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Yen-Yen Chats With Andrew Wynn-Owen

Posted on March 31, 2017 by Rebecca Robinson | 0 comments
Our old pal Yen-Yen is back, and she brought a friend! The Emma Press poet Andrew Wynn Owen chatted to her about writing poetry, how art is like an alethiometer and his brand new pamphlet The Dragon and the Bomb.



Why did you decide to write an epyllion? How were you inspired by other poems written in this form?

Here, ‘epyllion’ is a loose term for a compact story-poem with some epic elements. Perhaps ‘mock- epyllion’ would be a better description for The Dragon and The Bomb, but it isn’t completely ‘mock-’. Epic is generally concerned with heroism and idealism – but there are also stylistic tics (e.g. epic similes, heroic epithets), interest in the probable and the marvellous, a concern with unity (and the reaction against that concern), recurring types of narrative machinery. I mean ‘machinery’ in a now-rare sense:

OED 1.b. ‘Contrivances employed for effect in a literary work; supernatural personages and incidents, or other devices of plot, etc., in a narrative.'

However, this poem also contains lots of ‘machinery’ in the modern sense. Where satire seeks to moralise by exposing vice, epic seeks to moralise by expounding virtue. (I should add, and this is a longstanding point: ‘to moralise’ is very different to being ‘moralising’.) I much prefer the epic road, but have not followed it far here.

This is lighthearted mock-epyllion, really. Its moral is, partly, its mockery of heroic idealism. It calls  into question the invention-mania of the alchemist, Haplo Nous, and the overblown quest-hunger of the antihero, Armando. It ends with a decidedly antinuclear message. The set-up is counterfactual but, as in the real world, the creation of a nuclear bomb comes about due to lots of different kinds of insensibility, the reckless and the frantic and the overreaching and so on.


Has your process of writing changed since your first pamphlet, Raspberries and the Ferry (published by the Emma Press in 2014)?

Yes – some types of lyrical effect have become naturalised to a much greater degree. They just happen now, as when playing a musical instrument, and this allows for clearer focus on ideas. When I first started trying to write poetry, now ten years ago, I thought of the art as rather like the alethiometer in Philip Pullman’s stories: at first, you do it naturally, the words overflowing; but then it is forgotten and must be re-learned by painstaking dedication. The benefit of this re-learning is that reliable control replaces shaky effusion.

So technique is important, but it’s only a beginning – what matters is thoughtful enthusiasm. As Robert Browning writes, ‘Enthusiasm’s the best thing, I repeat; | Only we can’t command it; fire and life | Are all, dead matter’s nothing, we agree.’ Nowadays I think much more feelingly in poetry than in prose. e.g. It is a sunny day and I am in the park. The words for the ecstatic appreciation of nature fall, as if ready-formed, with a particular cadence, out of the air. That’s a perceptual illusion, though: really the words rise from within, and the distinctive thought-cadence derives from the recognition of a worldly pattern correspondent to patterns in the mind.

The experience of writing and reading seems to me to affirm that, as Plato suggests, the light that blazes through this world is like the light that blazes from within us: ‘just as the good relates to the mind in the intelligible realm and what is perceived by the mind, so this body (the sun) relates to sight and what can be seen’ (Republic 508c). Apollo, god of the sun, is also the god of poetry. It is an enthusing thought.

Most of all, in the writing process, I feel very lucky to have been edited by Emma Wright and Rachel Piercey, whose poetical (and general) judgement I trust very much.


What did you enjoy about writing The Dragon and the Bomb and what were some difficulties you encountered?

Tuning the word-music is fun but getting ideas and narrative to cohere with it is tricky. If you aim at overarching unity/coherence, you have to be willing to cut swathes of poetry that simply don’t fit the story, passages written in tangential rhapsody. These challenges, which I enjoy navigating, are more usually faced by orthodox narrative artists (novelists, playwrights, tapestry-makers, etc). This piece is a purposively simple instance of narrative poetry, but I hope to extend this interest in some future works. Perhaps my favourite aesthetic thing (which I attempt here) is to see the effervescent tablet of a philosophical system fizzle and dissolve in the clear water of art. The tablet vanishes but its vitamins are now everywhere. It is tricky, though.


