Michael Laskey’s name may be familiar to you for all sorts of reasons. He’s a poet, of course, with several collections to his name, the most recent of which was Weighing the Present, Smith/Doorstop 2015. He founded the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, directed it for its first decade, then chaired its board for several years, and was a key member of the festival team thereafter. With Roy Blackman, he edited many issues of the magazine Smiths Knoll, continuing it after Roy’s demise, until its final issue, with Joanna Cutts. Michael Laskey is an Arvon tutor, mentor to many, friend to poetry and poets. But he’s also a pamphleteer.
Laskey and pamphlets go back quite a way. In fact, his first ever publication — as a poet in his own right — was Cloves of Garlic (1988) — a pamphlet he shared with Steven Waling. They were joint prize-winners of the Poetry Business competition in its third year. Perhaps those cloves stayed in the mind when, 15 years later, Garlic Press sprang into existence, its first publication being Dean Parkin’s Irresistible to Women (2003).
But let me look back before I skip forward. What did that first pamphlet publication mean to Michael Laskey? In fact, what did pamphlets in general mean to him back in 1988?
‘As a reader, I’ve grown into pamphlets really,’ says Laskey. ‘At first I thought they were just something you did on the way to a book, if you were lucky. I didn’t care for them until I started to make them.’
All the same, winning that 1988 Poetry Business competition was quite something. ‘It was very exciting for me — fantastic to have a little collection of poems accepted, not just odd ones and twos in magazines.’ But around the same time, Laskey had been submitting to Harry Chambers of Peterloo Press, who had already registered a formal interest, so things were starting to come together. In 1990, Laskey’s poems were featured as one of six poets in Peterloo Preview 2, and in 1991 there was his debut full collection from Peterloo Press, Thinking of Happiness, which won a PBS recommendation.
For Michael Laskey, then, a pamphlet was something he did on the way to a book. But since then, he has twice done that same thing between full-length collections. His four books from Smith/Doorstop have been punctuated by two pamphlets: The Fruit Cage in 1997 and, ten years later Living By the Sea.