Elizabeth Burns, some appreciations

Wayleave Press has been very pleased to be able to publish Elizabeth’s last two pamphlets, A Scarlet Thread and Clay. Here are some comments on her poetry from other Wayleave poets.

Elizabeth
from Jane Routh

Elizabeth would have been in her late thirties when she wrote she was interested in finding ‘an identity for women’s writing in what has been the mainly male domain of Scottish poetry’, specifically ‘women’s ways of seeing and writing’. She wanted to write about ‘the unseen… making the invisible through words – and things.’ This is a life-long theme in her work: she said something very similar as the featured poet in The Compass magazine in the summer of 2015.

The clarity and the ambition of her vision is striking, as is the consistency of her subject matter over the years. How does she achieve what she does?

I’m interested that Elizabeth writes two types of poem: one long and discursive; the other, short and condensed. On the face of it these may sound very different, yet to work, both demand an immaculate command of syntax. Discursive poems, often with long lines and many clauses, need a syntax that never trips or confuses a reader. Condensed poems need a syntax that can support a few words in perfect balance to hold them in a reader’s mind.

Yet it’s the way she plays her syntax within her forms that interests me. (She rarely uses given forms.) I’ll look at a couple of line breaks from her Wayleave pamphlets: ‘The Common Stair’ in The Scarlet Thread is a two-sentence poem; the first sentence extends over three stanzas. What strikes me is the complex use she makes of the first stanza break

I used to climb the same common stair as she did,
when I lived above her old flat in the New Town: our flat

its twin, so I know…

which doesn’t fall where you’d expect, with ‘our flat’ opening the second stanza. ‘Our flat’ is part of the ‘her flat’ stanza, emphasising what they have in common, and giving full force to the same-but-different idea with ‘its twin’ starting a new stanza.

‘Beginnings’ in Clay is one of Elizabeth’s highly condensed poems. It speaks of a woman making a pot and then cooking in it:

look, she can cook in it, meat and plant
and water. She is discovering soup.

Breaking up the list of things which can be cooked, the phrase ‘and water’ has dropped down to the line with soup, which has the effect of making the reader ‘discover’ water as the essential ingredient of soup, just as ‘she is discovering soup’.

All Elizabeth’s poems are finely-tuned like this; as well as the pleasure I take in re-reading her poems, there’s still much I can learn from them.

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Grandfather in the Kitchen

from Bill Gilson

GRANDFATHER IN THE KITCHEN

The memory of this has been distilled
until all that’s left is whiteness –
the bleached wood of the stool
with the fingerhole to lift it,
the enamel surface of the table,
his cotton vest as he stands by the sink,
face in the mirror bearded with shaving soap,
the warm milk keeping on the stove.

This poem has been one of my favorites since I first read the Lantern Bearers. It embodies some of Elizabeth’s best qualities, as poet and friend: quiet, understated love of the physical world as she saw it and how deeply she could be moved to describe it; and the gentle humorous affection she manifested toward people close to her.

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Notes on Elizabeth’s The Lantern Bearers
from Carole Coates

 The title poem of The Lantern Bearers is an important one in the body of Elizabeth’s work as it contains two of the central tropes of her poetry: light and what can be called a loving containment, a holding. These look back to A Gift of Light and forward to Held. In this poem children are carrying light into the winter darkness. The binary opposition of light and dark could be an over-familiar one but Elizabeth avoids cliché by a careful verbal structuring, and a delicate counterpointing of opposites. There is both fragility and vulnerability (“stumbling”, “wavering”, “small voices”, “quivering flames”) and also a strength and resilience in the recurrence of “each November”, (“hats down over ears”, “stout in boots”, “marching”). There is a practical strain of domesticity throughout (“Tom, Maisie, Jess, Amy”, “home-made lanterns”, “buttons, laces, stuck zips,” “treacle cake” and “curled on laps”.) Even the night is humanised as “the darkness which enfolds us all” which suggests a holding and keeping safe as well as the darkness at the end of life. This hint of the numinous is present throughout the poem and is a feature of Elizabeth’s later poetry.

