Monday, 30 January 2012

How to read poetry

An interesting sermon of sorts from the masterful Leonard Cohen on how to treat spoken poetry

Enjoy. And do feel free to discuss, in the comments, whether you have any of your own techniques or influences when you get up and blab!

Friday, 27 January 2012

Valley Press Fest! - Scarborough

Saturday 21st January 2012 - Taylors Cafe & Books / Scarborough Public Library, Scarborough, UK

The official poster.
The genesis of 'Valley Press Fest' came in three stages: 1) Jo Brandon told me she was happy to do one more event while she was 'up North' for her launch, 2) a realisation that the strong sales I'd been enjoying before Christmas might not continue as strongly into January, which ideally could be compensated for with a big 'VP day', and 3) I noticed that the word 'Press' rhymes (a bit) with the word 'Fest', which is a perfect word to use when you are holding one day with multiple events.  Rejected ideas include 'Valley Presstival', and my old collaborator Howard Staveley's suggestion, 'Valley Press Conference' (see what he did there?)

Jo Brandon and Deirdre McGarry.
As I mentioned on the day, one of the great strengths of VP (which is still a very young operation, lest we forget!) is the sense of comradeship between authors - a real sense of working together, of a whole that is greater than the sum of its (already great) parts, and maybe even a sense of family... a slightly dysfunctional family perhaps, with me as everyone's strange cousin, but a family nonetheless.  The people performing on the 21st January were united by a love of literature, poetry in particular, and also by a shared experience... though everyone's road differs, they'd all experienced the 'Valley Press process' to get their books into print, so had a lot of experiences to compare.  I'm very much trying to foster the idea that the success of anyone helps everyone, and I think that's been taken on board.  As I looked around during the signing, and saw everyone talking to each other and getting on, I can honestly say I've never felt prouder.

Anyway, that's the sentimental bit taken care of!  The day had two parts, a signing (with short bursts of reading) in the new Scarborough independent bookstore/cafe Taylors, and a two-hour reading in the library.  Let me draw your attention immediately to the photographs of the day, taken by Marcos Avlonitis who I've raved about at length elsewhere - the man's a genius, enough said!  You can see some scattered around this entry, but also full sets on Facebook, from Taylors here and from the library here.  He's really captured the day, if you ask me - having a professional photographer on hand is invaluable, I plan to never go into battle without one again.

Steve Rudd and James Mcloughlin debate some important literary issues.

Our time in the cafe was an interesting experiment... not many books sold (five, if anyone's counting - apparently everyone was waiting to get them later!) and the people enjoying tea and coffee were a bit baffled at first by the onslaught of poetry, but I think they came around to the idea in the end.  Our progress was further hindered by me experiencing a problem at the bank on the way there, meaning for the first 15 mins there were just a lot of authors with no books!  When I did get there, I spent much of my time looking at submissions... I didn't see that coming!  People were quite right in thinking if they caught me off-guard, face-to-face, they'd have a good chance of getting their work read.  We'll see if anything comes of it... I told them to drop the final copies in at the front desk at Woodend in July, which allowed me to make good my escape.  But we will have to open submissions again soon, without a doubt - I'm spending much of my time at present thinking of the most effective way to receive them, the way that's easiest for me and least painful for the writers.  Any ideas, feel free to comment below!

Norah Hanson in full flow.
I was really impressed by everyone's performances at the library; it was well timed, and there wasn't a weak link in the chain... where are all those mumbling poets I occasionally see elsewhere (often after having paid several pounds!)?  Not here, apparently!  We also met one of my targets, which was to fill the room we half-filled last time... however, as I made this event free as well as waiting four months, I can't be sure which change led to the increase in numbers... it's just not scientific!  Anyway, as I say, the reading was a great success, and though we were chased out by the caretaker (apparently the library closes at 4pm on a Saturday, and not a second later), I think everyone went home satisfied.

I'd like to announce now that the next big Valley Press event will be in Bridlington, East Yorkshire, Sunday June 17th, all day at the Spa Theatre - put it in your diaries now, and I'll do more thorough advertising nearer the time.  I'd also welcome ideas; we have seven hours in total to fill on that day, and as of yet nothing planned!  Whatever we do though, if it's half as good as the 'Valley Press Fest', I'll be a happy man.  Hope to see you then!

