – is the clarion call of those who believe that standards are real, unshifting and absolute. Without pretending to read Paterson’s mind, the idea that people of influence believe wholeheartedly in the veracity of their own judgement is deeply troubling. To be sure (and as he rightly says), not all opinions are equal. But it is possible for many contradictory opinions to have an equal factual and experiential basis. It is possible (indeed, highly likely) for any person’s partiality to certain themes and subject matter to factor heavily in their judgement, even if they are an acknowledged expert. Brochet’s research strongly suggests that.

What is the test then? How does one evaluate the evaluations? Here’s the real crux of the matter: in poetry, there are serious impediments to articulating the methodology one employs when assessing talent and worth. It’s hard to say exactly what they are, but review after review flails about in an effort to relate personal emotional responses and impressions in factual terms. Having read the book of poems Paterson mentions publishing in his article, and several of the reviews, I remain at a loss to understand what elevates it above numerous other debut collections that have arrived in recent years. It’s certainly not that I can’t detect any qualities whatsoever, but why those that are particular to this volume should be rated as more important than those in, say, any of the collections I have reviewed recently for our Sidekick Books site, is something that no one has convincingly argued. Least of all Paterson, whose efforts to describe why he had chosen to publish another Picador poet went this far:

… there was something in [his] turn of mind, the precision of his ear, the quiet strangeness of his imagery, the tenderness and clarity of his address, that made us want to read his poems again and again.

Something, but what, exactly? Paterson has talked in the past of ‘restoring the science of verse-making’ in order to bolster our self-confidence. There isn’t a scintilla of an allusion to science or scientific process in this description.

I don’t suggest we fret too much about this. Reviewers should continue to flail if we’re to make any progress in this area, and in the meantime, it’s not exactly a crushing blow to the artform that we have the potential for an array of competing tastes. If anything, therein lies the secret of a vast richness. What we should beware of is the wine expert mentality, the tendency to believe that because superior and inferior poets must objectively exist, and because we have strong inclinations, those strong inclinations are forever aiding us in parsing one from the other. We ought to beware the influence of anyone who affects to have expertise and the right to wield it, at least until their arguments alone impress us, not simply their standing. And that is a far-off thing in poetry.

Robert Sheppard on René Van Valckenborch

August 30, 2012

The ‘whole’ oeuvre of René Van Valckenborch is surrounded by mystery, perhaps of his own making. Published in fugitive publications in places as far apart as Cape Town and Montreal over the last decade, the poems of this Belgian are composed in Flemish and Walloon, and the stylistic divide between the two sets seems to reflect the societal linguistic divide of his troubled nation (although he never refers to this fact). These poems are translations from the Walloon of his ‘versions’ of Ovid, both from the unfashionable Tristia and the apocryphal ‘new’ Amores.

The entire project is due for publication by Shearsman in 2013.

Robert Sheppard


from ovid’s twistier & new amores

tristia bk 1: 7 the exiliad

                                 for phillipe thierry


bin the press cuttings the imperial poetry prize

wipe the tapes of the olympiad the shaky video

of my north sea pinings with exilic marvin gaye dear


friend delete my emails defriend me on facebook

for every time you see my thumbnail

you’ll weep & tweet


how unhappy he must be forever off-line in the

valley of bad signal hard drive wiped the final

draft of the book of ch-ch-ch-changes deleted


but i’ve kept a fair copy on pen-drive old friend & it

awaits my final tweaks but while

we’re on the subject if you’ll beg my pardon


(no i mean really beg my pardon did i not

explain the distinction between relegatio &

exilium?) that opus of mine (thank the odd


god or two that nicander is out of ©) could

remind you of me like the signet you wear

that bears my image but what i really want to say is


that book of the dead will survive unchanged my death

great friend: is there room in the rome that you roam in

for its twisted transpadane transformations?



new amores bk 1: 5 a.d. 4: 4 a.d.


into summer noon heat

of our shuttered crepuscule

you enter slip


tensible straps down

cleaving silk upon

sheeny stockings


tensing your back

against me you

hold back


halfmoon bra falls

from the afternoon &

i turn with moistened


lips musky fingers for em-

passioned meat deep below

your perfect slopes with


cavernous tang sucked

tongue & your lick-

spittle sphinx smile


until you shudder

release re-

joice & relax!


then your turn

turns spine line lifting to

taut sharp shoulders


till we’re complete & i

fall apart exiled shade

twinned in twilight for jove


knows tangled hair & cleft

flesh must return to roma-

ny scarf & sensible skirt


high heels & tight lips

carry off my wanton

verses in your departing wiggle


each evening you absorb

applause for

persistence from your


husband lukewarm

like a courtesan

before supper all


night he guards your shallow

moat with his rubber sword

dry as a bone in its defence



See further information and links to other Van Valckenborch ‘fictional poems’ at

From Protest of the Physical by Andrew McMillan

August 12, 2012


from ii


I didn’t know it would be the last      love

is giving everything too easily

then staying to try and claw it back


nail   spine   pulling at you from inside

clothes still on   the verge of undressing

and everything we were was your hoodie


hallway up your body

and my cock half out in your hand

and your stop it in a way that meant don’t stop


at least not yet and the swift tug

of shirt over head for the soundless spill

and the door      your dad




town that lost something

town dropping the biggest lump of itself

watching as it rolls into a split in the earth


town on its knees trying to find it

town that shrank into a clenched fist

that sweated on itself


that slowly closed one day so that the roads

tied up together and people were crushed

shouldertoshoulder as in a lift waiting to descend


town that sunk from its centre

like a man winded by a punch

town that bent double    carried


young men   and women   and younger men and women

as long as it could but   spinebroken 

had to let them go




from iii


qualitative research into pub names in Barnsley

The Mount   The Corner Pin   The Closed Since the Smoking Ban

The cross Keys   The Smashed Glass    The Bridge    The Soviet


The Echo of the Stopped Machine   The Station

The Longbow   The Wheel’s Reinvention   The Junction

The Room   The Glass Still Half-Full


The Walkabout   The Joseph Bramah   The Keep Drinking

The Mill of the Black Monks   The White Bear

The We’re Still Here


mist frosts across the ploughlines

fires smoke themselves irrelevant

your most loved song is overplayed


and worn by too many singers

waking to a stomach fresh dug   churning   forgetting

all but the briefest inflections of your voice


your mother called me to the window   fox in the road

it seemed young but maybe foxes age more gracefully

than us   it was early afternoon   you were sleeping


it seemed lost   wrong place   wrong time

we just watched it burning

down the avenue   red scar


a field on the way home

Mrs Ford with her dog   a man flying

a model aircraft   just like a real plane   only smaller



from iv


drunk man to the drunker woman

where you from     Barnsley



Dragging the word out   the way people do

stretching the tighpacked line of vowels until there are gaps

that could be rode through      can ya spell it?


station   walkhome    man in the doorway

of The Mount looking up   g night luv

theory   the moon isn’t just for poets


glimpses of books on trains   C.S Lewis’

Mere Christianity   we will all be cured of our sin

at whatever cost to us   at whatever cost to him