Callie Gardner Interviews Francesca Lisette

CG: I’d like to start by talking about sub rosa: The Book of Metaphysics, your recent collection from Boiler House Press. This is a significant collection of work because of the variety of approaches it takes in as well as the ways it folds together questions about art, nature, and spirituality with those of gender, sexuality, and desire. Even to reduce or split the book into these six ‘themes’ seems reductive, because they flow together and because there is a very real metaphysical component behind your understanding of them. How did sub rosa come about, and what do you see as its project?

FL: Thank you for this question!

sub rosa: The Book of Metaphysics has always had this full title, from its very inception. It is written on the title page of the journal it was birthed in, where -many of the poems in the first sequence originated. In March 2011 I was living back with my parents & signing on, having graduated with a Master’s from Sussex, & dwelling in the bleak wasteland of life after graduation in credit-crunched coalition Britain. The protests of the student movement against tuition fees had filled me & an entire generation with a deadly combination of solidarity, fury and awe. I was also in love with a poet and performance artist, and spent most of my dole money on going to see him on the other side of London. It was in this state of tenderness & rage that I found Ariana Reines’ book The Cow for sale in the secret downstairs poetry section of England’s Lane books (which shut down a year later). I chose this book over travel fares for the next week or so, seduced by its weird direct lyric magic unlike anything else I’d encountered. I entered reluctantly at first, but then fell fully in love with it. I now wanted to challenge myself to write a book: a cohesive whole which would fall together. I was determined that the book must have a tripartite structure, & I think that both that idea & the title sprang fully formed from the extraordinary painting on the cover of the journal in which it began: 

Our Lady of the Barren Tree , Petrus Christus, c.1450

Our Lady of the Barren Tree, Petrus Christus, c.1450

The concentric eggs of being represented through: tree/ elder/ language matrix; mother (principle of gender and conception); child/ symbol/ idea – fed directly into the writing of Becoming. At some point I thought I’d write in detail about the depictions of women in religious paintings in the National Gallery, about how we couldn’t have anything other than a sexist culture while this remained the venerated canon which daily processions of schoolchildren toured around. Eventually this morphed into its current incarnation as a sequence on motherhood, pain & gender, which itself was more directly inspired by the tense-bending, evanescent tongue I found in Clarice Lispector’s Agua Viva.

The third part of sub rosa was always intended to be a dance/performance piece. Yet it took a very different form from what I originally imagined. I thought very carefully about the progress of the sequences: from highly individualised initiation through sorrow, culminating in ‘Deceit & Habitat’, where the apex of miserable consumerist/ sexual substitution is reached; to an engagement with inheritance and identification (or the lack of it) in Becoming, and then, to a movement out into community. A gradual process of erosion and de-individuation. Originally I had envisioned this final part as a collective dance piece, but it became a personal ritual of transfiguration, a way to mark how my understandings and the project had changed, and to let old forms slip away. Which was always the intention of sub rosa: to find my personal writing voice, my own real concerns.

CG: It's been six years between your last full-length collection Teens and sub rosa. Although there are commonalities in the style, the extraordinary facility with language, and the sense of the possible, sub rosa seems a more sober working with a stronger sense of internal consistency – this is not a criticism of Teens but there seems to be a difference in the poets that informs the two books, although crucially both texts address sensuality and the body (reading ‘Three Strikes’ against ‘The Moon’s Move’, for instance). How do you see the relationship between these books, and how did you move from one to the other?

FL: Yes! There is a distinct difference between these two books. When the publishers of Teens approached me, they were keen to bring together everything I had done. At this point I was already writing sub rosa, and I didn’t want to mix the two projects. I was very clear that everything I was writing that was part of this project was of a distinctly different style.

As I’ve hinted already, I felt that Teens encapsulated a very specific part of my life as a poet. It isn’t an accident that sub rosa begins with a poem written to a poet on the other side of the world with whom I had shared some of that specific, secret life, the intense enthusiastic kinship which germinated the communal poetics and orientation in the world for that small & still close generation. I am more or less entreating him to answer for the world of philosophical, imaginative grandeur we had left behind, which hangs over the frightening banality of life outside it, like a vaporous gateway it seemed impossible to re-enter.

More than a difference in poetic influence, I was gobbling up every form of avant-garde poetry I could get my hands on when I was writing Teens, and it all fused together to create its anti-stylistic, trying-on-everything-for-a-second-but-still-specific style. sub rosa is different because I started to know what I really valued in writing, and I came to learn that I value process and concept more than style alone.

Much of my process with sub rosa was about learning to trust the work. Quite often with certain poems in Teens I lacked the confidence to bring the poems to a point of personal satisfaction. With sub rosa, I only kept something in if I was 100% certain of its veracity, its accomplishment: at times that meant trusting the work’s capacity to speak beyond my understanding, for we shared the same horizons if not the same acuity of vision. (Poetry knows more than its makers do; perhaps there’s little joy in writing it without that precondition.) What could sound like control in this context is really surrender: if a poem couldn’t be brought to fruition I assumed that it didn’t want to be born for eyes other than mine, & let it go.

CG: In many of the poems of sub rosa, it seems that you give that trust to the poem as a way to reflect on ideas for which the language of direct statement is not always sufficient, and one of those is gender. ‘Becoming’ and ‘Transubstantiation’ are the ones I find most affecting in this way, and they feature the interrogation of the category of ‘woman’ in particular – ‘not the true feminine, but the suppression of self that I experience’. How do your poems think about gender, and are there other poets who come into that process for you?

FL: I have, quite literally, contemplated this question for weeks. So thank you for such a bold and complicated question! I guess I should first obviously state that my poetry is inseparable from my thinking process as a feminist and non-binary person. Nonetheless, my poetry was initially nurtured in an environment which was predominantly heterosexual and overwhelmingly white and cis male. I am thrilled to see the way UK poetry has shifted over the last decade, towards a more diverse range of voices and traditions – it is a genuine source of joy and relief. This includes your work with Zarf, Gloria Dawson, Dom Hale, Nisha Ramayya, Caspar Heinemann, Azad Sharma & Kashif Sharma-Patel of The 87 Press, Pratyusha, Momtaza Mehri, and so many more. It creates space for so much and so many, and I’m really heartened by it.

In certain poems from Teens and the first and second sections of sub rosa, there are clear critiques of misogyny, marriage, the disposability of women as love objects and screens for projection of unhealed patriarchal wounds. ‘Casebook’, from Teens, represents the subject speaking back, and this was the first time I felt I’d broken through as a poet to what I really wanted to say. I looked at many photographs of the Surrealist women and made collages and drawings alongside the poetry to better understand the fragmentation and depersonalization experienced by many of the long-suffering Surrealist women artists and muses, such as Unica Zurn, Lee Miller and Leonora Carrington. Throughout ‘Becoming’ I examined archetypes of femininity as the idea of ‘non-binary’ began to properly take hold in the broader conversation about gender, and ‘Transubstantiation’ attempts to capture my new understanding of my own genderfluidity. Then the third section aims to liberate the self from the prison of false projections, dissolving and reconstructing them via the compositional stuff of life itself.

