Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

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Tell me about launches: the Pyramids only contain three poems. So when you launch a publication and the poet reads, technically that reading could be over pretty fast. Sophie Essex could deliver her three poems in about five minutes, I think, unless there’s something more complicated going on than just the text. Does this mean you’ll launch at least two or three at once (if you plan to have launch events)?

Oh yes. It’s going to be pretty quick. To be honest I have a limited attention span and appetite for poetry readings. All poetry readings last too long. You want to leave people wanting more, not feeling overfull and drowsy. So for the launch we’ll actually have four poets – from the first four pamphlets. That's twelve poems. Perfect.

The reading is going to have something of the spectacle about it. We’re going to have some very interesting music. We’re going to have some stage-craft. I want to have each poet read to, or around, a physical object that represents the ‘core’ of their poems. Like a séance. And then we're going to drink and talk and feel loved. Which is nice.

I liked your statement about what you like: ‘We want detail, mess, specificity. We’d prefer three poems on the fur trim of Anna Karina’s coat in Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville to three diaphanous poems “about memory”. Although, nobody wants diaphanous poems about memory, do they? So in this respect, you are quite like other eds. Isn’t it almost impossible to define what you really want, except by choosing it? How are you getting on with choosing the content for the next set of publications?

You say that, but I feel like in modern lyric poetry the scene is dominated by memory poetries, and poetries which prioritise the ‘lyric I’. And for me – perhaps this is simply a question of taste – they can come across as diaphanous. I’m not carping (ha), and I love some of those poetries, but I also want to see people writing about other things. Just some. The six poets we’ve committed to publish are writing about different things. So there you go. I’m satisfied. You experiment in order to push the boundaries of a practice. I think these poets are deeply relatable, dealing with complex and beautifully evoked ideas. But they aren’t easy. They require you to dream and turn your mind upside down. I am so excited to be working with all of them. But they’re also not hewing to conventional expectations about poetry, especially the kinds of poetry I think people expect of young people. I read a lot of poems where the young poet has to be myopic and kind of coolly bored. I’m not interested in that. Life is terrifying, often oppressive, but never boring.

I think there’s this assumption that poetry happens because of a ‘miraculous’ triggering event and the poet whips out their notebook and works at ‘poeticising’ the event, or wants to raise their dead granny from the grave with a poem. But isn’t it actually about working? Collecting minerals, mining them, and boiling them down. A kind of alchemy. It’s transformative action on a language, and – for me at least – not a kind of reactive ‘response’ to a feeling. So we're trying to capture a process at work, the fabrication.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not being clinical. Poetry is a fractious activity. Emotional. Poets are selves, but they don’t have to write about ‘this me and what I feel’ in a direct way. Sophie is writing extremely emotional, alive poems, but the world she is describing is her own different architecture. It is also an intellectual activity. It can do a lot of things. I don't want it to seem like I'm prioritizing form over content, however. Both are important.

But I think the scene is dogged by this idea that poems should be like little novels, but more nicely written. You don’t watch a Tarkovsky film and say, ‘hey, where’s the love story? Who’s that guy? It doesn’t make sense!’. It does make sense, just differently, and is still emotional, and still about ‘a self’, and still about memory sometimes, but it’s also a complex texture; a strange, alien surface. A system of symbols. A collage.

I think poems are an attempt at architecture, really; an experimental architecture in which a particular dreamlike object is being constructed from transitory materials. It’s always an act of architectural rendering. These are still questions about existence. It’s a form of ‘unrequited love’. See, that's Tarkovsky! He said that, about art. It’s a longing across inadequate materials, and you’re the architect. PYRAMID is an expression of that architecture. The buildings of its city.

But yes, I am also going to have to define off the cuff and tell by doing. We actually have six pamphlets lined up (four have been announced, including Sophie’s). We have what I want. Poems about neuroscience by SJ Fowler (his Tractography is coming very soon); poems about East Germany and television and Berlin (Alison Graham); poems about an artist's model's posing (Andrew Wells), and so on. I'm finding that, through a mix of submissions and me asking folk I admire and like, we’re getting what we want. And hopefully people can see that and feel like they know what it is we want.