A Poetic Proposition

The type of poetry I like, and that I believe to be relevant to our age, is thriving. There are too many good poets to name; they’re spilling out the side of the bag. However, also the most interesting poetry being written today is not read as much as it should be.

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On Saturday 12 November, The Contemporary Small Press will be at Manchester Central Library for our next Reading & Being Read event.  James Davies, editor of If P Then Q poetry press will be joining us to discuss the book as an object and the creative possibilities that exist for small presses.  Here’s a little insight into James’s work as a publisher.

CSP: The title of your press, If P Then Q, is both a mathematical and a grammatical proposition.  What does it mean to you in terms of the poetry that you publish?

JD: Around the time I started the press, and also around the time when my own writing became interesting and solid, I was reading Wittgenstein’s Tractatus and Philosophical Investigations which immediately became important to me. Although I sort of understand the truth tables in his Tractatus I don’t really – that’s where all the propositions come in, such as if p then q.

The truth tables look beautiful, especially when matched against the slightness of the lines in the other parts of the book. Although the proposition, if p then q, means if this then that, what this ‘this’ is and what that ‘that’ is can be any number of things, including the nonsensical. Wittgenstein’s work opens up thinking and requires readers to be active. It blows your mind just like the poets I’ve published. That was part of my thinking in naming the press.

What are the advantages of being a small press that specialises in publishing poetry?

I have complete control as sole editor and do not have to think about finances.

What’s your opinion on the current British poetry scene, both in terms of publishing and performance?

I don’t see the whole of poetry as one big scene. A huge problem for poetry as an art form is that it all gets lumped together. It is such a marginalised thing that for most people it’s thought of as having a homogeneous style or agenda, as if in music Drake or S-Club 7 were representative of all music. The type of poetry I like, and that I believe to be relevant to our age, is thriving. There are too many good poets to name; they’re spilling out the side of the bag. However, also the most interesting poetry being written today is not read as much as it should be. Sadly, the world is not designed for people to be interested in interesting poetry at the moment.

But for those prepared to dig a little they will find that there are many excellent British publishers, most of whom have a clear ethos which means that you can rely on their latest publication as another one to read. Nowadays print-on-demand services, website book previews and internet distribution mean it’s easy to buy and sample books. Admittedly you need a place to start if you’re not familiar. Web pages such as Lollipop are an excellent starting point for cutting-edge poetry publishers.

How does your location in Manchester shape the work you do at If P Then Q

I love Manchester – it comes massively recommended. I have good ties with poets and publishers in the city, as well as the surrounding environment. But I don’t think of the press as being defined by Manchester in any particular way. The poetry I publish is informed by British poets but is just as informed by poets from North America too.

When was the last time you had to mind your ps and qs?

I try not to if possible.

Thanks James!

James Davies from If P Then Q will be speaking at Reading & Being Read, Manchester Central Library on Saturday 12 November, 11am-4pm.  Tickets are £3 before 1 November and £5 after.  Click here for more details.

Avant Objects from the Small Press

There is a sensuous quality to physical objects that you don’t get digitally, just the pleasure of picking something up and handling it. zimZalla publications are designed to surprise and delight.

On Saturday 12 November, The Contemporary Small Press will be at Manchester Central Library for our next Reading & Being Read event.  zimZalla’s Tom Jenks will be joining us to discuss the book as an object and the creative possibilities that exist for small presses.  Here’s a little insight into Tom’s work as a publisher and poet.

CSP: Could you explain a little bit more about the kinds of avant objects you publish at zimZalla and where the idea for this unique form of publishing came from?

TJ: zimZalla is informed by an enduring belief in the value of the physical artefact. I’m a little contradictory in this regard, given that I’m currently finishing off a Ph.D. at Edge Hill University focusing on digital poetics. But there is a sensuous quality to physical objects that you don’t get digitally, just the pleasure of picking something up and handling it. zimZalla publications are designed to surprise and delight. Whilst zimZalla may be unusual, however, it isn’t quite unique: see, for example Camilla Nelson’s Singing Apple Press. Nonetheless, zimZalla stands out because of the number and range of objects. People come to zimZalla with ideas that they can’t imagine taking anywhere else.

How much input do you have over the final structure and appearance of an object that you publish, and how much is shaped by the writer/creator?

This varies from object to object. Sometimes, the writer will do it all, as with Mark Greenwood’s Slips, a selection of conceptual betting slips. Mark had the materials and I simply put them together. Sometimes a writer will come with an idea, but one that is fully formed. Andrew Taylor’s The Liverpool Warehousing Co. Ltd. is an example of this. This is a book of poems accompanied by a CD of sound recordings and Andy had that concept at the outset. With others, it’s more fluid. Sue Birchenough’s Takeaway Britain, a cut up poem in a stryrofoam box with some fake chips and a sauce sachet, is the best recent illustration. Sue had the text and the idea that it should go in a box, but the rest of it developed over time. Of the three models, the last is the most common. Most objects reach their final form though experimentation and dialogue.

As a small press, specialising in short runs of object-based poetry, what are the advantages and disadvantages of independence?

zimZalla receives no funding and has no formal affiliations. This means that I can do what I want when I want. I don’t have to run focus groups or develop marketing strategies. zimZalla is a break even enterprise and I don’t expect to make money. Of course, there are frustrations with this sometimes. I can’t afford to spend a lot producing the objects. It would be nice to have better distribution so that the objects reached more people. But having to find ways around not having much money also makes me more creative as a publisher and pushes the press in more interesting directions. I’m happy being small.

How does your location in Manchester influence your work at zimZalla?

Given the range of writers on the press, I’m not sure you can detect a particularly Manchester sensibility to zimZalla. I did rip off Factory’s idea of numbering everything, but they ripped off Warhol in the first place. Nonetheless, the press is definitely a product of its environment. A number of writers have come to zimZalla via The Other Room, the reading series I co-run with James Davies and Scott Thurston in Manchester. The Manchester and wider north-west writing community, and the conversations in and around it, has been and remains very important in developing my ideas and practice as a publisher.

You’re also a poet, published by If P Then Q, in addition to your object-based work with zimZalla: do these experiences inform one another when you come to write a new collection / publish a new work?

For me, writing, performing, organising and publishing are all part of the same thing. They’re all underpinned by the same belief in a particular type of writing, which I’d imperfectly describe as innovative or experimental. They’re all skins of the same big onion.

Thanks Tom!  

Tom Jenks will be discussing and presenting poetry books as objects at Reading & Being Read, Manchester Central Library on Saturday 12 November, 11am-4pm.  Tickets are £3 before 1 November and £5 after.  Click here for more details.