Stride Publications 1982-2008 R.I.P.

I wanted to mark the end of Stride Books in some way, so sent an open invite out to those I've published, inviting them to submit one question for me to answer. Those questions, in the order I received them, are answered below. Thanks to all those who have supported Stride, sent nice letters and emails about the press stopping, and those who decided to ask.
     Rupert Loydell


Penelope Shuttle: How many sleepless nights did Stride cause you?

Over the years a fair few. I think there was one period when I'd got a bank loan and was trying to crack the bookshops that was the worst. I made the mistake of believing some of the arts council nonsense about marketing and publicity, and started to believe my own cashflow projections and hype! I have William Oxley to thank in the end: he took me aside at someone else's launch party and calmly pointed out that it wasn't worth losing my marriage, house or sanity for the sake of a few books of poetry, or at the risk of upsetting a few authors. He was right, too!

Matt Simpson: What kind and quality of feedback do you get from readers?

Very little, truth be told. I learnt early on that I am fairly unusual in the breadth and amount of poetry I read. Most people don't buy books because of the publishers {ie there are no 'Stride readers' who bought everything we published), and of course most of us don't feel inclined to write to the publishers to voice our opinion as readers. So, really, feedback only came from conversations at launch events or readings, and from reading the reviews. Word of mouth and enthusiasm still works wonders though.

Roselle Angwin: In a parallel life in which books, music and art didn't figure, by what would the editor
in you have been most inspired?

What a dreadful world to live in! And what a cruel question! I guess film might have to be in there, and sailing. I studied pure and applied maths in the sixth form, too, so perhaps mathematics. Maybe history? It's taken me a long time to realise how many, if not all, subjects are interconnected and interrelated. I hated history at school, but of course it is a combination of literature and archeology, with a sprinkling of politcs, sociology and cultural studies.

Martyn Bates: How dificult has it been to constantly have (at least) two hats to wear?

I don't mind that, I think that's real life. I've painted, published and written for over 25 years now. It's more to do with time management, and for me that's become simply a lack of time and energy as I get older. As you know, I got my first 'proper' job a couple of years ago which I love. Doing the required lectures, seminars and preparation then coming home to a small village is exactly what I need right now. A simplification  and clarity. (Sort of, anyway. I mean I'm still painting, writing and running Stride

Geoffrey Godbert: I never quite understood why you published my anthology of prose poems about which you seemed blisteringly indifferent from start to reviews. Why did you publish it?

I published it because I love prose poetry and Freedom to Breathe
was an exciting and wide-ranging overview of the genre! In fact it did very well for us, and I know it's used on courses at several universities. I wonder if the question really relates to me refusing to send more than a certain number of review copies out, and knowing that reviews don't sell books, they simply provide quotes for the next book; and my unwilligness to go out of pocket on launches? I never understood the point of travelling to London to buy lots of people a drink, endure a poetry reading (I loathe most poetry readings) and then sell half-a-dozen books to people who would have mail-ordered one or bought a copy from the author anyway! Good launch? Yes, lost us 200 pounds and 36 hours of my life - excellent. Maybe you caught me at a particularly cynical period in my publishing career (career?!)? Perhaps at the point where I realised the book trade was changing, that Stride books were never going to conquer the world, and that chasing the book chains was a waste of time (certainly using the reps we were using at the time). I realised the book chains and lazy readerships had to be outwitted and cajoled, not encouraged. The dozen or so books of poetry on most Waterstones shelves is testament to that change and laziness. Readers now come from the author's and publisher's extended social and literary networks, very rarely from huge publicity and marketing campaigns. And of course, print-on-demand printing means it doesn't matter if only a few copies of a title sells - I think we are going to see more and more splintering of groups, smaller and smaller readerships and clusters of interested parties, but these small groups will probably be more and more geographically extended. Like the music industry, we may also have to take on board that our art form is no longer a valid currency, that its value is cultural not monetary. I believe that can be taken as a positive. I mean in many ways poetry itself has never been sellable but workshops, teaching, publishing and performance have. I am now more interested in readers than book sales for my own work - and they are very different things.