My newer work seems more ethereal and strange and genderless than it has ever been before. Much of this writing seems to emanate from a chorus of voices, moving between individual bodily experiences and group mind.

Women writers and artists have always been my first love, and primary inspiration. Important poets to me on the subject of gender include: Mina Loy, John Wieners, the always-extraordinary Marianne Morris, Tatiana Luboviski-Acosta, Emji Spero, Caspar Heinemann, j/j hastain, Nat Raha, Samantha Walton, CA Conrad, TC Tolbert, Ariana of course, John Wilkinson, Bhanu Kapil, Celia Dropkin, Marosa di Giorgio, Amy Berkowitz, Sara Larsen, ANNE BOYER… oh I could go on and on…

CG: Your poem ‘A Dream of the Cyborg as a Metaphor for the Historical Body Called Language’ appeared in the ‘Trans/queer’ issue of Cordite. This bodily/dream poem echoes the treatment of these concerns in  sub rosa. How did that poem come about, and what role does the ‘dream’ play in your poetics?

FL: ‘A Dream of the Cyborg…’ was written when I was in daily rehearsals for Alexandra Pirici’s performance piece, AGGREGATE. The piece features approximately 90 performers, all of whom are enacting a repertoire of gestures echoing images and sounds from art history, the animal kingdom and popular music. We were rehearsing and performing every day for two or three weeks. This poem sprang fully-formed out of the physical experience of inhabiting these cultural spectres, holographic cyborgian echoes from a future we can only guess at. Partway through the run I shaved my head for the first time & felt like a gender-ambiguous alien cat witch.

I have written from & through the dream state. I wrote some poems which are actually just straight transcriptions of extremely odd dreams I had. I keep a dream diary and also have precognitive dreams which frequently prove alarmingly correct. This leads me to understand dreams as a way for our intuition to speak when we are not listening, both to warn and enchant us. I also often write from a (conscious) altered state, which I reach through meditation, trance, movement, communion.

I’d say that poetry itself is a kind of dream state: a harmonic pattern encoding mystery which makes no logical ‘sense’ but feels utterly real, true, important. In that sense I would say that ‘the dream’ – of a different life, a world liberated from the kyriarchy in which the earth, the sacred and the interconnectedness of all beings are foundational ideas – is central to my poetics. For me poetry is a way to enter that world, whilst inhabiting this one, and in that regard it truly is a practice, which tests language’s powers of mediation, code-switching and capacity to hold contrary densities.

On a related body/ dream note, I am particularly interested in how movement has the capacity to affect what and how we write. Three minutes of dancing or breathing can completely change how you feel, get you into your body, and open up areas of consciousness that are otherwise inaccessible. It is really about having more presence & breaking the cognitive grip over your linguistic faculty. Much of the work in sub rosa – ‘Becoming’ and all of ‘Ecstasy (Dispersal)’ – are written directly from this state of sustained physical engagement.

In an ableist, capitalist world, in which some bodies suffer more than others and emotional trauma is passed down as illness through generation after generation, the body remains a battleground. When the world that is summoned in poetry (& the arts more widely) is brought into our physical experience: is that magic? I believe that for everyone, and especially for those of us in various positions of oppression, these moments of presence or transmission which art facilitates give us the opportunity to change our lives and shape our resistance more effectively. That is why for me, everything I do is both a practice in its own right, and part of a larger system aimed at healing and empowerment.

CG: In a climate where many poets are attached to academic institutions in various capacities, you’re walking a rather different path. What advantages and challenges do you think this presents for a writer? Do you see universities’ involvement in literary cultures as benign, pernicious, or just something you’re not interested in?

FL: I would love to pursue a terminal degree. Due to various circumstances, it hasn’t happened yet, but it’s still my intention to do further study. My non-institutional existence is not as deliberate as it may seem!

There’s a great deal to say on this topic, so I will restrict myself to two points. Firstly, my decade outside of academia has been instrumental in helping me to understand myself primarily as an artist rather than as an intellectual or critic. I often feel that experimental poetry has more in common with the visual arts and music, rather than fiction, and it might well benefit from being taught alongside those instead. I see poetry as occupying a separate genre from mainstream fiction, since they involve vastly different cognitive processes for reader & writer – whereas the ‘novels’ of Kathy Acker, Ann Quin and Beckett have so much to offer contemporary poets and artists.

Secondly, I understand that given this often-restrictive labelling of poetry as ‘imaginative literature’ rather than as sonic, physical, or visual experience, it may struggle to survive outside of academia as the considerably less popular cousin of narrative storytelling. What I’ve witnessed first-hand as a performer and writer, however, strongly challenges that conception. People are fascinated by the strange magic of poetry whenever they encounter it, and are far more open to experimental work than mainstream culture would have us believe. Small press & experimental arts have always thrived in non-institutional settings and DIY scenes.

I also believe that working in academia, being prompted to engage with literary texts in depth and open the invitations of that work to others can really fuel one’s writing. From a funding perspective, I wish there was more financial support for experimental and interdisciplinary poets who aren’t attached to academic institutions, simply because it is very difficult to make work outside of them.

I guess that universities’ involvement in experimental poetry both fosters its continuation, and unnecessarily inhibits its development and ability to reach across social divides. But really the problem is structural, and thus political: rather than blaming universities, we should ask what the hell has happened to public support for boundary-pushing arts and culture, and why it has disappeared. (Those who wonder what I’m talking about should investigate Derek Jarman and Charles Atlas’ work with Channel 4 in the ‘80s, for starters.)

CG: As well as being a poet, you also work as an astrologer. How does your poetic practice tie into your work with Glitter Oracle? Does the process of doing those readings involve any of the same skills and energies as writing poetry, and/or performing?

FL: Definitely, yes! The process of reading a birth chart or a spread of cards is very similar to writing an essay on a work of literature or art you adore – that is, you are showing understanding through extensive engagement and debate. Intuition and counselling skills also play a major part, but essentially with astrology you are decoding a snapshot of a moment in time. (Maybe this also helps to understand why tea-leaves and even entrails have been traditionally consulted as divinatory portals: future & past meet in the unconscious traces of the present). Most fascinating is watching people slowly realise that planets and transits aren’t external energies, and therefore are not something to be feared.

Something I value in both poetry and divination is precision. Both offer uniquely specific vocabularies for conscious experience. As we know, poems are spells which can enable their writers and readers to redistribute and reclaim power in both subtle and profound ways. Mythology, mysticism & astrological terminology permeate my writing from the beginning, because I discovered astrology and tarot at about the same time I started writing the work that would be published in Teens. I’ve been working with crystals and spells and the natural world since early adolescence. I think people often assume I’ve gotten into esoterica in recent years, but the atmosphere’s just been more conducive to coming out of the spiritual closet.

Lastly I would say that poetry, astrology and tarot are all both creative and receptive arts. Many artists have had the experience of ‘channelling’ a piece of work, which arrives more or less fully-formed, although for most this is the exception rather than the rule. I think poets are spirit-workers, whether they are conscious of it or not. We work to attain finely-tuned linguistic antennae, combining the transmissions received with personal intellect, patterning and musicality in order to express something beyond regular comprehension. In that regard, it’s always a collaboration: we do the work and then trust it to transcend us. Art must find its audience, just as intuitive readings work best as conversations. Personally I love making writing and art without knowing where it’s going, art which teaches me how to let go and dance with the uncertainty and opportunity it offers, which is basically a metonym for living with awe.

