From DIY publishing, a great poetry resurgence, to hand-stitched journals, Getintothis‘ Cath Bore reveals all the latest news in the world of books.
This month’s column is dedicated to small scale DIY publishing, and how it gives a voice to those who otherwise wouldn’t be permitted words on a printed page.
Firstly, poetry. We hear so much about how poetry is undergoing a pleasing surge, and whilst that may be true relatively speaking – Neilsen Book Research show a 50% increase in poetry books sales over the last four years, generating over £10 million, and we can’t ignore the wonderful work carried out by indie presses and publishers – smaller concerns are finding inventive new ways to stand out from the crowd.
Maria Isakova Bennett co-edits the handmade hand stitched poetry journal Coast to Coast to Coast. She talks to us about how she combines poetry and art so beautifully in each issue.
As the production of zines continues apace around the UK, zine editor Jess Conway and Matt Walkerdine from Good Press in Glasgow talk about the pluses and politics of the form.
All that, and the usual round up of book news.
With the popularity of independent media still on the increase, zines are being distributed in more physical spaces, such as purpose built shops, fairs and libraries. I spoke to London-based zine editor Jess Conway, and Matt Walkerdine from Glasgow band Vital Idles who, along with bandmates Jessica Higgins and Nick Lynch, run Good Press, a not for profit shop in the city specialising in and publishing independent media.
Good Press was set up in nearly seven years ago as a base in Glasgow to support the making, sale and promotion of independent publishing. There was a need for a space that ‘in the beginning, was more focussed on zines and publications made by people that might not fit into the usual shelves,’ says Matt.
What is it about zines that he likes so much, and wants to support?
‘They’re an outlet for pretty much whatever you want. Creative writing, painting, non-fiction, sculpture, music, food, whatever – they’ve seen it all. It’s essentially a small insight into what someone is interested in free of any editorial judgement. Put it out there because you can.’
Jess (Conway) edits zines and agrees that they bring with them that sense of freedom of expression. In addition to that, it encourages creativity.
‘The sense of inclusion and DIY within the zine community is extremely strong, and I think that this encourages people to experiment with their creativity without as much fear of judgement, or the sense of not being good enough, that may come with other more professionalised arenas,’ she reckons.
‘This means that people can make work knowing that it will be read without any censorship, that the final zine is exactly what they wanted it to be. I think this sense of intimacy in creativity is very rare and very valuable. When you read someone else’s zines you think ‘hey, maybe I could do something like this’, and not in the way that people might say that about contemporary art, i.e. in order to devalue it, but because it’s exciting to see people make exactly what they want because they can!’
Online zines and blogs have their valuable role but expressions of opinion online are subject to trolls and clever dickery in response. I’m interested in the notion of a physical printed product and the freedoms it offers writers, especially women. What do they think?
‘Ha! ‘trolls and clever dickery’!!! We’re not free from that kind of action even though we’re a physical space dealing with physical printed matter unfortunately, we still get our fair share of that pissing about. I’m interested in similar areas to yourself. The freedom is what is most important and if you’re making for yourself outside of authority you’re free basically, free from outer control or editing, but fair criticism is important and discussion is important. Everyone needs their views challenging at some point!
We try and have events as much as possible to promote discussion. Things like launches bring people face to face with a central point – a publication, and that gives people who don’t know each other something to discuss. Online publishing can be faceless and therefore the criticism can be – and is mostly – faceless too.’
This is what I find more interesting about physical publishing. It’s like you’re stepping over the line. It’s easy today to share an article and align with its sentiments or notions, but it’s something completely different to take the action of compiling and printing. It’s not a tough step and I’d like to see more online materials shared in compilations and compendiums – some people consider that a risk, but one that’s worth it.’
‘I often think about the websites that are closing down reader comments sections – Vice News, for example – and sometimes returning to a ‘letters to the editor’ model, and I feel this is probably a good thing that encourages useful, critical discourse rather than just facilitating a useless free-for-all.
I think the logistics of acquiring print media acts as a troll filter; you’re unlikely to spend money on something that you know you will hate just so you can loudly and obnoxiously tell everyone that you hate it.