Let me reiterate I was never blisteringly indifferent!

Mike Ferguson: How do you honestly feel about striding towards this poetic death?

Relief mainly, to be honest. The press has been part of my life since the early 80s, and I'm proud of what I've achieved and most of the titles I've published. But I really don't think I'm competing any more. I feel that I've done my bit and someone else can do it now. In fact others like Shearsman and Salt are
doing it, and doing it a lot better; and there are a lot of interesting and energetic new small presses and magazines around.

Sheila Murphy: How has your experience of leading an important publishing venture influenced your own textual and visual art?

It's allowed dialogue and debate with a wide range of practicioners, readers and critics around the world, which certainly allowed me to engage with a lot of different styles, genres and forms of poetry. I still get a lot of review copies through the door for Stride magazine, and I still talk to many writers such as yourself, about the whys and hows and therefores of writing. In fact your work was probably my first introduction to American experimental writing, just as coming across a book of David Miller's work at a Shrewsbury book fair introduced me to prose poetry. Recommendations of authors, gifts of books, namechecks, and manuscript submissions all opened my eyes. I am a voracious reader and remain interested in possibilities.

I probably find it harder to think how editing Stride has fed into my painting. I guess there was a period when Andy Brown and I were really clashing about how language worked, along with Tony Lopez's MA classes, that really changed my practice. This was when I was writing what the poems that would become
The Museum of Light. To realise that words could be as flexible and fluid as paint, as abstract and patterned was actually shocking. I stopped writing for several months!

I think after that initial shock, it was good to get to grips with some critical writing, contemporary poetics, as well as the poetry itself. Robert Sheppard has been a great help (possibly without him realising it) in this matter, and the writings of Charles Bernstein, Marjorie Perloff and Anne Lauterbach have been particularly important for me. Most of this writing makes explicit the links between the visual arts, cultural theory and language. More and more, I think writers need to engage with the
whys of their writing as much as the hows. Something, of course, I keep telling my students.

Morgan Bryan: If you were going to start Stride now, in 2008, how would that affect they way you would approach it?

I'd probably talk myself out of it to be honest. Otherwise I could see it going two ways. Firstly, with what I now know, I might borrow a large amount of money and/or apply for a massive grant, and if succesful publish a large amount of good-looking books using print-on-demand technology. I would pay for someone else to market them, although I have no idea how this might work or actually sell books - it's the part of publishing I have never mastered, with or without help. Secondly, I might use the web to start a forum/blog, and a photocopier to produce good-looking pamphlets (chapbooks) for those who wanted them. I'd probably number them so down the line they might be collectable items. I might emphasise the handmade nature of these. I wouldn't worry about huge print runs, and I wouldn't spend money I didn't have. In fact I think I really have talked myself out of the first option.

David Grubb: Having published so many writers over the twenty six years,poetry and prose, do you think that such poetry and prose on the page is bound to be have a limited readership because there are so many good Small Presses or because of electronic publishing and is not the obvious route CDs ,for poetry at least?

Heaven help us! I have no wish to have to listen to poetry on CD... I'm afraid I like my poetry on the page - the visual layout can be just as important as the sound of a poem read aloud; in fact it can often be the deciding factor. I think poetry is often too complex and layered to get across in a single performance, to hear in one listen.

I don't think prose has a small readership, and I don't think poetry does actually, it just has a small paying audience. I do think there's an argument that art forms are of their time, and the popularity of various genres and types of art can change. I think we're seeing that with music, along with poetry - maybe they have no current financial value, only a cultural one. I still haven't found any age group who can read very well on the screen - my students still print stuff out, the same as me.

Peter Finch: You started the press out of need and desire and then I guess got used to that, satisfied the need, fulfilled the desire, saw poets into print, felt good about it, etc. But that feeling only lasts for a while and after time the whole process becomes much more automatic. Why did you continue for so long?