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FRANCESCA LISETTE is the author of Teens (Mountain, 2012) & sub rosa: The Book of Metaphysics (Boiler House, 2018). Recent work can be found in Chicago Review, MOTE and the anthology SPELLS: 21st Century Occult Poetry. They are teaching a class on astrology, embodiment and writing for creative practitioners – learn more & sign up here.

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.CALLIE GARDNER is a poet and editor from Glasgow. Their book naturally it is not. was published last year by The 87 Press and they edit Zarf poetry magazine and its associated pamphlet press Zarf Editions, which has most recently published work by Pratyusha and Alison Rumfitt.

Conversations - Bodmin Moor Poetry Festival 2019

Two weeks have already passed since the first of two 2019 Bodmin Moor Poetry Festival events took place at Sterts Theatre, Cornwall. This was our second year co-curating (more on the first year here) and we have some photos from the day, so please take a look below.

We themed the day around ‘conversations’, pairing poets up to read from their work and talk about it. The pairings were: Jen Hadfield and Isabel Galleymore; Mona Arshi and Gillian Allnutt; Fiona Benson and Ann Gray; Rae Armantrout and Rachael Allen.

On top of the conversations we had a launch performance of Petero Kalulé’s Kalimba involving half a dozen instruments, a workshop on poetry and mysticism with Sarah Cave, and an exhibition by the artist Donya Todd. We also made a special very limited edition letterpress print of a new Jen Hadfield poem for the festival, printing it with Alan Qualtrough and Jen at Alan’s studio in Plymouth the day before. The festival’s poetry shop was provided by Amanda at Lost-in-Books.

The conversations were really interesting, highlights including Rae Armantrout on language poetry and ecology, Jen and Izzy talking about scientific language and anthropomorphism, Mona and Gillian on working with refugees, and Fiona and Ann’s beautifully curated journey through their own and one another’s work. Petero’s improvisation of Kalimba is always great to see, and as there was a piano in the Sterts studio he incorporated that, too – playing it conventionally, then plucking and hammering the strings and case.

If you have any more photos from the day please get in touch, and stay tuned for news of the second event in September, which is shaping up nicely...

Publisher's Diary - Letterpress printing Jen Hadfield's 'Notice'

When the poet Jen Hadfield was resident in the Charles Causley house in Cornwall we went for a walk to St Clether’s holy well chapel on the north-eastern edge of the moor. It was following this walk that Jen wrote the poem Notice, which we letterpress-printed on 24th May in an edition of just 30 for the 2019 Bodmin Moor Poetry Festival.

 

The Chapel

To get to the well chapel you wander through the churchyard of St Clether and along a path in the hillside above the River Inny, the way marked by a wooden cross.

The saint to whom the well is dedicated is essentially unknown, although most websites say that Clether was founded by one of the dozens of children of the 5th century Welsh King Brychan; a son named Cleder or Cledrus, who followed his brother Nectan to Cornwall. Others say that Clether was the 1st century Bishop Cletus, a Roman who became the third pope. Another associates Clether with the 9th century Mercian warlord Ethelred, and we might as well add his contemporary and namesake, Ethelred the King of Wessex, to the list of (im)possibilities.

The current well chapel was built in the fifteenth century on those ancient foundations and has been renovated numerous times, including by Sabine Baring-Gould at the end of the nineteenth century.

There is a fence around the chapel grounds, with a wooden gate. Bird feeders hang empty from surrounding trees, and there is a rough wooden bench along the south wall. The original well is outside the chapel with a hawthorn tree above it hung with clouties. The well water has been channelled to run into the chapel along the east wall behind the altar, past a nook carved where it is thought a relic might have been kept, and out into a second well in the south wall, which can be accessed openly from outside, or by a little wooden door from the inside of the chapel. This second well is decorated with stones, flowers, ribbons and shells, left as votaries.

The ancient altar and the window behind it are covered with foliage, as well as candles, a crucifix and a feather. There are twisted-wood wands and staffs for sale, and a strange book of short stories about the well’s priestess and wise women ‘guardians’, written by the current ‘guardian’ Vanda Inman.

 

The Letterpress

The day before the Bodmin Moor Poetry Festival, Jen and I went to Alan Qualtrough’s Kiss & Bite letterpress studio in Plymouth. The studio is in two parts, the first full of type drawers, an old treadle press and his favourite Adana (there are further Adanas tucked away in various corners). This is where we set the type, one stanza at a time in the composing stick, upside down and backwards, which Alan then transferred to the chase. The setting took more than two hours, a slow process that forces you to consider the placement of every letter and space within every word and every line, connecting you physically to the language and to the poem in a unique way.

This slow, deliberate process is at the heart of Alan’s practice and his research on the connection between the letterpress printing method and truth. Alan contrasts the investment (physical and temporal) in letterpress publishing with the throwaway publications of social media posts.

The second part of the studio is where we printed the poem on Alan’s favoured FAG (Fourniture pour les Arts Graphiques) letterpress bed. We inked the type by hand, rather than using the letterpress’s automatic rollers.

The test print showed that we had placed the letter ‘g’ upside down and that my name had been spelled ‘Lwke’ (a ‘w’ presumably having migrated to the wrong section of the type drawer), so we needed to dismantle a few sections and test again, taking care to ink properly and tweaking the pressure a little.

The whole printing process took about 5 hours – but that was before we had the card and protective cellophane cut (thank you Stable Arts!) and left the prints to dry a few hours. Jen then signed them and we packed up the poems ready for the festival in the morning.

‘Notice’ is set in Baskerville, with details in Caslon and Gill Sans. It is printed on two different stocks, Conqueror’s Laid Crème and St Cuthbert’s Somerset. We printed 30 copies for the festival and have just a few left. The dimensions are 42cm x 21cm They are all hand numbered and signed by Jen Hadfield and are for sale at £15. If you would like a copy please email us on editor@guillemotpress.co.uk.

 LT

Note: You can book letterpress training days with Alan at his studios. He’s a terrific teacher – patient, calm and enthusiastic – and we had great fun.

 

Publisher's Diary - Kalimba

If you haven’t seen it already, check out Kalimba. We’re really proud of it. We’ve loved this book since we first received the text from Petero Kalulé.

It is one of the thrills of publishing to be among the first to read a manuscript, and publishing debut poets is just the best. Petero’s Kalimba joins a string of fantastic debuts – Amy McCauley’s Oedipa, for instance, Nic Stringer’s a day that you happen to know, and Karl O’Hanlon’s and now they range – and we have lots more to come.

The poetry of Kalimba was immediately striking. It was playful, surprising and musical. It surprised us again when we saw a different iteration of the text, with Petero performing at Chener Bookshop in East Dulwich, reading the poetry like a musical score with flute, saxophone and bells.

