Reading & Being Read Manchester

Reading & Being Read Manchester welcomed writers, readers, publishers, students, academics and interested members of the public to a full day programme of talks, readings and workshops on aspects of small press publishing.

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The Contemporary Small Press’s latest event, Reading & Being Read Manchester, was held at Manchester Central Library on Saturday 12 November 2016.  Organised by Dr. Leigh Wilson and Dr. Georgina Colby, Institute of Modern and Contemporary Culture, University of Westminster, and supported using public funding from Arts Council England, the event welcomed writers, readers, publishers, students, academics and interested members of the public to a full day programme of talks, readings and workshops on aspects of small press publishing.

Leigh Wilson introduced the event, contextualising the themes of the day and saying that ‘small presses are producing some of the most exciting work in contemporary literary publishing’.

Short fiction is a genre still largely overlooked by mainstream commercial publishing, yet Manchester-based small publisher Comma Press is passionate about the development and publication of the short story form.  ‘Something happens in good short stories that’s quite unique to them as a form; the imaginary worlds they create are coloured slightly differently to those of the novel.  Their protagonists are more independent and intriguing.  The realities they depict [are] more arbitrary, accidental and amoral.  Comma believes British publishing is missing out on something in its neglect of the short story, and to make up for it we are currently the most prolific hard copy publisher of short stories in the country.’

Ra Page, founding editor of Comma Press, spoke about the vitality and anarchic potential inherent to literary short fiction:  ‘Literature is about providing alternative narratives to what we’ve been told.  The purpose of literature is to increase sales resistance.’  As a less-commercially-profitable product than the long-form novel, the short story has the potential to both provide an alternative narrative and to offer resistance to the commercial sales imperative of the bestseller.  In this way, and in the sense that the short story is ‘a very smuggle-able form’ in its ability to cross national borders undetected, Page suggests that ‘publishing short fiction can be an act of resistance.’  In recognition that the ‘history of the short story is not confined to one place or country’, Comma Press publishes a wide range of international short fiction in translation – crossing international borders and suggesting alternatives to dominant national narratives.

Writer Michelle Green, whose short story collection Jebel Marra focusing on the ongoing conflict in Darfur was published by Comma Press in 2015, agreed that ‘the space of the short story to do things that are not in service of commercialism feels really urgent right now.’  She also makes the case for short fiction providing alternative narratives, structures, perspectives – a form that resonates with the fractured lives of war and conflict, and with the daily struggle of life with a disability: ‘short fiction as a form is a great place for experiment and shift, and it does not assume resolution.  It does not tend towards the triumph over struggle, the big budget achievements.  It takes life in pieces, and in the world of the story, that one piece is all.  This, to me, feels familiar.  I recognise it.’  She summarises the difference between long-form and short-form fiction by saying, ‘short stories are not tiny novels that are waiting for water.’  Michelle read her tender and beautiful story Winter Song from Jebel Marra – the first live reading of this story that she has given.

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Ra Page & Michelle Green

Perhaps even less commercially profitable than the short story, contemporary poetry is also being passionately published by the small presses rather than the big publishing houses.  Manchester-based poetry press If P Then Q publishes contemporary experimental poetry that’s designed to be friendly, welcoming, and encourage people to read.  James Davies, founding editor of If P Then Q, showed a collection of early matchbox poems he had made with the intention of being affordable, accessible and experimental.  Davies acknowledges that small poetry presses like If P Then Q publish books that wouldn’t otherwise have been published, bringing the work of new and experimental writers to a wider reading public through their reading networks and live-performance events.

The relationship between live performance and the written word on the page is a productive one for If P Then Q.  Poet Holly Pester was initially spotted by James at a performance and he subsequently published her first book, Hoofs, with the press.  For Pester, this relationship ‘opened up new opportunities for publishing poetry as live performance scores, which maintained the trace of the live utterance.  Maintaining the playfulness of live performance was an important part of publishing my first book with If P Then Q.’  Holly says, ‘the shape of the poem on the page and aural shape of the poem in my voice relate to each other in a not necessarily harmonious or analogous way, but they have to set each other off, nervously.’  James notes that ‘editing is an important part of the collaborative process between writers and publishers,’ recalling how Hoofs was shaped collaboratively to include elements of the live performance that they both wanted to ensure were included in the book, even though they weren’t part of the original manuscript.