The simple answer is I'm someone who has always stuck at things, I think that's how you make things work. I also think you could divide Stride up into various 'eras': an initial exuberance and apprenticeship; a period of slowing down and learning to produce paperbacks not pamphlets; a period when we had bookshop distribution, arts council funding and other grant aid, and were chasing a diminishing book trade; a fourth period when we were selling and distributing our own books again via the Salt website and mail order; and a final period when I published very little, but did do The Peter Redgrove Library as a separate project - which was very exciting and worthwile.

I've always felt good about getting work into print, still do. And I think we produced some really stylish and visually exciting-looking paperback titles, We sold 30,000 copies of one of our anthologies for children, we helped focus attention on the prose poem, we brought some important American authors into print in the UK (I mean why was no-one publishing Charles Wright or Robert Lax in the UK?). I genuinely don't know how to work as a publisher any more when anyone can read work online, or order American editions via Amazon.

I do, however, still like putting out my own pamphlets, and pulling together the magazine of student work at university, and running the 'Poetry for Publication' unit our third years do. So I'm not quite as jaded or on automatic as you might think.

A.C. Evans: Do you consider your own writing to be linguistically innovative, if so how should the reader respond to innovation?

No, I don't think I do - not in any modernist sense of being 'avant-garde' or 'forging ahead'. I think I use a number of by now well-established processes to produce my work. That's all. Some of these methods of writing have been associated with various schools of poetry. The reader can do what they want (and they do), but I get angry with people who think poems have to be immediately accessible, 'true' or heartfelt, who want them to 'say something' or move them. I'm interested in the stuff poems are made with as much as the content.

David Chorlton: What comparisons are you able to draw between poetry publishing in Great Britain and the USA? I'll keep it simple, though I am interested in whatever observations you've been able to draw regarding readership in the two countries.

The grass always looks greener... but, as my friend says, it still needs mowing. From the UK the small press scene in the States looks exciting and alive, but most of the authors I am in touch with over there tell me how parochial, limited, incestuous and dull it is. I'm always amazed how exciting UK poetry sometimes seems from the States. I'd say the main difference - and it applies to many things, not just poetry - is the size of America means most people can find a niche for themselves and their work, in a way that isn't as true over here. The standard of living remains much higher in America, in my experience, so I suspect there is often more disposable income to purchase books with or spend producing them; if you choose not to engage with consumerism (or buy health care and new cars) it's clear you can live cheaply within America in a way no longer possible over here.

I think there are cliques, schools, movements and networks in both countries. They are evolving and changing because of the web, and because in the last few years there seems to have been a shake-up and reconsideration of 20th century poetry. This has included a large number of selected and collected, a lot of critical essays and articles, a lot of arguments and debate. This is all good, and even if it isn't, it's the way things are. It's easier than ever to get hold of any poetry you want these days and ignore the canon or the mainstream if you wish to do that.

Jay Ramsay: Why is important to publish poetry that most people don't want to read? ('Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people' - Adrian Mitchell)

It's important because the arts leaven society. I don't believe they change people directly - that is punk rebel songs don't bring governments down, but human beings need music, writing, song, dance, theatre, painting, to live balanced lives, to be truly healthy. More than ever Western capitalist society is homogenized and whilst pretending to offer more choice actually offers less. I am very optimistic that the web and small publishers means poets can work around and outside the established booktrade to find a readership. I'm quite happy for that readership to be small and spread out rather than seek (or expect) mass sales. I've always had to deal with the fact that my paintings find a home on someone's wall and are gone; with poetry that doesn't happen, one gets to keep the manuscript, or typed finished version, and sell a book with it in, post it online etc.

I like Adrian Mitchell's work a lot, and he's a great performer, but if you take his poem that you quote too far you end up writing rhyming doggerel, which is what most people want to hear. And in fact, you can see that most big poetry publishers facilitate this, with shaggy dog narratives if not rhyming doggerel (though sometimes it's both). Lowest common denominator is not the answer to anything except making a lot of money in the pop charts. But as I've said above, even the music industry are starting to realise that music per se is not commodifiable any more, thanks to online file-sharing. One can get depressed about that (especially if you're a musician) or take it as a positive. I'm inclined toward the latter.

