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Starting a Press

May 20, 2011

So I’ve decided to start-up a new poetry press. Holdfire it’s called but was going to be called Short Legged Dog or something lame like Do Not Press. Why I have decided to do this in these strict times of austerity where funding is as rare as my wife cooking dinner.  I think the only answer I have to that is that I just really feel like it’s a good time, despite all that funding rubbish, to publish the UK’s best young poets in pamphlets.  Pamphlets are hot at the minute.  Pamphlets are everywhere.  I’ve done three myself in the last year and the freedom of expression, form and theme you can play with, experiment with, in a pamphlet is a liberating process for a poet and can lead to some exciting work.

But then I have my reservations about pamphlets.  Sometimes they just look a bit rubbish, a bit cheap.  I wonder if potential buyers of pamphlets look at them and think “hmmm £5 is a bit steep for that thin exercise book”.  I like pamphlets when they have some kind of uniform look to them, a solid aesthetics about their covers.  I think this can do two things; it enables the publisher to have a kind of house style that immediately brings them away from weak design, fluctuating artwork etc; it also establishes the press in the mind of the reader….oh Holdfire books look like this.  I like Salt’s recent pamphlets.  I have one in front of me now, Apocapulco by Neil Addison.  It’s a book I really like for the poetry (and has been recognised for this by nomination for the Michael Marks Awards) but I also like how each of the Salt pamphlets have a solid aesthetic, they use similar artwork and they just look smart.  This is the same for Faber’s New Poets; simple, clean, pastel, nice.

One of the first things I thought of when toying with the idea for the press was how my pamphlets would look.  How could I make them look like Holdfire books without copying Salt or Faber.  What I came up with, thanks to Alec Newman at Knives Forks and Spoons design help, was a split front cover, vertically, whereby the left half is a nice vibrant orange (very graphic designy and not at all Penguin-y) and the right remains white for potential artwork.  This is a difficulty; where to get artwork?  I want the ethos of the art to reflect the ethos of the press; new/young artists.  I’ve emailed a few Unis and collectives asking them to suggest to their students/artists working with us.  The only problem there is enticing them with the promise of it being mutually beneficial; I can’t pay them but giving me permission to use their work will, hopefully, promote their work as it does the poet’s.  As yet I have had no response.

The other thing I’ve being doing is trying my damnedest to get the poets I really want for the first ten.  I want to publish the first 10 in one go, have some kind of mass launch, push them all out there together to give a feeling/idea of unity of thought/aims from the press.  I hope this might work.  So I began badgering the Chosen poets, emailing them, facebook messaging them…”You might not know me but I’m setting up a press…”.  The response was great.  I won’t say who the poets are yet because that might be rude, but I think they’re the best out there, a kind of loose scene of something or other, the Zeitgeist poets.  They all have different styles but they’re all fantastic and I think people might expect from my own style of poetry, the groups I’ve been in, that I might want Holdfire to be an avant-garde press but I’m really drawn away from that idea of dismissing one style for its popularity over another.  My only interest is to publish excellent pamphlets by excellent poets and try to get poetry into some kind of mainstream cultural consciousness; even the best young poets with all their readings etc can’t claim to reach anywhere near the popularity of a novelist.  Why?  Why can’t literature lovers pop into Waterstones for the latest Ian McEwan and see lovely poetry pamphlets and think  “Hmmm £5 aint bad for that, I’ll take one…”.  I would.  Maybe poetry has a problem that collections are too expensive.  Sometimes I look at a collection I want and jump at the price.  Maybe that’s my tightness.  But I’m thinking of other small books, such as those Penguins books about 1930’s walks around the countryside, local folklore, fable, memoirs or the little books they brought out by like WG Sebald.  Maybe there’s a chance for poetry to attract a browsing shopper and maybe this exposure would bulk up poetry sales across the board. “Oh I bought that pamphlet by so and so, I see he/she has a book out, lovely”.

So there’s part of my thinking as the press starts.

I should start this whole thing really by thanking Alec Newman at Knives Forks and Spoons.  He’s doing a sterling job, better than some bigger publishers (as we used loose maths to find out) and he’s helped me out by letting me come and work in his office/garage and learn the ropes.  It’s been good to get to grips with editing, typesetting, open-field poetry and its problems (nightmare), design, finances and just the day-to-day to running of a press.  There has been the difficulty getting to Newton le Willows (sometimes there’s a wait of half an hour at Lime Street) and one escaped dog (garage door opens, Sam Gunn bolts, two poets give chase, dog ignores calls, bin wagons threaten, dog stops to eat from bin, dog grabbed).

Ok so now I will use/waste the rest of my day sorting out ISBNs, distributors, searching in vain for funding, twittering, adding poets on Facebook and then getting blocked by Facebook for what they must see as ‘Poet Grooming’.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 20, 2011 1:48 pm

    This is an excellent start Michael, I wish you every success. It all sounds so exciting!

  2. June 1, 2011 6:06 pm

    Hey,
    Couldn’t find an email for you so thouht I’d just leave this comment here. A poet friend forwarded your page to me, just been having a read. I am very interested in what you are doing. I have been told my work is experimental and surreal, which is why your page was put my way. I am just finalising my first collection, I understand you are looking to just do pamphlets, I’d like to send you my work, how can I do this? Maybe I can select a certain amount (of your choosing) of those poems should you not want the full manuscript.
    Would be great if you could email me with more details.
    Richard Thomas

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