Holly read extracts from Hoofs, a work she completed six years ago, remarking on its ‘uncannily resonant, playful approach to apocalyptic thinking.’

zimZalla’s Tom Jenks broadened the discussion after lunch to introduce ‘avant-objects’ which move poetry ‘beyond the book’.  zimZalla publishes a range of poetry objects that deviate in a variety of ways from the standard book form – from Sue Birchenough’s Takeaway Britain in a burger box to Stephen Emmerson’s aleatory text board game, A never ending poem read with dice that goes on to explore the possibilities of human intervention within the context & illusion of chance.  Jenks says he is interested in ‘reclaiming the physical: the handmade, tactile, imperfect objects; limited in number, locally produced.’  He says, ‘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.’

Tom led an afternoon workshop in collaborative experimental poetry creation.  Working in groups, with improvised phrases and cut-up paper, an experiment in Mobius strip poetry was conducted – the results placed into test-tubes to become unique avant-poetry-objects for everyone to take away.  All leftover phrases were collected into a glass jar and labelled with the zimZalla seal of approval as a collective poetry object.  The experience of live-poetry-object-making was a lively and enjoyable part of the day, getting everyone involved with this tactile and collaborative process of writing poetry.

After the workshop, Sally-Shakti Willow read from The Unfinished Dream published by Sad PressThe Unfinished Dream experiments with a creative writing style drawn from Ernst Bloch’s utopian function of art and literature, predicated on an experience of non-alienation between writer and reader/artist and audience – an experimental form with cross over points between text and image, book and performance.  Publishing with a small poetry press enabled the book to be created to specific dimensions as an A4 chapbook, allowing space for the text and images to be re-presented in their original size – all parts of the book are recombined from a series of handmade originals in A4 exercise books, the aesthetic deliberately evoking the scribbled and doodled pages of a school exercise book to reflect the unfinished nature of the utopian project.

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The Unfinished Dream

The next Reading & Being Read event will be held at Newcastle Library on 18 February 2017.  Details and full line-up will be announced soon!

Reading and Being Read events are supported using public funding by the Arts Council England.

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The Shapes of Words

The shape of the poem on the page and aural shape of the poem in my voice relate to each other in a not necessarily harmonious or analogous way, but they have to set each other off, nervously.

On Saturday 12 November, The Contemporary Small Press will be at Manchester Central Library for our next Reading & Being Read event.  Poet Holly Pester will be joining us to discuss her poetry and her experience of being published by small publisher If P Then Q.  Here Holly tells us a little bit about her work with sound poetry.
CSP: Your poetry could be said to work with the materiality of language as sound; what do you see as the connections between the aural/oral and visual materiality of language in your own poetry?  For example, the ways in which your sound poetry is transcribed onto the page in a collection such as Hoofs, published by If P Then Q.
HP: The link between poems and scores is very active for me. I don’t have a nifty discourse for it but I try and write from the nervousness of embodied speech. The shape of the poem on the page and aural shape of the poem in my voice relate to each other in a not necessarily harmonious or analogous way, but they have to set each other off, nervously.
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Holly Pester, Hoofs: If P Then Q
Your archival research provides the basis for much of your work with idiomatic speech patterns – what do you find most exciting and interesting about your research and its translation into poetry?
Every poetry project or even every poem is the by-product of a devised research methodology. For Hoofs I was investigating the poetics of analogue sound, and how this is in someway the sonics of the apocalypse in contemporary mythology. So I was concentrating on noise in communication and how noise interrupts a signal but also generates more meaning. I was interested in how this translates into the lyric.
For my collection go to reception and ask for Sara in red felt tip (Book Works 2015) I used gossip, anecdote and fanfiction as research methods for investigating a feminist art archive, translating that material into plots and narrative forms. I’m always excited by the idea that experimental research tactics can at once produce poetry and problematise imperial knowledge systems.
How much do you edit and alter the words you find in your research to create the poetry you perform?
A lot of directly appropriated or found text makes its way into my poems but it’s very hard to say where the lines between what I’ve found and what I’ve written start and stop. They all seem to come together in an hallucinatory cluster. I never try to exercise any sort of power or control over language. It has power over me, so any editing or act of composition is just a struggle with that.
Have you done much work with the sound patterns of languages other than English?
I am stuck in English. Completely and tragically mono-linguistic. I’m not even very good at English. I think my poetry is an expression of my ineptness with language.
What are you currently working on in your research and practice?
I have just finished a long project on lullabies (Common Rest, published by Test Centre 2016) This was a project that incorporated lots of my previous research into worksongs and performic effort but tilted towards questions around affective labour and care politics. It’s a record of improvised collaborative duets with some incredible people including Vahni Capildeo, Nat Raha and Verity Spott. We sang together and thought about compassion, tension and contemporary restrictions to rest. It’s a project that means a lot to me as I found friends there, as well as discovered livable ethics and non-normative practices of care that I’ll carry with me.