The end of their pilgrimage through the dark is the light of home and the poem finishes with “the story of a lantern bearer” on a journey in the “icy dark” who is guided by one candle to “the place at last / its doorway glowing with light and fire”. Home but more than home. Again that glimpse of transcendence. This is borne out by the central image of the poem which combines the tropes of light and containment – “a quivering flame / carried in the still-translucent lantern / of a new-made body”. Elizabeth has moved effortlessly from the home-made lanterns to the children’s inner light. They are “tiny bright stars” both literally and spiritually. This is not easy to write about and could easily be sentimental but it is accomplished tactfully and with a natural expressive rhythm, slightly more relaxed than the rhythms of the earlier work. It is close to the rhythm of speech and this is augmented by some direct address “Look at them” and conversational turns “And then again / they are ordinary children”.   Children are a subject that Elizabeth returns to regularly in this collection and the next.

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Held
from Ron Scowcroft

 The title poem of Elizabeth’s 2010 collection, opens with a seemingly mundane observation: a one year old boy ‘discovering the river’ is dropping stones into the water. What follows is a remarkable exploration of birth, the materiality of existence and our place in world. The river, itself ‘a stony vessel’, contains ‘springwater, meltwater, rainwater’; the details are precise and particular. Other containers are listed – an eggshell, the atmosphere enfolding the planet, the earth that contains us, the womb. For me, the most intriguing image comes in the latter part of the poem ‘everything is like a basket says the basket weaver . . . We are baskets and the makers of baskets’. The shift from the physical to the spiritual is subtle and profound. There is a sense of enfolding – the matrix and chora – and the ‘boy-child’s’ discovery of ‘how things are held’ becomes our discovery at the core of the poem itself. And there is that perfect last line ‘a stone in water, water in a nest of stone’. The poem returns to its beginning, folds in on itself and becomes richer, deeper, more challenging and satisfying – the way the best of poetry should be.

There is a Blakean quality here, ‘a song, holding words, a tune’, innocence, experience, (‘The Clod and the Pebble’ comes to mind) but there is no loss of wonder, no counterbalance from the world weary, no anger or cynicism. Elizabeth’s voice is entirely her own: embracing, open, celebratory – a voice I shall always miss and find again when I read this poem.

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Early work
from Mike Barlow

One effect of Elizabeth’s death was to propel me back to her two earlier collections, Ophelia and other poems and The Gift of Light. From the outset (Ophelia was published in 1991 when she was 34) her voice was particular and confident. She already knew what she was doing and what she was about. Her characteristic descriptive power and mastery of syntax runs through everything, sensuous and clear. As also does a focus on and celebration of womens’ sensibilities and creativity. At times in these earlier books she places this in opposition to the prevailing dominance of men: ‘Is Acropolis more marvellous/ than silk embroidered sheets’ (‘Work and Art/ We are Building a Civilization’ – Ophelia and other poems), but the theme continues in its own right throughout her writing.

Although always affirmative in tone, there is in some of these younger poems a preparedness to confront unflinchingly the dark undercurrents and events in human affairs. But this is always in the context of her clear vision, empathy and a drive towards reconciliation. In The Gift of Light, the section Memorials deals with the holocaust and Anne Frank (a subject she returns to in later collections) and elsewhere she writes heartbreakingly of slavery (‘Canaries’) and desert warfare : ‘so many dead in the desert’s bed’.

Throughout all her collections there is, for me, the sense of a poet travelling both in the physical world and her own inner one, digesting and turning experience into memorable art. In her first book she says:

words are such skimpy   scrawly creatures   such
scant indications   of immensities   and depths
‘Untitled Love Poem’

Yet, as I re-read her, immensities and depths are very much what I have a sense of.

 

Publications

Collections
Ophelia and Other Poems (Polygon 1991) out of print
The Gift of Light (diehard poetry 1999)
The Lantern Bearers (Shoestring Press 2007)
Held (Polygon 2010)

Pamphlets
The Time of Gold (Galdragon Press 2000)
The Alteration (Galdragon Press 2003)
The Blue Flower (Galdragon Press 2005)
The Shortest Days (Galdragon Press 2008)
A Scarlet Thread (Wayleave Press 2014)
Clay (Wayleave Press 2015)

Editor’s Choice 4

Monkey Puzzle by William Gilson

As an American living in Cumbria, Bill Gilson straddles both the world of his own memories and identity and the present one he finds himself living in. Many of his poems manage to conflate the present and past almost seamlessly, so the reader’s in two places at once.