The cover image is by Ria Gunton, a young illustrator from Plymouth who has been creating a series of images for us this year, including for Rowan Evans’s The Last Verses of Beccan and a forthcoming title from Isabel Galleymore. You can see a little more of Ria’s work on her Instagram page and on her website (where you can buy yourself one of her yeti badges). The idea for this book was to turn the book itself into a Kalimba, complete with acoustic hole.

The ‘acoustic hole’ was cut out using a die and a 1920s Thompson letterpress. The process was not without its problems, but intriguingly the issue was not with the 90-year-old letterpress but with the modern digital printer, which was printing imprecisely and unpredictably. The wonderful old letterpress was hitting the paper perfectly each time.

Kalimba is having a couple of London performance and launch events in the following locations:

·       17th May, 7.30pm – Hundred Years Gallery

·       22nd May, 7pm – South London Gallery

These will be rounded off by a visit to Cornwall, where Petero will be taking up a short Roger & Laura Farnworth Arts Residency on Bodmin Moor and reading at the Bodmin Moor Poetry Festival on 25th May, with a line up that includes Rae Armantrout, Rachael Allen, Mona Arshi, Jen Hadfield, Gillian Allnutt, Isabel Galleymore, Fiona Benson and Ann Gray, as well as an exhibition by Donya Todd and a poetry workshop with Sarah Cave.

Some photos of the Kalimba publishing process are in the gallery below, if you’d like to flick through.

LT

 

Publisher’s Diary - The Last Hundred

April’s new release is The Last Hundred by poet Aaron Kent and photographer William Arnold. It’s an exploration of the far West of Cornwall, using the old land boundary term of the ‘hundred’. Cornwall was split into nine Hundreds (Stratton, Trigg, Lesnewth, East, West, Powder, Pydar, Kerrier and Penwith) with Guillemot HQ sitting right on the border where four of them meet: Pydar, Trigg, Powder and West.

The Last Hundred is a collaboration that came to us fully formed, which is unusual for Guillemot. Most often we find our own artists if we want to ‘dress a text’ (to borrow Emily Juniper’s phrase), but this one (like our other poetry-photography collaboration, Carousel) came to us wonderfully complete.

For the production, we have gone for an unbound book of poems and photos that come in an envelope, mimicking the kinds of envelopes photos used to come in when you took them to Boots for developing. This meant designing a template from scratch – a process of trial and error, mocking up lots of miniature test envelopes until it was right. It had to be over-sized and we wanted both ends to have a ‘spine’ so that it would sit well on a book shelf.

Once the design was ready we had a die created – a series of blades that cut out the template (see photos below) – and added score lines where the envelope was to be folded. The first few test prints did not work. The paper split, leaving nasty white scuff lines along the folds. Mostly, this was our choice of papers. We were using a lovely textured paper with a coarse grain – an exceptional stock that prints both text and images brilliantly. We would need something finer for the page to fold properly. More tests, more die-cutting, deeper score marks, more folding.

And so here I am, sitting in my pyjamas at 6.30am folding envelopes and collating the poetry cards ready for release. The first one took 25 minutes to put together and I have a pile of about a hundred to get through. A hundred Hundreds.

After the morning’s folding I’m off to see a man about a letterpress for another special little project…

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Bodmin Moor Poetry Festival 2018

This year Guillemot Press was invited to curate a day at the Bodmin Moor Poetry Festival. If you don’t know it already, BMPF is a little gem of a festival. It’s intimate, inclusive and always surprising, set out on Bodmin Moor at Sterts Theatre, near Upton Cross in Cornwall.

For us, it was an opportunity to invite some of our favourite poets and artists and we put together a list of established poets that included Thomas A Clark, Vahni Capildeo, Holly Pester, Luke Kennard and Holly Corfield Carr, as well as some excellent newer voices who are very quickly establishing themselves, including Elisabeth Sennitt CloughSarah Cave, Aaron Kent and Amy McCauley. Amy’s performance of Oedipa was staggering. We had the privilege of publishing Amy’s debut in May this year and to see it brought to life in this incredible, visceral way was so exciting. Amy will be giving Oedipa a Manchester launch on July 2nd. Do try to see her if you can.

But this was a day with so many highlights. Luke Kennard and Holly Pester were hilarious and intoxicating. Vahni Capildeo’s reading was beautiful, with poetry from recent collection Seas and Trees and from her newly-announced Forward shortlisted collection Venus as a Bear. Then there was Thomas A Clark, reading from his latest collection wing of the ptarmigan. The pace, the quiet and the meditative repetition of his reading was spellbinding. Tom had an exhibition in the theatre’s gallery, too, with fragments of landscape made from jigsaw pieces, a t-shirt printed with the words ‘and once I was a dragonfly for an afternoon’, and a series of cards and tiny publications. It was a fascinating use of a small space.

Then we had a panel of our wonderful illustrators, featuring presentations and conversation with Emily Juniper, Rose Ferraby, Phyllida Bluemel and Lucy Kerr. These are some of the artists we’ve been working with recently to produce illustrated poetry books of work by Amy McCauley, Melanie Challenger, Martyn Crucefix and Nic Stringer. Lots of themes and ways of approaching texts were shared among the artists, in spite of their styles and practices seeming so different. Emily’s sense of ‘dressing’ the text when she spoke of her Medea and her work on McCauley’s Oedipa was fascinating, as was Rose’s textures and geography, Lucy’s ambiguity and Phyllida’s sense of the many lives of the poem.

The day ended well into the night, across the road at the Caradon Inn. Memory is hazy, but the Guns N Roses karaoke and a drunken man reciting Macbeth at Holly Pester in the beer garden as a lightning storm approached were special highlights.

We were allowed to run the bookshop for the weekend, which was a greatopportunity to present a range of books by some of our favourite small presses, such as Clinic and Moschatel, as well as individual titles from further great small poetry publishers, like Sad Press, Periplum and zarf, and of course some of the bigger hitters, like Carcanet, Faber, Penned in the Margins, Seren and Shearsman.

Throughout the weekend we were helped out by a team of students from Falmouth University who deserve mention. The weekend wouldn’t have worked anywhere near as well without Adriana Ciontea, Rhianna Gibbs, Jamie Andrews, Izzy Nieto, Gavin Hedaux and Ceire Warren, while Charlotte Rayment and Seren Livie wrote brilliantly for the festival throughout the build up and Kevin Woodley developed and managed the Bodmin Moor Poetry Festival website. Thanks are owed to them all.

And this was only the day we curated. There was so much great stuff either side of our Saturday, all put together by David Woolley and Ann Gray. A regular feature of the festival is Rachael Allen’s ‘Poetry Cabaret’, for which Rachael brings down a host of poets for an informal series of short readings on the opening night. This year Rachael brought Zaffar Kunial, Daisy Lafarge and Calum Gardner. Elsewhere over the weekend were performances by Liz Berry, Mark Ford, Eilean Ni Chuilleanain and lots, lots more.

Now we’ve had time to recover we’re already thinking about next year…

(Photos courtesy of Francesca Sophia)

The Guillemot Factory

Guillemot Press is uncontainably thrilled to announce a new collaboration beginning in 2018 between Guillemot Press and The Word Factory. The Word Factory is the most exciting short story organisation around, as well as a fantastic developer of new writing talent.