Thanks Holly!  

Hoofs by Holly Pester engages the materiality of the word in terms of sound shapes, textures of orality/aurality and the visual patterns created from the aurally-transcribed language on the surface of the page.  The poetry in Hoofs is presented in ways that demand a different kind of reading – a reading that engages the aural and visual qualities of language as it is spoken and heard: with pauses, emphases, repetitions, stutters.  Fragments of meaning arise and fall away again as the location and proximity of words and phrases in relation to one another energises shifting layers of relational connectivity and connotation.

The performance aspect of Pester’s work which is its essence, anterior to its production on the page, ensures that it is an embodied practice – a text grounded in the material fluctuations of the speaking subject’s voice.  Yet the archival research and construction of each piece out of the words of other speakers challenges the concept of the speaking subject as a distinct and separate ‘self’.  This paradox is embraced by the playfulness of the poems collected in Hoofs.

Particularly playful in this collection is the text/image coupling of ‘EFFORT NOISER A Space Shanty for the Lunar Landings’ calling attention to the masculinity of the language of space exploration and its sea shanty equivalent.  ‘DANGER SCALE’ combines the language used to define the current level of threat for facing a terror attack with the language used to describe the hidden ‘dangers’ present in foods, particularly children’s food, a la Jamie Oliver.  The result is a hypnotically repetitive list becoming more and more absurd to the point of generating new layers of meaning through suggestion and juxtaposition.

Holly Pester will be discussing her poetry and her experience with small presses at Reading & Being Read, Manchester Central Library on Saturday 12 November, 11am-4pm.  Tickets are £5.  Manchester-based MA and PhD students can register for FREE.  Click here for more details.

FREE TICKETS for Manchester Students!

Manchester-based MA and PhD students can now register for FREE tickets to our Reading & Being Read event on Saturday 12 November.

Manchester-based MA and PhD students can now register for FREE tickets to our Reading & Being Read event on Saturday 12 November.

Click here for more details and to register for your ticket.

LOOKING FOR SOMETHING NEW TO READ…?

READING AND BEING READ

with Comma Press, If P Then Q, Michelle Green, Holly Pester & ZimZalla

MANCHESTER CENTRAL LIBRARY

Performance Room, Ground Floor

St Peter’s Square, City Centre, M2 5PD

11am to 4pm, 12 November 2016

Tickets £3 before 1 November / £5 after

FREE tickets for Manchester-based MA and PhD students!

Twitter hashtag: #ReadingBeingRead

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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.

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.

Reading & Being Read : Manchester

Reading & Being Read Manchester with Comma Press, If P Then Q, Michelle Green, Holly Pester & ZimZalla

LOOKING FOR SOMETHING NEW TO READ…?

READING AND BEING READ

with Comma Press, If P Then Q, Michelle Green, Holly Pester & ZimZalla

MANCHESTER CENTRAL LIBRARY

Performance Room, Ground Floor

St Peter’s Square, City Centre, M2 5PD

11am to 4pm, 12 November 2016

Tickets £3 before 1 November / £5 after

FREE tickets for Manchester-based MA and PhD students!

Twitter hashtag: #ReadingBeingRead

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The last few years has seen an explosion of new small presses and independent publishers around the country, publishing new and exciting fiction and poetry. If you are a keen reader and want to know more about the difference being a small press makes to how they work and what they publish, come along to hear from local small presses, Comma Press and If P then Q. The day will feature readings from two writers, Michelle Green from Comma Press and Holly Pester from If P then Q.

 

Small presses are often able to give much more attention to the physical characteristics of the book. Tom Jenks from zimZalla and James Davies from If P Then Q will be discussing and presenting poetry books as objects to give a creative insight into one of the distinctive characteristics of a small press.

 

If you think it’s fine to judge a book by its cover – and typeface, paper and page layout! – this is the event for you.

Tickets are £5 (£3 for early booking), and can be booked via Eventbrite by clicking here.

MA and PhD students in Manchester can register for FREE tickets by clicking here.

Reading and Being Read is organised by The Contemporary Small Press at the University of Westminster, Institute of Modern and Contemporary Culture, supported by public funding from Arts Council England.