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.

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!

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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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.

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.