January kicked off with some great live poetry - our first Leicester Shindig of the year, featuring Cathy Grindrod, Lindsay Waller-Wilkinson, Charlie Jordan & Joe Coghlan, all helping us to get the year off to the right start with lively and enjoyable readings. There was also a memorable and rather special evening of poetry at Poetry bites, as Angela France & Daniel Sluman performed to a packed Kitchen Garden Café in Birmingham. After a lot of work over the festive period, I also launched the brand new Nine Arches website and online shop, which has proved to be much more user friendly and popular!
February was a little quieter on the event front, but a hive of activity behind the scenes as the final touches were put to this year’s collections.
In March, independent publishing was properly celebrated at the annual States of Independence book-fair at Leicester De Montfort – we sold lots of books, as usual, but more importantly had plenty of interesting conversations and a great chance to put faces to names for all those we’ve met online but not in real life. And another great day out was also had later the same month at the inaugural Writing East Midlands Writer’s Conference at Nottingham University, where I provided a series of one-to-ones for poets to book and ask all those questions about publishing you’ve always wanted to ask but were too afraid to… I hope they proved useful. I’ve been really pleased to see several of those writers now in print in recent months too, which is always heartening.
April came around, and I found myself at the wonderful Wenlock Poetry Festival. Nestled in the Shropshire hills, for one weekend each year this small town is taken over by poets and poetry audiences and all manner of performances, talks and workshops. It was a great chance to catch up with lots of people, but also to make some new friends and acquaintances and enjoy plenty of poetry performances too. Rebecca Goss’ and Helen Tookey’s reading was particular moving and memorable, as was David Morley and Gregory Leadbetter’s outdoor reading at the abbey ruins, where we just about dodged the both the impending rain and the dusk. We concluded our weekend with a Maps & Legends reading, with Jo Bell compering some wonderful readings from Matt Merritt, Mario Petrucci and Maria Taylor that celebrated our first five years in poetry publishing.
June brought us the launch of Richie McCaffery’s Cairn and Markie Burnhope’s Species – two very distinct and exciting debut collections that I was enormously proud to have as part of 2014’s list. From Richie’s brilliantly-detailed and revelatory miniatures to Markie’s sharp and astonishing technicolour focus on otherness and injustice (amongst so much more), there was a great deal to be celebrated here in these two first collections.
In July we had a grand time at Ledbury Poetry Festival It was also (at last) a delightful opportunity to meet poets Bobby Parker, Richie McCaffery and Dorothy Lehane for the first time in real life, after many months of email correspondence and working on their collections, and a proper treat to hear Dorothy, Richie, and Bobby read from their debut collections at the festival. It is often in those first ‘voicings’ that a collection truly comes alive for me. This month also saw the launch of the brilliant second collection from Tony Williams, The Midlands. It’s always a pleasure to work with a returning poet, and a real treat to have the opportunity work with Tony again on a book that touched on so many of my personal favourite themes – ideas of places lost and found, walking and journeying, and of course the Midlands themselves which, characteristically, lurked resplendent, both bashful and beautiful, within the collection’s own marvellous scenery.
August saw a short break in book launches but still plenty of behind the scenes work going on, and plenty of planning as a busy Autumn lay ahead on return form my holdiays!
September was a particular highlight of the autumn, with a lovely day in London at the Free Verse Poetry Book Fair, where we joined with our good friends at Worple Press (Peter Carpenter and Michael McKimm) to give a joint reading outdoors with Matt Merritt and Josh Ekroy representing Nine Arches in the park café, whilst indoors, books sold rapidly and we had a chance to catch up with many of our other fellow publishers and poets. It seemed to be particularly busy this year, and there was a real buzz around the whole fair. Huge thanks to Joey Connolly and Chrissy Williams for yet again putting on a great day, and for the beautiful book fair booklet – which featured a poem by Richie McCaffery amongst many others from each press.
October brought another annual highlight in the form of the Birmingham Literature Festival. A personal favourite among my events this year was out ‘Poetry Afloat’ event at the festival with Jo Bell and Tony Williams joining a (quite literally) captive audience aboard the canal boat Frederick as we toured Birmingham’s inland waterways and saw the city from an entirely new viewpoint, accompanied by Jo and Tony’s poems along the way. Even the Brummagem drizzle couldn’t dampen our enjoyment of this little poetry voyage! This was also a month of frenetic publishing activity – with the launch of three books. First up was A Midlands Odyssey (ten stories re-imagining the Homeric epic as heard recently heard on BBC Radio 4), which is now also available as an eBook. Hot on the heels of this came Dorothy Lehane’s debut poems, Ephemeris and Bobby Parker’s Blue Movie. Whilst taking unique approaches, both Lehane and Parker share the theme of personal territories within their poems. Solidly and deftly written, both also are attuned to the particular music that their poetry requires, an understanding which makes them urgent and unmissable debuts with a great deal to say.
November saw us entering the winter with a flurry of activity. Leicester Shindig! featured wonderful live poetry from Michael W. Thomas, Andrew Taylor, DA Prince and Ben Wilkinson and, as always, an excellent selection of open-mic readers bringing a breadth of subjects and styles to proceedings. I also took part in The Writer’s Toolkit for Writing West Midlands, and enjoyed several informative panel talks and a good end-of-year catch up with lots of regional friends and colleagues – even if it seemed a little incredible that 2014 was already speeding past us and out of our grasp...
December opened with a thoroughly enjoyable day at the Library of Birmingham for the first ever Library Toolkit (convened by the West Midlands Reader’s Network and Writing West Midlands) were I gave a talk on how to work with independent publishers and spread the good why about why indie publishers matter (and what we can offer to libraries that the bigger publishers just can’t). And one last reading – a great evening in the best bookshop in the region, Nottingham’s very own Five Leaves Bookshop. With probably the best poetry section since I’ve seen since (the now sadly-demised) Borders, this bookshop is a real gem and I urge all book lovers to pay it a visit. As well as thoughtfully-chosen poetry and fiction, it has a brilliant selection of political, social and historical and lots of independently-published books that show real, dedicated book-lovers are responsible for this warm, cosy and welcoming bookshop. Bobby Parker, Tony Williams, Dorothy Lehane and Matt Merritt all joined us for an excellent showcase of Nine Arches talent, which (along with the mince pies and wine) was much enjoyed by an appreciative audience. December has also seen the end of a few projects, including one I have worked on with HEARTH over this last year, and also the beginning of several new projects (some of which I can’t talk about yet, you’ll just have to wait and see!).
All of which brings me to the end of this round up, and to wish you, our poets, readers and supporters, a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Here’s to much more great new poetry in 2015, and a happy, healthy and creative year ahead to you all.