2018 will be our first year working with Cathy Galvin and her team, releasing short story pamphlets from award-winning writers Jessie Greengrass, Adam Marek, David Constantine and Carys Davies.

What’s more, this 2018 series of story pamphlets will be illustrated by the artist and comic book maker Donya Todd. We have had an eye on Donya’s work for some time now and leapt at this opportunity to work with her.

Every new venture deserves a new logo, and this little beauty (above) was made for us by another exceptional young talent, CF Sherratt.

More news anon!

Congratulations Rose Ferraby. 2017 & the Michael Marks Awards

2017 was our first year entering the Michael Marks Awards and we were so excited that Rose Ferraby’s work for Melanie Challenger’s The Tender Map won the award for Illustration. The judge Sir Nicholas Penny commented that Rose’s ‘bold semi-abstract drawings arise from and interact with the metaphors in the poems … in a highly original way.’ Rose herself said, ‘I wanted to create marks and forms that echoed the characters of places, while the combined use of graphite, conte, wax and watercolours allowed textures to develop.’

From a publisher’s perspective, the pairing of Rose and Melanie Challenger was a natural one as they have shared many of the same landscapes, in Cambridgeshire, Scotland and Yorkshire. ‘Melanie’s language tapped into my own memories of places’, Rose said.

The award ceremony was held at the British Library and was excellently organised. Photos were taken, including of Rose receiving her prize, but it turns out photos aren’t what Guillemots do best. In most of them Rose is a barely identifiable fuzz. (Maybe we were too busy clapping.)

When Rose was in charge of the camera, we managed a few better photos of fellow award-winners Charlotte Wetton (Poetry Award) and The Poetry Business (Publishers’ Award), as well as some of the short-listed poets (congratulations to Alyson Hallett, Phoebe Stuckes, Theo Kwek  and Natacha Bryan). Testament to how well all the poets read, the pamphlets were sold out by the time we got to the stall.

We’ve had a great 2017 and have a big 2018 planned too, with exciting new poetry from writers both established and new, as well as new fiction, exhibitions, collaborations, festivals and lots more . Details will follow in the New Year. Have a Happy Christmas everyone!

Autumn 2017

This November we’re celebrating the launch of our autumn titles with Andrew McNeillie, Martyn Crucefix and Nic Stringer, and a pop-up exhibition by artists Phyllida Bluemel and Lucy Kerr. This is a chance to meet the writers and artists of our very latest titles, to pick up your copies and get them signed, and to hear all three of our poets reading from their new Guillemot Press collections. Entry is free and we look forward to seeing you there.

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O. at the Edge of the Gorge. Part Two, by Phyllida Bluemel

I have a print-out of O at the Edge of the Gorge covered in pencil scribbles and tiny indecipherable thumbnails of visual ideas. Putting images to poetry can be daunting. I find that, armed with a pencil, a close reading of the text and lots of doodling is a good place to start. I thought a lot about the point of illustrating poetry – what the images can bring. I want the illustrations to be in conversation with the poem, rather than just replicating images already present in the words. Starting with an intuitive visual response is a nice way to get the conversation started.

For me the poems read like an unforced train of thought – a notebook in the pocket of a traveller, a sun-drenched jotting of linked observations and associations and memories – the kind of meandering thoughts that are particular to a slow and hot afternoon. They are very evocative of place.

I was taken with the formal playfulness of the poems – the crown of sonnets – where emphasis repeats and changes and each poem flows effortlessly into the next. An enacting of Martyn Crucefix’s line “he snaps them sketches then revises again”. It seemed appropriate to echo that in the imagery. The folded and interrupted illustrations bind each poem to the next. I wanted to give myself some of the constraints that the poet had set himself – and nearly every image contains an element of the one before, re-appropriated and carried forward – a visual game of Chinese whispers.

The poems move from one image to the next but there are the same preoccupations – the specks and the flocks and movements alongside monuments and geology – contrasting contexts of time, and the sense (especially given the form) of something trying to be ordered or sorted out, but not quite complying – “dicing segments of counted time…” The diagrammatic, map-like – but not-quite scrutable imagery is a response to this – an attempt to make sense of forms and information, or grasp a particular memory and note it down. Not quite successfully. We are left with a string of related thoughts and a measuring or structuring impulse.

The imagery itself takes its leave from the words – an outlined lavender stem becomes a cross-section, a contoured landscape, which in turn ends up as the outline of a branch, twisting into the form of the river at the bottom of the gorge. I had a lot of fun playing with scale and the way in which lines taken from nature mimic each other. This felt right because of the shifts in perspective in the poetry – from the raptor’s eye view, to the ‘snufflings’ and ‘scratchings’ of detail. The buzzard’s diving and ‘zooming-in’ of the landscape. 

The use of newsprint for the folded pages is as much an act of ‘illustration’ for me as the lines. Maps and diagrams and lines interrupted by folds and the edge of the pages make it feel as if they are part of something else – ephemera or a dog-eared map folded, or a napkin sketch ­ – tucked between the pages of a notebook. I also think it’s OK to want to make a beautiful object for the sake of a beautiful object – the tactility of different paper stocks, the small and pocketable size of the book – all I hope lend themselves to a thoughtful reading of the poem.

O. at the Edge of the Gorge. Part One, by Martyn Crucefix

The scraps and scribbles that eventually became O. at the Edge of the Gorge are contained in a notebook dating from March 2014. The first words that made it into the finished sequence record my sighting of “6 white doves / on the boundary wall / looking away”. I’m pretty sure I spotted the birds on the drive to one of the airports north of London as, on the same page, sits a note recording a tannoy announcement calling a customer back to one of the shops in the Duty Free zone: “please return /  to Glorious Britain / for a forgotten item”. These are the sorts of strange happenstances that get thrown down in a writer’s notebook; happily, it was the dove image that stayed with me.

The landscape of the poem is the destination of my flight that day, the Marche in central, eastern Italy. I was staying in a house close to the edge of a deep gorge, looking out to distant hillsides, several hilltop villages, their church spires, clumps of dark trees. The roots of the poems – any poem, of course – spread much deeper than is immediately visible. So earlier in the same notebook, I find I had noted a quotation from Schopenhauer (itself quoted by Dannie Abse in the May 2014 issue of the magazine Acumen): “Envy builds the wall between Thee and Me thicker and stronger; sympathy makes it slight and transparent – nay, sometimes it pulls down the wall altogether and then the distinction between self and not-self vanishes”.

A little earlier, there was another note. This was from a piece by Ed Hirsch in the magazine The Dark Horse. Hirsch quoted Simone Weil’s observation that “absolutely unmixed attention is prayer”. He went on to urge our attention ought be paid to the earth, not looking for something atemporal and divine. We need to cherish the fleeting and the transient, even in its disappearance. This is the particular project of poetry, he argued, and these are recognisably Rilkean ideas that were always likely to attract my interest. I have spent many years translating Rilke’s Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus. The Orpheus link took a while to re-surface in my mind in relation to the new poems.