Each time I read this poem I see more in it, make more connections as it brings together diverse worlds, inhabiting and holding them quite naturally with eloquent emotional restraint, describing through this diversity a moment of integration.

 Slow blues

Great-Nanna, she’s dead.
Her shiny-box’d remains made
slow movement, mechanised
into the oven, and the curtains drew closed.
Then,
tea for us yet-alives
in Cartmel.
Her coffin, being English, seemed to me
old-fashioned: a bevelled shape,
wider at the shoulders.

Now
in morning’s living room
the central heating kicks on.
Out there’s the yet-dark,
September, the moon
rounding –

Now from the CD player’s speakers
comes the sound of a piano’s
little hammers
hitting taut and tuned strings.
A man’s hands and fingers
set them going forty years ago.

I imagine myself joining him,
taking a chorus.
I imagine I am able to play the piano.
It is a jazz blues with chord changes
every two beats,
here it comes round again –

I hear myself laying down a line.
As I play,
bending low over the keys,
I’m thinking of Great-Nanna, who I
did not know well at all, I’m remembering
what her son – Alison’s dad – said
as he stood up from his folding chair
next the mechanical catafalque,
how he improvised –

I surprise myself with the beauty of the line.

I float it at first just lightly atop,
letting it sink of itself into the stream’s flow.

 

With pared-down language in a distinctly American voice the scene of the funeral is set and the motif of the poem appears with ‘slow movement’. We then proceed almost casually, but with careful scene-setting, to the very different world of the pianist and the ‘piano’s/little hammers… set…going forty years ago’, followed by closely focused attention to the music where his mental re-enactment describes how the mood of the music and the listener coincide.

The slow movement of the poem is reinforced by the irregular and sometimes hesitant lineation echoing the improvised fluency of the blues. I particularly enjoy the parallel between playing a blues and writing the poem when he hears himself ‘laying down a line’ . This then takes him and us back to the source of the poem, the earlier funeral, in such a way that I, as reader, remain both with the music and the funeral.

That crucial word ‘improvised’ linking the blues player with the father-in-law’s eulogy leads on to an exquisite single line with which the poet surprises both himself and the reader. And the last two lines are precise and simple, almost delicate, in their evocation. A slow blues executed with an ease that belies the skill and experience behind it.

Editor’s Choice 3

Jane Routh’s pamphlet ‘The White Silence’ focuses on the C19th explorer Sir John Franklin’s failed attempt to find a north west passage through Arctic ice. Her poems dwell more on what’s not known than what is and feel to have grown out of a strong interest in the subject, an empathetic imagination and a sense of how history evolves.

The poem I’ve chosen is one of the longer pieces in the pamphlet. I particularly like this one because of its ability to sympathetically re-create the practicalities and emotions of being ice-bound.

Franklin, ice-bound

Imagine ice.
Imagine cold.
Imagine a ship held fast all winter long.

Start again: you have to remember
it’s an Arctic winter: no daylight.
How to picture such darkness?

You have to imagine the body.
Hammocks below decks, close quarters,
feet, sweat, farts: a sort of warmth.

The grip of ice knocking on the hull.
Creaking – not as of timbers riding seas:
as of strangulation.

No one ever seems to mention
sanitary arrangements.
(Only Lowenstein, a century later, reports

the Inupiak’s 50-gallon drums of slops
rolled out – frozen, remember, odourless –
for summer’s melt to swallow whole.)

You have to imagine the tedium.
(Collingwood carved a table for his crew
from polished ice

and taught them billiards:
they would not miss, he said, the baize,
never having known it.)

Months, dark and cold. Waiting for moons.
It might even have been relief to be on watch.
Suppose Francis Pocock has not yet died

and, staring south, thinks he makes out a flare.
He’s heard talk of mirage, shuts his eyes,
opens. Then he’s sure: a bright curve

– imagine the shout that goes up.
Warmth, and more tomorrow. And then full sun.
Relief at the return even of short days.

