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Boatwhistle Books: a singular new publisher

Hamish Ironside of Boatwhistle Books, one of our newest publishers, talks about the domino effect spanning thirty years which led to Boatwhistle's first publication of a previously unknown writer this year.

I first discovered the poems of Ernest Noyes Brookings in the late 1980s as I began reading the Duplex Planet, an American zine that recorded the thoughts and conversations of the residents of a nursing home in Massachusetts. Brookings had started to write his poems only when at the home, in his eighties, and having never before had any interest in poetry, as far as we know. The subject matter for his poems was whatever was suggested to him by David Greenberger, the activities director at the home (and editor of the Duplex Planet). This could be a dead dog, eggs, the letter P, Vermont in Winter … the poems are playful, spontaneous, very simple and yet very strange. It was the strangeness I liked most.

20 years later I included a Brookings verse as an epigraph in my book of haiku, Our Sweet Little Time. A friend and colleague, Mike Fell, showed an interest in Brookings’s poetry, and we contacted David Greenberger (the administrator of his estate since Brookings’s death in 1989) about collecting the poems in book form for the first time. David energetically supported the enterprise from the start, and so began what became the first Boatwhistle book, The Golden Rule: Collected Poems of Ernest Noyes Brookings.

Simply locating copies of all the poems was a huge undertaking, and it took several years before we were close to having a first proof of a book. In the meantime a second Boatwhistle project began: a book of haiku unlike any that had come before, with twelve writers each contributing a month’s worth of new haiku to form a full calendar year of haiku, one per day. What was unusual was the selection of writers: half of them were very experienced haiku poets, such as George Swede, Michael Dylan Welch and Matthew Paul, while the other six had never (or almost never) written a haiku previously. In the latter category were the poets Hugo Williams, Sally Read and Matthew Welton, and the singer-songwriter Momus. Then resulting haiku were a fascinating mixture of styles and approaches, with those writers who were new to haiku perhaps bringing a freshness to the form and not feeling so restricted by some of the conventions that have become established in the haiku community.

The resulting book was Off the Beaten Track: A Year in Haiku. In 2015 Boatwhistle was awarded an Arts Council grant to commission original illustrations by twelve contemporary artists for each of the months in the book, and also to support the launch of both of these first two Boatwhistle titles, which were published this month. Initial responses to the two books have been hugely encouraging.

And where do we go from here? Boatwhistle’s only aim is to produce 'singular books for singular readers'. That does not necessarily mean poetry – we may produce works of prose fiction, or environmental science, or biography, mathematics, ornithology …

It's clear that we can look forward to many great things from Boatwhistle so don't miss out on being one of the first to order their books on our website now.

Our Sweet Little Time was published by Iron Press in 2009.