One other notebook entry stands out. I seem to have been reading Bruce Bawer’s book, Prophets and Professors (Storyline Press, 1995), and in a chapter on Wallace Stevens he quotes Mallarme: “To name an object is largely to destroy poetic enjoyment, which comes from gradual divination. The ideal is to suggest the object”. It’s not necessary for a writer to fully grasp such scattered sources; they tend to be ripped out of context and appropriated for use. In retrospect, I seemed to be thinking, over a period of weeks, about the relation between self and other, the paying of attention to the transient world and the difficulty of maintaining such attention through the medium of language. All of this re-appears in the poems that make up O. at the Edge of the Gorge.

Also by this time – probably July 2014 – there were two strong poetic voices chanting in my head. One was from poems I was trying to translate by Peter Huchel, poems written in the highly censored context of the GDR in the mid 20th century. I find I’d scribbled down “his vision is up-rooted, deracinated in the extreme – a world where meaning has withdrawn (the jugglers have long gone) what’s left is iron, winter, suspicion – spies, the Stasi, meaninglessness – but the natural world persists”. The other voice was from the Ancient Chinese texts of the Daodejing which I had also been versioning for quite a few months previously and were eventually to be published in 2016 by Enitharmon Press.

In complete contrast to Huchel, the Daodejing’s vision is one of ultimate unity and wholeness achieved through such an intense attentiveness as to extinguish the self and all barriers. These two extremes seem to form a key part of the sequence of poems that emerged in the next few weeks, my narrative voice moving from a Huchel-like sense of division and isolation to a more Dao-like sense of potential oneness.

Besides all this, I was playing in the notebook with the idea of ‘off’’. The point was, rather than focusing where the ‘frame’ directs us, we gain more from attending to what lies beyond it; the peripheral, I suppose, in a kind of revolt. I was muttering to myself “locus not focus”. I was thinking of the lovely word ‘pleroma’, a word associated with the Gnostics and referring to the aggregation of all Divine powers – though, as with Ed Hirsch, I was not so much interested in the Divine. Pleroma is the totality of all things; something like the Daoist’s intuition of the One. I think such ideas gave rise – quite unconsciously – to the several swarms, and flocks, the “snufflings the squeals and scratchings” that recur in the poems. These represent the fecund variousness of the (natural) world to which we might be paying more attention.

The hilly landscape and the plunging gorge itself also seem to suggest (at first) a divided vision. The carpenter bees act as intermediaries – at first alien, later to be emulated. As the first rapid drafts of individual poems came, there was a plain lyric voice – an ‘I’ – in a sort of reportage, revelling in the landscape, its creatures, colours and sounds till eventually I had 12 sonnet-like pieces. One of the poems seemed already to allude to the Orpheus myth, the moment when he looks back to Eurydice and she is returned forever to the underworld. His mistake, in this version, was that he was seeking an over-determined, “comprehending grip on earth” as opposed to a more passive openness to the phenomena of the world (which Eurydice seemed now to represent).

At some stage, the narrating ‘I’ was switched to a ‘he’ and the ‘he’ began to feel more and more like a version of Orpheus himself (hence O. at the Edge of the Gorge). The change from first to third person also gave me more distance from the materials. It was on a later visit to read my own work at the Cheltenham Poetry Festival in the Spring of the following year that I heard Angela France reading a crown of sonnets. I blogged about it at the time and coming home it struck me that my sequence ought to take the same highly interconnected form. The 10th of my sonnets – precisely that moment where the Orpheus/Eurydice separation occurred – was expanded into two poems, absorbing some details about a parked car on a hill and others, also focused on transience, from Dante’s Paradiso Book 16. The final sonnet to appear picked up on some notes I’d made long before about seeing a hunting hawk rise up from the roadside clutching a mouse or rat in its talons. By this stage, the gorge, in its representation of the Other, had also come to be associated with life’s most apparent Other, death. The whim, or wish, or risky flight of my narrator to include or encompass the gorge itself became the poems’ hoped for goal.

Autumn Update

We’ve been running for eighteen months (‘running’ really feels like the right word) and as we prepare for the next season of titles I thought it might be an idea to offer an update on what we’re doing and what the coming year looks like. There are some exciting developments.

 

Firstly, we’re really pleased with the little books we’ve been making recently. Each title teaches us a new lesson, whether that’s about printing techniques, paper stocks, typography or design. And in every post we should express our gratitude to the printer for indulging our play – while making one of this coming season’s books we clogged up or blew up (yes, really) four of his machines. Thank you Roy, and sorry!

In terms of new titles, we have most of 2018 just about ready to announce, and even some of 2019. But first things first. This autumn we have four titles on the way, stylistically diverse and formally distinct. It’s been serious fun spending time with them and we can’t wait to launch them. They are:

Rosmarie Waldrop’s White is a Color
Martyn Crucefix’s O. at the Edge of the Gorge
Andrew McNeillie’s Making Ends Meet
Nic Stringer’s A day that you happen to know

 

It’s such a delightful mix of writers, both new and established. We’re very pleased to be able to present a new prose poetry sequence by the brilliant Rosmarie Waldrop, case bound in white cloth and very cleanly designed. This will be our next release in the middle of September. Rosmarie is one of the greats, with a life in poetry that goes back half a century. Next to that, we have a debut collection from Nic Stringer. This is an exciting prospect and we’re just finishing it now. It’s been illustrated by the artist Lucy Kerr, who has created a new series of ‘illusions’. Andrew McNeillie’s book is also a real pleasure to announce. Andrew has been a great supporter over the years, an experienced poet and a generous editor and publisher. His collection is hugely atmospheric, menaced by the sea and the night. And then there’s O. at the Edge of the Gorge by Martyn Crucefix. This is a sonnet sequence, elegant and intoxicating, and it has been beautifully designed by Phyllida Bluemel. The pairing of Martyn and Phylly has worked exceptionally well. (Publishers take note: you won’t find a more thoughtful or sympathetic artist and illustrator than Phylly.)

We are planning to have a launch event featuring readings by Andrew McNeillie, Nic Stringer and Martyn Crucefix, with an exhibition of work by Lucy Kerr and Phyllida Bluemel, on 11 November at Terre Verte Gallery in Altarnun, Cornwall. Please put it in the diary.

That will take us to Christmas and into 2018, when we will be bringing you new poetry from Amy McCauley, Robert Lax, Dom Silvester Houedard, Sarah Cave and Keith Waldrop, creative non-fiction by Wolfgang Hildesheimer (translated by Nicola Barnes), as well as an experimental essay on ‘liminography’ by Rob Dickens. And then we have a very exciting new collaborative development for the second half of 2018, as we team up with the UK’s leading short fiction salon, The Word Factory, to present a series of short story pamphlets by some of the country’s most interesting writers. We will be announcing the project, as well as the first four writers, shortly, but they are all terrific.

That should keep us busy, right?

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The Murmuring Guillemot 2017

 

This weekend Guillemot made our roost at Port Eliot Festival – and it was the soggiest Port Eliot we’ve known. The rain was constant, the mud was deep.