To be on the move. Busyness, preparation, anticipation.
Imagine days lengthening, days
the sun does not set –

and still the ice does not let go.
Imagine the sun dipping again
below the horizon, and still

the ice has not let go.

From the start I’m drawn in by the slightly imperative but conversational tone. The second stanza with its ‘Start again’ seems to reflect the poet’s own struggle in recreating the scene faithfully before ‘below decks’ reality is evoked. Then, with the sound of ice and that shocking word ‘strangulation’ I’m no longer listening to someone’s imagined account. I’m there, held fast.

And immediately the tone backs off from the dramatic, having made its point, to consider sanitary arrangements and tedium, with references to later explorers, Collingwood’s ice billiard table offering an apparently casual but telling comment on hierarchy and morale in such circumstances.

The device of supposing ‘Francis Pocock has not yet died’ and placing him on watch I find an intriguing comment on the whole business of conjecture in the poem. The subsequent descriptions of the lengthening light and warmth are spare but sufficient to convey the sense of relief on board, but like the sun itself move on with an awful inevitability. At the end of the poem I’m still slightly stunned to have travelled so far and yet remained exactly where I was.

Necessity

I first began to read contemporary poetry in my late teens and early twenties, when the world of poetry seemed an exclusive and rarefied one to a young person doing an ordinary job for a living, far from any hothouse atmosphere a university course might have offered. I’ve no idea if there were such things as workshops and poetry groups then. Had there been and had I taken advantage of one, my own writing might have improved and expanded beyond the private scribbling that produced an occasional sense of achievement. But being young I may have felt there were more urgent demands on my time, for I had a view of poetry as a private process between the poet and the page.

When I think back to the poets I read and was aware of, they all seemed to have jobs in the real world. Edwin Brock was an ex-policeman and advertising executive, Dannie Abse was a doctor, Miroslav Holub was an eminent scientist. And later there was P.D.James’ fictional policeman and poet, Adam Galbraith, to reinforce the non-remunerative role of poetry.

Although the real world still impinges on poets today, there is a difference. The plethora of courses and workshops, on-line and real, mentoring schemes, residencies, MA’s and practice-based PhD’s produce many more talented poets writing more and more poems. And they also provide some sort of an income for those who teach, tutor, facilitate, as well as feeding the idea that there’s a satisfying and all-encompassing ‘life poetic’ to be had.

Inevitably it follows there are more poets seeking recognition and publication. But it’s a truism to say the audience and readership for poetry remain mostly other poets. We’re a population in which the interest in hearing or reading the work of others is accompanied by the desire to promote our own work, which makes for a congested environment. Where at one time you’d come across any number of familiar names in magazines and competition results, I’ve noticed recently how many new names and debut collections there are. However good the work is, and so much of it is, how much, I ask myself, could be classed as ‘necessary’ ­ – to use that favourite ‘blurbonic’ word?

Now that I’ve pulled that word ‘necessary’ out of the bag, it instantly demands definition. Used in the soundbite context of blurbs, it might sound pretentious and suspect. But beyond this there are two aspects of the word that come to mind.

Firstly, as an editor/publisher I realise I look for the quality a poem has that suggests it’s a driven matter, something the poet has been compelled to write via some internal process – emotion, memory, idea. It carries within it, by tone, style or syntax, the individual identity of the poet and a groundedness that comes from experience. I’d contrast such poems with those that, however competent, seem to have been generated for the sake of generating a poem – as in those workshop projects where we play and flex the muscles of our craft but don’t always end up with anything worth taking further.

Secondly, I go back to my original perspective, the private business between poet and the page. Surely, that’s where necessity lies, not in the publication. As with all the fellow poets I know, I do it because it’s part of who I am. And as if to prove this, I think of how out-of-sorts, diminished I feel when nothing seems to work or I’m going through a fallow period, fearing that this may in fact be irreversible climate change. I once heard Alistair Reid joke there were too many poems in the world: we should all be rationed to six a year. Well, I have tried. I really have. But it’s no good, I’m more needy than that.