When you are writing poetry, do you think about how the words will be performed live/spoken as well? How important (or not important) is this?

Yes, certainly – music, rhetoric, and drama are crucial to poetry. So it is for performance, but not to be heard as a one-off (as, say, a news report might be) – it’s for listening and re-listening, interpreting and re-interpreting, without over-interpreting. More, sometimes poems that were not made to be performed publicly by the author are highly performable by others. I think, for example, the poems of Emily Dickinson, sharp marvels of sound and emotion, are wonderful to perform to oneself. I pace about the park reciting them, feeling new nuances each time. The music and rhetoric give a plethora of suggestions, but no pinioning directive, to the performer.

I do love acting but prefer the idea that other people might internalise the work of their own accord. It has happened, really very occasionally (though hope springs eternal), that I meet someone who has memorised a few lines of mine, and professes to have memorised them on account of enjoyment. This makes me much more lastingly happy than, say, the moment of brief relief when people laugh or smile or hum supportively at a reading. It’s the difference between enduring attachment and momentary amusement.


What do you hope the readers will get out of reading this pamphlet?

Enjoyment, and a space for some thinking about wonder and ethics and science. The heart of the poem, I guess, is a stanza (which seemed, illusion or not, to fall out of the air) about the inventor’s motivation:


          Some vague belief in unseen energy.
Some hunch that if he were to break apart

          The building blocks of nature, he might see
          Creation as it had been at the start,
          Schemata for the whole of time; a heart
          Suspended in the lull between two beats,

From which the secret of the universe secretes.


Buy Andrew's latest collection here.

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Some tips for putting your pamphlet together from smith|doorstop poet Suzannah Evans

Posted on February 14, 2017 by Rebecca Robinson | 0 comments



Read some tips on putting together your entry for the International Book & Pamphlet Competition from smith|doorstop poet Suzannah Evans, who was one of the four winners in the 2011/12 Competition with her collection, Confusion Species.


1. Read aloud


Reading aloud is something I’d advise at every stage of the writing and drafting process, but also at the editing stage. If you’re unsure that one poem belongs with the others, then read them aloud. Read aloud to spot dodgy line breaks and rhythms. Read aloud as you order poems.


2. Get Feedback


If you’ve got a willing friend who might read your manuscript, or even give you their opinion on a couple of poems you’re less sure of, then do lean on them!


3. Get The Poems On The Floor


The first time I ever entered the PB pamphlet competition (which, I must disclose, was some time before I won it) I approached the task of ordering the poems by laying them all out on the living room floor of the shared house I lived in in Leeds, reading the beginnings and ends of them as I went along to see how one poem flowed into the next.


Although it struck me as an odd thing to do (and it certainly didn’t go down too well with my housemates at the time), all the poets I’ve talked to since do the same thing.


4. Less is more


According to our rules, a pamphlet manuscript is 20-24 poems. But don’t feel like you’ve got to cram in everything you’ve got. Your pamphlet is only as strong as its weakest link, so trust your guts and if some poems don’t seem as strong as the rest, leave them out.


5. Be clear


It’s in your interests not to make the judge’s work any harder. Make sure you include a contents and give each of your poems enough space on the page (one poem per page, unless they’re very short, is what I’d recommend). Steer clear of mad fonts and clipart.


6. Think of a hilarious pseudonym. 


OK, so this alone won't win you the competition...but you've got to remain anonymous and it'll keep us in the office amused. Go wild. An honourable mention to recent favourites Rat Von Trapp, Hamilton Bravado, Nempnett Thrubwell and The Irish Goat. 


7. Last Minute Faffy Checks


​Being a slapdash individual at best, I'd do well to read my own advice here. But do have a last check through the rules, ensure your anonymity is preserved and your pages are in order, and that you've included all the necessary information. You can always get in touch with us for any queries too – office@poetrybusiness.co.uk 


8. Be brave and let it go!


It is a scary thing sending your work out into the world, and I know most poets will readily spend hours perfecting and fine-tuning before doing so, but I firmly believe that there comes a point when perfectionism is just another word for fear.  I often tell myself that if I ever write the perfect poem, I will have mastered writing and will have to find something else to occupy my time. Try that one.


Remember that if your pamphlet is picked as a winner you will be working on it with an experienced editor, whose job it is to tell you (among other things) whether you’re making any fatal mistakes.


We wish you all the very best of luck!


You can find more information about the competition here.

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Read all about it: 'Trouble' by Alison Winch

Posted on July 26, 2016 by Rebecca Robinson | 0 comments


Arses play a crucial role in Chaucer’s ‘The Miller’s Tale’. Or, to be more precise, the arse of Alisoun who is the tale’s unruly wench. Married to the ‘dotard’ carpenter but also having sex with the scholar Nicholas, Alisoun takes revenge upon the clerk Absolon’s amorous harassment by promising him a kiss out of her bedroom window. However, rather than puckering her lips, ‘she put her hole’ and Absolon snogs her ‘naked ers/ With great relish’. When he realises her prank he returns to her window with a poker, and after a kafuffle – including a very loud fart – Absolon smites Nicholas’s arse.


When I wrote the sequence ‘Alisoun’s’, which is at the centre of my new pamphlet, I had relentless morning sickness. I felt like I was bobbing up and down in one of the tale's tubs (the tubs are a ruse thought up by Nicholas to get Alisoun into bed). My body and its various hormonal goings-on had also usurped my mind and I felt in pretty abject state. I set myself the task of crafting a long poem, beginning and ending with the word arse, and starting each stanza with a letter from the title ‘Alisoun’s’ like a kind of acrostic. It was the only constraint which forced me get something on the page – that and chips.


I took Alisoun out of her love triangle and put her on the Via Francigena which is a medieval pilgrimage from Canterbury to Rome. She is still bawdy and visceral and rude (she is impregnated by a coquillard or pseudo-pilgrim) but she also ruminates about god, nature and ‘the newte that plip plops in the pond of my uterus’.


I was simultaneously reading some bonkers stuff about women and reproduction by medieval male writers, as well as by the philosophers who had influenced them. I say bonkers but their understandings of fertility, sex and the female body resonate today across literature, popular culture and the mainstream media. We can see them in the figures of the 'yummy mummy' or 'pramface', or in the many many acts of slut-shaming. The seeds of these popular narratives are sown in the writings of St Aquinas and Galen, and I’ve put excerpts of their work in the margins of the poem.


Alisoun speaks back to the misogyny of the present and the past. Not by being disciplined and good and therefore proving their caricature of women wrong, but by being wild and uncontained. Her fucking unruly body is at the centre of the poem and it rampages through any scrutiny or moral judgement.


Alison Winch, author of Trouble, available now from The Emma Press.

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Poetry Out Loud: 'You' by Anthony Anaxagorou

Posted on June 17, 2016 by Yen-Yen Lu | 0 comments

 A powerful and personal poem from Out-Spoken Press publisher Anthony Anaxagorou. Each line is heartfelt and carefully constructed to resonate with the reader, listener, viewer, and the 'you' addressed in the poem. 

Anthony is a writer and performer based in London. His work has been featured on BBC Radio 6 and at the British Urban Film Awards. He founded Out-Spoken in 2012 and won the Groucho Maverick Award in 2015.

Anthony and Out-Spoken are well-established in the spoken word poetry scene in London, hosting live poetry events each month known as Out-Spoken Live where past performers have included Rob Auton, whose collections Petrol Honey and In Heaven the Onions Make You Laugh published by Burning Eye Books, Malika Booker, an international writer and Inpress board member, currently chairing the judging panel for the Forward Prize for Poetry, and Sarah Howe, winner of the TS Eliot Prize for her debut collection Loop of Jade. Out-Spoken also run poetry and creative writing masterclasses, which have been equally popular. More information on their events can be found on their website and Facebook.


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IRON Press editor Peter Mortimer muses on the strange rituals of live poetry readings.