The plan was to make a daily newspaper, printing on a risograph with content provided primarily by ten talented students from Plymouth University. We started soon after nine each morning, tidying out the press tent from the previous evening and discussing what we had to cover that day, who was working with whom and how. Throughout the day the paper’s content was written, edited, illustrated, scanned, set, printed, folded and collated, and by midnight the following morning’s paper would be just about ready and packed for the morning’s distribution. 

It was terrific fun, thanks to the students and editorial team, but also thanks to the numerous visitors who came to see us throughout the festival. We had Guillemot friends like clinic’s Rachael Allen and Sam Buchan Watts, Mona Arshi, Hannah Silva (who contributed a sound poem haiku), Wyl Menmuir, Emily Barr and James Brookes popping in and out of the press tent, sharing poems and giving interviews, and we had contributions from the public. One of the most pleasing pieces we received came after we published a playful article about a monster sighting in the River Tiddy. The following day a boy named George came to the press tent to report his own sighting of the monster’s orangey fin breaking the surface of the river and of the marks in the mud where the creature had slithered in and out of the water.

The editorial team was made up of John Kilburn, Charlie Sherratt, Lucy Kerr, Sarah Cave, Ben Smith and Luke Thompson – all writers and artists – but the content came mostly from the students. We had five illustrators and five creative writers from Plymouth University reviewing, interviewing, observing, playing, making comics, posters and fake adverts, then helping to fold and distribute the paper. The five writers were Shauna Crewes, Sophie Holman, Ropa Mugadza, Caitlin Brawn and Laura Reinbach, and the illustrators were Sally Mullaney, Elizabeth Rackal, Lily Treseder, Jade Broadhead and Eloise Levien. They were a wonderful team to work with – lively, talented and willing, and delivering funny, clever content every day. It was especially impressive to see the young writers and artists develop through the festival. None of them (none of us!) had done anything like this before, but as the days went by, working from nine in the morning until midnight, the work got better and better and was being produced much more swiftly. 

We did have a couple of problems to solve along the way, of course, mostly practical printing issues. The first was the paper and came right at the beginning of the print. The all-pervading damp meant that the original paper would not pass through the risograph and we had to hastily ship in a heavier stock at the last minute (thanks Dave!). Then there was the paper folder, which should have folded and collated the paper in minutes. Except it wouldn’t turn on. We put in a late night call to the students for help. They dashed back and the tent was soon full of laughter and cider as they hand folded every page of every copy. Over the weekend, that would be some 6000 pages. From the tirelessness of Shauna and Caitlin to the impressive speed and breadth of Sally’s contributions, each student brought something different and extraordinary to The Murmuring Guillemot.

Everything we own is muddy, really muddy. Really muddy and really wet and covered in ants. The press tent, the computers, the desks, the risograph, the laptops, the ipads, the scanners and printers, the editor – all covered in ants… and mud.

We would like to thank and congratulate everyone involved for a great job.

Iona Notebooks Launch & Exhibition Preview

 

This Friday, 5th May 2017, we will be officially launching Kate Walters‘ Iona Notebooks at Terre Verte Gallery, Altarnun. Iona Notebooks is a collection of Walters’ painting, drawing and writing from her times on Iona.

The launch is an opportunity to meet Kate Walters, who will be giving a short talk on her work, and to get a preview of the exhibition that will be running at Terre Verte until the 27th May.

Launch and Preview opens at 5pm

Spring Sun

Light fills the house like a huge stranger
leaning in at the windows
and watching.

from Sun, by Jos Smith

The year is warming and guillemots are moving back into their cities along the cliffs. So while we’re being sociable, maybe we could have a little catch up.

Our first pamphlet of the year was Jos Smith’s Sun. We used our favourite Mohawk Superfine papers and found some lovely solargraph and pinhole camera images by Dave Wise for the cover and to frame the insides of the book. The cover title is subtly embossed, which has really lifted it. We’re very pleased. Have a look and see what you think.

To update you on the year’s publications, we’re already looking pretty full and busy, which is great, with work from both new and established writers and artists. Any day now, Kate Walters’ Iona Notebooks will be ready. This will be a limited edition art book, printed on Accent stock from GF Smith, and each will be hand numbered and signed by the artist. The book will be £12 and every order will come with six Kate Walters postcards, specially made by Guillemot Press for this edition. Instead of our normal dimensions, this book will be squared, giving the paintings, drawings and writing a little more space.

In terms of new poetry, I’m really excited to see what the crown of sonnets by Martyn Crucefix is going to look like. It is currently being illustrated with a book design by the tremendously talented Phyllida Bluemel. We hope to publish this early summer, soon after our triptychs are ready.

The letterpress triptych series is hugely exciting. Twelve poets, three poems each. Each triptych is printed separately in a limited edition of just 50 (plus 12, one each for the poets). They will be sold in box sets (price tbc). The work is all ready to go and we’re just trying to book time with the 1928 Thompson letterpress. The list of poets is astonishing. This year’s twelve are: Peter Riley, Mona Arshi, Toby Martinez de las Rivas, Rebecca Goss, Rowan Williams, Nathan Thompson, Sarah Cave, Isabel Galleymore, Thomas A Clark, John Deane, Robert Lax and Rupert Loydell. If you’re interested in this very limited edition letterpress series, please email us.

Later in the year, we will have a debut collection from Nicola Stringer, a new pamphlet by Rosmarie Waldrop, and a new collection from Andrew McNeillie. There are a handful of further titles we’re waiting to finalise, including an interesting avant garde German translation, some American fragmented minimalism, a visual poem sequence, and a little photography, perhaps.

In other news, our collection of machines we hardly know how to use is growing handsomely. The latest addition is a risograph. Photos to follow – once we’ve found a way of squeezing it into the nest. We would like to add hand and letterpress printers, and I spent a surprising number of hours contemplating guillotine trimmers the other night.

We continue to receive (and encourage) terrific poetry submissions, but I’d like to invite something weirder for a small imprint we hope to launch. So what do you have in the way of visual or narrative material on alternative cartography, lost worlds, or the monstrous? We love the edgelands, both literal and metaphorical, and these exaggerations of the places beyond those we know continue to intrigue us. If you have ideas, work or research you think might interest us, please get in touch.

Happy Spring to you all.

Winter Plumage

I, this bleak year of Januaries taste
twelve Augusts harvested

Sister Mary Agnes, Harvest

We have been at sea over the festive period, looking back to shore. 2016 has been a stormy year and the Christmas seas were choppy. A strange climate to begin such an optimistic venture as Guillemot Press.

But here we are gazing at the cliffs of 2016 and grateful for the work we’ve produced. We’re pleased for the relationships we’re building, the writers we’re representing, proud of our first few books and excited for the year ahead.

In 2016 we published an exceptional new poet, Karl O’Hanlon, a beautiful forgotten poet, Sister Mary Agnes, and an exciting established poet, Melanie Challenger, as well as new prose from Rob Magnuson Smith and some revisited prose by Jack Clemo. We’ve had artwork from Tony Martin, Garry Fabian Miller, Rose Ferraby, John Kilburn and Kate Walters. We’ve had our first launch events and exhibitions, and the books (I hope) are getting better and better.

