The proliferation of electronic devices for reading has not, apparently, had any adverse effects on the poetry pamphlet. Hundreds of new titles continue to be announced each year. As with any form of publishing, the quality of the work varies greatly from press to press, and from title to title. Yet some of the finest and most original poetry I have read over the years has first appeared in pamphlet form.
Over the next few months I will be looking closely at outstanding examples of this medium which, at its best, combines modest resources with breathtaking originality. It is impossible to get an accurate sense of what has gone on in English poetry in the past 50 years, say, without looking at the contribution of pamphlets. The work of publishers such as Grosseteste, Ferry, Reality Street Editions, Great Works, The Many Press and Equipage (to name just a few) has kept alive the most vital and innovative spirit of English poetry in a period when many larger publishers have either stopped publishing poetry altogether, or gone for easy options which they consider commercially safe. Commercial viability is never an appropriate consideration when publishing new poetry. If you want to make money, choose some other field.
You can't get much further away from electronic devices than Richard Parker's Crater Press. Using traditional letterpress techniques, Parker is creating a series of broadsheets which feature leading-edge poetry for the twenty-first century. There are two of these on my desk at the moment: Jonty Tiplady's Above Shoes By Some Margin, and Andromeda / The World Works for Me by Amy De'Ath. The mad dance of Tiplady's writing is amazingly energised and energising, phrases smacked into each other from varied contexts and discourses to leave joyful neon streaks across the mind for days at a time. And it's legal.
If only you could say, you will have to say
to write, to blur thought and immediate protest
in a single light body pitted
so that the earth can actually fall in love
Amy De'Ath's broadsheet is also characterised by freshness, linguistic agility and a distaste for mainstream tedium:
Are you, too, fearful
of digressing into organic platitudes
washed in spring water, accosted by
halogen lightning, farmhouse tables
and endeared to blank blackbirds?
There doesn't seem much chance of meeting platitude in this work. Both Tiplady and De'Ath create texts which shimmer and ripple with unexpectedness. It's as if you've woken up to a new day and some sprite has rewired the house. You switch on the hoover and all the fairy-lights come on instead. I suppose it might be a bit inconvenient to inhabit such an arrangement for too long, but the option to pop in and out is immensely refreshing and certainly brightens up the neighbourhood. What's more, with these traditional pamphlets and broadsheets, you never run the risk of the batteries running out.
The last word belongs to Amy De'Ath. Work is over for the day. It's time to shake off the cramp, escape from the musty air of cynicism, break a few rules and dive into a world more elemental and passionate:...the half-past-five of my life
Peter Hughes is a poet (and founding editor of Oystercatcher Press) based on the Norfolk coast.
Find out more at www.oystercatcherpress.com