Posted on May 12, 2016 by Rebecca Robinson | 1 comment

Those of you out there who regularly attend live poetry readings will recognise a certain sound when I describe it.

The sound comes from some audience members at the end of certain poems whose nature is – how shall we put it? – slightly enigmatic. The poet reads the final line – let’s for sake of argument say it goes, ‘so the black absence was folded into the crease of destiny’. There follows a short silence, which in turn is followed by a barely audible ‘mmmm’ noise.

This ‘mmm’ noise implies is that the listener fully appreciates that the poem is full of  deep significance without quite yet knowing what that significance is.

I have uttered this same ‘mmmm’ noise myself.  I utter it almost involuntarily. If I’m honest I must confess it means I don’t know what the poem is on about, but dare not admit to same and sense at least some response is called for. So the ‘mmmm’ noise seems a safe bet. When several audience members emit the ‘mmmm’ noise , it can sound like a  short Buddhist mantra.

Unlike with songs, at a poetry reading, the audience rarely claps each individual piece, which is considered bad form. Or maybe the reason’s because the total audience at most poetry readings could fit into a phone box (anyone remember phone boxes?), which would leave the applause sounding somewhat hollow.

I’ve organised many readings over the years. The poets themselves, much as I love ‘em, can drive me mad. You ask them (plead with them?) to limit their slot  to 25 minutes and two hours later with many of the audience either in a catatonic state, dead, or already propping up the bar in the Dog & Duck next door, the poet is still ploughing on.

‘I’ll make this my last poem’ is often the most heartening sentence I hear at a live reading. Unfortunately that final offering is often the length of Paradise Lost.

Poets are normally thought of as sensitive flowers, their antennae responsive to every aspect of the world around them.,  So how can they be so curiously self-absorbed? Witness the upsurge of Open Mic poetry nights when aspirants are invited to read their latest magnum opus.

Often a published poet is also on the bill, but the aspirants have no interest in this person.

The Barnsley poet Ian McMillan tells the tale of when he was the guest poet at an Open Mic slot event and read to an audience of minus two. There were only two people in the audience both of whom read their own work in the Open Mic first half.

By the time Ian McMillan got up to read in the second half the two had gone home.

People who bemoan the fact that the general public can no longer remember poems by heart should realise that neither can poets – not even their own work.

In maybe only five per cent of readings do the poets perform without the text in front of them. Normally their nose is glued into the book, often to the detriment of their voice projection. Imagine the uproar if singers did the same thing at a live performance.

The opaque nature of much modern poetry explains the often lengthy introductions by the authors at live readings. “Let me give you some background to this poem……” they begin, pointing out various vital references which the poem in isolation is unable to put into context. Pity the poor soul reading the poem in the book thus denied such background and facing possibly only obfuscation.

Some readings have been heady intoxicating affairs indelibly etched on the memory.  I’m unlikely to forget Allen Ginsberg, Ted Hughes, Basil Bunting or Hugh MacDiarmid, all at Newcastle’s famous Morden Tower poetry venue, built into the old city wall and hosting the world’s best poets since the 1960s (alas, now sadly in decline).

Poetry slams have become the modern vogue and this has seen the line between stand-up comedians and poets often blurred. Inject enough energy into your slam performance and even doggerel can sound appealing. Though as much modern  poetry is still po-faced the arrival of slam is welcome.

Some poets are so excruciating in live performance that they should never be allowed out of the garret. They could take a leaf out of amateur football’s book, where players turn out on windy Sunday morning park pitches with no expectation there will be any spectators, but enjoying it anyway. The activity, they realise, if for their own enjoyment.

It is so, alas, just so for some poets.

Despite claims for it to be ‘the new rock ‘n’ roll’ poetry is very much a minority activity. Most people at a live reading write poetry themselves. Imagine a barber where 90 per cent of his customers were other barbers. I often awake and wonder why after 42 years of publishing  the stuff, organising live readings and – probably worst of all! – even writing it but I continue, but it’s unlikely I’ll stop now. And that which we love, we also most readily mock.

Though I will attempt from hereon in to cut back on the number of times after a live poem’s final line, I am heard to utter the ‘mmm’ noise.

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