Peter Robinson, the poetry editor for Two Rivers Press, talks about our list
How many poetry books do you publish each year? How many has the press published in total?
We currently aim to publish one book per quarter, using the Poetry Book Society’s activities as our temporal template. Sometimes we’ll also add one of our illustrated classic poems volumes or an anthology to the list, so I would say that we tend to produce between four and six poetry publications per year. I really couldn’t say for sure how many poetry books we have published in total; but I’ve been editing the list since September 2010, which is nearly a decade, so I’ve probably been involved in the editing of between forty and fifty books. The press was founded in 1994, so I would think we must have produced perhaps a hundred books of poetry in all.
What kinds of poetry are you interested in?
I like poetry of a great many kinds and shapes and sizes, and have been curious about how and why different forms of poems work since I was a teenager. But in all my editing activity (I first edited a poetry magazine at the age of 23), I’ve tended to keep my personal tastes under control and made judgments that are in line with my understanding of the social and cultural situation in which I am operating. As you can see from the previous answer, Two Rivers Press had been going for sixteen years when I was asked to take over running the poetry list. So I inherited a stable of poets, including Adrian Blamires, a copy of whose The Effect of Coastal Processes (2005) I found in a bookshop in Liverpool one summer when visiting from Japan. I was very impressed by the poetry, the quality of the design, and the finish of the cover. So I did know about Two Rivers Press before coming to live in Reading, and attended a reading by some of our poets in the Henley River and Rowing Museum as a way of making myself known to them when in need of some congenial company in a town new to me. When I was asked to take over its poetry list, as I say, I inherited a backlist of poets, mostly living locally, one of whom, Jane Draycott, had gone on to be published first by Oxford and then Carcanet, while another, A. F. Harrold, has gone on to become a very successful author for children and young adults. These poets had developed, largely, from a local workshop and open-mike culture, and their writing was and is broadly-speaking characterised by verbal skills, craftsmanship, and sensibilities engaged with shareable experiences, qualities that I also admire.
How do you go about selecting which books to publish?
There is a standard policy for ‘cold calling’: we ask to see a sample of six poems, and if I like them enough, we ask to see the full collection, and if that promises to fit our list (in ways that are not only aesthetic, but also involve questions about the poets’ locations and our practical ability to work with them, that’s to say her or his readiness to help sell the books), then I take the volume to a committee meeting and ask the team to have it put into our forward plan. Books are also submitted by poets we have previously published, and on one or two occasions I have offered to publish books were I knew them to exist and also knew that, for one reason or another, their poets were having difficulty with the arduous business of finding a publisher in the present environment. In other cases, I have encountered the work of new poets at readings or through contacts in the poetry world and then helped to mentor the development of a collection, sometimes over a long period of time.
Are there particular recent poetry books that you are especially proud to have published?
Among the poets that I have brought to the press during my near decade working with the team, I am particularly proud to have published, among others, first books by the late David Attwooll, Kate Behrens, Sue Leigh, James Peake, and Tom Phillips, as well as the last book published in her lifetime by Mairi MacInnes. These are poets, in their different ways, who pursue styles that retain the qualities of attentive technique that are, I believe, the basis for valuable writing, and they also stretch their language to the evoking of experiences more distinctive and challenging, more difficult easily to share, than some of the work that the press had published heretofore. I am also glad to have initiated our publishing of translations with a collection of Ruth Speirs’ versions of Rilke, to which have now been added Jane Draycott’s selection from Henri Michaux’s poetry, and Lesley Saunders’ bilingual selection from Maria Teresa Horta’s Portuguese.
Looking ahead, what is your ambition for the Two Rivers Press poetry list in the next few years?
The main thing we are hoping to do, beginning in 2021, is to enlarge the list so that we publish two poetry books per quarter. Over the last few years the profile of the press has increased and we have on occasion been reviewed in national newspapers. Enlarging the list a little, I would hope we can continue this development, and build on the geographical base of the press in the Thames valley so as to have a better relationship with the independent publishing environment in the capital, and also to find a place not only as Reading’s own publisher, but as a publisher to something more like the part of the country shown on maps in the front of Thomas Hardy’s novels. I would like to increase the range of poetry that we are known to produce, to publish some volumes of collected poems, such as David Attwooll’s, which is currently in preparation, and would also like to add further books of translated poetry to the list, including from languages beyond those of our near neighbours in western Europe.
Have you seen this yet? It’s on at the Turbine House till Sunday 15th Sept, open daily, 10-6pm, and has been featured on ITV news (watch their short film here). The decor of the exhibition space coincidentally goes rather well with the cover of our new edition of the poem!
We love a beautiful book cover and work hard to make our books visually strong. Sally Castle has designed many covers for Two Rivers Press. She writes here about the inspiration for the cover artwork for The Constitutionals by Peter Robinson, which explores and celebrates the therapeutic links between reading, writing, walking and thinking through a fictional treatment of the meditative author’s convalescent wanderings around the town of Reading.
The illustration started with drawings made as an immediate intuitive response while reading the manuscript. Images such as land marks: the Cemetery Junction arch and the Wycliffe Church; trees: a magnolia and a monkey puzzle outside a house in Eastern Avenue, buildings: New Town terrace houses and the gas holder, the Co-op with clock at ten past six and the green tiled Oxfam book shop. All familiar places to me: literally, in that I was born at 27 Hatherley Road, my grandparents lived at number 30, uncle and aunt lived at 68 Amity Road in New Town. Grandfather and uncle used to meet up at Cemetery junction to watch the traffic!
Several versions were developed combining the images together using watercolour and collaged with an old street map, a receipt from the Co-op (Your store Your say) and Robinson Crusoe as portrayed in an early illustrated edition. The result was also simplified down to a flat linocut print but the watercolour collage with a stormy sky was the best choice to ‘ventriloquize the grateful dead’
Thanks to Peter for asking me to do his cover and to Nadja Guggi for her support, encouragement and working magic with her technical expertise.
Sally Castle is a printmaker, illustrator and lettering artist, based in Ruscombe. You can see more of her work on her website http://www.sallycastle.co.uk
Here’s a thoughtful and thought-provoking review of Kate Behrens’s ‘Penumbra‘ from Michael Begnal, recently published in ‘Empty Mirror‘
“Penumbra” is one of those words that I always think I know the meaning of, but then I realize I need to look it up again to make sure. … There is no poem called “Penumbra” in this, Kate Behrens’s third collection, but the word works well as an all-inclusive title, for Behrens writes about the shadowy and the marginal, and the way that death or deaths bring previously indefinite feelings into stark, vivid relief.