Today, the 26th of July 2018, is the official release date of my second poetry collection, Passport, from Nine Arches Press. I am understandably over the moon to know that there is a tangible book out there that people might well read (I do hope so). It’s not my intention now to go over the difficult background history and context of the collection, as a glance over recent blogs by me will show the trials and tribulations behind it. Today is a day for looking on the bright side of things.
It is four years since I published my first collection, Cairn, also with Nine Arches Press. In terms of modern prolific poetry production, four years might sound like quite a long gestation period for a new collection (i.e. something like 14-ish poems a year), but I was busy getting used to a new life in a new country and there was quite a lot of physical and emotional upheaval. Now that that life has ended, I have material for a third collection already forming, so here’s to 2022! Shameless how I use the tatters of my life as material for art…!
Today I don’t want to talk about what inspired or prompted the poems in Passport but rather talk about the business of turning it from a bundle of typed poems into the aesthetic marvel you see before you. I think the fact that it is emblazoned with a Leon Spilliaert (my favourite Belgian artist) masterpiece is a triumph (bureaucratic and otherwise) in itself. First of all, I consider myself very blessed to have found in Jane Commane and Nine Arches Press an extremely hospitable home for my work and an editor par excellence. A lot of tumultuous stuff has been happening in the poetry world recently, particularly in terms of presses, and Nine Arches Press has not only weathered these storms, but actively thrived. I remember years ago being in a position of having three presses interested in my work and I was hopelessly lost as to which one to go with (I liked books and poets from all three), but Jane’s non-pushy and sympathetic approach convinced me to go with Nine Arches. Today, it is the only press of those three that remains.
Jane is a very hands-on editor, and I think this is the best possible kind of editor. My first publisher, Helena (Nell) Nelson at HappenStance Press, was a consummate hands-on editor. Both Jane and Nell have been able to diagnose exactly where my poems begin to go a bit pear-shaped, and help me whip them into shape. Can I use the surgeon analogy? For Passport there were many more poems written than made the final cut, so many very excised and only a few were added. There was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, endless drafts being send back and forth. I think there must be a year’s work of editorial correspondence behind the shiny finished product. I have a memory of being on holiday in Morocco shortly before we decided on the final manuscript – and all I really remember of the trip is sitting in riads or on the train from Marrakech to Tangier, bashing away at a computer, trying to make sure all the poems were ok. Very few editors I think would give so freely of their extremely imposed-upon time as Jane, and I am very grateful.
I think the title of the collection is very apt, not only because the poems take place in a liminal zone, effectively caught between two countries, but that these poems spent such a long time in transit, travelling far to arrive in front of you now. Some languished simply as an idea in a jotter for ages, others were written in a fever and then took forever to be edited into shape. Some arrived more or less fully formed and on time but they are such a rare breed. Then there were the dozens of duds, the ones who presented themselves to Customs, only to have their access to the collection denied. Where do dud poems go when they are refused entry into the promised land of a collection? Not the bin, I hope to be able to try again with some of them at a later date.
I remember once going to a reading Tom Leonard gave at the poetry society of the University of Stirling when I was a very impudent young (and probably drunk) pup. After the reading, he had a name badge on that said ‘Visitor: Tom Leonard’. I asked him if he might sign it and give it to me. You could see lecturers around me looking on in horror (they knew what I did not at the time – Leonard’s notoriously fiery temperament – I only experienced the Leonard ire years later). Amazingly, he just smiled in a baffled way, took the badge off, signed it and gave it to me. “Here”, he said “this will get you into all sorts of shady places”. Now, I give you Passport and hope that it gives you access to the world high and low as I’ve seen it over these past four years.
Here’s a very swanky flyer that Jane and her team have made to mark the publication day: