all about poetry pamphlets

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

Guillemot PressFull colour picture of the editor at his desk though the editor is hidden behind a tower of books. You can see his eyes (looking at something below, perhaps a book or screen, and the top of his head. There are books EVERYWHERE.

Hello, Guillemot Press. Could you say a little about who you are and where you are?

Guillemot Press is a very small new press with a preference for the quiet and beautiful. We want to make books and pamphlets that are attractive objects to handle as well as to read, and we’re interested in playing with materials and formats. We’re based in Cornwall, on the edge of Bodmin Moor, and the editor is me, Luke Thompson.

As well as publishing, I’m a writer of poetry and prose, with my debut pamphlet just out on Atlantic Press, and my biography of the poet Jack Clemo published in May. I’m also a lecturer at Falmouth University and co-editor of the online magazine for new writing about landscape, nature and place, The Clearing.

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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.

We do not offer to do OPOI reviews for book-length collections. Only pamphlets. If you're not sure whether you're collection counts as a large pamphlet or a small book, send an enquiry (see details below). But normally a pamphlet is no longer than 40 pages, and most are quite a bit shorter than that.

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).

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