Editor’s Choice 2

Ron Scowcroft’s Moon Garden was the first pamphlet of someone else’s work to be published by Wayleave. The title poem has long been a favourite of mine and obviously caught other imaginations as well because on my wall I have a lovely painting based on this poem by his artist friend John Morrison. We had hoped to use this as the cover, but it didn’t photograph well and was too subtle for reproduction.

Moon Garden

This is my tranquility, my white dust.
I signed false names, trusted no-one,
fooled speculators, usurpers, said it would be lunacy
to take such a worthless patch as this,
claimed my fallow space, piece by careful piece.

I dug for moon water, made a moon well, full and round,
wished for grass and grass grew.
In shadowless night I dreamed
silver cattle at the crater’s edge,
and in the haze of morning they grazed,
gave milk at the pail, milk so rich and fat it fell to curds,
waxed in time, halved, carved to a rind, to a cradle.

I dreamed of wheat, of flour new ground
in powdered footprints by my window and my table,
planted beans that broke to light like swans,
that climbed with flowers so sweet they filled this airless air
with fumblings of silent bees.

When evening comes I wait to sleep again,
place my back against the soil,
raise my hand to a cloudless sky
and cover the distant blue of earth with my thumb.

To me it’s a poem that expresses perfectly the secret territory of the heart, the romantic counterbalance to the everyday world of brusque and abrasive hurly-burly. And it’s hard won, starting with the stealth and subterfuge of the first stanza to gain access to the ‘moon well’ in the second. In the benign, muted atmosphere of ‘silent bees’ and ‘beans that broke to light like swans’, I’m shrouded, as a reader, in the calm ‘shadowless night’ cast by everyday technicolour.

When Ron reads this poem, he invariably refers to Caliban in The Tempest. “Monstrous and dangerous, he is also capable of kindness and is sensitive to the natural world of the island he inhabits” he says. ‘”Referred to at one point as a ‘moon calf’, he is slave and victim controlled and manipulated by those who wish to take his island from him.”

So, despite the way everyday pressures cause us to behave, there is always the refuge of a moon garden, where we can quietly and defiantly make that gesture in the poem’s last line.

There will be a chance to hear Ron reading at Brewery Poets, Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal on Friday 22nd May, alongside Jane Routh and Andy Forster.

Editorial Traps

Over the years I’ve become aware of a range of different editorial styles, from the fully engaged ‘hands on’ editor who wants to get in there and mess about, to the totally accepting and unchallenging. Both these extremes can be equally unnerving in their own ways. The former risks undermining confidence in the work, while the latter can leave you feeling vulnerable without any critical screening. The ideal is somewhere in between, of course, with helpful input but the ultimate decisions remaining with the poet.

My own input varies. Sometimes it’s just a matter of ensuring design and typographic consistency. On other occasions when I have definite suggestions to make about the poems themselves, there’s often a tension between between the need to say something and not wanting to impose my own taste on someone else’s work.

Two main issues exercise me. Firstly there’s the tendency we can all have to make a poem conform to a current orthodoxy, or at least to our own ideas of what a poem should be like. While this is often done with the intention of helping the poem succeed in the wider world, it also carries the risk of putting it in a straightjacket. The old ‘show don’t tell’ mantra is often wheeled out, for instance, as if it’s cast in stone; but it’s only advice that applies to a particular and current way of looking at poetry and is by no means a universal rule. In fact, I find the whole business of taste too subjective for any one approach to seem right or wrong.

In workshop groups I’ve participated in over the years, comments and suggestions have sometimes been more about the sort of poem we ourselves would like to write than helping the poet make their own poem as good as it can be. I know I can be guilty of this myself, at which point I try to sit back and shut up. So what I’m after is a balance between respecting the integrity of the writing – and the poet’s individual voice – while making it as hospitable as possible for the reader.