Geoff Sutton: Which two or three golden rules would you pass on to anyone beginning a project like Stride today? Whose career are you proud too have helped most?

That's two questions! I think you'll have to read my answer to Morgan's question above. I'd advise people to network, network, network, and not go in to debt. If you can only afford xerox and staples then do it that way. And don't think you're going to change the world or dominate the bestseller list, not with poetry anyway. I'd also say that it's amazing how kind and open most writers are, so don't be scared to approach even the most famous ones for advice or writing.

I'm not sure I've helped anyone's career - can you have a career in poetry? I have always been glad to have brought Brian Pearce's work to the attention of some readers; I'm immensely proud to have been the UK publisher of Charles Wright, Sheila Murphy, Dean Young and Campbell McGrath; and to have published definitive books on Anthony Braxton and Robert Lax (thanks to Graham Lock and David Miller respectively). The Peter Redgrove Library was an important set of reissues (which Shearsman are keeping in print at the moment), and I'm glad Stride had an ongoing publishing relationshiop with Peter, as well as Robert Sheppard and David Grubb. But we also did a lot of great first and second collections for people, and those fantastic anthologies for children that Gary Boswell put together, and at the time I thought Stride Cassettes were great too!

Gary Boswell: After 26 years of Stride Books, what observations have you made on the issue of a writer's well-being in relationship to his/her publisher. I speak as a poet who was very conscious of the benefits I gained from being published by someone other than myself but who noticed that the kudos afforded by the literary world and the public in general to a writer published by a house such as Stride was not always afforded to the house itself. So also what observations on the well-being of publishers in individual relationship with their writers?

Blimey, I'm not sure I even understand the question... I've always tried to be straight with authors, and saw publishing as a mutual thing (I don't mean financially) between writer and publisher. There are only four authors, for instance, I've ever had to write contracts for - two of those because they were signed to agents. I think it probably
is the individual books or writers who deserve the kudos, rather than the press, although having said that Stride certainly won some awards, grants and prizes as a press. But a publisher is only what it publishes, and what it makes that product look like. And I guess if you are market-driven then how many units of that product you sell.

I've been lucky that I've made many friends and few enemies in publishing. I learnt fairly early on that conspiracy theories don't really hold water in publishing and if you're desperate for, say, reviews in major newspapers it's not impossible to get them by wining and dining, sometimes even just phoning, the right people. Stride certainly has its share of mainstream and literary reviews, its moments of publicity, and books shortlisted for prizes, but none of these things actually affect sales very much as far as I can see, just literary kudos. Anybody - author or publisher - with their head screwed on the right way probably doesn't chase fame & fortune, or literary kudos, through small press poetry!

Tim Cumming: With Stride Books, did you achieve what you wanted to achieve, if you set out to achieve anything at all, and did you win, in the end?

I have no idea what I wanted to achieve! I bumbled into publishing through being a writer and being in touch with some other poets in London. At one point I wanted to change the world and take over the bestseller lists (both as an author and as a publisher), but realism does tend to set in fairly rapidly when one has a garage or warehouse full of unsold books. I've come out with lots of friends and contacts, some great memories, and believe it or not, without a negative bank balance! So in many ways I won, yes.

Mark Robinson: I would like to know which manuscript/book/author you most regret turning down?

I think in the last few years I've seen what I thought of as 'my' authors getting their books published by other presses, particularly Salt and Shearsman, and have wished I could still publish them. But I haven't been accepting manuscripts, so I've only myself to blame!

Otherwise, there have been a few anthologies that never happened that I wish had. I think you were in on some lighthearted discussions at one point regarding a Soft Southern Gits & Hard Northern Bastards
book, for instance. We could have sold lots of those. Drew Milne talked to me at one point about a linguistically innovative anthology, John Kinsella has also thrown various ideas at me throughout the years. And I remember someone sending me a dreadful book from India, printed on shiny pink paper, full of poems for/about Princess Diana. I joked about publishing that, and keeping a straight face; part of me wishes I had.

