Sphinx

all about poetry pamphlets

Spineless, short-lived and easily overlooked, poetry pamphlets are thriving against the odds.”   Paul Batchelor, in The Guardian

Pyramid Editions was established in 2015. It publishes limited editions of ‘small and beautiful’ poetry pamphlets. The poems inside ‘feature three poems by a single writer. These poems are not discrete, but part of a unit; a three-faced form of poetic examination (thus, a ‘pyramid’).’ The interview that follows was carried out with Owen Vince by email exchange.

First, some background: this is a new enterprise with two people behind it: yourself (Owen Vince, Managing Ed.) and Penny Elliott (Design Editor). Please could you share the story of how the idea was born and then translated into a whole website and first publication?

I can be quite impatient. My last project, HARK Magazine, had come to an end, a death by natural causes. Our model was unsustainable, and we were still very green to publishing. After it closed, I still wanted to be involved in publication in some capacity or another. I was also using that time to re-engage with poetry at a personal level, and came across this dense ecosystem of smaller presses – principally in the United States, such as Electric Cereal, Calamari Archive, and now Dirty Chai magazine, who are going to be releasing chapbooks – and really it was a question of 'why not?' Especially when I started using websites such as Entropy magazine, which is a US-based publication that publishes an exhaustive ‘where to submit’ post every couple of months. You get an insight into so many presses, doing their thing! It's inspiring. So yes, it was the general massing together of an idea. Also, a possibly misplaced confidence that it would work. I was looking across the poetry landscape in the UK and thinking what I was looking for wasn't necessarily available or strictly visible. Annexe shut down reasonably recently, for example. And the presses I admire specialise in larger collections, such as Test Centre, and not pamphlets. The bigger the pool of presses, the more voices you find swimming there. That was the idea.

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Michael Laskey’s name may be familiar to you for all sorts of reasons. He’s a poet, of course, with several collections to his name, the most recent of which was Weighing the Present, Smith/Doorstop 2015. He founded the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, directed it for its first decade, then chaired its board for several years, and was a key member of the festival team thereafter. With Roy Blackman, he edited many issues of the magazine Smiths Knoll, continuing it after Roy’s demise, until its final issue, with Joanna Cutts. Michael Laskey is an Arvon tutor, mentor to many, friend to poetry and poets. But he’s also a pamphleteer.

Laskey and pamphlets go back quite a way. In fact, his first ever publication – as a poet in his own right – was Cloves of Garlic (1988) – a pamphlet he shared with Steven Waling. They were joint prize-winners of the Poetry Business competition in its third year. Perhaps those cloves stayed in the mind when, 15 years later, Garlic Press sprang into existence, its first publication being Dean Parkin’s Irresistible to Women (2003).

But let me look back before I skip forward. What did that first pamphlet publication mean to Michael Laskey? In fact, what did pamphlets in general mean to him back in 1988?

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These are short responses (300-350 words) to poetry pamphlets. A kind of a review, but not quite the usual kind.

Each one deals with only one point of interest (OPOI). Read a couple and you'll soon get the idea.

There may be more than one OPOI for any publication. In fact, soon, I very much hope there will be.

OPOIs do not attempt to rate or evaluate the publication as a whole, just to pick up on whatever the reviewer found interesting. They may not always praise, but they will never patronise or employ a superior tone. They will be respectful, and hopefully written in a lively, accessible way.

If you would like a poetry pamphlet OPOI-ed, it should be currently in print and available for purchase. Send to OPOI reviews, HappenStance, 21 Hatton Green, Glenrothes, Fife KY7 4SD.

If you would like to write an OPOI for publication on this site, contact nell at happenstancepress.com (you should be able to work out the email address from that, but a computer won't).

Mike Barlow set up Wayleave Press for poetry pamphlets in 2014. Here he answers some searching questions:

Mike, as a poet-publisher you’re a poacher turned game-keeper! ‘Wayleave’: permission granted to cross or enter territory from which one has been previously excluded (explained on your website). Is publishing the territory you’ve given yourself permission to enter? Or does Wayleave let in poets who might otherwise be shut out?

A bit of both, really. It all started with self-publishing. I had a collection of poems of a particular nature, cryptic and slightly elusive, which I thought went well together. I doubted, however, that many editors would be interested and anyway didn’t want to have to submit and wait endlessly for rejections. I believed in the poems and decided to use our local printer to produce a pamphlet with an illustration of mine on the cover. It was well-received by those I sent it out to, and the whole process felt relatively straightforward and satisfying.

The next step was to try and do the same for others. I had in mind one or two fellow poets with a good body of work who hadn’t had any success in the major pamphlet competitions but whose work I admired. The title ‘Wayleave’ seemed apt for them. I liked the idea of giving permission for work to be out there despite competitive arbitrariness.

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