The second of my concerns is the matter of accessibility, the need or not for clarity, or for literal cogency. Often we make a plea for a poem to give us more of a clue as to what it or some part of it is about. While not making a case for wilful obscurity, I would make a case for not deadening a poem by incorporating add-on explanatory bits and pieces. The actual writing, sound, imagery, rhythm can at times be sufficent in itself and any understanding on the part of the reader may reveal itself over time. I think of a comment once made about August Kleinzhaler to the effect that he never ‘condescends’ to the reader. And I’ve noticed, with myself and others, that a failure to understand is frequently a limitation on the part of the listener/reader rather than the poem. So I ask myself, when something’s not clear, is this my problem or the poem’s? I remember Michael Donaghy on an Arvon course saying that if in a group of seventeen one person ‘gets’ a poem, that means it works.

So editing’s a balancing act. I’m on the poem’s side, but in relation to its reader perhaps more than the poet, conscious of trying to inhabit some internalised version of the reader to see how the poem will be received and understood. But of course my notion of the reader is as subjective as anything else in this game. So, there we go, it’s down to the tyranny of an editor’s taste again.

Editor’s Choice

I’ve decided that each month I’ll post a poem from one of the Wayleave pamphlets as a way of extending the profile of the work and keeping the blog varied.

I’ll start with a poem in Pauline Keith’s ‘By the Light of Day’, a pamphlet drawing on the poet’s childhood in the family slaughter-yard. Like the formative experiences they focus on, these poems are unflinching yet full of compassion for fellow creatures.

A Good Ratter

Aye, she were that. Every Year
at Christmas or the New Year’s table
the black cat was remembered.
Not as quick as me, mind.

We was watching the same hole…
My grandfather would pause,
point at the gun-rest on the wall,
look round to check no eye had glazed.

On the third night – full moon – I got it.
She must’ve been there in the shadow.
I shot her paw off with the one same bullet.
Biggest bloody rat I ever saw.

 The story ended there. No one ever asked
what happened to the cat. In early dreams
she lurched alone across the cobblestones,
lay down, licked at her shattered stump

while I searched and gathered bits of fur,
picked up splintered bone, found
pads enough, with claws that caught
the moonlight. She let me mend her.

Year on year, the tale re-trumpeted,
I watched her grow – till she crouched,
black panther, by the big rat’s hole, eyes
fixed on my grandfather. She sprang.

I’ve chosen this particular poem because it’s a strong complete-in-itself story and includes two very vivid characters, the real and immediate patriarch himself and the avenging black cat of the poet’s imagination. I enjoy the collusion between the imagined cat and the child. For me the key word here is ‘mend’, which seems to sum up what the poem’s about – mending, setting things right.

Revisiting it I admired again its naturally unshowy form, the unobtrusive line-breaks which orchestrate the reading, the vivid descriptions and straightforward telling of how the desensitising business of the slaughter-yard dominates the atmosphere at home as well.

If you’re able to get to April Poets on 23rd April at The Storey Auditorium, Lancaster, you’ll have a chance to hear Pauline herself reading from the pamphlet. Further details of this event and the other readers can be found on www.aprilpoets.org.uk  Hope to see some of you there.

Picking and Choosing – and Blurbs

When I started Wayleave I didn’t have a strong idea of how selective I’d be. It just seemed a nice idea. However, the first few pamphlets that came my way seemed so complete and accomplished they set a standard. Now I find myself operating by particular, if difficult to define, criteria. Basically there’s the gut feeling for something, how much I like it; because what it all boils down to in the end is that often irritating and unfathomable thing, the editor’s individual taste. (I make no apologies.)

But beyond this, whether I want to publish depends on a combination of the quality of the writing and a thematic focus. I also look for ‘depth of field’, to borrow another phrase from photography, by which I mean some gravitas or meaningful resonance.

I plan to submit each pamphlet for The Michael Marks Awards or, in the case of a Scottish subject or poet, the Callum Macdonald Awards. So I must feel they are good enough to at least stand a chance at the shortlist.

Then there is the ‘blurb’ test. Personally I have a preference for having nothing on the back cover, as I did for my own self-published pamphlets, but that’s not alright when I’m publishing others. I need to do the poets justice and make the pamphlets sound worth buying. So the ‘blurb’ test asks the following: a) can I say easily on the back cover what these poems are about and b) can I say with confidence these poems are as good as they can be?