And if you are doing that, it perhaps indicates a more open mindset that the kind of scum who send horrible abuse to women online…. Sometimes you just want to write without fear of being called a bitch or a moron, and I think print media allows immediate access to an audience who are going into the work with a pre-established interest in and respect for what you have to say. This can be a great relief.’
Jess’ Best Practice zine carries stories around workplace rebellion. Issue 2 came out earlier this year and is chockfull of tales and experiences from workers sticking two fingers up to the man – and quite often, colleagues. It explores the workplace and behaviours within it, in a very unique way.
‘Myself and (co-editor) Emilia (Will) came up with the idea because many people we know had been very, very naughty in many of their jobs. It feels like there is a sense of community in listening to the ways in which other people have been naughty if you yourself have been naughty,’ she says.
‘Up until recently I worked mainly in customer service roles, and I misbehaved out of boredom, like a puppy acting up because it’s understimulated. Who on earth is capable of being a model employee within a work system that doesn’t seem to have any stake in your happiness, health or future?!
My favourite story in that little zine is probably the one about someone farting in their nemesis’s locker. I used to really want to have a workplace nemesis, just to make things interesting.’
Does she see the production of Best Practice as a political act?
‘I think the topic of ‘work’ really benefits from being considered in the zine ‘format’, as one of the problems, for me, of reading critical pieces on work is that they are often written by people who are, at least to some extent, unburdened by it. Reading an analytical piece on work written by a theorist can be illuminating and interesting, sure, but what do they know about what it actually feels like to work in customer service and having to smile and be polite when you are paid minimum wage and feel like you hate everyone and everything?‘
Does Matt see the production (and distribution) of zines as a political act? If so, why?
‘Yes. I guess. It’s not something I am actively considering when producing and distributing publications, but it’s one of the most prominent discussions we have at Good Press – is what we’re doing a political act? It absolutely is, but only from a stance of being open to (almost) everything. Having no curation over materials that enter the space – we have an open submission policy…within reason… that is a political act. We’re not out there to make money, we’re out there to assist and distribute.
I’m personally more interested in the freedom of information and exposing new audiences to certain types of information and when its written out like that – it does sound political, but not everything has to be considered that way does it?’
- Coast to Coast to Coast
Coast to Coast to Coast is a poetry journal with a twist. Edited by award winning poets Maria Isakova Bennett and Michael Brown, each journal is individually hand-stitched by Maria and the launches of each issue are special, creative events in themselves. Produced in Liverpool, poets from all over the world have work in the journal. It was named Coast to Coast to Coast after the pair talked about the idea of a writing trip from the east coast of the UK to Liverpool to Dublin / Dún Loaghaire to Galway – coast to coast to coast to coast.
I spoke to Maria about the journal and hers and Michael’s future ambitions for it.
There are two editors, do you fight it out to decide which poems go in there?
‘For selection and editing: Michael and I meet to read through paper copies of the poems, marking them according to whether we feel they will fit the journal. We then discuss our favourites. There have been some debates…we have had pleasant times editing in the Picton Reading Room, and the Museum of Liverpool.’
Tell me about those beautiful hand stitched covers and why you do them, rather than going down the conventional printed route.
‘I didn’t want to compete with other journals and magazines which we admire, I also wanted to create something which brought together art and poetry – a precious object as precious as the poems themselves. A poem can take time to hone and complete, and I hope that the time spent on creating the journals in some way reflects time involved in composition. People have referred to the journals as objects d’art, and we’ve been told at launches and via social media that the journals are valued for their aesthetic quality – all very heartening.’
What do you think the format adds to the reader experience?
‘Although I hope that the journals will be perceived as precious akin to the poetry they contain, I also hope that due to their format and portability they will allow the reader to truly get to know the poems and something of the writers between the stitched covers.
Another influential factor is a link with the past – there’s a history of poets such as Emily Dickinson hand-stitching pages of their poems together. It feels wonderful to be part of that tradition.’
The launch events you have seem more like a meeting of friends than a sharp elbowed “flog, flog, flog”. Why do you choose to celebrate releases in this way?