2017 is looking promising already, with new work due from Martyn Crucefix, Kate Walters, Jos Smith and Robert Lax, as well as a letterpress triptych series with 12 of our favourite poets, including Rebecca Goss, Rowan Williams, Mona Arshi, John F Deane, Peter Riley, Toby Martinez de las Rivas, Thomas A Clark, Rupert Loydell, Isabel Galleymore and Sarah Cave. The poetry of this series is brilliant and diverse, and the final two poets to announce (shortly) will further broaden the field.

As well as these poetry titles, 2017 will see the beginning of a few rather different publishing projects, further books of beauty and wonder. More on this will follow soon.

Guillemot Press would like to thank everyone who has supported and followed us over this first year. We hope you’ll stick with us into 2017 and wish you all a Happy New Year.

Launch in a Storm

On Saturday evening, Storm Angus hit Cornwall. He made terrible weather for a weary bird trying to make its way over Bodmin Moor, but the winds at sea were harder still. We took shelter in Altarnun, at the Terre Verte Gallery, with a brave, excellent audience, all there to see our new books, writers and artists.

This was the official launch of Karl O’Hanlon’s And Now They Range. Karl came down from York and he read beautifully. He is a seriously promising poet, and And Now They Range is his debut pamphlet. He’s definitely a writer to watch and we’re excited to see what he’ll do next. Already, this little book has received some great comments, including from fellow poets Billy Mills and Toby Martinez de las Rivas. Billy described it as ‘one of the best first books by a young Irish poet that I’ve read for a while’.

Karl read in front of an exhibition by Kate Walters, whose paintings feature on and within And Now They Range. They turn a great collection into an exquisite book. Kate was present at the launch and introduced her work so brilliantly, and although it was only a brief introduction to her practice, it became the subject of much of our after-event pub conversation in the King’s Head and we’re already talking about holding an evening that focuses solely on Kate and her work.

The second reading of the evening came from the prize-winning short story writer and novelist Rob Magnuson Smith, whose pamphlet Henry and the Moon Baby is being officially launched Tuesday 29th November in Helston Museum. Rob’s pamphlet was illustrated by John Kilburn, whose playful image-making made an attractive contrast with Kate’s artwork in the gallery. John also presented his work and practice, touching on ideas of fourth and fifth spatial dimensions. This led to a series of difficult questions about physics, mathematics, chemistry and crystallology from a passing scientist in the audience.

The audience was great and it was a pleasure to speak to everyone afterwards. We hope people enjoyed sharing our sheltered Altarnun crag with us as much as we enjoyed entertaining.

I have to say, we forgot about Angus completely, and save for a treacherous flight home across the moor, we hardly noticed a gust or drip. Thanks must go to Richard Sharland of Terre Verte Gallery, who hosted us so generously. Terre Verte is a lovely space in a lovely place, and we hope this launch will be the first of many Guillemot events. Our sincere thanks to everyone involved.

Events

19 November 2016: Terre Verte Gallery, Altarnun, Cornwall. 6pm.
29th November 2016: Helston Museum, Cornwall. 5pm.

Read on for full details…

Next month we will be hosting the first of our exhibition and reading events at Terre Verte Gallery, Altarnun, on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. Terre Verte is a lovely little gallery run by Richard Sharland, who has a great sense of the sort of space work needs. The gallery also happens to be in one of our favourite moorland villages. For a small village, Altarnun has an important place in Cornish history. Just down the road, John Wesley used to stay, and a tiny museum remains in the cottage that was built for him. It includes work from another prominent Altarnun figure, Neville Northey Burnard, a sculptor who began his career carving gravestones, then went to London to sculpt Romantics and nobles. In the Wesley Cottage Museum, they have a limpet shell cameo by Burnard. Altarnun also boasts the ‘Cathedral of the Moor’, complete with green man carvings, and a holy ducking well for curing madness.

And this is where we’ll be on the 19th November at 6pm. There will be a pop-up exhibition featuring work by John Kilburn and Kate Walters, and readings by Rob Magnuson Smith and Karl O’Hanlon from new and forthcoming Guillemot Press titles Henry and the Moon Baby and And Now They Range. Entrance is £5, which will include a glass of wine. There will be lots of opportunities to talk to the writers and artists, as well as to pick up the latest Guillemot titles and to have these signed.

There is a second event at Helston Museum on the 29th November. This will be a free event with Rob Magnuson Smith reading from Henry and the Moon Baby, which was inspired by the museum’s stuffed scarlet on exhibition. To meet Henry the Parrot and Rob the Writer, come along to the Helston Museum at 5pm. To buy a copy of the pamphlet in advance, visit us here.

We look forward to meeting you, either in Altarnun or in Helston. If there are any queries, please get in touch.

Harvest, by Sister Mary Agnes

 

As we move towards autumn, we offer our debut poetry booklet, Harvest, by Sister Mary Agnes.

We are delighted with this little book of newly discovered work from the contemplative nun-poet, Agnes, which we have paired with the ‘camera-less photography’ of Dartmoor-based artist Garry Fabian Miller.

Sister Mary Agnes (1928-2014) was a nun in the Poor Clare monastery of Lynton in Devon. She published three slim volumes of her poetry through the 1970s with Workshop Press and Thornhill. Her debut, Daffodils in Ice, was a surprise hit for Workshop’s editor Norman Hidden, outselling their other debuting poet that year, Andrew Motion. Newspapers and the television took an immediate interest in Agnes and her contemplative life, and she found her life and writing the subject of many articles and programmes.

Agnes’s poetry was still and meditative, reflecting the divine as well as intimate natural observations:

I have a window in my cell – the view is magnificent, hills and trees & wonderful sunsets. There’s a cypress tree right outside the window … . I love watching it. You can learn so much from watching things & listening to them.

Year after year, season after season, Sister Mary Agnes watched and listened. The cypress tree recurs throughout her poetry, as do the flowers and birds of the Lynton garden.

Her poetry brought Agnes many admirers, among them Kathleen Raine and Elizabeth Goudge, but as her writing gained momentum, she herself was facing crisis. She had fallen in love – a more worldly sort of love – and while the poetic slippage between the divine lover and the worldly beloved is extraordinarily powerful in her poetry, the tension between monastic discipline and romantic promise led her to the brink of despair. She suffered a terrible breakdown, attempting to end her life, and after almost thirty years clositered at Lynton, Agnes left the monastery, first moving to convalescent homes, then to London. There in the city she continued her quiet life of devotion.

Sister Mary Agnes’s three published collections are Daffodils in IceNo Ordinary Lover, and a world of stillnesses. Following her breakdown, she published no more. Yet she continued to write, and when she died, in 2014, she left behind a number of full manuscripts and a great many occasional poems.

From these, Harvest was gleaned. The poems of this 40-page booklet chart the period of Agnes’s hope, despair and recovery, offering her signature blend of death-infused delight and devotion as the physical presence of Christ and Lover are explored in beautiful crystal-clear imagery.

(We have several more poetry pamphlets on their way soon, so keep an eye on the website, or follow us on Twitter or Facebook.)