I think Alexis Lykiard made the best suggestion I never acted upon. 'When you get a really bad submission', he said, 'why don't you write and say you can't use it at the moment, but that you'd like their permission, in writing, to use it later in time? Then you can produce The Stride Book of Crap Poetry
. You'll sell thousands!' I think he was probably right.

I don't think I've ever turned down anything I've really wanted to do or regretted afterwards. Nobody has ever popped up as a Whitbread or Booker Prize winner with something I was offered, and I don't lie awake thinking about anyone's Collected or Complete Poems.

Bob Garlitz: How do you think your career as a publisher influenced your career as a poet (& painter?) & writer? How would the nature and style of your own writing have developed differently, perhaps, had you not also been publishing - which means reading lots or work in manuscript form, and choosing and selecting?

I can see that I might have kept on writing the kind of narrative confessional poetry I started out writing. I might have done an MA much earlier than I did though, which would have jolted me in the same way toward more experimental writing. I'd have had more time to read though!

I think editors learn quite quickly to sieve and sort submissions, so I probably never spent as much time reading work as people sometimes thought. I learned to be proactive and for probably the last 5 or 6 years stopped inviting open submissions. I mean the junk in orbit out there is astonishing, much better to initiate projects, books and anthologies, or invite others to edit titles for the press.

I'm at a bit of a loss how to answer your question, actually. I can't imagine not being part of the writing, reading and publishing circles that I am. As you know from the way we met, I'm quite open to conversation and debate from new contacts. In fact a moment before typing this I was answering an email from a reviewer who I'd replied to, who now claims that Victoria Beckham actually supplied the theories he used to write the review of my books. I'm looking forward to further missives, and perhaps lunch at The Ivy.

Alan Halsey: Are there poets you wish you'd published but didn't have the opportunity?

Yes, but probably only in hindsight; that is, somebody else probably published them. I'd have liked to have published something by Gerald Burns, but his death halted that project. I've never managed to get Allen Fisher to send me anything for publication, even in the magazine, nor John Wilkinson. I guess with a lot of Stride authors (if I can call them that), including yourself, I wish I'd been able to publish work earlier on. But maybe earlier on Alan Halsey or Robert Sheppard, for example, might not have sat comfortably next to what we did publish?

I might have contacted the American authors I did publish earlier on, if I'd known how easy it would be, and perhaps made a wider sweep of authors who became far too famous to invite really: Jorie Graham, Rachel Blau DuPlessis and Mark Strand spring to mind. At one point, when we were working with Ethan Paquin at Slope
there was a whole new bunch of new writing coming through that ultimately we didn't do anything with. But hindsight is a dreadful thing.

Jane Routh: Why did you simply call an end to Stride, rather than selling the imprint (or donating it) to another publisher? Is it because we can look forward to another Stride after you've had a break from publishing for a few years?

I'd been dithering about stopping Stride for a while, but have always been someone who sticks at things, so don't like giving up what I am doing. The time just seemed right: I'm really not fawning when I say I think Salt and Shearsman do it better, and that times have changed. I did talk to a couple of people about selling Stride, but really there isn't, or wasn't, much to sell, and in the end it didn't happen. I've never taken rights away from authors, it's their work not mine, and backlist doesn't sell - most sales occur within a short period of a book being published. Nearly all of the remaining stock (of which there's wasn't that much) has gone to authors, and The Peter Redgrove Library is remaining in print through Shearsman.

Another Stride? I shouldn't think so, but I have every intention of getting my own work out into the world by hook or by crook, pamphlet, email, website and book. Maybe I shall include some other's writing in that process, maybe not. Meanwhile I am doing some editing projects, including an anthology of students' work for the university and a book of manifestoes for Salt, and Stride magazine lives on.

       Stride 2008 (all rights revert to individual contributors)