‘I’ve always loved the idea of holding a salon type event where writers, artists, musicians and others interested in various art forms could meet. We try to have live music at each event and have a saxophonist playing at our next launch. I hope the launches of the journal are something along this line.
We sold out within two hours at our last launch, and so fortunately, being pretty useless at selling anything, I don’t feel I have to flog the journals. More important to me is to create a memorable evening. The number of each issue is limited, and each cover unique and numbered as part of the edition. As each journal takes about an hour and a half to create.
I don’t really think of Coast to Coast to Coast as a business. If anything, it’s an art and poetry project. I love the idea of bringing poets and other people interested in poetry and art together. Each of the launches has been a beautiful event.’
What can we expect from the new issue of Coast to Coast to Coast?
‘During this year we held our first competition for a single poet journal. The prize was to have a mini portfolio of poems between stitched covers and to receive thirty limited-edition copies.
Being the wonderful business person that I am, we awarded two prizes rather than one!
We were also invited to launch a special Irish edition in Belfast, and later this year, I’ve been invited as artist and poet-in-residence with Michael to a poetry festival in Aldeburgh.
It’s been so exciting to develop a project which can respond to invitations and new ideas. I want Coast to Coast to Coast to be organic. This next edition includes runners up from our competition. The edition is created in tones and shades of blues, the Irish edition was green – at least 50 shades of; Spring this year was based on primrose colours, while winter 2017 was created in whites and ivories.’
Submissions are open for the second Coast to Coast to Coast poetry competition. For more information go to the website.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Smithdown Litfest 15 – 22 Sept
Smithdown Litfest in Liverpool returns for its second year. It has author talks and readings for all ages, in community venues along the Smithdown Road corridor ‒ from Toxteth to Allerton. The aim of the Litfest is to present a programme of stimulating and enjoyable author events for local residents, and to encourage visitors from Liverpool and beyond to experience the culture and heritage in the area too.
Venues include Toxteth Library, Ullet Road Unitarian Church, and the Bean There Coffee Shop. Entrance to events will be free of charge, but tickets will still need to be ordered in advance.
This year’s Litfest welcomes authors Luca Veste, Cathy Cassidy, Ashley Dyer, Andy Grant and scriptwriter, poet and short story writer Linda Thompson.
- Radical socialist London bookshop attacked
Radical bookshop Bookmarks, in London, was attacked last weekend. The group of a dozen people, which included members of Ukip, were made up of someone wearing a Donald Trump mask and others in ‘Make Britain great again’ baseball caps. They chanted far-right slogans, damaged stock, and intimidated members of staff.
In response, the shop is hosting a free public solidarity event this Saturday, and free speech campaigners Index on Censorship have sent books including Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and the Qur’an to Ukip to forward onto the relevant members.
At Index, we believe reading broadens the mind and helps to create a more tolerant and inclusive society. So we’re sending some books to those involved in the attack on Bookmarks Bookshop https://t.co/6d4JmRQoFY
— Index on Censorship (@IndexCensorship) August 9, 2018
- OceanofPDF ebook piracy website taken down
OceanofPDF, online since the beginning the year, was taken down a couple of weeks ago, shortly after it was removed from Twitter. The site was issued with hundreds of takedown notices from publishers including Penguin Random House and HarperCollins.
The site offered free PDF or Epub downloads of thousands of books, causing both anger and concern amongst authors and publishers.
- Helen Lederer launches new literary prize for women comedy writers
Award-winning comedian, actress and writer Helen Lederer has launched Comedy Women in Print (CWIP), a new award to celebrate and support female comedy writers. The prize will be awarded to unpublished as well as established talent.
The inaugural CWIP is judged by Lederer, novelist and newspaper columnist Allison Pearson, Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Hertfordshire University Jennifer Young ,and novelist and non-fiction writer Marian Keyes.
Keyes hit the headlines earlier this year when she told the audience at the Hay literary festival that there is a ‘sexist imbalance’ in the annual Bollinger Wodehouse Prize, awarded for the best comic fiction. The Prize has been awarded a mere three times to women writers in 18 years.