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IRON PRESS Editor PETER MORTIMER is branching out into the natural world.

Posted on November 27, 2018 by Rebecca Robinson | 0 comments

 

I spotted a news item this week  - squeezed between 48 pages of Brexit news -  that the Ministry of Education is to encourage tree climbing.

 

This somehow seems far too imaginative an idea to emerge from any ministry office, especially the Min of Ed, known for decades of stultifying and soul destroying directives on how best not to ‘educate’ our children.

 

No matter. Climbing trees is not simply for children. I have often done it often myself over the years and were I not now 186 years old, I would still do it more frequently. Climbing and being a part of a tree is a spiritual experience that puts us strongly in touch with the natural world and thus helps regain something lost in our age of staring endlessly at screens of various sizes. To be edging along a tree branch brings  an extraordinary mixture of calmness and adrenalin, plus a sense that for a short time you and tree are as one.

 

Trees say nothing but express everything. They have no need of travel, speech or learning yet somehow seem to possess great wisdom. Not long back I read the marvellous book, The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben (Greystone Books). This inspired me in many ways. Firstly to relate much more to trees, so that myself and my partner Kitty now head off at every opportunity simply to spend a few hours walking in woodland. Being close to Northumberland, you can do such a thing usually in splendid isolation, miles of deserted tranquil wood or forest in which the soul is slowly rediscovered.

 

But it also led me to literary activity. Suddenly I wanted IRON Press to bring out an anthology of new tree poems and I wanted to be one of the editors. Such a collection needs a male and a female editor so I asked the poet Eileen Jones to join me. Eileen has successfully edited two previous IRON poetry anthologies, a task entailing a great deal of work, virtually no pay or recognition and endless complaints from writers whose contributions you have declined.

 

The work can also be stimulating and you come into contact with a whole host of authors previously unknown to you. Some, you need to keep at arm’s length, some you hope never to hear from again, but the majority make it worthwhile.

I sent an email to Broadleaf, the fine monthly magazine of the Woodland Trust and they agreed to print a piece on the planned collection, suggesting readers send their poems to IRON Press. This has already led to a whole clutch of tree bards submitting their work.

When approaching Broadleaf looking for publicity, I sent them a copy of a new tree poem of my own just to show them the sort of thing. They are not a poetry publication and don’t usually publish the stuff. This poem won’t be in the anthology; the IRON rule being that anthology editors are excluded from collections they put together, but Broadleaf offered to publish it along with the article. Which they did. And so you may as well see it also. I hope you like it.

 

If it, or anything else inspires you to write some tree poetry, why not submit it to our Trees anthology? Still plenty of time, though first check our website www.ironpress.co.uk for guidelines. Good writing! Good climbing! And all hail the Ministry of Education!

 

 

The Tree


Though it could take time
Find a tree that is yours.
When you are certain, stand
A breath’s distance away.

For a required period
Let your time
Be the tree’s time.
Like the tree, expect nothing.

At a certain moment
something will pass between you;
A sorrow
A pulse
An imagining
A memory.

Do not leave before this moment
Or the time will be just time
The tree, no more than a tree
And you, no more than human.

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IRON Press Editor, PETER MORTIMER Steps (temporarily) into the World of Literary Academia

Posted on October 01, 2018 by Rebecca Robinson | 0 comments

What a wonderful institution is the Newcastle Centre for Literary Arts! I have in front of me their current brochure of events and courses (Oct-Dec 2018).

 

It’s unlike the brochure of many arts organisations such as theatres or arts centres where the programme of work has shrunk alarmingly. The good news is that those aforementioned  brochures are the same size as ever. The bad news is they now cover a whole year’s programme where previously it was three months. The slim brochure  of my own local ‘theatre’ - once showing a regular programme of drama - is now made up ninety per cent with tribute bands.

 

Happily, the NCLA’s  seasonal brochure includes fifteen separate readings featuring twenty-two professional writers and what’s more, all events are free. There’s also one week of intense creative practice exploring poetry with four writer/tutors.

 

And all this at a time when, with the relentless march of social media, apparently no-one reads books any more, even though someone blogging about false eyelashes is likely to attract thirty billion followers. Living online has de-intellectualised us all, so a small hurrah for this NCLA flag gallantly raised.

 

But enough of the free plugs.

 

Reading the biog notes of the writers involved, two main things strike me. One - considering these words are  penned by imaginative creative minds, they are outstandingly dull and predictable. Not a vestige of wit, humour or irreverence therein and an over-insistence to cram in the titles of as many published books and literary awards as possible.

 

It is as if each and every one of these authors had been told that should they drop the po-faced purely factual approach for a single moment, they will not be taken seriously. After reading the first six, my eyes began to glaze over as I yearned for a touch of invention, nonconformity or the iconoclastic.

 

My reaction could be partly explained by the fact nothing depresses a writer more than reading of the success of other writers, but this not it entirely. All published writers’ lives, reduced to a few paragraphs come over as unblemished success stories (very few are). Accepting that, the odd touch of irony, wit or self-deprecation would have been welcome.

 

Maybe it is to do with my reaction to the life of the literary academic, a world which gives some shelter from the storm for a whole clutch of writers while the rest of we poor scribblers are tossed unmercifully on the exposed seas elsewhere.

 

Naturally I am jealous of the partial security such tenures afford (though chasing security is a dubious pursuit). But I also realise I would be hopeless in such an academic environment Not that anyone is remotely likely to offer me a post.  I settle for taking my chances as a scribbler out here.

 

Studying again the list of writers in the NCLA brochure, leads to my second point; that the majority indeed are literary academics and several who aren’t, are the products of academia. Given the programme is funded by Newcastle University, maybe this is inevitable.

 

The risk is a self-perpetuating world of literary academics, incestuously reviewing one another’s work, swanning round the globe to drink together late night at various literary conferences (usually as dry as dust and jargon-heavy) and bagging most of the slots at literary festivals.

 

To be neither an academic, nor live amongst the close-knit literati of London is a double sense of being an outsider a status many of us enjoy. I am though slightly wary of the term ‘outsider’, used as it often is by people failing to recognise they have no talent.

 

It may soon be the case that in our increasingly hi-tech, lo-intellectual world, literature will exist only as a  university course and non-academics will no more think of picking up a novel, than they would a technical reference  book on structural engineering or astro-physics.

 

Meantime, we lot struggle on, striving hard to get our latest magnum opus published. We are fortified by the knowledge that should such a happy incident take place, with a bit of luck the book could well be read by roughly the number of readers you could fit into a small church hall.

 

To join the mailing list of the Newcastle Centre for Literary Arts,  contact melanie.birch@nccl.ac.uk or ring 0191-208 7619

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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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