Interview with Ian Davidson of Gratton Street Irregulars
Gratton Street Irregulars publishes poetry and is run by Ian Davidson and Kelvin Corcoran. Each chapbook costs £3.00 post free. Available so far: ‘The Size of a Human Dawn’ by Ralph Hawkins and ‘A Haunting’ by Nathan Thompson. Future publications will include new poetry by Alistair Noon and a selection of Simon Smith’s translations of Catullus.
How/why did all this start? And how do you and Kelvin share out the responsibilities?
I've known Kelvin since the 1970s. We met in Ralph Hawkins' practical criticism class in Essex University. Ralph was a PhD student and used to turn up with a variety of work from the poets he was writing about: Frank O'Hara, Ted Berrigan, George Oppen, Louis Zukofsky, Anne Waldman, Denise Riley, Tom Raworth, Lee Harwood etc. That was my real education, not the big lecture courses. He'd only get half a dozen or so in his class.
I remember Kelvin, in his donkey jacket and with his head thrust forward in a post punk attitude, giving this brilliant reading of Zukofsky's Crickets/Thickets/ Light/delight etc, and so went over to see him in St Osyth. I was living in Brightlingsea. Kelvin was writing this sub Olson stuff about the Essex landscape and I was writing sub O'Hara stuff about stumbling around Brightlingsea.
So that's how it started. Both of us have done bits and pieces of publishing over the years, and then we gravitated together a couple of years back. It's been a slow start, but it's coming together now, and we've pamphlets by Alisatair Noon and Simon Smith coming out in autumn.
I do production, Kelvin does marketing. We live a few hours from each other so it works well.
Gratton Street Irregulars is a/ lovely/ imprint name. What's the background to that?
Kelvin lives in Gratton Street. It's a name he used some years back, and one I was very happy to inhabit. He says it’s a name that comes from a conversation with Alan Halsey (of West House books), and I can believe that. It has a Halsey ring to it.
I infer from the comment on your website 'Meeting The Enormous Demand For Poetry In The World' that you have a sense of humour. Do you think that's something in relatively short supply in PoetryWorld?
I like poetry that has wit. Is that the same thing? Poetry that is really quick, that unsettles you a bit and makes you look at the world while you are off balance.
It’s not that I’m against a cool, steady, controlled gaze. Just that I’ve never achieved it.
Maybe going to poetry for the kind of laughs you get from stand-up comedy is difficult. There is a kind of strand of that, and Charles Bernstein seemed to be working quite successfully with that idea for a while, as did Mairead Byrne. Randolph Healy is funny too, but in a different way. Just looking at him read gives me a kind of bubbling joy.
Your links to Leafe, Oystercatcher and Shearsman, suggest you plan to orientate towards the more radical side of contemporary writing. Or am I drawing conclusions irregularly?
I think that is our background, but any term (you use 'radical') is immediately contestable. But in general I know what you mean and the answer is yes, I suppose we'll publish stuff that’s broadly leftfield etc, but my criteria are excitement and beauty. I tend to get that from work that takes risks and work that’s sometimes difficult to read.
Not that I think that difficulty is necessarily a good thing either, and sometimes I like very plain work. I’ll stick with excitement and beauty as my watchwords. But immediately, as I say that, I think of work that creates enormous calm that I like, or work that is plain ugly and moves me deeply. Perhaps you just have to take each poem as it comes.
I have two of your publications. They look and feel lovely and they are very inexpensive (£3.00 including postage) Are you deliberately trying to Meet The Enormous Demand cheaply? Or are you subsidised by a lesser known university?
No, no subsidy. The printers are really cheap, and we don't aim to make much money. Break even would be about right. The aim is to get work out there that we think should be out there. The cover design is by a friend, Huw Jones, a graphic designer. We keep using the same one because we like it, but might change that at some time, when we have the leisure to think about it.
What sort of print methods are you using -- limited run or print on demand?
A combination. It's a first run of a couple of hundred, but the printers have it on disc so could do more in batches of 50.
Do you accept unsolicited submissions (there's nothing about submissions policy on your website)?
We’ve made a slowish start because both of us have other commitments, and have tended to publish work that has come our way. We didn’t want to ask for submissions until we knew the machinery was running smoothly, or running anyway. We will, when we have space in front of us, seek out submissions, and probably after we print the next two. We’ll also continue to invite people. Peter Hughes’ Oystercatcher pamphlet series, to name but one, has demonstrated the fantastic amount of exciting work that’s out there that benefits from pamphlet publication.
There are no contact details on your website. So . . . is the first challenge to track you down?
Our hesitancy doesn’t come from wanting to remain elusive, simply that we didn’t want to make promises we couldn’t keep.
How do you promote the work? Or do you expect the poets to do that?
Website, Facebook, a bit of viral, email lists, contacts etc. I'd like to move towards doing volumes, say four at a time and where subscribers pay for all at once. We might move towards that.
There's been a lot of publicity for poetry pamphlets lately -- features all over the place, not to mention Michael Marks awards springing up. Is the pamphlet the bees knees? Is it better than a book?
There's something about the pamphlet, when it works, that gives it a kind of completeness books struggle to achieve. You can read pamphlets in one go, put them in your pocket, publish one series. My own favourite publication recently was a pamphlet I published through Wild Honey press. It hung together formally and thematically, and Randolph did a beautiful job of producing it. Books are great, and give lots of room to collect, expand and make links, but a pamphlet allows for an intensity over a shorter space.
What about e-books? To what extent do they kindle your interest?
They are a future, probably. But only one future. I rarely read books that only exist online except for reasons of completion and scarcity or for research reasons. I probably will get one of those readers at some time, in the same way that I got a mobile phone and a dvd player and a netbook etc, but I always try to lag behind technologically.
So long as we can keep the price down I would want to continue to publish on paper, but perhaps we could make the pamphlets available as pdfs a year or two after publication.
Sometimes I think the only worthwhile plan is to have no plan at all. We have a business model that’s infinitely flexible, and as long as the pamphlets sell enough to cover costs, the only limitations are our inclinations to publish and a flow of good work to fill the pamphlets. We’ve done four in the last year or two, and I think we’d like to do about four a year, at least in the short to medium term but if we get enough good work, then who knows?