A week after this event, some authors headed south for Valley Press Fest London - you can read all the details on how that went here.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Launch Report: 'Phobia' by Jo Brandon

Friday 20th January 2012, The Carriageworks, Leeds, UK

Host James Nash looks on during an exciting bit of poetry from Jo.

The relationship between Valley Press and dynamic young writer Jo Brandon - one for the ages, hopefully! - began on the 1st May 2011, when I happened across a short biography of her online and noticed she was 'currently working on a debut pamphlet', so sent an exploratory email to see if we could do something about that.  I was sending a lot of these emails at this point, and although some recieved positive replies, it was only Jo (and Jo's work) that inspired enough enthusiasm on both ends to see a publishing project through to completion - and the date of this completion was the 20th January 2012, when Phobia was launched in style at The Carriageworks theatre in Leeds.

Though according to the Poetry Society guidelines, we should call Phobia a 'pamphlet', that is something of a hotly disputed issue in the Valley Press offices - it is a book, and it is a collection of poetry, with only ten pages less than many of our previous publications, about which there was no confusion.  People ordering Phobia expecting a standard pamphlet, hastily stapled by the publisher the night before, will be in for a nice surprise, if I say so myself!  I've taken to calling it a 'pamphlet length collection', and I'd encourage you to do the same.

Jo hard at work signing - that's me in the background.
This was our first launch at The Carriageworks, and I was very impressed by the facilities provided - I suspect they could have been even better if I'd got the technical people on side earlier in the week!  Our host of choice ten times out of ten, Mr. James Nash, was on top form, and Jo told the full story about many of the poems, giving a lot of facts that were totally new to me - though the poem 'Gamophobia' is about cooking, the word actually means fear of marriage, hence the last line: 'see what harm can be done when you heat the ring.'  I must admit, this was also the first time I've seen Jo perform her work live, and I was not disappointed - I've see few people read with more confidence, animation and passion.  Often with young writers (particularly myself!) it's neccessary to talk in terms of 'promise', or 'this is one to watch' - but I really think Jo has got the whole package already.  She should take the poetry world by storm, and of course it's now partly my responsibility to see that through...

You can see a full set of photos from the launch at this link, all taken by the media mastermind that is Marcos Avlonitis.  If you're a regular visitor to the VP site, this name will not be unfamiliar to you - he also did the post-production work on the cover image which graces Phobia, which if you're wondering is an 'icon', probably of Mary, who is mentioned in one of the poems featured on the Phobia page.  I think it's time to admit this is the same Marcos who is credited in the acknowledgements - he's Jo's partner, but what a guy, and what a team they make!  He even set up a sound desk upon our arrival, and has recorded the whole gig; this will hopefully be appearing on the blog in due course, though as the man is a perfectionist this will be after he has removed any trace of noise from the air conditioning vent.  I pointed out to Marcos during the evening that, in the age of media, the man with the top camera, recording equipment and skills to use them is pretty much king - I think he agreed.

I'd like to formally thank everyone who came out to see Jo and James - there was a fantastic atmosphere of encouragement and support, and more than a couple of attendees from Leeds literary royalty, which is always great to see.  Blog readers can still grab the book, signed and otherwise, from the VP site here - you might also like to read about 'Valley Press Fest', which Jo attended the following day, in the report here.  Hope to see you at the next launch!

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Phobia: Review by Ciara Hegarty

Jo Brandon's pamphlet-length poetry debut Phobia will be launched in less than twenty-four hours, and is already available to buy from the VP website.  To whet your appetite (if indeed it is not already sufficiently whetted) we're delighted to present a review of Phobia, our twenty-third publishing project, by Ciara Hegarty, author of The Road to the Sea (Macmillan, 2010).

Phobia is a collection of meditations on the self - how we perceive ourselves, our internal thoughts and private emotions, and often that ever-present, though subconscious preoccupation with how others view us - that fear of being perceived as something we are not, or the opposite - wanting to be seen as something we wish to be. In poems such as 'Arachne-phobia' and 'Flying Bricks', Brandon examines this theme of identity - the awkward self-examination and critique of adolescence: ‘you step back, too late/to hide relief on your face/her long smile hits you, right there/in that place you thought was safe’. There is a sense of loss, too, in this poem - the loss of childhood innocence, the coming of adolescent changes and desires: ‘fingers as long as legs once braided doll’s hair’ now ‘intertwine with another’s’.

Brandon has the gift of making one stop and think - to re-read what could initially be taken to be a straightforward, one-dimensional poem, and to see in it a deeper meaning. 'These Bones' gives a short, simple suggestion of the inner beauty of a person - an essence and goodness, the fundamentals of the self that we often struggle to find and, once seen, crave to see again. It leaves one reminding oneself to be a better person, and to see that beauty in others - the narrator makes us see this through and beneath the rather clinical-seeming description of having an x-ray taken.

Brandon has the breadth to be light-hearted and sparse with her language but also to be eloquent and serious, with a quiet beauty to her words. The language in 'Mottephobia' is breath-taking, conjuring up images of butterflies like ‘eyelash-light sweepings against your chest.’ In 'Miser Miser' - another poem about the self and how it is easier sometimes to make sense of one’s identity by viewing ourselves as something other - in this case a roasting bird which spits ‘rosemary like bad words’, Brandon creates another beautiful image when describing the plucked, ‘sticky’ feathers: ‘I saw a little girl run/ to gather them up, brushing them against her face/ expecting softness, drops them, rubbing hands on dress.’ Although not explicitly described, this image conjures up the confused, disappointed face of the girl - a younger version of the narrator of this poem, we suspect - and we look on as she watches the pile of feathers drifting down to the ground.

The theme of identity continues in 'Wool' coupled with another major theme of gender which recurs throughout many of Brandon’s poems. She is mainly concerned with women - and in 'Wool' and 'Laundry', how women have been undervalued in the past, of how women’s lives were hard there are images of gnarled, coarse hands due to the very physical work of old-fashioned laundering and wool-making: ‘Joints fossilising, knuckles swelling.’ But, says the narrator of 'Wool', ‘my hands aspire to hardship’. Modern day women do not have this same physical hardship in their working or domestic lives, but they do have other worries and concerns, and the women of the poem from the days of old warn: ‘they tell me to rub Vaseline into my nails and never let my fingers feel the cold.’ The poem in its simplest form is a reminder to oneself not to be slack, to work hard and fulfill oneself as a woman, and to take time to care for oneself, but it is also perhaps a reminder to men of what women go through. 'Laundry' also implores us not to take women for granted and not to forget that women are women: ‘Every feature of every girl a thing to unfold’, that despite the drudgery of the everyday, of work and home, there is a fundamental, undeniable femininity at the core. Even in the description of a sheet being folded, there is a delicacy suggested: ‘‘ave to dance a two-some reel a few times over/hold the hem like a lady’s hand’.

Phobia is less a series of poems about fear, as the title would suggest. It is more an exploration of human nature and identity, with Brandon cleverly using the construct of phobia as the structural backbone of her thought-provoking collection.

Pick up your copy now from the VP site: just £5 from us, or £6.30 on

Monday, 16 January 2012

Three Great VP Events for January 2012

Note: since this was first posted, the venue for 'VP Fest London' has had to be revised - see below.

Hello blog readers!  Some exciting posts are coming your way in the next couple of weeks - I've been spending the Winter cooking up a lot of exciting stuff for this year, starting with the following three events:


Jo Brandon's 'Phobia' Book Launch - Leeds
Friday 20th January, 8-9pm at The Carriageworks

Phobia is the first solo publication from one of the brightest rising stars in British poetry.  A former editor of the Cadaverine ezine, Jo's poems are skillful examinations of fear and hope, vulnerability and strength; rave reviews are flooding into VP HQ, and you can be there at the start by attending the free launch event, hosted by James Nash.  All the details can be read on the book's official page here.


Valley Press Fest! - Scarborough
Saturday 21st January, 11-1pm at Taylors (Bar Street), 2-4pm at Scarborough Public Library

Two events, two venues, seven of the finest writers ever assembled in one room - and completely free to attend! The day will start with a signing at Taylors of Bar Street, Scarborough's new independent bookshop and cafe, and move on to a reading at Scarborough Public Library in the afternoon. For full details, and a list of the authors appearing, consult the website at


Valley Press Fest! - London
Friday 27th January, 7pm at The Horseshoe

VP comes to London for the southern leg of 'Valley Press Fest'; held in the function room of The Horseshoe (Clerkenwell Close), the evening will feature readings from Jo Brandon, Norah Hanson, Steve Rudd and VP founder Jamie McGarry (in a first ever London appearance - also known for expertly writing in the third person!) Tickets are just £2, and will be available on the door.  More information can be found on the event's Facebook page here, and will be on the 'VP Fest' page next week.


Hope to see some of you at some of these!