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Charms Against Jackals: Ten Years of Two Rivers Press

Charms Against Jackals: Ten Years of Two Rivers Press

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Two Rivers Press 1994-2004: a celebration in words and images from the friends and associates of the press, with a special tribute to its founder, Reading artist Peter Hay.

extract from the Foreword

Two Rivers Press is a Reading production, the brainchild of Peter Hay, one of the town’s most creative champions. Born in 1951, Pete grew up in Stockport and came to Reading in 1971 to study fine art at the university. The Press grew out of Pete’s delight in this underloved town and its sacred spaces. In Adam Sowan’s words: Pete believed in Reading, and his enthusiastic publication of local books and maps can be seen as part of a quiet campaign that a number of us have been waging for years – to prove that the town exists, lives, happens, and is by no means to be confused with Anywhere.’

Gradually, and with great success, two Rivers meandered away from its territorial roots and into more purely artistic arenas. National poetry competitions and zealous marketing brought published poets, writers, artists knocking on Pete’s door from all over the land, and with them came literary acclaim and TLS reviews. Artists who had barely heard of Reading thus keyed in obliquely to the strange, defiant passions that the town arouses, and took Pete’s vision to a discerning audience nationwide. Yet much of the best-selling work is still Reading-based; it is appropriate indeed that one of Pete’s last publications was Adam Sowan’s The Holy Brook, and Idiosyncratic and delightful survey of the town’s third and least-known waterway.

The Spill
to the memory of Pete Hay

Words, lose in the world,
spill from fingertip to fingertip,
touch lip after lip.

Lip after lip touches
while words spilled from finger-tips
loosen the world.


I remember the wonderful hot weekend, years ago, when a peaceful procession of concerned Reading people - musicians, performers, poets, artists, residents of Newtown, all occupations, all ages, made their way along the towpath and over the Horseshoe Bridge in celebration of its saving from demolition, for which they had campaigned with passion. When I think of Reading, in my mind I see the place where two rivers meet, and across from Kennetmouth, on the far side of the Thames, the heron that almost always seemed to be there, waiting.
Pam Simpson

[Peter Hay’s] illustrated editions of earlier poems, such as Cat Jeoffry, The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Drunken Boat and some little songs from Shakespeare, were cleverly chosen. Books such as these come with built-in marketing and saw the emergence of a Two Rivers house style. Anyone can publish a book these days but it takes genius to sell it, and although Two Rivers struggle in the market-place like most small presses, Peter’s busy determination to sell his books marked him out as all-round publisher as well as talented editor.
Keiren Phelan