On the matter of blurbs, since the prospective reader needs to be able to believe the blurb, it has to accurately reflect what’s inside – no unrealistic claims and a minimum of waffle. Arty poetspeak like ‘what it means to be human’ and undeserved hype like ‘raises the bar for us all’ are definitely out. I’ll leave that to one or two of the big publishing houses who seem to like to go in for it. The slide towards vaguery and ‘blurbese’, or what the late Dennis O’Driscoll called ‘blurbonic plague’, can creep up on you, I know, and I’m sure I’m not entirely innocent here. I think it happens when the writer becomes more concerned with presentation than accuracy, a sort of printed word ‘soundbite’ mentality. I find much back cover stuff over-inflated, sometimes to the point of being silly. I think it can have the opposite of the desired effect, making the reader either feel he or she is missing something and therefore inadequate, or it can irritate to the point of putting you off the contents. It also does a great disservice to the poet.

Pamphlet Reviews

It’s with mixed feelings I send off batches of pamphlets for review. They look so good together and it feels empowering to be sending them out into the world, but I also know they’ll probably vanish without trace into some editor’s slush pile. Hard as it is to get reviews anyway, I’m told it’s even harder with pamphlets. So how exciting to have had three pamphlets reviewed so far this year. Ron Scowcroft’s Moon Garden has a review by Liz Bahs in The Frogmore Papers. Carole Coates’ Crazy Days and Pauline Keith’s By the Light of Day are reviewed by Mike Bartholemew-Biggs, while Elizabeth Burns’ A Scarlet Thread and Ron Scowcroft’s Moon Garden are reviewed by Richie McCaffery, both in www.londongrip.co.uk

The same mixed feelings apply with copies sent to The Poetry Book Society. They’ll always get listed, of course, but the chances of getting selected are slim. However the latest bulletin has included Elizabeth Burns’ A Scarlet Thread for special mention.

So all this re-charges my optimism. And it does feel as if the pamphlet form is enjoying good health at the moment. A look at the pbs listings reveals a lot of recent pamphlet presses and those selected as choice or for special mention are often from the ranks of these.

One of the reasons for starting up Wayleave was my own growing preference for the pamphlet over the full collection. It seems to offer opportunities for small focused gatherings of work. Of course there’s still plenty of scope for discrete individual poems, but putting a pamphlet together does invite you to use it as a crucible for cooking something more cohesive.

Which brings me to Wayleave’s two new pamphlets, to be published very soon. In Jane Routh’s The White Silence her usual eloquent and thoughtful style considers Franklin’s ill-fated voyage to find the north-west passage, concentrating on the mystery of what is not known rather than the few facts we do know.

And in Monkey Puzzle Bill Gilson’s distinctly American voice moves between Cumbria and New England as he considers the conflicting emotions of a transition from his native USA to live over here.

Both Bill and Jane will be launching their pamphlets on 18th March at the open mic event at Zefferelli’s in Ambleside, organised by Andy Forster of The Wordsworth Trust. Also reading from their Wayleave pamphlets will be Carole Coates and Elizabeth Burns. More information to follow.

Beginnings

It all started with self-publishing. A couple of years ago I had a group of poems I felt went together in terms of style. With most pamphlet publishers not taking new submissions and pamphlet competitions being a long shot, I decided to self-publish, using my own basic skills and sense of design and the services of the local printer.

The result went round to friends and fellow poets and the response was encouraging. Being a relatively straightforward and enjoyable process, I wanted to do it again. Perhaps I could publish other people the same way, I thought.

My original intention was to publish either small collections by poets who hadn’t previously had such an opportunity and/or small thematically coherent collections that suited the pamphlet format. The poetry market being what it is, I knew I’d have to rely on poets themselves to sell the majority of copies through readings or their own networks, while as a publisher I’d take care of reviews and submissions to various awards etc.

After much thrashing around, the name of the press emerged like something obvious I’d been staring at all along. Wayleave is a contraction of the term ‘way leave’ which refers to permission required to cross land for the purpose of laying water pipes, electricity etc. There’s something there about permission to be out in the world, but all the dictionary definitions are boringly practical, so I needed a more general definition, something which remained faithful to the idea but didn’t actually mention electricity and water pipes. So:

Wayleave: ‘permission granted to enter or cross territory from which one has previously been excluded.’